Saturday, September 24, 2011

Must be racism!

Sean R Reid says:
Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 8:56pm

Unfortunately, it’s because
1) He’s black
2) He’s accused of killing a cop
3) He lives in Georgia.
It’s basically the trifecta. If any one of those wasn’t true then it would be a different story entirely.

Reid seems to think Georgia is run by the KKK. Last time I checked, that didn’t seem to be the case:

BTW, weren’t seven of the jurors who convicted him black? I guess they were racist too. 

Knee-jerk liberals

Sean R Reid says:
Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 8:56pm

Unfortunately, it’s because
1) He’s black
2) He’s accused of killing a cop
3) He lives in Georgia.
It’s basically the trifecta. If any one of those wasn’t true then it would be a different story entirely.

So true! For instance, if he were a white cop-killer rather than s black cop-killer, I somehow doubt Pope Benedict, Archbishop Tutu, Al Sharpton, Harry Belafonte, and Mia Farrow would petition for clemency.

Likewise, if he was from Norway rather than Georgia, he'd been sentenced to 22 years in a luxury prison.

Oh the injustice of it all!

Cain by a mile

Matthew 18 does not apply to criticizing public articles

Magic and miracle

Concealing scripture from the eyes of the vulgar masses

Pomo marriage

Playing with fire

David Ponter has attempted a lengthy reply to 5-point Calvinists. It’s not clear who, exactly, he’s responding to. Anderson? Manata? Me?

A basic problem with his latest reply is that it’s largely an amplified repetition of what he’s been saying all along. So he frequently rehashes the same objections without bothering to update his argument in light of what I and others have said by way of rebuttal. This suggests he has nothing in reserve. He has no comeback. All he can do is repeat himself, paraphrasing the same arguments.

Originally, I had proposed an argument that God cannot offer to forgive the non-died-for (NDF)

This is a minor semantic point, but I’m puzzled by why he resorts to this clumsy circumlocution. Why not simply say the “unredeemed” (in contrast to the “redeemed”) rather than the “not-died-for”?

Any English dictionary will give the same basic meaning, such as, “an offer is a willingness to give something to someone, if they are willing.”

And that’s entirely consistent with limited atonement. God will save whoever accepts the gospel. Only the redeemed accept the gospel.

 My argument is that given the proper and true definition of ‘offer,’2 God cannot sincerely, well-meaningly, genuinely, and legitimately offer to forgive a person for whom there is no basis of forgiveness available for that person.

i) I already did a post in which I illustrated the ambiguities of the usage. So Ponter’s argument is fatally equivocal. And he simply ignores the problem.

ii) Moreover, an “offer” isn’t defined by the adjectives. The OED has no entry for the “well-meant offer.” Qualifications like “sincere,” “well-meant,” and so on don’t figure in the definition of the term.

God would just be mocking Harry. God would be playing with him. God would [be] tantalizing him with a lie.

Ponter is lighting a match in a gas station. For Arminians level the same charge against reprobation. Ponter is so fanatical about his position that he’s prepared to blaspheme God.

The assumption throughout this paper is that an ill-meant offer is by definition insincere and a lying offer. This is obvious as the biblical offer, on its face, implies a willingness and a desire that the offeree take up the thing offered in order to be benefitted. Normal people reject the hypercalvinist notion that an offer to inflict suffering or to bring about affliction is not sincere and not well-meant. For this converts God into a monster, and such ideas are antithetical to mainstream Calvinism of both the standard high and classic-moderate wings.

i) Once again, Ponter is playing with matches in a gas station. To suggest that limited atonement (in conjunction with the gospel offer) makes God a “monster” resorts to the same sacrilegious rhetoric as John Wesley, Roger Olson, and other scorched-earth anti-Calvinist crusaders.

ii) Moreover, Ponter is exposing his own flank to the same charge, for anti-Calvinists won’t hesitate to level the very same charge against Ponter’s 4-point Calvinism.

iii) And his allegation is predicated on his equivocal use of terminology, which I already illustrated. It’s a pity that Ponter is impervious to correction.

iv) As to his populist appeal, I doubt “normal” people would say a God who predestined the damned to their hellish fate is willing or desirous to see them saved. For if that were the case, when doesn’t he save them–since it lies within his power to do so?

v) Finally, Ponter’s double negation seems to say the opposite of what he intended.

