Saturday, May 26, 2012

The butler did it


Ze’Shabipex: Comrade, why do you think the humans are chasing a rubber ball around the field?

Qu’Thoqojox: It appears to be a form of corporal punishment practiced by certain primates in Latin America. Notice how they try to hit that man standing in front of the net with the ball.

Ze’Shabipex: That must be why it’s televised. And why they have so many spectators in the stands. It’s a deterrent.

Still, kicking a ball when someone is chasing you seems to be a pretty inefficient way to hit convict.

Qu’Thoqojox: As we’ve discovered, comrade, humans aren’t very smart.

Ze’Shabipex: They have a similar form of public corporal punishment in Canada. Only there the punishers wear skates and try to hit the convict with a rubber puck using sticks as they slip and slide around the ice rink.

Qu’Thoqojox: Wouldn’t it be a whole lot simpler if they just walked up to the convict and bonked him on the head with their sticks?

Ze’Shabipex: You’d think so. But humans are just one rung up the ladder from chimpanzees. So we can’t expect too much from them.

Qu’Thoqojox: Isn’t there a variant form of punishment in the United States?

Ze’Shabipex: Yes, comrade. But there one of the primates tries to protect the convict by blocking the ball with a bat.

Qu’Thoqojox: Wouldn’t it be more efficient to put the backstop in front of the convict to keep him from getting hurt?

Ze’Shabipex: They need a lot of help, don’t they? Unfortunately, the Prime Directive forbids us from kick-starting their internal social evolution.

Qu’Thoqojox: So what should we tell our superiors back on the home planet?

Ze’Shabipex: I’m recommending that earth be recycled for the raw minerals.

Atonement and Islam

I’ve been asked to comment on this post:

P.S As I have publicly stated before, much thanks is due to the late Dr. Ken Pulliam, for his research on this topic assisted me very much.

Ken and I got into a lengthy, impromptu debate over penal substitution. For that reason, I’m going to skip some of Zawadi’s objections, since I’ve gone over the same ground in Appendix 5 of the following work:

Argument no. 1: It is Unjust, Hence Compromising God’s Holy Attribute of Justice
Both Islam in Surah 91:8 and Christianity in Romans 2:14-15 teach that human beings are naturally inspired with certain moral intuitions.

There are many problems with that premise:

i) Scholars like Jewett, Cranfield, Wright, Gathercole, and Zahn think this has reference to Christian gentiles rather than human beings generally. And in that respect, it would also have reference to special revelation (i.e. the new covenant) rather than general revelation.

ii) Even if we grant Zawadi’s interpretation, Paul himself teaches penal substitution. Therefore, it’s counterproductive to cite Rom 2:14-15 as an argument against penal substitution.

iii) Likewise, even if we grant Zawadi’s interpretation, that’s a double-edged sword:

a) On the one hand, Islam has numerous taboos which many non-Muslims don’t find intuitively wrong. Islam forbids alcohol, but many non-Muslims don’t regard alcoholic consumption as intuitively wrong. Muslims regard dogs as ritually impure. Many non-Muslims don’t. Muslims regard pork as ritually impure. Many non-Muslims don’t.

From what I’ve read, Islam frowns on communal showers in locker rooms. But many non-Muslims don’t find that intuitively wrong.

Muslims might try to draw a parallel with ritual purity in the OT. However, cultic holiness wasn’t based on what’s intrinsically or intuitively wrong.

b) On the other hand, Muslims also have numerous practices which many non-Muslims find intuitively wrong, viz., jihad, child marriage, honor-killings, female genital mutilation, a sexual double standard for men and women.

c) Hence, Muslims defend whatever their religion commends or condemns. Moral intuition is irrelevant. If the Koran endorsed penal substitution, Zawadi would defend penal substitution.

iv) Many cultures practice vicarious sacrifice. Why don't they find that intuitively immoral?

Zawadi can't appeal to the noetic affects of sin, for Islam doesn't have original sin. 

Secondly, it is true that God is not judged by laws but that doesn’t mean that He isn’t necessarily good by nature. If he wasn’t then God would be able to turn all good into evil and if He could go that far then why not simply forgive all sin and hold no one accountable? Punishing the guilty and sparing the innocent is more than just a law, it’s a moral principle.

From what I’ve read, orthodox (i.e. Asharite) Islamic theology is voluntaristic.

For al-Ash'ari, divine justice is a matter of faith. We know the difference between good and evil solely because of God's revelation, and not by the exercise of our own reason. God makes the rules and whatever he decrees is just, yet God himself is under no obligation: if he wished, he could punish the righteous and admit the wicked to paradise (see Voluntarism).

Argument no. 2: The Atonement Invalidates The True Concept of Forgiveness
What does forgiveness mean? We read the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-15… In Luke 7:36-50 Jesus gives an example of true forgiveness.

i) These passages illustrate certain aspects of Biblical forgiveness but they are not exhaustive.

ii) Mt 20:28 teaches penal substitution.

