Saturday, May 28, 2011

God works all things according to his will

Does this passage present a dilemma for Arminians?

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11).

If, on the one hand, God “works” and “wills” “all things,” then doesn’t that make God the “author of sin”?

If, on the other hand, God only works and wills some things (i.e. good things), not all things (i.e. both good and evil things), then they admit that “all” really means some. But that deep-sixes their prooftexts for unlimited atonement. 

Is Mother Church senile?

According to Craig Blaising, who cites two monographs to support his claim, supersessionism was the mainstream position throughout most church history. Cf. See Stephen G. Wilson, ed., Anti-Judaism in Early Christianity, vol. 2, Separation and Polemic (Studies in Christianity and Judaism 2; Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1986)); R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996). Michael J. Vlach seems to agree.

I haven’t investigated the issue myself, so I don’t have a personal opinion on the historical question. But assuming that supersessionism was the mainstream position throughout most church history, that raises the question of whether Mother Church is getting forgetful in her dotage: 

The Flood, Regret, and Universalism

What Moses meant to write

Genesis 6

Wickedness in the World

5 The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8* But I have planned from all eternity to spend eternity with them, refusing to allow any to be lost to my love; so after I wipe them out I will bring them into heaven with me, after they spend a short stint in purgatorial hell. I regret making them and so I will quickly bring all of them into my presence forever! Noah, my one righteous servant, will need to stay on earth and suffer the effects of the fall and all the heartache of living life in a fallen world, for he is my faithful servant. He will suffer down there while I rejoice in bliss with those I regretted making up here (after they spend a stint in a remedial hell). Thus sayeth the LORD.

Citations from St. Paul--evidence for the early dating of the Gospels

Is America a Christian nation?

It’s popular in some religious circles to deny that America is, or ever was, a Christian nation. Various statistics and cultural phenomena are cited to bolster this denial.

The denial is frequently accompanied by a contrast between the decadent secularized United States and the theocratic nation-state of ancient Israel.

However, one can imagine a pious Israelite saying the same thing about ancient Israel. He could argue that Israel was never a religious state, or Jewish state. He could point out that most of his contemporaries are nominal Jews. Many of them dabble in the occult. Ape the idolatries of their pagan neighbors. Are morally corrupt.

For that matter, you could just as well deny that the church either is or ever was a Christian body. The church has always been a mixed multitude. The faithful few have always been…few.  

Then you have Nietzsche’s quip that “The last Christian died on the cross.”

I’m not claiming that America is a Christian nation. Rather, I’m pointing out that the criteria used to deny the Christian identity of the US are so utopian that nothing short of the new Jerusalem would pass the test. If perfectionism is the standard, isn’t that pretty vacuous? 

Male headship

I assume most 2-k proponents believe that what the Bible teaches about male headship precludes women in the pastorate. On the other hand, I assume they wouldn’t oppose women in positions of power in the common sphere.

That, however, generates some striking conundra:

i) To begin with, modern-day pastors don’t wield any real authority, if we define authority as the power to make people do things. A pastor can’t force his parishioners to do anything they don’t wish to do. At most he can excommunicate them.

By contrast, women in high governmental positions (to take one example) do wield coercive authority over men and women who fall under their jurisdiction. They can fine you, fire you, or jail you if you flout their directives.

So it’s ironic if a 2k proponent says male headship only applies in the spiritual kingdom, but not in the civil kingdom. For it’s in the civil kingdom that subverting that principle has real teeth.

ii) Moreover, if the Bible teaches that male headship is a creational ordinance, then that’s not confinable to the spiritual kingdom.

It may only be taught in Scripture, but Scripture is teaching a general truth that carries general force in church and state alike.

Of course, you have egalitarians who reject the principle, but I’m dealing with 2k proponents who accept the principle.   


Jason has been comparing and contrasting dreams with NDEs. Heavenly and hellish NDEs. Normal and paranormal dreams.

Just as there can be hellish NDEs, there can be hellish dreams. Here’s an anecdote recorded by the widow of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, when her husband was pastoring a church in a Welsh mining town:

Only once do I remember hearing him [William Nobes] speak and that was truly an occasion to be remembered. It was at the Fellowship Meeting…[when] he told us the story of his conversion.
He said little about his early days…And then, with his youth behind him, when he was well on to middle age, he had a dream. The horror of that dream was real to him yet, and he managed, in the hush of that meeting, to involve us, too, in the horror of it. In his dream he was hanging over a flaming inferno, helpless and frantic. Above him and almost obstructing the opening of the pit was an enormous ball, like a great globe, and he found himself trying to climb up the roundness of this ball to get away from the heat of the flames below, and out into the clean, cool air above. Sometimes he would make two or three feet, sometimes more, at times only two or three inches.
Once he thought he had really got over the widest part of the ball, but in spite of all his efforts and his mounting fear and agony, the result was always the same–he would fail to keep his hold, fail to make another inch, fail to keep what ground he had gained, and in helpless weakness slide and slither back along that fearsome slope, to find himself back where he had started.
This seemed to go on for an eternity, and then at last, all hope gone, and hanging over the open jaws of hell, he looked up once more at the light above him and uttered one great despairing cry and there was a face in that light looking down at him, full of love and pity, and a hand reached down and grasped his, and drew him up out of all the horror below him and stood him on the firm sweet earth and in the pure clear air…From then on he walked before the Lord in love and thankfulness.

