Saturday, November 21, 2009

Whitefield's woes

From Arnold Dallimore:
[W]hile [George] Whitefield was at Charleston, Commissary Garden confronted him with a copy of Wesley's sermon "Against Predestination." This was Whitefield's first realization that, contrary to his expressed desire, Wesley was circulating this divisive document, and he could see that the day was approaching when it would be necessary for him to write a reply.

And further disappointment awaiting him: he received an answer to his proposal of marriage. He merely tells us, "I find from Blendon letters that Miss E[lizabeth] D[elamotte] is in a seeking state only." Apparently either the parents or Elizabeth had written to say that she was not a sufficiently mature Christian to undergo all the trials he had listed. But the Delamottes, with the rest of the Fetter Lane Society, had become Moravians and were now opposed to the Wesleys, and we must suppose to some degree to Whitefield too. Moreover, Elizabeth was now keeping company with another young man, William Holland, the one spoken of as reading from Luther on the evening John Wesley was converted, and within five months Elizabeth and Holland were married. Our hearts go out to Whitefield in this further disappointment, and we feel for him as following his mention of the "Blendon letters" he says, "Just now I have been weeping, and much carried out before the Lord."

In this sense of deep disappointment he returned to Bethesda.

After a few days spent in superintending the work of the Orphan House, Whitefield set out on his Fall Tour -- that of New England. He had been invited by the governor and the secretary of Massachusetts, by a number of laymen, and by several ministers.

And now, as always, Boston people thronged to hear him. Civic officials of today would not allow such crowding as was practiced under Whitefield's ministry in the churches. Time after time humanity pressed into the pews, filled the aisles and the stairways, and covered the pulpit area. But in a congregation that had gathered ahead of time at the New South Church and was waiting for Whitefield to arrive, someone broke a board to form a makeshift seat, and a cry went up that the gallery was falling. Immediately the place was in a panic as people rushed to get to the doors, and many fell and were trampled upon. Some even threw themselves out of the windows. Five were killed and several seriously injured.

Whitefield was disturbed by the tragedy . . .
And:
My Dear, Dear Brethren,

. . . Why did you throw out that bone of contention? Why did you print that sermon against predestination? . . .

Do you not think, my dear brethren, that I must be as much concerned for truth, or what I think truth, as you? God is my judge. I always was, and I hope I always shall be, desirous that you may be preferred before me. But I must preach the Gospel of Christ, and this I cannot now do without speaking about election. . . .

O my dear brethren, my heart almost bleeds within me! Methinks I would be willing to tarry here on the waters forever, rather than come to England to oppose you.


Whitefield to John and Charles Wesley, from aboard ship, as it approached England March 1741

Friday, November 20, 2009

Satanism & universalism

Suppose that Satan was a televangelist. In fact, there’s a sense in which Satan is a televangelist. What would be his “gospel.” What message would he preach to the masses?

Would Satan preach Satanism? Probably not. While you have a few hardcore types who find that appealing, most folks find that off-putting.

What about universalism? We don’t generally associate univeralism with Satanism. But, then, we wouldn’t expect Satan to tip his hand that early in the game. We’d expect Satan to use a winsome come-on. And univeralism has a better sales pitch for Satanism than Satanism.

How is that, you ask? Well, universalism is a form of moral relativism. It doesn’t matter what you say or think or do. None of that makes any ultimately difference.

Universalism also thinks it’s wrong of God to damn anyone to everlasting hell. What is more, universalism thinks that God’s love would be defective unless it’s shown to each and every evildoer.

Doesn’t that sound like just like the sort of “Gospel” our diabolical televangelist would preach? Wouldn’t that be a brilliant preemptive maneuver? A softening-up exercise in self-promotion?

Moral relativism. All is forgiven. Just how you’d expect a conman to make his case to the jury or the parole board.

Universalism is far more marketable than ritual Satanic murders. Yet, beneath the veneer of universalism is the same license to kill with impunity.

Does God really want all people to be saved?

Justin Taylor recently did a post by the same title which, not surprisingly, resulted in many Arminians emerging from the woodwork to attack Calvinism for implicitly or explicitly denying what the Arminians take to be true.

So we really have two different issues here. There’s the issue of how a Calvinist should answer that question. But this is also a question for Arminians.

Arminians think they can answer this question in the affirmative. Indeed, they think their affirmative answer is a primary reason to be Arminian rather than Reformed. But can Arminians honestly answer that question in the affirmative? Do their philosophical and theological precommitments allow them to consistently do so?

Arminians believe that human beings have freewill. And this is how they typically define freewill: it is possible for the same agent, in the same situation, to go either way. For example, it is possible for you do believe the Gospel, and it is possible for you to disbelieve the Gospel.

Arminians have quite a lot riding on this definition. For them, this is a precondition of moral responsibility. True love. Divine justice. As well as God’s sincerity.

But if it’s possible for you to believe the Gospel, and if it’s also possible for you to disbelieve the Gospel, then there’s a possible world in which you believe the Gospel, and another possible world in which you disbelieve the Gospel.

What is more, that libertarian freedom would apply to every human agent. That is what it means to be a free agent. To be a morally responsible agent.

But this also means there must be at least one possible world in which everyone freely believes the Gospel. A world in which it’s possible for everyone to freely believe the Gospel.

In that case, if God really wanted to save everyone, he could have done so by choosing to make the possible world in which everyone freely believes the Gospel. He could do so without having to violate anyone’s libertarian freedom. For it’s libertarian freedom which makes this scenario possible in the first place.

All God would be doing, in that event, is to actualize their free choices.

So how can Arminians stay true to their definition of freewill and also say that God really wants to save everyone–when human freedom is no impediment to that outcome, yet God has chosen, instead, to make a world with so many hellbound men and women?

Does God take pleasure in the fate of the damned?

One of the most popular objections to Calvinism is the allegation that, according to Calvinism, God takes pleasure in the fate of the damned.

The critic of Calvinism treats the specter of divine pleasure in the fate of the damned as though that were self-evidently abhorrent. As if that’s the worst possible thing you could say about God. As if that besmirches the character of God.

Now, one superficial problem with this objection is that it seizes upon emotive language. But unless we’re going to become Mormons or open theists, we have to make allowance for anthropomorphic usage in emotive ascriptions to God. “Pleasure” is a loaded word, and it’s loaded with very human connotations. What is more, human connotations in a fallen world.

But there’s a deeper problem. Let’s take a comparison. Suppose a terrorist devises a bioweapon. He plans to test that bioweapon on a room full of kindergarteners. But before he has a chance to infect the little boys and girls, he accidentally infects himself, and dies a horrible death in a matter of minutes.