If someone owes you a thousand dollars and you wanted to “forgive this debt” that would mean that you would have to forgo the thousand dollars and absorb your losses. If Kevin owes you a thousand dollars and then you tell Kevin you don’t have to pay it anymore and that John could pay it instead, that doesn’t mean that you have truly forgiven Kevin’s debt. Kevin’s debt is still there even though it’s not Kevin paying it anymore. The only way for you to TRULY forgive Kevin’s debt is for you to absorb your losses. Similarly, the only way for God to TRULY forgive us our debt is to let go of the debt all together. Now we don’t say that God “absorbs His losses” because God is independent of all creatures and has no “losses”, but the logic is the same in that God would have to forgo the debt all together in order to TRULY forgive us our debts. However, in Christianity we don’t see that because Jesus takes the debt and pays it.
True forgiveness is a virtuous act of letting go of a wrong without exacting any form of payment or punishment in return. But Christianity teaches that Jesus bore the punishment of sinners on the cross fully paying off the debt. In that case there is nothing to forgive. Yes, only those who accept what Jesus has done for them will receive the benefits of his alleged sacrificial death for Christianity does not teach universalism, but in REALITY their debt to God wasn’t TRULY forgiven.

i) To begin with, Zawadi’s definition of forgiveness simply begs the question.

ii) In addition, his analysis is simplistic and confused. In divine forgiveness, there are three parties to the transaction, not two: God, the Redeemer, and the sinner. God is not simultaneously forgiving and punishing the same person. Rather, God punishes the Redeemer, but forgives the sinner.

Argument no. 3: Jesus’ Vicarious Death Causes Problems For The Trinity (which is supposedly a description of God’s Holy Nature)
Romans 6:23 states that the wages of sin is death. Death here referring to a spiritual death. A spiritual death (unlike a physical death which is a separation of the soul from the body) entails the soul being separate from the presence of God. as one could see in Genesis 2:17 where God said that Adam would “surely die” for eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Life.
Now most mainstream Christians are of the view that all the three persons in the Godhead and not only the Father required propitiation (that is they required to be satisfied from the problem of sin) because if it was only the Father then the Son and Holy Spirit wouldn’t be as Holy as the Father, which would be problematic.
Now since all three persons required propitiation and since the wages of sin is spiritual death, how exactly did Jesus propitiate himself? He is supposed to be both the subject and object of propitiation. How does one satisfy his own wrath by punishing himself? Also, if Jesus is God and he must spiritually die and become separated from God, how does he become separated from himself? Despite having two separate natures he is still one person according to orthodox and mainstream Christianity. So how did he separate from himself? It appears that Christians say that he was separated from God the Father and that would count as a spiritual death. I’ll go with that idea for the sake of argument.
John Calvin and other reformed scholars such as Charles Hodge, John MacArthur, RC Sproul, John Piper and others insist that mere corporeal death wouldn’t have been sufficient, but that Jesus during his hours on the cross must have truly been separate from God the Father and that his soul endured such trauma.
But if Jesus were truly separate from God the Father for those few hours then doesn’t that mean that there was a temporary break and disconnect in the Trinity? Didn’t that intercommunion in the Godhead temporarily stop? Isn’t that a change in God, which Malachi 3:6 says cannot happen since God does not change?

i) Zawadi is getting carried away with the word “separation.” That’s popular usage. Preachers often employ graphic, concrete language. This is just a spatial metaphor. Poetic. It doesn’t mean the Father and the Son were literally or metaphysically separated.

ii) Due to the Incarnation, Jesus can be both the subject and the object of propitiation.

iii) Jesus didn’t die “spiritually.” He died physically.

Also, doesn’t Jesus dying and suffering for us mean that he is more worthy of honor and praise than the Father who only sent him? Does the commander who sends his soldier to die in a mission that saved the lives of millions deserve and get the same level of honor as the soldier sent to die? Surely not! The one who does the dirty work is at a much higher level in terms of praise and honour than the one who sent him to do the dirty work. Surely the Son feels a bit closer to us than the Father while the Father feels a bit more transcendent than the Son? So COULD (not should, but COULD) we honestly we love the Father AS MUCH as the son? Doesn’t the atonement raise problematic concerns for God’s supposedly Holy Triune nature?

This objection is overly anthropomorphic. Too Miltonian (i.e. Paradise Lost).

It’s not like Zeus sending Apollo on a grueling mission, where Zeus is up on Mt. Olympus, eating ambrosia, while Apollo is sweating it out down below.

In the communication of attributes, what is true of each nature can be attributed to the person, not to the other nature.

God doesn’t suffer. The Son qua Son doesn’t suffer:

Friday, May 25, 2012

The freewill defense

This is generally the theodicy of choice in freewill theism. Arminians are usually oblivious to problems with the freewill defense, in large part because Arminians usually debate Calvinists rather than atheists. By contrast:

