Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cheating Fate


Edmund Prescott III was a secular humanist, and proud of it. A graduate of Cornell, he didn’t believe in witches, ghosts, God, angels, demons, Santa Claus, or the Tooth Fairy–in no particular order.

The Christian faith was a crutch, a pacifier, for overgrown children. No “god” wrote out the plotline for his life. Edmund was the master of his fate, the captain of his soul. Not that he had a soul. But if he had one, he’d be its skipper.


Edmund was visiting Todd, a former college roommate, in Missoula, Montana–when his friend, as a lark, challenged Edmund to see a local psychic. Edmund relished the opportunity to debunk paranormal claptrap.

The psychic whom they went to see greeted them by name when they arrived–unannounced. They found that a bit disconcerting, but assumed there had to be some rational explanation.

“Psychic” was actually a bit of a euphemism. Yelina, as she called herself, was actually a witch. Her pendant necklace was a miniature baphomet.

Edmund pretended to be a genuine seeker, wanting to know his future. After some banter, they got down to business. The psychic told him that he was fated to die the very next day.

Edmund was used to hearing vague predictions of weal or woe, so he pressed her on the details. As it turns out, she was happy to comply.

“Where will I die?”

“In Ten Sleep Wyoming.”

“Where will I stay?”

“At the Sitting Bull Motel.”

“What will I have for lunch?”

“BLT with lemon soup.”

“Any music?”

“’Honky Tonk,’ with Bill Doggett.”

“When will I die?”

“At nine in the morning.”

“Anything else?”

“You’ll sit next to a passenger by the name of Ziggy McBains.”

Needless to say, Edmund didn’t believe a word of it. But even if he were fated to do all that, she’d just given him a roadmap to cheat fate. All he had to do was the opposite of what she said.


Edmund boarded the RJ for the short trip back to Durango, Colorado–where he lived. There were more seats than passengers, so he bypassed his assigned seat to avoid doing anything too predictable. There was a pretty woman sitting by a widow seat. He pretended to check his ticket to see if he found the right seat. She took a second look at her own ticket to make sure she was in the right seat, which gave him a chance to cast a surreptitious glance at the name on her ticket: Jean Dawson. So he sat beside her.

After the plane leveled off, they chatted a bit. She extended her hand to introduce herself: “I’m Ziggy McBains.”

He gave her a quizzical look.

“Is something wrong, she said?”

“Oh, nothing. I couldn’t help noticing the name on your ticket.”

“Of course,” she said. “That’s my married name. Even though I’m divorced, I still use it for business. Dawson is my maiden name. And Twiggy is what my mom always called me, so it kind of stuck.”

Edmund nodded politely. “Todd must have put her up to it,” he thought to himself. Todd was always such a practical joker.

Still, it was a stroke of luck that he wound up next to this particular woman. But stranger things had happened.

As they were about halfway to their destination, the captain came on the loudspeaker to make an announcement. Due to mechanical difficulties, he had to make an emergency landing on some airstrip nearby Ten Sleep, Wyoming. He apologized for the inconvenience. The airline would reimburse the passengers for their room and board.

Edmund felt a momentary twinge of panic. What were the odds?

After they found themselves deposited on the tarmac of the weedy little airstrip, he was sorely tempted to hitch a ride out of town. But then he felt ashamed of himself. How could he jettison his principles over a mere coincidence? Maybe this was all an elaborate prank. Might as well be a good sport and play along with the gag. Imagine the embarrassment if he chickened out. Todd would never let him live it down.

Edmund checked into the motel. No, not the Sitting Bull Motel. There was no motel by the name. Instead, he checked into the Log Cabin Motel. Indeed, that was the only motel in town. Didn’t take much to cheat fate!

After he showered, as he was looking over the receipt, he noticed the name of the motel on the receipt–the Sitting Bull Motel. He was puzzled, as well as a bit disturbed, by the discrepancy. He asked the man at the front desk.

“Oh, yes, this used to be the Log Cabin Motel. It changed hands a few weeks ago. Haven’t had time to change the sign or the letterhead.”

Edmund was hungry, so he went down the street to the Ten Sleep Saloon. Ordered the BLT with crème of chicken soup. Once again, he found satisfaction in how little it took to thwart fate.

While he was waiting for his order to arrive, he went over to the jukebox. Sure enough, there was “Honky Tonk.” He punched in “Satin Doll” instead. A moment later, the jukebox began to play “Honky Tonk.”

Edmund was a flummoxed. He went over to the bartender and asked about the jukebox. “Oh, yeah, we had it serviced a year ago. But the repairman is a bit dyslexic.”

“Why would you hire a dyslexic repairman?” Edmund asked, in a condescending tone of voice?

“He’s my cousin!” the bartender glared.

Edmund retreated to his table. The sandwich was good. But when he tried the soup, it tasted funny. Just then the waitress returned to apologize for mixing up his order. She accidentally brought him lemon soup instead of chicken soup. So sorry. Would he like to finish the lemon soup, or have a fresh cup of chicken soup?

At that point it hardly mattered. Back in college, Edmund had be the butt of Todd’s many pranks, but this was his pièce de résistance.


There wasn’t much to do in Ten Sleep, so Edmund slept in. Overslept, in fact. He glanced at the clock: 9:03. So much for fate.

He shaved, showered, put his watch on. It read 8:44. How was that possible?

He scurried over to the front desk. “The clocks in the motel rooms are still on daylight savings time,” the clerk explained.

“That’s just too much!” he thought to himself. Even Todd couldn’t orchestrate all this. Edmund determined to walk out of town before it was too late.

As he was about to cross the city limits, a sleepy truck driver ran over him. When the undertaker removed his broken watch, it was frozen at 9:00.

Back in Missoula, Yelina was meeting with a new client.

Dwarf planet

The Plutonian sez:
Trollblog is at it again. They should pay attention to that "Flag Blog" button at the top of their blog. Someone might just hit that button and report them for HATE SPEECH for those Gratuitous Personal Atttacks that are characteristic for that "blog". Definitely conduct unbecoming a Christain (at least he says he's a Christain.).

Have you ever evaluated them with the Cuss-o-meter? For a supposedluy religious blog, their 4% rating is the equivalent of the F-Bomb.

If by their works you shall know them holds, then Trollblog has revealed what they have been predestined to. Let it be unto them an Anathema!


Tell me, O Great Anonymous Troll [whom I suspect to be the Courageous Steve Hays of TROLLBLOG], about the Christain Spirit of Christ when he rousted the Money Changers out of the Temple? Did St. Peter show Christain Charity towards Simon Magus?

While I have rebuked drwayman, Bob Brewer, and by implication William Birch himself over the misuse of the misleading term "Trialblogue" when the term TROLLBLOG is infinitely more accurate, we are still Civil towards each other and bear each other no malice, even in the face of this rebuke, unlike you who have used the characterization STUPID for all of us.

William, please do me a favor and DO NOT delete this Anonymous Troll's [whom I suspect to be the Courageous Steve Hays of TROLLBLOG] impudent and hypocritical post, as this post is an embarrasment to him. While I know that it violates your Rules for Civility that are normally in effect,this Semi-Anonymous Troll needs some Chastisement.


Trollblog obviously fears the "Flag Blog" button. I just posted a guide on how to use it in his "Termite" thread. Trollblog deposted it rather quickly, and I suppose I'm a banned user now.

It would not hurt the cause of Christianity to lose this loose cannon of a blog. For those of you who agree, please signify by hitting the "Flag Button" on Trollblog!

If Trialblog wishes to regain my respect, they can announce that they have expelled Mr. Hays from their membership, otherwise, they are still Trollblog to me.
1. It's ironic that the Plutonian accuses us of trolling when he's engaging in the same behavior.

2. The Plutonian is threatening us when he makes comments such as "Someone might just hit that button and report them for HATE SPEECH for those Gratuitous Personal Atttacks that are characteristic for that 'blog'." He then continues: "Definitely conduct unbecoming a Christain (at least he says he's a Christain.)." I wonder if it's "conduct unbecoming a Christian" for the Plutonian to make threats like this?

3. As of this post, I haven't seen the Plutonian apologize to the anonymous commenter whom he originally thought was Steve and said some fairly harsh words against but who later admitted he wasn't Steve (e.g. "All that I ask in return is that you be so generous to this Anonymous Troll and not believe that I am Steve Hayes"). Is it "Christian" behavior for the Plutonian to accuse someone of something, use harsh language against him or her as a result, and then when it turns to be a baseless allegation, to ignore the issue (at least at the time of this post, although the Plutonian has already replied to the thread)? Actually, anonymous, who is apparently not a Christian, has even apologized to the Plutonian!

Update, Aug. 23, 2009.

It looks like Birch deleted the Plutonian's comments in his combox (the very comments which I've quoted above), citing the following reason:
William Watson Birch said...

Pluto., & Dr. Wayman,

Please forgive me and have great patience with me, but I do not want to charge Triablogue with Hate Speech, nor do I want anyone to Flag their blog.

Though I disagree with how strong their invective is towards Christian and non-Christian alike, I still do not want to go down that road of Hate Speech.

God bless.
I'll note in passing how gracious Birch is to the Plutonian in the removal of the Plutonian's comments from his weblog despite the Plutonian's own "invective" toward others (like us and anonymous). And I just have to wonder, why doesn't Birch extend the same graciousness when it comes to us? Why doesn't he say stuff like "Please forgive me and have great patience with me..." to us? Why the two standards of treatment?


I'm going to repost some comments here which I originally posted over at James Anderson's fine blog:


I’d like to make a point about theological method. This got started when an Arminian commenter over at JT’s blog raised some intellectual objections to Piper’s theology of prayer.

