Saturday, July 03, 2010

Religious violence

UFC President Dana White is the interview subject in the September issue of Playboy, and in his typically profane manner, White hits on some hot topics both in and, especially, out of the Octagon.

On religion, White reveals that he's an atheist: "I don't believe in God, the devil, ghosts or any of that s---," White says. "But I'm still fascinated by religion -- how violent and crazy it is. That stuff sticks with you."

Yes, one can understand how a guy with his pacifistic proclivities might find the violent aspect of organized religion disturbing.

The pretense of doubt

Peter Enns did a recent post on the “Benefit of Doubt.” Much of what he says is true, considered in isolation. However, his post is profoundly deceptive.

1. There’s a fundamental difference between having doubts and fostering doubts. Peter Enns and his cohorts at Biologos aren’t merely sympathizing with struggling believers. No. Enns and his cohorts are doing their best to instill doubt. Make the faithful doubt God's word. That’s a subversive, diabolical activity.

2. There is also the pungent aroma of hypocrisy emanating from his post. Enns lacks a capacity for self-criticism. He’s not somebody who projects self-doubt. He’s not attempting to cultivate doubts about macroevolution, &c.

Like militant apostates generally, he exudes tremendous self-confidence as he labors to win deconverts to his cause. For Enns, doubt is only a “gift of God” when it makes a conservative believer question his faith.

3. Then there’s this bizarre statement: “Read Ecclesiastes where Qoheleth’s entire universe of meaning is crumbling before him and he shakes his fist at God himself.”

I don’t see Qohelet “shaking his first at God.” To the contrary, I see Qohelet resigned to the inscrutable providence for God. For Qohelet, this world is not enough. There must be something more. This can’t be the whole story.

It’s as if we were dropped into the middle of the story–like waking up in a strange city.

Psalm 8

When I consider all your work, the trim
Consumption fusion makes of hydrogen
In constellations without number, then
Reflect on orbits scattered at your whim,
Each mathematically sure and prim,
Or think of suns and moons not seen by men,
Of space in light-years raised to powers of ten,
Then what is man, that you remember him?
And not just man, but every hair upon
His head, each sitting down, each rising up,
Each turning-point and how it's lost or won,
Each tear, each boisterous laugh, each bitter cup.
That I, a speck of cosmic dust, should be
Both known and loved by you, transfixes me.

(D.A. Carson; PDF)

Friday, July 02, 2010

Odd man out

We’ve all heard the story, repeated with many variations, of the working class dad who holds down two or three jobs to put his son through college. Then, when his boy makes it into the Ivy Leagues, his white-collar son is embarrassed to be in the company of his blue-collar dad. The son may come home during school break, but he doesn’t like it when the old man shows up unannounced at the door of his dorm room.

Here the son successfully palmed himself off as “somebody,” only to have to introduce his old man, with his calloused mitts and uncouth speech, to his preppie roommates or girlfriend from Exeter.

I can’t help noticing that some of the upscale Catholic blogs don’t seem to list him on their blogroll. Blogs like Canterbury Tales, Called to Communion, Principium Unitatis, Return to Rome, and Alexander Pruss’s Blog.

Here dear old Dave has been working the Hoot Owl shift in the coalmines all these years with his pioneering “Apostolate,” only to have the upcoming generation of younger, classier bloggers show him the service entrance when he impertinently turns up at the grand entrance.

Poor old Dave. He’s tried so hard to run a respectable establishment, but he never made the cut.

Dying to die for

I read Roger Ebert pan the latest installment in the Twilight franchise. I saw the first, but between terrible trailers and scathing reviews, I’ve kept as great a distance as possible in this media-saturated culture. On a related note, I’ve also read a few reviews which pan its TV cousin–the Vampire Diaries.

All this stuff is clearly and purely chick-a-delic fare. Which raises a question. Women frequently complain that pornography ruins men for real women. And that’s apparently true in a number of cases, although I don’t know the percentages.

But I wonder if the same holds true in reverse: is vampire chic pornography for women? Does it ruin women (or adolescent girls) for real men?

If that’s what they’re looking for in the guy-next-door, then they’re not going to find it–unless, of course, the guy-next-door is a charming serial killer.

Why didn't the NT Writers Mention . . . .?

Re-posting part of a blog post by Barry Wallace:


The first was a reader giving what I think he considered to be an example of that kind of so-called internal evidence against Mark’s authorship. It went something like this:

If, as most scholars believe, Mark got his information from Peter, why doesn’t Mark mention that Peter walked on water (Mark 6:45-52), as Matthew does in his description of the same incident (Matt 14:23-33)? The implication is that Mark’s failure to mention Peter walking on the water–when everyone readily acknowledges that Mark got his information from Peter–should be considered evidence that Mark didn’t write the gospel.

That sounds plausible enough.

However, a follow-up comment by another reader pointed out “just how weak most arguments from silence are in historical work.” He continued with a couple of cogent examples:
Can you imagine an adventurer writing a detailed travel diary of his trip straight across China in the late 13th century and not mentioning the Great Wall? or printed books? or tea? or footbinding? How about a Civil War general publishing two volumes of memoires [sic] with day-by-day notes about the events of those tumultuous years and somehow managing to leave out the Emancipation Proclamation? Yet Marco Polo did the former, and Ulysses Grant did the latter. The simple fact is that there are many reasons that authors both ancient and modern leave out things that we, with the perspective of hindsight, cannot imagine ourselves leaving out. Our priorities are often not the same as their priorities, and our incredulity at their omissions is a poor test of the authenticity and authorship of almost any historical work — certainly of the gospels.


Thursday, July 01, 2010

O Love that wilt not let me go

In feast or fallow

Against the bizarro syllogism for going Roman Catholic

"Against the bizarro syllogism for going Roman Catholic" by Mike Horne

Arminian liberals

Billy Birch

I started this blog more than three years ago in an effort to correct the misinformation promoted by Calvinists regarding Arminius's theology... Arminian scholar Roger E. Olson, complaining against the counterfactual statements of Calvinists such as Kim Riddlebarger, writes: "Typical is the claim by Kim Riddlebarger: "Arminianism is not only a departure from historic orthodoxy, but [also] a serious departure from the evangel itself." For centuries both Reformed and Lutheran theologians identified Arminianism with Arianism, Socinianism, Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, humanism or liberal theology"...Actually, each of those charges are baseless. Any person who even casually reads Arminius or the Remonstrants will be able to see that Arminianism has as much in common with Arianism, Socinianism, Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, humanism or liberal theology (and also Open Theism) as does Calvinism! Those who confess such things demonstrate (to their embarrassment) that they have never read Arminius or the Remonstrants...Why some Calvinists will not allow me or other Arminians to be called conservative (or sometimes Protestant, or in the Reformed tradition) is because of the theological confines which they have constructed, defining and at times redefining terms just so that anyone who does not abide by said definition(s) cannot be included. For example, Olson writes...

Roger Olson

As a classical Arminian, I find much more common ground between my theology and Sanders's than between mine and Helm's or Ware's. And I agree with 19C Arminian theologian John Miley who said that dynamic omniscience (John's term for open theism's view of God's foreknowledge) would not undermine any vital Arminian doctrine. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I cannot see how it undermines any Christian doctrine. In my opinion, the furor over open theism among conservative evangelical theologians has been over the top; it borders on hysterical, especially since no crucial doctrine of the Christian faith is denied or undermined by it...Open theism would be a heresy if it blatantly contradicted the plain teaching of Scripture or if it presented a doctrine that absolutely contradicted the gospel. I judge that neither is the case. I find problems in its interpretation of Scripture while admitting that it has much scriptural support. I know of no idea intrinsic to the gospel that it denies. I welcome John's version of open theism (as well as those of Clark Pinnock and Greg Boyd) into the Christian theological conversation especially as it is being presented humbly and as a theologoumenon–a hypothesis to be tested and not a new dogma to be adopted by everyone willy-nilly," Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: Four Views, 248-51.

The Problem of the Criterion

Whether theist, atheist or whatever, everybody brings a particular view of reality (metaphysic) to the table when it comes to informing their theory of knowledge (epistemology) and asking questions related to what they know and how they know it. In other words, everybody first assumes things about the world in order to answer questions about what they think they know about the world. This is a subject that is worth reminding yourself of, especially when engaged in apologetical discussions; especially since its important for you to be aware of your own precommitments as well as those of whom you are speaking with.

Some basic questions I ask to determine a person's precommitments are:
"Do you believe that absolute truth exists?"

"What is your view of reality?"

"Do you believe that people can have certain knowledge of any proposition?"
Some questions we all ask ourselves are:
"What is the nature and scope of reality?

"What do we know?"

"What do we have a justification or warrant for believing?"

"How do we decide whether whether a proposition, p, is justifiably believed and true?"

"What will count as justification for believing some proposition, p?"

"What means do we utilize to determine whether p accurately represents reality?"
A problem that some philosophers have been reluctant to admit is that to ground any statement, proposition, or argument, we answer the above questions with an already assumed criterion for determining the scope and nature of reality and the scope and limits of what we can know. Again, everybody begins with metaphysical assumptions about the world that inform their epistemology. R. M. Chisholm had the courage to admit such, even though most philosophers in his day were wont to do so,
What few philosophers have had the courage to recognize is this: we can deal with the problem only by begging the question. It seems to me that, if we do recognize this fact, as we should, then it is unseemly for us to try to pretend that it isn't so. [R. M. Chisholm, The Problem of the Criterion, 37 as quoted in Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, (Powder Springs, GA & Nacogdoches, TX: American Vision & Covenant Media, 2008), 84.]
This brings us to a meaty philosophical issue: Since we, as finite creatures determine our own criterion to answer the above questions, how do we know that our starting assumptions about reality actually correspond to reality? That's what Chisholm defined as "the problem of the criterion", and it demonstrates the absolute interdependence of one's epistemology upon one's metaphysic. The two inform the other and are interdependent upon one another, and there is simply no way around this. This problem has lead to the many debates and disagreements in the world of secular philosophy and there appears to be no solution on the horizon; at least not a secular one.