The Ethics of War

Defending pretribulationalism during the Great Tribulation

Defenders of Dispensational Premillennialism in the 21st Century
This group will be created to help those who will be living in the 21st century and will be need to defend Dispensational Premillennialism in the 21st Century. Will we need to learn how to defend Premillennialism, Futurism, Israel/Church Distinction. The Nature of the Church in this dispensation, The nature and purpose of the tribulation period, The Doctrine of Imminency, The necessity of an Internval between his coming for the Church and his landing in Jerusalem, The Pre-trib Rapture and why it is a practical motivation for Godly living.
This group has been inactive for a while, but it has the potential to be a great place to learn about Premillennial Dispensationalism. Question: "What is dispensational premillennialism / premillennial dispensationalism?"
What is dispensational premillennialism / premillennial dispensationalism?
How do you understand the oracles of God to respond to this attack on Dispensationalism, and on the pretrib rapture that is based on Dispensationalist understanding of the scriptures? 1 Peter 4:11
If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. // Here is the onslaught attacking the roots of Dispensationalism and the "corrupted Catholic futuristic interpretation of the Bible:"-- // The Coming of the Messiah and the Glory of His Majesty - // Manuel Lacunza - // Scott Johnson is teaching in this series at -- that the books that Darby referred to and built upon were written by corrupt Jesuit liars, one of which was Manuel Lacunza. He assumed a Jewish name and pretended to be a Jewish Rabbi. Why would a Jesuit priest write as a Jewish Rabbi, Scott Johnson asks. Appearing as a Jew among Jews, a Jewish Rabbit who had "accepted Christ as his Saviour..."-- Maintaining that facade in his writing. // Susan Weeks writes:
"To me, it adds credibility to the idea that it is not just a false doctrine--it is a spell. A false doctrine with Satanic 'anointing' and/or demonic spirits of false teaching attached. I believe to free most people from it will take more than just logic and reason--it will probably require prayer and fasting.
Here are the links to the four part audio series that it came from:
Very detailed, four part teaching on the (false) Pre-Trib Rapture doctrine
(including its Jesuit origin, layering of deception, etc.)

I guess the pressing question I have is who will be left to defend pretribulationalism after the pretribers have all been secretly raptured?  Who will still be around to defend the true Pre-Trib Rapture doctrine (pace the false, demonic, Jesuitical Pre-Trib Rapture doctrine) during the Great Tribulation? Should we design an interactive AI program to stand in the breach? 

Dispensational impressionism

I’m going to make a few comments on this post:

Steve Hays has written a little post in response to part of mine on What the Bible Really Really Says.  That is fair enough since I referred to him.  Once more he is very selective, and once more he entirely disregards the same proof of intertextual continuity in regard to the land promises in the OT that I included in the article.

i) I’m selective, in part, because this isn’t the first time we’ve had this discussion. I’m not responsible for Henebury’s forgetfulness or inattention to my previous responses.

ii) In addition, Henebury has his preferred way of framing issues, and I sometimes respond by challenging the framework. That distinction has yet to sink in with Henebury.

Steve doesn’t like “the plain sense.”  He writes as though he takes it for granted.  We all do.

No, I don’t take that for granted. And that’s not how I write.

In the first place, Steve completely bypassed the thrust of my argument in the post.  Does he agree with Kevin DeYoung’s argument from “what the Bible really says”?  Characteristically, he doesn’t say.  He is just concerned to attack the notion of a “plain-sense.”  He thinks my point is nonsense.  Others whom I respect disagree with him.  He does this even when it has been shown to him that those with whom he would most agree DO speak of “the plain-sense” etc., and assume everybody knows what they mean.

i) DeYoung doesn’t confine himself to invoking the plain sense of Scripture. Rather, he presents an exegetical argument for his position.

ii) The individuals whom Henebury has cited (e.g. Beale, Poythress) don’t operate with Henebury’s hermeneutical approach.

iii) Henebury is also mounting an illicit appeal to authority. But even if they appealed to the “plain sense” of Scripture, that’s not a truth-conducive way of casting the issue. What matters is not who said it, but what they said. Not their opinion, but the quality of the argument.

But people understand that what is meant by them is that a person means what they say and say what they mean.

i) Henebury is fond of that little ditty, but it’s vacuous. What’s the unit of meaning?

Individual words have meaning. Often multiple meanings. General meanings

Sentences have meaning. Words in sentences have specific meanings.

Pericopes have meaning. Narratives have meaning. Or the flow of the argument. Genre affects meaning.

What does a word mean in relation to a clause, a clause in relation to a sentence, a sentence in relation to a paragraph, a paragraph in relation to a chapter, a chapter in relation to a letter, a letter in relation to other letters by the same writer?

There’s cumulative meaning. Where smaller units build up to the overall meaning of a passage. But this also works in reverse: how the whole passage contributes to the sense of the smaller constituents. What they might mean individually is different from what they mean in concert.

Interpretive shortcuts like “plain sense” or “face-value” are blind abstractions.

ii) Henebury acts as if the “plain sense” or “face-value” meaning of Scripture is the default meaning. Any alternative construction must overcome the presumption of the “plain sense” or “face-value” meaning.

But this assumes that we know what Scripture means even before we open our Bibles and read Scripture. That imposes meaning onto Scripture from outside Scripture. That stipulates a given, prima facie meaning apart from the actual text of Scripture.

iii) Moreover, his formula (“a person means what they say and say what they mean”) is demonstrably false. Take sarcasm, where a writer (or speaker) says the opposite of what he means to convey.

Or take double entendre, viz. Delphic oracles.

On a related note, Biblical narratives often contain dramatic or situational irony, where meaning plays off against meaning.

This is what he was doing when he ignored my question about the identification of Zadokite and non-Zadokite priests serving God in Ezekiel’s Temple.