He took it away, nailing it to the cross

My wife and I have had a little bit of playful banter going over the years. I’m fairly well known in some circles as an apologist who opposes Roman Catholicism. But not only has she always regarded herself to be a Roman Catholic, she’s told me, too, that I’ll be one until I die. In response to that, I’ve told her that, if I were on my death bed, it would be my dying wish not to see a Roman Catholic priest. Of course, I’m not dying, and now she could be. So we have a real test of what someone’s dying wishes might be.

For a while, I had a pretty good job, and so I had a steady flow of books coming into the house – mostly things like commentaries and systematic theologies. She would tease me about what I was reading, and so I’d quote Alister McGrath back to her: “Christian theology is one of the most fascinating subjects it is possible to study” (from his Christian Theology, An Introduction: Oxford, UK and Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, ©2001, pg xxv).

But getting a diagnosis of leukemia has the effect of focusing the mind. Early on, during her first hospital stay, she turned down a request from my pastor to visit her, though she asked a priest to come in. But over the summer, she not only started going to church with me and the kids, but she’s become a regular attender, leading the charge not only to get us to the service on time, but to get us to Sunday School early enough to get the good seats in the front.

The catalyst was a sermon series on Isaiah 36 and 37, regarding the LORD’s defeat of Sennacherib king of Assyria.
“Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

And the angel of the LORD went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.
Sennacherib is, of course, well-attested not only in various books of the Old Testament (2 Kings, Isaiah, 2 Chronicles), but in Assyrian texts and archaeology as well. Kenneth Kitchen (Reliability of the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, © 2003) notes that “with careful observance of the features of both the Assyrian and Hebrew texts, a coherent picture of the whole episode emerges.” For some reason, Assyrian military history, especially their interactions with Israel, fascinates her.

Our Sunday School lessons are being taken in part from the CCEF program (“Restoring Christ to Counseling and Counseling to the Church”), and here’s what she wrote:
Christian Life: My life growing in Christ with thanks and praise
With joy I am a new creation in Christ. With humility I still have sin in my heart and need God’s grace today as much as I did when I first believed. The Spirit overpowers the things that once dominated my life. I am in Him, but not yet completely like him, so I commit myself to the ongoing heart change that is God’s loving focus.
We were talking about this – in the context of “Union with Christ,” justification and sanctification. And she told me, “Roman Catholicism has really missed something very important.” What they’ve missed is God’s legal declaration of “not guilty” as foundational for everything else that happens in the Christian life. What she wrote above is a bookmark at page 54 (she is further along in the book) where Paul to the Colossians is quoted at length. Here she has highlighted, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”

Friday, September 23, 2011

The ethical subjectivist

As I mused on this question I returned to another. If Pat was in fact satirizing me, they why would he call me an ethical subjectivist? After all, as I noted in my article:
Obviously Pat knows I am a hard-nosed ethical objectivist if ever there was one. Consider, for instance, my rather uncompromising critique of traditional notions of biblical genocide based on our intuitions of absolute moral axioms.

i) For the record, I think I’m the one, not Patrick Chan, who was first to slap the “ethical subjectivst” label onto Rauser. So if you want to blame someone, blame me.

ii) How funny that he claims to be a “hardnosed ethical objectivist,” then defends that self-classification by appealing to his moral “intuitions.” And he does so to repudiate objective Biblical norms.

Oh, sure, he can talk about “absolute moral axioms,” but that’s grounded in his subjective intuitions. So it’s no more “absolute” than how he personally feels about anything. That’s about as solid as bubblegum on hot pavement.

iii) And it’s not as if his “absolute moral axioms” are self-evident or universally shared. Indeed, it’s striking how so many of his axiomatic moral intuitions just happen to coincide with the politically correct orthodoxies of the liberal establishment. The sort of folks who sit on Human Rights Commissions or Human Rights Tribunals, persecuting evildoers like Mark Steyn. 

Roadside windshield washers

Rereading the transcript of last night’s debate, I am struck that Rick Santorum did not thank Stephen Hill, a gay soldier in the U.S. Army currently in Iraq, for his service. Nor did anyone else on that stage. Whatever you think of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or homosexuality, Hill is risking his life on behalf of his country. It is troubling, and revealing, that Santorum’s answer entirely defined Hill as a gay man first and as a soldier second, if at all.