If an Arminian is going to raise intellectual objections to the Reformed theology of prayer, then it won’t to for the Arminian to deflect intellectual objections to his own alternative by appealing to God’s immanence, transcendence, or whatever. Intellectual objections cut both ways.

Put another way, if this were a purely exegetical question, then it would be sufficient to do our exegesis and bracket the how-to questions.

However, this debate is not limited to exegetical theology. It spills over into philosophical theology. It involves initial assumptions regarding the nature of time, eternity, agency, causality, possibility, actuality, counterfactuality, retrocausation, truthmakers, &c. These are largely philosophical issues.

For that matter, even terms like divine “transcendence” and “immanence” are linguistic placeholders. When it comes to actually defining divine transcendence, immanence, and their interrelation (e.g. God’s relation to time), we have to compare and contrast specific philosophical models.

Therefore, an appeal to divine omnipotence or whatever to deflect the how-to question won’t do at this juncture. To the extent that this is a philosophical debate, with competing philosophical models, then these models have to stand on their own two feet. They must be plausible and coherent in their own right.

An argument from authority is out of place here, for we’re not dealing with a datum of pure revelation. Rather, many of the key details are underdetermined by revelation.

J.C. Thibodaux

“Answers to prayer are rather the results of God willingly perceiving our prayers within time”

i) In what sense does God “perceive” our prayers? Is “perception” being used in a metaphorical sense? What does this claim literally mean?

ii) In what sense does God “willingly” perceive our prayers? Does this mean that God, through an act of self-limitation, could make himself ignorant of our prayers–but chooses not to?

iii) If answers to prayer are the “result” of “God perceiving” them “within time,” then the divine perception of our prayers is temporally subsequent to our prayers. Likewise, the decision to answer our prayers is subsequent to our prayers–since the decision is contingent on his perception–according to this temporal/perceptual framework.


I’ll venture some comments on Arminian1’s response.

“This is fine, except that James’s examples do not serve as good examples of the sphere of relations we are talking about most specifically, i.e., interpersonal relations. In the case of one person making a request of another, the request can only be a geniune cause if it actually influences the granter of the request to grant the request.”

Of course, that’s a key contention of open theism. Is Arminian1 an open theist? If not, then he needs to explain how he can make a key concession to open theism without capitulating to open theism in toto.

“Or we could use Piper’s definitions.”

Actually, we shouldn’t. That was the starting point for Justin Taylor. But the debate has moved beyond that.

Piper is a preacher and Bible scholar. His definition is a popular definition, not a technical definition. If Arminian1 is going to critique the logical and/or metaphysical coherence of the Reformed doctrine of prayer, then we need to recast the issue in more philosophically stringent terms.

“If God transcends time, that is not to say that he “therefore does not exist in a series of moments”, but that he is not bound by any series of moments. That is, he can exist partially in a series of moments, yet he goes beyond them, is not limited by them, and can also be outside of them. He . . . transcends them.”

That’s an assertion. Arminian1 needs to show how it’s coherent to claim that God can “exist partially in a series of moments, yet also be outside of them.”

“While not necessarily committed to divine temporality, physicist Hugh Ross has shown how God could use extra dimensions (there are at least 11 dimensions that we know of scientifically, and there could be many more) in such a way (see his book Beyond the Cosmos).”

No, science has not shown that there are 11 dimensions to space. That’s merely a postulate of string theory. And string theory is quite controversial. It’s not a well-established theory, like Relativity or quantum mechanics.

“How else are we to speak of God’s decision? Is it not an event? If not, then it never happens, which is to say God never decides, which renders talk of God’s decisions absurd.”

It’s easy to say how else we’re to speak of it. There was never a time when God was undecided.

“It is unwise to base an objection to God’s ability to base his decisions to some extent on the actions of human beings performed in time on one’s view of God’s relationship to time when our understanding is so limited, God is so immense, and there are various models that can conceivably account for this.”

One problem with this statement is that it’s an appeal to mystery. But that cuts both ways. On the one hand, Arminian1 is raising an intellectual objection to the coherence of Reformed theology vis-à-vis prayer. On the other hand, he retreats into mystery to shield the Arminian alternative from rational scrutiny. That’s special pleading. Either both sides can appeal to mystery or else both sides are subject to rational scrutiny.

“I don’t see the problem [i.e. retrocausation]. This is grounded in God’s omnipotence and eternity. God is so great that he can encompass time and eternity and make something like this happen if he so chooses.

Yet he just told us that “it’s unwise to base an objection to God’s ability to base his decisions to some extent on the actions of human beings performed in time on one’s view of God’s relationship to time.”

But if he doesn’t think we know enough about the nature of time, or God’s relationship to time, then, by his own admission, he’s in no position to say that retrocausation is not a problem for his position. He can’t evaluate retrocausation unless he has a working theory on the nature of time.


Arminian1 said “While not necessarily committed to divine temporality, physicist Hugh Ross has shown how God could use extra dimensions (there are at least 11 dimensions that we know of scientifically, and there could be many more) in such a way (see his book Beyond the Cosmos).”

I’ve already commented on one problem with this statement. Now I’ll note two others:

i) Adding extra dimensions to space is irrelevant to the point at issue since the issue concerns the temporal coordinate (God’s relation to time, our relation to time), not the spatial coordinate(s).

ii) To the extent that you spatialize time, you wind up with a block view of time–which results in a closed future rather than an open future. And that, in turn, is antithetical to libertarian freewill.


According to Arminian1, “But all things (that are logically possible) are possible with God, and such [retro]causation appears to be logically possible with him given his ability to transcend time.”

Does Arminian1 think omnipotence can magically resolve the grandfather paradox?


According to Arminian1, “We come yet again to the critical difference between certainty and necessity, a distinction which James acknowledged as valid but thought irrelevant. But just as before, it again turns out to be quite relevant. On this, see see e.g., Robert E. Picirilli, ‘Foreknowledge, Freedom, and the Future’. The logic on this distinction is definitive, which is probably why James accepts it as valid.”

But from my reading, Picirilli’s “definitive” explanation is subject to the same intractable problem as the grounding objection to Molinism.

Birch vinegar


“But that does not make God the author of sin, for God did not force or coerce Adam to sin.”

1.In your original post, this is how you defined “authorship”: “I was under the impression that any amateur scholar would understand the phrase ‘author of sin,’ historical or otherwise; but alas, I was wrong. The word author denotes originality. Thus for someone accused of being the author of something, it connotes that he or she is the originator of that thing.”

Observe that you were very emphatic about this definition. It’s something that “any amateur scholar” would understand.

I also notice that you used the Oxford English Dictionary to define “responsibility” and “culpability.”

So how does the OED define “originate”? My copy gives these definitions:

Trans. To give origin to, give rise to, cause to arise or begin, initiate, bring into existence.

Intr. To take its origin or rise; to arise, come into existence, having its beginning, commence; to spring, be derive.

To “force” or “coerce” is not a proper definition of “originate.”

Rather, that’s a made-up definition of your own coinage. Moreover, it’s a made-up definition which you interpolate after the fact in response to my post.

So you are now backpedaling. What is more, you're also inventing tendentious definitions to salvage your original claim. That’s not a scholarly procedure–especially for someone with your academic ambitions.

2.Notice that in the definition of “originate” supplied by the OED, there’s a distinction between the initial conditions and subsequent developments. To “originate” involves mediate rather than immediate causation. The agent creates the initial conditions. To be the “author” of the outcome, the agent doesn’t have to directly cause the outcome. It’s sufficient that he put the initial conditions in place.

So if we define “authorship” in terms of “originator,” then creating Adam, Eve, and Lucifer, as well as the process of procreation, amounts to “authoring” the end-result.

I’m answering you on your own terms. When I do, you response with bluster–like a cat trying to stare down a dog.

3.In addition, there is nothing in predestination which “forces” or “coerces” the human agent. It’s quite maladroit of you to level that accusation. That’s not an honest attempt to accurately describe the Reformed position. The WCF goes out of its way to define freedom as the absence of coercion.

You’re indulging in a hack caricature of Reformed theology.

You never miss a chance to corroborate my charge that you lack the temperament to be a church historian. You’re just a partisan advocate sailing under the false colors of a church historian.


“I see, so because God is the author of Adam in Creation, he is also the author, originator, instigator of his sin?”

I’m not stating my own position. To me, framing the issue in terms of a extrabiblical metaphor (“author of sin”) is not a serious way to analyze the issue in the first place. I’m just answering you on your own terms.

“The issue of God being Adam's ‘author’ is not being contested here. Has then been taxing for you to follow?”

You’re the one who refuses to follow your own argument.

i) You defined “authorship” in terms of “origination.”

ii) You said that Calvinism, makes God the author of sin while Arminianism avoids that consequence.

iii) I, based on standard usage (from the OED), showed that Arminianism makes God the author (i.e. originator) of sin.

iv) You responded with a made-up definition of “origination.”

v) If you use “to originate” as a synonym for “to author,” and if “to originate” is defined by standard usage, then it follows that by originating Adam, God is the originator of Adam’s sin.

vi) Finally, my argument was never limited to the meaning of words. I can beat you on those grounds. Indeed, I’ve done so.

But, additionally, I also showed that if God creates a world with a foreseen consequence (a la Arminianism), then Adam (Lucifer, Hitler, &c.) cannot do otherwise in that world. The outcome is inevitable as a result of divine foreknowledge as well as divine creation. And it’s an outcome which God intended.

All this follows from Arminian assumptions. You need to explain how, given that set of facts, you can still inculpate the God of Reformed theism while you exculpate the God of Arminian theism.