Henebury’s entire approach to that vision is mistaken, as I detailed.

In addition, I’ve also interacted with Ralph Alexander’s commentary:

He spent acres of blog-space on pushing a semiotic “type/token” position which neither supported his contention for OT typology nor indeed had anything to do with biblical typology as understood by the likes of Goppelt or Baker or Davidson or anyone else.  All these men saw OT types linked necessarily to NT antitypes.  Hays did not follow them.

i) I’ve explicitly and repeatedly distinguished between type/antitype relations and type/token relationships. As usual, Henebury is unable to keep track of the argument, even when I lay down a trail of breadcrumbs for him to follow.

ii) And this is another example in which Henebury fails to frame an issue in truth-conducive terms. Whether or not I’m defining a type the way Goppelt et al. do is an illicit appeal to authority. That fails to judge my argument on the merits. Whether or not my approach differs from theirs is irrelevant to the veracity of my approach.

Henebury is trying to win the debate rather than win the argument. He resorts to specious appeals that play to the galleries.

Why would exegesis oppose “plain-sense”?

i) If the meaning is “plain,” you don’t need to exegete the text. You can read the meaning right off the surface of the text.

ii) What’s (allegedly) “plain,” and what is “in” the text are hardly interchangeable concepts. Something can be “in” the text without being “plainly” there.

iii) Indeed, what is “plain” is not about what’s in the text, but what’s in the mind of the reader. To say it’s “plain” is to say it’s plain to a reader. That’s a version of reader-response criticism. On that view, meaning is not “in” the text. Rather, meaning is relative to the reader, since what is “plain” to one reader isn’t plain to another.

Henebury is substituting the subjective impression of the reader for what is “in” the text.

“Baiticum and Switchorum”

I wrote this as a comment in another forum, but it has application in talking about my recent posts about Peter Leithart.

I recall an article written with some distress by the late John Richard Neuhaus in his “Public Square” column entitled Setback in Rome, regarding Rome having squelched some aspect of “progress” regarding the “Joint Declaration” with the Lutherans. And I recall writing somewhere that there will always be “setback in Rome”. Here’s that bold ecumenist, Neuhaus:

These developments received considerable play in the general media with stories about an “historic agreement” on the chief doctrine that had separated Lutherans and Catholics for almost five hundred years. The reality is somewhat more complicated than that.

Rome did officially “receive” JD in the sense that it affirmed that very significant progress had been made in removing past misunderstandings, and in moving toward full agreement on what it means to say that the sinner is justified by faith. However, many of the Catholics and Lutherans involved in producing JD are saying—mainly off the record, for the present—that the Roman response is, in the most important respects, a rejection of the declaration. JD proposed that, with the new understandings achieved by the dialogue, the mutual condemnations of the sixteenth century no longer apply, and remaining differences over the doctrine of justification are not church-dividing. The Roman statement does not accept that proposal.

It would be an understatement to say that the theologians involved in the dialogue, both Lutheran and Catholic, were taken aback by the Roman response. During the process, Rome had indicated problems with aspects of the declaration and, almost up to the last minute, revisions were made to take those concerns into account. The participants in the dialogue thought they had been assured that JD would be approved by Rome. Certainly that was the understanding that informed the LWF’s approval of the declaration. In the immediate aftermath of the statement by CDF and CCU, the mood among dialogue participants was bitter and despondent. One Lutheran pioneer of the dialogue declared that the theologians, both Lutheran and Catholic, had been “betrayed” by Rome. For decades to come, he predicted, it would be impossible to reestablish confidence in any theological dialogue with the Catholic Church.

The reasons for this are many. First, any “agreement” with Rome is no good except that you swallow the whole Roman ball of wax. I wrote about it in this blog post, and more recently, you will see what I mean in this post from the Anglican Contiuum blog,“Baitticum and Switchorum”, regarding the Roman initiative “Anglicanorum Coetibus” which offers Anglicans the opportunity, sort of, to become Roman Catholics while retaining their identity as Anglicans. Except, as this Anglican writer noted (and has written extensively about), no matter what overtures are made, you accept Rome on Rome’s terms. If Rome leads you to think you can make nice with Rome on any terms other than Rome’s, it is offering you a bait and switch. [But that's ok, because dishonesty in the service of Mother Rome is acceptable.]

The Reformation occurred within a specific historical era, with very sharp doctrinal lines being drawn. Even Martin Luther was clear about that. It’s not like “we've got liturgical errors, they've got liturgical errors”, and so our errors are just a wash. In the midst of it were genuine doctrinal disputes. Someone was right, someone was wrong. And from a Scriptural point of view (not just “my interpretation” but the broad interpretation of the entire Protestant world, as well as the Orthdox world), Rome is wrong on a number of things.

Further to that, Rome didn't make an attempt to explain its own doctrines as “correct”. It asserted authority. It said, “We're in authority, and what we say, goes”. That's a bogus way to do business.

Accepting Rome on Rome’s terms is no good at all in the historical situation of the ongoing Reformation. Rome has not made a single doctrinal concession since the time of the Reformation, and in fact, in the Vatican I era, it entrenched its own bankrupt position.