Bahnsen rightly noted,
Common epistemological ground between disputants of different metaphysical positions cannot in principle be found, for answers to the questions of epistemology assume answers to the questions of metaphysics. [Bahnsen, 84. Italics his.]
And so, given what we've considered thus far, the really meaty philosophical issues are these: If humans are left to choose their own criterion because metaphysics and epistemology are circularly interdependent, (a) how do we avoid utter subjectivism in doing so and worse, (b) how do we avoid utter skepticism as to what we can truly know since our ultimate assumptions about reality are not subject to external or empirical verification?

Starting with the Triune Starter

To avoid a subjectivist guessing game and/or utter skepticism, we must appeal to an ultimate locus of authority that is comprehensive in knowledge. This is what Christians call the Triune God, and I proclaim to you in Pauline fashion (Acts 17:23) that He is the only actual Criterion that humans can appeal to in order to justify knowledge. However, according to Scripture, while all men have some knowledge of the divine Criterion (Romans 1:18-32; 10:9ff), apart from regeneration, men will not submit to Him as the necessary grounding for their metaphysic and epistemology although they will necessarily assume things about the world that they can't otherwise account for on their secular program. Their failure to submit is rooted in hard hearts that are at enmity with their Creator and as such, they are darkened in their minds, their thoughts are futile (Ephesians 4:17-18), and they go about as Strato of Lampsacus, answering the world's questions using the world's principles, contra Colossians 2:3-8. Thus, this is not an intellectual problem, it is a moral problem that manifests itself in intellectual outward symptoms.

In conclusion, God's revelation of Himself in the 66 books of the Bible is the only valid escape from the skepticism that would otherwise logically result from the necessary, interdependence of metaphysics with epistemology. God's revelation of Himself in Scripture provides not only ultimate epistemic grounding, but also gives the necessary metaphysical content for the foundation of all of man's intellectual and spiritual pursuits. A Christian's apologetical presentation will be circular too since we have God and His revelation as our ultimate Criterion. However, what a Christian knows and how he knows it are both tied up with God's revelation and since God is infallible and comprehensive as to His knowledge, we can be certain that we have a "more sure word of prophecy" than that of worldly philosophy (2 Peter 1:19-21).

Submitting to the Pope

Option D: This makes the most sense. Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology takes into account the fact that people will disagree about the content of Divine revelation. Not that disagreement implies errancy or falibility, but without a magisterium that is supernaturally protected from error, there is no way for me to be sure I am getting the interpretation that is the right one. If I am able to toss out the 7th ecumenical council (as nearly all Protestants do) because it doesn't match my interpretation, where will the tossing out stop? If church councils themselves are to be judged by a 21st century layman, theologically untrained, and unordained Christian like me, what is the point then of church councils other than to provide some really good advise from some really great men from the history of our faith? If they were not being guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit in these councils, with the expectation that all believers should submit to their decisions, then what use are they other than to help me form my own interpretation to submit to? The ecclesiologies that claim to have living, breathing successors of the apostles which are Divinely gifted with the ability to define doctrine in certain situations are the only ecclesiologies that make sense. The Catholic Church is the only option left.

Question: during the Western Schism (e.g. Avignon Papacy), to which Pope would David Meyer submit himself?

Blanket submission

Option A: I cannot in good conscience stay with option A I because within Sola Scriptura, I have no way of knowing if I am in schism from Christ's church. Whether I am in schism or not, the situation will look exactly the same from my perspective. I will consider myself to be following the Scripture whether I was in schism or not! If I was in grave error, my circumstances would look no different from being in the fullness of truth. Either way I would be surrounded by a session of my own choosing that would be quick to reassure me I was on the right path.

Option D: This makes the most sense. Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology takes into account the fact that people will disagree about the content of Divine revelation. Not that disagreement implies errancy or falibility, but without a magisterium that is supernaturally protected from error, there is no way for me to be sure I am getting the interpretation that is the right one. If I am able to toss out the 7th ecumenical council (as nearly all Protestants do) because it doesn't match my interpretation, where will the tossing out stop? If church councils themselves are to be judged by a 21st century layman, theologically untrained, and unordained Christian like me, what is the point then of church councils other than to provide some really good advise from some really great men from the history of our faith? If they were not being guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit in these councils, with the expectation that all believers should submit to their decisions, then what use are they other than to help me form my own interpretation to submit to? The ecclesiologies that claim to have living, breathing successors of the apostles which are Divinely gifted with the ability to define doctrine in certain situations are the only ecclesiologies that make sense. The Catholic Church is the only option left.

Option A: I cannot in good conscience stay with option A I because within Sola Scriptura, I have no way of knowing if I am in schism from Beth Israel. Whether I am in schism or not, the situation will look exactly the same from my perspective. I will consider myself to be following the Scripture whether I was in schism or not! If I was in grave error, my circumstances would look no different from being in the fullness of truth. Either way I would be surrounded by a Sanhedrin of my own choosing that would be quick to reassure me I was on the right path.

Option D: This makes the most sense. Rabbinical polity takes into account the fact that people will disagree about the content of Divine revelation. Not that disagreement implies errancy or falibility, but without a magisterium that is supernaturally protected from error, there is no way for me to be sure I am getting the interpretation that is the right one. If I am able to toss out the Sanhedrin's conviction of Jesus because it doesn't match my interpretation of Messianic prophecy, where will the tossing out stop? If rabbinical councils themselves are to be judged by a 21st century layman, theologically untrained, and unordained Jew like me, what is the point then of the Sanhedrin other than to provide some really good advise from some really great Sadducees from the history of our faith? If they were not being guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit in these councils, with the expectation that all believers should submit to their decisions, then what use are they other than to help me form my own interpretation to submit to? The polities that claim to have living, breathing successors of Moses which are Divinely gifted with the ability to define doctrine in certain situations are the only polities that make sense. The Sanhedrin is the only option left.

Process over principle

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

steve hays June 30, 2010 at 3:19 pm
Matthaeus Flexibilis

“Fourth, as much as I disagree with her politics and fully expect her to be another liberal Justice, I (so far) support her as a qualified appointee to whom the Senate should give their consent, even if many disagree with her politics. As with Alito, qualifications are the key, not agreement.”

Why are qualifications key, not agreement? If judges presume to act as self-appointed social engineers, then their ideological views are key. For they take it upon themselves to set social policy for the rest of us.

“Ad hominems aside, what is your alternative? Do you think the Republicans in the Senate should block Kagan and wait for Obama to nominate a conservative or a pro-life liberal?”

If Republicans can play out the clock until November, then regain control of the Senate, that would make a difference in who Obama could nominate with the reasonable expectation of confirmation.

BTW, it’s better to leave the seat vacant for a while than fill it with a destructive justice.

“It won’t happen, and it would back-fire against Republicans if it could.”

How do you know it will backfire? What historical evidence do you have that the electorate in general ever makes judicial nominations a priority?

“Elections mean something, and so Obama is entitled to nominate qualified individuals of his political persuasion to the bench.”

i) Senators aren’t elected to represent the interests of the president. Rather, they’re elected to represent the interests of the voters who put them in office. They don’t work for the president.

ii) Obama is not entitled to nominate individuals who will subvert the democratic process.

iii) Even many of those who voted for Obama have since become disenchanted with his administration.

“The ‘advice and consent’ clause, as I understand it, is mainly intended to keep out cronies and grossly unqualified persons. It’s all well and good to examine judicial philosophy, and perhaps one could be justly excluded for that reason, but since Bork, no one will give straight answers on that count anyway. So it comes down to reasonable qualifications, and on that count, she passes (AFAICT so far).”

We don’t need them to give straight answers if we can determine their social views and judicial philosophy on other grounds.

“BTW, When we elect a conservative to the White House, I will make the same exact case for his/her nominees.”

That’s a mindless, mechanical standard which disregards the merits or demerits of any particular nominee.

steve hays July 1, 2010 at 8:34 am
Matthaeus Flexibilis

“On qualifications, see also my reply above to Kenneth.”

You mean this statement?:

“Do they have a decent law degree and significant legal experience, whether in practice, in government, or in teaching? Do they have the respect of their peers? (Kagan does on all counts.)”

Those are disqualifications. She has a law degree from a liberal law school. She’s served in two Democrat administrations. She has been the dean of a liberal law school.

To appeal to the respect of her peers is circular if her peers reflect the same elitist outlook which is the source of the problem in the first place.

Her professional experience is the experience of a liberal social activist. That’s why folks like her go into law and gov’t. To leverage their social views through the coercive powers of the state.

“But she’s not going to reveal much of anything anyway”

That’s irrelevant. There’s no presumption that she’s a closet conservative and advocate of judicial restraint unless proven otherwise.

“A fair point, but my overall point is that she’s certainly liberal but not so far out there that many Senators are going to die on this hill — nor should they”

You can’t get much further “out there” than a lesbian.

“Moreover, there’s some reason to think that she’d act as a consensus builder with those whom she disagrees with, which could be a silver lining.”

A liberal consensus-builder is more damaging than a liberal loner.

“I’m just saying that Republicans are already tarred as the party of, in the words of Palin, “not just ‘no’, but hell no!”

How is that a political liability in the current political climate?

“That makes for great right-wing rallies, but it doesn’t always help with those vital independents.”

Independents tend to be libertarians. They resent overreaching gov’t. Now more than ever.

“An obstructed Kagan nomination would be one high-profile example of that ‘my way or the highway’ tendency.”

Depends on how it’s packaged. It would be easy to present Kagan as another out-of-touch liberal elitist who can’t wait to dictate to the rest of us how to run our lives. The electorate is in no mood for more intrusive, overbearing judges.

“That being said, presidents are generally very smart men with smart advisors who can foresee who has a better than a snowball’s chance in getting through.”

You were the one who framed your objection in terms of Republicans blocking her nomination. If you think that hypothetical is unrealistic, then why bring it up?

“That’s not really the intent of the ‘advice and consent’ clause (where’s conservatives’ originalism now?).”

That’s cute, but original intent doesn’t mean leaving one Constitutional clause intact while changing everything around it. That’s before the courts became so usurpacious.