Bethan Lloyd-Jones, Memories of Sandfields (Banner of Trust 1983), 61-63.

Dream-Like Aspects Of Near-Death Experiences

I've said that near-death experiences (NDEs) are different than dreams in some ways, but similar in others. In this post, I want to discuss some of the similarities.

I'll begin, however, by noting that NDEs and dreams are mostly different. Chris Carter writes, "In one study, 94.7 percent of respondents stated that their NDE was not like a dream, but was very real (Ring 1980, 82-83)." (Science And The Near-Death Experience [Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2010], note on p. 176) I've mentioned some of the differences in previous posts. For example, NDEs tend to involve heightened senses, such as sight and hearing, rather than senses that are diminished. NDEs tend to be more orderly. They're about subjects related to death and an afterlife, suggesting that the experiencer is aware of his context, as opposed to the wide diversity of contexts addressed in dreams. Beings encountered in NDEs generally seem to be appropriate in their setting, unlike many dreams, and they seem to behave in ways that make more sense.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Our speech has a moral texture

From Paul Helm:
N.T. Wright's answer in a question and answer session to a question about hell is an object lesson in evasion. Trevin Wax and Carl Trueman have had interesting and appropriate things to say about it, but neither has noted publicly how Dr Wright conducts himself in giving the interview.
Read the rest here.

What's Dispensationalism?

Since the issue of dispensationalism recently cropped up at Tblog, it's useful to have an exposition from the horse's mouth. Here's a precis:“dispensationalism”-part-1/“dispensationalism”-part-2/

And here's a representative article:;col1

Were Mary and Joseph allowed to rub noses?

Here’s one of those deep urgent questions in moral theology that members of the One True Church® tussle over.

HT: James Swan

I decided to hold a séance to see if I could get some expert advice. St. Alphonsus de Liguori told me that Mary and Joseph were allowed to kiss on condition that Mary wear a veil to prevent their lips from coming into direct contact.

But Francisco Suárez demurred, assuring me that Mary and Joseph were only allowed to rub noses. I was about to ask the Blessed Cardinal Newman when my medium suffered a fit of hiccups and had to sever the uplink. 

When communications are restored, I also plan to ask if Mary and Joseph were allowed to hold hands–with or without gloves.


In this post I’m not going to adjudicate the pros and cons of supersessionism. Instead, I’m going to discuss crucial ambiguities in the debate. Fact is, we can’t evaluate a position until we’re clear on what the position represents.

I. What replaces what?

A popular synonym for supersessionism is replacement theology. And that synonym raises a question: what replaces what?

A simple formulation is to say the “church” replaces “Israel.” However, that claim doesn’t mean very much unless we define the key terms.

Does it mean one people-group (i.e. Gentiles) replace another people-group (ethnic Jews) in God’s program? But it can’t be that simple.

i) On the one hand, Gentiles could already convert to Judaism under the Mosaic covenant.

ii) On the other hand, God has elect Jews in the church age. Messianic Jews. They, too, belong to the church.

Does “Israel” stand for the Mosaic covenant? Perhaps. But that raises the hotly contested issue of how much carryover there is between the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant.

Moreover, even if you think the Mosaic covenant was abrogated in toto, that still leaves open the question of how the Abrahamic covenant is fulfilled.

Does “Israel” stand for the theocratic nation-state of ancient Israel? Perhaps.

But the degree of continuity or discontinuity depends on your eschatology. Dispies believe that God will reinstate a Davidic theocracy during the millennium. Christ will reign both in and from Jerusalem.

By contrast, amils believe that in the New Jerusalem, the entire world will be a theocracy. God will dwell with his people on the new earth. God will reign over his people.

In that sense, there will be a reinstated theocracy. A global theocracy.

Of course, one sense in which the Mosaic covenant is obsolete is the termination of the Mosaic cultus to atone for sin. That’s behind us, not before us.

II. The Church

Ironically, supersessionism and dispensationalism share a key assumption: the new covenant inaugurates the church.

In supercessionism, Israel and the church represent two successive, disjunctive stages in redemptive history. Israel is phased out when the church is phased in.