Vatican II put a pretty face on, but its situation, vis-à-vis the truth of the gospel, has gotten worse, not better. But Leithart seems to be rushing full steam ahead, unaware of these types of warnings, and worse, he’s in a position to suck believers down with him.

In reality, I do not believe we should be negotiating with Roman Catholics in any way. Looking for “areas of agreement” is not in any way going to solve the problem addressed by the Reformation. I recognize that some Reformed Protestants know Roman Catholics, and we should not fail to interact with them in the world – at work, in our neighborhoods, in the voting booth. But we should never cease to understand that not only is the official “Roman Catholic Church” officially an apostate, but it is dogmatically committed to its own position. One might appreciate Leithart’s efforts to be friendly, but it seems to me that any efforts to try to somehow “find agreement” with Rome, while still trying to retain some semblance of a Reformational posture, is naive at best.

Leithart hides part of the story, and invites Christians to share in a fool’s folly.

If Israel and Judah figure the divided church, then we should expect to find First- or Second-Word sins on both sides of the divide. Protestants have their own liturgical sins to repent of, and I have spent a good bit of energy over the years identifying those sins and urging Protestants to liturgical faithfulness. One of the persistent sins of Protestants is the very same as the charge I lodged against Catholics and Orthodox: By restricting the Lord’s table to their own kind, they have claimed the right to determine the terms of access to the meal of Jesus. They have in effect treated Jesus’ table, a table for all who belong to Him, as their own.

With this figural history in mind, we also have a basis for celebrating the faithfulness of men and women in parts of the church where liturgical idolatry remains in place. I have often said that I regard John Paul II as the greatest Christian leader of the last century; yet I would also add that, like Asa and Jehoshaphat, he did not remove the high places. Henri de Lubac and Yves Congar are among my favorite theologians, and their labors cast down idols and falsehoods; yet they did not remove the high places. Alexander Schmemann is a prophet to Orthodoxy, and another of my favorite theologians; yet he did not call for a removal of the high places. These and other great figures in recent Catholicism and Orthodoxy are my brothers; yet they did not push their reforms to the limit. They did not remove the high places.

Eventually, kings arose who did remove the high places – Hezekiah and Josiah. And the latter not only removed the high places in Judah but also destroyed the shrine of Jeroboam at Bethel (2 Kings 23:15-20) and other high places throughout the northern territories (2 Kings 23:19; 2 Chronicles 34:33). That is to say, his purge of the land extended into the territory that once belonged to the northern kingdom of Judah. When he organized the great Passover in his 18th year, Josiah not only gathered the people of Judah but invited the people of the conquered northern kingdom as well: The feast was celebrated by “all Israel and Judah who were present” (2 Chronicles 35:16-19). One can imagine that not everyone liked what Josiah was doing: Israelites from the north might complain about the arrogance of the Davidic king asserting his power in their lands; Judahites in the south would no doubt be hesitant to share a Passover with former calf worshipers of the north. But it happened: After centuries of political and liturgical division, Israel and Judah were reconstituted as one people – as “all Israel” – at a great feast.

Josiah’s reign gives us a vision of the church’s future devoutly to be wished: Brothers separated for centuries sharing one table; a divided people guilty of multiple idolatries restored to fellowship with God and with one another. If the history of Israel figures the history of the divided church, Josiah’s reign gives hope that the rending of the corporate body of Jesus is not permanent, and that like the rending of Jesus on the cross it will in time be followed by a glorious corporate resurrection.

Are we in a “Josiah moment” when the divided church can finally share a single feast? I believe there are signs that it is such a moment. If it is, then the agenda for every branch of the church is the double agenda of Josiah: Remove the idols, whatever they are, tear down the high places, and join with all brothers and sisters at the one table of the one Lord.

There are parallels between the divided church of today and the situation that Leithart is writing about. But Leithart does not give the whole story. As I asked in my previous post, is he being dishonest, or just not all that bright? As it turns out, King Josiah did celebrate a feast with “all Israel and Judah who were present”. But the Biblical account does not show Josiah to be wise for having done so. In fact, it sort of confirms that he was a fool.  Just two verses later, Chronicles says:

Josiah did not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to fight with him. He did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but came to fight in the plain of Megiddo. And the archers shot King Josiah. And the king said to his servants, “Take me away, for I am badly wounded.” So his servants took him out of the chariot and carried him in his second chariot and brought him to Jerusalem. And he died and was buried in the tombs of his fathers. All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah; and all the singing men and singing women have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day. They made these a rule in Israel; behold, they are written in the Laments. Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and his good deeds according to what is written in the Law of the Lord, and his acts, first and last, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah.

The thing about Josiah – he did not listen to the Word of the Lord. And he died a fool’s death. 

Is Peter Leithart dishonest, or just not all that bright?

Peter Leithart has responded to the responses to his blog post Too Catholic to be Catholic; maybe mine was one of them, I don’t know.
He closed that piece with speculations about what some potential future unity in the church might look like. And he opened this response with “Given what I’ve seen of some of the responses, though, it will be helpful for me to clarify and elaborate briefly the biblical framework I assume for thinking through the problem of the divided church.  That framework is taken largely from the history of the divided kingdom of Israel as it’s recorded in 1-2 Kings”.