Was it the intent of the framers to empower judges to strike down state and federal laws if they conflict with the social values of the judge? Was it the intent of the framers to elevate the judiciary to be the most powerful branch of gov’t, to which the elective branches are ultimately and unilaterally answerable? Was it the intent of the framers to make judges the arbiters of social morality? Were there Warren Court-style justices in the early days of the Republic?

Senators have a duty to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” And that carries with it a standing duty to defend the Constitutional rights and liberties of the American people against the unconstitutional encroachments of a tyrannical judiciary.

“I view it as consistent with the Framers’ intent for Senate confirmation…”

Was it the framers’ intent to give judges the right to take away our rights? Was it the framers’ intent to confirm judicial nominees who subvert popular sovereignty and become little King Georges on the bench?

And there’s more at issue than the intent of the framers. There is also the intent of the states which ratified the Constitution. Did the states which ratified the Constitution mean to authorize federal judges to strike down state laws that conflict with the social agenda of a federal judge?

“…and consistent with what many conservatives were saying around the time of Bush’s SCOTUS nominations — which I agreed with then as now. The reasons for refusal must be ‘special and strong,’ and I don’t think that case was made by Democrats against Roberts or Alito any more than it can by Republicans against Sotomayor or Kagan, though there is a disagreement on judicial philosophy in all cases.”

Lindsay Graham doesn’t reflect my views. John McCain doesn’t reflect my views.

And it’s not as if Democrats believe in fair play. It’s not as if they reciprocate when they come to power. They don’t honor your gentlemen’s agreement. They do whatever it takes to advance their agenda. Look at Obamacare.

Vory Catholicism

"Faux" Submission

In my opinion, these people have not submitted to the authority of the church, which we Reformed believe is the arbiter of Scriptural Truth and interpretation,but rather they have become their own authority. They are rogues who have arrogated the authority of the Holy Spirit to themselves, placing their conscience and private judgment over the authority of sessions that they have sworn to be faithful to.

True submission is shown in conforming our mind to that mind to which we submit. If we are submitting to someone based on a shared set of beliefs, or because we agree with them, that is not true submission! It is actually a dangerous opposite of submission, because it can appear to be submission...We Protestants submit to our elders based on our agreement with them, and this is a faux submission.

"True" Submission

Thieves' Code of Conduct - There is a traditional code of conduct within this old style of organized crime in Russia called "Vory v Zakone," or thieves in law. This group existed throughout the Soviet era and continues today throughout the republics of the former Soviet Union. In this society the thieves in law live and obey the "Vorovskoy Zakon," the thieves' code. The members are bound by 18 codes and if they are broken, the transgression is punishable by death.

The Thieves' Code
A thief is bound by the Code to:

1. Forsake his relatives--mother, father, brothers, sisters...
2. Not have a family of his own -- no wife, no children; this does not however, preclude him from having a lover.
3. Never, under any circumstances work, no mafter how much difficulty this brings-, live only on means gleaned from thievery.
4. Help other thieves -- both by moral and material support, utilizing the commune of thieves.
5. Keep secret information about the whereabouts of accomplices (i.e. dens, districts, hideouts, safe apartments, etc.).
6. In unavoidable situations (if a thief is under investigation) to take the blame for someone else's crime; this buys the other person time of freedom.
7. Demand a convocation of inquiry for the purpose of resolving disputes in the event of a conflict between oneself and other thieves, or between thieves.
8. If necessary, participate in such inquiries.
8. Carry out the punishment of the offending thief as decided by the convocation.
10. Not resist carrying out the decision of punishing the offending thief who is found guilty, with punishment determined by the convocation.
11. Have good command of the thieves'jargon ("Fehnay").
12. Not gamble without being abie to cover losses.
13. Teach the trade to young beginners.
14. Have, if possible, informants from the rank and file of thieves.
15. Not lose your reasoning ability when using alcohol.
16. Have nothing to do with the authorities (particularly with the ITU [Correctional Labor Authority]), not participate in public activities, nor join any community organizations.
17. Not take weapons from the hands of authorities; not serve in the military.
18. Make good on promises given to other thieves.

A poor man's Bart Ehrman

Now that the thread has died down, I'll repost some comments I left over at Jim Hamilton's fine blog:


steve hays
June 28, 2010 at 7:19 pm

“I can appreciate your comments and certainly understand that this is one way to try to stay within the framework of scriptural inerrancy. I just think it lacks a certain intellectual integrity to attempt this. And, to folks who are not actively a part of the church, it appears as if literalists are some kind of folk cult who refuse to admit the obvious. It starts the discussions one has regarding God, Jesus, salvation, etc out on a really bad note since one has to try to convince, in the face of some rather obvious examples, that inerrancy is a fact.”

Dr. Hamilton is generally speaking as a Christian to fellow Christians. That’s his primary constituency here. So, yes, he takes certain things for granted. But that in-house perspective is true for any in-group discussion. Atheist blogs take certain things for granted. Darwinian blogs take certain things for granted. Vegan blogs take certain things for granted. Naturally things look different to an outsider than an insider, but what is outside to you is inside to us, and what is inside to you is outside to us.

And that doesn’t mean that Christians can’t make a case for their positions. But Dr. Hamilton’s blog is a Christian blog, so that’s the default setting. There’s nothing “cultic” about that unless you want to say the same thing about any blog with any ideological viewpoint.

“You say we can be assured that the original writings are all without any error, even though we have never seen any of these originals.”

There’s nothing unusual about believing things we haven’t seen. Many people believe in modern cosmology, or historical geology, or universal common descent through macroevolution, even though various aspects of their belief are several steps removed from direct observation. Rather, they believe this because they think they have evidence which indirectly points to these things. (Of course, some of us think the evidence points in a different direction.)

Roger Penrose believes in abstract objects, although he can’t see them (since they’re not empirical objects to begin with). Edward Witten believes in cosmic strings, although they are inherently unobservable.

I assume that Dr. Hamilton is speaking in shorthand. He believes the autographa are inerrant because he believes in the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture. And there are many different lines of evidence for the inspiration of Scripture.

No, we don’t have direct access to the autographa, but then, we don’t have direct access to many things we believe in. We believe in other minds, but we don’t have direct access to other minds.

“The most glaring seems to be John’s insistance that the crucifixion took place on the day before the passover meal. The synoptics all seem to recount that the last supper was actually the passover meal.”

And what have you actually read on the subject? For instance, Roger Beckwith discusses this in Calendar & Chronology, Jewish and Christian. Have you read it?

“And, there are certainly other discrepancies in the resurrection narratives, all ranging from minor to more detailed (how many women found the empty tomb? Did Jesus directly address them or did an angel? Or more than one angel? Did Jesus tell his disciples NOT to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the arrival of the Holy Spirit, or were the disciples instructed to go back to the Galilee where Jesus would meet them?) And this does not even touch on the vast differences between the Matthew birth narrative and the Luke birth narrative. There are just SO many cases where scripture contradicts and confuses IF we try to hold to a literal, inerrant view.”

The fundamental problem here is not so much individual cases, but your whole hermeneutical approach. You take such a one-dimensional view of historical narrative. Have you ever read some standard monographs on Biblical hermeneutics–like V. Philips Long, The Art of Biblical History, Robert Stein, Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the New Testament, and Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (2nd ed.)?

“Recognizing the texts for what they are, texts written by men who were communicating with specific communities about specific ideas concerning Jesus and the early church, in no way diminishes the Bible’s inspiration.”

Of course, that’s a classic intellectual compromise. It doesn’t impress conservatives, and, what is more, it doesn’t impress liberals like James Barr. That’s highly ironic when you accuse Dr. Hamilton of lacking intellectual integrity. For your alternative is a makeshift position.

steve hays
June 29, 2010 at 11:08 am

“Steve, I understand that this is a conservative Christian blog. My comments and thoughts were given in reply to the subject of this particular post: Are there errors in the Bible? I believe there are. I don’t believe that these errors and contradictions do anything to diminish the inspiration and truth that is given to us in holy scripture.”

The problem is that you’re substituting your own theory of inspiration for the self-witness of Scripture. That’s inherently artificial. You apparently reduce “inspiration” to something equivalent to “artistic inspiration.” That, however, is not how Scripture describes the nature of Scriptural inspiration (as writers like Warfield have documented).

So we need to distinguish two different issues: (i) What is the self-witness of Scripture regarding the nature of its own inspiration? and (ii) are you prepared to accept the self-witness of Scripture?

If you reject the self-witness of Scripture because you think the Bible contains errors, so be it. But to swap out the self-understanding of Scripture, then swap in your stopgap theory, is not being true to Scripture. Rather, that superimposes a clearly extrinsic schema on the text of Scripture. Either accept or reject the Bible on its own terms.

“I’ll do that. Let me say, though, that the list of authors you site might well be opposed by a list of authors I might site.”

I don’t cite these scholars as authority figures. If your authors disagree with my authors, then we need to evaluate their respective arguments.

“There is still disagreement, for example, among some Christian groups in various parts of the world about which books should be included in the true canon. This isn’t new. Luther had different ideas of his own regarding the holy inspiration of certain texts.”

1.You’re conflating two distinct issues:

i) Which books are canonical? Which books constitute inspired Scripture?

ii) What’s the nature of inspiration?

To deny that a book is canonical is not the same thing as claiming that a canonic book is “inspired” in some lower sense, viz. poetic inspiration, partial inspiration, limited inerrancy.

2.I’d also add that the question of canonicity isn’t an inherently liberal/conservative issue. For instance, the late David Noel Freedman was a liberal OT scholar. Yet he argued that the entire OT canon (exclusive of Daniel) was finalized in the time of Ezra. (I’d add that John Sailhamer builds on that argument and incorporates Daniel into that argument, in The Meaning of the Pentateuch.)

“Each group feels that they have a complete understanding of the scriptures in total, and that other groups who don’t adhere to this understanding are, somehow, misguided.”

And liberals think that conservatives are misguided. So it’s not as if liberals are more intellectually modest in their own predilections.

“If this is supposed to be a blog where only like-minded folk can gather and contribute, then it really does begin to feel like a kind of folk cult.”

