Saturday, April 30, 2011

Jerry Walls's Argument(s) Against Calvinism - 2

I'm looking at chapter four of Jerry Wall's new book, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality. Last time, I interacted with his formal argument (located in the end notes) that concluded it is irrational to believe in Calvinism and I found it wanting. Walls has divided his chapter into seven parts, this time I'll look at the first division, proceeding through them in order.

The first "division" is really Wall's introduction. In it he notes that, "The importance of avoiding equivocation is a big reason that, though we strongly wish to affirm God's sovereignty, we must reject a Calvinist paradigm of theology." Walls goes on to explain that in this chapter he "will talk about how important it is that God's goodness is recognizable. For in order for the moral argument to provide a rational reason to believe in God, God's goodness must be recognizable. Otherwise we're using the word "good" to refer to something that isn't recognizably good, and that sort of equivocation is irrational" (66, emphasis original). For the rest of the introduction Walls proceeds to talk about how Calvinism/Arminianism is an in-house debate and his personal take on what issues Calvinism and Arminianism are divided over. While it would be interesting to look into his claims here (for example, there's no interaction with or citing of scholars like Richard Muller as to the historical nature of the debate between Calvinists and Arminians), we can put them aside as they have no bearing on the substantive parts of his argument. The sections quoted by me is the extent of the argument in this section, and I'll offer a few comments in response:

1. The use of the definite description "the moral argument," is a bit misleading, what he means is, at best, his moral argument.

2. The use of "we" is confusing. Who is equivocating? If it is the Calvinist, then Walls will need to show that the Calvinist uses the term in two different senses in the same context, but he doesn't show this in the chapter.

3. Notice his claim is logically weak and ambiguous, stating only that God's goodness be recognizable. He states neither temporal nor agential restrictions. As pertains to the former, the Calvinist is free to claim that at some time, even if not now, we will recognize God's goodness. As pertains to the latter, the Calvinist will maintain that God recognizes his goodness. Indeed, perhaps the departed saints recognize this too. And, what's the scope of "we"? All persons or some persons? If the former, then Walls will never be able to offer a successful moral argument. If the latter, then there's plenty of Calvinists who recognize God as good. Moreover, what argument could be given that God's goodness is not recognizable? How much would Walls need to know to show that? Really, really, really, really, really hard to recognize doesn't even mean unrecognizable.

4. Even the Arminian would be bound to admit that the Calvinist God is good in dozens and dozens of recognizable ways. The entire Arminian argument here rests on picking at an admittedly mysterious and epistemically difficult case of God's actions towards man and acting as if that were the whole of the matter. But why think hard cases are standards? Indeed, Arminianism has its own hard cases that it cannot extract itself from, should we judge the whole by those cases The problem here is analogous to a student seeing this set of problems: {1+1=, 2 * 2 =, 3x + 25 = 31, and "Goldbach's Conjecture"}; therefore, math is evil and unsolvable.

5. There's still this confusing of epistemology and metaphysics, i.e., of God having the property of 'good' and our ability to recognize this property. Suppose I am driving my young children in the car at night. They see the moon and it appears to be following our car! The kids attribute properties of motion to the moon. I tell them that the moon is actually, despite appearances, not move but stationary. I try as best I can to explain why things appear this way to them, but the reasons are beyond their ken. Suppose they don't fully understand, but they notice I'm their dad and have been right about a lot of other things, so they don't think the moon actually has the property of being stationary even though they don't recognize it as having this property. Indeed, to them it appears rather obvious that the moon is moving. They use the word 'stationary' to something they don't recognize as stationary, have they "equivocated?" No, they speak truly that the moon has the property of being stationary even if they don't recognize it has having this property.

Man Arrested for Reading Bible in Public

HT:  Answering Muslims

Friday, April 29, 2011

"Global" atheist convention

On the one hand:

The March 2010 Global Atheist Convention  (GAC)  in Melbourne, Australia from 12th to 14th of March, was a watershed event that lived up to its theme, The Rise of Atheism, in so many ways. Over 2,500 people attended this largest, priceless gathering of freethinkers  to hear from more than 25 of the world’s most prominent atheists, philosophers, scientists, commentators and comedians.

On the other hand:

According to the International Programs Center, U.S. Census Bureau, the total population of the World, projected to 04/29/11 at 22:40 UTC (EST+5) is

What Happened When? Ancient Near East Chronology

Quick, Get the Scissors and Kill that Baby!

What follows is a classic, unsophisticated example of how secular bioethics is the ultimate fail as seen in the combox of an article I published that I originally saw on Facebook:

"What an incredible amount of fail."
What an incredible amount of sin.
"Those who make this argument do not understand the difference between an autonomous human child and an embryo whose very existence is tied to the mother."
So we can kill the unborn because it is dependent upon its mother? Given that your criteria for taking the life of the unborn is their degree of dependency, why not kill the 3 hour old born child as well since it is completely dependent upon another? Better yet, why not kill every adult in a coma since they are completely dependent upon others?
"A mother can choose to give up either child . . ."
So you admit that the unborn is a child?
". . . for an embryo this can only mean death, but for a child there's this little capability called adoption."
Why not allow the unborn child to be born and then adopt it out?
"Creating a human being goes far beyond conception, and saying that conception should force a person to go through the whole process without their consent is ridiculous."
So we kill people because they get in our way? This sounds like Third Reich logic.

I hope the Christians reading this have paid attention to what was said above; for this is where secular bioethics when you reject the idea that people are created in God's image and by virtue of that fact alone they are worthy of dignity and respect.

Certified ineptitude


I’m a guy who, seeing an empty pickle jar in the kitchen sink to be washed, thinks, “nice, we’ve got a new drinking glass.” And my second thought, inevitably is, “we’ve got to eat more pickles now so we can have a matching set.”

I don’t plan to talk much at all about myself. But since I’m new here, I just want to say a few introductory things.

Many readers here will know me from Beggars All, and maybe if you’ve been around for a while, you might know me from the old NTRMin discussion board. I’ve described my conversion story briefly, here.

Finding my way around
As a young man, in the early 1980’s, I traveled extensively, working for a disabled Christian singer named Jeff Steinberg. My life consisted mainly of (a) helping Jeff with his personal needs, (b) driving long distances to a place I’d never been to before, setting up a fairly extensive sound system, running sound for a concert, then packing it all up and frequently driving a couple more hours to get to our next location. I did that for about five years, from 1981-1986.

Often we’d make arrangements for local hosts to do a number of concerts in an area, and that would require that I quickly get to know my way around a new city or town. Over time, I developed a method for understanding my new short-term environment. That involved finding one main highway that I could understand and recognize, then branching off into other areas before finding my way back to that one main highway.

There’s precedent in our day for this method of learning theology and church history, too. Robert Jewett, in the introduction of his commentary on Romans, notes the requirement of “a firm chronological structure” – that one main highway, because “chronology is the skeleton of history.” (Romans, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, pg 18). You expand your learning by finding that one main highway that you trust – in my case, theologically, it has been the Scriptures, and then branching off into other, lesser known areas.

As a person who has wrestled with Roman Catholicism all my life, on both sides of the Protestant/Catholic divide, the one question that kept coming back to me was, “why is the Roman Catholic religion so different from ‘the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3) that’s so plainly evident in the New Testament?”

Not long ago, I was talking with my Pastor about all of this. (I am a member of a PCA church that’s located near the University of Pittsburgh campus.) And from a pastoral point of view, he said that many converts from Roman Catholicism don’t seem to struggle with those kinds of issues. His own mother-in-law and father-in-law are a case in point. Once their daughter married a Presbyterian minister, they stopped attending their Roman Catholic church and started attending our PCA because they just felt more of a love of the Lord in the Presbyterian church.

And I’ve talked to his father-in-law. There was no angst. It was, as Carl Trueman has noted, a case in which Roman Catholics are “generally cultural rather than committed,” and the love for the Lord was far more evident in their new church than their old one.

I did not have it so easy. When I decided to leave Roman Catholicism for the first time, my father and I had terrible wars over it. I was in college at the time, certainly dependent on him financially, and he, having grown up in a poor rural area during the depression, had developed a hatred for “Proudestants” some time during his youth, that I was not aware of. He was determined that his son was not going to be a “Proudestant”.

Most teens in those days, the late 1970’s, were rebelling with “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” I was rebelling by reading the Bible and going to prayer meetings. And it was almost immediately following my graduation from Pitt that the Lord put Jeff Steinberg in my path.

During my years with Jeff, he was active in the pro-life movement, and we interacted with a number of devout Roman Catholics. Of course, the question asked of me was, “why don’t you come back home,” and eventually I did. And as I’ve mentioned in my brief conversion account, I considered and dismissed the idea of becoming a priest, married, had six kids, and spent probably the next 15 years as a devout Roman Catholic.

It was the publication of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” in 1994 that started me thinking about all of my old questions again. At first, I was overjoyed that Evangelicals and Catholics were getting together, but as I read the statement, and read the reviews from both sides, it was apparent that there were some folks on both sides who were not happy about such a development. The 1997 statement, The Gift of Salvation, was one of the last straws for me, particularly this paragraph:
The New Testament makes it clear that the gift of justification is received through faith. "By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). By faith, which is also the gift of God, we repent of our sins and freely adhere to the Gospel, the good news of God’s saving work for us in Christ. By our response of faith to Christ, we enter into the blessings promised by the Gospel. Faith is not merely intellectual assent but an act of the whole person, involving the mind, the will, and the affections, issuing in a changed life. We understand that what we here affirm is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by faith alone (sola fide).
While it’s true that Roman Catholics view all of “salvation” as a “gift,” – it’s also true, as the priest was telling me as I walked out of confession for the last time, “We’ve gotta do our part too.”

Spending Your Life on the Sacramental Treadmill
But for Roman Catholics, “our part” means spending a lifetime on the sacramental treadmill. Most Roman Catholics are baptized as babies, and so they are never urged to repent, they are never called to conversion to Christ.

On the other hand, when Roman Catholics say that “works” are required, they don’t mean “feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners in jail.” Those things are helpful, but the works that are genuinely required by Church law are known as “the precepts of the church”. My older version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (ccc) says they are “the indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor.” (ccc 2041). It’s the least that you are required to do in order to assure yourself that “you have been good enough to get to heaven when you die.” (To miss Mass on a Sunday, without getting to confession, involves Mortal sin.) In newer printings, this has been edited to read “The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor.” These are:
The first precept ("You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor") requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.

The second precept ("You shall confess your sins at least once a year") ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism's work of conversion and forgiveness.

The third precept ("You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season") guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord's Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy.

The fourth precept ("You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church") ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.

The fifth precept ("You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church") means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.
So there you have the “Sacramental Treadmill”. Catholics will affirm that God gives the grace to accomplish all of that through a lifetime. That’s why they say it’s a “gift.” But as the priest said, you surely gotta do your part.

What it takes to interact effectively with Roman Catholics
In recent weeks, Steve provided an overview of what’s needed in order to interact with Roman Catholicism in our day. I have always taken this advice to heart.

I think a lot of people would like to forget Roman Catholicism, but if you want to go back in time about 900 years, imagine that your government is your religion, and that government rules the world. (At least, the only world you know. But all of it.) There is nothing else: you’re born, you’re baptized by the government; the government gives you sacraments that promise “eternal life”; you get married by the government; your kids have to be baptized by the government. It’s true, there were civil authorities in those days, “lesser authorities” but it was the Roman Church that was asserting authority over all of it. You knew who was in charge. Especially given that there was a lot more death around to help focus the mind.

The Reformation and the American Revolution were fought to break out of that cycle, which is, unfortunately, still evident in many ways in our day. (The “sacraments” no longer apply to your eternal life, but to your natural one. Health care is the big one now, but I’m sure you can think of others.)

I’ve told Steve Hays in the past that I’m a “one-trick pony” – the trick that I seek to understand is Roman Catholicism. And to be sure, Roman Catholicism is a big trick. It’s a bait-and-switch of of the first magnitude. For a long time, it was a huge, unexplored world. But now, within that world, I’ve found that one main highway that I understand and trust. I’ve read a lot. I’ve branched off into those areas that I hadn’t been previously familiar with. And in the process, I’ve gotten to understand this multi-dimensional world of church history, theology, and the breadth of the Protestant/Catholic divide. My hope is to be a trustworthy guide for those who want, for some reason, to explore that world.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Cross & the Switchblade

Pentecostal evangelist David Wilkerson has died in a traffic accident. Years ago I read both his famous book, The Cross and the Switchblade–as well as the famous book, Run Baby Run, by his famous convert Nicky Cruz,

This would actually make a useful study in synoptic variants and harmonization. Both books cover much the same ground. Both books are cross-referential. Yet, as I recall, they have far less in common than John’s gospel and the synoptic gospels–much less between one synoptic gospel and another.

At the same time, there’s no antecedent reason to think either record is inaccurate on that account.  

Let's Kill Your Child

A worried woman went to her gynecologist and said:

'Doctor, I have a serious problem and desperately need your help! My baby is not even 1 year old and I'm pregnant again. I don't want kids so close together.

So the doctor said: 'OK and what do you want me to do?'

She said: 'I want you to end my pregnancy, and I'm counting on your help with this.'

The doctor thought for a little, and after some silence he said to the lady: 'I think I have a better solution for your problem. It's less dangerous for you too.'

She smiled, thinking that the doctor was going to accept her request.

Then he continued: 'You see, in order for you not to have to take care 2 babies at the same time, let's kill the one in your arms. This way, you could rest some before the other one is born. If we're going to kill one of them, it doesn't matter which one it is. There would be no risk for your body if you chose the one in your arms.

The lady was horrified and said: 'No doctor! How terrible! It's a crime to kill a child!

'I agree', the doctor replied. 'But you seemed to be OK with it, so I thought maybe that was the best solution.'

The doctor smiled, realizing that he had made his point.

Jerry Walls's Argument Against Calvinism

In the recent book Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality, Jerry Walls has a chapter on Calvinism in which he lobs a few rather poor objections towards Calvinism. I plan to address the chapter in some future posts, in this post I'll look at one argument he presents against Calvinism in the endnotes to chapter four. Walls presents the argument in ordinary language and then formalizes it, I'll present both:
1. If we're not justified to believe the Bible was inspired by a morally perfect God, then we're not justified to think it's reliable.
2. If we're not justified to believe God is morally perfect, then we're not justified to believe the Bible was inspired by a morally perfect God.
3. If God is not recognizably good, then we're not justified to believe God is morally perfect.
4. If we're rational to believe that God damns those he could have saved without violating their free will, then God is not recognizably good.
5. If it is rational to believe Calvinism, then we're rational to believe God damns those he could have saved without violating their free will (analytic truth).
6. If it is rational to believe in Calvinism, then God is not justifiably good.
7. If it is rational to believe in Calvinism, then we're not justified to believe God is morally perfect.
8. If it is rational to believe Calvinism, then we're not justified to believe the Bible was inspired by a morally perfect God.
9. If it is rational to believe Calvinism, then we're not justified to think the Bible is reliable.
10. We are justified to believe the Bible is reliable.
11. Therefore, it is not rational to believe Calvinism.

I: We are justified to believe the Bible was inspired by a morally perfect God. R: We are justified in thinking the Bible is reliable. M: We are justified to believe God is morally perfect. G: God is recognizably good. D: We're rational to believe that God damns those he could have saved without violating their free will. C. It is rational to believe Calvinism

1. ~I --> ~R
2. ~M --> ~I
3. ~G --> ~M
4. D --> ~G
5. C --> D (analytic truth)
6. C --> ~G (4,5, HS)
7. C --> ~M (3,6, HS)
8. C --> ~I (2,7, HS)
9. C --> ~R (1,8 HS)
10. R (axiom)
11. ~C (9,10, MT, DN)

I'll make a few observations:

1. The argument is valid in sentential logic. So what. I don't think his formalization is really going to capture the logic of the argument. There's all manner of modal terms that need epistemic logics to capture what's going on. The terms like 'rational' and 'justified' and 'believes' and 'think' are going to require a more powerful logic, like epistemic logic (as I said). Why would we need a more powerful logic? Look what happens in simpler logics when we present this argument

[1] Lois Lane believes that Clark Kent like coffee.
[2] Clark Kent = Superman.
[3] Therefore, Lois Lane believes that Superman likes coffee (by identity elimination).

Looks pretty good on some logics. So what. It wouldn't be if we formalized it with more powerful logics. The problem here comes in how we'd capture modal terms like 'believes that'.

2. As it stands, premise (1) seems false. Suppose there was a book that fell from heaven containing the answers to every weekly lottery. Suppose it has been right for every lottery since the first. Week after week. Pretty darn reliable. Suppose further that we found this line in the book, "Women should be treated like chattel, beaten if needs be." Not morally perfect. Here's the question: If Walls found the book, would he play next week's lottery? Yes. Why? Because he would believe that the book was reliable. So premise (1), as stands, seems to be a non-sequitur.

3. Premise (2) seems to be a tautology, i.e., "If we're not justified to believe [that the God who inspired the Bible] is morally perfect, then we're not justified to believe the Bible was inspired by a morally perfect God," simply expresses the truism that if you're not justified to believe that F is G, then you're not justified to believe that something that exists was created by an F that is a G. So (2) is uninteresting and, putting aside some other quibbles, we'll grant it.

4. I take (3) to be false. It seems to confuse epistemology with metaphysics. Why think what I (fail to) recognize is a valid indication of the way reality is? As a crass example, could I reason: if the stick is not recognizably straight, then we're not justified in believing that it is straight? What if it's half-way in water? Moreover, throw in our sin and desire to distort the nature of the true God, this premise seems even less firm. (3) needs to fill out the argument between the conditional. For one may not understand why God allows some evil, and be unable to recognize him as good, yet may still be justified in believing he is morally perfect by taking it on, say, the testimony of Scripture. Here one would appeal to models of knowledge by testimony. Here's an analogy: I grew up with a kid who was about 6 inches shorter than his peers and 20 lbs lighter. However, he could bring some fury. He was not a recognizable bad-a. But if the toughest kids on the block told a new kid not to mess with Carlos, the new kid would be justified in believing Carlos was a bad-a, even if Carlos was not a recognizable bad-a.

5. Of course, I deny (4). The sinner is a guilty criminal and deserves his punishment. Even if I grant (see #6) that God could save everyone if he wanted to, it doesn't follow that if he doesn't he is morally bankrupt somehow. If a governor allows a guilty and convicted child murderer to die by lethal injection even though he could save his life, is the governor morally suspect?

6. Of course, (5) this isn't an "analytic truth." The truth is not guaranteed by the collective meanings of the words in which it occurs. Moreover, I happen to think it may be false. In order to manifest God's holiness and justice in any created theatre, God may need to damn some actually guilty. So, (5) is not analytic and it may also be false.

7. Of course, the argument is reversible. Walls thinks that what us humans think of and call good is a pretty reliable indicator of what is in fact good. So, this would apply to a man who knows that his neighbor is going to murder his wife, the man can stop the murder, but the man refuses to do nothing (say, out of respect for the neighbor's libertarian free will). We would call this man morally depraved. But God does this all the time.

Moreover, it appears that God can stop people from sinning without violating their libertarian free will (cf. Gen 20:6), on Arminian assumptions. However, if God did violate Abimelek's free will, he could do this to others, and it appears to be a pretty inconspicuous acting on God's behalf. So what would be the loss of interfering with people's free will, especially for heinous sins? Abimelek didn't even know anything was up. Why did God stop Abimelek from "touching" Sarah but not the molester from touching "Susie?" What's the reason? However, aside from this, we might wonder why not violating free will is all-important? Let's see, the molester's libertarian freedom or little Susie's innocence. Indeed, we might wonder why a God who allows some people to "freely" go to hell when he could have stepped in and changed their will and made them "compatibilistically freely" choose him is considered more loving than one who would step in. I don't know, intuitions differ. Certainly thousands of Universalists don't "recognize" this God as good. So, there's several actions we could point out about Wall's God that doesn't seem to make him "recognizably" God, and so the argument turns on Walls. Yeah, he'll come up with his responses, just like the Calvinist does.

UNCG Outreach Report 4-27-2011

INTRODUCTION:  We had a great day of discussion with several students over a period of about 3.5 hours.  I have prayed consistently that God would provide willing listeners and as you'll see below, He is doing just that in spite of the end-of-semester campus stress.  Today, I had the opportunity to speak in some detail to a well-listening young lady, an atheist, and a "new-born" Christian.  I didn't do any open-air preaching since there were only a few students milling around on campus today due to it being the last week of class.  
The Question of the Day Redavivus:
As I noted in our last outreach report, the type of "question of the day" that you use in evangelism is critical as it seems that some opening questions can almost immediately shut people down because they feel as if you are trying to trap them.  Thus, I enjoy asking "In your opinion, what do you think it takes for a person to get to heaven?" because it genuinely asks people to share their views about the afterlife.  We'll see below how this type of open-ended question promotes good conversation.
A Well-Listening Young Lady
This pleasant young lady had a sorority background and said she thought she was a good person.  I took her through a few of Christ's commands and she admitted that she had violated all of them and then she said, "You're making me feel guilty" to which I responded, "I'm not the one making you feel guilty, I'm exposing you to the light of God's law and you're realizing that you fall way short, just like the rest of us."  I then explained, "Look, I'm certainly not your judge, but you admitted that you have violated Christ's commands, and it's Him you'll have to answer to, not me.  If you stood before Him now, where would you be innocent or guilty?"  She admitted that she was concerned about what would happen to her when she died, and I was able to share the gospel with her and then we were both on our way.  I mention this young lady not because the witnessing counter was extraordinary, but for one simple reason to show that I have consistently prayed that God would provide people who are ready and willing to listen to the gospel, and this young lady certainly was.  
A Hindu
This gentleman was another person who was ready and willing to listen.  He was originally from India and claimed to be a Hindu who had never read the New Testament.  Hinduism originated from the ancient polytheistic religions of India, and as a more unified world religion, Hinduism teaches a form of pantheism; hence, the ancient gods (especially the triad of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva) are commonly interpreted as representations of the various aspects of the one impersonal divine known as Brahman.  Thus, it is a monistic worldview.  The goal is to progress to the realization that we are one with Brahman (i.e., Nirvana) through reincarnation via following the law of karma.   I asked him how he determines "good" in Hinduism and he said that doing good things brings good karma whereas doing bad things brings bad karma.  I then asked if he really believed that all of reality was maya (illusion) and he said he wasn't sure.  He didn't seem to know much about his own religion, so I explained to him that it was my understanding that Hinduism essentially teaches that all of reality is one and that distinctions are illusory and the goal of Hinduism is to rid ourselves of these distinctions and do "good" to others whereby we achieve Nirvana.  I then asked him, "If reality is one and distinctions aren't real, isn't pointing out the difference between what's real and what's an illusion making a distinction too?  If so, wouldn't it be self-defeating because that too is illusory?  I mean, if Hinduism teaches that we have to believe that all of reality is one thing and that there really aren't distinctions between anything, then how do we know there's a distinction between what's real and what's illusory?  Moreover, if no distinctions really exist, how can we have a difference between good and bad karma?"  He didn't know how to respond (I wouldn't either if I was a Hindu), so I asked him if he thought he was a good person.  His answer was "Um, sometimes" to which I asked, "Why do you say only "sometimes" and he noted, "Well, I don't always do the right thing." to which I asked, "How to you tell the difference between right and wrong" and like most other people in America nowadays, he basically appealed to cultural relativism.  I then took him through a few of Christ's commands, showed how we all fall short of God's righteous standards, and then explained why Jesus had to die on the cross and that God raised Him from the dead as evidence that God accepted what Jesus did on the cross in place of sinners (Rom. 4:25).  He listened well, I gave him a Bible and told him to read the gospel of John, we shook hands, and we went our separate ways. 
An Atheist Anarchist
I attempted to witness to this young man last week while he was eating a burrito and he respectfully said that he wasn't interested in talking to me because he was already "pretty settled in his beliefs."  Today, I was walking back to the center of campus when I saw the same guy walking near me on the sidewalk and so I and attempted to hand him a card again and sure enough, he kindly said, "Um, I'm sorry, but I'm an atheist" to which I immediately responded "What would it take for you to believe that God exists?" to which he said, "I'd need some objective evidence."  I said, "How would you know it was evidence for God?" to which he essentially said something like ". . . it would be so obvious that you couldn't miss it."  I then said, "Well, God's already given you that in creation, then I quoted Romans 1:19-21 . . ." and he said, "Yeah, but that's not obvious now since we can explain it by evolution though I'm open-minded" and I said something like, "See my friend, you did exactly what I knew you would do.  You asked for evidence, I presented objective evidence, and you explained it away through your naturalistic presuppositions."  I then pointed out to him that even if Jesus appeared to him right now he would probably try to explain it away through a plethora of other naturalistic causes since his naturalism cannot admit the existence of the supernatural. 
Presuppositions, Worldviews, and Unargued Philosophical Biases
We then proceeded to have a 1.5 hour long conversation concerning philosophical presuppositions that form the platform for worldviews, the nature of evidence, the nature and reliability of the Bible, and how our preconceived ideas about the world affect our interpretation of any evidence and that there are no uninterpreted "brute" facts.  During this conversation, he appealed to logic, rationality, scientific procedures, ethics, etc., to make his case and by God's grace I showed him at every point that he was appealing to things to make his case that can't exist assuming naturalistic materialism and methodological naturalism.  I then discussed The Theistic Preconditions of Knowledge, preached him the gospel, and attempted to hand him a ministry card for Creation Ministries International.  We then talked about the creation-evolution controversy a bit and when he found out that CMI is a Young Earth Creationist (hereafter YEC) ministry, he handed the card back and said something like, "I'm sorry, but I can't accept this" to which I responded, "Open-minded huh?  So, you'll accept the idea that people came from pondscum, big lizards turned into birds over millions of years, and that you cannot provide any philosophical foundation whatsoever for your metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics and admitted that you don't try to, but you'll reject a YEC website run by credentialed, published, Ph.D. level scientists simply because they don't buy into the naturalistic party line?"  He didn't say yes, but said instead, "No university in the world accepts that framework for understanding the world" to which I responded, "So majority opinion equals truth?"  He then said, "No, there's just so much evidence that the earth is old and evolution is true" and I responded, "But you just admitted earlier that all facts are pre-interpreted.  Have you ever read one article by a credentialed YEC scientist?" and he admitted that he had not.  I then said, "So, you're not interested in subjecting your own presuppositions to scrutiny?" He then responded, "I can't believe you are a YEC!" and at that point, I knew that we had reached the limits of our conversation.  I then lovingly encouraged him to read the N.T., investigate the things I had discussed with him in spite of his seeming reluctance to do so, and that he needed to repent and believe on Christ.  Interestingly, he then asked me "Given the other atheists you've spoken with, how did I do?"  Suspecting some pride in his question, I responded, "Well, almost every atheist I've spoken with is different on the surface level.  You were very respectful and I appreciate that, but just like nearly every other atheist I've spoken with, when it came to going beyond surface-level argumentation, you didn't even begin to present a credible intellectual defense."  He seemed a little discouraged that I put it that way, but I gave him a warm handshake, thanked him for his time, patted him on the back and told him I'd love to talk to him again in the future and to please give me a call anytime if he wants to talk.  I hope he does call me, but I've said that same thing hundreds of times, and I think I've received two follow-up calls out of thousands of witnessing encounters, and none of them were from atheists.    
A "New-Born" Believer
This young lady was the last person I spoke to.  She was sitting by herself and enjoying a smoke, so I introduced myself, sat down near her, asked the question of the day and she demonstrated a good understanding of the gospel and said she was a brand new born-again believer.  She then told me that she feels so inadequate, that she's playing catch-up at church because she doesn't know much about the Bible yet, and that she wants to grow and learn more.  It was then that I realized that I don't really have anything for folks like this, and given the fact that many American people make major worldview decisions when in college, it would stand to reason that I carry some information for new believers.  Anyway, she said she was interested in going into Christian counseling and I explained how there were basically two different approaches, the integrationist route and the nouthetic route.  I then used this as an opportunity to discuss the sufficiency of Scripture and its application to all of one's life.  She appreciate the conversation, said she was interested in visiting our church, and we were on our way.  Again, God provided another willing ear, this time in the form of a newly converted sister in Christ and I'm thankful to see that He is still in the business of saving people from their sin, for it seems that witnessing a true conversion in America is hard to come by these days.  
IN CONCLUSION, the field are white unto harvest, but the laborers are few.  It is easy as a pastor-evangelist/apologist to grow weary in well-doing when you see broader evangelicalism going the way of the world while so few professing believers are actually sharing their faith while also living consistently with it.  It makes me hunger for heaven, reminds me that I'm just a stranger passing through this world, and that this world is not my home, for I'm a citizen of a heavenly country, and as I pass through this strange world, I desire to faithfully call others to come with me.  "He who has ears to hear, let him hear . . . " Matthew 11:15


Thus far I haven’t laid my cards on the table, but if you must know, I think the birther movement is an exercise in misdirection. The question of whether Obama was born in Hawaii is a side-issue. Even if his body was born in Hawaii, that doesn’t mean the current occupant of his body was born in Hawaii. As any student of Men in Black can tell you, there’s a crucial distinction between the vehicle and what lies behind the humanoid eyes.

Certainly this tells us something

Here are a couple of product reviews from Amazon’s product page for the Avery Cardinal Dulles work Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith:

Steve Hays has commented on this work:

Existential Star Wars

If Star Wars had been written by Jean-Paul Sartre I think it would've been titled Stars Wars: No Exit.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


I haven’t followed the Birther movement. I haven’t bothered to acquaint myself with the pros and cons of their arguments.

I’m just going to comment on how the White House fumbled the issue today. If Obama is of the opinion that doubts about his citizenship have become so politically damaging that he needs to get all of the pertinent information out into the open, then the way to do that isn’t for the White House to publicize his birth certificate, but for Obama to request that Hawaiian officials publicize his birth certificate.

After all, the document is only as good as the chain-of-custody. If people doubt Obama’s bona fides on this issue, then their faith won’t be restored by “proof” emanating from the White House. For that issues from the very same suspect source.

Rather, that information ought to come straight from the state agency with direct access to and custody of the document in question. That would also preserve some semblance of independence.

Once again, I’m not commenting on the objective merits of the case. Just that how Obama went about this is utterly and obviously counterproductive. 

Jesus is Jehovah

Introduction:  After engaging many Jehovah's Witnesses (hereafter JWs) over the last seventeen years, with the exception of one older JW, they always "cut and run" after I attempt to engage them beyond the surface level.  Yesterday, they arrived while I was talking to a friend on Skype just after I had been translating 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 from my Greek New Testament in preparation for teaching this Sunday.  I grabbed my Greek New Testament, headed to the front door, and asked them two questions (1) "Are you Jehovah's Witnesses?" and (2) "Can I read John 20:28 to you?"  After having received an answer to my first question and reading the verse in the second question, I then ask them, "Since Thomas clearly called Jesus "the God" (lit. translation) in John 20:28, why doesn't the Watchtower do the same?"(To see their official, non-response which implies that Thomas blasphemed go here).    
Stay Focused    
I've found that they usually try to get away from these types of discussions as quickly as possible since they are simply trying to leave some literature and a good last impression.  Thus, I allow them their red herring by giving their introductory schpiel.  After they have finished, I usually ask, "Is Jesus the God?" and they usually respond, "Well, he is a god!" and I say, "Yeah, but is He the God?" to which they always respond with something like, "Oh no, Jesus could never be called 'the God', meaning the Almighty God or One True God." to which I usually respond, "But Thomas called him ho theos, which is literally translated "the God."  I then immediately ask, "If Jesus is a god, is He a true God or a false god?" to which they almost always respond in a robotic fashion "He is a god!" and I ask again with a little robotic fashion of my own, "Is He a True God or a false god?" to which they usually say, "Well, 2 Cor. 4:4 defines Satan as "the God", and Psalm 82:6 calls the unjust judges "gods", so are you saying that Satan is the God too?"    
The Horns of a Dilemma    
At this point, it is crucial to keep them on track since this is a subtle red herring (i.e., a distraction away from the real issue).  I then say, "No, I'm using your own reasoning to point out that if Jesus is a god in some sense as you already admit, then there are only two senses in which He can be called 'god'; meaning that this type of language is used to describe Him as either a true God, of which you already admit that there's only One of those; or a false god.  Either way, your answer undermines your theology since Jesus can't be Almighty God and He can't be a false God, so your stuck on the horns of a dilemma."  At this point it is important to say something like, "This is a problem that the Biblical doctrine of God solves quite easily, and then attempt to discuss passages in the N.T. that use O.T. passages referring to Yahweh (Jehovah) to call Jesus Yawheh (see below for a few examples).
Often, once they will realize that you know what you're talking about, they will try to avoid the deeper details surrounding the core passages concerning Christ's deity (i.e., John 1, 5, 8, 20; Colossians 1; Hebrews 1, Revelation 1, 22; and scores of other OT background references that the NT quotes to demonstrate that Jesus is Jehovah).  It is at this point that I've found the following information from The Department of Christian Defense to be a great help in cutting to the chase with JWs:    
NT authors frequently used OT passages that referred to Jehovah in reference to the Son. 
  • Isaiah 6:1 with John 12:37-41.
  • Psalm 102:25-27 with Hebrews 1:10 (also:  Isa. 8:12-13 with 1 Peter 3:14-15; Isa. 45:23 with Phil. 2:10; Joel 2:32 with Rom. 10:13). 

John 1:1    
John 1:1a indicates that the Word was eternal: en arche en ho logos, In [the] beginning was the Word. . . .  The Greek verb en, (was) is an imperfect tense, which indicates that the Word was always existing (cf. Phil. 2:6: hos en morph theou huparchon, lit.,  "[Christ Jesus] who in nature God subsisting").
At John 1:1b (lit., "the Word was with the God"), the eternal Word is said to be distinct (pros, "with") from His Father. Then, at John 1:1c, John literally writes: "God was the Word" (theos en ho logos). Note that the Apostle John places theos ("God") in the *emphatic position* (i.e., at the beginning of the clause) and theos is anarthrous (i.e., without the article ["the"]).   
Thus, John clearly indicates here that (a) the eternal Word was "God" in the fullest sense (hence, he places theos ["God"] in emphatic position) and (b) John purposely presents theos as anarthrous, that is, he does not include the definite article ("the") before theos as in John 1:1b (speaking of the Father). Hence, theos is *qualitative* pointing to the Word's nature as fully God, not His identity. Qualitative nouns refer to description, not identification (cf. John 1:14; 4:24; 1 John 1:5). For if John had written: "The God was the Word" (ho theos en ho logos) he would have then indicated that the Word was the same God (same Person or identity) as "God" in John 1:1b--the Father!   
Thus, John precludes an indefinite rendering ("a god" as in the NWT) by places theos in the empathic position and safeguards against Modalism (Oneness theology) that asserts Jesus is the Father.  In conclusion: John 1:1 teaches that (a) the Word is eternal (1:1a: In [the] beginning was [en] the Word), (b) the Word is eternally distinct from the Father (1:1b: the Word was with [pros] God), and (c) as to the Word's essential nature, He is God in the fullest sense (1:1c: lit., "God [theos] was the Word").
For more details on John 1:1 and an analysis of the Watchtower's indefinite rendering of theos in John 1:1c ("a god" NWT), see  John 1:1.     
Jesus is called The God (ho theos):    
John 20:28 Thomas said to Jesus (direct address): ho kurios mou kai ho theos mou, lit. "the Lord of me and the God of me" (see the WT's own Greek interlinear called: The Kingdom Interlinear Translation).
Titus 2:13:  The great God and Savior:  tou megalou theou kai soteros hemon Christou Iesou, lit.  the great God and Savior of us Christ Jesus.  Note: in 2 Peter 1:1 is the same grammatical construction (i.e., article-noun-kai-noun): tou theou hemon kai soteros Iesou Christou, lit. "the God of us and Savior Jesus Christ" (cf. 2 Peter 1:11; 2:20; 3:2, 18; 2 Thess. 1:12; see Gk.).  See here for more details on Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1.  
Hebrews 1:8:  But of the Son He [the Father] says,  YOUR THRONE, O GOD IS FOREVER AND EVER. . . .  (ho thronos sou ho theos, lit.  the throne of you the God).
Jesus Absolute claim to BE the I Am  (ego eimi):    
These would be Mark 6:50; John 8:24; 8:28; 8:58; 13:19 (cf. Isa. 43:10; LXX); 18:5; 18:6; and 18:8.
*Why is it important to know and teach that Jesus IS God?: Besides that of John 4:24; 17:3 and 1 John 2:23, Jesus declares in John 8:24:  
Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I Am He [ego eimi], you will die in your sins [note:  "He" is not in the Gk.]. See Jesus Christ: The Eternal Ego Eimi, ego eimi, "I Am" for expanded details on the "I Am" affirmations made by Jesus.    
*See also: John 1:18; Rom. 9:5; Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 2:9 (theotetos); Heb. 1:3; 1 John 5:20; Rev. 5:13-14 [The Trinity: One God revealed in three distinct coequal, coeternal, coexistent Persons].    
Simpler But Just as Effective Arguments:    
The following is also something that I've used often from the back of our own Shepherd's Catechism.  The sections in bold and blue are relevant to discussions with JWs:    
God the Father - To Timothy, my beloved son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.  (2 Tim. 1:2)    Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:2)    
God the Son - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  (John 1:1  The Word, Jesus Christ is called  God. )    Jesus said to them,  Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.    (John 8:58  Jesus identifies Himself as Yahweh of the Old Testament.)    For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.   (John 5:18  Jesus calling God His own Father identified Him as being divine and one in essence with God the Father.)    . . . of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.   (NKJ Romans 9:5  Paul is calling Jesus the eternally blessed God)    . . looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus . .   (Titus 2:13  Paul calling Jesus the Great God and Savior)    I am the Alpha and the Omega,  says the Lord God,  who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.    (Revelation 1:8  God is identified as the Alpha and Omega.)    When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying,  Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.  (Revelation 1:17-18  The  first and the last  was  dead, and behold,  He is  alive forevermore. )    I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.   (Revelation 22:13  The Alpha and Omega  identified here is the Lord God  according to Revelation 1:8, but here in 22:13 He is identified as being the same Person as  the first and the last,  which is Jesus according to Revelation 1:17.  **Therefore Jesus is one and the same being as  the Alpha and the Omega  and  the Lord God of 1:8, and the first and the last who was dead, and behold is alive forevermore.)  
God the Holy Spirit - But Peter said,  Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4  While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.   (Acts 5:3-4  You can only lie to persons and this person is called  God. )    Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.  (2 Corinthians 3:17  The Holy Spirit is referred to here as  Lord , indicating the deity of the Spirit.)    The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,  (Romans 8:16  Only persons testify or bear witness, thus indicating the personhood of the Holy Spirit).    In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  (Romans 8:26-27  The Holy Spirit in this passage is referred to as interceding for us, and the Spirit also has a  mind.   Only persons can intercede for others and only persons can have a  mind  thus indicating the personhood of the Holy Spirit.)      

IN CONCLUSION, the above information is useful for both the advanced exegete who has knowledge of the original languages as well as the person who doesn't know a lick of Greek.  The problem is that learning the above information takes work.  However, we must be willing to do more for the truth than what most dedicated cultists like the JWs are willing to do for a lie.    

HT:  Alpha and Omega Ministries for the above illustration.

Undesigned coincidences

Tim McGrew writes the following:

Some of you have expressed an interest in hearing my Easter Sunday radio interview on undesigned coincidences as evidence for the reliability of the Gospels. That interview is now online. Go to

and click on "Podcasts" -- it should start playing automatically, and this week it's at the top of the queue. Later it will be pushed down in the list (the most recent episode is always at the top), but it should be there long-term.


BTW, the MP3 is available for download here.

HT: Steve.

The Oral Character of Early Christian Writings Undermines Yet Another Key Contention of Roman Claims for the Papacy

Scott Hahn makes a big deal of it. Noting that R.T. France is “one of the top evangelical New Testament scholars in the world,” Hahn makes the assertion that
"Jesus' … blessing is given to Peter alone. The other disciples may have shared his insight but Peter, characteristically expressed it. Matthew often illustrates Peter's place at the head of the disciples' group. He was the spokesman, the pioneer, the natural leader." He goes on to talk about how Peter is referenced to the Rock. France says, "It describes not so much Peter's character, that is the Rock. He did not prove to be rock-like in terms of stability or reliability but rather the name Rock or Peter points to his function as the foundation stone of Jesus' Church."

This is a non-Catholic. This is an Evangelical Protestant who has absolutely no interest in supporting the Church's claims but he says, "The term Peter, Rock, points to Simon and not his character because he could be very unstable, but rather his official function as the foundation stone of Jesus' Church. The word-play is unmistakable." He says, "It is only Protestant over-reaction to the Roman Catholic claim, of course, which has no foundation in the text, that what is here said of Peter applies also to the later Bishops of Rome." In other words France is saying, "We can't apply this to the Popes, the later Bishops of Rome." … France is very candid in saying, "Look, it's only because we Protestants have over-reacted to the Catholic Church that we are not frank and sincere in admitting the fact that Peter is the Rock. He is the foundation stone upon which Jesus is going to build the Church."
Here is one of France’s justifications for his conclusion:
A second escape route, beloved especially by those who wish to refute the claims of the Roman Catholic Church based on the primacy of Peter as the first pope, is to assert that the foundation rock is not Peter himself, but the faith in Jesus as Messiah which he has just declared. If that was what Jesus intended, he has chosen his words badly, as the wordplay points decisively toward Peter, who whom personally he has just given the name, as the rock, and there is nothing in his statement to suggest otherwise. Even more bizarre is the supposition that Jesus, having declared Simon to be Petros, then pointed instead to himself when he said the words “this rock” (“The Gospel of Matthew,” R.T. France, Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, U.K.: William B.Eerdmans Publishing Company, ©2007, pg622).
Now, sometimes even “top evangelical New Testament scholars” need a whack on the back of the head. There is no question that Peter was important. But many notable patristic interpretations of this verse hold that “this rock” was not Peter, but rather, Peter’s confession. Among others, Augustine said “Upon this rock, said the Lord, I will build my Church. Upon this confession, upon this that you said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer her” (John Rotelle, Ed., The Works of Saint Augustine (New Rochelle: New City, 1993) Sermons, Volume III/7, Sermon 236A.3, p. 48, from here). And following this interpretation, it’s a standard Protestant understanding that “this rock” did not refer to Peter, but rather to Peter’s confession of Jesus as “the son of the Living God”.

But look again at the rationale that Dr. France uses to dismiss the idea that “this Rock” is not Peter. “Even more bizarre is the supposition that Jesus, having declared Simon to be Petros, then pointed instead to himself when he said the words ‘this rock.’”

That’s a dramatic gesture, and while it may or may not have made sense for Jesus to have made those hand gestures, if one understands that first century Palestine was an “oral culture,” and that oral delivery and rhetoric had much more importance in that day than our day, then the hand gestures take on an important new meaning.

The Oral Presentation of Early Writings
France’s notion that it is “bizarre” that Jesus “pointed to himself” (pg 622) is seriously challenged by a deeper understanding of the oral nature of documents written in the first century world. It is highly likely that these documents were intended not for reading in a book – there were not many books in those days – but rather, they were intended for oral presentation.

Texts were written in such a way that they could be presented orally. And so, in Matthew’s Gospel, the image is not “Jesus pointing to himself,” but rather, the hand gestures of the individual who would be delivering the Gospel message, orally, to an assembled group of people (in this case, “the church”).

Such a focus on orality sheds light on the odd grammatical structure of the sentence (Matthew 16:18) which shifts from the second person (“you are Peter”) to the third person (“and on this rock”).

Carolyn Osiek, in her study “The Oral World of Early Christianity in Rome: The Case of Hermas” (from Karl P. Donfried and Peter Richardson, eds, “Judaism and Christianity in First-Century Rome” Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company ©1998), notes that
”Studies of the implications of orality and literacy in the ancient world continue to multiply, but few have been applied to Christian literature except in the study of the development of oral tradition, and then primarily to certain canonical texts, notably the Gospel of Mark. Moreover, the corresponding characteristics of oral and literate thinking continue to be the object of study by social scientists, and these studies are becoming more and more nuanced. The ongoing interest in literacy and orality in the ancient world has been reflected in biblical studies largely in the form of interest in the transmission of oral tradition. It is now clear, for instance, that in the case of an oral teacher such as Jesus there was no ‘original form’ of his sayings, even during his lifetime, for oral teaching is necessarily contextual, adapted in each situation to a different audience.” The concern here is not about the transmission of oral tradition, but about oral thought processes, oral performance, and the social implications of orality and literacy (155-56).
While this study of the rhetorical characteristics of early Christian documents is new, it sheds light on the contentions over the genuine meaning of “this rock” in Matthew 16:18.