It does seem fair to make some comparisons between “the divided church of today” and the divided nation of Israel in 1 and 2 Kings. He says:

The theological history of 1-2 Kings gives an overall model for thinking about a church that is genuinely divided; it explains how I can describe Catholics and Orthodox as brothers and sisters while at the same time accusing them of liturgical idolatry; in the end, 1-2 Kings (with some parallels from 1-2 Chronicles) gives hope that the division of the church is not permanent, and that we will all one day share a great Passover, such as there never was in Israel (2 Kings 23:22).

But one thinks that Leithart spends too much time with non-Protestants, given that his definition of the word “church” seems to be shaped by theirs:

The idea is common on all sides of the divided church that there is in fact no divided church.  Some Protestants unchurch Catholics and Orthodox; on this view, Protestants constitute the only true, pure church, [the WCF certainly does not say this] and therefore the line that divides Protestants from Catholics and Orthodox is not a line that runs through the middle of the church.  It’s instead a line that runs between church (Protestants) and non-church (everybody else).  There are forms of the same idea in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, though since Vatican II the Catholic church has acknowledged that while the church subsists in Catholicism, “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure” (Lumen Gentium, 8) and has famously recognized that some outside the Catholic church are “brothers,” albeit separated ones.

While he notes that the Vatican II version is “altogether too sanguine a view”, “from the perspective of 1-2 Kings”, he still suggests that “If my church is the only church, then there’s no tragic division within Christendom, no rent in the fabric, to tearing of Christ’s body.  1-2 Kings gives us no such comfort: Christ has been divided in our divisions”.

Two things at this point. Christ is NOT divided. And to see some kind of “line” that Leithart posits is NOT a historically Protestant way of understanding “what the church is”. [To be sure, there is a “dividing line” between truth and untruth, but that continuum is a whole separate category from what is “church” and what is “unchurch”.]

The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all”…. This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less, visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.

There is no line, and “we” are not the ones who determine who is “church” and what is “unchurched”. The important thing to keep in mind is, to quote a verse, it is Christ who builds the church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it, as WCF 25:5 says:

 The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error: and some have so degenerated as to become apparently no Churches of Christ. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth, to worship God according to his will.

It is altogether too “Catholic” to think that there is somehow a line that runs somewhere, and that’s what determines what is “church” and what is “unchurch”. Leithart is someone who should understand what the WCF says, and if he is going to continue to try to remain in the PCA, given his sensitivities, he ought to at least pay some lip service to this definition of “church”. But instead, he just makes a huge concession to the “Cathodox” view of what the church is. 

Is he doing this on purpose? Or is he just not capable of making this kind of distinction?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

1956 Oscar Cullmann work available in reprint

I learned today that an Oscar Cullmann work I’ve been citing for some time now, Cullmann’s article on “The Tradition” has been reprinted now, (in “The Early Church,” London: SCM Press LTD © 1956, reprinted ©2011). I had been told by a Seminary Professor that this work of Cullmann’s is probably the best article discussing the relationship of Scripture and Tradition in the early church. I have the 1956 edition, which was difficult to get, but it’s good to see that this fine work is now available to anyone who wants to look into it.

Other essay titles include:

1. The Necessity and Function of higher Criticism
2. The Origin of Christmas
3. The Plurality of the Gospels as  Theological Problem in Antiquity
4. The Tradition
5. The Kingship of Christ and the Church in the New Testament
6. The Return of Christ
7. The Proleptic Deliverance of the Body According to the New Testament
8. ὁ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος (“he who comes after me”)
9. Samaria and the Origins of the Christian Mission
10. Early Christianity and Civilization

I’ve not read much at all of the other articles, but I offer this as a source for those exegetically-minded folks who might be interested.


On the one hand:

On the other hand:

The 1%

Why I won't miss Missing

Missing has been canceled. I only caught a few minutes from scattered episodes as I was channel-surfing. Apparently the show was about a middle-aged mom trying to rescue her kidnapped son. Chuck Norris in a skirt.

Another example of just how far removed from terra firm Hollywood has become. To begin with, why is a middle-aged mom physically protecting her 18-year-old son? If push came to shove, shouldn’t that be the other way around? Isn’t a son in his youthful prime faster and stronger than a mother in her mid-40s? Not to mention that her son was played by a 26-year-old actor. Shouldn't he be her bodyguard, not vice versa?

Really, now–how stupid can you get?

To be sure, there are some women who could best some men in hand-to-hand combat. If they cast Ronda Rousey as the mother, it would be a bit more convincing (although she’s too young to have a son that age) But, of course, Ashley Judd isn’t Ronda Rousey. She's a has-been fashion model. It’s no wonder the show was canceled after a few episodes. 

Our Man in Havana

I’m going to comment on this post:

What really got me wondering about this was last Sunday’s (May 13) episode of “60 Minutes.” They interviewed a former top US spy who had a lot of interesting things to say about strategies for information gathering. One that caught my ear was providing pornography to foreign diplomats and agents. He said he never met a diplomat of a certain country that didn’t love pornography and that he and other US agents provided pornography to them in exchange for information.

I had never thought about that before. I knew that as a US secret agent you might have to kill people, but provide them with pornography? Now that’s another question. Can a Christian do that with a clear conscience—for whatever payoff? Does any end justify such an immoral means?

Needless to say, if Olsen, at the very outset, defines the means as “immoral,” then, by definition, no goal, however, worthy, can justify the use of immoral means.

But that simply illustrates Olson’s chronic inability to accurately represent a position he opposes. He’s interjecting his own value-judgment into the way he frames the opposing position.

Assuming (ex hypothesi) that we did think that pornography was a justifiable enticement in espionage, it wouldn’t be with the understanding that the means is immoral.

So why am I even posting about this? I wonder if, in our American evangelical Christian churches, we have given enough thought to what Christians should and should not do or participate in, in terms of sinful behavior, for the greater good of our country?

Once again, if you initially define the means as “sinful,” then the question answers itself. But that begs the question.

As I watched that I wondered how many Christians watching the show shuddered at that method of obtaining secret information about our enemy countries. I suspected that many who wouldn’t hesitate to defend torture or even assassination did shudder at that and wondered to themselves whether they could do that with a clear Christian conscience.
Again, I suspect many conservative evangelical (and other) Christians would balk at supplying graphic pornography to enemy agents but not balk at participating in torture or assassination or capital punishment (assuming they are constitutionally able to stomach such things).

i) This is unintentionally comical. Why would some Christians think torture or assassination is sometimes warranted, but using pornography is never warranted? Why is that where we’d draw the line? If anything, wouldn’t it be the other way around? Surely “torture” and assassination are more serious than pornography. (Keep in mind that we’re speaking of pornography in espionage.)

ii) In addition, Olson is such a babe in the woods. The guy’s 60 years old. He lived through much of the Cold War.

Not only does espionage sometimes employ pornography, but prostitution–as a form of blackmail. Has Olson never heard of “honeypots”? He acts like he just fell off the turnip truck.

Thus far I haven’t bothered to comment on the morality (or not) of using pornography in espionage. For now I’m just remarking on Olson’s naïveté, as well as his inverted priority system. I haven’t commented on pornography in espionage because I think that’s fairly trivial compared to some other issues in espionage and counterterrorism.

Olson has led such a cloistered existence. He spent his entire life in insular church circles. His lack of real-world experience no doubt accounts for some of his ethical positions.

Where exactly are the limits? I know that there are evangelical Christians working in intelligence gathering for the US government. What will they absolutely refuse to do—no matter what the pay off might be in terms of obtaining important information that might make us more secure as a nation?
Let’s consider torture. I have heard reasonable people defend torture as a last resort. (You can call waterboarding whatever you want to; to me it’s torture.) Okay, let’s agree to disagree about that. (I think torture is always wrong and should never be condoned by policy.) What about torturing a suspected terrorist’s wife and children—if torturing him doesn’t work?

Absurd, you say? Well, it has happened in history. I have read accounts of it being done by Nazis, so it isn’t literally absurd.

No, you say? Never? Why not? What justifies drawing an absolute line between torturing a suspected terrorist to extract information and torturing his wife and children if it is likely to work? (Remember, he’s only a suspected terrorist, so saying torturing him is justified whereas torturing his wife and children is not because he’s guilty and they’re innocent won’t work.)

i) When Olson classifies a terrorist as a merely “suspected” terrorist, what does that stand in contrast to? A convicted terrorist? Is this just a legal formality?

What about an admitted terrorist? And by that I mean a terrorist who was an admitted terrorist even before he was “tortured” or apprehended. Surely there are “suspected” terrorists whose involvement in terrorism isn’t in serious doubt. For instance, Bin Laden was never convicted of terrorism. Does that mean he’s merely a “suspected” terrorist?

ii) So, yes, there’s a fairly obvious distinction between a “suspected” terrorist and his kids. Of course, that also depends on what Olson means by “children.”

Is Olson using “child” in a chronological sense, for an underage minor? Keep in mind that grown children can follow the old man into the family business. A twenty-something or thirty-something child of a terrorist can be a terrorist in his own right. Let’s not get sentimental.

iii) There’s a fairly obvious moral difference between “torturing” a terrorist for information about terrorist plots, networks, &c., and “torturing” an innocent bystander.

iv) As to drawing an “absolute” line, ethics is chockfull of borderline cases. There are situations in life where we can’t draw an “absolute” line. Can Olson draw an absolute line between murder and self-defense? There are many situations in which that line can clearly be drawn, but there are other situations in which that’s ambiguous. 

In real life we’re going to be confronted by situations where there’s at least apparent moral ambiguity regardless of what we do or refrain from doing. Where we don’t have instant answers. Where we don’t have as much information as we need to be morally confident. It's unrealistic to demand the "exact limits" of what's permissible or impermissible. Olson himself has nothing to offer in that regard. 

Demanding an “absolute line” in every situation doesn’t keep you morally pristine. You’re going to find yourself in circumstances where making a tough decision one way or the other is unavoidable even if you can’t point to an “absolute line” distinguishing one course of action from another.

I think some Anabaptists (and perhaps others) prefer not to work for any government agency or branch because it is impossible to discern the line between what is participation in unchristian, immoral acts and what is not. And there is always the danger of being asked to participate, however indirectly, in violence or immorality such as providing pornography to someone.

But that’s just a cop-out. By delegating the task to someone else, then turning a blind eye to what the second-party does, you still share responsibility for the outcome.

Sequestering yourself in an Amish community simply relocates the issue. You’re still drawing lines. After all, there’s no “absolute” line between the morality of working in gov’t and working outside of gov’t.

I don’t agree with Hauerwas or Yoder about everything, but I think they do (did) the church a great service by at least raising questions about Christian virtues and government practices.

Is that a great service to the church? Unless they have a workable alternative, they bring Christian ethics into disrepute. They make Christian ethicists look like ninnies who fight terrorism with a plate of home-baked cookies.

In Hannah’s Child (his autobiography) Hauerwas writes about the backlash he felt from theological friends when he criticized America’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. One well known theologian with whom he was close walked out on a talk he was giving and later wrote to ask him if he felt no “natural loyalties”—meaning to country, I take it.

Well, that’s very vague. Was there a backlash merely because he opposed the wars, or was it specific to the reasons he gave?

Of course, if he’s a pacifist, then he’d criticize any military response regardless of the threat or provocation.

And so what if there was a “backlash” (whatever that means)? Criticism is a two-way street.

I guess I would ask that theologian if he would provide pornography to an enemy agent if it would result in the likelihood of obtaining information that would help make our country more secure. If his answer was “yes,” I would ask if he would provide LSD or other mind-altering drugs.

I don’t see how administering a hallucinogen is a reliable way of obtaining information. Perhaps Olson has truth serum in mind. That’s a convention of spy novels.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that truth serum was a reliable way of obtaining information from a terrorist, yes, I think that’s justifiable.

If the answer was “yes,” I would ask what he WOULDN’T do to obtain such information. If there was ANYTHING he wouldn’t do, I could ask him if he felt no natural loyalties.

Olson is trying to up the ante. He acts as if administering truth serum is already morally outrageous. Hence, if you’re prepared to do that, what are you not prepared to do?

But he hasn’t begun to explain why administering truth serum to a terrorist is the next fateful step in moral freefall. Why does he think that’s immoral? Where’s his argument? Otherwise, there is no downward spiral.

Certainly there are lines that Christians shouldn’t cross. The ends, however noble, can never justify immoral means. But that leaves open the question of what means are intrinsically immoral. Olson hasn’t provided a general formula or rule-of-thumb for distinguishing moral means from immoral means.

All he’s done is to give us some examples of what he deems to be immoral, without furnishing any supporting arguments. He can’t extrapolate from his examples before he defends his examples.

Hauerwas believes it is always wrong for Christians to kill fellow Christians. Whether he is a strict pacifist is somewhat difficult to discern. I thought so, but then I read an article by him that muddied the waters a bit. He seemed to back off absolute pacifism into a kind of “war is always evil even when it’s a necessary evil” position. But one thing is clear—he wants Christians to be in the forefront of abolishing war (and capital punishment, etc.).

Abolishing war? How does that work, exactly? Does Congress pass a law abolishing war? Does the UN pass a resolution abolishing war? Then what happens? Does everyone compliantly disarm? How do you enforce a resolution against war?

This is why pacifism is morally frivolous.

Should natural loyalties over ride Christian brotherhood? C. S. Lewis thought so. What did Christians of the first three centuries think? For the most part they did not participate in war or serve in the military.

That’s a false dichotomy. Christian brotherhood has national as well as international dimensions. What about protecting Christian brothers on the home front?

Can anyone imagine the Apostle Paul, just to choose one first century Christian, providing pornography to anyone for any reason?

Why is Olson so obsessed with the moral propriety of pornography in espionage? Surely that’s small potatoes compared to other issues in military ethics. Aren't there more important things to evaluate?

Can anyone imagine the Apostle Paul, just to choose one first century Christian, providing pornography to anyone for any reason? Participating in torturing someone for any reason? Taking up arms to kill someone for any reason? I can’t.

Rather than putting words in St. Paul’s mouth, I’d just point out that Paul was a firm believer in the divine inspiration of the OT. Let’s take some concrete examples of OT ethics in action:

17 But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18 And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19 And he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. 20 And he said to her, “Stand at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’” 21 But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. 22 And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple.
24 “Most blessed of women be Jael,
    the wife of Heber the Kenite,
    of tent-dwelling women most blessed.
25  He asked for water and she gave him milk;
    she brought him curds in a noble's bowl.
26  She sent her hand to the tent peg
    and her right hand to the workmen's mallet;
she struck Sisera;
    she crushed his head;
    she shattered and pierced his temple.
27 Between her feet
    he sank, he fell, he lay still;
between her feet
    he sank, he fell;
where he sank,
    there he fell—dead.
(Judges 4:17-22; 5:24-27
While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2  These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. 4 And the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” 5 And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”
6 And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. 7  When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand 8 and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped (Num 25:1-8).

I imagine that St. Paul approved of these actions.

At times it seems to me that we simply assume that we should do whatever our country asks us to do—especially if we are in the government’s service—without question.

Who’s assuming that?

Olson isn’t a serious moralist. He’s just a showman.