In traditional Reformed theology, by contrast, the church comprises the people of God throughout all ages. You don’t have two different entities (Israel, the church) which represent respective stages in redemptive history. Rather, the same entity (the church) goes passes through various stages throughout the course of redemptive history.

On that definition, supersessionism is moot. For supersessionism accepts a necessary condition which traditional Calvinism rejects.

Of course, we can debate the pros and cons of traditional Reformed ecclesiology on this point, but for now I’m merely drawing attention crucial ambiguities in the debate.

III. Fulfillment in Christ

Supersessionism says the promises God made to Israel were fulfilled in Christ. And, of course, there’s a fundamental sense in which that’s true.

However, that doesn’t resolve the issue. Although the promises are fulfilled in Christ, they are not fulfilled for Christ. Christ is not the direct beneficiary. Rather, he fulfills the promises on behalf of his people. They are the beneficiaries. So who are his people, and what benefits accrue to his people?

IV. Promise/fulfillment

There is more than one way in which one thing may fulfill another.

i) A shell fulfills its purpose by protecting what’s inside (i.e. the seed, the chick) until what’s inside has matured to the point where it can survive outside the shell.

In supersessionism, Israel is like the protective shell or cocoon during the gestation phase of redemptive history. But once the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, the chrysalis has served its purpose.

ii) However, fulfillment can also take the form of restoration. You can be unfulfilled if you need something you never had, yet you can also be unfulfilled if you had something you need but no longer have. On this definition, fulfillment is a type of restoration or renewal. Promised restoration.

The Bible contains many restoration motifs: lost and found, exile and return, disease and healing, apostasy and restoration, blindness/sightedness, old Eden/new Eden, old Jerusalem/new Jerusalem, old Mt. Zion/new Mt. Zion, rebirth, resurrection, reunion, and remnant theology.

Indeed, that’s the basic narrative underlying the story of salvation, viz. leaving home, returning home.

The parable of the prodigal son is a classic example. What has changed is not so much home, but the traveler. The journey changes the traveler. The outward motion of leaving home enriches the inward motion of coming home.

In a sense, what he comes back to is the same, but he is different. Time away from home was a maturing experience. A refining process.

This is not enough to disprove supersessionism. It does, however, present an alternative definition of fulfillment. Whether that’s true, false, or a just half-truth in reference to the fate of Israel demands more argument. But it’s something we need to explore. 

Men, We Were Made to Move

I am forty years old and can easily do a dozen handstand pushups (BTW, handstand pushups against a wall is the absolute best upper body exercise for overall shoulder strength; not to mention that it also hits your triceps, upper back, and core). I also do dips, pullups, and hindu squats. All four bodyweight exercises are performed once a week in a high intensity 45 minute workout. I also run hard a couple of times a week in 10 minute bursts.

But. That is not enough to compensate for my sedentary work as I have learned recently. I need to diversify my physical activities as this article cogently demonstrates:

Disclaimer: I have the conviction that if someone performs more than one high intensity workout a week it is overtraining ("high intensity" properly defined by its original definition, e.g. Mike Mentzer). The point I am making is that the linked article above contends that we should be performing regular moving-activities throughout the day to break up the sedentary lifestyle that many of us bookworms possess.

“The Question of Truth lies at the Centre of Theology” – by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Part 1

[Subtitle: “But ‘Tradition,’ that ever-so-malleable ace-in-the-hole we possess, allows us to mold historical fact into whatever form we need it to be.”]

This is published on the EWTN site. It is an address given by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, speaking in his official capacity as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the “Holy Office” and earlier, “the Inquisition”):
The symposium on “The Primacy of the Successor of Peter”, sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, opened on Monday, 2 December 1996, with an address by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Congregation’s Prefect Here is a translation of his talk, which was given in Italian.
1. In carrying out its task of promoting the doctrine of faith and morals throughout the Catholic world, the Congregation wishes to encourage studies aimed at increasing understanding of the faith and answering, always in the light of faith, new problems arising from advances in knowledge and theological research.
In other words, “history has thrown us a curveball”.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Red rapture

Not to be outdone by second or third rate eschaton hacks such as Harold Camping, William Miller, Ellen White, Mother Shipton, Joseph Smith, Charles Smyth, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Branch Davidians, the Children of God, the Mayans, Sun Myung Moon, Shoko Asahara, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Alfred Schmielewski Narayana, Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson's followers, Nostradamus, Paul Smirnov, Benny Hinn, Edgar Cayce, Peter Ruckman, Pat Robertson, Jack van Impe, Hal Lindsey, everyone else in When Time Shall Be No More, the Democratic National Convention, the United Nations, Al Gore, the heterosexual AIDS fear mongers, John Gribbin, Stephen Plagemann, George Kukla, Paul Ehrlich, Gloria Steinem, Naomi Wolf, Oprah, and R.E.M., we've decided to unveil our own apocalyptic scenario which, like our tagline, takes its cue from the Book of Revelation: "The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east" (Rev 16:12).

