Saturday, October 22, 2011

Why Dawkins refuses to debate Dawkins

Why I refuse to debate with Richard Dawkins

This evolutionary “biologist” is an apologist for natural evil. I would rather leave an empty chair than share a platform with him.

Richard Dawkins
The Guardian

For some years now, Richard Dawkins has been increasingly importunate in his efforts to cajole, harass or defame me into debating myself. I have consistently refused

He has a dark side, and that is putting it kindly. He attributes horrific mass extinctions to nature red in tooth and claw. He’s on record asserting that thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. Natural selection has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

Would you shake hands with a man who could write stuff like that? Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn’t, and I won’t. Even if I were not engaged to be in London on the day in question, I would be proud to leave that chair in Oxford eloquently empty.

And if any of my colleagues find themselves browbeaten or inveigled into a debate with this deplorable apologist for carnivory, parasitism, and mass extinction, my advice to them would be to stand up, read aloud Dawkins’ words as quoted above, then walk out and leave him talking not just to an empty chair but, one would hope, to a rapidly emptying hall as well.

Walking with the Lord

To unbelievers, a Christian’s relationship with God is chimerical. We talk to a God we cannot see, hear, or touch.

And, indeed, the object of our pilgrimage may seem insubstantial. Christian faith accentuates the past and the future rather than the present. God’s great redemptive deeds in the past. Recalling the past as well as hoping in the future. Heaven. The new Eden. The new Jerusalem. Something over the horizon. Out of sight.

To the unbeliever, God is the invisible, indetectible gardener of Flew’s famous, tendentious parable. Contrast that with real relationships; with flesh and blood friends and family.

But that’s misleading. Yes, there’s a type of solidity to many of our relationships. Yet what they mean to us is psychological rather than physical. Feelings. Memories. Gratitude. Anticipation.

Likewise, some people are very attached to a particular place. But although the place may be visible and tangible, the sense of attachment is not. That’s interior.

The space, the place, the body, the proximity, is just a medium. A token. Just like the sensible world in relation to God.

You can stand next to a friend or a stranger. Outwardly it’s the same. No discernable difference to the eye of the camera. 

Moreover, there’s such a thing as nostalgia. You may cherish something or someone that’s long gone as deeply, more deeply, that what’s right in front of you.  

Mortality doesn’t automatically dissove, or even diminish the emotional bond. In fact, prolonged absence, extended separation, may make the bond stronger than if you never left, never lost.

In that respect, our relationship with God is no more or less imperceptible than our other relationships.

Updating the end of the world

Camping and Christ

According to John Loftus, “Harold Camping Step Aside, Jesus Was Wrong And Should Be Ignored Too.”

But that’s a sloppy comparison. Camping didn’t caveat his original prediction. When it didn’t materialize as stated, he added ex post facto qualifications, but that was too late to salvage his prediction. He himself admitted that his prediction didn’t turn out the way he expected. He gave himself no out at the time he issued his prediction.

The situation is very different with Biblical prophecy. For one thing, ancient Bible prophecies are often highly idiomatic. You have to master the idiomatic terminology to grasp what is being referred to.

In addition, ancient Bible prophecies are frequently reflect a chain of literary allusions. A multilayered tradition. So there’s more to the oracle than meets the eye. You need to peel back layers, retrace the unfolding trajectory as it cycles through a number of earlier writings. The latest oracle comes at the tail-end of that process.

So what an ancient Bible prophecy was pointing to isn’t something you can just skim of the surface wording. There’s a lot of subtext and idiomatic phrasing which must be taken into account. By contrast, Camping was speaking to contemporaries in a common idiom. And the only antecedents were his trail of failed predictions. 

Loftus singles out Mt 24:34, but that’s deceptively simple. Case in point:

Banana republicans

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Dawkins is Disgusted"

James Anderson unpacks Richard Dawkins' rationalization in refusing to debate William Lane Craig.

Worldly hope vs. Christian hope

Real life vs. internet

HT: Adapted from Dan Phillips.

Churches, Christian Schools a Thing of the Past in Afghanistan

On 1 Timothy 4:10

Eschatological compensation

I see Dave Armstrong recently demonstrated that the morality of an action is contingent on which hand you use. If you’re right-handed, it’s a gravely immoral–but if you’re left-handed, it’s A-okay.

This carries with it the further implication that even though northpaws are overrepresented on earth, southpaws are overrepresented in heaven. I guess that’s eschatological compensation for all the inconveniences that southpaws suffer in a world designed by and for the benefit of northpaws.

Ambidextrous men presumably go to heaven or hell at the same rates. I’m also waiting for David to do a Talmudic analysis on the odds for paraplegics.  


Yesterday I posted links to a brief discussion by Moreland about “hearing God,” as well as a link to Doug Geivett about coincidences. Now I’d like to evaluate that material.

i) Of course, just as a matter of chance, some coincidental conjunctions are inevitable. That, itself, doesn’t demand any special explanation. The question is whether certain conjunctions occur in ways too frequent or uncanny to be random.  

The technical term for this is synchronicity. That’s a Jungian coinage. I don’t consider Jung to be a reliable source. However, synchronicity has been taken seriously by more respectable investigators like Wolfgang Pauli, Arthur Koestler, David Bohm, Stephen Braude, Dean Radin, and Rupert Sheldrake. To that extent I think we can make a prima facie case for synchronicity. The question is how we then interpret this phenomenon.

In particular, what do we make of conjunctions that seem to be too lucky to be purely fortuitous, yet have no apparent significance? One possible explanation is that our anecdotal experience is a small, random sample of a larger providential pattern. If we were privy to the larger pattern, we could also discern the larger significance of these seemingly isolated, anomalous incidents.