“The issue is whether or not God strictly foreordained sin by decree or by foreknowledge. What say you?”

You yourself did not restrict yourself to that issue alone. Rather, you’re trying to argue that Reformed theism is morally repugnant.


“Once again (I'll start at the beginning): to say that God is the ‘author’ of Adam, Eve, and Lucifer is not to suggest that God caused either of them to sin. For God to be the ‘author’ of sin is to suggest that God caused them to sin.”

Which is not what “originate” means. To “cause” is not synonymous with “to cause to arise” or “initiate.” To merely “cause” something could either denote mediate or immediate causation, but to “cause to arise” or “initiate” is a case of mediate causation.

On that definition, if you use “to originate” as a synonym for “to author,” then God is the author of sin by causing sin to arise or initiating the conditions which inevitably yield that sinful result.

“To equate God as ‘author’ of Adam et al. as Creator with God as ‘author’ of their sin is a fallacy.”

If that’s a fallacy, then it’s a fallacy on your grounds, not ours. Feel free to withdraw your fallacious allegation against Calvinism at any time.

“Using Hays' OED definition…Is that what you're suggesting? Did God bring sin into existence? This is what I'm asking when I ask, Is God the author of sin?”

I used the OED definition because you defined authorship in terms of origination, so I turned to a standard definition of origination.

Paul and I aren’t suggesting anything with respect to Calvinism. We’re simply responding to you within your chosen framework.

As far as I’m concerned, casting the issue in terms of “authorship” is not a smart way to frame the issue. You’re getting carried away with an extrabiblical metaphor. That’s up to you. But I don’t have to share your fixation with an extrabiblical metaphor. Debating an extrabiblical metaphor is not one of my priorities. That’s of no exegetical or philosophical relevance to the issue at hand.


"For one to admit that because God created human beings (even foreknowing that they would sin) makes him the "author" of sin is just stupid."

Calling something "just stupid" is not a counterargument. If, according to Arminian theology, God instantiates a sinful outcome, then how does escape escape the charge of authoring sin?

God foresaw that outcome, God brought that foreseen outcome to pass by setting into motion a chain-reaction which inevitably led to that outcome, and God also intended that outcome (since he was free to prevent it). So how do you avoid the conclusion that God is the author of sin?


“So far, so good. God ‘brought that foreseen outcome to pass.’ Not good. That is not at all what Arminianism declares. The action belongs to man, not to God ‘bringing it to pass’."

God brought it to pass by making a world in which it occurs. Even on Arminianism, man’s action depends on God’s prior action.’

“"Intended." Interseting choice of words. This doesn't allow for ‘permittance.’ Then, ‘whatosever comes to pass’ does so by God's ‘intention.’ And yet Jesus taught us to pray for God's ‘will’ to be done on earth ‘as it is in heaven.’ But I digress…By ‘allowing’ or ‘permitting’ a thing to come to pass does not mean it was his desire, something that he wanted to come to pass. Clearly, he doesn't desire for us to sin, and yet we do. Thus he ‘permits’ us to freely sin.”

i) You’re substituting “desire” for “intent.”

ii) It’s not as if God merely allows evil to occur, as though evil would occur all by itself, absent divine participation–and it’s up to God whether or not to intervene.

Rather, God knowingly created a world in which evil takes place. Since all that was preventable, God intended the outcome.

Do you think God did not intend that outcome? It just happened all by itself apart from prior divine action and consent?

“Because God does not proactively cause sin.”

You act as if that’s morally significant. But if an agent sets into motion a chain of events which result in a foreseeable outcome, then he is responsible for the outcome.

“He doesn't cause evil to come to pass "by setting into motion a chain-reaction which inevitably led to that outcome," as you have sugggested.”

By creating Adam, Eve, Lucifer, and the process of procreation, God sets into motion a chain-reaction with an inevitable outcome resulting in evil.

God knew the end-result, and he created the initial conditions which yield that outcome.

And the outcome was inevitable on two grounds:

i) Since the outcome was foreknown, the outcome was certain.

ii) God also made the outcome inevitable by creating the world in which that foreseeable consequence occurs. In that world, no other outcome is possible. He created the world in which Lucifer falls. He created the world in which Adam falls. He created the world in which sinners beget sinners. By creating that world, it’s evitable that the all those events will transpire.

The fact that you try to deny this doesn’t make your denial coherent. My description is logically entailed by Arminian assumptions.

”And still you avoid answering my question outright. I'll ask it again, for this is the sole issue here - this is how the whole discussion was born.”

You are not entitled to unilaterally dictate the terms of the debate. I realize you’d like to rig the debate so that we only discuss the issues you think are damaging to Calvinism while avoiding all discussion of the issues which are damaging to Arminianism. That’s a backdoor admission that you can’t defend your own position. You can try to attack Calvinism, but your own position is indefensible.

“Did God foreordain Adam's sin by means of his foreknowledge of Adam's free choice, or by a mere decree? ”

i) Since “foreordination” is synonymous with the “decree,” your question is tautologous.

ii) If libertarianism were true, then the outcome would be unknowable–since it could go either way. Therefore, your assumption is incoherent.

“Or do you fear that by admitting that it was by God's mere decree (and thus not by foreknowledge), you are forced to agree with Sproul Jr. and recant your short post on his view?”

i) To draw that conclusion, you need to present a set of specific counterarguments in response to my critique of R. C. Jr.

ii) As a libertarian, you’re in no position to say I’d be “forced” to do anything. That would violate my freedom of choice.

Did The Earliest Christians Falsely Predict The Timing Of The Second Coming?

Here's a recent discussion, in which I've been participating, concerning whether passages like Mark 9:1 suggest that the earliest Christians believed that the second coming of Jesus was certain to occur before the end of His generation.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Termites in the Birch tree

Billy Birch has attempted a response:

“I am going to post a response to Steve Hays' (Triablogue) assessment of my post Perspectives on the Doctrine of God (Part Two of Two Parts), dated August 18, 2009. I delayed this response so that I could think long and hard as to whether I cared to engage with Hays' misrepresentations or misinterpretations of my words (yet again), to say nothing of his implausible use of logic and seemingly lack of knowledge of basic theological terms.”

The question at issue is not my alleged lack of knowledge, but the fact that if Birch is going to center his entire analysis on the use of a phrase in the Westminster Confession, then he needs to define the key terms.

“Hays is fond of discrediting me before I even earn a B. A. in Theology and English (double major) at The College at Southeastern (SEBTS).”

I haven’t questioned his credentials, or lack thereof. The point at issue is whether he has the temperament to be a church historian. To be a decent church historian, you must have a capacity to accurately represent positions you may disagree with. Thus far, Birch is far too hostile to Calvinism to accurately represent Reformed theology. At this point he lacks the requisite temperament. Perhaps he’ll outgrow it, but since he’s already 41 years of age, his formative years are well behind him.

“Yet Hays has had his own problems with scholarly documents in the past (see here, here, and here).”

Ironically, that illustrates my point. He tries to substantiate his allegation by referring the reader to a fellow Arminian epologist. All very in-house. Is that the sort of documentation he uses in his student papers? Notice, too, that he only cites Ben’s side of the debate.

“I was under the impression that any amateur scholar would understand the phrase ‘author of sin,’ historical or otherwise; but alas, I was wrong.”

i) Actually, I did a post on that subject several years ago, in which I review the French, Latin, and English cognate senses of the term:

It would behoove Billy not to underestimate his opponents. It positions himself for an embarrassing pratfall.

ii) In addition, there is more at issue than the definition of a word. There is also the connotation of a word. If I call someone a “Nazi,” we could simply define that term as “a member of the National Socialist party.”

But, of course, that misses the point. “Nazi” is a loaded word. A word with invidious connotations.

So there are actually several issues in play:

a) Does Calvinism make God the “author of sin”?

b) Is it unacceptable to make God the “author of sin”?

c) If so, does Armenians share the same odium?

“The word author denotes originality. Thus for someone accused of being the author of something, it connotes that he or she is the originator of that thing.”

Actually, I think the semantic range of the word is wider than that. But, for the sake of argument, let’s play along with that definition.

In Arminian theology, God is the Creator. He originated Adam, Eve, and Lucifer. He originated the environment they inhabit. And he originated procreation–which propagates sinners. So, on Billy’s definition, Arminian theology makes God the author of sin.

“It is interesting that Hays ‘offers no argument ~ Just raw assertion’ (using his own words concerning me). Hays is satisfied with quoting my words, presuming my erroneous judgment, and offering absolutely no counter-argument whatsoever.”

I don’t need to argue against an assertion. Since Billy didn’t argue for his interpretation, but simply asserted it, no counterargument is necessary.

“One would think that Hays did not read through the post competently, for clearly the Westminster Confession's own statement makes God the author of sin, since he freely and unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass by his own will and not by anything foreseen.”

Which is an example of what I mean. Billy quotes the Confession, posits his interpretation as if it were self-evident, then leaves it at that.

“I will make it even more plain. If one were to admit that God foresaw that I would write this post because he foreknew every detail about me, including every nanosecond of my life, and he then foreordained this writing, as opposed to distracting me and thus using that distraction so that I would not write this post, that would comprise a basic and simplified Arminian understanding of God's foreordination. God foresees the future because he is omniscient (all-knowing). He knows everything knowable about every living creature because he foreordained their existence. Had he not foreordained my existence then there would be nothing to know and hence nothing to foreordain. This is how Arminianism ‘exempts God from the accusation’ of being the author or originator of sin: sin was not foreordained merely by decree but by God's permittance of free will. But God, foreknowing the sin of his creatures, foreordained that it would be manifested (by the free will of the creature, not by mere decree). He also foreordained a plan to save his creatures from the results of that free choice to sin. Can God thwart sin? Yes, sin does not thwart God's plan. But this post is not dealing with the effects of sin and what God is or is not able to do concerning sinful acts. Categorically, we must adhere to the issue of what and why God has foreordained.”