I disagree.

i) To begin with, if you obtain a job under false pretenses, you can rightly be fired. If you lie on your application form, you can rightly be fired. If you apply to a law firm and put on your resume that you’re a Harvard Law School grad when that isn’t true, the firm has every right to terminate you.

ii) If you do something for me that I don’t want, don’t need, didn’t ask for or agree to, then I owe you nothing in return. It’s like those roadside windshield washers who, when you’re waiting at the stoplight, presume to wash your windshield without permission, then bang on your window, demanding reimbursement. That’s extortion.

Don’t do something wrong, then play on my sympathy. That works for sappy liberals, not for me. 

Scoring the Orlando debate

A few observations about last night’s GOP debate in Orlando:

i) The format was bad because in general each candidate was asked a different question. As such, the viewer didn’t get to compare and contrast how different candidates answered the same question. It also afforded less opportunity for the candidates to go after each other on the same question.

ii) There are several different audiences for this type of debate, and a savvy candidate has to decide which audience to play to. There’s (a) the live, studio audience; (b) the invisible TV audience; (c) the pundits; (d) Republicans, and (d) primary voters in the state that’s hosting the debate.

What’s a good answer for one audience may be a bad answer for another audience. Take the immigration issue. The hardline answers of Romney, Bachmann, and Santorum play well to Republicans generally. However, they may play badly to the Latino voting block in Florida, where the debate took palce. Conversely, Perry’s answer plays badly to Republicans generally, but it may play well to the Latino voting block in Florida. Since Florida is a key state, both in the primaries and the general election, it’s not clear who won that exchange.

iii) I thought Perry did better in this debate. He learns from his mistakes. However, he seemed to lose steam as the debate wore on. And he didn’t stand out.

He gave a better answer than Santorum on Pakistan. It does make geostrategic sense for us to back India as a check on Pakistan.

By contrast, it makes less sense to cultivate Musharaff. He’s out of power. And he reacted badly to the assassination of bin Laden.

For the most part, Perry gave a better formulated answer on immigration. The problem is not so much with his answer, but with his position. He’s dealt himself a hand a losing hand with most conservatives. However well he polishes the answer, the position itself is still unpopular. And he fails to distinguish between a pragmatic policy and a principled policy.

Perry gave a well-formulated answer on the vaccine controversy. That played well to the studio audience. He won the moment. However, that may backfire since his answer was apparently deceptive (in terms of the timeline).

He also gave a more politic answer on Social Security, but was his answer credible given past statements? Moreover, he has yet to explain how he plans to fix Social Security.

For his part, Santorum drew a valid distinction between access to college and tuition breaks. However, Santorum’s statement amounted to amnesty for illegals. He seems to be saying, once you’re here, however you get here, you’re welcome to stay. We just won’t subsidize you.

On the “gays-in-the-military question,” Santorum tried his best to cobble together an answer, but it didn’t quite add up.

There’s no point talking about a general ban on sex in the military. Clearly, many twenty-something soldiers are going to be sexually active, and a coed military invites sexual activity within the ranks.

I’m not sure how many people caught that. It’s potentially damaging.

For her part, Bachmann was charming, articulate, and single-minded. However, she needed a breakout moment, and she never got the opportunity. So I think she’ll fall further in arrears.

Romney generally gave all the right answers. He only faltered at one point when Perry brought differences between the hardback and paperback editions of his book.

Romeny’s problem is credibility. He’s a throwback to John Connally. Like Connally, Romney is smooth and telegenic, but shifty. Many GOP voters distrust him.

I’m not clear on Santorum’s strategy. He seems to think Perry is the man to beat. But Romney is the other frontrunner.

Santorum gave a predictably hawkish answer on Iraq and Afghanistan. But he doesn’t seem to see the need to reevaluate our strategy. The nation-building paradigm is a boondoggle.

Both Romney and Perry often sound as if they’re delivering scripted lines, only Romney is better at memorizing the script.

By contrast, Gingrich comes across as someone who knows that he’s talking about, not someone who’s remembering what to say. Someone who can think through an issue.

But his strength is his weakness. He’s a man of ideas. He loves ideas for the sake of ideas. The question is whether he has the discipline to settle on a few key ideas, turn those into detailed policies, then aggressively lobby for his policies. Does he follow through with his ideas, or does he just leave a trail of unfinished initiatives and abortive programmatic ideas. Does he find the nuts-and-bolts of actual governance boring?