(Design courtesy of Matthew Schultz.)


TELEVISION: Oprah says goodbye for now to her followers, but vows to return again someday from the clouds to take them with her.
HT: Charles Sebold.

Dispensationalism and covenantalism

I don’t normally comment on dispensationalism. However, recent discussion regarding the modern state of Israel has raised the issue. Since my own arguments were primarily ethical, historical, and geostrategic rather than theological, my position on dispensationalism is tangential to the immediate dispute.

However, the relationship between covenant theology and dispensationalism is worth discussing in its own right. This is a multifaceted issue.

The “Herman-ator”

The Herman-ator Gains Steam
To know Herman Cain is to love Herman Cain.

In the latest Gallup survey of the potential Republican presidential field, the Atlanta businessman and former conservative radio host registered the most passionate support of any candidate in the race. His “positive intensity” score — in other words, the people who like him — is nearly twice as high as the average for the rest of his likely rivals.

The downside: Only about a third of those polled actually know who he is.

Mr. Cain, who is black, drew thousands of supporters to a weekend rally in Atlanta to formally announce his bid, quoting Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech to make the case that a win would be the ultimate vindication for the Civil Rights leader.

To the Jew first

All of the following material is from Rev. Fred Klett who in turn cites other Reformed sources or authors.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Historical and cultural context

R. T. France (“The Gospel of Mark” Grand Rapids, MI, Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company © 2002):
The historical and cultural context of first-century Palestine is probably better appreciated by the world of NT scholarship these days than it has ever been previously in modern times, partly through the discovery of new material, but chiefly through the greater readiness of NT scholars to explore and benefit from what has long been available to them in Jewish and (to a lesser extent) classical studies. The result has been an impressive (though not, of course, unanimous) drawing together of data from a wide range of sources to help us see Jesus more as the people of his own time may have seen him (from the Introduction, pgs 2-3).

Hopeful Universalism, and then some

Currently, the debate over "hopeful universalism" seems simplistic. The only issue considered is this:

[HU] All Christians should at least hope that universalism is true.

Universalism here means the view that all people will eventually be reconciled to God, some only after serving some time in a purgatorial, rehabilitative hell. Call this UR, universal reconciliation.

The idea is that [HU] is the moral high ground, Christians who don't hope for UR are morally deficient. It's the proper thing to do. Moreover, if one believes that the Bible teaches that there is a hell and some people will be in it forever, these people should at least hope that they've misunderstood the Bible on this matter.

But on this assumption, shouldn't those who push the above claim push other states of affairs to hope for?

For example, the above ad hominem (not in a fallacious sense) argument against traditionalists without the hope in UR can be applied to other areas, like:

  • Hope that no human who has or will ever exist spends any time in hell? Universalist Robin Parry writes,
    "Historically all Christian universalists have had a doctrine of hell and that remains the case for most Christian universalists today, including Bell. The Christian debate does not concern whether hell will be a reality (all agree that it will) but, rather, what the nature of that reality will be. Will it be eternal conscious torment? Will it be annihilation? Or will it be a state from which people can be redeemed? Most universalists believe that hell is not simply retributive punishment but a painful yet corrective/educative state from which people will eventually exit (some, myself included, think it has a retributive dimension, while others do not)."
    But shouldn't we at least hope that no human will have to spend any time in this "painful" place? Surely it would be better for them to go straight into heaven. Shouldn't universalists hope they're wrong even about their own conception of hell?
  • Hope that pluralism (all roads lead to heaven) is true? Since it would be more probable that more people would go straight to heaven without spending any time in hell if pluralism were true, shouldn't we hope for it? Hope we've misread the exclusivist passages?
  • Hope that the OT reports of harem warfare are myths, and thus hope that inerrancy is false? Shouldn't we at least hope we've read those passages wrong and Israel never killed thousands of men, women, children, and animals?
  • Hope that the story of the flood is a myth? Same reasons as above.
  • Hope that the story of the sin of Achan is false? Achan sinned, and his family and livestock were burned and stoned. Shouldn't we hope this didn't happen? Hope we have misunderstood the text at least?
  • Hope that the story of Samson is false? Hope we've misread about an all-knowing God giving Samson his strength to bring down the Philistine temple and kill many more in his death than in his life?
  • Hope that Old Earth Creationism, with all the millions of years of animal death, is false? Doesn't YEC have millions less cases of animal and human death and suffering? Isn't this better? If a loving God could have avoided millions of cases of death and suffering, wouldn't he? YEC would be one way to achieve this.
These are just some examples. Shouldn't those who push [HU] also push the above? Aren't those who at least hope that the above isn't the case more pious or moral than those who don't? Aren't the same reasons for why all Christians should at least hope for UR applicable to the above?