The problem is when you selectively apply the “folk cultic” classification to conservative Christians, even though the same group dynamics apply to any subculture. That’s invidious and one-sided. If you’re going to use sociological categories, then use them consistently. Don’t exempt yourself.

Finally, we should expect obscurities in a collection of books written between about 2000-3500 years ago.

steve hays
June 29, 2010 at 10:31 pm

“My comment about conservative Christianity running the risk of being viewed as a folk cult is based on the view that many of my non-Christian associates hold.”

There’s a word for that: prejudice.

“Many Christians are beginning to become concerned that a rigid stance on biblical inerrancy…”

i) You speak as if the doctrine of inspiration is negotiable and revisable. That betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the Christian faith. Christianity is a revealed religion. Take it or leave it.

It can’t be redefined as something else, and still be a revealed religion. It is only true on the terms and conditions under which it was given. It’s not something you can tamper after the fact, like rewriting a screenplay.

ii) I also don’t know what you mean by Christians “beginning” to become concerned. These debates have been in a state of overdrive since the 19C. Nothing new about this.

“And a refusal to honestly engage science and archaeology are creating this perception (see comments of OT scholar Bruce Waltke).”

i) Well, that’s a rather presumptuous statement to make. For instance, John Currid is an OT prof. at RTS. He subscribes to inerrancy. And he’s a field archeologist with a doctorate in archaeology from the Oriental Institute of Chicago. Do you think you know something about archaeology that he doesn’t?

Or take James Hoffmeier, a native Egyptian, field archeologist, and prof. of archaeology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity school, who also subscribes to inerrancy. Do you think you know something about archaeology he doesn’t?

I could run down a long list of conservative Bible scholars with comparable credentials. Who are you to say that they refuse to honestly engage the archeological findings? Have you even studied their work?

Science? Do you think you know something about science that scientifically credentialed inerrantists like Kurt Wise, John Byl, Jonathan Sarfati, Andrew Snelling, Marcus Ross, John Collins, and Vern Poythress (to name a few) do not?

Who are you to say that they honestly refuse to engage science? Have you even studied their work?

ii) I'd add that Waltke is no opponent of inerrancy. To the contrary, he’s quite critical of scholars who advance more liberal views of inspiration. For instance:

“Enns believes his theory of incarnation is consistent with Warfield’s concursive theory of inspiration. I do not. A theory that entails notions that holy Scripture contains flat out contradictions, ludicrous harmonization, earlier revelations that are misleading and/or less than truthful, and doctrines that are represented as based on historical fact, but in fact are based on fabricated history, in my judgment, is inconsistent with the doctrine that God inspired every word of holy Scripture. To be sure, the Scripture is fully human, but it is just as fully the Word of God, with whom there is no shadow of turning and who will not lie to or mislead his elect… My conscience, informed by holy Scripture, persuades me that our inerrant God represents truth in infallible Scripture,” WTJ 71 (2009), 94-95.

Continuing with RD:

“You asked if I hold to the belief that scripture is self-witnessing to itself.”

No, I didn’t ask you what you believed. There’s a distinction between whether the Bible teaches something, and whether you believe it. At this stage of the argument I’m simply dealing with what the Bible says about itself–whether or not you agree with what the Bible says.

“I don’t see that the Bible offers a valid ‘self-witness” to inerrancy.’

I didn’t mention inerrancy, per se. Rather, I brought up the self-witness of Scripture regarding the nature of its own inspiration, in contrast to your theory of “poetic inspiration.” The immediate question at issue is whether you are imputing to Scripture a different model of inspiration than Scripture imputes to itself.

“Verses like 2 Timothy 3:16 are often given as examples that all scripture is the result of the literal breath of God.”

i) I didn’t quote that verse. Rather, I referred you to the work of Warfield. I take it from your response that you haven’t read him.

Take the paradigm-case of prophetic inspiration. In the OT, the distinction between a true prophet and a false prophet is that a true prophet speaks the very words of God. That’s completely different from your theory of poetic inspiration.

And that carries with it the implication that if a prophet is speaking the words of God, then his words are true.

ii) BTW, no one is arguing that God’s “literal” breath is the cause of Scripture. Rather, breath is a metaphor for the action of the Holy Spirit.

“The notion that the original autographs are indeed infallible seems absolutely silly and seems to make God out to be silly as well. If God’s intentions are for us to have his completely inerrant word how much sense does it make that God would inspire absolutely infallible original manuscripts and then not protect those originals so that we have them to use? To say that God inspired the originals but didn’t necessarily inspire the copiests doesn’t sit well with many who are asking serious questions about Christianity today”

If they’re asking serious questions, then they need to demonstrate some level of intellectual seriousness by framing questions properly and acquainting themselves with standard conservative scholarship. Otherwise, what comes across is a pose of seriousness without the corresponding spadework.

i) There is a major difference between errant copies of errant records, and errant copies of inerrant records.

a) For one thing, it wouldn’t even be possible to have an uninspired record of many Biblical events. For some of these events are naturally unknowable. Future events. Private conversations. What someone was thinking. The plan of God. The fact that God even has a plan. And so on and so forth.

b) Moreover, while some events are naturally knowable, their theological significance is naturally unknowable.

In cases of (a) and (b), a supernatural means of knowledge is a necessary means of knowledge. For such items of knowledge would be otherwise unobtainable were it not for God’s prophetic word.

c) Furthermore, necessity is not the only consideration. There can be higher and lower degrees of certainty. And there are many times when that distinction is hardly inconsequential.

In general, we remember events better than words. We may not be very good at verbatim recollection.

What we generally remember is a paraphrase of what somebody said rather than his verbatim utterance. And, of course, sometimes we misremember what he said.

There is also a difference between paraphrasing a verbatim recollection and a paraphrastic recollection. If you have a verbatim recollection of what somebody said, then you can accurately paraphrase his statement. But if all you remember is a paraphrase, then you can’t compare the paraphrase with the original.

Likewise, we tend to remember some events better than others. And, of course, some people have more reliable memories than others.

As such, there is a major difference between inspired and uninspired records of what was said and done. If all we had were uninspired records to go by, that would create systematic, insoluble uncertainties.

“It sounds too much like the Ethiopian church that purports to have the actual ark of the covenant inside it’s sanctuary. Of course, no one is allowed to actually SEE it, but we are to believe that it is there and that it is the original.”

Do you believe that Ft. Knox has gold bullion? Have you ever seen it? Are you allowed to go into the vaults and see it for yourself?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Miracles and modern science

JD Walters has a new post on miracles over at the CADRE. He outlines “two approaches seem to be the most promising for an understanding of special divine action that respects the integrity of science but also allows for genuine miracles…”

Keeping in mind the disclaimer at the outset of his post, I’d venture the following comments:

1.I don’t have much to say about the second approach because I can’t tell, from his terse summary, what it really amounts to. We have a little snatch of Pannenberg, a little snatch of Peirce, and a colorful illustration by Chesterton. What that all adds up to is hard to say. I will say that his remarks about Peirce sound similar to Rupert Sheldrake’s view of nature.

Instead I’ll focus on the first approach, which comes through more clearly. And I’ll begin with JD’s introductory remarks:

“As a person who takes the current scientific consensus very seriously in the way I understand the world, one of the most challenging issues I face in theological reflection is how to understand God's action in the world, not primarily his creating and conserving the world in existence but those 'special' acts we ordinarily call miracles. The problem is that the narrative of modern science-certain controversies over the implications of quantum mechanics notwithstanding-is one of finding ever more precise regularities in the goings-on of the natural world, which many scientists are tempted to summarize as laws which govern the behavior of all objects in the natural world. On one account of physical laws, called necessitarian, physical laws tell us what must happen in any given situation. Many scientists are probably intuitive necessitarians. If we accept this account, and if the necessary laws we discover do not leave room for events we would call miracles to occur, God would either have to suspend the order of nature to perform a miracle, or limit himself to working only through these laws once he has created and set the world in motion. Both conclusions are theologically unpalatable, the former because it would seem imprudent of God to create a world which he has to override in order to accomplish his purposes, the latter because the current inventory of natural laws does not allow for most events usually understood as miracles.”

i) One issue is what is meant by “necessary” laws. Is this equivalent to causes or sufficient conditions where, given the cause or sufficient condition, there will be a corresponding effect?

If so, I don’t think that presents a prima facie problem for Christian theism. That’s just a doctrine of secondary causes or ordinary providence, where some physical things make other physical things happen. These are genuine agencies, with genuine potencies. "Natural forces." They are necessary, all things being equal.

ii) Within this framework, I don’t see the problem with God “overriding” that mechanism as the occasion demands. Perhaps JD’s objection is that this seems ad hoc. Similar to Spinoza’s objection that miracles are midcourse corrections, which reflect a design flaw. (And, of course, Spinoza rejected miracles on that account.)

a) However, there’s no reason to cast the issue in such invidious terms. In general, nature operates much like a machine. And this mechanical quality is useful. It introduces a crucial element of stability and predictability into human existence. Seedtime and harvest.

b) But for God to miraculously override this regime is not ad hoc or corrective, per se. It would simply mean that while second causes serve an important purpose, they have their limitations–like any creaturely medium. They are well-adapted to their intended purpose, but there are other purposes which they cannot serve.

It’s like a tool. A tool which is useful for one job may be useless for another. While a certain amount of order is needful in human experience, there are also occasions when personal discretion is called for. It’s fine to run the system on autopilot most of the time, but there are other times when manual override is called for. That’s not a defect, just a limitation. Impersonal agencies can only do so much. Although intelligence designed them, they are not in themselves intelligent. There are situations in which there’s no substitute for rational discrimination.

c) In addition, this is not merely a created order, but a fallen order. For instance, you wouldn’t have the dominical healings and exorcisms in a sinless world.