Another possible explanation is that these are clues that God scatters here and there to remind people that there is more to reality than natural forces.

ii) From an apologetic standpoint, the potential value of synchronicity is the evidence which this might furnish that “natural” events are orchestrated by a higher intelligence. That would undercut a secular worldview. But this phenomenon merits further study.

iii) To some extent Moreland’s discussion intersects with synchronicity. Up to a point I think his analysis provides some useful criteria for discerning God’s providence in our lives. However, I have problems with his approach.

iv) On the one hand, Christians ought to reflect on God’s providence in their lives. Mind you, God’s providence may often be unremarkable, and–in that respect–indetectible. Nothing out of the ordinary stands out. And that is part of walking by faith rather than sight.

v) On the other hand, there’s a difference between being observant, or reflecting on the past, and actively seeking out signs of God’s special providence.

vi) Apropos (v), Moreland says things like:

First, one can learn to discern God’s voice like one learns anyone else’s voice—through practice, trial and error; and in the case of God, with Scripture as one’s guide and as one’s primary way of familiarizing oneself not only with correct propositional boundaries, but also with the tone and texture of God’s speech.
Second, I think we should take heart from the fact that, often, God speaks to us and we are unaware that it is happening because God will at times speak to us in our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations in a way that “sounds” like our own.

Frankly, I don’t see the point. Assuming that God still speaks to Christians, why would he speak to us in riddles? Isn’t that counterproductive? If he has something to tell us that we need to hear, why use such ambiguous methods? What’s the value of giving someone unclear directions? Speaking for myself, that would be an excellent reason not to make important decisions on that basis.

If you have to work that hard at “discerning God’s voice,” are you hearing or are you projecting? Moreland’s approach is too much like nephelococcygia.

It’s one thing to take life as it comes to us, with no prior expectation of how God will work in our lives. It’s quite another thing to anticipate God’s next move, or arrange the outcome.

viii) Finally, let’s not forget Dallas Willard is an open theist. So is Richard Foster. It’s odd that some folks who’ve lost their faith in God’s foreknowledge (not to mention his meticulous providence) are cultivating techniques to “hear” God whispering in our ear or guiding us by subtle signs and private impressions.  But if God doesn’t know the future (much less control the future), how can he give us pointers on what to do next? Isn’t that a blind God leading the blind?

Steve Jobs on getting to know his kids

The publication date of the official biography of the notoriously-secretive Apple co-founder was pushed up after his death in October. "I wanted my kids to know me," Isaacson quoted Jobs as saying in their final interview. "I wasn't always there for them and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did."

Jobs on jobs

God Rules

George Eldon Ladd, in his “A Theology of the New Testament”, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Revised Edition © 1993, pgs 109 ff.), supporting the “dynamic concept of the Kingdom” that France writes about, says “the Kingdom” is “never to be identified with the church”. “The Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself. Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them, but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of women and men.”

Ladd goes on to cite five different ways in which “the church is not the Kingdom”, and he does so exegetically:
1. “The New Testament does not equate believers with the Kingdom”. Directly contradicting the point of the Cross/Brown citation the Gospel of John above, Ladd notes “The first missionaries preached the Kingdom of God, not the church (Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). It is impossible to substitute “church” for “kingdom” in such sayings. … There is never the slightest hint that the visible church can either be or produce the Kingdom of God. The church is the people of the Kingdom, but never that Kingdom itself. Therefore it is not helpful even to say that the church is a “part of the Kingdom,” or that in the eschatological consummation the church and Kingdom become synonymous.”

2. “The Kingdom Creates the Church”. “The dynamic rule of God, present in the mission of Jesus, challenged men and women to response, bringing them into a new fellowship. The presence of [the Rule of God] meant the fulfillment of the Old Testament messianic hope promised to Israel; but when the nation as a whole rejected the offer, those who accepted it were constituted the new people of God, the children of the Kingdom, the true Israel, the incipient church.

The parable of the draw net (and see John 21 - contra the Cross/Brown interpretation given in my last post) is instructive as to the character of the church and its relation to the Kingdom. The Kingdom is an action that is likened to the drawing a net through the sea. It catches in its movement not only good fish but also bad; and when the net is brought to shore, the fish must be sorted out. Such is the action of God’s kingdom among humankind. It is not now creating a pure fellowship; in Jesus’ retinue could even be a traitor. While this parable must be interpreted in terms of Jesus’ ministry, the principles deduced apply to the church. The action of God’s Kingdom among human beings created a mixed fellowship, first in Jesus’ disciples and then in the church. The eschatological coming of the Kingdom will mean judgment both for human society in general (tares) and for the church in particular (draw net). Until then, the fellowship created by the present acting of God’s Kingdom will include those who are not true children of the Kingdom. Thus the empirical church has a twofold character. It is the people of the Kingdom, and yet it is not the ideal people, for it includes some who are actually not children of the Kingdom. Thus entrance into the Kingdom means participation in the church; but entrance into the church is not necessarily synonymous with entrance into the Kingdom.

3. “The Church Witnesses to the Kingdom”. It is the church’s mission to witness to the kingdom. The church cannot build the Kingdom or become the Kingdom, but the church witnesses to the Kingdom—to God’s redeeming acts in Christ both past and future. This is illustrated by the commission Jesus gave to the twelve (Matt 10) and to the seventy (Luke 10); and it is reinforced by the proclamation of the apostles in the book of Acts. … It is part of God’s eschatological purpose that before the end, all nations should have the opportunity to hear the gospel. Here we find an extension of the theology of discipleship, that it will be the mission of the church to witness to the gospel of the Kingdom in the world. Israel is no longer the witness to God’s kingdom; the church has taken her place. …

If Jesus’ disciples are those who have received the life and fellowship of the Kingdom, and if this life is in fact an anticipation of the eschatological Kingdom, then it follows that one of the main tasks of the church is to display in this present evil age the life and fellowship of the Age to Come. The church has a dual character, belonging to two ages. It is the people of the Age to Come, but it still lives in this age, being constituted of sinful mortal persons. This means that while the church in this age will never attain perfection, it must nevertheless display the life of the perfect order, the eschatological Kingdom of God.