TFan handicaps debate

Instant-expert syndrome

Steve Hays provides yet another response (“Dupes for Hamas”) to our exchange. I’d love to continue to respond to his questions (e.g. discussing such events as Deir Yassin massacre...

Once again, Jamin unwittingly illustrates what’s so wrongheaded with his approach. His gullibility. His one-sidedness.

He suffers from instant-expert syndrome. That’s why Manata had to correct his excursions into logic, as well as his excursions into Molinism.

What about the so-called “Deir Yassin massacre”? The difficulty in assessing this case is that we’re confronted with conflicting accounts. To take a few examples:

You have biased Arab sources and biased Jewish sources, so who’s right and who’s wrong?

Is Jamin qualified to sift the evidence? Does Jamin know modern Hebrew and Arabic? Does Jamin have access to the primary sources? Has Jamin been to the site? Has Jamin interviewed survivors? Has he combed through archives? 

If Jamin were prudent, he’d suspend judgment. He has no expertise to properly investigate and evaluate this incident. But he doesn't know his limitations. 

And it is by all means clear that Steve does not want to (and perhaps, because he cannot) provide a positive case for his own position, let alone summarize in this part we realize that Steve has no interest in talking about the fundamental issues of present-day Israel and Christian theology.

I realize that it’s in Jamin’s self-interest to change the subject, but the thesis of my initial post was very modest and narrowly-targeted. So, no, I don’t have to chase Jamin down diversionary rabbit trails.  

The Best of William Lane Craig Debates

Recently, Reasonable Faith has released a set of DVDs of William Lane Craig's best debates in two volumes. Visit this link for more information.

On that website each volume is going for $97.00 (since this item is so new, I have not found it listed anywhere else, including Amazon). I have two brand new copies of each volume, and I am selling each for $70.00. I will also include free shipping to anyone who buys volume 1 and 2 (and again, I have two copies of each volume, meaning I have two volume 1s and two volume 2s). Otherwise shipping is an additional $5 dollars.

These DVD sets are brand new, unopened. I am selling them because I need to finance my graduate education, and while it would be nice to have these in the collection, I need money more than I need DVDs.

Please contact dogfreid @ gmail . com if you're interested. I will accept paypal or check payments, but if you prefer to pay with a check, I won't ship until the check clears.


Jude & 1 Timothy

Jude’s fourth “text” section in this epistle [Jude 14] is not an allusion to ancient biblical narrative…but rather a direct quotation from 1 En 1:9. Jude cites the full text in this and the next verse.

G. Green, Jude & 2 Peter (Baker 2008), 101.

It is not possible to know how Paul came by the saying [1 Tim 5:18]. The exact correspondence with the Lukan saying [Lk 10:7] has of course suggested to some that the “Paul” of this letter wrote at a time late enough to have had access to Luke’s Gospel in some form or other…But if a written source is required by the exact verbal correspondence, surely it is sufficient to posit by this time various written collections of the sayings of Jesus had begun to circulate, and that Paul had access to the version that Luke eventually consulted.

P. Towner, The Letters of Timothy and Titus (Eerdmans 2006), 366-67.

Both Green and Towner reflect common scholarly explanations. However, it’s odd that scholars routinely attribute Jude 14 to 1 Enoch whereas they routinely attribute 1 Tim 5:18 to a free-floating tradition which Luke and 1 Timothy coincidentally appropriate. In one case, literary dependence is assumed, while in the other case, literary independence is assumed.

But it’s not obvious to me on what basis they distinguish one from the other. If one is a free-floating tradition, why not the other? If one is a direct quote, why not the other?

The Goracle

"The Status of Israel"

Dupes for Hamas

Just read them both and ask yourself, Is Steve really interested in talking about Middle-Eastern conflict and present day Israel on his blog? Or is he giving more energy to the less substantive issues – even while admitting that they are less substantive?

After I did my initial post, Jamin is the one who decided to switch to “less substantive issues” by going on a paranoid rant about how I was out to get him.

And is he giving weight to the main points (numbered, and/or bold so people wouldn’t miss them; another fail) of my last post, or is he dodging simple questions…

It’s a common tactic for one’s opponent to control the debate by trying to frame the debate in terms favorable to his own position. So, no, it’s not incumbent on me to acquiesce to Jamin’s slanted framework.

Keeping tabs

Historical Revisionism in Rome’s official story of the Papacy

In my previous two blog posts, I provided a brief look at “historical criticism,” and how this predominantly liberal and skeptical practice has (a) despite its efforts, strongly confirmed the life of Jesus and the integrity of the New Testament and (b) wreaked havoc on the story that Roman Catholicism had for centuries told about the papacy.

I’m going to assume that most readers here understand the material at that first link (that the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and the integrity of the New Testament have been largely confirmed in the face of liberal skepticism).