There is also a question about his sincerity. It looks like he’s been prepositioning himself as a social conservative by converting to the Roman Catholicism and making strategic confessions about his private life to defuse that issue. Making tactical advance moves, then allowing some time to pass, so that when this election cycle came around he could pose as a social conservative. Seems too calculated to me.

Cain gave a winsome performance tonight, but thus far there’s no evidence that he’s competitive. Might make great cabinet secretary.

Sick babies

"Doctor decries in-vitro fertilization legacy of 'sick babies'"

HT: Tim Challies.

Rauser the Ridiculous

Rabble Rauser

FWIW, if anything, I left the following three comments in the combox of Randal Rauser's post "Patrick Chan of Triablogue defends Randal Rauser with biting satire." But at least at the time of this post, the third comment doesn't seem to have gone through.

Randal Rauser, instant expert

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Trinitarian paradox

True: The Son is God
False: God is the Son

The parable of the good capitalist

A man was going down from Washington to Atlanta and he fell among Democrats who stripped him, beat him, and departed. Now by chance a bureaucrat was going down the road and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So, likewise a Congressional aide- when he came to the place and saw him he passed by on the other side. But a capitalist, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him he had compassion. He went to him to help, but realized he was not licensed by the HHS Secretary to provide first aid. As quickly as he could he called the local ObamaCare agency. After listening to all the selection choices and being on hold for nearly an hour the capitalist finally was able to talk to a heavily accented Indian. After things finally seemed to be ironed out and help was on the way, the man waited by the injured traveler for help to come.
When the ObamaCare agent arrived, he made the capitalist fill out 39 forms, pronounced the traveler dead from blood loss and exposure, and left. 

Outside the Church there is no salvation?

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #846:
“Outside the Church there is no salvation”
How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
Pope Benedict XVI:
“I can understand that in the face of such reports, people, especially those close to victims, would say ‘this isn't my Church anymore’,” the pope, 84, told reporters on his plane from Rome in reference to widespread abuse by priests.

But he asked for patience as the Church grapples with enduring outrage over the scandals that has threatened to cloud his visit to Germany, where his election six years ago had met with an outpouring of joy.
“The poor Church, the poor, poor Church. Please be patient with us…”

Threading the needle


Can put away the polemics and role play a bit? I'm not setting a rhetorical trap for an argument - I don't have any hidden agenda to get you to paint yourself into a logical corner. Just humor me a bit.
Suppose you were a pastor and I were a member of your congregation, all other things being the same. I am not one of your deacons or elders, I'm just a layperson, a decent enough ordinary member of your church who takes his faith seriously enough to have attended seminary, and who takes truth seriously. I've come to you because you are a friend whom I hold in high regard and someone whose judgment I respect.
I tell you that I believe the historic truths of the faith: the reality of human depravity and my own sin, my need of redemption which can be found only in Christ, that God is Creator and sustainer of all things.
But, I explain, I am also a student of God's creation, and everywhere I looked I found the evidence for an ancient universe and biological evolution overwhelmingly compelling and finally convincing, leading me to a quandary.
To this point my view of inerrancy has been intact, but there are real theological challenges. Genomic evidence seems settled that at no time was there a breeding population of modern human beings of less than 10,000 individuals. I can find no geological evidence for a global flood and myriads of evidence against one. So I've come to you to see what you think I should do with these ideas I find troubling.
I'm not out to engage in a campaign or to evangelize my ideas. I simply can't ignore data which seem to challenge the historicity of Genesis 1-11 and the idea of a historical Fall. I still embrace the Doctrines of Grace.
So what would be your counsel to me, pastor? I hope you'll answer that way because apart from not being a member of a church pastored by you, everything else describes where I actually have been and am in my walk with Christ.
So if I were a friend and not some anonymous Internet commenter, how would you respond in a way designed to comfort my doubts and reinforce my faith? An inner struggle in the life of the mind may not seem as real as struggle with divorce, sexual temptation, illness or hardship, but those who have doubts over intellectual matters are no less in need of wise and compassionate counsel, are they not? Can we not say alongside the father of the afflicted boy in Mark 9:24, "I do believe - help my unbelief!"

i) I’m not sure what you think I’m supposed to say in that scenario. Looks like a set-up where you’ve framed the issues to yield a foregone conclusion. So what’s left to talk about?

