Saturday, October 02, 2010


THE EVƎNT is a new TV series. At the moment it appears to be a cross between the X-Files and Seven Days in May. The plot recycles the tiresome trope of a massive gov’t conspiracy. This is especially tiresome at a time when we have real honest-to-goodness enemies in the world.

Mind you, I’m not denying that gov’t can be the enemy too. But as Obama and the Congressional Democrats have shown, you don’t need to be conspiratorial to be the enemy.

One oddity about the series is the casting of a black actor to play the part of a Latino-American president. Surely there are plenty of Latino-American actors who could play the role just as well or better. Indeed, they cast an eye-catching Latina to play his wife.

Also, Blair Underwood comes across as a rather bland actor, so it’s not as if he brings something indispensable to the part. There are other actors–both black and Hispanic–who are more compelling.

To some extent the show seems to be allegorizing the Obama and his hawkish opponents. But, then, why not make the president a black character? Or would that be too obvious?

Of course, there really are Afro-Latinos. But that’s awfully subtle for Hollywood. And as far as that goes, one could always cast a real Afro-Latino in the role.

I’m guessing the director/producer wanted to evoke associations with Obama, but also introduce a bit of distance by making the character Latino rather than black. That way it wouldn’t seem quite so heavy-handed.

Still, it’s like a throwback to the days when Anthony Quinn was Hollywood’s all-purpose person of color.

"Stephen Hawking and God: A Response"

John Lennox comments on Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mladinow's The Grand Design.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Seeking God in the brain

Here's an article from The New England Journal of Medicine briefly reviewing "the neural underpinnings of . . . religion." The article concludes (emphasis mine):
Nonetheless, as imaging technology and associated cognitive testing become ever more sophisticated, we may be able to discriminate ways in which religious and creative sensibilities relate to one another and to brain areas that mediate emotions that are deranged in psychiatric illness. Whether any of these advances will provide the answer to the cerebral basis of religion, if one exists, is anybody's guess.
So for people like John Loftus and the other authors of TCD to definitively claim there's a neurophysiological and psychological basis to religious belief based on fMRI studies and the like is premature at best. Judging by the article, medical science is divided on the issue (to say the least).

Wagon train

I’m going to piggyback on a question that John Bugay addressed over at Beggars All. Catholics frequently challenge Evangelicals to specify when “the Church” went off-track. Their assumption being that unless we can single out a particular turning-point in church history when things went wrong, then it’s somehow invalid for us to say Catholicism deviated from the truth once delivered.

The problem, as usual, is that Catholics begin with their own definition of “the Church.” But Protestants don’t think “the Church” went off-track, since we don’t define “the Church” in such monolithic terms. Rather, the church of Rome went off the rails.

Moreover, the church is not an individual person. The church doesn’t move in unison. Rather, the church is like a caravan or wagon train.

Suppose you ask, when did the caravan turn? Well, there’s no simple answer to that question since the caravan is made up of different wagons, moving at different speeds, in different positions within the caravan. Some may fall behind. Some may overtake others. You have leaders and stragglers. Some wagons stop to bury the dead, or make repairs.

Are you asking, when did the “front-end of the caravan turn? The back-end? The middle?

Suppose the caravan comes to a fork in the road. Some wagons may turn right while others turn left. Different wagons turn in different directions at different times. Each wagon has its own pace. Its own itinerary.

Likewise, it can keep subdividing at each fork in the road. On the other hand, this doesn’t necessarily mean the caravan gets smaller each time. Babies are born during the trek. It’s possible to built new wagons in transit. Likewise, wagons can join up with some train for a time, then leave it for another. Band and disband at will.

For you may have a wave of caravans. Each caravan has its own rhythm. And they are spaced out at irregular intervals. An ebb and flow. Likewise, there may be continuous turnover in the composition of the caravan. Consider immigrant trails in American history, viz. the Oregon Trail and the California Trail.

At the same time, it’s also possible to make some general statements about aggregate units. If a wagon train splits when it comes to a fork in the road, you can still make some general statements about each wagon train. Maybe 90% of the wagons went left, while 10% went right. It’s possible to say who took a wrong turn. Possible to say who’s headed in the right direction.

Back when I was a boy, there was a TV series called Wagon Train. That’s when the Western genre was still a staple of TV drama.

And when you think of it, a wagon train is a fine metaphor for the church as the people of God. I can imagine John Ford shooting Acts 7 or Heb 11 as a wagon train headed west.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thoughtless free-thinkers


Steve, Whether the story is about a person taken up to heaven in the spirit in a vision or in a physical body, the point is that they are taken UP. (While Paul tells us that he believed in beings that exist "under the earth.") That's three-tiers.

i) Yeah. Three “visionary” tiers, rather than three actual tiers. The upward motion doesn’t depict real space. So how does that somehow falsify Scripture?

ii) Paul is using picture language. It trades on the imagery of burial.

Try not to be quite so dense.

As for the earth's shape,

and its immobility ("it shall not be moved") that God ensures by His power,

and the earth's movement depicted only as having been "shaken" directly by God as in an earthquake (shaken, not stirred, not whirled round), a God who not only holds the flat earth firmly in place so that it cannot be moved, but who also shakes it from time to time via an earthquake, both being praised as direct applications of His power to make immobile and to shake,

i) You haven’t shown that God holds the “flat” earth firmly. Rather, the absence of seismic activity is picture-language for the stability of life on earth–while the presence of seismic activity is picture-language for divine judgment.

ii) Likewise, earthly “immobility” isn’t immobile in reference to other celestial bodies. The contrast is not between the mobility of the sun and the immobility of the earth, but between stable ground and earthquakes.