Well, that’s pretty pathetic. Let’s make a few points:

i) In Arminianism, God foreknows the outcome.

ii) Even though God sees it coming, God still makes it happen. God instantiates the outcome by creating a world in which that outcome occurs. He actualizes that eventualtiy.

iii) By foreknowing the outcome, and by also instantiating the outcome, God renders the outcome absolutely certain. He creates a world in which that will happen. At that point it cannot be otherwise. The outcome is inevitable. And he made it inevitable by instantating that outcome.

iv) This despite the fact that it lay within his power to prevent the outcome.

v) Since God foresaw that outcome, but made the world anyway, inclusive of the foreseen outcome, then God must have intended that outcome.

vi) Therefore, according to Arminian theology, God both intended the sinful outcome, and rendered it certain to occur.

vii) Apropos (i)-(vi), if, for the sake of argument, Calvinism makes God the “author of sin,” then how does Arminianism avoid the same consequence?

“However, if one were to admit that God could not simply foresee the future (which is a denial of the doctrine of omnipotence).”

That’s fallacious. The question is whether Arminian theology, with its philosophical commitment to libertarian freewill, denies a precondition of omniscience.

“Consequently, even sin could not come about unless God strictly, freely and unchangeably foreordained (decreed) it.”

And, from an Arminian standpoint, sin could not come about unless God made the world–a world in which he foresaw a sinful outcome.

“Roger Olson writes: Does God govern by meticulously determining the entire course of every life, including moral choices and actions? Or does God allow humans a realm of freedom of choice and then responds by drawing them into his perfect plan for history's consummation?”

If God foresees the outcome, and God creates a world which exemplifies that outcome, then, at that point, human beings are not at liberty to act contrary to the foreseen outcome which God instantiated. He foresaw a world in which Adam did X rather than Y. He created the world in which Adam did X rather than Y. Therefore, this is not a world in which Adam is still free to do Y rather than X.

This is the world where Adam did X. God created the particular world where he foresaw Adam do X. If God foresaw what Adam will do, then the outcome is already certain. Moreover, even if you deny that logical connection, once God creates the particular world were Adam does X, then his creative choice locks that particular outcome in place.

“If God's sovereignty were already completely exercised de facto, why would anyone need to pray for God's will to be done on earth? In that case, it would always already be done on earth. The distinction between God's sovereignty de facto and de jure is required by the Lord's Prayer. . . .”

Answered prayers are one way in which God exercises his sovereignty.

“But Arminians reject the narrow definition of sovereignty ~ absolute and meticulous control ~ because it cannot avoid making God the author of sin and evil, in which case, Arminians believe, God would be morally ambiguous.”

And for reasons I’ve given, if Calvinism makes God morally ambiguous, then the Arminian alternative suffers from the same moral ambiguities.

Thus far Olson. Reverting to Birch:

“The word responsible means ‘being the primary cause of something and so able to be blamed or credited for it’ (Oxford). The word culpable means ‘deserving blame’ (Oxford). How embarrassing for Hays in not adequately thinking this one through. What is ‘inherently odious’ about stating that God is responsible for whatever happens is because whatever happens materializes from God's decree.”

And in Arminianism, whatever happens materializes from God’s intention that it happen, and his making it happen by his creative fiat–in full knowledge of the outcome.

God intends it to happen because he could prevent it from happening by not creating a world in which it happens. By creating a world in which the event is foreseen, he must intend it to happen. And by creating such a world, he brings it to pass.

“It is ‘inherently odious’ to state that God strictly, freely and unchangeably decreed the rape of an eight year old Liberian girl in Arizona.”

i) But according to Arminian theology, God intended that to happen.

ii) Moreover, according to Arminian theology, that outcome was unalterable. If it’s foreseen, it’s unalterable. What is more, if God instantiates that outcome by creating the world in which it will occur, then it’s unalterable–on that additional ground. Unalterable on two grounds.

iii) But suppose, for the sake of argument, that in Arminian theology that outcome is not unchangeable. Very well then. If it’s changeable, then why didn’t God change it?

Why does Birch cite a case of heinous moral evil, fault Calvinism because it’s unchangeable (if Calvinism is true), then leave it at that?

What’s the problem with the case he cited? That the outcome is unchangeable? Presumably, an unchangeable outcome is only a problem if we need to change the outcome. If the outcome is intolerable. What’s the point of saying an outcome should be changeable unless the next step is taking to actually change the outcome?

Birch acts as if abstract mutability is a virtue in itself. But what’s the value of an abstractly mutable outcome unless the outcome is concretely altered?

Why would Birch bother to cite this event unless he thought it was a bad outcome? Indeed, morally unjustifiable at every respect? To say, according to Arminianism, that the outcome is hypothetically changeable while leaving the outcome in place is hardly adequate. A conceptual distinction which makes no practical difference.

iv) Suppose God merely “permits” evil. Either he has a morally sufficient or morally insufficient reason to permit evil.

But if he has a morally sufficient reason to permit evil, then he has a morally sufficient reason to decree evil. Any evil that God has good reason to permit, God has good reason to decree.

“(Wretched doctrine that it is, at least R. C. Sproul Jr. consistently admits that the logical conclusion that the Calvinist's determinism promotes is that God is the author of sin. Even though Hays opposes Sproul Jr.'s doctrine, and tries desperately to discredit him, using what is known as a genetic fallacy, the implications of his own theology inevitably proves Sproul right.)”

This is yet another example of Birch’s ineptitude.

i) Was I committing the generic fallacy? No. Just the opposite. People who cite R. C. Jr. just because of his last name are committing the generic fallacy. Appealing to R. C. Jr. because of who he is (in relation to a famous father) commits the genetic fallacy. My remarks were specifically countering that fallacy.

ii) Moreover, as I also said in that very post, my objection was by no means limited to that particular observation. I referred the reader to a post in which I critique the substantive claims–which Billy conveniently ignores.

“Again, however, we cannot allow Hays (or any Calvinist) to distract us from the main point of what God has foreordained and why by insisting that in the Arminian tradition God could have prevented the rape by divine intervention. That is not the point here, and it is nothing more than a smoke screen to disguise and conceal the fact that the Calvinist's view of God is that he foreordained the rape, not by foreknowledge of free will action but by decree!”

i) To begin with, I’ve discussed the theodicean implications of predestination on many occasions. So it’s not as if I’m deflecting attention away from a direct response to that issue.

ii) I understand why Birch wants to limit all discussion to the theodicean implications of Calvinism, while avoiding a discussion over the theodicean implications of Arminianism. He’s trying to attack our flank while protecting his own.

However, he doesn’t get to feign indignation over the theodicean implications of Calvinism (as he sees it) while exempting his own position from moral scrutiny. If Calvinism is fair game, then so is his alternative.

“The notion that God was ‘able, but unwilling, to prevent a world containing sinners’ betrays God's initial intention. Hays himself has ‘turned a blind eye’ to the fact that Adam and Eve exercised free will in the Garden ~ free will given by God himself ~ Adam and Eve were not robots (and notice that their exercise of free will did not detract from the glory of God).”

i) Which corroborates my point that, according to Arminianism, God was able, but unwilling, to prevent evil. The claim that Adam and Eve had libertarian freewill is irrelevant. Even if they had libertarian freewill, this doesn’t change the fact that God was able, but unwilling, to prevent them from sinning–and thereby introduce horrendous evil into the world.

ii) And notice what an utterly lame theodicy he’s offering. If God gave X libertarian freewill, then that’s supposedly a sufficient reason for God not to intervene thereafter.

Imagine if we applied Billy’s logic to a schoolyard sniper. Suppose I take my son along with me when I go hunting. I teach him how to use a rifle. Suppose my son goes postal one day and starts shooting his classmates.

Should the policemen say, “We can’t do anything to stop him. That would violate his freedom of choice. Sure, it’s tragic if he murders a dozen of his classmates, but, hey, that’s the price you pay for libertarian freewill. We mustn’t interfere!”

“But again, the subject at hand is what and why God foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. Hays wants to distract his readers with this red herring.”

Birch would like to make that the subject at hand so that he can duck the theodicean implications of his own position. Remember, though, that Birch presents Arminianism as an alternative to what is unacceptable in Calvinism. Therefore, the question of whether Arminianism is prey to comparable objections is hardly a red herring.

Birch wants to charge the Calvinist a toll while giving himself a free ride. While I understand his temptation, real life doesn’t work that way.

“It never ceases to amaze me the amount of philosophy it takes to buttress the system of Calvinism. For most Calvinists to suggest that Calvinism is merely a biblically exegetical system is to admit schizophrenia.”

I wasn’t using philosophy to buttress Calvinism. I was responding to Birch on his own terms.

Misson of inquiry to the Jews

Here's how Robert Murray M'Cheyne's life unfolded in one particular year:
1839 March
It is proposed that M'Cheyne be included in the party of ministers of the Church of Scotland to visit Palestine with a view to finding out the condition of the Jews and the opportunities for future Gospel mission to them. His doctors concur with this suggestion, deeming that the warmer climate of the Mediterranean would be conducive to his recovery to full health.

1839 April 11
Start of the Mission of Inquiry. Four Scottish ministers set out from London. They are Robert M'Cheyne, Andrew Bonar, Alexander Keith and Alexander Black. Two young men accompanied by two older men.

Rev. William Chalmers Burns agrees to deputise for M'Cheyne during his lengthy absence from St Peter's. The Mission takes seven months in all.