If you treat your framework as nonnegotiable, then there’s nothing more to say. If you take for granted your assumptions about the “data” or the “evidence,” then, by definition, something else has to give. That’s a forced option.

ii) What if the pastor doesn’t see the evidence lining up the way you do?

iii) There are, of course, some “Evangelicals” who subscribe to theistic evolution (e.g. Don Page, J. J. Davis, B.B. Warfield, Alister McGrath). However, I don’t see an exegetical pathway from Scripture to Darwin.

iv) I’d ask you if you’d read the best young-earth creationists (e.g. Byl, Wise, Sarfati, Snelling, Marcus Ross).

I’d ask you if you’d read the best old-earth creationists (e.g. Collins, Poythress, Walton, Youngblood).

I’d ask you what critics of evolution you’d read (e.g. Berlinski, Chien, Dembski, Meyer, Richards, Wells, J. C. Sanford).

I’d ask you if you studied temporal metrics. I’d ask you what you studied in philosophy of science. I’d ask you if you’d considered the full implications of creation ex nihilo.

v) Sounds to me like there’s a veiled threat in the way you’ve cast the alternatives; that unless the pastor gives his parishioner an out, the parishioner will turn his back on the Christian faith.

However, Scripture means whatever it means. You can accept or reject it (with the corresponding consequences), but you have to accept it or reject it on its own terms. The reader must be prepared to hear the Bible as the original audience heard it. That’s true of literature in general.

We can’t make it say or not say something just because that would conflict with our precommitments. We’d be fooling ourselves.

Going Meatless and Spouseless

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Randal Mengele

Randal Rauser is a civilized man. Far too civilized for OT ethics. Instead, he flies by his acute moral intuition. For instance:

By contrast, the spouse in the case I mentioned is a PVS patient. That means that the spouse has no sentient awareness and thus no self-identity, no aches, pains, hopes or fears...Consider again the scenario that prompted Steven’s comments. A couple of twenty year olds are honeymooning when one of them has a massive stroke and is left in a coma with all higher brain function permanently lost. The one that is in a coma will now live for perhaps the next sixty years in a hospital bed with no conscious life at all. Is the other spouse morally obliged to stay with the spouse that is in a coma?

From what I’ve read, PVS is a somewhat fuzzy diagnosis. The physician can’t get inside the mind of the comatose patient. So it’s just an educated guess.

But for the sake of argument, let’s play along with Rauser’s characterization. This raises a range of neglected medical opportunities. Suppose Rauser’s wife suffers a massive stroke which leaves her comatose. Upstanding bioethicist that he is, Rauser donates his wife to medical science. There are so many things that can be done with her.

Her comatose body could be harvested for organs. She could be infected with deadly diseases, then experimental drugs could be administered.

Her arms, hands, fingers, and feet could be amputated to replace the lost limb or digit of an accident victim, while the rest of her is kept on the ventilator for other uses. And you could operate on her without sedation. Save the expense of an anesthesiologist.

She could be used as an involuntary surrogate mother, or involuntary prostitute.

Up until now, med students have been limited to cadavers. Think how much more they could learn by cutting open comatose patients and fishing around.

Suppose the hospital catches on fire. Orderlies should save the sentient Wistar lab rats rather than the comatose patients.

Rauser’s bioethical philosophy resembles a cross between Dr. Mengele and the Saw film franchise. It’s truly inspiring.

Divine mockery

Being a Christian, my assumption is that God does not, nor cannot, mock a sinner.

20Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets...24Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; 25But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: 26I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh (Prov 1:20,24-26).

An abortion worker’s ‘ah-ha’ moment

Desertion in time of need

The first is a brief response to Steve Hays of Triablogue. I feel obliged to respond to Hays, however briefly, because the poor fellow seems desperate for some attention. He keeps saying outrageous things about me. And even though I ignore him, he keeps prattling on like that persistent rattle in an aging Chrysler van.

Oh dear. The poor boy is suffering from hyperthermia. Can’t stand the heat.

Am I saying outrageous things about Rauser? Or is Rauser saying outrageous things?

Steve Hays summarized my position under the heading “Dump your ailing spouse.” I never said “dump your ailing spouse.” But I do advise dumping Mr. Hays’s moral commentary.  And I also think that a three year chaplaincy internship at a busy hospital would do Mr. Hays a world of good. Unfortunately I cannot say the same thing for all the poor patients that would be subjected to his “care” during those three years as he slowly worked through all his personal demons.