Try not to be quite so dense.

and add to that the verses that assume the relative nearness of God's heavenly abode above the earth,

That’s part of the same picturesque metaphor, Ed. Sometimes Scripture portrays God nearby, but at other times far away. Read the Psalms.

and the creation of the earth prior to the creation of the sun, moon and stars which are secondarily made and set in the firmament above it, in order to light the earth below, and placed there to set up periods of time between religious ceremonies/festivals,

i) Well, Ed, don’t the sun, moon, and stars shine down on us from the viewpoint an earthbound observer? Isn’t that something we customarily see what we…you know…look up? How does that select for flat-earth perspective rather than a spherical earth perspective? Isn’t the phenomenology the same in either case? Or do you think Aussies walk around their continent upside down?

ii) As for the order in which things were made, how is that relevant to the shape of the earth? That’s a question of temporal relations rather than spatial relations.

and the power of God in moving many objects above the earth, from clouds to lightning bolts to constellations…

Is it your position that clouds and lightning bolts are actually static? That Bible writers were wrong to describe these phenomena in dynamic terms?

Do you think clouds are actually glued to the sky, like papier-mâché? Is that your idea of a truly scientific description–unlike the "primitive" viewpoint of Scripture, what with its moving clouds and all?

…and also praising God for being able to "stop the sun" if He so wishes. . .

i) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Joshua was a geocentrist. How would that falsify Scripture, exactly? Inerrancy doesn’t entail the truth of whatever a recorded speaker says. It is first and foremost the book of Joshua, and not the person of Joshua, that is inerrant.

The book inerrantly records what he said, which doesn’t mean what he said is ipso facto inerrant.

ii) Incidentally, back when I was a boy, I used to notice that the sun didn’t rise or set in the same place along the horizon throughout the year. During winter, sunrise and sunset were closer together, not just in time, but in space. During summer, sunrise and sunset were further apart, not just in time, but in space.

Notice that this didn’t take any scientific instrumentation to register. Just attentive naked-eye observation, plus a decent memory.

But if the earth were flat, how would we account for that seasonable variation? Do you imagine that folks who rose with the dawn didn’t ever stop to ask themselves these elementary questions?

how do you put all of that information together from my chapter and conclude that so many Bible scholars who are experts on ANE cosmology, along with several respectable Evangelical Christian OT scholars who are likewise learned in ANE cosmology, are all missing out by not adopting your lame excuses?

i) Well, since I already wrote a lengthy critique of your precious chapter, that question answers itself.

ii) Expert opinions are only as good as the supporting arguments they adduce.

iii) But since you bring it up, let’s take John Walton. You cite five of his books.

Yet Walton draws a firm distinction between “material ontology” and “functional ontology.” He regards the cosmography of Scripture as “functional” rather than “material.”

But if that’s the case, then even if Scripture did depict a flat-earth or triple-decker world, that would merely be a “functional” flat-earth or “functional” triple-decker” world rather than a real flat-earth or a real triple-decker world.

So even if we did accept his “expert” opinion on the issue at hand, how does that falsify Scripture?

But thanks all the same. We can always count on you to keep reminding us that there’s absolutely no correlation between infidelity and high IQ.

Judgment by works

I recently ran a question by a NT scholar. I'm reproducing my question, along with his response:


There is often thought to be a tension between justification by faith/salvation by grace, on the one hand, and judgment by works on the other. If we take Rom 2:6-11 as a representative statement on judgment by works, I wonder if one or more of the following considerations would suffice to harmonize the alleged tension:

1. Hypocrisy/dead formalism

On the heels of 2:6-11, Paul accuses many Jews of hypocrisy (2:17ff.). But judging hypocrites by works would be consistent with sola fide/sola gratia, for that would distinguish true believers from spiritual imposters who say one thing, but do another–or say and do the right things, but in a halfhearted way (e.g. Isa 1:13; 29:13/Mt 15:8).

2. Universal guilt

Paul makes a case for man’s universal guilt (Rom 1-3) as a backdrop for his presentation of the gospel. Jews and Gentiles are equally guilty before God. Equally in need of the gospel. Judgment by works would corroborate his claim by revealing the culpability of man.

3. Divine veracity

On a related note, Paul has God indict humanity for rampant sin. Judgment by works would expose and corroborate the veracity of the divine indictment (Rom 2:16; cf. 1 Cor 4:5).

4. Symmetry

Universal judgment is a complement to universal sin. All are guilty, so all are judged.

Even if some are justified (by faith), they are justified in the person of another (Christ), and their own guilt (revealed at the final judgment) accentuates their hopeless condition apart from Christian redemption.

5. Equity

Judgment by works makes the point that divine justice is equitable. God doesn’t judge anyone unfairly. God is not capricious. No one gets worse than he deserves.

In (1)-(5), the sinner isn’t saved by works, in part or in whole. Rather, works serve non-salvific functions. So judgment by works would still be consistent with sola gratia/sola fide–given their purpose.

Do you agree?


I agree. In my opinion, the principal point throughout the first part of Romans 2 is a conventional OT point: God is the righteous judge. Everyone will get what he deserves. What many commentators do not recognize is that Romans 2 is part of a developing argument. It is too early in the argument for Paul to bring in how judgment according to desert is consistent with anyone being saved. So 2:12-16 should be read as pretty much a flat general principle, not as a statement about Christians.

The consistency of God's judgment can be explained only after the doctrine of justification is introduced. And it is a complex and surprising doctrine, not a simple doctrine that falls directly out of 2:12-16. Justification by substitutionary righteousness (i.e. imputation), on the basis of a genuine union with Christ, is the only way that a full-fledged judgment by desert at the last judgment can be consistent with anyone being saved. At the last judgment (and now, because justification now is a pronouncement beforehand of the verdict of the last judgment) the works in view for Christians are pre-eminently the works of Christ. Christian good works are rewarded, but only in the light of Christ's perfection. My only issues with your formulation are (1) that the introduction of point (1) below can confuse the main point, namely that there are universal standards of judgment that cover all, not only hypocrites; and (2) over formulation of one of the last lines, where "works serve non-salvific functions." It should be, as I can see you intend it to be, "the works of Christians serve non-salvific functions; the works of Christ serve salvific functions." And, if you wish to add it, "the works of the nonelect serve at the judgment as grounds for their condemnation."