1839 April 20
Lyons, France. During their overland journey through France they distribute French tracts.

1839 April 24
Genoa, Italy. Speaking the gospel to ordinary Genovese would have got them jailed, but they manage to speak to some Jews.

1839 May 5

1839 May 15
Alexandria, Egypt. From there, they continue on camels to Palestine, accompanied by two Arab guides.

1839 June 7
Arrive in Jerusalem. Subsequently that month visit Bethlehem & Hebron and Bethany, then Gibeon, Sychem, Samaria, Carmel. The older ministers, A. Black and A. Keith later return to Britain separately due to ill-health, stopping en route at Budapest, Hungary.

1839 July 5
Arrive in Beyrout (modern Beirut, Lebanon). During July they visit Syro-Phoenecia and Galilee. Visit several synagogues.

1839 July 29
Approach Cyprus, then on towards Constantinople.

1839 August 5
Bouja, near Smyrna (modern Izmir). M'Cheyne has suffered a high fever since they left Beyrout, and recuperates at the home of the English chaplain Rev Mr Lewis and his wife in Bouja, a small village in the hills.

1839 August 26
M'Cheyne arrives in Constantinople (modern Istanbul).

1839 Sept-Oct.
Return journey via Wallachia, Moldavia, Austrian Poland, Prussia and Hamburg. There they hear the first news of the wonderful work of God that had lately taken place in Scotland. Newspapers have brief references to the revivals at Kilsyth and Dundee under the preaching of W. C. Burns.

1839 November 6
Sail up the Thames into London. They receive more details of the revival.

1839 November 22
M'Cheyne arrives back in Dundee and meets Burns the following day. They both go into the pulpit together.

[A few years later...]

1842 May
"Narrative of a Visit to the Holy Land and Mission of Inquiry to the Jews" by Andrew A. Bonar & Robert Murray M'Cheyne, is finally published on behalf of the Board of Mission of the Church of Scotland.
As a result:
The report of their Mission of Inquiry was first published in 1842. Though several further editions appeared, it had been long out of print until a slightly abridged paperback edition was published by Christian Focus in 1996, under the title "Mission of Discovery: The beginnings of Modern Jewish Evangelism - The journal of Bonar and McCheyne's Mission of Inquiry". This 446 page work has detailed accounts of their visits to synagogues and conversations with the Jews they met during their journeys. The report subsequently led to the sending of the Daniel Edwards as a missionary to the Jews in Poland, followed by that of 'Rabbi' John Duncan to the Jews in Hungary. Two prominent Jews who came to a living faith in Jesus Christ were Alfred Edersheim and Adolph Sapphir in Budapest.

The Maoz Web

Baruch Maoz is an evangelical, Reformed Messianic Jew. His website is well-worth checking out.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


R. C. Sproul Jr. has taken a position on the “authorship of sin” which is getting some buzz in the blogosphere. Before we say anything further, let’s put this into perspective. R. C. Jr. isn’t famous in his own right. He’s not a great theologian like Calvin or Turretin or Owen or Bavinck or Cunningham or Warfield or Vos, &c.

R. C. Jr. is well-known for the same reason that Lisa Marie Presley is well-known. Celebrity children. People know who they are because they know who their parents are. Borrowed renown. If Elvis was the king, then that made Lisa the titular princess.

Just as no one would give Lisa Marie Presley the time of day were it not for her last name, so no one would give R. C. Jr. the time of day were it not for his last name. If he were R. C. Finkelstein, nobody would pay the slightest attention. He’d just be another schmuck like yours truly.

What R. C. Junior brings to the table isn’t achieved status, but ascribed status. Like the duke of Lichtenstein. Hereditary titles. A coat-of-arms. Same thing with members of a certain political dynasty who think name-recognition automatically qualifies them for high office (e.g. Caroline Kennedy).

This doesn’t mean we should dismiss their opinions out of hand. But by the same token, it’s not as if their opinions are entitled to special deference just because of who said it.

As for the substantive issue, I’ve already blogged on that issue, so I don’t have to repeat myself here.

Not a chance in hell

Arminians view Arminian theology has more loving than Reformed theology. According to Reformed theology, the damned never had a chance. But according to Arminian theology, so we’re told, everyone has a chance to go to heaven. Christ died for everyone, and the Holy Spirit confers sufficient grace on everyone–sufficient for everyone to either believe or disbelieve the gospel. That supposedly makes Arminianism fairer than Calvinism. Everyone has an equal shot, an equal opportunity.

However, that’s an illusion–even on Arminian grounds. In Arminian theology, God foreknows who will believe the gospel and who will disbelieve the gospel. And God creates everyone fully cognizant of that outcome.

Therefore, there is no chance in the slightest that either party will do otherwise. Those whom God has foreknown will believe the gospel have no chance of disbelieving the gospel, while those whom God has foreknown will disbelieve the gospel have no chance of believing the gospel.

Far from giving sinners a chance to avoid hell, when God has advance knowledge of the fact that by creating some individuals, they will reject the gospel, and he creates them anyway, God thereby renders it absolutely certain that they will spend eternity in hell. It’s not as if they have a 50/50 chance of avoiding hell. To the contrary, the outcome is a sure thing. God sealed their doom by creating them–in full light of the outcome. Their fate is a foregone conclusion. Before they were born, their fate was assured.

Now, Arminians, if they like, can still try to argue that this is fairer than Calvinism. But they can’t argue that on the basis of giving everyone a chance to either go to heaven or hell. By the time God made them, and by making them, that’s no longer in the cards.

What's the gospel?

In their opposition to the doctrines of grace, opponents often reveal how little they grasp the gospel. Here are twosobering examples:


On another matter, this type of logic leads to the conclusion that my love for my wife would be greater than it is if she were to have an affair and I were to forgive her for it.


Actually, the theme of God as the cuckold husband who takes his wife back is one of the master metaphors of Scripture. Reppert must regard the canonicity of Hosea as a major reason to reject the inerrancy of Scripture.


steve said...

"I have responded to the Calvinist counter-argument on John 3:16, which I find less than satisfactory simply because even if 'world' doesn't mean everybody, it seems to mean everyone who's alienated from God. I don't think the most natural reading of this is that given the depravity of man, we should just be amazed that God had enough love to save anyone. The object of that love is supposed to be the Kosmos, which is either the whole world or the world alienated from God. If that love just picks the elect out of that world, then the love doesn't extend to the whole world, but only to the elect within it."

You keep missing the point. John's "cosmic" language has reference, not to the scope of God's love, but to the counterintuitive nature of God's love, given the moral character of those for whom atonement is made.

And notice that Jn 3:16 limits the scope of the atonement to believers.

Josh said...

What counter-intuitive nature of God's love?

steve said...

In Scripture, it's counterintuitive that God would love the wicked.

Josh said...

Why is that counterintuitive? Can you explain what you mean?

steve said...

In Scripture, it is counterintuitive for a holy God to love the wicked. That's the point of passages like Rom 5:6-8.

Josh said...

Ok, I see why it would be counterintuitive for a Calvinist, but counterintuitive results are, generally, undesirable. It seems that we have a good defeater for Calvinism rather than a good reason for counterintuitive results.

steve said...

Since I quoted Romans, I take it from your response that you think Paul was a Calvinist, which is why he treats the notion as counterintuitive. I appreciate your concession to Biblical Calvinism. Of course, that will count as a defeater for your position.

Josh said...

Hrm? I don't think Romans points to anything counterintuitive in any real or deep sense. I deny that God's love is in any way counterintuitive. So no, I haven't conceded anything. All you've done is taken something I said, combined it with one of your assumptions and said this proves Calvinism. That kind of rhetoric stinks.

steve said...


Does Paul, in the passage I quote, treat God's love for sinners as something predictable, or something we wouldn't normally expect?

Josh said...

He treats it as something supererogatory.

ETA: Actually, I don't know whether the passage indicates supererogation, but I do think that the passage is perfectly compatible with that interpretation.

steve said...

Well, here’s how Ben Witherington interprets the passage:

“The sense of v7 is brought out by Cranfield as ‘it is a rare thing for someone to lay down his life for a just person, much less for one who is his benefactor’ (see Ps 73:1 for this sense of ‘the [do]-gooder’). How much more surprising then is Christ’s death for the ungodly. It does not follow normal human behavior patterns or human logic…Paul’s logic runs counter to the normal conventions of the day,” Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 173.

So, as you would put it, “Ok, I see why it would be counterintuitive for an Arminian (e.g. Witherington), but counterintuitive results are, generally, undesirable. It seems that we have a good defeater for Arminianism rather than a good reason for counterintuitive results.”

Josh said...

Culturally defiant is not counterintuitive. There isn't something immoral or utterly unbelievable about God's love. Is it contrary to what most humans would do? Sure. But that doesn't touch on what would be counterintuitive for an omni-God to do, despite your clever rewording of my post.

steve said...

So what runs counter to human logic (Witherington's interpretation) isn't counterintuitive. Is that your last-ditch explanation?

And, of course, the question at issue is very much concerned with what is counterintuitive to human beings regarding their expectations of God. That is Paul's point, which you resist because you really don't care what the Bible says, even when it's interpreted for you by a major Arminian commentator.

And underlying that expectation is the fact that we'd expect a just God to condemn evil-doers, an expectation which the Bible frequently fosters.

Paul also underscores the counterintuitive nature of the Gospel in 1 Cor 1-3.

Does God desire whatever he commands?

Arminians typically contend that whatever God commands, God desires. Otherwise, God would be insincere.

However, that generates a dilemma. On the one hand, the law of God contains the death penalty for various crimes. Likewise, God commands the death of Canaanites.