Moving along:

“The first takes its cue from the history of science. Time and time again we have seen laws which were originally assumed to be universally valid subsumed as special cases of more general laws, which apply under special conditions (usually called 'limit' conditions), or as approximations to more general laws which are 'valid' enough in those conditions. For example, Newton's laws of motion, once thought to be universally valid, are now seen merely as a 'good enough' approximation of the more general relativistic laws of motion, valid only when the objects being studied are moving slowly enough and are not too massive. Once the limit conditions are transcended, however, general relativity predicts (and experiments confirm) strange behavior never anticipated by Newton's laws, and in fact quite unintelligible within that framework. By analogy, we can think of divine action, not in terms of God violating the laws of nature, but of his taking advantage of a limit condition, in which events occur that are not covered by our current understanding of the laws of nature, but which are still lawful according to the most general laws of nature, which by definition we have not discovered yet.”

i) I think this fails to draw a fundamental distinction between personal agents and impersonal agencies. Miracles are not analogous to law-like regularities precisely because miracles involve personal discretion. They aren’t cyclical, like the phases of a comet. Miracles involve the principle of “counterflow” (to borrow a term from Del Ratzsch). It’s akin to human interventions in nature, such as irrigation.

ii) On a related note, this theory falters by failing to begin with the concrete phenomena it presumes to systematize. Just consider some of the miracles of Scripture, like Jesus’ healings, exorcisms, and nature-miracles (e.g. turning water into wine, or the multiplication of fish), and ask yourself if that can be properly subsumed under a general “law.”

The answer is “no.” These events are too pointed, too particular, too discrete, and too discriminate. That’s the antithesis of uniformity. The antithesis of a machine, with its standardized “products.”

Put another way, this approach suffers from a methodological error. It tries to take a top-down approach when it needs to take a bottom-up approach. You can’t start with an abstract model, and then superimpose that on the angular data, to make the data fit the theory.

Rather, you have to begin with a representative sampling of miracles, look for commonalities, then come up with a theory that generalizes on the basis of the particulars which feed into the theory. Instead of trying to squeeze miracles into some preconceived scientific paradigm, we should consider miracles on their own terms, and proceed from there.

"What Science Tells Us about the Age of the Creation"

From Kurt Wise (PDF).

The wrath of God disincarnate

Although Batman has always been my fave comic book character, I've never fully understood let alone agreed with a certain aspect of the character, viz. his desire to bring criminals such as murderers to rehab in Arkham Asylum rather than killing them. (Well, apart from the obvious fact that the Batman comic books might not sell as well if there had to be a new enemy every issue!)

Take Batman's frequent dealings with his archenemy, the Joker. Oftentimes the plot unfolds with Batman hunting for the Joker, the Joker killing scores of innocent people, and, eventually, Batman finding himself in a position to rid Gotham of the Joker once and for all but instead Bats' "conscience" gets the best of him and he arrests the Joker. The Joker is then sent off to the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane for remediation. Inevitably, however, the Joker escapes only to go on another murder spree, wherein we come full circle with the Batman hunting for the Joker again.

Now, Batman could've saved a lot more lives if he didn't believe in rehab for murderers but rather believed in capital punishment. What's more, since he was in a position to stop the Joker from murdering others by killing the Joker, and he didn't kill the Joker, then I'd think Batman is culpable to a degree for the deaths of the people the Joker killed afterwards.

In addition, this aspect of the Batman stories seems to contradict his core character as the Batman.

On the one hand, I think Batman represents vigilante justice. He's doing for society what society can't do for itself because society is constrained by its current deficient laws from meting out the proper punishment, from carrying out true justice. As such, Batman is an agent of justice where justice has failed. He's the wrath of God incarnate.

On the other hand, Batman as envisioned in our society with its many slipshod beliefs and values doesn't represent righteous vengeance but rather represents a tormented, conflicted soul struggling but failing to do the right thing. It's more about gut-wrenching angst than righteous anger.

I think one of the preeminent virtues in our society is "understanding." As played out in the Batman comics, this would mean above all else Batman ought to "understand" the Joker. Indeed that's what often happens. Batman comes to understand how he and the Joker are not so different from one another after all but rather are cut from the same cloth. They're flip sides of the same coin (granted, this metaphor would better apply to Two-Face).

What our society and culture seems to love is not so much "black and white" but "shades of gray." We love it when there are reversals such as when the hero of the movie turns out in the end to be the villain and the villain turns out to be the hero. We love heroes and anti-heroes. We love it when we can't tell the difference between the hero or the villain. Maybe something along the lines of what George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm: "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

That's well and good to an extent since it reflects how fallen, sinful people are in reality and how living in a fallen world truly is.

But it often goes too far. That is, we often take it to mean that, because we can't tell the difference between the two, then there's moral equivalence between the two. Neither is better or worse than the other. Hence the moral lesson to be drawn is that we should tolerate one another, no matter what. A prime example of this is Steven Spielberg's Munich.

(This is a self-perpetuating circle as well. Or if it's meant to be logical, it's a linear diagram with several feedback loops which loop back into the original pathway.)

So Bats is at heart a "black and white" character, I believe. But the problem is he's being written and illustrated by "shades of gray" people. The problem is that we seem to think it's more significant that Bats wrestles with his inner demons than that he actually carries out justice.

Among other problems, this is self-centered. Again, I happen to think Batman was originally meant to be an agent of justice. As such, Batman is not paramount. Rather justice is what's paramount. Batman ought to be nothing more or less than a vehicle for justice. But Batman's wrestlings with right and wrong resulting in moral ambiguity and unsettled, unresolved questions are way too Batman-focused. Bats has gone batty! It cuts him down to the size of an adolescent. From Batman to Batboy.

Worse, this victimizes the victims. If Batman keeps letting the Joker live another day to commit more heinous crimes, then where will that leave the Joker's victims? What about the girl left paralyzed because of the Joker - Barbara Gordon? What about the boy the Joker killed - Jason Todd?

Ah, but killing the Joker would be too easy. Moral ambiguity is considered erudite and sophisticated in our society and culture, whereas moral certainty is scoffed at as naive and simple-minded.

But just retribution in killing the Joker would actually accomplish what years of guilt-ridden angst and so forth will not. For one thing, it'd actually recompense, to a degree, the slaying of Bruce Wayne's parents at the hands of the Joker.

On a related note, I wonder if this doesn't perhaps reflect our society's aversion to clear, distinct, certain categories like good and evil, right and wrong, heaven and hell. (For example, is a 24 week old fetus fully "human"?) Or anything which smacks of certainty and finality. We'd rather say that the only thing we're sure of is that we're not sure. Agnosticism reigns in many places: chief among them, perhaps, our hearts.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New Monasticism Redivivus

Note: The following is a response to a person who left a comment a few days ago in the combox of an article written by us over a year ago titled New Monasticism. My response is in blue font.

Lindsay stated:
You said that they [the New Monastics] accept everything nominally Christian, even thought 2 denominations might be mutually exclusive. I don't see this as a bad thing, Paul himself warned us about denominations. Being Christian means believing that Jesus is the one savior, that should be what brings us together, denominations should not get in the way. We may have different approaches to things, but we can still worship together, love each other, and love the world, together, we still believe the same core beliefs, we all believe in Jesus, the trinity, and the apostles creed, these are what matter, not the the different ways we go about believing in them. Jesus is not divided, nor should we be. Paul himself warned us about denominations.
Hi Lindsay,

Thank you for your comments. We also agree that there must be essential unity in the church of Jesus Christ and that Christians must strive for such so as to maintain a strong and effective witness to a lost and dying world. However, I have several disagreements that I would like to share:

1. Paul was not warning against denominations in 1 Cor. 1:10-17, for such a reading would be anachronistic. Instead, he's condemning sectarianism/factions within the local church at Corinth. This is not the same thing as denominationalism as it has been historically understood. Denominationalism has been historically rooted in a core set of Protestant beliefs; i.e., The Five Solas of Protestant Reformation, the doctrine of the Trinity, the virginal conception of Christ, and the literal resurrection of Christ and of all people at His second coming. In other words, various local churches could have different views on say the mode and subjects of baptism but in order to be considered a true church of Christ they had to adhere to certain cardinal doctrines of the faith in order to be considered truly Christian.

Being Christian means believing that Jesus is the one savior, that should be what brings us together, denominations should not get in the way. We may have different approaches to things, but we can still worship together, love each other, and love the world, together, we still believe the same core beliefs, we all believe in Jesus, the trinity, and the apostles creed, these are what matter, not the the different ways we go about believing in them. Jesus is not divided, nor should we be.

2. Roman Catholics also believe in the Apostle's Creed, believe that Jesus is the "one savior . . . believe in Jesus, the trinity", etc. However, they deny one of the essential truths of the Christian faith, justification by faith alone (Sola Fide). In The Council of Trent, Catholic Church declared,
CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema. []

CANON XII.-If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

CANON XIII.-If any one saith, that it is necessary for every one, for the obtaining the remission of sins, that he believe for certain, and without any wavering arising from his own infirmity and disposition, that his sins are forgiven him; let him be anathema.

CANON XIV.-If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.

CANON XV.-If any one saith, that a man, who is born again and justified, is bound of faith to believe that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinate; let him be anathema.

CANON XXIV.-If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.

CANON XXX.-If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.
By virtue of their clear denial of Sola Fide, Catholics and other pseudo-Christian groups like them are preaching a damning lie. Here's an example of modern Rome's heretical denial of the exclusivity of Christ:
841 The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."
Thus, according to 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, Christians cannot have fellowship and work together in mutual ministry with anyone who preaches a false gospel and says that Christ is not the only mediator between God and man, no matter how nice they are (Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5). That is because those who wholeheartedly affirm such things are not Christians.
Lindsay: "Jesus didn't command us to cozy up to people who did not believe in the truth of the gospel. A lie believed by a thousand people is still a lie." I agree with you to an extent, you're right that a lie is a lie no matter what. However, I think we are called to cozy up to people who don't believe in the truth. That is what Jesus did, did he not? He was friends with the tax collectors and the prostitutes. He said himself, a doctor doesn't try to heal the healthy, a doctor is there for the sick. We are here to form relationships with those who don't know him, and to show His love to them, we are not here to surround ourselves only with other believers, what good does that do the world? Being close with unbelievers does not mean that we support their beliefs, and it doesn't mean we have to deny ours, but we are called to go to the poor and the sick and the lost with God's love and God's truth. I don't believe that a Christian can love another and not be sharing God's truth.
We are not saying that we shouldn't develop relationships with unbelievers so as to bring the gospel to them. We wholeheartedly affirm such things! During the semesters, we do weekly evangelistic outreaches on our local college campuses as we seek to engage the lost at every turn. We engage in cordial conversations, welcome debate (formal or informal) because we fully believe in the life-changing power of the gospel.

However, to reach people with the gospel we, as professing Christians have to first be agreed on what the gospel actually is. Feeding the poor is no good if the feeders are trumpeting uncertain and inconsistent sounds. If my Catholic friend wants to yoke with me in ministry to bring the gospel to abortive mothers, he must first renounce his Catholicism and then put his faith in Jesus Christ and embrace the true gospel as it is presented in the New Testament. Anything else is merely another welfare movement, and not a fulfillment of the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20.
Lindsay: I understand your concerns, and they are definitely important to consider, but I urge you to look more closely into the beliefs on the New Monastic movement.
I have read their books, listened to their presentations, and weighed them in the balances and found them doctrinally wanting.
Lindsay: I find a lot of truth in their lives,
According to what standard? Yours or Scripture's? Truth is that which corresponds to the mind of God. We only come to know the mind of God by studying the word of God. Anything else is guess-work. If people do not speak according to His word in the main and plain things, it's because they have no light in them, no matter how many poor people they've clothed and fed (Isaiah 8:20). Remember, Ghandi helped a lot of poor people, but Ghandi rejected the gospel and is in Hell today. Feeding poor people isn't going to matter for a hill of beans if you and they don't embrace the gospel of Christ. People can feed the poor till the cows come home, but without Christ, all of them will burn in Hell.
Lindsay: . . . and they aren't claiming to be right all the time, they want to live a life glorifying God and spreading his love, Shane Claiborne said so himself in his interview with Tony Campolo.
"Claiming to be right all the time" isn't the issue, the gospel is the issue. I am not expecting anyone to be "right" all the time because no one individual person understands all parts of Scripture with equal clarity due to the noetic effects of sin on our minds. We all have false beliefs about Scripture to one extent or another, but to flatten out all doctrinal propositions with the result that you confuse the Catholic "gospel" with the Biblical gospel in order to promote helping the poor and indigent is grossly mistaken at best and heretical at worst.

The bottom line: We do not yoke ourselves with unbelievers who clearly deny the Biblical gospel in order to work together in mutual ministry nor can we share fellowship with them (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

I'll conclude with a statement from the article you commented on:
The only problem with the New Monasticism movement is its foundation--and therefore everything built upon the foundation. There is no clear theological basis for New Monasticism; they accept anything & everything that is nominally Christian, promoting what Pastor Dustin describes as a "buffet bar" mentality to Christianity.
"Buffet bars" are great when it comes to getting a meal with the family after church, but they are horrible when it comes to doing theology and developing theological foundations for ministry. New Monasticism is wrong because it confuses Biblical discipleship with social justice; and the two are not the same. We are not commanded to go into the world by first adopting a least common denominator faith that allows us to strategically join forces together with heretics in order to feed the poor. Instead, we are told to preach the gospel, make disciples, and then baptize them. If we do that, everything else Christians are supposed to be doing will follow.

The story of a kingdom

From Jonathan Gibson:
The Story of a Kingdom has arisen out of four years work with international students. I have written it because I could not find Bible study material for small groups that explained the Bible at the level of someone whose second language is English. It is primarily for people who want to understand what the whole Bible is about; or put another way, who wish to understand Jesus in His right context. I follow the theme of God’s Kingdom through the Bible, using the definition: God’s people, living in God’s place, under God’s rule and blessing. I seek to show how God’s Kingdom in the Old Testament builds up to prepare us for Jesus and His Kingdom in the New Testament.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Calvinism--Celebration of God's Grace

Some helpful thoughts on the doctrines of grace from Win Corduan.

Arminian Crossfire

Greater power>greater responsibility

[Quote] The first movie I saw at movie night while in college was Spiderman One. And to this day, although it’s been about six or seven years since that movie night, I still remember the words that, in my mind, defined the entire movie: “With great power, comes responsibility.”

And these words are words that we’ve heard before, right? Yep. Chances are, when you were growing up, mom and dad once made this same exact statement to you. My mom said this to me. And I think this is why Scripture tells us, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in THE POWER OF YOUR HAND to do so” (Proverbs 3:27, NKJV).

My sister heard these same words time and time again. She is the oldest of five grandchildren (me included), and she was always put in charge of the other four. Whenever my grandparents had to leave the house and go to the store (five to ten minutes up the street), they always left my sister in charge. No matter what went on in the house, Danielle was always responsible for what happened. If something was broken, or someone misbehaved, Danielle was held responsible for it. Because she held the power of overseer, she also had the responsibility for so doing and suffered the consequences, whether good or bad. Now she liked being in charge of all the grandchildren; she liked being the oldest and being labeled the authority in the house when the grandparents were gone. But she didn’t like accepting responsibility for the other four grandchildren’s actions in the house.

Greater power>lesser responsibility

[Quote] To get around this, some Calvinists raise dramatic counter-examples about a man not actually committing, but allowing (for example) a mass-murder to take place while not preventing it when he has power to. Indeed this would generally be wrong for people, but this ultimately tells us nothing about God. We as people aren’t God, we don’t hold the absolute power of life and death, therefore it’s generally not our place to decide who dies even by way of passivity, and thus we’re under general obligation to save human life if we can, except in cases such as just execution by higher authorities. God, on the other hand, has absolute power over life and death from the littlest babe to the mightiest warrior to the loftiest king to the oldest sage. He’s not required to prevent death, harm, pain or destruction without authorization by some higher authority, because He is the final Authority. I do believe that God’s attribute of justice does compel Him to settle the accounting of sin, but there’s no evidence of any principle of obligation making Him morally responsible to prevent us from harming each other or ourselves.

The Arminian chess master

One thing you can say about Thibodaux, he has the virtue of persistence. He never lets his track record of failure get in the way of yet another failed attempt.

“The problem with Helm’s logic is that there isn’t anything in the scriptures or logical analysis of the facts indicating that God is somehow responsible for preventing people from committing evil of their own accord.”

i) That statement reflects a tenacious confusion between two distinct concepts: responsibility and culpability. Even if God isn’t culpable, it hardly follows that God is in no way responsible.

ii) And, of course, a Calvinist could just as well say that there isn’t anything in the scriptures or logical analysis of the facts indicating that God is somehow to blame if he decrees our transgressions.

iii) Moreover, the question at issue is not what Scripture says, but the intuitive objection which Arminians level against predestination.

“So preventing evil from occurring isn’t an absolute moral imperative.”

i) I never said it was. Since, however, Arminians are the ones who hype the distinction between permission and predestination, Calvinists are answering the Arminians on their own terms when we cite obvious counterexamples.

ii) Since, therefore, there are cases in which allowing evil is culpable, Arminians need to state what additional condition(s) must be met for permission to be exculpatory–and they must also show how that condition is met in the case of Arminian theism.

iii) And, of course, Arminianism is committed to something far stronger than bare permission. The Arminian God doesn’t merely permit the wicked to commit evil. He empowers the wicked to commit evil. God is the necessary enabler.

“Exhaustive determinists will sometimes intuitively appeal to the fact that people have some extent of moral obligation to prevent wickedness when possible. While this is often true, it has to do with one’s level of obligation to stop the act from occurring, so would naturally not apply where no such obligations exist.”

And we could say the same thing about predestination.

“To get around this, some Calvinists raise dramatic counter-examples about a man not actually committing, but allowing (for example) a mass-murder to take place while not preventing it when he has power to. Indeed this would generally be wrong for people, but this ultimately tells us nothing about God. We as people aren’t God, we don’t hold the absolute power of life and death, therefore it’s generally not our place to decide who dies even by way of passivity, and thus we’re under general obligation to save human life if we can, except in cases such as just execution by higher authorities. God, on the other hand, has absolute power over life and death from the littlest babe to the mightiest warrior to the loftiest king to the oldest sage. He’s not required to prevent death, harm, pain or destruction without authorization by some higher authority, because He is the final Authority. I do believe that God’s attribute of justice does compel Him to settle the accounting of sin, but there’s no evidence of any principle of obligation making Him morally responsible to prevent us from harming each other or ourselves.”

There are several problems with this counter:

i) In that event, the morally salient distinction is not about the nature of agency (e.g. compatibilism/libertarianism), but about the nature of the agent (e.g. God and man).

Put another way, the exculpatory factor is not the distinction between permission and predestination, but between God and man, where what is obligatory for man is not obligatory for God.

ii) Needless to say, a Calvinist could redeploy the same distinction to defend Calvinism. Even if it was wrong for a man to “exhaustively determine” an evil state of affairs, it isn’t wrong for God to do so inasmuch as God has certain prerogatives which man does not.

iii) Thibo can’t exempt God from our moral intuitions and then continue to attack Calvinism on moralistic grounds. Intuition either applies to both or neither.

iv) Thibo’s distinction is counterintuitive. Ordinarily, the greater one’s power or authority, the greater one’s responsibility for the outcome. Indeed, that’s a fundamental principle of Arminian theology: ability preconditions responsibility. The greater one’s ability, the greater one’s responsibility.

But Thibo reverses the ratio, so that one’s responsibility is now in inverse relation to one’s ability. The agent with the most ability has the least responsibility.

“On a personal level, this strikes me as among the most ridiculous of assertions. Trying to hold another (God, no less) responsible for one’s own self-induced stupidity is the pinnacle of absurdity. Your own wrongdoing really is your choice, God didn’t make you do it, didn’t tempt you to do it, and isn’t subject to some immutable law that says He has to stop you from doing it. The one responsible is you.”

How can Arminianism honestly say that God didn’t tempt you to do it? Suppose you commit adultery with a ravishing woman. In Arminianism, God gave you your sex drive. And God made a world in which you’d encounter that woman. So he put you in that tempting situation.

“This Calvinist attempt to highlight ‘moral problems’ in Arminian theodicy is nothing more than a smokescreen and lame excuse for their own unsalvageable theodicy.”

i) To begin with, I, among others, have frequently presented a direct defense of my Reformed theodicy. So it’s not as if I simply shift the issue to Arminians. Is Thibo speaking from ignorance?

ii) However, there’s nothing improper about an argument from analogy. It’s a test of your opponent’s sincerity. Does he really believe his own objection? If so, and if his own position is relevantly similar, then something has to give.

“It’s more or less a ‘your theology is kind of like mine’ defense that relies upon taking the concept of God allowing people to commit sin for a period prior to their judgment, and trying to morally equate it with God masterminding all their sin!”

But the Arminian God doesn’t merely allow sinners to sin. He makes them agents. He empowers their actions. He creates a world with foreseeable evils. He puts them in tempting situations. He puts them in circumstances where one man can wrong another.

Sounds like the Arminian God masterminded the outcome.

“Such a defense is little more than trying to apply an arbitrary standard to God to justify the ridiculous notion of Him being the author of everything He finds abominable.”

i) The “arbitrary standard” is nothing less than the Arminian standard. It is Arminians who act as if permission is ipso facto exculpatory. When Calvinists simply draw attention to obvious counterexamples, we are merely applying Arminians standards to Arminian claims. If that’s ridiculous, then Arminianism is ridiculous.

ii) "Authorship” is a red herring. Thibo is the one who chose to frame the issue in those terms.

But one doesn’t have to be the “author” (whatever that means) of a given event to be either responsible or culpable.

iii) In what sense does the Arminian God find evil “abominable?” Wasn’t the Arminian God free to preempt the “abominable” outcome by creating a different world? Or does Thibo think that sin is unavoidable?

“Despite their attempts to confuse the issue, it boils down to the options of God leaving men to their own wicked devices (a good method of discipline and/or justice) versus God Himself producing their wicked devices for them (to quote Dordt, ‘a blasphemous thought’), and there simply is no comparison. Logically, it can only be concluded then that there is no moral problem with God allowing libertarian agents to commit evil of their own accord.”

Of course, that’s not what it boils down to, even on Arminian grounds. It’s not as if the Arminian God merely “leaves” the wicked to their own wickedness, as if God has to play the hand he was dealt. As the Creator of the world, God is the dealer.

“A related assertion is that God in the Arminian view still is the de facto author of sin, because He created the world as it is [set the initial conditions] knowing that there would be evil in it due to peoples’ choices. Essentially stating that God knew the results of His creating the world, and is therefore still the author of evil in some sense. For starters, the sinful thoughts, intentions etc aren’t generated by God; their existence (and hence God’s knowledge of them as well) are from within and are entirely contingent upon His creations, hence God can’t rightly be called the author of what doesn’t proceed from within Himself.”

i) We don’t have to frame the issue in terms of “authorship.” That’s how Thibo chose to cast the question.

The issue is one of complicity, not “authorship” (whatever that means). Is the Arminian God complicit in evil, given his foresight, creative fiat, and providential concurrence?

“But God still knew the outcome of creating this world, wouldn’t that make Him the author in some sense? Not at all. Prior knowledge of some agent authoring a thing doesn’t constitute authorship by the one who knew it. Even if I know with absolute infallibility that the next Twilight novel will be sophomoric and shallow, this doesn’t imply that I’m somehow making Stephenie Meyer develop one-dimensional cliche characters and idiot plots.”

i) But, of course, that grossly understates the causal role of God in the outcome, even on Arminian assumptions.

ii) Moreover, authorship is a red herring. Complicity is the real issue.

iii) God is not the prescient reader of someone else’s novel. God is the “author” of the author. The author of the novelist.

“Consider the example of a chess master who can (by whatever means) perfectly anticipate an opponent’s move. He sets up a gambit knowing the counter-move his opponent will make as a result. Did the chess master ‘author’ his opponent’s move by virtue of knowing it and setting a condition by which it would occur? Hardly. The opponent’s own move is still his own move; neither the chess master’s knowledge nor his own moves are relevant to who actually authored his opponent’s moves. To declare that God in framing the world (analogous to His ‘initial move’ with respect to us) somehow makes Him the author of what He knew would be our resulting free choices would be falls into this same trap of illogicality and equivocation.”

That example is counterproductive. When a chess master makes a move, that, in turn, determines what countermoves are available to his opponent. His opponent only has the options which the chess master left at his disposal. Moreover, the chess master, as the superior player, has left his opponent with a set of losing moves. Whatever remaining moves are still available to his opponent will be losing moves. Indeed, the chess master made a point of leaving his opponent with nothing better than one losing move or another. So while his opponent still has a range of choices, all his choices are equally futile.

Ironically, in his effort to escape the clutches of Calvinism, Thibo has given us a model of Arminian theism which is interchangeable with classic fatalism. The chess master will manipulate the variables so that every move his opponent will make or may make will lead to the identical outcome. It makes no difference if the opponent’s move is “his own move,” for it makes no difference to the inevitable end-result. The chess master will invariably maneuver his opponent to make his opponent end up wherever he wants him to be, and not where his opponent wants to be.

“To reiterate the definition, the author of a thing is the one in whom a concept originates; one who is the sole determiner of a thing can be none other than its author. Salvation for instance, was God’s idea, hence God is the author of the faith of Christ and salvation through Him (Heb 5:9, 12:2), but not the author of sin.”

i) He provides no exegesis to sustain that claim.

ii) More to the point, this is incompetent. He is taking an English translation of a Greek term, then treating the English word as if that’s synonymous with the French or Latin word in 16-17 theological usage.

“Is God committing some moral wrong by allowing sin to occur? No, God is free to allow anything He wishes (take it up with Him if you disagree).”

Is God committing some moral wrong by decreeing sin to occur? No, God is free to decree anything He wishes (take it up with Him if you disagree).

See how easy that was? Who needs to do apologetics when you can just assert your position.

“Was their rebellion inherent/necessary to His design? No.”

What does that mean, exactly? That the world is chock-full of unnecessary evils?

How would that cash out in terms of pastoral theology?

“One being’s prior knowledge of another being authoring a thing doesn’t constitute the knower being the author.”

i) “Authorship” is just a diversionary tactic.

ii) And there’s more to Arminian theism than divine foresight.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Arminian Mormonism

I’ve been working on another project, so now I’ll go back and deal with some unfinished business. Billy Birch posted a reply to something I wrote. Here goes:

“Arminians only ‘lose the argument’ in Hays' subjective opinion. No Arminian recognizes that the argument was actually ‘lost’ to a Calvinistic defense of the novel truthmaker theory (an attempt to defend exhaustive determinism).”

i) Needless to say, Billy’s objection is reversible: in his subjective opinion, Arminians didn’t lose the argument. So he’s responded to my statement by raising a self-refuting objection. Way ta go, Billy.

ii) Is truthmaker theory “novel.” Would an Arminian philosopher like Jerry Walls share Billy’s view of truthmaker theory?

“You all will have to forgive the Arminian for grounding his or her philosophical assumptions in Scripture. We do not care to presuppose a philosophical argument divorced from what God's word has already revealed to us.”

i) Actually, I won’t forgive Arminians on that account because it’s just a pose. Arminian epologists don’t ground their philosophical assumptions in Scripture. Rather, they use their philosophical assumptions as a hermeneutical grid. Just look at their presuppositional use of libertarian action theory to “explain” various statements in Scripture. For them, it’s counterintuitive that God would hold us responsible if he decreed our actions. And they use the same philosophical appeal to attack Calvinism.

ii) I’m also unimpressed by their token appeals to Scripture, sans exegesis. When Steven Nemes was debating them over at Arminian Perspectives, I had a running commentary over at Tblog in which I noted the fallacious nature of their perfunctory prooftexting.

Anyone can wrap himself in the mantle of Scripture. Just look at how Catholic epologists try to prooftext the Immaculate Conception or some other Romish dogma.

In fact, nothing is more impious than the type of mock piety which quotes chapter and verse without making a good faith effort to ascertain the original intent.

iii) Quoting Scripture does nothing to resolve contradictions in Arminian theology.

iv) If you think Arminians put Scripture first, just look at how they malign the character of a God who does the things which Calvinism attributes to God, then ask yourself whether they have left themselves any room to back down in case a Calvinist had the better of the exegetical argument.

“(Take note that Hays insists that I am being deliberately deceptive -- duplicitous.) Throughout Boethius's The Consolation of Philosophy, he uses Scripture to substantiate his belief.”

This is what Billy actually quoted from Boethius:

It is not necessary, they say, that what is foreseen must happen, but it is necessary that what is destined to happen must be foreseen, as though the point at issue was which is the cause; does foreknowledge of the future cause the necessity of events, or necessity cause the foreknowledge? But what I am trying to show is that, whatever the order of the causes, the coming to pass of things foreknown is necessary even if the foreknowledge of future events does not seem to impose the necessity on them (120).

The question is, therefore, how can God foreknow that these things will happen, if they are uncertain? If He thinks that they will inevitably happen while the possibility of their non-occurrence exists, He is deceived, and this is something wicked both to think and to say. But if His knowledge that they will happen as they do is of such a kind that He knows they may as equally not happen as happen, what sort of knowledge is this, which comprehends nothing sure or stable? (121).

There seems to be a contradiction here, and you think that the necessity of events is consequent upon their being foreseen, while if there is no necessity, they cannot be foreknown, because you believe that nothing can be comprehended by knowledge unless it is certain. If events of uncertain occurrence are foreseen as if they were certain, it is only clouded opinion, not the truth of knowledge; for you believe that to have opinions about something which differ from the actual facts is not the same as the fulness of knowledge.

The cause of this mistake is that people think that the totality of their knowledge depends on the nature and capacity to be known of the objects of knowledge. But this is all wrong. Everything that is known is comprehended not according to its own nature, but according to the ability to know of those who do the knowing (125-26).

God, being the "I Am" (Exodus 3:14), exists in an eternal presence: "His knowledge, too, transcends all temporal change and abides in the immediacy of His presence." God's present-knowledge "embraces all the infinite recesses of past and future and views them in the immediacy of its knowing as though they are happening in the present" (134). Boethius answers Steven's question, stating, "And so it comes about that when God knows that something is going to occur and knows that no necessity to be is imposed upon it, it is not opinion, but rather knowledge founded upon truth" (135). He continues, at length:

If you say at this point that what God sees as a future event cannot but happen, and what cannot but happen, happens of necessity, and if you bind me to this word necessity, I shall have to admit that it is a matter of the firmest truth, but one which scarcely anyone except a student of divinity has been able to fathom. I shall answer that the same future event is necessary when considered with reference to divine foreknowledge, and yet seems to be completely free and unrestricted when considered in itself. For there are two kinds of necessity; one simple, as for example the fact that it is necessary that all men are mortal; and one conditional, as for example, if you know someone is walking, it is necessary that he is walking. For that which a man knows cannot be other than as it is known; but this conditional necessity does not imply simple necessity, because it does not exist in virtue of its own nature, but in virtue of a condition which is added. No necessity forces the man to walk who is making his way of his own free will, although it is necessary that he walks when he takes a step.

In the same way, if Providence sees something as present, it is necessary for it to happen, even though it has no necessity in its own nature (135).

That’s not an exegetical argument. Rather, that’s a philosophical argument. And Billy deployed that philosophical argument to disprove Nemes’ contention.

But even if the argument were sound (which it’s not), this is not disproving Nemes from Scripture.

“Evidently, in my critique of Nemes, I am not permitted to appeal to what saith holy writ without being charged as ‘cheating.’"

i) Appealing to Scripture does nothing to show that Arminian theology is consistent with Scripture–or even coherent. Arminian theology involves a set of propositions. The question at issue is whether Arminian theology as a whole is consistent with Scripture.

The question at issue is not whether Arminian theology claims to believe in God’s foreknowledge and or his counterfactual knowledge. The issue, rather, is whether that’s consistent with Arminian action theory.

If Billy can’t grasp that distinction, then he lacks the equipment to enter into these discussions.

ii) And Billy is not permitted to invoke philosophy whenever he thinks it suits his immediate purpose, only to ditch philosophy the moment it becomes counterproductive.

“None of us Arminians are suggesting that we should ‘eschew philosophical objections,’ but rather that Scripture should guide our philosophy -- something which Nemes regarded as ‘irrelevant,’ or in Steve Hays' case, a red herring.”

That’s a malicious and dishonest distortion of what Nemes said. Did he say Scripture is irrelevant, per se? Irrelevant, simpliciter? No.

But Billy doesn’t feel any moral compunction to be truthful when he’s pandering to a sympathetic audience. Since his Arminian readers are no more honest than he, they will never challenge him. yet all of them are answerable to a higher authority on Judgment Day.

But for those of us who, unlike Billy, regard honesty as a theological as well as ethical virtue, I’d point out that Nemes and I were very specific about the context of our comments–which Billy conveniently suppresses.

Quoting Scripture is irrelevant when the question in dispute is not the teaching of Scripture, but the teaching of Arminianism. The issue is not whether God has foreknowledge/counterfactual knowledge on Scriptural grounds, but Arminian grounds.

“Counterfactual knowledge was not a red herring: it was the crux of our disagreement.”

Actually, foreknowledge is the crux of the argument. Does God know the future given the type of freedom which Arminian theology imputes to human agents.

“Nemes thinks that the ground for truth and knowledge of truth can be in nothing else but the exhaustively-determinative will or decree of God.”

I don’t recall that Nemes ever said that. Billy doesn’t seem to know the difference between truths of reason and truths of fact. I doubt Nemes would say that truths of reason are grounded in the will of God.

Truths of fact are grounded in the will of God, but truths of reason are grounded in the nature of God. For instance, mathematical truths are not grounded in the will of God. They are, however, grounded in the nature of God.

“When shown from Scripture that God possess the ability to know (foreknow) a counterfactual, something which God had not decreed to happen, but the potential result of a choice made (1 Sam. 23:12), we questioned Nemes on the ground of God's knowledge of said truth. This question was also regarded as irrelevant.”

It’s irrelevant to divine foreknowledge inasmuch as foreknowledge concerns the knowledge of what will be, not what might be. Billy keeps making this elementary modal mistake.

“Since, however, we are exchanging ideas concerning how truth is grounded, then it is right to ask how the truth of counterfactuals are grounded, unless of course God was only making up what He thought could happen (cf. 1 Sam. 23:12). “

i) In a sense, yes–God was “making up” what could happen. The possible is the realm of divine ideas.

How does a novelist know what his characters could do? He knows because he is the one who conceives of these hypotheticals in the first place. They can do whatever he can think.

ii) Likewise, God knows what would transpire in an alternate future because God knows what would transpire if he decreed an alternate future. From a Reformed standpoint, counterfactual knowledge involves God’s knowledge of counterfactual decrees.

“Since the Libertarian view and Scripture incorporates God's exhaustive knowledge of counterfactuals, this is a very appropritate question, not just on Arminian/Libertarian grounds but on scriptural grounds as well. To separate these two grounds, one upon Scripture and another upon Libertarianism, is not entirely accurate in our opinion. We derive Libertarianism from what we note is taught in God's word.”

They derive libertarianism from Scripture the way somebody looking through a tinted window sees a colorful landscape.

“If God determines every action, thought, word spoken or choice made (as Hays insists -- God has pre-written the script of the life of everyone), then at God's own admission, that the Israelites' burning of their sons and daughters in the fire was not ‘commanded’ by Him, nor did it enter His mind that they should do such a thing, is entirely contrary to Hays' theory of divine exhaustive determinism.That such a simple reading of the text, from Hays' perspective, requires a prolix exegesis is, I think, very telling.”

i) A “simple” reading of Jer 7:31 leads one to a position even more liberal than open theism. Not only does a “simple” reading deny God’s knowledge of the actual outcome, but it also denies his knowledge of the possible outcome. God didn’t know the future, and, what is more, that contingency didn’t even occur to him. It took him completely by surprise.

ii) I was under the impression that Billy fancies himself an exponent of classical Arminianism. If, however, he takes Jer 7:31 to literally mean that this eventually never crossed God’s mind, then that’s at two removes to the left of classical Arminianism. It imputes to God, not only ignorance of the actual, but the possible.

Has Billy’s irrational animus towards Calvinism degenerated to the point where he is now repudiating fundamental planks of Christian theism?

iii) As to a “simple” reading of the verse, I take it to be a simple case of hyperbole.

iv) In addition, there's a synonymous parallel between “I did not command them” and “nor did it enter into my mind,” where the latter phrase functions a graphic, anthropomorphic equivalent to the more prosaic statement that God forbad child sacrifice.

v) Finally, God prohibited child sacrifice in the Mosaic law (e.g. Lev 18:21; Deut 12:31; 18:10). Therefore, this prospect clearly entered God's mind prior to the commission of the crime. Unless, that is, Billy subscribes to the Documentary Hypothesis.

But if Billy finds that too “prolix,” he can continue to promote his crypto-Mormon hermeneutics.

“Counterfactual knowledge is anything but ‘beside the point’ in this discussion. As a matter of fact, where the exchange between Nemes and myself is concerned, it is imperative that we discuss God's knowledge of counterfactuals, since Libertarians insist that a person could have chosen otherwise. Moreover, 1 Samuel 23:12 addresses this directly; and other passages like it demonstrates that God has knowledge of what could have happened if a person would have chosen to do something other than what he or she actually has chosen to do.”

i) To begin with, Calvinism doesn’t’ deny that a man could do otherwise if God decreed him to do otherwise. And, by the same token, God knows what would happen had he decreed an alternate scenario. Therefore, 1 Sam 23:12 is, in that respect, neutral on the Calvinist/Arminian debate.

ii) On the other hand, it’s inconsistent with Arminianism in another respect. For if a man could have chosen otherwise, then a man who rejected Christ in this world accepted Christ in another (possible) world. Therefore, if God really wanted to save him, God could do so without infringing on his autonomy by instantiating the possible world in which that same individual freely accepted Christ.

“If God is the truthmaker, and He can only know those things which are true, i.e. those things which will be because they are strictly decreed by Him, then counterfactual knowledge is impossible, and Libertarianism is found to be false. (Peter Milne of Edinburgh holds that not every truth has a truthmaker.)”

i) Truths aren’t limited to true future propositions.

ii) Billy hasn’t show that counterfactual knowledge is impossible under Calvinism. To say that man can’t do otherwise than what God decreed that he do is not to say that God couldn’t decree otherwise. As usual, Billy can’t draw elementary distinctions.

“And yet we have Hays and Nemes admitting that Calvinism does not deny counterfactual knowledge. I propose that the same grounding for God's knowledge of counterfactuals is the same grounding for Libertarianism -- in the essence of God. They will not account for this, mind you, because from their view God has decreed, strictly taken, all things which He pre-scripted to come about.”

i) If you ground all truths in God’s essence, then all truths are necessary truths. There are no contingent truths. That’s a self-defeating way of defending libertarianism!

ii) To say that God “decreed” everything he “prescripted” is redundant. Does Billy bother to think before he writes? Or does he simply like the sound of certain words in combination with other words?

iii) Libertarianism, per se, doesn’t ground anything in God’s essence. Libertarianism is not a theistic theory. One can be a secular libertarian.

“But that does not necessarily mean that they are correct. One needs much more than a mere assertion to substantiate his or her view. This is why I appealed to Scripture; and for that I was rendered irrelevant.”

He hasn’t show that Arminianism is correct according to Scripture. To say that Scripture is correct hardly renders Arminianism correct.

Granted, I am home for the summer and my major commentaries are back at college in North Carolina…”

This is Billy’s original claim:

God, being the "I Am" (Exodus 3:14), exists in an eternal presence: "His knowledge, too, transcends all temporal change and abides in the immediacy of His presence." God's present-knowledge "embraces all the infinite recesses of past and future and views them in the immediacy of its knowing as though they are happening in the present"

Billy needs to show, using the grammatical-historical method, how he can extract all that philosophical payload from his little prooftext (which he quoted in connection with Boethius).