NASA's flat-earth cosmography


Steve, Whether the story is about a person taken up to heaven in the spirit in a vision or in a physical body, the point is that they are taken UP. (While Paul tells us that he believed in beings that exist "under the earth.") That's three-tiers.


On March 27, 2004, NASA 008 carried the X-43A, mounted on a modified Pegasus booster rocket, up to the drop altitude of 40,000 feet. The rocket boosted the X-43A up to its test altitude of about 95,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean, where the X-43A separated from the booster and flew freely at its test speed of Mach 6.8.

Baptizing Aliens And The Insufficiency Of Scripture

Patrick Chan recently pointed me to this article, which gives us another example of the insufficiency of scripture. We need an infallible guide to give us answers about this sort of thing. Maybe the Catholic Church hasn't ruled infallibly on the subject yet, but it's good to know that it could give us the answer someday if it ever wanted to.

I also appreciated the astronomer's faithfulness to Christian tradition. If Polycarp or Augustine were alive today, I'm sure he'd also be an evolutionist who publicly dismisses and derides Christians like those in the intelligent design movement. He'd refer to them as "creationist fundamentalists" who have "pseudoscientific" views and have "hijacked" the issue. I'm sure that the bishop of Rome's scientists in that day (like the one who overlooks his "meteorite collection" today) had the same sort of mindset.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The "Fatima Prophecies"

On the one hand, the church of Rome formally denies continuing revelation. The age of public revelation ended with the apostles. As a result, the Roman church must appeal to the theory of development to justify its theological innovations.

On the other hand, the church of Rome nurtures belief in Marian apparitions. Now only is Mary said to appear to groups or individuals at different times and places during the course of church history, but she reveals things about the future, such as the “Fatima Prophecies.”

To be sure, the church of Rome is wary about making official pronouncements concerning this or that apparition. But the Roman church is certainly open to that possibility. Indeed, it positively encourages pious belief in certain reported apparitions of the BVM.

But what is this if not a theory of continuing revelation? If the “Fatima Prophecies” were true, how would that be essentially different from NT prophecies regarding the future?

Likewise, if Mary can (and does) touch down to disclose certain things which are not already revealed in the Bible, then why does the Roman church need a theory of development? Indeed, why does the Roman church even need a teaching office? It has a living prophetess in the person of Mary. Who needs the pope when you have Mary? She outranks the pope. If Mary can pop in to unveil new truths, then the papacy and the development of doctrine are pretty superfluous.

Inviting Jesus into your heart

Dan Wallace on Rev 3:20.

Scott Windsor's Apocryphal Papacy

In a thread at Beggars All, I made reference to a three-part series I wrote about Augustine. That series partly addresses the issue of whether Augustine believed in the papacy, but it also addresses other subjects. Scott Windsor said he would reply to that series, but he responded to the wrong one. Instead of responding to my series on Augustine, he replied to a different series, one that's about the papacy. (Both series can be found here.) Not only is Scott misfiring, but he isn't even aiming at the right target. I've decided to respond anyway.

In my series that Scott replied to, I said that different Catholics hold different views of the early history of the papacy. Near the beginning of his response to me, Scott replied:

You make vague claims about some Catholics see it this way while some others see it another way, but you don’t cite any specific groups of Catholics nor do you cite any sources.

Yet, when I cited Catholic scholars arguing for a view of the papacy different than Scott's, he made dismissive comments such as the following:

Fr. Schatz holds a view different and contrary to Vatican I, as Mr. Engwer already cited. I’m not impressed that one can find a Catholic priest who holds a liberal view on the papacy. Interestingly, in scanning for references on Fr. Schatz the only sites I found citing him were anti-Catholic sites. That should be a clue right there. But it is a common tactic for the anti-Catholic to dig up some obscure priest who goes against the grain, and then cite him as a “scholar.”...

Eno is not denying the Catholic concept of a papacy here! I realize that many Protestant apologists wish to latch on to every professing Catholic who SEEMS to support their non-contextual arguments, but to what end? I am not fully versed in Eno’s works, but I do know that some do not consider him to be “conservative enough.”...

Mr. La Due, with all due respect, is offering his opinions on the matter. I would disagree with him (and others I’m sure Mr. Engwer would like to trot out) in the statement that the “power of the keys” is “the power to bind and loose.”...

Again, this “Catholic” scholar, Robert Eno seems to be quite revisionist in his thoughts, IF this is a contextually accurate quote from The Rise of the Papacy....

It is not surprising that Kelly holds a “significantly different view” than Armstrong’s, Dave is not a revisionist liberal. I am not saying Joseph Kelly is a revisionist liberal (I am not familiar enough with his works to make such a judgment), however a quick search on Google shows that he’s quoted numerous times by non-Catholics with an anti-Catholic agenda. Now it could be that Kelly has been taken out of context and has not gone contrary to Catholicism, but without further research on Kelly himself, I cannot say for now. Suffice it to say, when a source is frequently cited by anti-Catholics, it is suspect.

Scott says that he's "not impressed that one can find a Catholic priest who holds a liberal view on the papacy", but earlier he acted as though he needed me to document that such views exist among Catholics. Why would he ask for documentation if he already knew of such Catholic sources and I went on to document examples later in my series?

Scott largely ignores what was said by the scholars I cited. In addition to making dismissive comments like the ones quoted above, he often mishandles his responses to their claims when he attempts a response. For example, I had cited Robert Eno's comment that "a plain recognition of Roman primacy or of a connection between Peter and the contemporary bishop of Rome seems remote from Origen’s thoughts" (The Rise Of The Papacy [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1990], p. 43). Scott then quoted four passages from Origen and commented:

So, to say that a connection between the contemporary Bishop of Rome and Peter is “remote from Origen’s thoughts” seems to be quite an irresponsible statement.

But not a single one of Scott's Origen quotes even mentions the bishop of Rome. Robert Eno wasn't being irresponsible. Scott is being irresponsible.

He makes the following dismissive comment about the scholars I cited:

I’m really not going to spend anymore time on these commentaries. They do not speak for the Catholic Church.

Does Scott Windsor "speak for the Catholic Church"? The Catholic clergymen and scholars I cited have held higher ranks within Catholicism than Scott ever has. And how does the fact that those scholars "do not speak for the Catholic Church" answer the historical claims they made? Does a scholar have to "speak for the Catholic Church" in order to make a correct claim or use a valid argument?

Scott repeatedly assumes his own interpretation of the Bible and the church fathers without arguing for it. He often does so even on disputed points and when the text neither states nor implies his conclusions. After ignoring the scholars I cited regarding Cyprian and the papacy, and after ignoring my arguments about Cyprian, he quoted some passages and asserted:

So, when we look at what St. Cyprian himself actually says, and avoid the anti-Catholic (and some modernist/liberal/revisionist Catholic) commentaries - it becomes quite clear what his position on the papacy is, and it is wholly in line with modern thinking on the papacy.

Scott doesn't give us any argument that would lead us to his conclusion about Cyprian. He ignores the counterarguments, quotes Cyprian, and assumes his own interpretation.

In my series on the papacy, I had cited Matthew 23:13 as an example of a passage that refers to people who have the power to open and shut or bind and loose. Scott replied:

This verse is speaking to the Scribes and Pharisees! It has nothing to do with St. Peter or the Apostles.

But a passage doesn't have to be about Peter or the apostles in order to be about the power to open and shut or bind and loose. That's why Catholics often cite Isaiah 22:22 as a passage that's relevant to our interpretation of Matthew 16, even though Isaiah 22 isn't about Peter or the apostles. If we want to know what it means for an individual to have the power to bind and loose, we don't limit ourselves to passages about the apostles.

I had mentioned that Peter is given his second name prior to the events of Matthew 16, as we see in John 1:42. Scott responded:

And as for John 1:42 referring to Simon as Peter allegedly before Matthew 16, the objective reader must note that John’s Gospel was written perhaps 60 years after the events recorded in Matthew 16! John knew Simon BarJonah as Peter, so it is no special surprise that he calls him “Peter” in the first chapter of his Gospel.

Does John 1:42 merely refer to what John thought sixty years later? No, it refers to what Jesus said. Jesus was calling Simon by his second name in that passage, even though the events of Matthew 16 hadn't occurred yet. Why does Scott keep failing to even understand the arguments he's supposed to be responding to?

He gives us the usual abuse of Acts 1:

When an “office” was vacated it had to be filled, as we saw even in the vacating of Judas’ office/bishoprick in Acts 1.

See my discussion of that passage and some other relevant New Testament material here.

Scott writes:

Except that Matthew 23 and Luke 11 do not make any reference to “keys,” and both Matthew 16 and Isaiah 22 do!

Keys are associated with binding and loosing and opening and shutting (Isaiah 22:22, Revelation 3:7, 9:1-2, 20:1-2), and that's what an actual key does (Judges 3:25), so separating the keys in Matthew 16:19 from the power of binding and loosing is contrary to the context of the rest of scripture. It goes without saying that if you have the keys, you can bind and loose (or open and shut). And if you can bind and loose (or open and shut), it goes without saying that you have the keys. These things are all part of the same imagery. Some passages mention one, some mention the other, and some mention both. Matthew 23 and Luke 11 are parallel passages. One refers to opening and shutting without referring to any keys (Matthew 23:13). The other does refer to a key (Luke 11:52). Similarly, Revelation 20:1-2 mentions binding just after mentioning a key, whereas verse 7 mentions releasing without mentioning the key. But the use of the key in verse 7 is implied. To try to separate the keys of Matthew 16:19 from the power of binding and loosing that all the disciples had (Matthew 18:18), then assume that the keys represent papal authority, is irrational and speculative.

If Scott is saying that Matthew 23 and Luke 11 don't use the plural "keys", whereas Matthew 16 and Isaiah 22 do, then he's mistaken. Isaiah uses the singular. And these passages don't have to be referring to the same keys in order to have some relevance to each other. Similar themes suggest some similarities in meaning.

I had pointed out that the recipient of the key in Isaiah 22:22 is a prime minister who's under the authority of a king. If Peter is to be paralleled to the prime minister, then who in the church should be paralleled to the king? God gives the key in Isaiah 22, and Jesus gives the keys in Matthew 16, so Jesus would be parallel to God rather than to the king. Who, then, is the king? A church leader with more authority than Peter? Scott responded:

Who said anything about a prime minister? God gives the key to the king in Isaiah and God gives the key(s) to Peter in Matthew.

Scott needs to read Isaiah 22 more carefully. Eliakim isn't a king. He's in a lower office that's often referred to as that of a prime minister or steward (John Oswalt, The Book Of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1986], pp. 418, 422).

I had pointed out that 1 Corinthians 12:28 refers to apostles, not Peter or a papacy, as the first rank in the church. Scott replied:

First off, yes - all the Apostles were bishops! All of them shared a responsibility and authority, just as every bishop to this day shares. It is not as though Cephas was made a king and the rest were princes, no! They were all bishops! The office of the bishop is the highest in the Church. Each bishop is essentially the “pope” of his jurisdiction. The Bishop of Rome has fundamental jurisdiction over Rome itself, but also a jurisdiction of unity which extends to all the jurisdictions of the world.

But 1 Corinthians 12:28 doesn't mention "bishops" as the highest rank. And if the bishop of Rome has authority over all other bishops, then why should we think that the highest rank belongs to all bishops? Scott isn't explaining 1 Corinthians 12:28. Rather, he's explaining his own ecclesiology, which is something different.