On the other hand, I’m going to take some time, Lord willing, and expand now on the utter destruction that historical criticism has wrought on what the papacy had for centuries taught about itself. Adrian Fortescue (1874-1923), a Roman Catholic priest, scholar, and contributor to the Old Catholic Encyclopedia (1907–1913), and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (b. 1927, now Pope Benedict XVI) have been so kinds as to provide us with bookends, so to speak, about what was being taught during the 20th century about the early papacy.

In 1920, Fortescue wrote a work entitled, The Early Papacy: to the Synod of Chalcedon in 451, in which he sought to prove that “we have all the evidence we can require that the Catholic Church in the first four and a half centuries did believe what we [in 1920] believe about the papacy.” There is a bravado in Fortescue that historical criticism hasn’t yet ripped to shreds.

But by the time Ratzinger writes in the 1990s, there is an absolute failure to reiterate any of the claims that Fortescue so boldly makes. This lack of reiteration by Ratzinger (especially in his role as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was previously known both as “the Inquisition” and “the Holy Office”) – is a tacit, but official disavowal of Fortescue’s bravado.

It is, in fact, an official articulation of a concession first made by John Henry Newman, that Fortescue was wrong, and that the early church did not in any way have a conscious understanding of the things that Fortescue was articulating.

Core Beliefs About the Papacy
Like Ogres and onions, beliefs about the papacy consist in layers. In making his bold claim, Fortescue gives four “things to be believed” – things that the Roman church believed about the papacy in 1920, which he says, the ancient church also believed. These are
1. The pope is the chief bishop, primate, and leader of the whole Church of Christ on earth. “This is the first, the least claim. To a great extent it is admitted by most High Church Anglicans, at least in the sense that the Bishop of Rome is the first bishop of Christendom. The Eastern churches, not in communion with us, admit this too.” (40)

2. He has episcopal jurisdiction over all members of the Church. “This is what the First Vatican Council declares, that the Pope has ‘immediate power of jurisdiction, which is really episcopal,” over people of every rite and rank in the Church. It is not, so far, our object to prove any of these principles; first we want to establish what the Catholic thesis is.” (42)

3. To be a member of the Catholic Church, a man must be in communion with the Pope. “This follows from the Pope's universal jurisdiction. It is the one point that the most advanced Anglican cannot concede. If follows also, and more fundamentally, from the visible unity of the Church; this once more, is the root of all difference between us and Anglicans (not the papacy at all). If the Church is one united, visible society, all Catholics must be in communion with one another.” (45)

4. The providential guidance of God will see to it that the Pope shall never commit the Church to error in any matter of religion. “This is the famous ‘infallibility’ of the First Vatican Council.” (47)
More foundational to these four beliefs of Fortescue’s, lies the set of core beliefs that Shotwell and Loomis articulated. Fortescue touches upon these three beliefs, which he assumes to be true, though he dismisses the need to “establish these here” because it “would take too much space (51). In fact, Ratzinger tries (but fails) to provide some sort of “exegetical proof” for these in his work Called to Communion.

This core, first of all, includes the three elements included by Shotwell and Loomis in their work, “The See of Peter”:
First, that Peter was appointed by Christ to be his chief representative and successor at the head of his Church;

Second, that Peter went to Rome and founded the bishopric there;

Third, that his successors succeeded to his prerogatives, and to all the authority implied thereby.
As I noted above, Fortescue simply assumes these more foundational points; his effort, instead, is to prove that the early church “did believe what we [in 1920] believe about the papacy.”

I’ll pick up here next time.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mahericle cures

On the one hand, Bill Maher ridicules Harold Camping.

On the other hand, atheist David Gorski points out:
Bill Maher, comedian and host of the HBO show Real Time With Bill Maher. Thanks to an anti-religion movie (Religulous) and his frequent stance as a "skeptic," many of my fellow skeptics consider him one of our own, even to the point of giving him an award named after Richard Dawkins. Yet, when it comes to medicine, nothing could be further from the truth. Maher's own words show that he has anti-vaccine views, flirts with germ theory denialism and HIV/AIDS denialism, buys into extreme conspiracy theories about big pharma, and promotes animal rights pseudoscience. That's not a skeptic or a supporter of science-based medicine.
More, shall we say, "scientifically incorrect" thoughts from Maher here and here.

BTW, I don't necessarily agree with everything over on SBM. But I cite it to illustrate Maher's own credulous, uninformed, and dogmatic views contra mainstream medical science. Whether or not mainstream medical science is correct, he's not even open to hearing the other side.

Remedial history for Barack Obama

Netanyahu’s address to Congress

New Jersey Bible Institute

Foundations Journal online

Paul Levy over at Reformation21 notes:
Affinity have produced the first online edition of their theological journal Foundations focussing on the Doctrine of Scripture, contributors include Carl Trueman, Hywel Jones, Martin Downes, Greg Beale plus others. Worth a look.