Therefore, by Arminian logic, God desires the death of sinners. Not all, but many.

On the other hand, Arminians constantly cite verses like Ezk 18:23 to prove that God does not desire the death of sinners.

So which horn of the dilemma will Arminians go with? If God desires whatever he commands, then God desires the death of sinners–for he frequently commands their execution.

But if God does not, in fact, desire the death of sinners, then you can’t infer his desire from his command.

Troll 2

Robert said...

“Now consider whom Hays cites as the experts who supposedly have interpreted the Romans 9:22-23 section correctly. All three are staunch calvinists, and Piper and Schreiner in particular are **militant** calvinists (both have published a lot of material arguing for and supporting Calvinism, Piper began as an Arminian but then **converted** to calvinism based upon his coming to a calvinistic interpretation of Romans 9 which he did his doctorate on and subsequently published as a book entirely on his calvinistic interpretation of Romans 9). Piper and Schreiner go out of their way to propagate Calvinism. Vested interests of these experts, you bet.”

i) Of course, Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet is ignoring the obvious. If he’s going to use that objection to dismiss Reformed scholars out of hand, then, by the same token, I can dismiss Arminian scholars like Grant Osborne, Ben Witherington, and I. H. Marshall out of hand.

ii) For that matter, Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet is using the same tactic which unbelievers use to dismiss the NT witness to the Resurrection. The NT writers were believers. They have a “vested interest” in what they say. Therefore, we can discount their testimony.

iii) And notice that Robert says nothing to counter the exegesis of Piper, Schreiner, and Moo.

“I thought it was humorous that Hays appealed to his “expert” on hardening (i.e. Beale another staunch calvinist) and Victor countered with an essay by a non-Calvinist on hardening. So we can all play this game of citing experts in support of our view.”

My appeal to Piper, Schreiner, and Moo was not an appeal to authority. I didn’t treat them as expert witnesses. Rather, I quoted their exegetical arguments. And Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet offers no counterargument.

Instead, he assails the motives of Piper, Schreiner, and Moo. But, of course, that cuts both ways. Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet also has a personal stake in this debate. He’s hardly a disinterested party.

“Calvinists like Moo present a false dilemma here (i.e. it is either take the second all as meaning all and so ending up a universalist OR reject the second all as meaning all and take the calvinist position.”

A universal quantifier can have the same meaning in both occurrences without having the same referent. I cited 1 Cor 15 to underscore that point. “All” die and Adam” while “all” are made alive in Christ. But the second case has reference to Christians, not to humanity in general. And I notice that Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet dodges that example.

“The text [Rom 11:32] does not say He saves all.”

I already anticipated that move. I pointed out that even if this move works for 11:32, the same move won’t work for 5:18.

“Again no problem. The biblical texts say that Jesus was given or offered for the world as an atonement for all. This speaks of the provision of the atonement which is in fact universal (as the universal texts clearly state).”

No. There are verses in Scripture which go beyond mere provision. Rom 5:18 is a case it point. That talks about the end-result.

Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet has yet to explain how he can reconcile 5:18 with his denial of universal salvation without adopting Reformed exegesis.


Is that what I said? No. Either Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet is dense or dishonest.

What I said, rather, is that his explanation is both impotent and incompetent.

“If another calvinist had written that the bible sufficiently counters universalism…”

Of course, when another Calvinist does that, he presents interpretations consistent with Calvinism to prove his point. That’s hardly comparable to Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet’s situation.

“I have to admit that I have a certain assumption, perhaps you disagree with it. I believe we should limit our conclusions to conclusions derived from biblical texts. There are no biblical texts which speak of a post-mortem second chance or last chance to be saved. We have to limit our conclusions to the available data. If someone wants to **claim** a post mortem opportunity then the burden of proof is upon them to show from the biblical data where this is present. I do not believe they can do so as there is no data like this in the bible.”

It’s clear that Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet has no hands-on experience debating astute universalists. I do.

I’d also note that Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet ducks the counterargument of Jason Pratt.

“If God decides that that is the way things will be, then as He is sovereign, then that is the way things will be (and He has said that first death comes and then the judgment with no hint of any second chance or final chance to repent).”

Notice that when Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet tries to argue down a universalist, he falls back on Reformed appeals to God’s sovereign prerogative. How very Calvinistic!

“The first all is not a universal all then? No one argues that the first all is not universal. And it is **arbitrary** and **driven by** the calvinistic system not by the text, to conclude that the second all is not universal as well.”

Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet continues to miss the point. Evidently, he’s ignorant of the sense/reference distinction, even though that’s a rudimentary distinction in lexical semantics. Nothing uniquely “Calvinist” about that distinction.

“It is not a semantic fallacy to see both alls in Romans 11:32 meaning all. It is special pleading by the calvinist to argue the first all is universal while the second all is not.”

What the quantifier means is not the issue. The issue is the identity of the referent.

“For the Arminian God’s plan of salvation is to provide an atonement for the world (i.e. the atonement of Christ) and have this atonement **only** applied to those who respond in faith. In this view ‘God saves those he wants to save’ (i.e., those who have a faith response, those who trust Him for salvation).”

And why does the provision exceed the application? That’s a useless provision.

It’s like erecting a silo in West Antarctica. A silo full of wheat which no one eats. What’s the point?

“The Arminian view is that God desires the salvation of all and provides for the salvation of all…”

Really? Didn’t Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet just tell us that “If God decides that that is the way things will be, then as He is sovereign, then that is the way things will be (and He has said that first death comes and then the judgment with no hint of any second chance or final chance to repent).”

By Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet’s own admission, God won’t allow anyone to repent after death. So God has a deadline which prevents some sinners from being saved whom he could save if he allowed them to repent after death.

Therefore, God doesn’t desire the salvation of all. He doesn’t provide for the salvation of all. Were that the case, then his provision would extend beyond the grave. According to Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet, God has established an arbitrary expiration date on the offer of the gospel. Whether you’re saved or damned depends on which side of the deadline you find yourself. Clearly, then, God does not desire the salvation of all. For that cut-off-point preempts any opportunity for postmortem salvation.

“If Hays wants to believe that human persons not responding to the gospel with faith makes God a ‘failure’…”

Notice the blatant equivocation. I said that’s a failure on Arminian terms. Arminian assumptions.

By contrast, if God decrees that some people disbelieve the gospel, and they do what he decreed (i.e. disbelieve the gospel), then God succeeded in achieving his aim.

“Hays is merely trying to attack Arminian theology with his argument that it makes God a ‘failure’. But let’s turn it around and look at how under Calvinism God is always ‘successful’. Hays believes that everything is prescripted by God. God conceived of a story and every detail of that story in eternity, he then brings that story to pass in time (what we call history). So everything that happens is exactly what God desired to happen and God’s will (the sovereign plan, the total plan, the story preconceived in eternity) is **always** done. This is the secret will of God that is always ‘successful’. But then there is the expressed will of God in scripture, which while fully and visibly stated in the bible for all to see, nevertheless is constantly violated by human persons (but God is not a ‘failure’ because God’s secret will, the one that really counts is always being done).”

The law of God establishes a standard by which the reprobate will be judged. Hardly a problem for Calvinism.

“So while the bible expresses God’s desires that the Christian is to be holy, to resist temptation…”

Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet is assuming, without benefit of argument, that the law of God is an expression of God’s desires.

That’s a problem for Arminianism. On the one hand, the law of God contains the death penalty for various crimes. Therefore, by Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet’s logic, God desires the death of the offender. On the other hand, Arminians constantly cite verses like Ezk 18:23 to prove that God does not desire the death of sinners.

“But that is **just** what God says in the bible, that is not really what God wants, what God planned from eternity.”

False dichotomy since the Bible also speaks of God’s eternal plan.

“A God who says one thing in the bible but then constantly brings about things that directly contradicts the bible.”

Really? What about God’s command to sacrifice Isaac?

Knowing the mind of God


“I have reached the conclusion that there are certain epistemological presuppositions held by Calvinists which have to be responded to if there is to be an effective critique of Calvinism that a Calvinist will take seriously.”


“Calvinists typically begin with a kind of biblical positivism in which the inerrancy of Scripture is not only accepted, but is considered epistemologically fundamental.”

Well, let’s consider the issue at hand, shall we? Such as: Why is there evil in the world? What is God’s will for man? What is the afterlife like?

Now, what would be our best source of information or even our only source of information to answer these questions? Absent divine revelation, how could we begin to answer these questions?

Absent divine revelation, how could we know why God created a world containing evil? Absent divine revelation, how could we know God’s will for man? Absent divine revelation, how could we know what the afterlife is like?

These are questions that involve divine intent. We lack direct access to the mind of God. We can’t read his mind. If we are to know his intentions, he must disclose his intentions.

“The next step is to argue that the primary type of evidence relevant to the interpretation of texts of Scripture is of the grammatico-historical type. So if I say ‘this makes no sense, God could and surely should do it differently’ the primary objection is that the text says God did it that way, so ‘so much the worse for intuition.’ To object as I have done would be to present an a priori argument against Calvinism, not an exegetical argument.”


“The next step is to produce reams of Calvinist exegesis of the relevant passages. This includes arguing that Calvinist texts (Eph. 1, Rom. 9) really do fully support Calvinism, and cannot be interpreted in any other way without doing violence to the meaning of the text. Anti-Calvinist texts I Pet 3:9, John 3:16, James 1:13, 2 Cor 5:15, etc.) can be reconciled with Calvinism without doing violence to the meaning of the text.”


“At the same time I can come up with anti-Calvinist exegetes who say that the Calvinist texts don't support Calvinism, and the Calvinist interpretation of anti-Calvinist text really do undermine Calvinism.”