Implicit exegetical support for this view is to be found in the great emphasis Jesus placed on forgiveness and humility among his disciples. Concern over greatness, while natural in this age [and a hallmark of the way Rome conducts itself] is a contradiction of the life of the Kingdom (Mark 10:35 ff.). Those who have experienced the Kingdom of God are to display its life by a humble willingness to serve rather than by self-seeking.

Another evidence of the life of the Kingdom is a fellowship undisturbed by ill-will and animosity. This is why Jesus had so much to say about forgiveness, for perfect forgiveness is an evidence of love. Jesus even taught that human forgiveness and divine forgiveness are inseparable (Matt 6:12, 14). The parable on forgiveness makes it clear that human forgiveness is conditioned by divine forgiveness (Matt 18:23-35). The point of this parable is that when people claimed to have received the unconditioned and unmerited forgiveness of God, which is one of the gifts of the Kingdom, and then are unwilling to forgive relatively trivial offenses against themselves, they deny the reality of their very profession of divine forgiveness and by their conduct contradict the life and character of the Kingdom. Such people have not really experienced the forgiveness of God. It is therefore the church’s duty to display in an evil age of self-seeking, pride, and animosity the life and fellowship of the kingdom of God and the Age to Come. This display of Kingdom life is an essential element in the witness of the church to the Kingdom of God.
Note what is not being said here. No one is suggesting that “to be a part of the Kingdom you have to be perfect”. However, acts of humility and forgiveness are true manifestations of the Rule of God in the world. These are “the pillar and support of the Truth” (1 Tim 3:15) – and this is yet another place where Rome completely misses what Christ was trying to say, what God is trying to do in the world – and instead, this profound truth (1 Tim 3:15) is used to make the nonsensical claim that “the Roman Catholic Church cannot err.”

If committed Roman apologists cannot see this, they are truly lost.

Continuing with Ladd:
4. “The Church is the Instrument of the Kingdom.” The disciples of Jesus not only proclaimed the good news about the presence of the Kingdom; they were also instruments of the Kingdom in that the works of the Kingdom were performed through them as through Jesus himself. As they were preaching the Kingdom, they too healed the sick and cast out demons (Matt 10:8; Luke 10:17). Although theirs was a delegated power, the same power of the Kingdom worked through them that worked through Jesus. Their awareness that these miracles were wrought by no power resident in themselves accounts for the fact that they never performed miracles in a competitive or boastful spirit. …

This truth is implicit in the statement that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against the church. (Matt 16:18). This image of the gates of the realm of the dead is a familiar Semitic concept. … As instruments of the Kingdom, [Jesus’ disciples] had seen people delivered from bondage to sickness and death (Matt 10:8). This messianic struggle with the powers of death, which had been raging in Jesus’ ministry and had been shared by his disciples, will be continued in the future, and the church will be the instrument of God’s kingdom in this struggle.

5. The Church is the Custodian of the Kingdom”. The rabbinic concept of the Kingdom of God conceived of Israel as the custodian of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God was the rule of God that began on earth in Abraham, and was committed to Israel through the Law. Since the rule of God could be experienced only through the Law, and since Israel was the custodian of the Law, Israel was in effect the custodian of the Kingdom of God. When Gentiles became Jewish proselytes and adopted the Law, they thereby took upon themselves the sovereignty of heaven, the Kingdom of God. God’s rule was mediated to the Gentiles through Israel; they alone were the “sons of the kingdom.”

In Jesus, the reign of God manifested itself in a new redemptive event, displaying in an unexpected way within history the powers of the eschatological Kingdom. The nation as a whole rejected the proclamation of this divine event, but those who accepted it became the true children of the Kingdom and entered into the enjoyment of its blessings and powers. These disciples of Jesus, his ekklesia, now became the custodians of the Kingdom rather than the nation Israel. The Kingdom is taken from Israel and given to others – Jesus’ ekklesia (Mk 12:9). Jesus’ disciples not only witness to the Kingdom and are the instruments of the Kingdom as it manifests its powers in this age; they are also its custodians.

This fact is expressed in the saying about the keys [of the Kingdom, and Rome’s interpretation that] whatever they bind or loose on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven (Mt 16:19). Since the idiom of binding and loosing in rabbinical usage often refers to prohibiting or permitting certain actions, this saying has frequently been interpreted to refer to administrative control over the church. Background for this concept is found in Isaiah 22:22 where God entrusted to Eliakim the key to the house of David, an act that included administration of the entire house. According to this interpretation, Jesus gave Peter the authority to make decisions for conduct in the church over which he is to exercise supervision. When Peter set aside Jewish ritual practices that there might be free fellowship with the gentiles, he exercised administrative authority.

… another interpretation lies nearer at hand. Jesus condemned the scribes and the Pharisees because they had taken away the key of knowledge, refusing to enter the Kingdom of God themselves or to permit others t enter (Luke 11:52). The same though appears in the first Gospel. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” (Matt 23:13). In biblical idiom, knowledge is more than intellectual perception. It is “a spiritual possession resting on revelation.” The authority entrusted to Peter is grounded upon revelation, that is, spiritual knowledge, which he shared with the twelve. The keys of the Kingdom are therefore “the spiritual insight which will enable Peter to lead others in through the door of revelation through which he has passed himself.”

The authority to bind and loose involves the admission or exclusion of people from the realm of the Kingdom of God. Christ will build his ekklesia upon Peter and upon those who share the divine revelation of Jesus’ messiahship. To them also is committed by virtue of this same revelation the means of permitting people to enter the realm of the blessings of the Kingdom or of excluding them from such participation (cf Acts 10).

This interpretation receives support from rabbinic usage, for binding or loosing can also refer to putting under ban or to acquitting. This meaning is patent in Matthew 18:18 where a member of the congregation who is unrepentant of sin against his brother is to be excluded from the fellowship; for “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The same truth is found in a Johannine saying where the resurrected jesus performs the acted parable of breathing on his disciples, thus promising them the Holy Spirit as equipment for their future mission. Then Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). This cannot be understood as the exercise of an arbitrary authority. It is the inevitable issue of witnessing to the Kingdom of God. It is furthermore an authority exercised not by Peter but by all the disciples – the church.

As a matter of fact, the disciples had already exercised this authority of binding and loosing when they visited the cities of Israel, proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Wherever they and their message were accepted, peace rested upon that house; but wherever they and their message were rejected, the judgment of God was sealed to that house (Matt 10:14, 15). They were indeed instruments of the Kingdom in effecting the forgiveness of sins; and by virtue of that very fact, they were also custodians of the Kingdom. Their ministry had the actual result either of opening the door of the Kingdom to men and women or of shutting it to those who spurned their message.

This truth is expressed in other sayings. “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me” (Matt 10:40; see Mark 9:37).

I have much more to say about the notion that God put Peter in charge and that the “government” of the church would have the same government in place for all of history. In truth, God is the “government” and if Peter had the keys, they were for a specific task, a specific purpose. There is no concept that keys would be handed on. There is no sense that “thrones” would be handed on. Roman (and other bishops) made that assumption. But God is the Authority. God is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory.

God rules. That is the message implicit and explicit in ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεο, “the Kingdom of God”.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Richard Dawkins for Prime Minister

Rocking the boat

Recently I was thinking a bit more about the notion, beloved by liberals and atheists alike, that Bible writers believed in a triple-decker universe. On this view, as I understand it, there was a central landmass which floated on the primordial sea. The sea was under and around the land.

Let’s bracket inspiration for a moment and just consider if this would make sense to an ancient Near Easterner, with no modern scientific knowledge. What would that cosmography entail?

Well, on that view, the earth would be a boat or raft at sea. And that’s something ancient fishermen and mariners were acquainted with. But in that event, you'd expect the land to bob up and down with every wave and ripple–like a waterbed or cork in a bathtub. But although ancient Near Easterners experienced the occasional earthquake, life on dry land was quite different than stepping into a boat. 

It would also be a pretty top-heavy ship, what with those mountainous pillars supporting the solid dome overhead. During an earthquake, wouldn't the ship capsize? 

Scaling the ramparts

What's theism?

If we define atheism as lack of belief in God, then is theism lack of lack of belief in God? Is lack of lack of something something or a different kind of nothing?


Catholics persecuting Catholics

What this article fails to mention is that Kathleen Sebelius is, herself, Roman Catholic. So why does the Catholic church allow Catholic officials to persecute the Catholic church with impunity? Why not excommunicate her?

She has been threatened with ecclesiastical sanctions in the past, but apparently that's just an empty threat. No follow through. Just the usual thumb-twiddling and hand-wringing by ineffectual bishops:

As usual, we have the specter of pious lay Catholics like Ken Blackwell who stick up for their denomination while the official representatives of his denomination sit on their hands, hemming and hawing.

Couple Married 72 Years Dies Holding Hands

Maintaining Scientific and Christian Truths in a Postmodern World

HT: Patrick Chan

Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside


The picture obviously contradicts Catholic theology of the Mass, and Steve ought to know better. The Body and Blood of Christ suffer no damage or corruption in being consumed. If one breaks a Consecrated host in two, Christ is present, whole, intact, and entire, in each part. If one breaks the host in one's mouth, Christ is present entire in so many pieces. He remains present, undergoing no intrinsic change, until the appearances of bread or wine break down, at which point His presence ceases entirely.
The quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia doesn’t make the distinction as to how this act of eating differs from ordinary acts of eating, which affect the thing eaten. But that isn’t its point. It is merely establishing that it is a literal act of eating.

But that highlights the duplicity of the Catholic appeal. The way it plays both sides of the fence.

On the one hand, when Catholics are assailing the view of the Lord’s Supper held by Baptists, Presbyterians et al., they accentuate the graphic, even cannibalistic, imagery of Jn 6. They insist that we should take the text at face value. Protestants trifle with the plain sense of the text.

They say that’s what the Jews found so offensive about Christ’s statement. That Jesus went out of his way to rub it in. And they say Baptists, Presbyterians et al. are recapitulating the rationalistic attitude of the unbelieving Jews.

When, however, Protestants like me simply take their interpretation to its logical conclusion (e.g. the zombie Last Supper), they wax indignant. They say this reflects an ignorant misunderstanding of Catholic dogma.

And, of course, it’s quite truth that the dogma of transubstantiation presents a far more buffered conception of the real presence. But that, too, exposes the duplicity of the Catholic appeal.

When, on the one hand, Catholics are prooftexting the real presence, they stress the uncompromising literality of Jn 6. When, on the other hand, Protestants say their interpretation is cannibalistic, they blink. They introduce buffers that you can’t find in the text.

Sure, transubstantiation is less graphic because the Host is indiscernible. Transubstantiation filters Jn 6 through a rarified lens that makes it safely abstract. Keeps the blood and gore at a polite distance. That makes the dogma more palatable. But at that point the Catholic theory of the real presence backs away from the graphic wording of its chosen prooftext

And, in the process, Catholics neuter the text. Render the text fairly inoffensive.  They take the sting out of Jesus’ words. If only Jesus had favored his audience with a disquisition on Aristotelian metaphysics, distinguishing substance from accident, primary qualities from phenomenal qualia.


Exit interviews

Hearing God

God’s Divine Government is not “the Church”

In a recent post, I discussed “the Kingdom of God” as a concept, as it is presented in the Gospel of Mark, in a study by R.T. France: “Divine Government: God’s Kingship in the Gospel of Mark” (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, ©1990). France noted that the Greek phrase ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεο, frequently translated “the Kingdom of God” and in shorthand, “the Kingdom”, misses the true sense of that phrase.

In reality, the sense that Mark (and the other New Testament writers) overwhelmingly intend is, “There is, as we have noted, no reference in Mark to ‘the kingdom’ as if it were a ‘thing’ in itself. It is ‘God’ that is the controlling noun. The message of Mark 1.15 is not that a change of government is imminent, but that God is taking over (which potentially puts a question mark against any human political programme, even a Jewish one)”.

For the sake of this and subsequent articles on the topic, and without going into too much detail at this point, I will note that the phrases “The Kingdom of God” and “The Kingdom of Heaven” are essentially equivalent – Matthew, writing to a largely Jewish audience, used the word “Heaven” “as a reverential substitute for “God”. (Schreiner, “New Testament Theology,” pg 46.) “It follows, on this view, that the expressions “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” refer to the same reality and should not be distinguished.” I’m not sure that anyone contests this.

With that said, I’d like to give yet another example of official Roman Catholic dogmatic arrogance in the face of God. I’d like to compare France’s portrayal of “Divine Government” with the concept that this Called to Communion article by Bryan Cross and Thomas Brown entitled “Christ Founded a Visible Church” portrays: that “The Roman Catholic Church is the Kingdom of God”.
Many Christians do not realize that the Catholic Church is and claims to be the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, in the Kingdom’s nascent stage. They mistakenly think of the Kingdom as either entirely invisible, entirely spiritual, or entirely future. Lumen Gentium specifically affirms that the Church is Christ’s Kingdom:
The Church, or, in other words, the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery, grows visibly through the power of God in the world [Lumen Gentium 3].
By “present in mystery” the Council meant that the Catholic Church is the Kingdom of Heaven in its beginning or seminal stage, i.e. the stage prior to the return of Christ. We do not now see the fullness of the Kingdom. But the Catholic Church is the present rule of Christ on the earth. Jesus did not say to Peter, “I give you the keys of the Church, but I retain the keys of the Kingdom.” Rather, Jesus said to Peter, “I will give to you [singular] the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” The keys of the Kingdom of Heaven are the apostolic authority over the Church. That is why the Catechism says,
The Church is the seed and beginning of this kingdom. Her keys are entrusted to Peter [CCC 567].

To fulfill the Father’s will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. The Church is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery [CCC 763].

The [Roman Catholic] Church is ultimately one, holy, catholic, and apostolic in her deepest and ultimate identity, because it is in her that the Kingdom of heaven, the Reign of God, already exists and will be fulfilled at the end of time [CCC 865].
***End of “Called-to-Communion” quote***

First of all, note the condescension: “Many people do not realize…” My guess is that no one really knows what Lumen Gentium is saying here. (There is “plausible deniability” built into every official Roman Catholic doctrinal statement. Steve Hays has documented this phenomenon magnificently in his article The Magisterial cat-and-mouse game.) It is characteristic of Roman Catholic understanding of dogma today that its language is so convoluted that, no matter what “interpretation” is given, it can always be claimed (by writers like Bryan Cross and Thomas Brown) that “we [or they] didn’t truly and infallibly capture the meaning of the dogma”. Of course, the language is so convoluted, no one can. On the other hand, this convoluted method of expression lends itself perfectly to the lofty types of claims that are made in this article.

There is a lot to sort through in these selections. Here is how Lumen Gentium 3 actually says it, equating “the Roman Catholic Church” with “The Kingdom of God”:
To carry out the will of the Father, Christ inaugurated the Kingdom of heaven on earth and revealed to us the mystery of that kingdom. By His obedience He brought about redemption. The Church, or, in other words, the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery, grows visibly through the power of God in the world.
One of the difficulties in dealing with Roman Catholic Vatican II teachings is the denseness of the language that is used. And this is a prime example of it. By the phrase, “in other words”, it seems as if the writers of this document seem to be equating “The Church” and “the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery”.

But things are not always what they seem.

Look then at the phrase that Cross and Brown use, “We do not now see the fullness of the Kingdom. But the Catholic Church is the present rule of Christ on the earth.” And keep in mind that when Cross and Brown say the word “Church”, they mean “the Roman Catholic Church” and its visible hierarchy.

The Bible does not talk about a visible hierarchy, but in official Roman conciliar (Vatican II) dogma, “the mystery of the church” somehow becomes “manifest” – this one is not hard to find, a few paragraphs down, still quoting Lumen Gentium:
The mystery of the holy Church is manifest in its very foundation. The Lord Jesus set it on its course by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Kingdom of God, which, for centuries, had been promised in the Scriptures: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand". In the word, in the works, and in the presence of Christ, this kingdom was clearly open to the view of men. The Word of the Lord is compared to a seed which is sown in a field; those who hear the Word with faith and become part of the little flock of Christ, have received the Kingdom itself. Then, by its own power the seed sprouts and grows until harvest time. The Miracles of Jesus also confirm that the Kingdom has already arrived on earth: "If I cast out devils by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you". Before all things, however, the Kingdom is clearly visible in the very Person of Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man, who came "to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many:"

When Jesus, who had suffered the death of the cross for mankind, had risen, He appeared as the one constituted as Lord, Christ and eternal Priest, and He poured out on His disciples the Spirit promised by the Father. From this source the [Roman Catholic] Church, equipped with the gifts of its Founder and faithfully guarding His precepts of charity, humility and self-sacrifice, receives the mission to proclaim and to spread among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God and to be, on earth, the initial budding forth of that kingdom. While it slowly grows, the [Roman Catholic] Church strains toward the completed Kingdom and, with all its strength, hopes and desires to be united in glory with its King.
This is a classical Roman Catholic bait-and-switch. At the beginning of this passage, it’s a “mystery”, but when the smoke clears, at the end, the “mystery”, presto-changeo, clearly reveals and assumes that the Roman Catholic Church is “the Kingdom of God”.

No amount of analysis can show just how this equation is made. It is “a mystery” and then, voila, it is “manifest”.

But what is “the Kingdom of God”? Cross and Brown doesn’t simply make this claim (that “the Roman Catholic Church” is “the Kingdom of God”). They give a specific time and identity to this “kingdom” and makes the claim that the Roman Catholic Church is no less than the Kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament. Let’s take a couple of representative looks:
The New Testament authors understand the Church as the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. The angel Gabriel tells Mary that the Lord God will give her Son the “throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”
See how they equivocate – or rather, they allow Roman Catholic teaching to serve as the “touch point” to equate “The Kingdom of God” (the Kingdom of the Son of David) with “the Roman Catholic Church”. There is no exegetical justification given to show that “the Roman Catholic Church” is “The Kingdom of God”.

Look at the language Cross and Brown use, trying to make their own exegetical link: “the Catholic Church is and claims to be the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, in the Kingdom’s nascent stage”.
Christ’s teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet that gathers fish of every kind is paralleled in the account in John 21 where the disciples catch 153 fish and draw the net upon the land. That account clearly refers to the Apostles, as fishers of men, bringing all the nations into the Church, and in this way we again see that the Church is the Kingdom in its present stage.
Right at the heart, where, if Cross and Brown are trying to prove from the Scriptures that “the Roman Catholic Church is “The Kingdom of God”, they misuse it. They set up the Roman Catholic Church’s visible hierarchy, right here in John 21. But to do that, they need to have something other than Vatican II’s word for it. Exegetical justification for this reading is clearly lacking. To equate the Apostles with “rulership in the kingdom on earth” as they do is to clearly miss that God rules -- that is the exegetical meaning of “the kingdom”, and I’ll address this next time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Quiet Revival

More people have come to Christ in Boston in the last three decades than during the Great Awakening.

A few math resources

A few math resources Christians in particular might find useful:

Hollow bones, thin blood

Beth is in quite a bit of pain lately, and while I can’t comment on it from a medical perspective, it seems as if she is indeed suffering from “hollow bones and thin blood”.

Her most recent bone marrow biopsy said the cellular matter in her marrow was down to 20% (for normal folks, it’s 50%), and her primary blood levels – hemoglobin, white blood cells, and platelets, continue to fall and hover at low levels. On her most recent blood chart, her white blood cells are a “critical low”.

The Vidaza she is taking is a form of chemotherapy that has two functions: a cytotoxic effect, which just simply kills bad (and good) cells, and a genetic component, which is supposed to allow some of the “undifferentiated” blast cells (baby blood cells) to “grow up” and differentiate into the kinds of cells they are supposed to be. The first effect continues to work – she feels terrible – but I think that, because her brand of leukemia is so rare, the Vidaza doesn’t quite touch on the genes that enable these blast cells to differentiate normally.

So the net effect is that she is receiving a light version of a chemotherapy (which is working), but with none of the good effects.

And the overall effect is that the various pressures in her body are causing pain, “way deep down” as she says, in her bones.

The good news is that we now have one individual who qualifies on the DNA (10 of 10 matches on HLA markers) scale to be a donor, and who has agreed to do it. There are two more people who are 10/10 matches who are undergoing final testing, and we may hear from them this week.

Please keep us in your prayers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Inspired intent

I’m going to comment on some recent statements by William B. Evans over at Ref21. For the most part I will avoid commenting on the correct interpretation of Gen 1. Instead, I will focus on the correct methods and assumptions we should bring to the interpretation of Gen 1. Evans illustrates his claims by making certain interpretive moves, and to the extent that this goes to the question of correct methods and assumptions, I will comment on his exegesis. But in the main my comments are more programmatic in nature.

I basically agree with what he said about “the perspicuity of scripture” and “exegetical populism” in his initial “Perspicuity, Exegetical Populism, and Tolerance: A Reply to G. I. Williamson.” To be sure, he had more in mind than he actually spelled out at that juncture, but confining myself to what he stated in that particular post, I agree with him. The issue is how he subsequently developed those otherwise unobjectionable points.

Moving along, he says:

And finally, in practice nobody consistently regards authorial intent as decisive.  For example, there are those who champion the Westminster regulative principle of worship and yet see no contradiction in singing hymns (something originally understood to be precluded by that principle).  I'm also struck by the way that even the most ardent sabbatarian today does not observe the Sabbath with near the rigor that is implied by the language of WLC QQ. 115-121.  The confessional reasoning behind the 1722 deposition of a minister by New Castle Presbytery for bathing in a creek on the Sabbath is undoubtedly closer to authorial intent.  Finally, WLC QQ. 124-133 clearly assume the British class system of the seventeenth century (and would not have been written apart from that social context), and yet I do not hear the strict-subscriptionist champions of authorial intent, who tend to be quite Whiggish and republican in their social sentiments, calling for confessional revisions here. In short, a focus on authorial intent at the expense of subsequent interpretive history and the authority of the believing community results in an unfortunate selectivity as intent is appealed to when it is convenient and ignored it when it is not.

This fails to adequately distinguish two distinct and separable issues. Perhaps that distinction was implicit in what he wrote, but if so, it needs to be explicated:

i) Is original intent normative for the interpretation of a document?

ii) Is original intent normative for the application or enforcement of a document?

Suppose (arguendo) that the Westminster Divines meant to say that God made the world in six consecutive calendar days. If so, then that does bind subsequent generations when it comes to the interpretation of the Confessional text. We should exegete the Confessional text according to the intent of the framers. What it means is rooted in what they meant to convey by their words. And that principle holds true for inspired and uninspired writings alike.

Evans has also said it can be difficult to ascertain original intent. We can’t interview the dead. And that’s true, although it overlooks the fact that one reason people commit their beliefs to writing is to preserve a posthumous record of their beliefs. Put another way, one purpose of writing is to make a personally unavailable writer available to the reader. For instance, that’s why St. Paul writes letters to churches when he can’t address the audience face-to-face. That one-to-many dynamic applies both in time and space. It makes dead writers available to the living via their writings. The dead aren’t directly available to the living, but indirectly available via the thoughts they commit to writing.

Over and above the meaning of the text is the question textual authority. Do the intentions of the writer bind the belief or practice of the reader? Does the writer have the authority to impose his viewpoint on subsequent generations?

That’s a different issue than the interpretive issue. For instance, even if (arguendo) the Westminster Divines both meant to teach a particular timeframe for creation as well as to mandate that teaching for posterity, those are distinct and separable issues. In principle, you can say, “Yes, that’s they understood their own words, but I simply disagree with them.”

That would be an honest disagreement, which–however–allows the writer to speak in his own voice rather than ventriloquize what the reader would like him to say if the reader were the writer. Can a writer impose his views on the reader? Can a reader impose his interpretation on the writer? Different questions.

But unlike (i), where the same principle applies to inspired and uninspired writings alike, there is a distinction with (ii). An uninspired writer cannot ipso facto impose his views on the reader. He lacks that inherent authority. Of course, if he happens to be right, then the reader ought to assent.

In the case of an inspired writer (or speaker), by contrast, whatever the writer means to inculcate does have the authority to obligate the reader’s assent. And this, in turn, can generate psychological tension if a Christian reader happens to think original intent is mistaken.

But there is also a deeper issue lurking here in this hermeneutical apotheosis of the common man, and that is the role of ANE historical data to this discussion.  For example, would the average person in ancient Israel read the text in the same way that Matt Miller does?

That’s a valid distinction as far as it goes.

Given that the cosmologies assumed are quite different, there are likely to be significant divergences as to details.  I dealt with this question in the article I cited in my first post on this topic.  In it I wrote: "In recent months, I have perused a number of Reformed defenses of literal 24-hour, six-day creationism.  Sadly, all of these works have failed to take any stock of the enormous amount of data from comparative studies of ancient Near Eastern literature suggesting that the narrative in Genesis 1 is framed in terms of a cosmology quite coherent to the ancients, but which we ourselves do not share.  Now this is quite important, for none of us believes in a literal 'firmament,' or in 'pillars of heaven,' or in 'windows of heaven,' or in 'fountains of the deep,' at least as these biblical terms were apparently understood by the ancients.  In short, we must face the distinct possibility that none of us is truly a 'literalist.'" (William B. Evans, "The NAPARC Churches and the Peculiar Challenges of Our Time," Presbyterion: Covenant Seminary Review 27/1 (2001): 10-11).
We have known for quite some time how people in the ANE construed the structure of the cosmos.  They, and other primitive peoples more recently, thought that there were the "waters below" (after all, if you dig down into the earth or travel far enough in any direction you are likely to encounter water) and the "waters above" (after all, the sky is blue and rain comes down from the sky).  Restraining the "waters above" was a barrier known as the "expanse" (ESV) or "firmament" (KJV).  The Hebrew term translated here (raqia) has the sense of a hard vault or dome or canopy (see the massive body of ANE and anthropological data compiled in Paul H. Seely, "The Firmament and the Water Above. Part I: The Meaning of raqia in Genesis 1," Westminster Theological Journal 53 (1991): 227-240; and "The Firmament and the Water Above. Part II: The Meaning of `The Water above the Firmament' in Gen. 1:6-8," Westminster Theological Journal 54 (1992): 31-46), and such usage meshes well with other ANE documents where the same conceptions are evident.   Other portions of the narrative, such as the creation of the sun, moon, and stars on Day 4 and their placement "in the expanse," fit well with this ancient phenomenological conventional cosmology, but severe aporias result when we try to pull this narrative without remainder into a post-Copernican scientific cosmology. 
As we probe the interpretive significance of this cosmology the key terms here are phenomenological and conventional.    This understanding of the world is phenomenological (the way the world appears to those unencumbered by knowledge of modern science) rather than mythical, which explains why similar notions occur in a wide variety of ancient and primitive cultures.  It is also conventional in that it was shared by people in that cultural context generally, and in that it was not a rigorously systematized understanding.  For example, sometimes rain is said to come when the "windows of heaven" in the expanse are opened (Genesis 7:11; 8:2; Isaiah 24:18; Malachi 3:10), while at other times rain is said to come from clouds (Judges 5:4; Proverbs 16:15).  For these reasons, the term "cosmology" is likely a bit pretentious for what we are talking about here.  This was simply the conceptual furniture of the ancient Israelites, the way the average person thought, and it likely did not occur to them that things might be otherwise.
The fact that the narrative is framed in terms of this ancient phenomenological and conventional understanding of the cosmos places some limits on how literally we can interpret at least some of the details of Genesis 1.  But it is quite a leap to maintain that the recognition of this ancient cosmology somehow undermines the Evangelical and Reformed doctrine of Scripture.  That the narrative in Genesis 1 is framed in terms that would be understandable to the original audience rather than in a modern scientific idiom hardly means that the text is teaching the truth of that ancient phenomenological and conventional cosmology (more about this below).

This raises a host of issues:

i) Not only is Evans suggesting that the narrator of Genesis 1 “framed” the account in terms of an obsolete cosmology, but that he understood this cosmology to be true, that his audience understood this cosmology to be true, that he therefore intended to convey as a true description of the world what we now know to be false. I don’t see how Evans can salvage an orthodox doctrine of inspiration from that position.

ii) He says “it was not a rigorously systematized understanding,” noting the alternation between rain from clouds and rain from the “windows of heaven”–fed by a cosmic sea. But doesn’t this invite the explanation that rain clouds” were understood literally whereas “windows of heaven” (fed by a cosmic sea) were understood figuratively?

iii) He seems to use “phenomenological” as synonym for figurative or nonliteral. If so, that’s incorrect. Take the phenomenological description of the Ascension in Acts 1:9-11. That’s narrated in observational language, from the perspective of ground-based eyewitnesses. Yet that hardly renders it figurative. For that’s how a ground-based observer would actually perceive the Ascension. That’s how a real event like the Ascension would appear to him, from his vantage point.

To be sure, that’s relative. If you saw the Ascension from a helicopter, that would be a different perspective on same event. But both phenomenological descriptions would be “literal” or representational.

iv) Apropos (iii), Evans says “This understanding of the world is phenomenological (the way the world appears to those unencumbered by knowledge of modern science)…” But 2nd millennium AD observers inhabit the same “phenomenological” world as 2nd millennium BC observers. The sensible world appears the same way to us as it did to them. Our scientific knowledge doesn’t change appearances. It doesn’t alter our sensory perception of the world, or the perspective of a ground-based observer. We may interpret the sense data differently, but the sense data remain the same.

v) Likewise, in relation to a ground-based observer, we perceive the sky higher than the surface of the earth, while lakes, oceans, &c. seem lower than the surface of the earth–because that’s really the case. Take someone who goes to Jacob’s well. The well water seems to be lower than ground level because it really is. There’s nothing unscientific about that perspective. Likewise, take a fisherman on the sea of Galilee. The lake seems lower (or deeper) than ground level because it really is. There’s nothing unscientific about that perspective.

By the same token, when birds fly in the air, over our heads, they really are above us. That’s not figurative.

vi) Evans says “This was simply the conceptual furniture of the ancient Israelites, the way the average person thought, and it likely did not occur to them that things might be otherwise.”

Is that true? Think about that for a moment. Imagine yourself in the situation of an ancient Near Easterner. You can see storm clouds precipitate rain and hail.

Conversely, if the world was basically a closed-system, like a fish tank, then wouldn’t the water table continue to rise after every heavy rain? Wouldn’t coastal flooding be permanent? Wouldn’t “groundwater” rise to the surface over time?

Likewise, you’d have occasion to climb the local hills or mountains. Once you got to the summit you could see for yourself that a solid dome of the sky didn’t rest on the tops of the hills or mountains–like pillars supporting a roof. The air on the mountaintop wasn’t enclosed by a “hard vault.”

If the celestial luminaries were embedded in a hard vault, how would an ancient observer account for sidereal motion, synodic motion, or even retrograde motion?

vii) It’s unclear how Evans relates the “phenomenological” category to the “conventional” category. Does the conventional idiom codify the phenomenological perspective? Or is he setting “conventions” in some sort of contrast to phenomena?

viii) For instance, Gregory Beale take the position that the “triple-decker” universe is a conventional architectural metaphor. Bible writers depict the world as a building to foreshadow the tabernacle and backshadow the cosmic temple. Cf. The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (Crossway, 2008), chaps. 6-7.

On that interpretation, this is consciously figurative or analogical. The narrator intentionally compares the physical world to a building to trade on connotations with sacred space. That would also account for the “lights” on day 4, which prefigure and parallel the lamps in the tabernacle. Cf. W. Vogels, “The Cultic and Civil Calendars of the Fourth Day of Creation (Gen 1,14b),” SJOT 11 (1997), 175.

ix) Apropos (viii), is raqia a “hard vault”? That’s disputed. For instance, Victor Hamilton, in his standard commentary, argues otherwise. Cf. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (Eerdmans, 1991), 122.

But even if that’s the imagery which the term conjures up, this doesn’t necessarily mean the narrator thought the sky was actually a solid dome. Rather, he may be using architectural imagery to foreshadow the tabernacle. An intertextual Pentateuchal parallel.

x) Appealing to other ANE literature merely pushes the same interpretive questions back a step.

xi) It’s unfortunate that Evans uncritically cites two articles by Paul Seely without addressing the counterevidence. Cf. Noel K. Weeks, “Cosmology in Historical Context,” WTJ 68.2 (Fall 2006): 283-293; V. Poythress, Redeeming Science (Crossway, 2006), 96n8.

He quotes a statement by A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield:

They are written in human languages, whose words, inflection, constructions, and idioms bear everywhere indelible traces of human error.  The record itself furnishes evidence that the writers were in large measure dependent for their knowledge upon sources and methods in themselves fallible, and that their personal knowledge and judgments were in many matters hesitating and defective, or even wrong.

But this is odd. For idiomatic usage is normally understood to be idiomatic (i.e. a figure of speech) by a native speaker and his target audience. So how would that indicate an erroneous conception?

The biblical authors wrote to an audience that knew what things like trees and clouds and the Euphrates River were, and they expected readers to use that background of knowledge in the interpretation of the biblical text.  In fact, we cannot begin to interpret any text, let alone the Scriptural text, apart from the matrix of knowledge and experience that we possess (most of which is not derived from Scripture).

But there’s a difference between what constituted background information for the narrator and his target audience over against what may constitute background information for a modern reader. It would be anachronistic to reinterpret Gen 1 in light of modern science.