N. T. Wright's wayward compass

Genderless child-rearing

The Rapture That Wasn’t

If resurrections were as thick as blackberries

The relative probability of this or that arrangement of Nature is something which we should have a right to talk about if universes were as plenty as blackberries, if we could put an quantity of them in a bad, shake them well up, draw out a sample, and examine them to see what proportion of them had one arrangement and what proportion another.

There are two reasons why the term “appearance of age” is fallacious. First of all, even as a figure of speech, this term makes no sense when applied to the universe. We might colloquially say that a person “looks 40 years old,” but what do we really mean by this? We do not mean that the age actually has appearance. Rather, we mean that the person has certain physical characteristics that are commonly found in people 40 years of age, and not as commonly in older or younger persons.
But can we say in the same way that the universe “looks a certain age”? Do we mean that when we compare our universe to all the other universes of known age, ours has certain physical characteristics that resemble all those universes of a particular age? Clearly not. As far as we know, the universe is the only one. We do not have any basis for comparison to say how a thousands-of-years-old universe looks different than a billions-of-years-old universe.

[HT: Patrick Chan]

These two statements generate a striking dilemma. On the one hand, the first statement is the type of objection which critics level against probabililistic cosmological and teleological arguments, viz. the strong anthropic principle, fine-tuning argument.

On the other hand, if critics accept Peirce’s principle, then it’s hard to see how they can object to mature creation on inductive/probabilistic grounds. By the same token, it’s hard to see how they can object to the Resurrection on inductive/probabilistic grounds. 


Rhology provides an example to illustrate how difficult it can be to exegete the Quran.

The Islamic concept of abrogation (naskh) doubtless factors into the equation as well:
Those Westerners who manage to pick up a translation of the Quran are often left bewildered as to its meaning thanks to ignorance of a critically important principle of Quranic interpretation known as "abrogation." The principle of abrogation -- al-naskh wa al-mansukh (the abrogating and the abrogated) -- directs that verses revealed later in Muhammad's career "abrogate" -- i.e., cancel and replace -- earlier ones whose instructions they may contradict. Thus, passages revealed later in Muhammad's career, in Medina, overrule passages revealed earlier, in Mecca. The Quran itself lays out the principle of abrogation:
2:106. Whatever a Verse (revelation) do We {Allah} abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring a better one or similar to it. Know you not that Allah is able to do all things?
It seems that 2:106 was revealed in response to skepticism directed at Muhammad that Allah's revelations were not entirely consistent over time. Muhammad's rebuttal was that "Allah is able to do all things" -- even change his mind. To confuse matters further, though the Quran was revealed to Muhammad sequentially over some twenty years' time, it was not compiled in chronological order. When the Quran was finally collated into book form under Caliph Uthman, the suras were ordered from longest to shortest with no connection whatever to the order in which they were revealed or to their thematic content. In order to find out what the Quran says on a given topic, it is necessary to examine the other Islamic sources that give clues as to when in Muhammad's lifetime the revelations occurred. Upon such examination, one discovers that the Meccan suras, revealed at a time when the Muslims were vulnerable, are generally benign; the later Medinan suras, revealed after Muhammad had made himself the head of an army, are bellicose.

This is why exegesis of the Qur'an is often impossible

Surah 4:171 - O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, "Three"; desist - it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs.
4:172 - Never would the Messiah disdain to be a servant of Allah , nor would the angels near [to Him]. And whoever disdains His worship and is arrogant - He will gather them to Himself all together.
4:173 - And as for those who believed and did righteous deeds, He will give them in full their rewards and grant them extra from His bounty. But as for those who disdained and were arrogant, He will punish them with a painful punishment, and they will not find for themselves besides Allah any protector or helper.
4:174 - O mankind, there has come to you a conclusive proof from your Lord, and We have sent down to you a clear light.
4:175 - So those who believe in Allah and hold fast to Him - He will admit them to mercy from Himself and bounty and guide them to Himself on a straight path.
4:176 - They request from you a [legal] ruling. Say, "Allah gives you a ruling concerning one having neither descendants nor ascendants [as heirs]." If a man dies, leaving no child but [only] a sister, she will have half of what he left. And he inherits from her if she [dies and] has no child. But if there are two sisters [or more], they will have two-thirds of what he left. If there are both brothers and sisters, the male will have the share of two females. Allah makes clear to you [His law], lest you go astray. And Allah is Knowing of all things.

(Sahih International translation)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Science v. superstition

It's the end of the world...again

The Jupiter Effect

Brain myths

"Top Ten Myths About the Brain" by Laura Helmuth.

(BTW, I don't necessarily agree with everything in the article.)

Can the Bible Be Completely Inspired by God and Yet Still Contain Errors?