France himself (“Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher” Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, originally © 1989 Paternoster Press) noted that the Gospel of Matthew contains “repeated formulae which may function as structural markers…. Such repetitions sometimes serve to alert the reader to points of comparison between different characters in the story” (128-129). “So much of the material, particularly the teaching material, is grouped in symmetrical structures, often marked out by repeated words or phrases. The effect is to make this gospel a suitable quarry for blocks of material for easy memorization” (130). “In the overall progression of the narrative, and in the selection of material for insertion in this part of the gospel it seems clear to me that Matthew is operating with a clear sense of dramatic progression” (138).

In his 2007 commentary on Matthew, France does not make the connection between the dramatic qualities of the Gospel and the likely oral presentation of it. But in a 2007 Hermenia Commentary on the Letter to the Romans (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press), Robert Jewett goes into much detail of the “rhetorical” structure of Romans and the likely method of its oral delivery:
With the exception of the greetings at the end of Romans, the letter displays a wide range of stylistic features that would have made the hearing very engaging when the letter was declaimed in the early congregations. In the analysis section of each chapter there is an account of such devices. There are far too many for an exhaustive listing here (30).
These include various kinds of parallelisms, anaphora, antistrophes, chiasms, applied to “series of tens”, “series of fives,” “series of sevens,” “series of threes”.
The discovery of the remarkable array of stylistic and organizational devices in Romans calls attention to the crucial importance of the oral delivery to the various congregations in Rome. In view of the fact that ancient letters in Greek were written without spaces between words or punctuation, the discernment of the numerical sequences and other stylistic features would have been very difficult for anyone reading the letter aloud for the first time. Classical rhetoric taught the techniques of preparing texts for public delivery and for the actual delivery itself, including the tone of voice and gestures suitable for different occasions. In the Greco-Roman world, speaking without notes was preferred, and students were taught to memorize their speeches before delivering them (39-40).
With regard to their inherent rhetorical structure, Romans and Matthew have much in common. Considering that the Gospel of Matthew was not only written with a dramatic structure in mind, but was intended to be presented orally, can provide us with a key insight into an odd grammatical structure that has been at the root of contentions that have lasted for centuries.

If Peter is not “this rock” but rather, a smaller rock, then that has serious ramifications Rome’s already shaky authority structure.

And as France himself concludes,
When the image of a foundation stone is used in relation to the Christian church elsewhere in the NT, that stone is Jesus himself, not Peter, as in 1 Cor 3:10-11 (where Christ is the foundation, and Paul’s apostolic work merely the superstructure) and 1 Pet 2:4-8 (which, if written by Peter himself, is particularly telling!). But Eph 2:20 expands the metaphor to a corporate foundation of “the apostles and prophets,” with Christ as the cornerstone, and in Rev 21:14 the names of the twelve apostles are inscribed on the twelve foundations of the heavenly city (622).
Paul himself states clearly in 1 Corinthians 10:4: “the Rock was Christ,” in the Old Testament, in the New Testament. And the oral character of the Gospels and other writings helps to clarify an understanding that Rome, in defense of its supposed authority, has muddied up for centuries.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Abimelek the Puppet and Arminianism's Unloving God

Gen. 20:3 But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”

4 Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? 5 Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.”

6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her."

Poor Abimelek probably thought he freely refrained from touching her, thought that he could have touched her but didn't. Abimelek might have even thought his future regarding Sarah was a garden of forking paths. His common sense belief didn't match reality, though; in fact, he ceased to be a moral agent at this moment. At this moment God ontologically changed Abimelek's flesh into felt, securing strings on him, and controlling him via "meticulous, anal retentive providence." At this moment, Abimelek became a puppet.

What's more unfortunate for some theologies is that it appears God can keep people from sinning without creating a "massively different world" from what we see now. Either he violated Abimelek's libertarian free will doing what he did, or he did not. If he did, he was able to do so conspicuously (contrary to the claim of some Arminian apologists). If he did not, then why doesn't the Arminian God do this more often? He can keep Abimelek from sinning against God and from touching Sarah while not keeping David Westerfield from sinning against God and from touching Danielle van Dam? Did God love Sarah more than Danielle? Did he like Abimelek more than Westerfield? What love is this!?

"The Outsider Test for Faith: How Serious a Challenge Is It?"

Shepherds, wolves, and lost sheep

Pastor Lane has responded to some recent posts of mine. I’ll make a few comments:

i) One problem is that Lane has recast the issue in terms of civility, but that’s not the issue, and that’s not how I framed the issue. Indeed, it trivializes the issue.

One of my objections is when a shepherd can’t tell the difference between a lost sheep and a wolf. 

If, say, Stephen Young (to take one example) were a confused college student suffering a crisis of faith, that would be a question of pastoral theology. And that would be something to best address in private email.

But Young is a seminary grad with a hardened position. And he’s on a mission to recruit others to his cause. That’s a question of polemical theology.

Reed and Paige act as if Young is an honest truth-seeker, on a common quest. They go out of their way to impute pure motives to him. Paige, in particular, acts as if it’s just an innocent misunderstanding on his part. 

There’s no suggestion in their responses that his view of Scripture is culpable. Not just intellectually wrong, but morally wrong.

But belief has an ethical dimension as well as an intellectual dimension. It’s our duty to believe revealed truth and disbelieve falsehood. That’s an obligation we owe to God. An intellectual virtue, accentuating both the moral and cognitive aspects of belief.

ii) Lane says “Stephen Young has been interacting in a respectful way with us confessionalists.”

Well, of course. Young is trawling for new recruits. Naturally he’s on his best behavior at GB. That’s part of the sales pitch.

I wouldn’t expect him to say on GB what he might feel free to say on Art Boulet’s blog (which, not coincidentally, is now an invitation-only blog).

That’s a softening-up tactic he shares in common with Called to Confusion. As long as you sound polite, that will disarm the opposition. The opposition will lower its guard.

I don’t expect the wolf to bare his teeth right away. That’s why a savvy wolf dresses up as dear old grandma. Who’s afraid of a sweet old lady in tennis shoes, with a plate of cookies?

But I think I’ve said everything I plan to say on this issue.