True. Same is true in debating a Jehovah’s Witness.

“The thing that is hard not to notice is that people like Moo, Schreiner and Carson on the Calvinist side, and Witherington and Hamilton on the Arminian side are all professional exegetes. However, so far as I can tell, none of us over here in the blogosphere is a professional exegete. How do you guys figure out who to trust, besides trusting exactly those people whose ideas support the theology you are already committed to?”

i) What makes you think trust has anything to do with it? Commentators present arguments for their interpretation. They also interact with opposing views. They try to point out the deficiencies of the rival interpretations.

We simply evaluate their respective arguments. A layman can often do that since it’s a question of logic. A man may be an expert in his field, but unless he’s a professional logician, he has no advantage over a layman so far as logical reasoning is concerned.

ii) Moreover, it’s not as if only Reformed exegetes defend interpretations consistent with Calvinism. I can cite non-Calvinists who, on this or that verse, offer an interpretation which is consistent with Calvinism.

“By the way, I do not appreciate how all the points of the post were ignored, except for the one line in the discussion that you thought you could ridicule.”

i) The statement I quoted is a textbook case of special pleading. I think it’s worthwhile to highlight special pleading, especially when a philosophy prof. is the culprit. When you, Reppert, indulge in special pleading, that means you’re losing the argument.

ii) You also mentioned Jn 3:16. I didn’t respond to that in my post because I didn’t wish to blur the focus of my post. However, I did respond to that appeal over at your own blog.

iii) You also said “I think it won't do to deny that God loves every person.” Since that’s an assertion in lieu of an argument, I’m under no obligation to rebut your assertion since you give me no reason to believe it in the first place. . It was deservedly ignored.

iv) You also compare exegesis to scientific inference. Unfortunately, that’s an argument from analogy minus the argument. Unless and until you furnish a supporting argument to show that science and hermeneutics are comparable, this is just another orphaned assertion.

“The purpose of this post was not to engage my arguments, but to discredit me.”

When you make a statement like, "For me, the Calvinist has the burden of proof. Why? I'm not a Calvinist. You've got to show me," that discredits you. It’s especially discreditable on the lips of a philosophy prof.

"The Morality of the New Atheism"

James Anderson is always worth reading. Here he writes about the morality of the New Atheism and how it is inconsistent with their own principles.

Salvation through judgment

Jim Hamilton on God manifesting his salvation through judgment (PDF).

HT: Paul Manata.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Arminian theodicy

Arminians make heavy weather of the fact that, according to Calvinism, God predestined who would go to heaven and who would go to hell.

Yet traditional Arminianism subscribes to conditional election. And this isn’t just a thing of the past. That doctrine is reaffirmed by the Society of Evangelical Arminians:

“We believe that God’s saving grace is resistible, that election unto salvation is conditional on faith in Christ, and that persevering in faith is necessary for final salvation.”

So, on this view, God foreknew who would accept the Gospel and be saved as well as who would reject the Gospel and be damned. Yet he went right ahead created hellbound sinners despite that fact.

Question: from an Arminian perspective, why didn’t God simply create the faithful? He knew who the faithful would be. Moreover, Arminians attribute libertarian freedom to God. So it’s not as if God had to create this particular world, rather than some other one–or none at all.

The freewill defense is useless at this point. For God never had to create the damned.

From an Arminian perspective, why would a loving God willingly and knowingly create hellbound sinners? Wouldn’t we expect a loving God, as Arminians define it, to only create heavenbound sinners? How is it loving, as Arminians define it, to create men and women whom you know are doomed to spend eternity in hell–even though it lay within your power to refrain from precipitating that outcome?

Keep in mind that there’s no antecedent quota on how many human beings must exist. Likewise, there’s no antecedent limit on how long or short human history must be.

Even if the subset of the heavenbound is far smaller than the totality of the saints and the damned, which is better from an Arminian standpoint–a more populous world in which some are saved while others are damned, or a less populous world in which everyone is saved?

Perhaps an Arminian would content that a world in which more people are saved, even if some people are damned, is preferable to a world in which fewer people are saved–even though everyone, albeit fewer overall, are saved.

But in that case, the salvation of some comes at the expense of the damned. The damned exist to facilitate the salvation of some who wouldn’t be saved (or even exist) apart from the existence of the damned. Yet that sounds eerily supralapsarian.

Does Arminian theology subscribe to a utilitarian soteriology? Does the salvation of the saints justify the fate of the damned, as a means to an end? How, by Arminian lights, could God be so ruthless and cruel?

Conditional election or apostasy?

On the one hand:

“Arminians believe that it is necessary for the redeemed to persevere in saving faith in order to attain to eternal life in the age to come [final salvation]. We maintain that true believers who have experienced genuine regeneration can yet fall away from the faith and perish everlastingly. We take Jesus’ words in Matt. 10:22 both literally and seriously: ‘The one who endures till the end shall be saved’. We maintain that it is the believer’s responsibility to continue in saving faith, while acknowledging dependence on God’s grace and power to do so.”

“These verses [Heb 10:28-29] pose great difficulty for Calvinism and have endured some of the most unfortunate acts of exegetical torture by those who have desperately tried to keep their doctrines from suffering shipwreck on the plain implications of these verses.”

On the other hand:

“I subscribe to the same statement of faith as the Society of Evangelical Arminians (SEA)”:

7. We believe that God’s saving grace is resistible, that election unto salvation is conditional on faith in Christ, and that persevering in faith is necessary for final salvation.

Ben has backed himself into an ironclad conundrum. On the one hand, he subscribes to conditional election. On this view, God not only foresees who the faithful will be, but has elected the faithful on the basis of foreseen faith.

But in that event, the faithful cannot be faithless. Since they were foreknown to be faithful, and elected on the basis of their faith, they are no longer free to do otherwise. If their faith is not only foreseen, but God has chosen them on the basis of their faith, then apostasy is not a live option for them. They cannot still be free to do otherwise.

If, therefore, Ben, as well as all the other members of SEA, are committed to conditional election, then–by his own admission–Arminians don’t take the words of Jesus seriously. Arminians must engage in exegetical torture to desperately keep their dogma of unconditional election from suffering shipwreck on the plain implications of Scripture vis-à-vis apostasy.

"The world is a vampire"

Last week’s episode of Whale Wars (on Animal Planet) was a funeral service for a whale. We were treated to the grief-stricken reaction of ecotoerrorists to the demise of a whale at the hands of a harpooner.

I’ll venture a few comments:

1. I think it would be unfortunate if Japanese whalers hunted certain species into extinction. Mind you, I don’t know that certain species are actually endangered by whalers.

2. That said, the show is manipulating the viewer’s anthropomorphic empathy for the plight of whales as a staking horse to promote a radical agenda. This isn’t just about the conservation of whales. The whole thing is a propaganda device to soften up the audience for something it would resist if ecoterrorists were more forthright about their ulterior motives.

3. Harpooning a whale and then shooting it to deliver the coup de grâce looks brutal. However, it’s no more so than natural predation in the animal kingdom. It’s not as if sharks, barracudas, killer whales, piranhas, wolves, lions, and so forth humanely euthanize their prey before consuming it.

So there’s something deeply incongruous about environmentalists who mourn the death of a whale by whalers. They act as if wild animals are house pets.

Hunters who live off the land are far more in touch with mother nature than yuppie urban environmentalists.

Likewise, is a whaler who harpoons a whale any more or less brutal than a farmer’s wife who wrings the neck of a chicken?

4. Perhaps they’d objection that it’s unnatural to harpoon a whale. But does it matter to the victim whether it dies by natural or unnatural causes?

Moreover, from the standpoint of naturalistic evolution, there’s nothing prescriptive about the natural order. The natural order is not a moral order.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How to fell a Birch tree

I see that Billy Birch has done a post attacking Calvinism. Let’s touch on few basic problems with his post.

1.He bandies the term “author of sin” without ever bothering to define his terms. Given that he has pretensions to becoming a church historian, it wouldn’t hurt him to learn how to define historical usage.

2.He also needs to explain how Calvinism makes God the “author of sin” (whatever that means), while Arminianism exempts God from that accusation.

3.Apropos (1), here’s another example of his inept historical analysis:

“But the Calvinist perspective on the doctrine of God grows darker still. Not only has God freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass, and is not at all responsible for what he has foreordained, but human beings somehow retain a measure of free will, stating, ‘nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures.’ What they are suggesting is that God has strictly and freely foreordained what comes to pass by his will, is not responsible for what he has foreordained, and that mankind retains free will to do that which God has foreordained. That is not freedom. And this is not antinomy, friends, this is blatant contradiction. I cannot ordain that a man fall down a flight of stairs (ordaining the cause and effect as well) and then declare him responsible for falling ~ telling him that he freely fell.”

It should be evident, even from the text he cites, that the Westminster Divines are defining freedom as the absence of coercion (“violence”). Predestination is not coercive. Hence, their definition of freedom isn’t blatantly contradictory or even apparently contradictory.

Birch also begs the question of whether responsibility is compatible with determinism. He offers no argument. Just raw assertion.

3.In addition, he uses the word “responsibility” as if that were synonymous with "culpability." But what’s inherently odious about stating that God is responsible for whatever happens?

If we say that Jane and Jerry are responsible parents, does that mean that Jane and Joe are bad parents? Is “responsibility” synonymous with “evil”?

What if we said that Jane and Jerry are irresponsible parents? Does Birch think that would be complimentary?

4.In addition, to say that God is responsible for whatever happens hardly means, without further ado, that God is solely responsible–much less culpable.

5.I’d add that the Westminster Confession is not an exercise in philosophical or polemical theology. It’s just a statement of faith. It doesn’t attempt to furnish a detailed defense of its various claims. That’s not the nature of a creed.

Is Birch so simple-minded as to think he can dispose of a complex belief-system by quoting a few phrases from a public creed?

6.Finally, he turns a blind eye to the real issue:

Either God was able, but unwilling, to prevent a world containing sinners–or else he was willing, but unable, to prevent a world containing sinners.

Which alternative does Birch affirm?

For the love of God

One of the problems with universalism and Arminianism alike is that both positions have been so conditioned by Christian theology that they take the love of God for granted, as if that were a self-evident axiom. Therefore, the burden of proof lies on anyone who questions that axiomatic presumption.

However, the Bible treats the idea of God’s love for wicked as deeply counterintuitive. Take the following:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:6-8).

That’s also the point of Jn 3:16, unless you’re tone-deaf to the strident overtones of the “world” in Johannine usage.

The marvel in Jn 3:16 or Rom 5:6-8 is not the idea that God loves every sinner, but that God loves any sinner. That a holy God would love the wicked is a counterintuitive and even scandalous notion.

When we hear these passages, we need to hear them for the first time. We need to remember what they would sound like in the general context of Scripture, where God is the just judge of evildoers. Too many Christians have lost the shock-value of these passages. We treat them like lullabies. “Of course God loves us! What could be more natural!”

But that’s not the Biblical perspective at all. Quite the contrary. God’s love for the lost is wholly unexpected.

Ironically, some unbelieving Jews have a better grasp of what the gospel means than some professing Christians. They are deeply offended by the cross. And they are half-right.

As a rule, it’s evil to love evildoers. Consider, for example, those who covered for SS officers after the war. Allowed them to flee the authorities. Escape to Latin America. That’s evil.

The only thing that even makes it possible for God to forgive the wicked is penal substitution. That harmonizes justice with mercy.

But there’s no antecedent presumption that God loves the wicked. No matter how long you’ve been a Christian, that should always strike you as something utterly surprising. If you don’t grasp that fact, then you’ve missed the boat on what the gospel is all about.

Are you a respecter of persons?

According to Dan, of the Arminian Chronicles:

“Between we have all manor of views, so I will just share my own. Perseverance is necessary for salvation. God preserves His people through middle knowledge, such that we can, but will not fall away. God, knowing how we will choose in various circumstances, puts us only in those circumstances that keep us in the faith. Breaking the Law of Moses could never causes us to loose [sic] our salvation, but unbelief could. But God keeps us from unbelief.”

But according to Ben, of Arminian Perspectives:

“Arminians believe that it is necessary for the redeemed to persevere in saving faith in order to attain to eternal life in the age to come [final salvation]. We maintain that true believers who have experienced genuine regeneration can yet fall away from the faith and perish everlastingly. We take Jesus’ words in Matt. 10:22 both literally and seriously: ‘The one who endures till the end shall be saved’. We maintain that it is the believer’s responsibility to continue in saving faith, while acknowledging dependence on God’s grace and power to do so.”

“These verses [Heb 10:28-29] pose great difficulty for Calvinism and have endured some of the most unfortunate acts of exegetical torture by those who have desperately tried to keep their doctrines from suffering shipwreck on the plain implications of these verses.”

I assume that Ben, as a card-carrying Arminian, would never stoop to being a crass respecter of persons. Therefore, I assume that Ben will be the first to charge Dan with failing to take the words of Jesus literally or seriously. Instead, Dan is guilty of exegetical torture as he desperately tries to keep his doctrine from suffering shipwreck on the plain implications of Heb 10:28-29. Isn’t that right, Ben?

Calvin, Servetus, and Arminius

Arminians typically assail the role of Calvin in the execution of Servetus. And they use this as a guilt-by-association tactic. But that raises an interesting question.

Arminius studied in Geneva. Indeed, he studied under Beza–Calvin’s handpicked successor.

Moreover, here’s what the Belgic Confession has to say about the duties of the civil magistrate:

“And the government's task is not limited to caring for and watching over the public domain but extends also to upholding the sacred ministry, with a view to removing and destroying all idolatry and false worship of the Antichrist; to promoting the kingdom of Jesus Christ; and to furthering the preaching of the gospel everywhere; to the end that God may be honored and served by everyone, as he requires in his Word” (Article 36).

Isn’t that a recipe for the persecution of heretics? As a Dutch-Reformed minister and theology prof., isn’t Arminius complicit in that system?

Arminian Pharisees

Recently, Billy Birch questioned the salvation of some Calvinists because they occasionally use Biblical invective or the equivalent. I then quoted some examples of Wesleyan invective, to which he responded:

“I do wish, however, that Hays would have made the effort to quote from Arminius himself, since I am not a Wesleyan, nor do I often quote from the Wesley's. His search would have proven unfruitful, however. This blog was designed to offer readers primary writings of James Arminius.”

In response, I took him up on the offer by doing a post in which I quoted some statements of Armininus about the pope. Among other things, Arminius calls the pope a “pimp,” “pander,” adulterer,” and “false prophet”–as well as the “Antichrist.” Arminius also accuses the pope of using “satanic” instruments” to achieve his aims.

Here’s the full text:

I have yet to hear back from Billy Birch on whether this gives us cause to question the salvation of Arminius. Does Birch think these epithets, several of which are drawn from Biblical usage, manifest the fruits of the Spirit? Does he regard Arminius as a Spirit-filled Christian or not?

As a doctrinaire Arminian, I’m sure that Birch is no respecter of persons. Since he issued a challenge, and I’ve risen to the challenge, I trust that he will be true to his word. To make an exception for Arminius would be Pharisaical, would it not?

Putting Wesley on a pedestal

In the opinion of Roger Olson: "However, I do not admire or respect John Calvin. I have been told that he should not be held responsible for the burning of the heretic Servetus because, after all, he warned the Spanish doctor and theologian not to come to Geneva and he urged the city council to behead him rather than burn him. And, after all, Calvin was a child of his times and everyone was doing the same. Nevertheless, I still struggle with placing a man complicit in murder on a pedestal."

In my experience, Wesleyans put Wesley on a pedestal. Now, I’ve read that Wesley married a widow (Mary Vazeille) with four kids. Yet I’ve also read that Wesley was basically an absentee father and husband. But doesn’t Scripture warn us that “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim 5:8)”?

If Calvin’s role in the Servetus affair discredits Calvinism, then why doesn’t Wesley’s role as a negligent spouse and deadbeat dad discredit Arminianism?

After all, what Calvin did he did to a complete stranger; what Wesley did he did to his own family. From a Biblical standpoint, which is worse?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Stephen Hawking's healthcare

"Up to 1974, I was able to feed myself, and get in and out of bed. Jane managed to help me, and bring up the children, without outside help. However, things were getting more difficult, so we took to having one of my research students living with us. In return for free accommodation, and a lot of my attention, they helped me get up and go to bed. In 1980, we changed to a system of community and private nurses, who came in for an hour or two in the morning and evening. This lasted until I caught pneumonia in 1985. I had to have a tracheotomy operation. After this, I had to have 24 hour nursing care. This was made possible by grants from several foundations."

Victor Reppert and the philosophy of nonsense

"For me, the Calvinist has the burden of proof. Why? I'm not a Calvinist. You've got to show me."

–Victor Reppert

"For me, the non-cannibalist has the burden of proof. Why? I'm not a non-cannibalist. You've got to show me."

–Jeffrey Dahmer

17 Again

I got around to seeing 17 Again. Out of curiosity, I glanced at some reviews by the “Top Critics” at Rotten Tomatoes. 17 Again was a box office success, but critical failure–at least to judge by most of the reviews.

Of course, every movie review says as much or more about the reviewer than it does about the movie. What he loves and hates tells you something about his value-system.

17 Again is on the familiar theme of a character who has a chance to get it right this time around.

The one thing I didn’t like about the film was a certain amount of gratuitous vulgarity. Mind you, the vulgarity is realistic and even understated by the standards of modern high school–although there was an anachronistic quality to some scenes.

Beyond that, I thought it was a surprisingly good film. A witty, clever, well-acted flick with a lot of heart and a great message.

However, most of the critics, or at least the elite critics, trashed it. Some of them weren’t very forthcoming about the source of their displeasure, but others tipped their hand. What they despise about this film is its moral viewpoint.

For a film which makes no pretence to be a Christian film, 17 Again is remarkably pro-life, pro-straight, pro-marriage, and pro-family. No wonder the critics hated it.

In terms of liberal orthodoxy, the lead character (Mike O'Donnell) committed not just one unforgivable sin, but a string of unforgivable sins.

The first time he was 17, and found out his girlfriend was pregnant, he threw away his chance at a basketball scholarship to marry her and raise the kid he fathered out of wedlock.

To compound his guilt, when he has a chance to fix things, he blows that chance by using the opportunity to save his failing marriage and help his kids survive high school.

You see, Mike is still deeply in love with his estranged wife. And he also wants to keep his family together. He takes the opportunity to befriend his socially awkward son and help him over a rough spot.

He also tries to rescue his morally rudderless daughter from a predatory boyfriend. As I say, clearly unforgivable.

But there are further outrages. With the benefit of hindsight, Mike delivers an impromptu speech in sex ed class on how you should wait until marriage to have sex.

On top of that, when a character accuses him of being queer, he’s offended. Instead of saying it doesn’t matter, he defends his heteronormative identity.

Underlying the film is the whole notion of repentance and restitution. Given the opportunity, we should make things right. By contrast, the critics evidently live by Edith Piaf's philosophy: "Je ne regrette rien."

Is it any wonder that the elite critics hated the film? It’s one unpardonable episode after another.