Scott writes:

Pope Clement clearly speaks to the need of successors to the office of the bishop, and he himself is named by other ECFs as the third in succession from St. Peter as the Bishop of Rome, Epiphanius writes in the latter half of the fourth century

Epiphanius' testimony is problematic for Catholicism, for reasons I've explained elsewhere.

Scott continues:

The “keys” are given ONLY to Peter. Keys are a symbol of authority, and the keys are given to ONE. The “power” to bind and loose is another issue, and even here - Peter is given this authority alone (Matt. 16:18-19) whereas the rest of the bishops are given this authority as a group (Matt. 18:18).

I've already explained why it's erroneous to separate the keys from the binding and loosing. At this point, I'll add that the church fathers repeatedly contradicted Scott on this issue. Tertullian commented that ""For though you think heaven still shut, remember that the Lord left here to Peter and through him to the Church, the keys of it, which every one who has been here put to the question, and also made confession, will carry with him." (Scorpiace, 10) Origen said that all Christians possess the keys (Commentary On Matthew, 12:10). John Chrysostom said that the apostle John possessed the keys (Homilies On The Gospel Of John, 1:2).

Scott goes on:

So again, this letter of Firmilian to Pope Stephen is NOT a denial of the papacy, as Mr. Engwer falsely asserts, it expresses his frustration in Pope Stephen’s “folly” and “defaming” of the papacy.

He's referring to Firmilian's comments recorded in Cyprian's Letter 74. Scott assumes that Firmilian believed in a papacy, but he doesn't demonstrate it.

I suggest that people read Firmilian's letter for themselves. Note that he refers to how the Roman Christians "vainly pretend the authority of the apostles" (74:6). He refers to how the Roman bishop Stephen "boasts of the place of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter" (74:17). Speaking to Stephen, Firmilian says, "while you think that all may be excommunicated by you, you have excommunicated yourself alone from all" (74:24). It doesn't seem that Firmilian agreed with the claims the Romans and Stephen were making. Yet, Scott suggests that Firmilian not only didn't oppose the papacy, but even believed in it. Where's his evidence?

He writes:

The first 15 popes were all martyred (into the 3rd century) and several others after that too.

The historian Philip Schaff commented:

"Irenaeus recognizes among the Roman bishops from Clement to Eleutherus (177), all of whom he mentions by name, only one martyr, to wit, Telesphorus...So Eusebius, H. E. V. 6. From this we must judge of the value of the Roman Catholic tradition on this point. It is so remote from the time in question as to be utterly unworthy of credit." (History Of The Christian Church, 2:4, n. 225)

As Schaff notes, Irenaeus refers to the Roman bishop Telesphorus as a martyr without making any such comment about the other Roman bishops he names in the surrounding context (Against Heresies, 3:3:3).

The patristic scholar J.N.D. Kelly wrote of Telesphorus, "he is the only 2nd-cent. pope whose martyrdom is reliably attested" (Oxford Dictionary Of Popes [New York: Oxford University Press, 1996], p. 9).

It seems that what Scott is referring to is a late, unhistorical tradition. He seems to believe a lot of late, unhistorical traditions about the papacy.

Scott goes on to make some nonsensical comments about conciliarism. He admits that conciliarism is inconsistent with his beliefs and has been condemned by Roman Catholicism. Yet, he says that it was acceptable for church leaders to "experiment" with it. He writes:

However, it [conciliarism] was still a movement which required papal approval to take root - which it got for a while - and the system was eventually brought back to the original structure and conciliarism was condemned....

The problem, again, which Mr. Engwer has is the fact that the pope consented to the alleged conciliarism of the day....The only way any form of conciliarism has “worked” was under the blessing of the sitting pope....

Modern Catholics need not worry about this papal approved conciliarism for again, since it was approved by the papacy - it is not a system superior to the papacy.

Since conciliarism denies the view of papal authority Scott is advocating, is he saying that its contradiction of his view had "papal approval" and "the blessing of the sitting pope"? If a papacy with authority over councils was a concept always understood and believed by the church, as the First Vatican Council suggested, then why would Christians, and even church leaders, have been supporting a system that contradicted that concept?

Scott seems to think that if a Pope went along with conciliarism, or if a council advocating conciliarism tried to coordinate its efforts with a Pope, then conciliarism must be consistent with papal authority over councils. But how does Scott's conclusion follow? Papal cooperation doesn't prove papal supremacy. The conciliarists in question were denying papal supremacy. Pointing to their cooperation with Popes doesn't change that fact.

Scott writes:

After going through “all (Engwer’s) 6000 words of the papacy entries” (which is actually 4814 words, but who’s counting?) and demonstrating either their lack of applicability, contextuality, and outright validity, perhaps it is Mr. Schultz’ reading comprehension skills which suggest some needed improvement?...It would seem that Mr. Schultz’ agreement with Mr. Engwer has clouded his objectivity - or perhaps Mr. Schultz has not even fully read all 4814 words from Mr. Engwer for himself?

Scott makes those comments after having replied to the wrong series of posts. I had directed readers to the correct series by name, I described some of the contents of that series, and Matthew Schultz did the same. Matthew even quoted part of what I wrote in the series. Yet, Scott misinterpreted all of that information and replied to the wrong posts. I suspect that a similar methodology has led him to his belief in the papacy.

A Recent Survey On Religious Knowledge

A new survey on Americans' religious knowledge has come out. A USA Today story tells us:

Only 55% of Catholic respondents knew the core teaching that the bread and wine in the Mass become the body and blood of Christ, and are not merely symbols. Just 19% of Protestants knew the basic tenet that salvation is through faith alone, not actions as well....

Just 55% of all respondents knew the Golden Rule isn't one of the Ten Commandments; 45% could name all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)....

Fewer than half (47%) knew that the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist; 27% knew most people in Indonesia are Muslims....

"People say, 'I have a personal connection with God and that's really all I need to know.' Who am I to argue?" says Pew's Alan Cooperman, a co-author of the report.

A New York Times story begins with the following ridiculous line:

Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion.

Different groups do better in different areas. See here for more details.

The article I just linked gives some examples of how people responded to questions on other issues:

In addition to questions about religious knowledge, the survey included nine general knowledge questions (on history, politics, science and literature) for comparison purposes. These show, for example, that about six-in-ten Americans can name the vice president of the United States (59%) and understand that lasers do not work by focusing sound waves (60%). More than seven-in-ten (72%) correctly associate Susan B. Anthony with the movement to give women the right to vote, while just 42% know that Herman Melville was the author of the novel Moby Dick.

These results don't reflect well on American priorities. They also don't reflect well on parents, pastors, people in academia and the media, and others who have so many opportunities to influence those priorities and affect what people know.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ascent of Mount Carmel

According to apostate Ed Babinski, “taking the Bible at its word also means thinking in terms of a flat earth…Stories of ascents and descents from heaven appear throughout the Bible,” TCD, 130.

One of the obvious problems with this claim is the assumption that stories of ascents and descents necessarily refer to physical locomotion. Although that’s sometimes the case, this imagery can be both a literary convention as well as a description of the mystical experience. Take the following:

In visions of God he took me to the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain, on whose south side were some buildings that looked like a city (Ezk 40:2).

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God (Rev 21:10).

But this is conceived in visionary or out-of-body terms, and not a literal ascent to heaven.

Locomotive imagery is also employed in mystical literature. The mystical “rapture” represents the upward motion, the mystical “ecstasy” represents the outward motion, while God’s descent into the soul of the contemplative represents the downward motion. And this corresponds to the phenomenology of the mystical trance. Cf. Nelson Pike: Mystic Union: An Essay in the Phenomenology of Mysticism (Cornell 1994), chap. 2.

Spanish mystics like Bernardino de Laredo (Subida del Monte Sión) and San Juan de la Cruz (Subida Al Monte Carmelo) also utilize the mountain motif in depicting the spiritual progress of the soul it its pilgrimage to God. So there’s a mystical cosmography. Yet a contemplative wouldn’t confuse this picture language with real space or real motion. Rather, this picturesque literary depiction is what Joseph Maréchal calls "the spatial localization and exteriorization of an interior representation," Studies in the Psychology of the Mystics, 104.

Hawking and Mlodinow’s Grand Design

William Lane Craig responds to claims made by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mladinow in their recently released book, The Grand Design.

Just deserts


“Preventing harm to others is not accomplished by telling lies about other people. Though I really shouldn't have to spell this out to you (even if I am increasingly unsurprised that I have to), I have ZERO sympathy for the devil. At baptism I renounced Satan and all his works. Any suggestion that I and the devil agree on anything is a vicious calumny.”

My priorities are different than yours. It’s your vicious calumny against God that concerns me.

You impugn God’s character when you say no one deserves eternal punishment. You indict God as an unjust judge by punishing sinners more harshly than they deserve.

That’s a diabolical thing for you to say about God.

“The fundamentals of the faith are HERE. You don't get to accuse me of being a heretic unless I contradict one of those statements.”

The Nicene creed is not the standard of comparison. God did not reveal the Nicene creed. That’s a primitive, uninspired statement of faith. It omits much that Scripture teaches.

On judgment day you can’t wave the Nicene creed in God’s face as a permission-slip to excuse you from believing revealed truths. The omissions and deficiencies of the Nicene creed don’t authorize you to deny and defy the word of God.

“Penal substitution is a theological innovation. The Church never affirmed any particular understanding of the atonement as fundamental.”

“The Church” doesn’t get to decide what we are free to disbelieve. God obligates us to believe whatever he reveals.

You act like you can game the system by citing loopholes in fallible creeds. That’s not a get-out-of-jail-free-card.

“If I'm on the road to hell for rejecting it, at least I'm in good company (Justin Martyr, Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzen, Augustine, etc.)”

i) I didn’t say anything about your eternal destiny one way or the other.

ii) Mere men are not the rule of faith. Divine revelation is the rule of faith.

You are answerable to God, JD. Not to church fathers or church councils. You need to stop playacting.

iii) I’d add that there’s such a thing as the progress of dogma. We’re in a position to have a better grasp of Biblical theology than the church fathers. And to whom much is given, much is required.

And as for retributive justice:

"He does not deal with us as our sins deserve, he does not repay us as our misdeeds deserve." (Psalm 103:10)

"What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins have deserved and have given us a remnant like this." (Ezra 9:13)

At the risk of stating the obvious, Israel had a sacrificial system, involving vicarious punishment. The sacrificial animal suffered the penalty due the human sinner. And that, in turn, was a stand-in for Christian redemption.

“And don't give me this 'The Cross is retroactive' stuff.”

You mean like that “retroactive stuff” in Heb 9:15? (“Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”) Indeed, the whole book of Hebrews enunciates the "retroactive stuff."

“If God was holding back to unload our punishment on Jesus, he would never have punished any sin up until that point, at least not of the elect.”

A fallacious all-or-nothing argument.

“The plain and simple lesson of these passages (others could be cited) is that God does not exact full retributive justice.”

He exacts full retributive justice on the damned, and full retributive justice on the Redeemer instead of the elect.

“He chooses which sins he will fully punish, which sins he will attach a reduced sentence to and which sins he will wink at (Acts 17:30) or blot out altogether.”

You’re confusing historical judgments with eschatological judgment. God doesn’t exact retribution all at once. There are stages to redemption and judgment.

“Nobody deserves eternal life, but nobody deserves eternal destruction either.”

That charges God with injustice.

“If you judge people by their works, they would end up somewhere along a continuum, with a garden variety sinner who raised a family in the suburbs and loved them and obeyed the law being closer to happiness than Hitler, for example.”

That’s if JD were to judge people by their works. That happens to reflect JD’s lack of moral perception. But appearances can be deceiving.

“Jesus' warnings about the final judgment and the dichotomy between the two states simply do not allow for gradations of punishment or felicity that a consistent just deserts approach would require.”

i) That’s an illogical assertion. There can be gradations of punishment even though all of the damned are damned.

ii) Christians don’t receive their just desserts. They deserve retribution, but the Redeemer takes their place.

“Um, I beg to differ, and so would the apostle John. Jesus came to the world to save it, and atoned for the sins of the whole world, so now the only condemnation is to reject Jesus and cling to one's sin.”

That’s hardly an accurate summation of Johannine theology. The “world” Jesus came to is a fallen moral order. A “world” characterized by spiritual darkness and blindness, as well as implacable antipathy to God. A world under Satan’s sway.

The Incarnation doesn’t create that situation. Rather, the Incarnation exposes that situation. Only the Holy Spirit can heal the blind (Jn 1:13; 3:3-8).

The only way to escape damnation is to leave the darkness and come into the light. If you stay where you are, where you are lies in darkness, as a child of darkness.

“God would not command all people to repent…”

“All people” don’t even have an opportunity to hear the gospel.

“By the way, Paul is not taking about the final judgment in Romans 6:23, or in Romans 1:18 for that matter.”

Irrelevant. The question at issue was whether there’s an asymmetry between punishment and reward vis-à-vis just desserts. Do Christians get what they deserve? No. Which doesn’t mean the damned won’t be getting what they deserve.

“By my 'made-up standards', my eight year old brother, who is a little hard to deal with sometimes but overall has nothing but love and affection for those he interacts with, works hard at school and is generous with his time to help out around the house, would not deserve to burn in hell forever if he died tomorrow without having heard of Jesus. He does not deserve eternal life with God, I agree, but neither does he deserve punishment in hell forever. I'd like to hear your argument otherwise.”

I don’t have to defend the justice of God. That’s a given.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sympathy for the devil


Nobody deserves eternal life, but nobody deserves eternal destruction either.

Well, that's one thing JD and Mr. Scratch agree on.

The wages of sin


“The asymmetry you propose is not self-evident.”

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23).

“In a memorable formulation that concludes the pericope, Paul sets off the antithesis between the realms of sin and grace. He uses the slang term opsonion, which…was popularized by military usage to refer to wages or rations given as remuneration for services performed.”

“The most striking feature of this sentence, however, is the contrast between opsonion and the charisma tou theou (‘free gift of God’). Whereas the remuneration is paid in return for services rendered, the charisma is a sheer gift provided to those who have performed no service at all, to those in fact who have made themselves God’s enemies.”

“They [early Christians] perceived the death and resurrection of Christ as granting shamefully undeserving people the gift of salvation as well as specific gifts of God’s mercy and calling into his gratifying service. In Paul’s view, these gifts were granted without regard to whether or not one has fulfilled the requirements of the law. In Rom 4:4, this was connected to the matter of wages in a manner that provides the premise for 6:23: ‘to one who works, his sages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due.’ In contrast to earning death as a result of enslavement to sin, therefore, Paul counterposes the ‘free gift of God,’ which is ‘life eternal.’ In his view there is nothing whatsoever that anyone can do to deserve such a gift: life eternal is the very opposite of the death the children of Adam have earned. This antithesis strikes at the heart of much of the religious motivation in Paul’s time,” R. Jewett, Romans: A Commentary (Fortress 2007), 425-26.

As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs


“In what sense then does Christ deserve the honor and glory which is above every name? After all, his obedience to the father was his obligation as a son.”

i) The Son is under no inherent obligation to die for a crime he didn’t commit. That’s a textbook case of supererogatory merit.

ii) You also seem to be assuming a type of subordination in the immanent Trinity which I’ve argued against.

“And in what sense are the covenant blessings of Deuteronomy contingent on the people keeping the covenant?”

They are contingent on God keeping his promise.

“You seem to hold to a very odd notion of just deserts, in which people can deserve punishment for wrongdoing, but don't deserve reward for doing right.”

You don’t deserve a reward for doing what you were supposed to do. Rather, you deserve punishment for failing to do what you were supposed to do. The asymmetry ought to be self-evident.

“Another very strange notion. Just about every Christian evangelist I have encountered said the all-important factor in one's eternal destiny is how one responds to the Gospel. This includes evangelists of all denominations.”

You lack a rudimentary grasp of Christian theology. A presupposition of the gospel is that sinners are already in a lost and condemnable state apart from the gospel. Scripture teaches that no man can be saved apart from believing in Christ, which you have inverted and perverted into the polar opposite: no man can be damned apart from disbelieving in Christ.

That disregards the prior condition of sinners to whom the gospel is preached (not to mention those who die outside the pale of the gospel).

“No, it means that he's punished for his murders, but rewarded for his donation to the orphanage. Retributive justice is based on compensating discrete deeds.”

i) To begin with, there’s more to good deeds than the deed itself. There is also the underlying motive. Take two of your examples: “caring for the sick and selflessly sacrificing themselves for others.”

That depends in part on who you’re caring for. If you’re nursing an injured Nazi back to health so that he can exterminate more Jews, that’s not commendable. Likewise, if one Gestapo officer dies on the battlefield to save another Gestapo officer, that’s not commendable.

ii) Moreover, people do good because of God’s common grace or special grace. They don’t get any intrinsic credit for their good deeds, for that’s the end-result of God motivating them to do good.


“I agree with ekklhsia here. Servants who do their duty do not deserve any additional praise or reward beyond what is their already established due, and they have no grounds for boasting, but they still deserve their due.”

That’s not an argument. That merely paraphrases the very claim that’s in dispute.

“The concept of just deserts is incoherent without people getting what they deserve both for the good things and the bad things that they do. And if one's eternal destiny is to be strictly retributive (outside of salvation through Christ), one's experience should be proportionately pleasant or unpleasant according to the balance of good and evil deeds (where good deeds are good things done for the right intentions).”

Once again, you’re simply repeating your original contention rather than interacting with my argument to the contrary.


"Steve, careful about throwing around the objection 'assertion in lieu of an argument' too much, because most of your responses to me and others do exactly that. In response to my assertion, you put forward assertions of your own regarding the nature of justice, etc. That's fine in and of itself, but don't be hypocritical in your objections."

JD, careful about throwing around assertions concerning my alleged assertions. You merely assert that I make assertions without documenting your assertions. Don't be hypocritical in your objections.

"This statement is reductionistic. If you're going to frame the issue in terms of having duties and failing to perform those duties, you need to specify the context in which duties are incurred. In all relationships in which it makes sense to speak of duties, performing one's duty earns one privileges and rewards of some kind."

That assumes what you need to prove. Moreover, you're using "earnings" and "rewards" as though they were synonymous.

"A servant who performs his duty is rewarded with food, clothing, shelter and protection. A police officer who performs his duty is rewarded with a salary and the respect of the community."

We normally think of a salary in terms of "earnings" rather than "rewards."

You're also conflating different senses of the word.

A reward can be an incentive to action.

A reward can be a public recognition.

A reward can be payment for service rendered.

None of these entail merit. For instance, a loyal Klansman may be rewarded by a promotion in the hierarchy, but since the KKK is an evil enterprise, you can't very well say he deserves it.

Likewise, the getaway driver may receive a cut of the loot, but you can't very well say he deserves it.

Moreover, even in human situations where one party is entitled to some recompense, you can’t extend that without further ado to our relationship with God, where we owe everything to God, as our Creator and Redeemer, while he owes us nothing in return. God is debtor to no man. Everything we have we receive from his hand.

“When God's people obey his laws in the OT, they earn his blessings.”

Saying so doesn’t make it so, that that’s a travesty of OT theology, viz.

4 "Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, 'It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,' whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. 5 Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 6"Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. (Deut 9:4-6).

“Yes, they do so because God keeps his promises, but it is a promise to fulfill the terms of the covenant. If God's people keep their side of the bargain, they are entitled to God's protection and favor.”

God’s adoption of Israel was an act of God’s gratuitous favor. Israel was wholly unworthy of God’s lovingkindness (e.g. Deut 9). God doesn’t bless Israel because she deserves it, but because she needs it, and God is merciful to Israel. Like the allegory of Hosea.

9/26/2010 7:42 AM

“But in this conception we are moving beyond any sort of 'just deserts' understanding presupposed by classical theories of retributive justice. You appear to be trying to meld a Kantian conception of duty and just deserts with a biblical, covenantal understanding.”

Since I documented my conception of duty from Scripture, I don’t appear to be taking that conception from Kant, now do I?

“The asymmetry you propose is not self-evident.”

Your denial is not an argument. Moreover, I presented an argument for the asymmetry, which you ignore.

“It remains to be shown that giving people their just deserts is compatible with there being just two eternal destinies.”

Saying that it remains to be shown, in the teeth of my argumentation to the contrary, is not a reason to believe it remains to be shown.

You're confusing the notion of rewards with the notion that rewards are awarded to deserving recipients. For that you need a separate argument.

7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Lk 17:7-10).

"For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Cor 9:16).

ἐκκλησία said...

“That comment about boasting is being taking out of context.”

That’s an assertion in lieu of an argument. In context, Paul gets no credit for preaching the gospel because he does so under moral compulsion. Conversely, he is blameworthy if he fails to preach the gospel.

“There seems to be ambiguity about 'reward' in this disagreement. Reward can be both merited favour and unmerited favour. A faithful servant may not merit 'unmerited favour' (rewards above and beyond wages), but even so, those wages are still treated Biblically as 'reward'.”

You’re burning a straw man. The question at issue was never the existence of Biblical rewards, but the presupposition of Biblical rewards.

“Here, 'he that reaps' is not obtaining unmerited favour, but is obtained merited favour, merited through faithful adherence to duty.”

The text doesn’t say that or imply that. To the contrary, Jesus goes on to say in vv37-38 that they reap the fruit of other men’s labors. What others sow, they reap. Therefore, they receive the paycheck that a second party earned.

“The Ox's reward is merit for its faithfulness, its reward.”

Which, in context, refers to interpersonal human obligations. But the relation of a sinner to a holy God is hardly comparable to the relation of a man to his fellow man.

“But if we differentiate between merited reward and unmerited reward the argument is really only a semantic one.”

That says a lot about your Pelagian theology.

“The Bible absolutely makes clear that God will render to each man according to his works [Job 34:11][Psalm 28:4][Psa 62:12][Pro 24:29][Ecc 8:14][Jer 32:19] etc, and it is not only talking about those who do evil works.”

i) Another straw man, since that is not the question at issue.

ii) You also disregard a fundamental asymmetry between merit and demerit. Sinners can’t merit salvation. But sinners can merit damnation. By definition, sinners are already in a demeritorious condition. Saving grace is not merely unmerited favor, but demerited favor. But by the same token, sinners richly deserve retributive punishment.

Your ignorance of elementary Christian theology is quite appalling.

9/26/2010 7:48 AM
ἐκκλησία said...

“You realise that this assumption also isn't argument, justified with evidence or relevant?“

You do realize that you yourself supplied the evidence for my conclusion.

“For the sake of argument, lets say I was Pelagian, if the argument above is Biblically sound…”

Which is not the case, for reasons I gave.

“For the record though, I am as much as Pelagian, as I am an Calvinist, as I am an Arminian.”

For the record, you’re a theological chameleon.

New Material By J.P. Holding

J.P. Holding's book on the resurrection recently came out. It has a foreword by Gary Habermas. You can see an outline of the book's contents here.

And his response to John Loftus' The Christian Delusion has recently been updated. He's added a reply to Paul Tobin's chapter and some links to somebody else's response to Richard Carrier's chapter on Christianity and science.