It’s very funny to see Rauser try to seize the moral high ground when he’s the one defending divorce in case your spouse becomes senile. Imagine the kind of counseling he’d dish out as a hospital chaplain.

First the background. I wrote a sympathetic commentary on Pat Robertson’s commentary on Alzheimer’s Disease which focused on Grant’s dilemma (from the film “Away from Her”). In the scenario the Alzheimer’s of Grant’s wife Fiona has progressed to such a degree that she no longer knows her husband. To make matters worse, she is now in a romantic relationship with a new beau at the extended care facility. I asked whether Grant was morally obliged to maintain his matrimonial ties to Fiona under these conditions and I suggested that he need not be.

Randal already admitted that in her state of diminished responsibility, Fiona didn’t really commit adultery–since she lacks the intellectual capacity to form adulterous intent. As such, there’d be no grounds to divorce her for infidelity.

What about the fact that a senile wife no longer recognizes her husband? Does that dissolve the husband’s obligations to his ailing wife?

It’s easy to dream up far-fetched hypotheticals. Suppose my wife has an identical twin sister. Suppose my sister-in-law is mad at my wife for whatever reason. Suppose, to get back at my wife, my sister-in-law impersonates my wife. She deceives me into sleeping with her. Does that dissolve the marriage? Does that nullify my spousal duties to my wife?

What if our marriage was already on the rocks, and I use this incident as a pretext to divorce my wife. Is Rauser okay with that scenario?

Let’s take a more realistic hypothetical. This all got started with Robertson. He’s been married to the same woman for over 50 years. She stood by him all these years. What if she becomes senile? Is it okay for him to abandon her in her time of greatest need? When she needs him more than ever?

And we could apply this more broadly. What about the obligation of grown children to care (as best they can) for senile parents. What if they no longer recognize their children? Is it permissible to disown your senile parents?

What about the obligation of a grown brother to care for his kid brother with Down Syndrome. His parents cared for him until they died. Is it now his big brother’s duty to assume that demanding responsibility?

What if your best friend comes down with brain cancer. He no longer knows who you are. He says and does things to you which, if he were in his right mind, would betray the friendship. Is it okay to stop being a friend to him now that he can no longer be a friend to you?

This raises general questions about sacrificial love. What if caring for a helpless friend or family member means that we must deny ourselves something that gives us personal fulfillment? What gives? Rauser has already indicated his own priorities. But hey, he’d make a swell hospital chaplain. 

Church of uncertain

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Land of the Vine

An overview of viticulture in ancient Israel:

The ubiquity of the vine and its products in the Old Testament gives sufficient testimony to the economic and social importance of wine in ancient Israel. In Numbers 13 the prodigious cluster of grapes that the two spies carry between them is symbolic of the prosperity of the Promised Land. Time and again in the prophets the vine, or its fruit, is used as a symbol of Israel.

Vines require an annual rainfall of between 400 and 800 millimeters, with most of the rain in winter and early spring. Temperatures need to be above 20°C during fruiting and below 10°C for some of the winter. Vines thrive best on loamy or stony soil that is not overly fertile. Most of Palestine is ideally suited for viticulture, and the vine had long been cultivated when the Israelite tribes first settled the land. Establishing a vineyard was a significant undertaking, and we are fortunate to possess a detailed account in Isaiah 5:1-7. The prophet describes the planting of vines and the building of a wall, tower, and winepress. Vines were cultivated in a number of ways, and we know that both allowing the vine to trail along the ground and training it upward were both used in Israel (Ezek. 17:6-8). It is likely that trailing vines were most common. After four or five years the vine would begin to produce a usable crop of fruit.

The grape harvest occurred around July and August. At the time the grape clusters were cut down and placed into baskets. With very little delay they were taken to nearby winepresses. Many presses carved out of rock have been discovered in Palestine. They are to be found out in the fields close to where the grapes were grown. At the presses the grapes were trodden underfoot, with the juice flowing through a conduit into a vat below. Mechanical means of pressing were probably not introduced until the Hellenistic or Roman period. A number of biblical texts refer to the joyful shouting and singing that accompanied the treating of grapes (e.g., Isa. 16:10; Jer. 48:33). The process of fermentation probably began in the collecting vats, and this first stage of fermentation probably took two to five days. After this the wine was purified, bottled, and placed in storage chambers for the second, slower stage of fermentation and maturing. This process lasted six months, during which time carbon dioxide was released through holes in the jars.