Historical Criticism, Act II: The Early Church

In my previous post, I briefly outlined the intentions and the result of the methodology known as the historical criticism of the Bible, or “the historical-critical method”. With Schreiner, those of us who are conservative Christians may know that two centuries’-worth of historical biblical criticism have only served to confirm our “presupposition” that “a single Mind was orchestrating all of the events that led to the 66-book Canon of Scripture.” The literary and historical evidence in the Bible confirm the divine, θεόπνευστος nature of the Bible.

On the other hand, with respect to the early church – and especially accounts of the early papacy – historical criticism has decimated the story that Roman Catholicism has historically told about the “divine institution” of what is arguably its “perpetual, visible source and foundation” of unity.

A little more than a century after the advent of historical criticism in biblical studies, that same skepticism, that same set of methods was starting to be used in the study of the early church. With respect to the early papacy, however, the result of the historical research does not support the Roman Catholic presuppositions; rather, the “situation”[1] with respect to the papacy has been turned on its head, and in this case, the presuppositions are required to hold onto the papacy, because the historical research does not support the story that Roman Catholicism had for centuries told about the papacy.

President O’Bama in Ireland

From Genesis to Leviticus

Leviticus 8

 1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2"Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments and the anointing oil and the bull of the sin offering and the two rams and the basket of unleavened bread. 3And assemble all the congregation at the entrance of the tent of meeting." 4And Moses did as the LORD commanded him, and the congregation was assembled at the entrance of the tent of meeting.
 5And Moses said to the congregation, "This is the thing that the LORD has commanded to be done." 6And Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water... 21He washed the entrails and the legs with water...
 10 Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it, and consecrated them. 11And he sprinkled some of it on the altar seven times, and anointed the altar and all its utensils and the basin and its stand, to consecrate them. 12And he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him.
33And you shall not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting for seven days, until the days of your ordination are completed, for it will take seven days to ordain you. 34As has been done today, the LORD has commanded to be done to make atonement for you. 35At the entrance of the tent of meeting you shall remain day and night for seven days, performing what the LORD has charged, so that you do not die, for so I have been commanded." 36And Aaron and his sons did all the things that the LORD commanded by Moses.
There are some subtle and not so subtle parallels between Lev 8 and Gen 1:1-2:3:

i) In both cases you have a “container” (the world, the tabernacle) which is furnished with various objects.

ii) In both cases you have divine commands which instigate corresponding events.

iii) In both cases you have a water-motif.

iv) In both cases you have a Spirit-motif.

(As commentators like Wenham and Ross have pointed out, the anointing oil in Lev 8 symbolizes the presence of the Spirit.)

v) In both cases you have the diurnal-motif.

vi) In both cases you have the septunarian motif.

So it seems as though the ordination ceremony in Lev 8 was modeled, in part, on the creation account in Gen 1:1-2:3.

(There are, of course, differences. These are different events. Likewise, Gen 1 is prelapsarian whereas Lev 8 is postlapsarian. Hence the atonement ritual in Lev 8.)

If, to some extent we should interpret the ordination ceremony in light of the creation account, does that also work in reverse? Would an ancient Jew, reading Lev 8, with its literary allusions, view the creation account as being, in some respects, analogous to the ordination ceremony?

The cosmos is the archetypal tabernacle, which God consecrates by water and Spirit, in a seven-day ceremony.

Wilted Scholars

Thomas Kempis writes from a theological edifice not without its problems. Nonetheless, he has some valuable things to say, especially to those who seek knowledge:

All perfection in this life is accompanied by a measure of imperfection, and all our knowledge contains an element of obscurity. A humble knowledge of oneself is a surer road to God than a deep searching of the sciences. Yet learning itself is not to be blamed, nor is the simple knowledge of anything whatsoever to be despised, for true learning is good in itself and ordained by God; but a good conscience and a holy life are always to be preferred. But because many are more eager to acquire much learning than to live well, they often go astray, and bear little or no fruit. If only such people were as diligent in the uprooting of vices and the planting of virtues as they are in the debating of problems, there would not be so many evils and scandals among the people, nor such laxity in communities. At the Day of Judgement, we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done; not how eloquently we have spoken, but how holily we have lived. Tell me, where are now all those Masters and Doctors whom you knew so well in their lifetime in the full flower of their learning? Other men now sit in their seats, and they are hardly ever called to mind. In their lifetime they seemed of great account, but now no one speaks of them (The Imitation of Christ [New York: Penguin, 1952], 31).

Hellish Near-Death Experiences

Nancy Evans Bush seems to be the leading researcher today in the field of negative near-death experiences (NDEs). She's had a negative experience herself. She recently started a blog on the subject of negative NDEs. I don't agree with all of her analysis, but she's highly knowledgeable about the topic, and she makes a lot of significant points. Here are some of her comments in a book published a couple of years ago: