Saturday, May 22, 2010

Causal determinism

“As an Arminian and Molinist, I specifically oppose all forms of causal determinism. If there’s one aspect of Calvinism I object to, it’s causal determinism. Yet some Calvinists are hesitant to say they are causal determinists. This post is to lay out the various forms of causal determinism; Naturalism, Occationalism, Concurrence and Mainline Calvinist Causal Determinism; all of which I oppose.”

Speaking for myself, I avoid “causal determinism” for the following reasons:

i) I distinguish between exegetical theology and philosophical theology. “Causal determinism” is not an article of faith. Only teachings of Scripture are articles of faith. Causal determinism is a philosophical construct.

My primary concern is to defend Biblical doctrines, not philosophical doctrines. Philosophy can often be useful in defending articles of faith, but philosophical constructs are not articles of faith.

ii) There is no philosophical consensus on how to define causation.

iii) Likewise, determinism is hardly synonymous with Calvinism (as I recently pointed out).

iv) Apropos (i), my primary concern is to defend what the Bible has to say about predestination, providence, and so forth.

“Occationally, Calvinists are occasionalists, but this view has not gained widespread support among Calvinists.”

I’d add that one can be an occasionalist, but not be a Calvinist (e.g. Berkeley, Malebranche).

“Concurrence is similar to occationalism but rather than denying the efficiency of secondary causes, Molinia’s Catholic opponents (the Dominicans) said God's concurrence with secondary causes determines the effects.”

But Arminianism also has a doctrine of concurrence:

Therefore, one cannot use concurrence to distinguish Calvinism from Arminianism.

And to my knowledge, Molinism also has a doctrine of continuous concurrence. So concurrence fails to distinguish Calvinism from Molinism or Arminianism alike.

Of course, you could say they have different versions of concurrence, but that, once again, complicates the effort to distinguish these positions by reference to concurrence.

“Francis Turretin, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Hodge articulated the view that man’s actions are determined by his motives, reasoning, state of mind, emotions and feelings.”

i) A problem with this statement is that Dan classifies these three theologians under the heading of “causal determinism,” in distinction to “occasionalism.” Yet Edwards was an occasionalist.

ii) This also illustrates a limitation to using Edwards as a standard representative of “mainline” Calvinism. For, by Dan’s own admission, occasionalism is an anomalous position in Calvinism.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that occasionalism is wrong. Or that occasionalism is necessarily at odds with Calvinism. But in terms of his metaphysical paradigm, one can’t simply default to Edwards as a representative spokesman for mainstream Calvinism.

“Turretin, Edwards and Hodge relied on Luther and Calvin’s groundwork by developed the system somewhat.”

This also means that we can’t judge Turretin, Edwards, and Hodge by the standards of contemporary action theory. They were indebted to, and responding to, the intellectual ethos of their time and place. In contemporary debates over action theory, it’s important to compare and contrast contemporary compatibilists with contemporary incompatibilists.

“Today there view is popularized by authors like RC Sproul using the catch phrase that ‘we choose according to our strongest desire.’”

True. And in that respect, it’s important to keep in mind that Sproul is a theologian, not a philosopher. Therefore, if we’re debating the philosophical merits of Calvinism, Molinism, Arminianism, &c., we need to cite Christian philosophers in each tradition.

“In a world were some people underarticulate their views out of fear of criticism, I admire Turretinfan’s courage, even thought I disagree with his views.”

I appreciate TFan too, However, I hope Dan isn’t insinuating that Calvinists who avoid “causal determinism” are “underarticulating” their views “out of fear of criticism” –as if we couldn’t have principled reasons for our avoidance of that jargon.

“Beyond these four views, many Calvinists simply reject libertarian free will, which seems to imply causal determinism without specifying how our acts are determined.”

Which is a perfectly respectable option.

Countering racism with racism

Before responding to Sarah’s latest string of tendentious, sob-sister assertions, let’s take a reality check:

i) Suppose a normal man has a choice between dating Rosie O'Donnell and Lena Horne. Will he “consciously/unconsciously” discriminate against the black woman in favor of the white woman? I don’t think so. Clearly looks and charisma trump race.

ii) Likewise, if Bill Clinton and Thomas Sowell were running for president, would I favor the white candidate over the black candidate? Obviously not. I’d choose a black conservative over a white liberal any day of the week.

iii) What about multiracial sports teams, military units, and the like. Don’t the members of the sports team or military units share a sense of camaraderie which transcends race?

iv) In my observation, social class is more relevant to social acceptance than race or ethnicity.

Finally, Sarah keeps talking about “unconscious” racism. Of course, the beauty of imputing unconscious motives to people is that it’s unfalsifiable.


“Yes, racism will never cease in a fallen world. Neither will spousal abuse, but that doesn't mean laws can't be enacted to outlaw some forms of it, which may eventually result in a societal shift away from certain manifestations if it.”

i) What manifestations of racism are you alluding to?

ii) Do you think we should rectify spousal abuse by beating up on husbands who are not wife-beaters?

“Unspoken indeed, as I never said anything like that. I've heard people say that in academic discourse racism equals prejudice plus power on a systemic level, so that while a Black person in America could be prejudiced he couldn't technically be racist (being in the non-powerful group).”

I see. So black policemen, black judges, black mayors, black Congressmen, &c., are powerless. A white pizza delivery boy has more power than a black police chief, is that your argument?

“Universities in America are very largely controlled by white people.”

Universities in America are largely controlled by white liberals. Therefore, you’re imputing systemic racism to institutions controlled by white liberals.

The solution is to purge American universities of white liberals.

“Well... what? It's worth mentioning, because you don't seem to be aware of that ideology.”

Listen, young lady, I lived through the Sixties civil rights movement. I watched the network news. I attended public school I-12. I’ve been exposed to liberal politics all my life. So spare me the unctuous notion that I’m unacquainted with liberal ideology.

“It is racist stereotyping to state that white people have conscious and unconscious biases towards POC?”

By definition, that’s grossly prejudicial.

“I'm stating a social trend.”

You’re asserting a social trend.

“I wasn't aware that anyone denied the existence of racism in hiring and applications.”

Actually, it’s circular. Affirmative action requires an applicant to check a box to identify his race on the application form. If the application form didn’t require the applicant to reveal his racial identity, then in many or most cases, a college admissions board would be in no position to know the race of the application, and therefore in no position to discriminate against him even if it were so inclined.

“Even having a name that ‘sounds’ Black is enough to prevent some people getting hired; surely that indicates racism to you?”

i) Black-sounding names like “Colin Powell,” you mean?

ii) If you think corporations and college admissions boards are racist, then they’d be racist in how they enforce affirmative action, yes? Same with state and federal gov’t. If you think whites are bound to be racist, then white officials, who “control” state and federal gov’t, would be racist in how they enforce affirmative action. So how is that any solution, even on your own terms?

At best, the only way to prevent racist college admissions boards from discriminating against minorities would be to use arbitrary quotas. Is that what you’re proposing?

“I don't see that they're more salient in terms of getting hired or accepted to colleges.”

Now you’re changing the argument. You originally talked about “centuries” of “systemic” racism. How do you think that is a salient factor in 21C hiring or college admissions?

“On Triablogue you frequently call for the government to fix injustice - for example, outlawing abortion. You don't dismiss that as ‘paternalism’ towards the fetuses.”

Well, that’s a very revealing comparison on your part. Yes, I think we should baby babies. Adults have a duty to be paternalistic towards little children.

To judge by your comparison, you think white adults should treat adult minorities like children who require the adult supervision of enlightened whites. Speaking for myself, I don’t view myself as the grown-up in relation to minorities.

“What makes you say this isn't the government's problem, while other injustices are?”

Of course, that begs the question by assuming there’s a systemtic injustice in reference to hiring and admissions which gov’t needs to rectify.

“I believe systemic racism is a problem and results in plenty of POC being denied jobs in favour of equally qualified white people for no reason other than race; and I think something should be done about it.”

The only systemic racism I see is emanating from the power centers of liberal ideology.

“I'd like a charitable discussion on this, if you're up for that.”

I'd like a rational discussion on this, if you're up for that.

“Now you've admitted that injustice exists, what is the next step?”

Purge the liberal media, academia, the judiciary, executive, and legislative branches of white liberal racists.

“People’s resumes are being chucked out because they have Black-sounding names, and that's not a good thing either.”

Didn’t seem to be a hurdle for Barack Hussein Obama. Or is that a white-sounding name?

“Having a white-sounding name is something else.”

What does a “white-sounding” name sound like, exactly? How does that compare with a “black-sounding” name. Does “Jeremiah Wright” sound white or black?

While the World Slept

You know how you sometimes remember something out of the blue? You hadn’t thought about it for years. Then, all of a sudden, it comes to you. It was hibernating in your memory, waiting to awaken at the slightest touch.

Aaron hadn’t thought about her since his was a boy. But he’d been thinking about her lately. He didn’t remember when he started to remember her. Or why.

She was just some girl he knew in second grade. Decades ago. He didn’t recall her name. He hadn’t seen her since second grade.

What made her memorable? She was poor. That’s all he remembered about her.

He’d attended a suburban grade school where most of the students were middle class. So she stuck out. She wore the same pale blue dress to school every day, rain or shine.

Now he wondered what happened to this poor nameless girl he met in second grade. For years and years he hadn’t given her a second thought. But now it haunted him.

He could only imagine. Where was she now? She’d be his age, if she was still alive. She probably had a hard life all her life.

You see people like that. Prematurely aged. Their face a map of their life.

How many of her classmates still remembered that sad little girl from second grade? But he remembered her. And God remembered her. Indeed, that’s why he remembered her. God reminded him.

Maybe it was his own time of life that made him reminisce. When you’re young, there is no urgency. Time is on your side. The horizon lies distant. But as year follows year, the horizon draws near–like a wall advancing to meet you.

He was sorry now that he hadn’t befriended her when they were young. And now it was too late. But even if he could go back in time, there’s only so much that one second-grader can do for another.

He thought about other desperate women on whom the Lord had shown his mercy. Like Leah, Hannah, Hagar, Rahab, and Mary Magdalene. As well as other nameless women–like the Samaritan, the Shunammite, the Syrophoenician, the hemorrhagic, and the widow of Zeraphath. Forgotten by time, but remembered by God. Lost to the world, but not to the Lord.

She, too, was forsaken and forgotten by so many of her peers. He might be the only one left who remembered–or cared. But as long as he remembered her, he could pray for her. He couldn’t pray for her by name, but God knew who she was.

So he prayed for her, that God would bless her like Lazareth. That God could take her to Abraham’s bosom. A loser in this life, but a winner in the life to come. He prayed to God to confound the wisdom of the world.

He thought about the parable of the seed growing at night. God planted and tended his garden after dark, out of sight. For the world was oblivious to the growing seed–lacking the nocturnal vision of faith. Unable to see God’s secret garden.

Aaron prayed for her every day until the day he died. And when he passed over to the other side, there she was. A seed planted in a dying world, to blossom in eternity. God took her to heaven by a quiet backstreet–while the world slept.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The secret things belong to the Lord

I'm going to quote some recent statements by Paul Helm:


Following on from this, while how the ‘two wills’ of God are elements of one divine will is ‘inscrutable’ to us, I suggest that nevertheless there is a fittingness, even perhaps a necessity to the indiscriminate offer of grace in a situation in which salvation is freely given and the enjoyment of that grace is through justification by faith alone and its inseparable accompaniment, sanctification. Perhaps we may put the point as strongly as this: The execution of the one divine will of salvation through free grace must have different phases if the freeness of grace is to be received as such, and preserved from serious misunderstanding or even compromise. As we have seen, on Calvin’s view there are not two wills in God, but different elements of the one will. The one will not only has differential outcomes, in the case of the elect and the reprobate, but it is also brought to pass through various phases. These are not (in this case) the much-discussed covenantal or redemptive-historical phases, but phases in which those elected and reprobated are in different epistemic situations, phases in which certain outcomes must be hidden from those about to enjoy them, if they are to receive them with understanding.

The Lord’s one will is decretal, distinguishing between election and reprobation, but there is a phase in the execution of that decree, let’s call it the ‘proclamation phase’, in which the presentation is worded universally. From that universal presentation no inferences can be drawn as to who among those to whom the presentation is made are reprobate, and those who are elect. Discriminate grace, but indiscriminate preaching.

Why is there this phase? Why is it that ‘announcement’ is a part of the scheme? Why does God choose to bring his grace to sinners by means of an announcement that anyone who turns from his sin will be received? Partly, of course, because it is true! Whoever wills may come. God does desire the return of the penitent sinner. But suppose for a moment that there was no such phase, but instead an economy which was conducted uniformly, either in terms explicitly directed to the elect, or in terms directed explicitly to the reprobate. If this happened (as it tends in fact to happen in some hyperCalvinist settings) the hearers would not be invited to come to Christ, but (by the terms of the preaching) they would be forced to ask ‘Which am I? Am I among the elect, or among the reprobate? Do I fulfil the requirements or conditions of being among the former or among the latter?’ In these circumstances there could be no full, direct invitation. The gospel could not be proclaimed ‘by invitation only’. In other words, under such terms ‘gospel preaching’ would have the effect not of turning men and women to face a Christ who invites them to come to him, but of turning them in upon themselves. And such a turning in is but a very short step from a person being concerned about whether or not he is qualified to come to Christ. Or concerned about the hardness of his heart, in which case there would be despair over what would be taken to be the marks of retribution. Either way, instead of facing Christ a person would introspect. At such a point grace would become legalised. So I suggest that what Calvin is identifying is not an arbitrary procedure on God’s part, but a necessary feature of the preaching of God’s free grace in Christ. This is a pastoral necessity, and perhaps even a logical necessity. So while God’s procedure is ‘ineffable’ in the sense that it is difficult to see how the one will of God possesses different phases, there is a rationale for it.

It would also have implications for prayer and more generally, for the desire for the salvation of men and women. For example, if, after setting forth in Romans Ch. 9 his theology of the remnant according to grace, Paul had known by some means who among his Jewish contemporaries were elect, and who reprobate, how could he have had a desire that they might (without exception) be saved (Rom.10.1), or had the thought that he might be accursed form Christ for the sake of his brothers, his kinsmen according to the flesh? (Rom. 9.1-5).

Criminal Minds

According to Arminian apologist Josh Thibodaux:

“The term ‘author‘ as employed by Arminians/Synergists in this case, is used in an originative sense to describe where the evil ultimately arose from. If we can identify, ‘whose idea was this?’, then we’ve found the author…[Originate] Thought it up, dreamed it up, came up with the idea apart from anything external…I would say He allowed it contingent upon the creatures’ wills, but didn’t dream up their evil schemes Himself.”

This fails to draw a couple of elementary distinctions:

i) It fails to distinguish between evil ideas and ideas of evil. There is nothing intrinsically evil in thinking about evil deeds.

For example, an FBI profiler from BAU will try to get inside the mind of a serial killer. In so doing, the profiler will contemplate “evil schemes.”

ii) What is more, the profiler will try to anticipate the serial killer’s next move. As such, he will “dream up” “evil schemes” in his effort to stay one step ahead of the killer. The profiler came up with this idea on his own. The killer didn’t plant that idea in his mind. Rather, the profiler “originated” this idea in his effort to forestall that very eventuality.

So there’s nothing intrinsically evil about entertaining or even originating the notion of an evil scheme.

Fighting injustice with more injustice


“From all I've read about affirmative action, its proponents don't see it as the final and ultimate good, simply a necessary and temporary corrective. If and when racism ceases and POC have truly equal opportunities, affirmative action will not be necessary - and I haven't seen anyone suggest it should continue beyond that point.”

i) In a fallen world, racism will never cease.

ii) Affirmative action discriminates against POC in case you’re the wrong POC. If you’re Asian-American, then affirmative action discriminates against you because Asian-Americans are “overrepresented” in college.

iii) BTW, an unspoken assumption of your claim is that only whites are racist. Couldn’t be that POC are ever racist. No, racism is a one-way street.

“In fact, the bloggers I've read on the topic are transparent about considering it a necessary evil.”

Well, if you only read bloggers who reflect a certain ideological slant…

“What is your solution to the issue, if you are anti-affirmative action? Do you affirm that there is a problem with white people in positions of power giving other white people privileges over POC due to conscious and unconscious biases?”

Since you’re given me no reason to accept your racist stereotyping, why should I offer a solution to your prejudicial claim?

“Do you agree that being black results in decreased opportunities (AA aside) in education and the workforce regardless of other personal qualities?”

Why would I accept a sweeping claim like that?

“Do you admit that various races are not on an equal footing in the USA due to decades or centuries of small-scale and systemic racism?”

What about more salient factors like rampant single motherhood, a culture of dependence (welfare), a drug subculture, bad role models (e.g. hip-hop “artists”), &c.?

“Do you think something should be done about this?”

Done by whom? I don’t share your racial paternalism.

“Do you think the current racial discrimination is better than the legalised discrimination that AA mandates…”

You have a habit of posing loaded questions, which beg the question by building tendentious assumptions into the question.

I also don’t think that we should rectify injustice with injustice.

“Even though the latter has benefits to oppressed people…”

Throughout your comments you assume what you need to prove. Here’s what a black economist has to say:

In the United States, where many group preferences have sought to justify themselves as counterweights to discrimination that would otherwise prevail, such “discrimination” often turns out to be statistical “under-representation” in desirable occupations or institutions. The implicit assumption, tenaciously held, is that great statistical disparities in demographic “representation” could not occur without discrimination. This key assumption is seldom tested against data on group disparities in qualifications. For example, as of the year 2001, there were more than 16,000 Asian American students who scored above 700 on the mathematics SAT, while fewer than 700 black students scored that high—even though blacks outnumbered Asian Americans several times over. Data such as these are simply passed over in utter silence—or are drowned out by strident assertions of “covert” discrimination as explanations of a dearth of blacks in institutions and occupations requiring a strong background in mathematics.

False beliefs are not small things, because they lead to false solutions. In the field of medicine, it has long been recognized that even a false cure that is wholly harmless in itself can be catastrophic in its consequences if it substitutes for a real cure for a deadly disease. Proponents of affirmative action cannot console themselves for their false assumptions on grounds that their intentions were good, because social quackery likewise substitutes for real efforts to deal with real problems that can tear a society apart. Despite an orientation of asking what “we” can do for “them,” those who want to see blacks advance in fields requiring a mathematics background need to confront black students with a need to master this subject, even if that means giving up other diversions and giving up attitudes that doing academic work is “acting white.” This will win few friends and fewer votes. But the question is whether one is serious about results for others or simply wants to feel good about oneself.

Such data as can be gleaned from a variety of private sources in the United States suggest that the more fortunate American blacks receive a disproportionate share of the benefits going to blacks as a whole in the United States, just as the more fortunate Malays tend to benefit most from affirmative action in Malaysia or the more fortunate untouchables benefit from affirmative action in India.

Affirmative action programs also generate major social costs that fall on the population as a whole. Losses of efficiency are among these costs, whether because less-qualified persons are chosen over more-qualified persons or because many highly qualified members of non-preferred groups emigrate from a society where their chances have been reduced. However, the cost of inefficiency is overshadowed by the cost of intergroup polarization, violence, and loss of lives. Bloody and lethal riots over affirmative action in India are the most obvious examples, but there have also been young brahmins who have died by setting themselves on fire in protest against policies which have destroyed their prospects.

As the country which has had preferences and quotas for the less fortunate longer than any other, India presents the clearest historical picture of their consequences, as well as the clearest statistical picture. Its history is not one to encourage other countries to follow in India’s footsteps, much less the footsteps of Sri Lanka.

The history of blacks in the United States has been virtually stood on its head by those advocating affirmative action. The empirical evidence is clear that most blacks got themselves out of poverty in the decades preceding the civil rights revolution of the 1960s and the beginning of affirmative action in the 1970s. Yet the political misrepresentation of what happened—by leaders and friends of blacks—has been so pervasive that this achievement has been completely submerged in the public consciousness. Instead of gaining the respect that other groups have gained by lifting themselves out of poverty, blacks are widely seen, by friends and critics alike, as owing their advancement to government beneficence.

Within the black community itself, the possible ending of affirmative action has been portrayed as a threat to end their economic and social progress. Thus whites are resentful and blacks are fearful because of policies which have in fact done relatively little, on net balance, to help blacks in general or poor blacks in particular. Among black students in colleges and universities, those admitted under lower standards face a higher failure rate and those admitted under the same standards as other students graduate with their credentials under a cloud of suspicion because of double standards for minority students in general.

One of the most widely used defenses of group preferences and quotas is that there are precedents for them. In college admissions, for example, there have been preferences for athletes and for alumni children. Merit criteria have not been universal in other institutions either. Why then the objections to racial or ethnic preferences or preferences for women? As a strategic argument, this arbitrarily puts the burden of proof on critics of affirmative action, as if the demonstrable social costs of this program needed no justification. But of all justifications, precedent is one of the weakest. Everything that has ever been done wrong—from jaywalking to genocide—has had precedents. Any justification or criticism of affirmative action must be based on its actual consequences. If we took the argument from precedents as conclusive, then nothing could ever be corrected until there was perfection in everything else.

Disproportionate impact

Victor Reppert has made a shocking discovery. Thankfully, it took a man of his philosophical acumen to ferret this out. Reppert just discovered that laws disproportionately impact lawbreakers. Yes, you heard me right. Laws discriminate against outlaws. They have the insidious potential to single out non-law abiding citizens.

For example, laws against drunk driving single out drivers. By contrast, laws against DUI don’t profile joggers or swimmers–only drivers.

It’s appalling that in this day and age we still have such pernicious laws on the books. Time to stage a protest. Riot in the streets.

The Adventures of Mighty Mouse

Josh Thibodaux, fearsome Mighty Mouse of Arminian swashbucklers, whose squeak exceeds his nip, has come out of retirement to rescue Pearl Pureheart from the distressing clutches of the Satan Cat.

“The real problem is that making God out to be the author of sin is what their exhaustive determinist doctrine inescapably amounts to.”

Is Calvinism “exhaustively deterministic”? Thibo needs to define his terms. Here’s a standard definition:

“Causal determinism is, roughly speaking, the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature…In most of what follows, I will speak simply of determinism, rather than of causal determinism…The world is governed by (or is under the sway of) determinism if and only if, given a specified way things are at a time t, the way things go thereafter is fixed as a matter of natural law.”

It’s clear on this definition that Calvinism is not “exhaustively deterministic.” Take a miracle like Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. That wasn’t necessitated by the laws of nature. And that wasn’t necessitated by a chain of antecedent events leading up to this miracle.

“The term ‘author‘ as employed by Arminians/Synergists in this case, is used in an originative sense to describe where the evil ultimately arose from. If we can identify, ‘whose idea was this?’, then we’ve found the author…[Originate] Thought it up, dreamed it up, came up with the idea apart from anything external…I would say He allowed it contingent upon the creatures’ wills, but didn’t dream up their evil schemes Himself.”

There are two basic problems with his claim:

i) This is Thibo’s polemical, made-up definition of the phrase (“author of sin”). He doesn’t attempt to show that this represents the historic meaning of the phrase. Yet when Calvinism denies the divine authorship of sin, that has reference to the historical meaning of the phrase.

What Thibo has done is to concoct his own eccentric and tendentious definition. Not surprisingly, he defines the term in such a way that it just so happens to include Calvinism but exclude Arminianism.

That’s the nice thing about made-up definitions. You can define a term at your convenience, so that, by a happy coincidence, your own position falls outside the danger zone while the opposing position falls inside the danger zone. Funny how that works out.

Why he thinks that any nonpartisan observer would be impressed by this self-serving exercise is an interesting question.

ii) One wonders if Thibo really means what he seems to be saying. Perhaps the logic of his position really commits him to such an extreme position. But what Thibo appears to claim is that evil is literally unimaginable for God. If it weren’t for the existence of sinners, God would be unable to even conceive of such possibilities on his own. Such ideas are simply unthinkable for God unless there were sinners who made him cognizant of these evil possibilities.

Is that what Thibo means? Does Thibo think God lacks the elementary intelligence to even have a bare idea of evil events apart from some external stimulus? If that’s the case, then human beings are much smarter than the Arminian God.

“Calvinists will often equivocate and say that it means ‘actually committing the sin,’ or some such, but the ‘author’ of an action doesn’t necessarily describe someone directly committing that action, rather it denotes the one who came up with the action to begin with… Trying to deny the problem by redefining ‘author’ amounts to nothing more than playing word games.”

How is that equivocation? To my knowledge, “authorship” in Medieval Latin and Middle French denotes agency. The “author” is the agent. The one who actually performs the deed.

“Author of sin” is a term of art. A technical term. That’s true of many traditional terms in historical theology.

If anyone is redefining terms, Thibo seems to be the culprit. At least, he’s offered no lexical evidence, drawn from period usage, to justify his own definition.

“Let’s assume for sake of argument that Pharaoh didn’t actually do any of the dirty work himself. So who authored this crime? The Hebrews? Hardly. The soldiers carried it out. Was it then his soldiers’ idea? Whether they did so willingly or unwillingly under threat of death doesn’t make a difference; they weren’t the ones that came up with the order, Pharaoh was. His subordinates’ level of willingness is irrelevant. His not lifting a finger in helping them perform it is irrelevant. Pharaoh was the one who made the decree, and it was Pharaoh’s intent that was carried out as a result. Pharaoh was the one who ultimately masterminded the act. Pharaoh authored the crime.”

i) Aside from Thibo’s eccentric definition of “authorship,” he also equivocates over the meaning of “decree.” Here he seems to be using “decree” in the sense of a command or edict.

But that’s not what the “decree” means in Calvinism. Indeed, that confuses God’s decretive will with his preceptive will. In Calvinism, the decree is not a command or edict. Rather, in the words of one classic definition, “God's decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he has, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained: Whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men” (WLC Q.12).

Then there’s the substantive issue.

ii) One problem is Thibo’s simplistic explanation of intent. But there is more than one intention in play. For instance, God decreed that Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery as part of a long-range plan resulting in the Exodus–centuries later. That was God’s intent.

But that was hardly intent of Joseph’s brothers. They were motivated by envy, resentment, and revenge.

iii) In addition, if God voluntarily makes a world with foreseeable consequences, then God intends the consequences.

“If God specifically decreed that people sin, then God is the one who came up with the idea and is therefore its author (and the de facto mastermind behind it).”

How is God not the de facto mastermind behind whatever happens? God is the only agent who knows the entire complex of events. Human agents only have a partial knowledge of world events. Events they observe, plan, or perform.

God is the only agent who foresees each event in relation to every other event. And God’s creative fiat is a necessary condition for the eventuation of all those foreseeable results. So that makes the Arminian God complicit in the outcome. A collaborator. Indeed, the “mastermind.” And that’s on Arminian assumptions.

“A God in whom all evil originates rather than a God who (possibly) allows wholly useless evil to be committed… how exactly is this supposed to be a better view of God?”

So Thibo apparently admits the existence of gratuitous evils in Arminian theology. Of course, that plays into the argument from evil.

“Because allowing a situation in which wrong can occur (including if it certainly will given the agent) isn’t akin to planning it out.”

Several issues:

i) ”Akin” in what sense? There’s a metaphysical distinction between permitting and planning an event. But that is not, of itself, a moral distinction or exculpatory distinction.

Suppose I have advance knowledge of 9/11. I didn’t plan it. I accidentally discovered the plot. But I choose to keep mum and sit on this information rather than tip off the authorities. I allow it to happen even though I was in a position to prevent it.

Is that different than planning it? Well, there’s a metaphysical difference. But how is that morally relevant? How does that excuse my actions?

ii) In Arminian theology, God does more than merely “allow” evil. God is the Creator. He made a world with foreseeable evils. He was able to preempt their occurrence. Therefore, he does more than merely permit them to happen. Rather, God made a necessary and positive contribution to the outcome through his creative fiat.

In addition, Arminian theology also has a doctrine of providential concurrence. God has to sustain the evildoer.

iii) How can an Arminian deny that God planned an evil event? If God foresaw the outcome, an avoidable outcome, then God intended the outcome, did he not? If he did not intend that outcome, then why did he set that chain-reaction in motion? No one was forcing his hand.

How can an evil event be an unplanned event if God foresaw that eventuality, intended that eventuality, and set that chain-of-events in motion by his creative fiat?

“The sovereign God holds power of life and death for His creations, and therefore has no obligations to stop evil from being committed or prevent His creations from destroying each other, and is therefore not responsible for their actions in any moral sense.”

But in that event, the Arminian God lacks the attribute of omnibenevolence. Such a God doesn’t act in the best interests of all his fallen creatures.

Termites in Mother Church

Bill Vallicella reports.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Typhoid Harry

In 2011, there was an outbreak of typhoid fever in Yuma, Arizona. Local authorities traced the source of the contagion to Harry McCallan (popularly known as “Typhoid Harry”), an undocumented sanitation engineer from Limerick Ireland. Authorities then issued an APB for anyone fitting his description.

The next day, Pres. Obama and Attorney Gen. Holder held a joint press conference deploring this egregious example of racial profiling. As the president explained, to avoid the risk of rogue policemen exploiting the situation, officials should inconvenience everyone equally by rounding up all Yuma inhabitants and testing them for typhoid.

By executive order, the National Guard quarantined the entire population of Yuma. In the meantime, the outbreak become an epidemic, then a pandemic, as Typhoid Harry continued to infect the general population, who, in turn, infected others at an exponential rate.

By 2013, the only survivors worldwide were Typhoid Harry (who, as an asymptomatic carrier, was immune to the disease) and DARPA.

Having his pick of where to live, Typhoid Harry resided in the top three floors of Trump Tower until he died of natural causes at the age of 98.

DARPA continued operation until its energy reserves were exhausted in 2047. Indeed, this is the sign-off for DARPA before it goes offline for good.

The pillars of the earth


(1) The comment about Job's historicity was in the context of God's apparently unscientific statements in the book of Job (e.g., ch. 38). If you have the time, I would be interested to hear how you reconcile such statements with science? Or, since the passage is poetry, do you find it unnecessary to even try to reconcile it with science?

Your final sentence states my position. Job 38:1-11 is using stock imagery. We can tell that the imagery is figurative because the narrator uses mixed metaphors: God as carpenter, midwife, and seamstress.

(2) I'm not sure what your general outlook on Revelation is. I did not go into detail either, other than to say that the images are more symbolic than literal.

The imagery is symbolic, although the imagery stands for real-world events. But it’s not a representational depiction.

(3) I wrote to Edward: "The primary question, in my opinion, is the intended message of the biblical authors."


(4) Certainly some passages are from the human perspective but I'm guessing Edward will not find such reasoning persuasive in all cases.

Since Ed is not a reasonable critic, that doesn’t bother me.

Also, the objection is too vague to specifically address.

(5) I have no objection to the assertion that world is depicted as a temple in at least some places in the Bible. But, as Edward will say, that does not mean the authors did not believe the earth was flat.

i) What matters is not the private opinion of Bible writers, but what they intend to convey.

ii) I don’t have any uniform position about what ancient peoples generally believed. I suspect that’s person-variable. Some individuals were more observant and intelligent than others. To take a few examples:

a) Suppose the Bible uses “pillars of the earth” as metaphors for hills and mountains, which seem to support the sky. However, ancient peoples had occasion to climb hills and mountains. When they reached the summit they could see for themselves that the hills and mountains weren’t supporting a solid dome.

b) If the moon was a disk, and the earth was flat, the apparent shape of the moon would vary depending on which part of the flat earth the observer occupied. But ancient peoples traveled. Yet the moon was the same shape wherever they went. At a minimum, that would imply the sphericity of the moon. And if the moon, why not the sun?

By analogy, it wouldn’t be hard for a clever man or woman to infer that the earth was also a sphere, floating in space–like the sun and moon.

So I don’t assume that there was any unanimity of belief among the ancients.

(6) I agree that those under the earth are probably the dead in the passages cited by Edward. However, I'm also open to the possibility that some biblical authors thought Sheol/Hades was actually under the earth.

i) Once again, the question at issue is not what they believed, but what they taught.

ii) In addition, as Daniel Block points out, Ezk 32:22-23 makes use of ancient mortuary customs to model the netherworld. That’s just one example. But it illustrates the way in which certain cultural conventions were a springboard for generating cosmographic metaphors.

(7) Since you're a Calvinist, I would be interested to hear your take on John Loftus' claims in ch. 7 of The Christian Delusion regarding God's alleged failure to communicate. See the second to last paragraph for my summary of his claims. If you want more details on his claims just ask and I'll try to provide more information.

The seventh explanation is offered by Calvinists. They say that God has a secretive will that is different from his revealed will. The revealed will is not his true will but can be used to get people to follow his secretive will. God’s secretive will sometimes decrees that people commit horrible acts for a higher purpose. Loftus states that if this is true we have no reason to trust God’s revealed will. I’ll leave it to Calvinists to respond to this depiction.

Well, that’s a deceptive way for Loftus to describe their interrelation. The preceptive will of God is just as truly God’s will as the decretive will of God. For the preceptive will of God facilitates a number of divinely appointed purposes. As such, God’s preceptive will is true to God’s intentions. In the nature of the case, the purpose of God’s law is indexed to the function which he assigned it to perform.

Perspicuity and doctrinal development

Perry Robinson said,
May 10, 2010 at 10:59 pm


The notion of doctrinal development is the idea that there is nascent or hidden content that is drawn out through a dialectical process, either rational or vital over time. Certain doctrines are “implicit” in texts and drawn out over time. In this way there is supposed to be conceptual extension or development. This the Orthodox reject. We admit terminological development in terms of carving out appropriate terms, but not conceptual development. So for example, the key term at Nicea, homousious is not a conceptual development since the term is apophatic and has no conceptual content in terms of telling us about God ad intra. Theology then for us is not a science and there is no beatific vision.

Perry Robinson said,
May 12, 2010 at 6:40 pm

As to perspecuity, is the Confessional doctrine of the Filioque necessary to salvation? (is it heresy to deny it or just an error of sorts?

Is it perspicuously taught in Scripture?

Perry Robinson said,
May 13, 2010 at 7:54 pm


Where does the WCF distinguish or list which specific doctrines are necessary for salvation and which are not? I am not being argumentative here, but wishing you to lay out your position more clearly. Why think that it doesn’t with respect to the Filioque, especially when the Reformed have historically taken its denial by the Orthodox as “heresy?”

Notice the odd incongruity in Perry’s position. On the one hand he rejects sola Scriptura and the perspicuity of Scripture on the grounds that Scripture lacks the clarity to distinguish saving articles of faith from adiaphora.

On the other hand, he also rejects the development of doctrine. He denies that some Biblical teachings are merely implicit.

But if, by his own admission, articles of the faith are explicitly taught in Scripture, then how can he deny the perspicuity of Scripture? How can Scripture be both explicit and obscure in what it teaches?

If, moreover, articles of the faith are explicitly taught in Scripture, then why do we need church councils to distinguish heresy from orthodoxy? In that event, then why is Scripture alone insufficient to be our rule of faith?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Siren songs

Since Steve mentioned Lena Horne singing "Stormy Weather" (in Cabin in the Sky) and Marlene Dietrich singing "Black Market" (in A Foreign Affair)...

Roos on the loose

Her [Kagan's] lesbianism ipso facto makes her a social liberal who will abuse her position (if confirmed) to force her deviant values on society at large. I don't believe in giving sexual perverts power over the rest of us.

5/14/2010 12:06 PM


"So I guess if a candidate is Republican, who supports family values, but isn't regenerate, that that would be better?"

Yes, that would be better. It's a question of public policy. Which policy prevails.

"To clarify, all homosexuals aren't social liberals by default. Some call themselves Christians, some are just extremely Right wing and some are both. I've also met many homosexuals who could care less about gay marriage rights."

i) Of course they're social liberals. Homosexuality is a liberal lifestyle.

ii) And don't play dumb. Kagan didn't get to be dean of the Harvard law school by being a social conservative.

iii) Moreover, social liberals go into law and politics because social liberals are social engineers who use abuse their authority to remake to the social order to their liking. That's what they do. We see it all the time.

iv) Case in point: consider Kagan's infamous attempt to kick military recruiters off campus.

"Aren't you equally worried by an unregenerate person imposing mediocre values on our society?"

You set up a false dichotomy. Was I commending unregenerate nominees? No. I also opposed the nomination of Sotomayor.

But we're talking about public office. Public policy. So that's what matters.

"Why are we singling out this woman for her sexuality when clearly she can do no worse than another unregenerate person?"

To the contrary, some unregenerates subscribe to traditional social conventions.

"You call her a sexual pervert, but doesn't that include any man or woman who engages in extramarital sexual activity? When you single her out aren't you raising one sin over another?"

The Bible raises some sins over others as a matter of public policy. Not all sins are crimes. Read the OT. That's because some sins are more culturally destructive than others.

5/15/2010 6:40 AM


“I don’t see Homosexuality as either a ‘liberal’ or a ‘conservative’ lifestyle since people from either party can engage in Homosexual acts.”

I didn’t say anything about her party affiliation. That’s your non sequitur, not mine.

“Again, I have to point out that there are Homosexuals that claim traditional values, like gay couples that have been married for years, and have kids, and go to Church. Even their views on the Bible are ‘quasi-conservative,’ they just choose to ignore the parts that talk about homosexual acts as being sin. If anything, Homosexuality has been pushing to be seen as a more traditional movement in the past 10 years.”

I’m conversant with the propaganda. I’ve read Andrew Sullivan et al. But you’d have to have a few roos loose in the top paddock to be taken in by that.

“Kagan is considered to be a social moderate who has right-wing leanings…at least that’s what I’ve heard her reputation to be.”

A lesbian dean of Harvard law school who serves in Democrat administrations (Clinton, Obama) is a blue-ribbon social liberal.

“Also, you made a blanket statement that Deans of Harvard Law School are obviously liberal. To be honest, I do not know that to be true.”

To be honest, I don’t think it’s an intellectual virtue to make oneself artificially stupid (to paraphrase Bertrand Russell). I don’t feel the obligation to deny the obvious. I don't play Russian roulette with my country.

“Again a blanket statement. Both Liberals and Conservatives enter politics to change society/culture.”

And liberals enter politics to liberalize the general culture.

“My point is, how can we decide a person’s value in public office based solely on their sexuality?”

Kagan is not a hypocrite. She’s living out her values (such as they are).

Of course, there are other considerations which are sufficient to disqualify her, such as her mistreatment of military recruiters.

“So if I may recap your thoughts; what you’re saying is that as long as the candidate adheres to a public policy that favors Orthodox Christian values, and does not commit flagrant ‘culturally destructive’ sins, then they would have your vote for public office.”

i) That depends on the available pool of candidates, which candidates are electable, &c.

ii) And the question at issue is not whether they commit socially destructive sins. The question is whether they treat socially destructive sins as a civil right. Kagan is a social activist.

“I don't know man. I guess I just disagree with your idea that homosexual acts is considered more destructive in the public forum then let's say morally-therapeutic theology that makes Jesus less than savior and generic conservatism is all about that.”

If a SCOTUS nominee was bent on finding an inalienable right to “morally-therapeutic theology” in the Constitution, that would be a relevant comparison.

“To me a candidate's sex life isn't as important to me as much as that political candidate's ability to keep Church and State separate.”

Needless to say, Barry Lynn, the ACLA, &c., don’t believe in church/state separation. Rather, they believe in church/state separation. Rather, they believe in subordinating the church to the state. Secularizing the public square. Criminalizing Christian expression.

“Let people have gay marriage…”

Why? Should they also be allowed to adopt children?

More Christian than Christ

I'm reposting some comments I left over at Justin Taylor's blog.

steve hays May 17, 2010 at 6:50 pm
Kevin Boling May 17, 2010 at 4:56 pm

“I think this is horrible. The last thing that we need in the church today is for professing Christians to embrace beer and the companies that produce it. Doing right by your employees while destroying people’s lives via the product you produce and promote is not a virtue the church should be looking to emulate.”

If you think that’s horrible, it gets even worse: John 2:1-11. The last thing we need in church today is a Messiah like that.

steve hays May 17, 2010 at 7:35 pm

The problem is when you and others presume to be more Christian than Christ.

steve hays May 17, 2010 at 7:55 pm
Kevin Boling May 17, 2010 at 7:45 pm

“Did not mean to imply that at all. I just don’t think that text has anything to do with giving the church a license to drink.”

And how do you arrive at that conclusion? Jesus made intoxicants for the wedding guests to drink.

Clearly, then, he didn’t regard think it was intrinsically evil or even imprudent to produce and consume alcoholic beverages. Once again, why do you think you know better than Jesus?

Oh, and this isn’t without precedent. According to Ps 104:15, God gave “wine to gladden the heart of man.” So who are you to forbid what God permits? Cf. 1 Tim 4:3.

steve hays May 18, 2010 at 2:54 pm
Haven’t there always been “weaker brethren”? Weren’t there weaker brethren in OT times? Yet Yahweh doesn’t advocate teetatolism. Weren’t there weaker brethren at the time Jesus changed the water into wine? Yet that didn’t stop Jesus.

What about communion wine? Wine was used at the Last Supper. Wine was used in NT churches to celebrate the Eucharist. Weren’t there weaker brethren in some of those churches?

This is a red herring.

steve hays May 18, 2010 at 3:18 pm
Another meme I see making the rounds of the combox goes something like this:

Christians who support drinking in moderation grew up in repressive, legalistic, fundy churches. Having now seen the light, they overreact by “flaunting” their “new-found” freedom.

No doubt there are some individuals who fit this profile. However, it’s clearly an overstatement:

i) Not every Christian who supports drinking in moderation drinks regularly. He may support it merely as a point of principles. We shouldn’t forbid what the Bible permits.

ii) Not every Christian who supports drinking in moderation grew up in repressive, legalistic, fundy churches. Don’t assume that represents a reaction, much less overreaction, to his religious background. Don’t assume that this represents a “new-found” freedom. That’s a very provincial assumption.

Some Christians have been drinking in moderation since they were old enough to drink. This isn’t a “new-found freedom.”

iii) Not every Christian who supports drinking in moderation even grew up in the church.

Indeed, some individuals have gone in the opposite direction. They used to be unbelievers who were hard drinkers or binge drinkers. After they became Christian, they now drink in moderation.

steve hays May 18, 2010 at 5:02 pm
I also wonder what presumptive scenarios the weaker-brethren objection has reference to.

For example, if my wife and I have some wine with dinner, how is that harming the weaker brethren? Or if my friends and I have some beer together, how is that harming the weaker brethren?

If we were to consume alcohol in front of an alcoholic or recovering alcoholic, that would be tactless. And, of course, that would be tactless regardless of whether the alcoholic/recovering alcoholic was a believer or unbeliever.

But under what situations is that a realistic objection to the moderate consumption of alcohol?

And even if there were such situations, wouldn’t that justify a case-by-case policy rather than a blanket policy? Don’t Christians need to exercise rational discrimination rather than have a mechanical approach to issues like this, regardless of the specific circumstances?

steve hays May 18, 2010 at 6:22 pm
I also don’t see the practical impact of teetotalism. Unless we return to Prohibition, teetotalism is a voluntary behavior. In the nature of the case, teetotalism is limited to teetotalers. It doesn’t inhibit barflies from blowing their play check at the local saloon, since they don’t subscribe to teetotalism. By definition, teetotalers aren’t barflies while barflies aren’t teetotalers. So as long as both behaviors are voluntary, how does teetotalism solve the problem it poses for itself?

steve hays May 18, 2010 at 7:54 pm
Jeff Straub:

“Am I a legalist if I forbid pot-smokers and heroin users in my church or does the legality of something rest on the official pronouncement of the civil magistrate? In a society where pot smoking is legalized, would it then become acceptable to be a church member if one uses it recreationally?”

Mood-altering substances range along a continuum of risk-factors. You can’t rationally propound a blanket policy on any and all mood-altering substances.

To take a comparison, hospitals sometimes administer dangerous drugs. Potentially life-threatening medications. But that’s justified if the risk of not treating the patient outweighs the risk of treating him.

“It is a non sequitor to say that because Jesus drank wine (whatever that was in the 1st century), I am free to drink Guinness. Unless you can demonstrate that Jesus drank anything similar to modern, commercially produced alcoholic beverages, you have no argument. Only rhetoric.”

Except that teetotalers play both sides of the fence on this issue. When Scripture refers to alcoholic beverages in a negative context (i.e. inebriation), teetotalers assure us that the word denotes some type of intoxicant–but if the same word is used in a positive context, then it suddenly becomes root beer.

“I can neither point to a Scripture that prohibits slavery nor can you.”

i) To begin with, you equivocate. “Slavery” is a loaded word. Is indentured service “slavery”?

ii) Rev 18:13 (cf. Ezk 27:13) is an example where Scripture condemns chattel slavery. Eschatological judgment, no less.

“Jesus does not condemn alcohol but regulates it.”

Where did Jesus regulate alcohol intake in Jn 2?

“What I have is the tenor of the Holy Writ which I think argues against its use in the end.”

Gene Robinson uses the same logic to justify catamites in the priesthood.

“Would any form of slavery today be acceptable?”

What about indentured service, whereby thieves make financial restitution for property crimes?

“As I have argued elsewhere, the biblical use of alcohol hardly compares to the use of alcohol in today’s world.”

So teetotalers should stop quoting biblical prohibitions against inebriation. OT drunks were getting plastered on root beer.

A Poor Man's Delilah

Ed Babinski sent me another email. An email of a comment he left at another blog.

Ed takes a touching interest in the state of my immortal soul. Not that Ed is trying to save me from hell. Rather, Ed is trying to save me for hell.

Unfortunately for him, Ed is a poor man’s Delilah. He lacks the vital stats that made Delilah an appealing tempter. As Kepler would say, numbers are everything.

If Ed could successfully impersonate Lena Horne singing “Stormy Weather” (in Cabin in the Sky), or Marlene Dietrich singing “Black Market” (in A Foreign Affair), he might at least find a chink in my armor. But the Old Serpent failed to equip his loyal employee with the necessary accoutrements.

However, let’s consider his latest devastating challenge to my flimsy Christian faith:

Hi, I'm uncertain of your name, is it "Jay?"

Isn't the primary question not what you believe but what Paul believed and wrote about, and the author of Revelation? What you believe is of course what you believe, but what about the beliefs of the authors of the Bible?

. . . so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever."

(Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)

And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it.

This is mere "imagery" to you, and that's fine. But do you also think it was pure "imagery" to Paul and the author of Revelation?

You admitted in your review that at least some biblical authors believed the entire cosmos was a three-tier affair with heaven above, a flat earth below, and mysterious regions beneath the earth as well. The OT mentions people coming up from the earth, and Job says God sees the spirits in the great deep. The NT makes similar statements in the verses I cited above.

You are agreeing that you do not see things the way the authors of the Bible saw them. You see only worms under the earth, no beings at all. And as telescopes have revealed, the heavens are filled with flying asteroids, comets, stars forming and exploding, even galaxies colliding (google up some pics to see those). And the earth is a tiny lifeboat bobbing perilously in space with earth-orbit-crossing asteroids, and with life-less-boats to our immediate left and right (Venus and Mars).

So we agree. The Bible begins with a non-scientific tale of the creation of a flat earth cosmos, and ends with the non-scientific tale of a heavenly city sent down from God's heavenly abode above our heads, and that between those myths lay some fictional books as well, such as Job.

We also agree that young-earth creationism's literalism is not good for Christianity. So you and I agree with the vast majority of information the I compiled from scholarly sources. If you find any words or sections of my chapter that make sense to you and that you can use to help to awaken other Christians to at least ask more questions concerning their literal interpretations of Genesis 1 and the end of Revelation and Job, then by all means, please use what I have written in part or in whole.

A few quick comments:

1. I don’t regard Job as fiction. I regard Job as stylized history.

2. Since I don’t interpret Revelation the way Tim LaHaye does, I don’t need to adjust my position.

3. The primary issue is not what Bible writers believe, but what Bible writers teach.

4. As a matter of fact, I do “see things” the way the Bible writers saw them. I’m a land-dweller. An earthbound observer. From my viewpoint as a lowly earthling, I, too, see things “up” or “down” in relation to my indexical frame of reference. So does Ed.

5. The Bible doesn’t teach a “flat-earth” cosmos. Rather, as scholars like T. D. Alexander, Gregory Beale, Daniel Block, John Walton, and Gordon Wenham (among others) have documented, the Bible employs architectural metaphors to depict the world as a temple. The imagery is figurative.

6. Since the dead were buried, Scripture uses subterranean imagery to depict the netherworld. That’s a natural convention.

The Long Term Implications Of This Republican Year

I've often been wrong about politics (and other things), but here's what I told an emailer this morning about my sense of the political atmosphere in the United States:

I wanted Specter to win, because he'd be easier to defeat. There is some value in seeing him lose either way, though.

I think the loss of Tim Burns is more significant. I expected that, though some late polls showing Burns ahead made me hopeful that he'd win. I have a low view of American voters in general, and I have a low view of Pennsylvania voters. Somebody like John Murtha can be highly corrupt, yet he and his successor can keep getting elected and reelected again and again.

This is a Republican year, but we should keep in mind that American voters are still largely corrupt and undiscerning. They'll generally support the Republicans this year, but for a mixture of good and bad reasons, and they won't support the Republicans as much as they ought to.

The amount of enthusiasm in many conservative circles, such as on talk radio and among Tea Party activists, is ridiculous. There hasn't been a major change in the heart of the American people. We're just seeing yet another temporary shift to the right. There's a lot of potential for the Republicans to waste the additional power they'll attain this fall, and the American people haven't changed much.

I suspect that the leaders in the Republican party have learned the lessons they needed to learn more than most Americans have. We'll probably see the Republican leadership act in a somewhat more conservative manner, and the (large) minority of Americans who are conservative will be somewhat more discerning and more active than they were previously. But the liberals and moderates will remain highly corrupt and undiscerning, and the temporary Republican leaning of some moderates probably won't last long.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Racial profiling

Racial Profiling is Bad!

Calling it “alarming and unconstitutional,” NCLR (National Council of La Raza), the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, today urged Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to veto an anti-immigrant bill that would lead to racial profiling…“Proposals like this one open the door to racial profiling and discrimination against immigrants and U.S. citizens alike.

Racial Profiling is Good!

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national Latino civil rights organization, today called on the Bush Administration to send a clear and strong message in support of Affirmative Action as the Supreme Court prepares later this spring to hear oral arguments in the cases, Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, which challenge the constitutionality of the University of Michigan’s undergraduate and law school Affirmative Action programs.

James Anderson on Sola Scriptura

I'm posting (with permission) something Dr. Anderson recently said in email correspondence:

I agree that the RC objection typically involves a level confusion: conflating the rule of faith with the special revelation it identifies.

So it's quite possible to state SS in a way that is not self-refuting but still preserves the core concerns that motivated the Reformers. Take this statement, for example:

SS1: The Bible alone is the Word of God.

This would certainly distinguish the Protestant position from the RC position (as per Dei Verbum). But it doesn't require that SS1 itself be taught in the Bible. It could be justified on other grounds: part biblical, part extra-biblical. It doesn't face the obvious epistemic self-defeat that, say, Clarkian Scripturalism does.


SS2: The Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice.

Again, this distinguishes the Protestant position from the RC position. But even if SS2 weren't taught in the Bible, there would be no self-refutation unless the further claim were made that the epistemic ground of SS2 is infallible. (Sproul says somewhere that the canon is "a fallible collection of infallible books". I take it he's making a similar point.)


SS3: The Bible is the sole final authority in matters of doctrine.

Once again, this would separate the sheep from the goats. But even if SS3 weren't taught in the Bible. the charge of self-refutation wouldn't apply unless (a) the Bible taught something incompatible with SS3 or (b) SS3 were conjoined with the additional claim that SS3 is on an epistemic par with the doctrines taught in Scripture.

And so on for any other formulation that could do the work the Reformers wanted SS to do.

Greg Welty on sola Scriptura

I'm posting (with permission) something Dr. Welty recently said in email correspondence:

Even if we cannot make an explicit, deductive case for sola scriptura, from the Scriptures themselves, we can make an inductive case. Again and again, in Scripture appeal is made to Scripture to correct oral tradition and oral claims. But we never see the reverse: we never see oral tradition correcting the deliverances of Scripture. So the inductive case for sola scriptura is pretty clear: if you want to know what Scripture commends to us as the ultimate standard of doctrine, it is Scripture itself. It's not like Scripture leaves us guessing here. How is this any worse than our indirect, inductive cases for other doctrines?

Non-Christian Corroboration Of The Darkness At Jesus' Crucifixion

William Lane Craig recently wrote about some corroboration of the darkness at the time of Jesus' crucifixion (Mark 15:33) from an early non-Christian source, Thallus. Craig makes some good points, but I want to address some issues that aren't often discussed when this subject comes up.

In the past, I've recommended a few online resources that discuss the darkness: here, here, and here. As you can see from reading those sources, the dating of Thallus' writing is disputed. Craig comments that "most scholars date Thallus’ History to the mid-first century, that is, sometime around AD 50". The most significant piece of evidence I'm aware of on the dating issue is Tertullian's comments in the following passage:

"The histories of the most ancient nations, such as the Egyptians, the Chaldeans, the Phoenicians, would need to be ransacked; the men of these various nations who have information to give, would have to be called in as witnesses. Manetho the Egyptian, and Berosus the Chaldean, and Hieromus the Phoenician king of Tyre; their successors too, Ptolemy the Mendesian, and Demetrius Phalereus, and King Juba, and Apion, and Thallus, and their critic the Jew Josephus, the native vindicator of the ancient history of his people, who either authenticates or refutes the others." (Apology, 19)

Tertullian seems to be referring to a historian by the name of Thallus who was criticized by Josephus. Presumably, then, Thallus wrote no later than the late first century. While it would be possible to interpret Tertullian as referring to Josephus' criticism of concepts that would later be advocated by Thallus, or to conclude that Tertullian was mistaken about the timing, the most natural way to take his comments is to conclude that Thallus wrote prior to Josephus. The reference to Apion, who's mentioned just before Thallus, probably was intended by Tertullian to be taken that way. At a minimum, Thallus wrote prior to when Theophilus of Antioch mentions him around the year 180 A.D. (To Autolychus, 3:29) He probably wrote prior to Josephus, as Tertullian suggests, which would place him in the mid to late first century. (Thallus' reference to the darkness at the time of the crucifixion tells us that he couldn't have written earlier.)

The history written by Thallus is no longer extant. We're told about Thallus' comments by a third-century Christian, Julius Africanus. Craig focuses on the testimony of Julius Africanus in his article. What isn't often noted is that other ancient sources also suggest that the darkness at the crucifixion was acknowledged by non-Christians.

Tertullian writes that "You [Romans] yourselves have the account of the world-portent still in your archives." (Apology, 21) It's common to suggest that Tertullian was only assuming that the event would be mentioned in the Roman archives. He didn't see any such record himself. He seems to have been mistaken when he referred to Roman records elsewhere. But even if we assume that Tertullian was mistaken in this instance, it would still be significant that he expected non-Christian corroboration.

Later, Jerome commented:

"Those who have written against the Gospels suspect that Christ's disciples, through ignorance, have interpreted an eclipse of the sun in connection with the Lord's Resurrection." (Thomas Scheck, trans., St. Jerome: Commentary On Matthew [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2008], p. 318)

Notice the plural ("those"). And note the term "interpreted". It seems that these critics of the gospels were disputing issues like the source and implications of the darkness, not its existence or timing. Jerome goes on, just afterward, to argue against such a view that would accept the existence and timing of the darkness, but dispute its source or implications (ibid., pp. 318-319). And that's the view Julius Africanus was responding to. Apparently, it was a common position among Christianity's critics.

The only early non-Christian source I'm aware of who disputes the historicity of the darkness is Celsus, who wrote in the late second century. Origen comments, "He [Celsus] imagines also that both the earthquake and the darkness were an invention" (Against Celsus, 2:59). What Celsus "imagines", however, doesn't carry much weight. Earlier and better sources disagreed with him, and the testimony of Tertullian, Julius Africanus, and Jerome suggests that it was much more common for non-Christians to acknowledge the event rather than deny it. Celsus was often unreasonable. See, for example, his attempts to dismiss the testimony of the resurrection witnesses later in the same section of Origen's treatise. Elsewhere (2:33), Origen notes that Celsus' dismissal of events like the darkness at the crucifixion, while accepting other events in the gospels, is based on what Celsus wants to believe, not any objective criterion.

The darkness seems to have been recorded by four first-century sources that we know of today, three Christian (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and one non-Christian (Thallus). Though Celsus cast doubt on the historicity of the event, we aren't aware of any good argument he had to support that conclusion, and the more common non-Christian position seems to have been to accept the historicity of the event and explain it naturalistically.

Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
For man the creature’s sin.
(Isaac Watts, Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Yahweh is Israel

"Science and the Profane" frequently features essays from The TheoThanatos Foundation's leaders and Senior Fellows. Today's entry was written by Peter Pence. Peter Pence is Senior Fellow of Obfuscation for The TheoThanatos Foundation and author of several books and commentaries, including the popular God is Dead: Evangelicals and the Problem of Elohim, which looks at questions raised by Brites that seem to threaten traditional views of Christian theism.

You could say that the Yahweh story came first and then Second Temple Jews just followed that precedent. But there is another way. Don’t think of Yahweh as the beginning of story. Instead, think of Yahweh as a retrojection of the Second Temple theology into primordial time. Try reading the OT narrative backward rather than forward.

Maybe Second Temple Judaism happened first, and the Yahweh story was written to reflect that history. In other words, the Yahweh story is really a Second Temple story placed in primeval time. It is not a story about the Creator of the world but about the creation of the Second Temple. Having gone to all the trouble of building a temple, they had to invent a God to go with it.

Everyone has to decide for themselves which of these readings of the OT has more “explanatory power.” I (and other Brites) come down on the second option for a number of reasons, some having to do with keeping up appearances.

Having said all this let me take a step or two back. I am not saying that this is ALL there is to the Yahweh story. There are all sorts of angles one can take to get at that extremely rich and deep piece of mythopoetry. But the “Yahweh is Israel” angle is at the very least a very good one—and in my opinion a much better angle than seeing Yahweh as a real Supreme Being. And you have to admit there is one distinct advantage of this reading that readers of TheoThanatos will recognize immediately: if the Yahweh story is not about a real Deity, then the conflict between Scripture and atheism cannot be found there.

Cardinal Newman versus Pius X

Pope Pius X
Given by His Holiness St. Pius X September 1, 1910.

I sincerely hold that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport. Therefore, I entirely reject the heretical misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously.

"Bad Theology in Support of Bad Science"

I'm going to quote a portion of a post from Uncommon Descent, along with one of the comments. There are striking parallels between this debate and the Calvinist/Molinist/Arminian debate over theodicy, where Ayala is using the same type of buffer that Arminians and Molinists invoke, while Barry raises the obvious objections to that insulating strategy, and a subsequent commenter raises obvious objections to Barry's libertarian alternative:


11 May 2010

Bad Theology in Support of Bad Science
Barry Arrington

Fransciso Ayala says intelligent design is an “atrocity” and “disastrous for religion” because it makes God directly responsible for all of the evil in the world. Ayala apparently believes he can get God “off the hook” for all of the evil in the world by setting him up as a remote deity – along the lines of the wind-up-the-clock deity believed in by, say, a seventeenth century deist – who, while He may have set the initial conditions in the universe, has not tended to it since and therefore cannot be blamed if the evolutionary train has gone off the rails in his absence. Rubbish. Ayala is pushing bad theology to support his bad science.

Let us examine Ayala’s claim that evolution gets God off the hook. His logic apparently runs something like this: As a Christian he concedes that God is the primary cause of the universe. Nevertheless, he says, God established numerous secondary causes, including Darwinian evolution, which is responsible for the vast complexity and diversity of life. But evolution is a creative force that is far from perfect, and such things as genetic defects, the cruelty in nature, and the defective human birth canal result from this imperfect process.

Now here is where Ayala’s argument gets interesting. Ayala seems to believe that by laying the imperfections in living things and the obvious cruelty in the world at the feet of a secondary cause (i.e., evolution), the primary cause (i.e., God) is relieved from “responsibility” for the aberrations resulting from the imperfect secondary cause.

Ayala’s argument runs squarely counter to elementary logic. Christians believe that God is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing) and omnibenevolent (unlimited in goodness). The universe is contingent. God did not have to create it. He chose to create it. Not only that; He chose to create a universe in which evil is possible. And not only that; in His omniscience God knew perfectly (not probabilistically) exactly what the consequences would be of His decision to create a universe where evil is possible. God knew evil would exist in the universe He created at the moment He created it. Therefore, in a certain sense (call it an “ontological sense”) God is responsible for the existence of evil. Please do not get me wrong. I am not for a moment suggesting that God is morally responsible for the evil in the universe. But it seems inescapable that He is responsible in the sense of establishing the conditions in which it is possible for evil to exist.

Even if this were not the case, one would still have to contend with the combination of God’s omnipotence and omnibenevolence. Suppose I am standing on a sidewalk. I see a car is about to come up on the sidewalk and strike the person in front of me, and all I have to do to save her is reach out and give her a gentle tug backwards. If I allow that person to be struck and killed by the car when it was well within my power to save her, two things are true. My conduct has not conformed to the good, and in a very real sense I am responsible for her death. In his omnipotence God is well able to stop all evil if He chooses to do so. If God does not stop the evil He is well able to stop, is He not responsible for it?

Where does this leave Ayala’s argument? His logic does not bear up under the slightest scrutiny. Exiling God to the “primary cause” hinterlands does not get God “off the hook” for the existence of evil in the world. Intelligent design does not “make God responsible for evil.” In the ontological sense we have discussed, God is responsible for existence of evil before intelligent design theory speaks. Therefore, Ayala’s argument fails utterly.

12:48 am

Here’s the problem with trying to use free will to excuse the existence of evil in the world:

1. Assume that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent.

2. Assume that humans have free will.

3. God’s omniscience means that God knows, before conception, what each person will freely choose to do with her life. This includes the evil that she will commit.

4. God chooses to allow some humans to be born, but not others. Free will nevertheless exists (by our assumption #2).

5. God could choose to prevent the birth of those who would freely choose to do evil, and allow the birth of those who would freely choose to do good. This would not prevent them in any way from exercising their free will.

6. God does not do this.

7. Therefore, God is responsible for the evil that people commit.


In Molinism, God knows what a human agent would freely do if put in a given situation. God causes the agent to do something by putting him in that situation. By instantiating those circumstances. Yet the agent is still a free agent, in the libertarian sense.

Molinists think that this is a solution to the problem of evil. Since the human agent is a free agent, in the libertarian sense, that lets God off the hook.

And this is set in invidious contrast to Calvinism, which makes God the “author of sin.” Mind you, those who bandy this label rarely define their terms. But however indefinable, it must be something pretty bad.

But is Molinism successful on its own terms? Let’s consider a few illustrations.

Revenge is a popular plot device. Jealousy is a popular plot device. Indeed, both revenge and jealousy are often combined in the same drama. A jealous lover may exact revenge on his romantic rival. Both guys want the same girl, but both guys can’t have her.

Suppose Prescott loves Tiffany. Both Prescott and Tiffany come from “good” families. Prescott is healthy, wealthy, and handsome. He’s a man of prospects.

He’s not a distinguished student. But dad has made some prudent donations to Harvard, so Prescott’s future is assured.

He’s got everything going for him except for one thing: Tiffany.

Tiffany is the most eligible girl in high school. For one thing, she’s the prettiest girl in high school. And, like Prescott, she also comes from money. So this would be a perfect match. The heavenly marriage of two blue chip portfolios.

Tiffany is the head cheerleader. But unfortunately for Prescott, Tiffany has suffered a lamentable lapse in taste and good breeding. You see, she as fallen for Jake, the hunky quarterback.

Jake is a working class dude. He will be going to the state university on a football scholarship.

But Jake has an Achilles’ heel. He’s a recovering junkie. He got addicted to painkillers after an injury. As such, Jake is on probation. He still plays football, but he’s subject to random drug-testing.

Prescott sees his opening. He invites Jake to accompany some of his buddies to a night out on the town. And it just so happens that they wind up at a wild party where drugs are freely circulating.

Prescott knows that if Jake is put in that situation, he will succumb to temptation and fall off the wagon.

The day after, Prescott takes the coach aside and, in a tone of deep concern, mentions a rumor about Jake attending a party where drugs were used.

Jake tests positive. He’s expelled from school. He loses his football scholarship. And Tiffany dumps him.

If you like, we could vary the scenario a bit. Prescott knows that Jake is insanely jealous. So Prescott arranges for a mutual friend to be seen in Tiffany’s company, in what appears to be a compromising situation.

When Jake witnesses this event, he feels betrayed. He assaults his friend so badly that his friend is hospitalized.

The next day, Jake is arrested. As a result, he’s expelled from school. He loses his football scholarship. Tiffany dumps him. And he does time in the prison.

This scenario raises two questions. Is Prescott complicit in Jake’s downfall? Prescott could defend himself by pointing out that he never made him take drugs. Jake did what he wanted to do. What is more, Prescott never made him want to take drugs. Jake was the ultimate source of his own overpowering desire. To Jake only has himself to blame.

Likewise, Prescott didn’t make him assault his friend. Prescott didn’t make him insanely jealous.

Prescott merely set the stage, then stood back and let things automatically unfold of their own accord.

But even if we think Jake is blameworthy, would we say that Jake is solely to blame? Intuitively speaking, doesn’t Prescott share the blame? Indeed, aren’t we inclined to feel sorry for Jake, while we single out Prescott as the real villain in this escapade?

But it raises another question as well. Even if Jake got what he deserved, would we say that Prescott was acting in Jake’s best interests? Did Prescott show his love for Jake? Or was that a malicious thing to do?

On the face of it, Molinism is a classic case of entrapment. And even though I’ve singled out Molinism, I could construct analogous scenarios for Arminianism. By making a world with foreseeable consequences, the Arminian God is doing much the same thing.

Molinism and moral responsibility

From Steven Nemes.

The author theodicy

From Jeremy Pierce.

What must I do to be saved?

steve hays said,
May 16, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Perry keeps harping on whether the WCF exhaustively specifies what beliefs are necessary for salvation.

Of course, a fundamental reason the Confession doesn’t spell that out is because the Bible doesn’t spell that out.

But Perry’s question also hinges on an unsound and unspoken assumption: the obvious reason why Scripture doesn’t tell us which Biblical teachings are necessary for salvation is because there’s a general obligation to believe whatever Scripture teaches.

Hence, if you believe whatever the Bible teaches, you will ipso facto believe the subset of Biblical teachings that are necessary for salvation. For the general includes the specific.

Therefore, we wouldn’t expect the Bible to enumerate the saving beliefs.

Indeed, it will be quite counterintuitive for God to say: “The entire Bible is my Word, but here’s the faction of my Word you have to believe. You can safely disregard everything else I say.”

In the nature of the case, a divine revelation isn’t going to tell you which fraction of the revealed truths you *really* need to believe–as if the rest is optional. What would be the point of revealing things you don’t have to believe? Surely a divine revelation, by dint of inspiration, obligates the listener or reader to believe it.

If it told us what revealed truths we have to believe, and what revealed truths we don’t have to believe, would its telling us which is which itself be one of the obligatory beliefs? Or would that be an optional belief? The question is self-refuting.

“In going to tell you which things I’ve told you that you must believe, and I’m also going to tell you which things I’ve told you that you are permitted to disbelieve.”

But that’s implicitly self-contradictory. We have to believe everything God tells us to believe anything God tells us, for the only reason to believe what God tells us is because whatever he tells us is believable.

So we wouldn’t expect a revelation to partition its contents into obligatory revealed truths and optional revealed truths. Is God going to say: “Believe me–I have revealed which revelations you should believe, and which revelations you can ignore”? I don’t think so.

Who Are The "Brothers" Of Matthew 25:40?

In some discussions earlier this year, Steve Hays was criticized for seeing the brothers mentioned in Matthew 25:40 as Christians rather than people in general. He was called a "cretin", accused of having a "lack of moral compass", said to be engaging in "eisegesis", etc.

As Steve has noted before, Craig Blomberg refers to Steve's view as one that was the majority position in previous generations, but has become a minority view lately (Matthew [Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1992], p. 378). I recently read Jerome's commentary on Matthew, written in the late fourth century, and here's what he had to say on this subject:

"As for the words that follow: 'When you did it to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me,' it does not seem to me that he said this generally of the poor, but of those who are poor in spirit. For it was to them that he reached out his hand and said: 'My brothers and my mother are those who do the will of my Father.'" (Thomas Scheck, trans., St. Jerome: Commentary On Matthew [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2008], p. 290)

A Secular Constitution That's Religiously Exclusivistic

On his May 11 radio program, Albert Mohler discussed a controversy involving a university in Texas that had "in the Year of Our Lord" printed on its diplomas. Some Muslim students objected that the phrase was an endorsement of Christianity. The same phrase appears in the United States Constitution. For years, I had been told, by secularists, that the phrase doesn't have any religious significance. It's religiously neutral. The Constitution is a secular document.

Here's part of a recent article on the controversy in Texas:

“A diploma is a very personal item, and people want to proudly display it in their offices and homes,” said Sidra Qureshi, president of Trinity Diversity Connection. “By having the phrase ‘In the Year of Our Lord,' it is directly referencing Jesus Christ, and not everyone believes in Jesus Christ.”

Qureshi, who is Muslim, has led the charge to tweak the wording, winning support from student government and a campus commencement committee. Trustees are expected to consider the students' request at a May board meeting....

“I honestly feel like nobody actually noticed it before,” Medina said. “Now that it has been brought up, the institution is trying to find its own identity. Are we or are we not a religious institution?”...

“I never had the experience that Trinity was a closeted Christian institution,” Medina said.

Apparently, Qureshi, Medina, and the others who agree with them also object to the Constitution. Maybe they "honestly feel like nobody actually noticed it before" in the Constitution. Is the Constitution a "closeted Christian document"? They should take this issue up with the secularists who have been arguing that the phrase isn't religious.

There's some merit to the secularist argument. The Constitution isn't as explicitly Christian or as explicitly religious a document as it could conceivably be. Some modern critics of secularism would have written the Constitution differently if they had been in the place of the founders of the nation. I would have. The document isn't as explicitly Christian as I'd like it to be.

But there's a large gray area between a document that's secular and one that's as explicitly Christian as some people would like it to be. The Constitution isn't secular. It isn't religiously neutral or godless in its language or underlying principles, for example. And the Constitution isn't the only source relevant to the founders' intent. The Declaration of Independence is relevant, for example, as are the actions of the founders after enacting the Constitution, such as opening sessions of government with prayer and advocating explicitly religious concepts in government documents. And what's explicit isn't all that matters. We implicitly acknowledge God in ways we often don't recognize, even when we're claiming to be secular. But even if we define "secular" as it's often defined today, as I did earlier in this post for the sake of argument, the Constitution shouldn't even be considered secular in that sense. The students at Trinity University who objected to the wording of their diplomas were right in that regard.

Sunday, May 16, 2010



Anton was feeling restless. His two sons and only daughter were full-grown. All three were living out of state. His wife was long gone. She ran off with another man. He retired last year, having worked for the same firm for 30 years.

So Anton had time on his hands. Too much free time with too little to do.

Of course, there were endless ways to kill time, but he was at that point in life where he needed something more out of life than mindless diversions.

So he went to the garage and started rifling through old, unpacked boxes. Have you ever noticed that you seem to lose something else every time you move? You were sure you packed them for the move, but somehow, between one move and another, they mysteriously disappear.

But at the bottom of the sixth box he opened, there they were–his old yearbooks from junior high and high school. He took them back to the living room, got a beer, and began to thumb through them.

Dimly-remembered names and half-forgotten faces began to reassemble. It was with mixed feelings that he revisited his past.

Sometimes it reminded him of why he hadn’t made the effort to keep up. Reminded him of classmates he’d rather forget about. Classmates he really didn’t like. Now he remembered why he didn’t remember them.

Come to think of it, isn’t that why he attended that out-of-state college? To get away from it all?

He was also struck by how little he ever knew about them. Had he even exchanged a half dozen words with most of them in all the years they attended school together, five days a week, nine months a year, for six years or longer?

Flipping through the pages, most of them were vaguely familiar names and vaguely faces. Nothing more. What hit him was not the mere passage of time, but the ravages of time.

All those years together, then you graduate, go your separate ways. Even if you keep up with a few old friends for a time, you tend to drift apart as the years wear on.

Mind you, the yearbook didn’t always have that effect on him. There were the girls. Suddenly a name came to him from the back of his head. He skipped a few pages to that part of the alphabet and ran his thumb down the page. Sure enough. There was her name. And moving his finger sideways, there was her picture.

He always had a soft-spot for Keri. Sweet, pious, gentle Keri. Why did he never get around to dating her?

At the time his head was full of movie stars. A natural, adolescent infatuation. But none of them attended his high school.

Yet looking back through time as he stared at her photo, he was sorry that he missed an opportunity. At this point in life, nothing seemed more appealing to him than to be married to a high school sweetheart.

Maybe that’s why his wife left him. She sensed a change. A growing discontent.

Anton married her in college. At first they really hit it off. Had a happy marriage. But as the years piled up they grew apart–emotionally, and imperceptibly at first. It’s not something you notice right about because it reflects the absence of something rather than the presence of something. Tedium. Emptiness. An air of intangible regret. Intangible longing.

But at the time, Anton wasn’t what you’d call pious. He didn’t connect with Keri at that level.

Whatever became of Keri? What was she doing now? At this very moment? While he was sitting on the couch, thumbing through his yearbooks, what was she doing–he wondered. Was she still that kind, prayerful girl he knew from school? Or was that just a phase? Youthful naïveté?

Maybe they switched roles. Maybe she became what he used to be, while he became what she used to be.

Flipping through some more pages, he ran across Brad. He remembered Brad because Brad used to hang out with Keri.

Brad was on the football team. Come to think of it, Brad was on three different teams.

He’d bumped into Brad at their 10th high school reunion. They chatted for a few minutes.

As it turned out, public school was the high point in Brad’s life. He lived for sports. The camaraderie.

But he didn’t have the talent to play college football–much less pro football. So when he graduated from high school, the bottom fell out of his social life. He wound up in a series of dead-end jobs.

Keri was there, too. But she was always chatting with someone else, so he didn’t get to talk to her.

And that’s the last time he saw either one. He didn’t make it to his 20th or 30th reunions. It didn’t mean that much to him at the time.

But a few years ago he began to attend church. Began to pray. Began to reflect on life. The passing years. And the remaining years.

Prayer is a paradox. A confession of man’s impotence and God’s omnipotence. We place our impotence in the hands of God’s omnipotence.


So Anton decided to pray for Brad and Keri. He added them to his daily prayer itinerary, along with his three kids–and the ex.

He couldn’t pray for all his classmates. There were too many. And, frankly, he didn’t know what to say. He barely knew most of them. It would be like praying over names in the phone book.

But just because he couldn’t pray for all of them didn’t mean he shouldn’t pray for some of them. So he’d pray for a little remnant.

In one sense, they were interchangeable with millions of other men and women his age. It was an accident of history that he attended school with this set of kids rather than some other set of kids.

And yet, in the providence of God, those were the folks God put him with. So, in a sense, they were his spiritual charges. His little parish. If he didn’t pray for them, who would?

Although he had lost track of them, God had not. Through prayer, he could be a secret friend or anonymous benefactor. In prayer he could be there for them even when he wasn’t with them. Intercede for them. Work behind-the-scenes.

Of course, it was ultimately up to God.


Five years later, Anton died in a traffic accident. One of the features of life in heaven is that you got to serve on welcoming committees or greeting parties for new arrivals.

When a Christian died, there was usually someone who had preceded him to heaven, someone he knew in this life. A friendly face. A familiar face. A thread connecting two worlds.

When Keri died, the first person she saw on the other side was Anton. And when Brad died, the first person he saw on the other side was Anton.

They were young again. Like high school. Only this time, things were inexpressibly better than before.