The frequent references to wine in the Old Testament suggest that it was not only the principle alcoholic beverage, but the principle drink, period. Whether it was watered down before consumption, as was the practice of the Greeks and Romans, or drunk undiluted is uncertain. Isaiah’s disparaging comparison of Judah’s righteousness to “wine mixed with water” (1:22) might suggest that there was a preference for undiluted wine. Estimates of the level of wine consumption in ancient Israel have been made on the basis of the remains of wine production facilities and storage rooms. Shimon Dar estimates up to a liter of wine per person per day. Even if wine was spoiled, it could still be used, as is evident from its use as an adjunct to bread in Ruth 2:14.

The climatic demands of the vine ensured that viticulture had a very small role in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Here beer was the principle beverage, and wine was restricted to the elites. Some scholars have equated the biblical shekar, which appears on a number of occasions in the Old Testament, with beer. It is perhaps more likely that this was a generic form for alcoholic drinks. The esteem of wine in Egypt and Mesopotamia led to wine being a profitable export for the Israelite states. At Ashkelon and Gibeon archaeological finds have demonstrated the existence of industrial-scale wine production in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. These were developed to supply the neo-Assyrian empire. In a later period it is striking that the biblical historians draw attention to vinedressers being exempted from the exile by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:12). It is likely, then, that Palestine was valued during the periods of the Assyrian and Babylonian hegemony principally for its ability to supply wine for consumption in the royal court and by elites.

Nathan MacDonald, What Did the Ancient Israelites Eat?: Diet in Biblical Times (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2008), 22-23.

Divorcing a sick spouse

10 years later“great-satan”/

The world's smallest violin

Randal Rauser has an interesting set of moral priorities:

• He agonizes over the morality of eating a turkey

• He plays violin for convicted cop-killer Troy Davis

• He defends divorcing your wife of 50 years if she comes down with Alzheimers

This is a man whose moral intuitions trump Biblical ethics. Funny how that works out. 


Darryl Hart has weighed in on the “angry Calvinist” meme. I actually agree with Hart that this is a slur. As I remarked recently:

Problem with this stereotype is that it becomes a vicious cycle. It’s often the same type of circular proof that’s used in Freudian psychology. Freud says sons suffer from a repressed Oedipal complex. When normal men deny this, the Freudian says that just goes to show the denier is in denial. His very denial of a repressed Oedipal complex proves the he’s repressed his Oedipal complex.
Likewise, if a Calvinist attempts to rebut the “angry Calvinist” stereotype, then the very fact that he defended Calvinists against the sweeping charge is treated as damning evidence that he must be an angry Calvinist.
It’s also like the stereotype of an “angry white male.” If you’re a white male, and you reject the accusation, then the accuser takes your very rejection as incriminating evidence that you must be an angry white male.
The whole thing takes on a Kafkaesque quality–where the allegation becomes unfalsifiable.

Unfortunately, Hart uses a legitimate point as a pretext to score some illegitimate points:

Which is why it is possible that the problem afflicting the evangelicals at the Gospel Coalition is one of sentimentality. That is, they value feelings more than doctrine. This is what Ken Myers called orthopathy instead of orthodoxy. This does not mean that the folks at TGC ignore doctrine. Obviously, they promote it. But they never let it function in a way that might make leaders, readers, or bloggers uncomfortable — that is, doctrine will never be offensive, especially to the co-allies. But they seem to have no problem patrolling the Christian world for incorrect emotions.

i) I don't see any evidence that TGC values feelings more than doctrine.

ii) Not every blog has to be cut out of the same cloth. It's good to have some blogs which present Calvinism is a more irenic and winsome fashion.

iii) I don't think "Confessional" Calvinists like Hart, Scott Clark et al. really place a premium on doctrine. In reality, they value loyalty over truth. Allegiance to their traditions.

They don't make much effort to prove what they believe from Scripture. Their orientation is more sociological than theological. Be faithful to the in-group. Kith, clan, and Mother Kirk.

JT, not really simplistic, binary, or boilerplate here since those who have a higher regard for the church than the parachurch know that discipline, even if angered, is beneficial. The church, not a coalition, is the biblical way. Why is it you guys never seem to concede that confessionalists are more biblical than evangelicals on this one?

Several problems with his reply:

i) Justin’s a blogger, Hart's a blogger. Justin’s an elder, Hart’s an elder. Same thing with DeYoung. So what's the big difference?

ii) Notice the false dichotomy between "church" and "coalition." Hart belongs, not merely to a local church, but to a denomination. Well, what's a denomination if not a coalition of churches?

iii) In addition, his objection is schizophrenic. He also criticizes you and other TGC types for not going after Piper on infant baptism, or for not going after Driscoll and Mahaney.

But these are pastors. They represent the "church" side of things.

Of Posses, Piccares, and Freedoms

Did Adam have libertarian free will prior to the fall? Paul helps to clear some confusion.

Booster shot

Steve recently wrote a very helpful post on mandatory vaccination and public policy.

On a lesser note, here are some of my scattered thoughts:
  • The flipside of herd immunity is if there are significantly more non-vaccinated and non-immunized individuals in society than there are immunized ones, then it could potentially pose a threat to society. If say only a very small percentage of people in a society were vaccinated against polio, then it's possible polio could re-emerge. It's possible people who otherwise would not have had polio could have polio and suffer from its adverse effects such as paralysis, physical deformities, etc. For example, Christopher Hitchens (of all people) writes in his book God Is Not Great about how polio has re-emerged in a certain heavily Muslim populated part of Nigeria because local Muslims issued a fatwah against polio vaccinations since they thought the polio vaccination involved some sort of American or Western conspiracy against them.

  • Herd immunity applies to diseases which can be transmitted from human to human. But it doesn't apply to diseases which are derived from the environment such as tetanus. Tetanus can be very deadly without vaccination. I think something like 25% of all non-immunized people who are infected with tetanus end up dying, although the percentage is higher in infants and the elderly. So in the case of a disease like tetanus, I don't see how some people can use the herd immunity argument that as long as most or a significant enough number of individuals in society are protected against a disease then they can skip vaccination since herd immunity wouldn't apply to such diseases.

  • Some secular libertarians might argue it's a woman's right to choose what to do with her body including aborting her baby. But I doubt conservative Christian libertarians would argue this. In fact, I would think some of them would support policies which would undermine the legality of abortion. And I think some would support making abortion illegal. At the same time, some of these conservative Christian libertarians might argue it's wrong and should be illegal to mandate vaccination of underaged children because no one else should impose on the parents' right to choose what they allow or disallow for their kids. Gov't policy-wise, this seems inconsistent to me, but it's possible I'm missing something.

  • Of course, none of this means we can't oppose a particular vaccination being mandated for this or that individual, by what method or route a vaccine is administered, etc. For example, my take is it would be a very good idea to mandate vaccination against polio in most people given how lethal and devastating polio can be and how quickly it can spread in a non-immunized community, whereas I'd be fine if no one mandates vaccination against influenza each season (which, well, no one does as far as I know).

  • Or for diseases like the chickenpox I suppose someone could arguably debate whether vaccination is better or worse than actual exposure to chickenpox, at least as a young child. I'd personally be in favor of vaccination, but I know people from places like Asia who never were vaccinated but did get the chickenpox and became immune as a result. They seem perfectly fine and healthy. Then again, I think they may have a higher chance of developing a slightly more serious disease like shingles later on.

  • As an interesting historical aside, the first vaccine against the very serious and deadly smallpox was derived from cowpox. Cowpox is much, much milder. People recover from it quite well. But cowpox is very similar to smallpox such that if someone gets cowpox, then he or she will be immune to smallpox. That's the connection that an English doctor named Edward Jenner made in the late 1700s or so. So Jenner made the first vaccine against smallpox by using cowpox. I believe that's also where the word "vaccine" comes from (vacca = cow). Jenner is considered the modern father of immunology.

  • There are also different types of vaccinations with varying degrees of risk (e.g. inactivated, attenuated, and sub-unit each carry their different benefits and risks for different individuals). We'd have to look at each one on a case by case basis, based on the individual's health, circumstances, etc., I think, to best determine whether or not to vaccinate against this or that disease.

  • However some people simply can't be vaccinated. Or at least not during certain times in their lives. Like maybe they're immunocompromised, too young, too elderly, pregnant, on other therapies like chemotherapy which weaken or suppress their immune system, etc. Some people have to live as bubble boys their whole lives.

  • One potentially positive about HPV vaccination is that it might offer cross-protection against other HPV types not in the vaccine, according to this article.

  • Here are a couple of articles on the HPV vaccine. The first article supports the vaccine and has some possibly useful stats. The second article is more skeptical.