In terms of Christian theology and ethics, is it wrong for you and me to take satisfaction in the fate of the terrorist? Is it wrong for you and me to take “pleasure” in the fact that he suffered the fate he intended for others? That he accidentally killed himself before he could kill anyone else?

Is that a sinful emotion? An evil feeling? Or is that a righteous emotion?

Put another way, would it be sinful not to take satisfaction in the outcome? If an evildoer gets his comeuppance, why shouldn’t we rejoice in that denouement? Isn’t it a good thing when villains come to a bad end? Isn’t that something to applaud?

For that matter, doesn’t Scripture contain a number of scenes involving the fate of the wicked in which the Bible writer adopts a gleeful tone? They escaped justice in this life, but justice awaits them in the afterlife!

Where did some professing Christians ever come around to the notion that it’s wrong to take satisfaction in the just deserts of the wicked? By what inversion of moral values do they treat their moral repugnance as self-evidently true? As a reason to disbelieve in such a God?

But if it’s proper for Christians to applaud God’s just judgment of the wicked, then why would it be wrong for God to be “pleased” with that outcome? Why can’t a just judge take satisfaction is doing good? In righting the scales of justice?

What this tells me is that many Arminians share the same value system as the universalist. Deep down, they don’t believe the damned get exactly what they deserve.

For if they did think the damned get exactly what they deserve, then why would they be so repelled at the specter of God taking pleasure in the fate of the damned?

Once again, I’m not saying that emotive language is the best way to frame the issue. But I’m just addressing the objection on its own terms.

The Time Traveler's Wife

So I saw The Time Traveler's Wife the other day.



The movie seemed like it'd be a mix between scifi and romance, but it was light on the scifi and heavy on the romance. In fact, I think the only time there was any sort of scifi was when they bring in a geneticist to discuss the time traveler's inability to control when he time travels. And that scene lasted for like all of five minutes or something. So the science of time travel in the movie is a bit scant as well as dodgy. That's not a criticism though.

More interestingly, I think the movie had some scenes and themes that could possibly be viewed in sync with a Christian perspective on life and, to a lesser degree, perhaps certain aspects of Reformed theology.

(Spoilers ahead.)

For example, the time traveler's wife had fallen in love with the time traveler when she was a little kid. That's because the time traveler would travel back in time to visit her when she was still a child. As a result, for her, there never was a time when she wasn't in love with him, because he had appeared to her from the beginning. He's always been in her life.

Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean she was romantically in love with him from the get-go. It wasn't necessarily love at first sight. But affection can be a source from which romantic love arises as well.

However, the time traveler and his (future) wife both meet for the first time when he is much younger. Maybe when they're in their mid or late 20s to early 30s or something like that. He's a librarian while she's looking for a book. She immediately recognizes him, gushing with joy. For she knew him before he knew her.

BTW, maybe it's the fact that they meet in a library and that this is a story about time travel, but this brings to mind Psa 139:16: "In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." Everything has already been written. But from their perspective, it's as if they're turning the pages of life one day at a time.

Eventually he asks her to marry him, but she replies with a firm "no." She then laughs (paraphrase): "I just wanted to see if I could resist my free will, but my free will says yes!"

In another scene, there's a fight between the time traveler and his wife. She argues she never had a choice to fall in love or not fall in love with him. He claims she always had a choice. She insists she never did, given that he's visited her numerous times throughout her life, starting when she was a little girl, so that when he first meets her from his perspective, she's already madly in love with him. He's already drawn her into himself in some way.

Later, in her anger, she yells at him, saying something like: "Who would ever want this life? You think I wanted this kind of life? Who would want a husband that always disappears?" By the end of the movie, however, when he dies (while she's still in her 40s or 50s or thereabouts and he as well), with tears in her eyes she confesses she wouldn't have traded one minute of the life she had with him and how it has unfolded for any other life. Even in her loss, she loved and appreciated him and every moment they shared. She was grateful that she did have him at all, even though it was only now and then, here and there.

Similarly, we are grateful for the life God has given us. But sometimes we aren't grateful or at least don't realize how grateful we ought to be until we're able to take a backward glance at our lives. That's part of the mystery of providence. Yet we're not to trust in circumstances and how life may appear to us, but we're to trust in God's promises in the Bible.

Regrettably, many Christians live without appreciating the time and life they do have, however seemingly little or insignificant it seems. It's a shame because, like all good things in our lives, they're a gift from God. We live only because of God's grace. The very breath we breathe is a gift. Life itself is a gift. And the time we have to appreciate it all is a gift. From cradle to grave, from birth to new birth, it's all of grace.

Now, flash forward to her future. The time traveler still visits her in her timeline (before he has died in his timeline but when she has already lost him in hers). She's been waiting for him all this time, because, being a time traveler, he could show up at any time. And he's never told her when in her future he's traveled to. He could've time traveled to her deathbed for all she knew.

In this world, nothing is permanent. No relationship, no matter how dear, will last forever. Perhaps that's why some people remain heartbroken for the whole of their lives after losing a beloved. Despite the maxim, time can't heal all wounds. Not completely. Some scars hide wounds too deep to tell.

And it's as if our love for our beloved is timeless. As if the love shared between lover and beloved transcends time.

In fact, God has placed eternity in our hearts (Ecc 3:11). But he has done so in such a way so that we can't know the future. We can't figure out what'll happen to us a few moments from now let alone in the rest of our days. We could be here today but gone tomorrow. We are like a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

Time flits by so quickly. Before we know it, the hour glass of our lives is nearly gone. The sands of time are sinking. So the time to seek the things of first importance is indeed of first importance.

Our lot in this world is, inevitably, death. We are timebound creatures. And eventually our time will run out. We can't kill time, but time can and will kill us.

But just as there's such a thing as time well-spent, there's also such a thing as time ill-spent. Sometimes people are prolonging things for the sake of prolonging things rather than for anything valuable or worthwhile.

Many people want to extend their lives beyond what's reasonable. People try to seek for a fountain of youth. But even if it were possible to be forever young, there's always a cost. For instance, if one is forever young, one might still lose friends and loved ones. What's life without others to share it with?

Or to put it genetically, the telomeres on our chromosomes shorten and shorten, which affects cell division, and eventually our cells will senesce (i.e. no longer divide). This is part and parcel of the aging process. Telomerase is an enzyme which extends the length of our telomeres. But telomerase activation is also a hallmark of cancer. Among other things, cancer is the unregulated proliferation of cells. So, in a sense, we can live forever, but the price we pay is cancer.

In short, there's no escape from the march of time and, in the end, death. We may not like it -- in fact we shouldn't like it -- but it's our fate.

Yet, there is a way to escape our mortality. There's a way which is outside of us, not of us, for it has been provided for us. In fact, it's the only way. It is to look to the One who inhabits eternity, whose name is holy, to the Lord God alone. He is our omnipotent Creator. He dwells in "the high and holy place." But, wonder of wonders, at the same time he dwells "with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit" (Isa 57:15).

Back to the movie. The time traveler's mother is a singer and his father a violinist. There's a musical motif running throughout the movie. It's almost as if the movie were an unfolding musical performance in a way. But maybe I'm reading too much into it here.

Related, the mother sings "Es Ist Ein Rose" or "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" in the opening scene. This is obviously a Christian hymn. Is the movie alluding to the time traveler or perhaps his daughter here? Or something else?

In any case, the hymn speaks of timeless, eternal things, yet things which unfold in time. For, while the Word of God was always with God and was God, he likewise became flesh and dwelt among us.

The time traveler saw his mother die in a car accident when he was a kid because he was in the car with her but time traveled away from the crash and averted death. He's tried going back in time to save her but, as he realizes, there's a sense in which everything has already been decided. So no matter what he does he can't change what's already happened.

I think watching the movie helps us to consider our lives in light of eternity. We're instructed to learn how to number our days. How to make the most of them. How to live in a good but fallen world before a holy and loving God. Indeed, that's living wisely, gaining a heart of wisdom.

The start of true wisdom is, as the Bible teaches, to fear the Lord. For God is sovereign and in control over all things including our very life and death. He has the power to give as well as take life. So we ought to fear him. Yet God is also good and gracious. And his goodness is most evident in the fact that he gave his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for sinners on the cross, so that those who trust in Christ alone might be reconciled to him. For all time and eternity.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Arminians on the plain sense of Scripture

As we all know, Calvinists indulge in all sorts of convoluted interpretations to explain away the plain sense of Scripture. By refreshing contrast, here is the explanatory grid which one prominent Arminian epologist proposes:

One possible scenario is that God first resolves absolutely that Peter should freely elicit A in C and then, as it were, consults his middle knowledge to see just which particular graces would, if bestowed on Peter in C, obtain his free consent and thus issue in A. It follows that, given his antecedent resolution, God would have conferred some grace other than G if he had known by his middle knowledge that G would turn out to be "merely sufficient" with respect to A, i.e., that Peter would not freely consent to G in C. So G is rendered efficacious not only by Peter's free consent but also, and indeed more principally, by God's antecedent predetermination to confer a "congruous" grace that will guarantee Peter's acting well in C.

http://steven-n.blogspot.com/2009/11/on-free-will.html?showComment=1258668853262#c4864560501678746911

Stop and ask yourself how John 3:16 would look if you tried to filter that verse through his explanatory grid.

Gearing Up for the Christmas Season



Tis the season, and all that...

The Prisoner

I recently saw the remake of The Prisoner. At first I thought it was going to be a show with some memorable moments, but one which was less successful overall. However, the way in which the screenwriters tied up the loose ends at the end lent some retrospective coherence to the earlier episodes.

At one level, the theme of the Prisoner is as old as the Odyssey. Given a choice, would you do anything to get back home even if your real life is less appealing than a beautiful illusion?

For example, Calypso has taken Odysseus captive. She offers him immortality with a beautiful goddess (herself) on a tropical island paradise.

On the face of it, that’s better than what is waiting for him back on Ithaca, after a twenty-year absence, with an aging, alienated wife and a grown son who never knew his father. Yet Odysseus will go to any lengths to return home.

This illustrates the dilemma of secularism. What if the only world there is is a fallen world? Which would you choose? Reality–or a beautiful illusion? Yet even the illusion is spoiled by reality. For the storybook world is only as good as the storyteller.

The Prisoner illustrates the irony of the police state. In the police state, the policemen are often the populace. They police each other.

You may have been abducted and brought to the Village against your will. For the first few weeks and months, you resist. Try to escape.

But over time you, too, are seduced by the Village. Not only is escape futile, but you have a better life in the Village. So you assimilate.

There comes a point at which the prisoners become the prison guards. They now have a personal state maintaining in the status quo. The captives may even come to love their captors. Their involuntary confinement becomes voluntary. They come to view a nonconformist as a threat. They spy on one other to ferret out the dissidents.

There might be prisoners who secretly wish to escape. There might be enough of them to stage a successful escape. But they don’t know who to trust. They don’t dare tip their hand.

Although this is fictitious, it has a real world analogue. We ourselves live in a country where a certain percentage of the populace wants to voluntarily enslave itself (and the rest of us) to a self-imposed police state, with food police and speech police. A place where you can’t plant a tree in your own front yard without permission. Adults with a yearning to return to childhood, to be told what to say and think and do.

In the earlier episodes, the Village seems to be a kind of benign dictatorship. Benign as long as you follow the rules. Of course, underlying the benign façade is a ruthless enforcement-mechanism.

At this point in the story, Two seems to be a typecast dictator. Charming and avuncular, but ironfisted.

At first he seems to have a cruel streak. He enjoys playing mind-games with the captives. But appearances are deceiving.

At the outset it’s unclear whether the prisoners don’t remember their former life, or whether they are afraid to say. Perhaps psychotropic drugs have suppressed the memory of their former life. Or perhaps they remember, but are afraid to say, because they don’t know who they can trust. Or perhaps they remember, but have become assimilated to the Village. Or perhaps this really is the only life they’ve ever known. Initially it’s hard for an outsider to figure out.

Two makes preposterous statements about how “there is nothing to escape from” since “there is only the Village.”

Of course, that’s what you’d expect him to say. That’s part of the game. The charade. Psychological warfare. Two has to play his role. Everyone is play-acting. Pretending that this is real, while reality is unreal.

But, as it turns out, what he says is true at a certain level. Within the world of the Village, there is nothing outside the village. It’s a world apart. A self-contained existence.

As it turns out, the Village is a collective dream or delusion. The lucid dream of the Village Dreamer.

And this, in turn, raises the question of whether the inhabitants are real people who exist outside the dream, or merely dream characters. Or perhaps a combination. Were they brought here or “born” here? Did they have a life before the Village?

11-12 like some of the other inhabitants, suffers from amnesia. He doesn’t remember his childhood. M2 tells 11-12 that those who were born in the Village can never leave.

There are countersuggestive dynamics which can piece the illusion. This is represented by sinkholes–where the illusion begins to break down. Lacunae in the stage set.

One countersuggestive force is the presence of other lucid dreamers. Their memories of the real world interfere with the dream world. Superimpose a different narrative.

This seems to be the telepathic effect of psychotropic drugs, which trigger a collective consciousness or collective memory while also suppressing the awareness or recollection of the real world. I say “seems” to be because we only see the psychotropic drugs in the dream world of the Village, and not the real world of Summakor.

Then there’s Six. He’s a nonconformist. His intrusive presence causes 11-12 to harbor doubts about his own existence. Causes 11-12 to become a self-conscious dream character. But therein lies a dilemma. If an imaginary character becomes self-aware, then can he still subsist? Or does that break the spell? For a dream character, self-consciousness is suicidal.

A lucid dream lies on the borderlands between sleep and wakefulness. It only takes a slight disruption for the dreamscape to vanish.

The Village exists in a timewarp–like something out of the Cuban embargo. TV sets with rabbit ears. Old-fashioned cars.

The Village has a few Christian touches. It has a church. It also conducts funerals where an old spiritual is repeatedly sung: “Take Your Burden To The Lord And Leave It There.” Indeed, that song is something of a leitmotiv which punctuates the storyline.

As it turns out, the Village is a utopian world where broken men and women can finally escape their broken lives. An experiment to create a better world. A world within a world. A fresh start.

In that respect, Two is not the villain he appeared to be at first sight. Rather, he’s a therapist. The Village is a form of psychiatric treatment–and social engineering.

And yet, like every other secular utopia, the experiment is bound to fail, for the patients who are brought here bring their brokenness along with them. They contaminate paradise. Their idyllic surroundings can’t cure them, for the sickness lies within them. In the very mind of the dreamer. They infect whatever they touch.

I doubt The Prisoner is meant to be a Christian story. But intentionally or not, it becomes a Christian allegory. There is no healing in this world. Only sedation. That’s the best the world can offer. We escape into drink and drugs and recreation, but we can never escape ourselves.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cross-cultural missiology

I was skimming Ron Gleason’s blog when I ran across a statement which caught my eye. BTW, if you don’t know who he is, here’s his CV:

I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 42 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 13 wonderful grandchildren.

As you can see, the poor guy is an underachiever. Hopefully he can still make up for lost time.

Anyway, here’s the statement:

“Observing two predominantly Hispanic church plants in my Presbytery for a number of years has not yet convinced me that this is true. While I am thankful to have ministry to Hispanic communities, we have yet to receive confirmation that these church plants will eventually assimilate into Anglo congregations already in existence.”

http://rongleason.blogspot.com/2009/11/normal-0-false-false-false.html

1.I agree with Gleason’s position on illegal immigration.

2.That said, I don’t think assimilating immigrants into the mainstream culture is the duty of missionaries or church-planters.

3.I’d add that the issue of assimilation isn’t limited to illegal immigrants. That applies to legal as well as illegal immigrants. Arguments over illegal immigration should be distinguished from arguments over assimilation.

4.The attempt to assimilate a foreign culture can get in the way of evangelism and discipleship. For example, I appreciate the heroic efforts of David Brainerd to evangelize the American Indians. At the same time, he made no serious effort to accommodate or adapt to the target audience. It didn’t even occur to him. And that greatly hampered his commendable ministry.

5.I think a missionary should ground his converts in Christian theology and ethics, then leave it to them to make the necessary adjustments to their indigenous culture. They need to work out their own strategies.

6.Acculturation involves adaptation to the dominant status quo. But there’s nothing sacrosanct about the status quo. It’s just a question of who got here first. The first wave of settlers to colonize an area transplant their culture of the new world. To some extent, later waves of immigrants have to fit in, although they bring their own customs and social mores along for the ride. Which culture represents the dominant culture is a historical accident. Although the status quo ante establishes a socioeconomic frame of reference, that’s not a normative frame of reference, per se. That’s not the standard by which converts ought to measure themselves.

7.In addition, the dominant culture varies from one region to the next. What would it mean for a contemporary Chinese immigrant to assimilate to the Bay area? What would it mean for a contemporary Latino immigrant to assimilate to Miami or LA?

Once again, Gleason is responding to specific claims, and I don’t take issue with his responses at that particular level. But we need to distinguish that from general principles of Christian missiology.

8.Also, I get the impression that Gleason is a Southerner. I suspect his views are, to some extent, conditioned by Southern pride and the war of northern aggression.

Since I myself am half-Southern, I can appreciate where he’s coming from. But, as Christians, we need to put our theological priorities ahead of our personal sympathies.

Waning moon

To judge by the trailers, I predict The Twilight Saga: New Moon will lag far behind the cult following of the first installment. That’s because I doubt female teenyboppers find werewolves nearly as romantic as vampires. I also doubt the new lead actor has the Poldarkian “vib” they’re pining for.

Gory creature-features are more appealing to teenage boys, though not for romantic reasons.

My guess is this will come on like gangbusters the week it premiers, then plummet thereafter.

Of course, not having been a female teenybopper in a past life, I could be blindsided on this.

Also, to judge by the trailers, the CGI is surprisingly bad. And since the climax of any werewolf flick is the transformation scene, that’s no small deficiency.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Every eye shall see him"

“Everyone will see Jesus descend from the sky. Such an event would only be possible on a flat earth.”

http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/rev/1.html

There’s a sense in which many apostates position themselves for apostasy. They begin with a Sunday school understanding of Scripture. They then lose their faith in Scripture during their first year of college–because what they’re taught conflicts with their Sunday school understanding of Scripture.

Of course, even in that respect, all they’ve done is to trade one form of childish credulity for another. Their college profs inherit the mantle of infallibility which they used to ascribe to their Sunday school teachers.

So what about this objection to Rev 1:7?

1.Suppose the verse does, indeed, conjure up the image of a flat earth? So what? Language is full of dead metaphors. We ourselves use flat-earth metaphors whenever we speak of sunrise/sunup or sunset/sundown.

2.For that matter, the imagery could just as well be hyperbolic. To suggest this isn’t special pleading. It’s easy to document hyperbole in Scripture. What is more, hyperbolic depictons are characteristic of eschatological imagery.

3.Moreover, “sight” is frequently an abstract metaphor for knowledge. And it’s just as easy to document that fact from Scriptural usage.

On that construal, the verse is simply saying, in a vivid way, that when Christ comes back, everybody will both know and acknowledge, willingly or unwillingly, who Jesus really is.

4.But suppose, for the sake of argument, that we take this literally. How would that depiction presume a flat earth?

For instance, suppose we said, “Every eye shall see the moon.”

Would such a phenomenon only be possible on a flat earth? Hardly!

You see, our skeptic has smuggled a suppressed premise into his conclusion. He tacitly rephrases the verse to say, “Every eye shall see him all at once.”

So he’s assuming the event must be instantaneous. Of course, the verse doesn’t say that. For that matter, the verse doesn’t even say anything about Jesus “descending.” You might be able to get that from other passages, but not from Rev 1:7.

If the “atmospheric effects” of the Parousia were sufficient large and distant, and if they hovered in one place for 24 hours, then, of course, everyone around the world would be able to see it.

So even if you construe the verse with crass literality, it’s quite possible for earthlings on a rotating planet to see the same atmospheric phenomenon. It would be a worldwide spectacle.

Obambi meets Bin-Zilla

I don’t have any firm opinions about what we should do in Afghanistan at this juncture.

In favor of the surge, it’s supported by some very credible individuals (e.g. Robert Gates, Gen Petraeus, Gen McChrystal, the Joint Chiefs).

On the other hand, you also have military pundits like Ralph Peters who think that strategy is ill-conceived. And I myself have never been sanguine about the prospects for nation-building in the Muslim world.

It doesn’t seem to me that Afghanistan, per se, has much strategic value. What strategic value is has is entirely subservient to the fate of Pakistan.

It does seem to me that this is an all-in or all-out proposition. Unless we have sufficient manpower on the ground, then we don’t even have enough troops to defend themselves, much less go on the offensive or pursue the strategic objective–whatever that is. So the last thing we need are half-measures. Splitting the difference turns our soldiers into target practice for the enemy.

Perhaps it’s sufficient to maintain some army/air force bases on the Afghan border from which we can mount coordinated operations with the Pakistan army to keep jihadis at manageable levels.

But, at present, Obama is procrastinating. He desperately wants to break his hawkish campaign promise without seeming weak. But weakness is exactly what he conveys by his studied procrastination. That, of itself, is very dangerous in a dangerous world.

The Second Coming

If the Incarnation and bodily Resurrection are cornerstones of the Christian faith, then the physical return of Christ is the capstone.

(Although “physical” might seem a bit redundant, we need to add that adjective in light of liberals and hyperpreterists who “spiritualize” the event.)

Not surprisingly, the NT frequently describes the Parousia in stock eschatological imagery. This, however, raises a question. While the Incarnation and Resurrection are depicted in literal terms, the Parousia is typically depicted in picture-language. To cobble together a summary description, Christ comes down from heaven. He comes on the clouds, accompanied by the heavenly host, with a trumpet fanfare. “Every eye will see him.” Christians on earth will “meet him in the air.” On top of that are the picturesque metaphors in Rev 19-22–which constitute a literary pastiche of many different OT motifs and images.

So how much of this is literal or figurative, and how do we distinguish the two? There are several reasons why it’s useful to answer that question as best we can:

i) Scoffers take figurative imagery literally, then try to press the incongruous implications of that interpretation.

ii) Since the Parousia is a fundamental article of the faith, it’s important to be clear on what the Bible actually teaches.

iii) Christians should cultivate the virtue of heavenly-mindedness, and to that end it is edifying to visualize, as best we can, the way in which the Parousia will actually occur.

Let’s consider a few data-points:

1.In Acts 1:9-11, we have a brief description of the Ascension. This is portrayed in observational language, from the viewpoint of a ground-based eyewitness (9-10). Moreover, the observers are told the return of Christ will operate the same way in reverse.

i) Given this bare-bones description, we’d expect Jesus to come down from the skies or even touch down (i.e. come all the way down to terra firma).

ii) Moreover, v9 suggests the mode of conveyance. The “cloud” is probably an allusion to the Shekinah–which, not coincidentally, also figures in the Lukan account of the Transfiguration.

2.Apropos (1-ii), the Shekinah sometimes functions like a divine vehicle of transportation. Indeed, functions like a portable throne room. God brings a bit of heaven along with him when he appears to men. The Shekinah also functions as a sort of corona, to conceal the passengers.

We have poetic depictions in Scripture (Ps 18:9-14). Very colorful. However, this is also a genuine phenomenon. We have an eyewitness report in Ezkekiel’s theophanic vision (Ezk 1).

That is how Yahweh actually appeared to the prophet. How Yahweh “came” to earth. And he was also accompanied by angels (the cherubim or seraphim).

From a distance this phenomenon has the appearance of a storm cloud, internally illuminated by lightning–like sheet lightning or ball lightning. If the initial phase of the Parousia takes place at night–and some descriptions of the Parousia accentuate the nocturnal aspect–then the effect will be quite spectacular (e.g. Catatumbo Lightning).

In all likelihood, this represents the actual mode of the Parousia. That’s how Jesus will return to earth.

3.Which also raises the question of what Jesus will do after he comes returns. Will he take us back with him to heaven? Or will he bring the saints with him to dwell on earth? And will the earth become the dwelling-place of God?

The Bible has many golden age passages about the future. This elaborates a new Eden motif. The earth as a global Eden. But is that literal or figurative?

I’d suggest two possible pointers:

i) The resurrection of the just implies a corporeal existence somewhere. Not just a state of being, but a place.

ii) In a fallen world, God uses natural evils as a penal sanction. Conversely, the ministry of Christ was, in part, a ministry of healing. Curing the sick. That marks a reversal of the curse, albeit a foretaste of things to come.

On balance, then, the final state as an earthly state seems likely. But, of course, we can always take a wait-and-see approach, for sooner or later we will find out.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Preemptive surrender

Because the Obama administration is such a target-rich environment for wrong, wrongheaded policies, it’s hard to single out just one in particular. The competition is fierce. However, the decision to try 9/11 conspirators in civilian court may possibly set new standards of monumental folly and moral blindness even for an administration which is a trendsetter in that dubious department. It’s so wrong in so many different ways that one has difficulty keeping count.

1.We’re told that this “sends a message” to the world. Indeed it does. It sends the message that we can be played by our enemies. It sends the message that our titular Commander-in-Chief is a pushover.

Moreover, the message we send is not the message the Muslim world will receive. Their coverage will be filtered through Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabia, &c. Do you think that will be fair and balanced?

2.We’re also told that this is a reinstatement of American values. Really?

Well, a basic American value is the social contract. Signatories to the social contract have civil rights. They also have commensurate responsibilities.

We are now ceding civil rights to our mortal enemies-–who, of course, enjoy all the rights without the commensurate responsibilities. They derive all the benefits of our system without having to buy into our system.

Does that represent American values? No. That represents a fundamental breach of the social contract.

3.Our system is tilted in favor of the defendant–as it should be. The presumption of innocence. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

If the 9/11 conspirators are given a “fair” trial, then acquittal is the default outcome. It becomes an uphill climb for prosecutors to overcome that steep presumption.

4.Apropos (3), it’s easy to see how the 9/11 conspirators could be acquitted on technicalities. Evidence gathered in the course of coercive interrogation is inadmissible–and rightly so.

The “defendants” weren’t Mirandized on the battlefield. We didn’t have teams of CSI-style criminologists securing the “crime scene” while ensuring an evidentiary chain-of-custody.

5.To my knowledge, the Feds have no control over the selection of the judge. That’s a deliberately randomized process. And I think it’s fair to say that NYC probably has more bleeding-heart judges than Texas. So it’s like rolling loaded dice.

6.The process of discovery would require the gov’t to turn over classified information regarding our methods and sources of intelligence. That would have several destructive consequences:

i) It would tip off our enemies.

ii) It would tell our allies and we can’t keep secrets. As such, our sources would quickly dry up.

iii) Apropos (ii), this would do long-term damage. Even if Obama is a one-term president, allies won’t be inclined to share intel in such a fluid political situation.

7.It would only take one sympathetic juror to acquit. Think you can’t find a sympathetic juror in NYC? What about Muslim jurors? They can’t be summarily excused, since that would be “racist.”

8.Then there’s the security of the judge, jurors, alternates, and their families. If you think that’s hypothetical, think again. To take one example from the not so distant past:

Sharon Rogers happens to be married to U.S. Navy Captain Will Rogers III, commander of the U.S.S. Vincennes, the guided-missile cruiser that mistakenly shot down an Iranian passenger jet last July, killing all 290 passengers and crew members. Eight months later, his wife was driving to her job as a fourth- grade teacher at the elite La Jolla Country Day School. As she paused for a red light, Rogers heard a bang in her Toyota van; she leaped out, unharmed, just before the vehicle burst into flames. Investigators believe a terrorist pipe bomb was placed in the van in retaliation for the downing of the Iranian airliner.
Since then Rogers has become an exile of sorts in her community. While she is free to come and go as she pleases from her temporary home at a San Diego naval base, she is under the constant eye of four bodyguards from the Naval Investigative Service. She is also reportedly wired for sound so that the security officers can listen in on all her conversations.

Worst of all, Rogers was made to feel like an outcast at the school where she taught for twelve years. On March 13 headmaster Timothy Burns told Rogers that she could not return immediately and that he did not know what "we are going to do about this." The next day the school received a bomb threat, which turned out to be a hoax. Then, when Rogers did not receive her contract renewal on the same day as other faculty members, she fired off an angry letter to the parents of her students, saying she did not pose a risk to the children's safety. She was later barred from the campus but continues to collect her paychecks and to assist a substitute teacher with lesson plans. Many San Diegans, angered by the way Rogers was treated, accused the school of gross ingratitude and cowardice. Others argued that Rogers should stay away for the safety of the students. Said Jean Andrews, a political consultant and the mother of one of Rogers' former pupils: "I don't think children's bodies are the appropriate weapons to be used on a frontline offensive against terrorist attacks."

Meanwhile, private security guards prowl the halls of La Jolla Country Day. Students have been instructed how to evacuate the building during a bomb threat, and a psychologist has counseled Rogers' pupils.


Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,957478-2,00.html#ixzz0X4ekJ0TI

"Fundamentalist anti-Catholics"

Brennon Hartshorn:

"I would like to distance myself from the fundamentalist anti-Catholics here who, for some reason, will not accept the historic Christian position that Mary is the mother of God. Even RC Sproul says we should not be afraid of that terminology. For the Catholics here, know that not all of us evangelical protestants are of the ilk you have encountered here. The ilk here upset most of us, too, although I still love them as brothers in Christ."

http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2009/10/on-worshipping-mary.html#c2084060206166877887

John Wesley:

“The beast is the Romish papacy.”

http://books.google.com/books?id=EvEUAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA715#v=onepage&q=pope&f=false

“By this the pope manifests that he is antichrist, directly contrary to Christ. It is Christ who shed his own blood. It is antichrist who sheds the blood of others.”

http://books.google.com/books?id=EvEUAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA715#v=onepage&q=pope&f=false

“However, in many respects, the pope has an indisputable claim to those titles. He is, in an emphatical sense, the man of sin, as he increased all manner of sin above measure. And he is too properly styled, The son of perdition, as he has caused the death of numberless multitudes, both of his opposers and followers, destroyed innumerable souls, and will himself perish everlastingly.”

http://books.google.com/books?id=EvEUAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA715#v=onepage&q=pope&f=false

“There is no city under the sun which has so clear a title to Catholic blood-guiltiness as Rome. The guilt of the blood shed under the heathen emperors has not been removed under the popes, but hugely multiplied. Nor is Rome accountable only for that which hath been shed in the city, but for that shed in all the earth. For at Rome, under the pope, as well as under the heathen emperors, were the bloody orders and edicts given: and wherever the blood of holy men was shed, there were the grand rejoicings in it. And what immense quantities of blood have been shed by her agents!”

http://books.google.com/books?id=EvEUAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA715#v=onepage&q=pope&f=false

Her fornication is her idolatry, invocation of saints and angels, worship of images, human traditions, with all that outward pomp, yea, and that fierce and bloody zeal wherewith she pretends to serve God. But with spiritual fornication, as elsewhere, so in Rome, fleshly fornication is joined abundantly. Witness the stews [i.e. brothels] there, licensed by the pope, which are no inconsiderable branch of his revenue. This is fitly compared to wine, because of its intoxicating nature.”

“Of this wine she hath indeed made all nations drink, more especially by her later missions. We may observe, this making them drink is not ascribed to the beast, but to Babylon. For Rome itself, the Roman inquisitions congregations, and Jesuits, continually propagate their idolatrous doctrines and practices, with or without the consent of this or that pope, who himself is not secure from their censure.”

http://books.google.com/books?id=EvEUAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA715#v=onepage&q=pope&f=false

Justification: Paul’s Vision and God’s Plan

David Mathis reviews Justification: Paul’s Vision and God’s Plan by N.T. Wright.

Bock reviews Jesus Interrupted

Darrell Bock reviews Jesus Interrupted by Bart Ehrman.

Was Rufinus Of Aquileia Born In Aquileia?

My post about Rufinus yesterday mentioned that he was born in Concordia. Yet, he's often referred to as Rufinus of Aquileia. Similarly, Irenaeus is often referred to as Irenaeus of Lyons because of his living in that city and his leadership of the church there, not because he was born there. Keep such examples in mind the next time you see the claim that New Testament references to Jesus of Nazareth are evidence that Jesus wasn't born in Bethlehem. The same gospel authors who refer to Jesus as having been born in Bethlehem refer to him as Jesus of Nazareth. The two concepts aren't inconsistent, as later examples, like Irenaeus and Rufinus, further demonstrate.

Many Of The Saints Raised

A caller to Greg Koukl's radio program yesterday brought up Matthew 27:52-53 and William Lane Craig's suggestion that the traditional interpretation of the passage is incorrect. The passage is frequently cited by skeptics. For those who are interested, I wrote an article on the subject this past January.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Selective "confessional maximalism"

Horton is advocating confessional maximalism. He still believes not just the broad outlines (from some perspective or other) of the faith confessed by the Reformed churches but he actually believes the stuff between the first article and the last.

http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/frame-horton-triperspectivalism-subjectivism/

Among the jacket blurbs for Roman Catholic scholar Scott Hahn’s new Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI are endorsements from respected conservative Protestant Biblical Theologians Kevin Vanhoozer, Tremper Longman, and Hans Boersma offer tantalizing endorsements.

Even Michael Horton is in on the action:

“Even when one disagrees with some of his conclusions, Benedict’s insights, as well as his engagement with critical scholarship, offer a wealth of reflection. In this remarkable book, Hahn has drawn out the central themes of Benedict’s teaching in a highly readable summary. An eminently useful guide for introducing the thought of an important theologian of our time.” Michael Horton, Westminster Seminary California.

http://deregnochristi.org/2009/11/12/michael-horton-blurbing-scott-hahn/

The false church assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God. It does not want to submit itself to the yoke of Christ.15 It does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in His Word, but adds to them and subtracts from them as it pleases. It bases itself more on men than on Jesus Christ. It persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke the false church for its sins, greed, and idolatries.

http://wscal.edu/about/missionandcommitments/belgicconfession.php

The Lord’s Supper testifies to us, that we have complete forgiveness of all our sins by the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which He Himself has once accomplished on the cross;1 and that by the Holy Spirit we are grafted into Christ,2 who with His true body is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father,3 and is to be worshipped there4. But the Mass teaches, that the living and the dead do not have forgiveness of sins through the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ He is still daily offered for them by the priests; and that Christ is bodily present under the form of bread and wine, and is therefore to be worshipped in them. Therefore, the Mass is basically nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice and passion of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry.

http://wscal.edu/about/missionandcommitments/heidelbergcatechism.php

Jesus Interrupted review

Michael Kruger reviews Jesus Interrupted by Bart Ehrman.

Optional "confessional maximalism"

Horton is advocating confessional maximalism. He still believes not just the broad outlines (from some perspective or other) of the faith confessed by the Reformed churches but he actually believes the stuff between the first article and the last.

http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/frame-horton-triperspectivalism-subjectivism/

It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good (WCF 4.1).

http://www.wscal.edu/about/missionandcommitments/westminsterconfession.php

The meaning of "day" in Genesis 1 has been debated in the church at least since the days of Augustine. The literary form of the passage in its relation to other Scriptures is important for its interpretation. Responsible Reformed theologians have differed as to whether Genesis 1 teaches a young earth or allows for an old earth. While one of these interpretations must be mistaken, we believe that either position can be held by faithful Reformed people.

http://www.wscal.edu/about/missionandcommitments/testimonytoourtime.php

Is the Mass idolatrous?

A traditional plank of Reformed polemical theology is the allegation that the Mass is idolatrous. But in our ecumenical age, there are Protestants who shy away from this allegation.

Is the traditional allegation on target, or is this a case of polemical overkill from a bygone era–which we should retire from active duty?

1.This issue is frequently discussed in connection with the sacrificial character of the Mass.

In theory, the Mass could be sacrificial without being idolatrous. So what’s the connection?

2.It involves a precondition: Of whom or what is the Mass sacrificial?

“It makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior and includes the Church's offering” (CCC 1330).

http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p2s2c1a3.htm

3.To meet this precondition, the Host must be an extension of the Incarnation. In effect, Jesus is reincarnated in every time and place the Mass is celebrated.

4.If the Host is, indeed, a virtual reincarnation of Christ, then it’s entitled to all the divine honors we owe to Christ.

If, however, the Host is simply a creature (i.e. bread and wine), then Catholics are worshiping the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25), which is classic idolatry.

5.This leaves the theology of the Mass subject to two grave impieties:

i) It incites the communicant to commit idolatry.

ii) It effectively denies the finality of the atonement.

In this post I’m not attempting to prove either allegation. I’m simply clarifying what’s at stake.

Confessional latitudinarians

Horton is advocating confessional maximalism. He still believes not just the broad outlines (from some perspective or other) of the faith confessed by the Reformed churches but he actually believes the stuff between the first article and the last.

http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/frame-horton-triperspectivalism-subjectivism/

Among the jacket blurbs for Roman Catholic scholar Scott Hahn’s new Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI are endorsements from respected conservative Protestant Biblical Theologians Kevin Vanhoozer, Tremper Longman, and Hans Boersma offer tantalizing endorsements.

Even Michael Horton is in on the action:

“Even when one disagrees with some of his conclusions, Benedict’s insights, as well as his engagement with critical scholarship, offer a wealth of reflection. In this remarkable book, Hahn has drawn out the central themes of Benedict’s teaching in a highly readable summary. An eminently useful guide for introducing the thought of an important theologian of our time.” Michael Horton, Westminster Seminary California.


http://deregnochristi.org/2009/11/12/michael-horton-blurbing-scott-hahn/

There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalts himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God” (WCF 25:6).

Rufinus Vindicated

In an article earlier this year, I argued for the general reliability of Rufinus' Latin translations of some of the writings of Origen. Much of what Origen wrote has come down to us, entirely or in part, by means of the work of Rufinus. And the reliability of his translations of Origen has sometimes been disputed. The disputed works contain a lot of significant material, such as the material related to the New Testament canon discussed in my article linked above. Thus, the reliability of Rufinus' translations is an important issue. And since Rufinus was a significant figure in church history, his character has implications in other contexts as well.

I recently read the introduction to Thomas Scheck's translation of Origen's Commentary On Romans (Origen: Commentary On The Epistle To The Romans, Books 1-5 [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2001]). Here are some of Scheck's comments on Rufinus:

Rufinus, like Origen, was never canonized, and a shadow was cast over him in subsequent centuries owing to the malicious and unjust attacks on his character and orthodoxy by St. Jerome. Yet Rufinus is one of the noblest and most productive figures of Christian antiquity. He dedicated the latter part of his life to the unselfish task of translating the works of Greek theologians into Latin. "Through his labors...a considerable part of the works of the great Alexandrian [Origen] have floated down across the ocean of the Dark Ages, and, while lost in their native Greek, have in their Latin garb come to enrich the later civilization of the West." As a translator Rufinus became one of the most important educators of the Latin Middle Ages, although to the present day his significance has scarcely been appreciated or fully measured. "More than any other figure in the fields of hermeneutics, exegesis, and spirituality, he would be the grand master."

Rufinus was born into a Christian family in Concordia, not far from Aquileia....He became a monk and was baptized in Aquileia around 370. In 372 or 373 he went to Egypt, a Greek-speaking part of the Empire, where he met Didymus the Blind, who introduced him to Origen's works. Following Athanasius's death in 373 there was an outbreak of persecution by the Arians against orthodox Christians in Egypt. Rufinus himself was thrown into prison and afterwards he and many other confessors were banished from Egypt by their Arian persecutors.

After his sojourn in Egypt, Rufinus moved to Palestine with a wealthy patroness and sister in Christ, Melania. Together they established on the Mount of Olives a monastic foundation devoted to ascetic practices, to scholarly pursuits such as the copying of manuscripts of Christian and pagan classics, to teaching, and to showing hospitality to visitors of the Holy Land. Palladius relates, "They passed their life, offending none, and helping almost the whole world." It was during this period of eighteen to twenty years that Rufinus was ordained by John, bishop of Jerusalem. The last years of Rufinus's life, during which he carried out his great Latin translations, were spent in Aquileia, Rome, and Sicily, where he died.

In the heat of the Origenist controversy, St. Jerome vilified Rufinus, St. Ambrose, and St. John Chrysostom, attempting to blacken the reputation of all three men for subsequent generations. Only in the case of Rufinus has the cloud of suspicion lingered to the present day. The more objective ancient Christian historians held a different assessment. Palladius described Rufinus as a man of noble birth and manners, very strong in following out his own independent resolutions. "No one of the male sex was ever gentler, and he had the strength and the calmness of one who seems to know everything." In the late fifth century Gennadius saw clearly that Jerome had unjustly attacked Rufinus. He describes Rufinus as a brilliant and gifted teacher of the Church who gave to the Latins a very large part of the library of the Greek writers....And Cassiodorus regarded him as a most eloquent translator, who translated Origen's Commentary [on Romans] even more eloquently....

He [the person who asked Rufinus to translate Origen's commentary on Romans] requested that Rufinus abridge the work to half the space...Thus Rufinus kept his word to Heraclius: He compressed the Greek work to precisely half the space.

Rufinus's open admission of having substantially abbreviated the work [Origen's commentary on Romans] is of importance in assessing his reliability as its translator....The lack of congruence between any given Greek fragment and Rufinus's Latin version may not necessarily impugn Rufinus's reliability as a translator, since the fragment might have been not translated by Rufinus....

In an appendix to his magisterial study of the patristic interpretation of Romans, K.H. Schelkle makes a detailed comparison of the Greek fragments [of Origen's commentary on Romans] with Rufinus's Latin translation. He calls into question the traditional suspicion of Rufinus's reliability and the preference for the Greek fragments, concluding that the reliability of the fragments must be contested. Schelkle denies that they can even be regarded as genuine pieces of Origen's original Commentary. They are instead excerpts from the Commentary, i.e., summaries of longer passages, and they have been shaped into a unique form by the excerptor....

If Schelkle's investigation is correct, it seems that Rufinus's Latin translation has been vindicated, at least in large part. It offers us the best source and most reliable witness for Origen's thoughts, though Rufinus has expressed these thoughts in his own words. Even Scherer, who thinks that Rufinus has substituted his own exegesis at several points, admits, "The translation is often accurate, exact, and in large measure faithful."

It is certain that Rufinus has left out large blocks of text. It is very likely that he has reformulated (or updated) heterodox-sounding passages, particularly those pertaining to the Trinity, since his translations assume that heretics had falsified some passages in Origen's works. We are moreover well advised to keep in mind Hammond Bammel's cautions to the effect that in his translations of Origen, Rufinus has spoken with his own voice to the readers of his time. He has reflected upon the thoughts of Origen and expressed them in his own words for his readers....Rufinus's language was less polished and less technical than Origen's....

These caveats notwithstanding, it is to Origen's interpretations we are listening in the Commentary, not to Rufinus's. A sure method of confirming this is to compare the exegesis found here with that of Origen's other writings. (pp. 10-13, 17-19)


In order to more fully appreciate the significance of some of this information Scheck conveys, see my earlier article that discusses Rufinus' translations.

It's important to note that Rufinus was asked to translate Origen's commentary on Romans, and that the person who made the request asked him to abbreviate the work. Rufinus didn't initiate the translation or its abbreviation. And he openly and explicitly acknowledged that he was abbreviating Origen's work. As I noted in my earlier article, Rufinus handled different translations in different ways, and he was open and explicit about the approaches he was taking to different works he was translating. Similarly, we today will translate documents in a variety of ways, such as in abridged form or in a paraphrase rather than word-for-word. There's nothing dishonest about that.

Note, also, that we have many ways of judging the reliability of Rufinus' translational work. It's not as though all we have to go by is the general reliability of Rufinus as an individual. Rather, we can compare Rufinus' translations to fragments of those works that have been preserved elsewhere. We have comments on the reliability of Rufinus' work from other ancient sources, who would have had access to a lot of evidence not available to us. And, as I explained in my earlier article, some of what Origen says in Rufinus' translations not only is different from what Rufinus believed, but sometimes even contradicts Rufinus. Even if we were suspicious of Rufinus' translations on issues related to Trinitarian doctrine, for example (an example cited by Scheck above), it doesn't follow that we should be equally suspicious of his translations related to other matters. I've been citing Rufinus on issues related to the canon of scripture, and Origen differs from and contradicts Rufinus on some of those issues. Why should we think that Rufinus' alleged unreliability on a subject related to Trinitarianism makes him unreliable on those canonical matters as well?

Since the subject under consideration here is Rufinus' translations of Origen, some of you may be interested in reading something I wrote about Origen last year. Origen deserves criticism on some points, but, like Rufinus, his merits have often been underestimated.