Saturday, July 07, 2012

“Seek and you will find; … the one who seeks finds…. If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him”



Michael Liccione (#432)

You're still missing the point. As I've often said before, both on this site and elsewhere, it belongs to the very concept of an interpretive paradigm that no IP can be secured simply on the basis of that which is to be interpreted.

And you are holding this concept above the Scriptures themselves. It is just special pleading. Scripture doesn’t say what you need it to say, so you impose a lens that gives you (and Rome) the answer that’s required. You are looking for (and Rome is illicitly providing) a kind of certainty that God does not offer.

An IP is something one brings to what's interpreted, rather than something one derives from it.

The paradigm that I hold is that God is powerful enough to have created human beings in such a way that he can communicate what he needs and intends to communicate directly through His word.

There is nothing in Scripture which can demonstrate, as a matter of rational necessity, that Scripture alone suffices to interpret Scripture.

There is nothing in Scripture that says that anything else is up to the task of “interpreting Scripture”. Scripture, in fact, portrays itself as “the interpretation” of the “acts”, so to speak, of God in history.

The character of God in the Old Testament (or in the New) gives no hint that He is insufficient in this way. Nor does the Scripture relate anywhere that God’s word is lacking in any property (including the ability to be sufficient in itself). Again, as I said above, God speaks and the world comes into existence. That is how God’s word works. For you to be claiming what you are claiming is to deny God the power that he has – in this case, the power to communicate.

Because such a thing is in fact impossible, nobody does it--not even you. Otherwise there would be no need for historical, linguistic, and other studies as aids to exegesis. You strive to conduct and use such means, and rightly so. It's necessary, albeit not sufficient, for identifying those doctrines which express divine revelation, and for understanding them to the extent that is given to us. The question is not whether we are to use extra-scriptural means for studying Scripture, but which ensemble of means are best suited for carrying out the ultimate purpose of studying Scripture.

The difference is “the due use of ordinary means”, or the pleading of some kind of special supernaturalism that is imposed that “always makes Roman doctrine correct, even when we perceive some kind of inconsistency”. If you are genuinely seeking the Lord, it is better to trust your own mind, -- and like-minded teachers (see WCF 31, and teachers who ministerially settle controversies), than the infallible Roman paradigm which denies God's ability to communicate with His people.

And here’s a challenge for you: when is the first time in history that some kind of need for an “interpretive paradigm” occurred? When did Christians (of any kind) first decide that they could not trust their eyes or their own reason to understand what God was saying? Somewhere between Loyola and his Spiritual Exercises, and Newman. Bossuet (“semper eadem”) was not aware of any such thing.

Nonetheless, I find it noteworthy that all your counter-examples to the Catholic IP are drawn from the Old Testament. That is just a thoroughly question-begging way of applying your own IP, rather than an apposite attempt to engage the Catholic IP.

No, using the OT is a way to establish both the character of God and how He works. There is plenty more from the NT. The “Catholic IP” is rigged after-the-fact. And the way to see this is to work to understand church history from the beginning – “what they knew, and when they knew it”.

Consider Luke 1:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled [acts of God in history] among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses [of the acts of God in history] and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught [i.e., the acts of God in history, and their significance].

Consider Peter in Acts 2:

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

Consider Paul’s response to “leadership” (and this is one of his earliest letters, c. 50 A.D – if anyone had a first-hand view of “the Church that Christ Founded™, it would be Paul). Consider Paul’s “obedience of faith” in these two instances:

As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised,just as Peter had been to the circumcised….

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned….

Please don’t bring up the old canard about Peter not being “infallible” in matters not of the faith. Note the attitude toward any supposed “authority”. This is “Peter” the supposed “rock”, with “divine authority”.

I could go on and on with this sort of thing.

Yet, as I indicated a few years ago in my lengthy exchange with Prof. R. F. White, I agree that no OT authorities interpreted Scripture infallibly. The only infallibility exercised in the Old Testament was that secured by virtue of divine inspiration to write the Scriptures themselves. That's because divine revelation was not yet complete; it unfolded gradually, so that it was easy even for the most pious Jews to misinterpret the ultimate meaning of their Scriptures, which was their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

This again is special pleading. Note Paul’s response to Peter. Paul was in possession of “complete” revelation.

And that's why most Jewish scholars in Jesus' day didn't seem him as that fulfillment. Nobody could interpret the deposit of faith infallibly, even in principle, until it was given in its entirety through the "Christ-event."

This again is special pleading. Note Paul’s response to Peter. Paul was in possession of “complete” revelation.

That said, if there is still no living, visible authority on earth that Christ authorized to interpret said deposit infallibly in his name, then the question what belongs in the Bible, and how to interpret it, can only be answered with provisional opinions.

The Jews had only “provisional opinions”, and yet, Jesus as he lived and breathed had no qualms about holding them accountable for something more definite: “not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven”.

If you're content with that result, then all I can say is what I said in my article: your brand of conservative Protestantism is just "liberal Protestantism waiting to happen all over again."

This is just your opinion, and it in no way reflects the direction that conservative Protestant biblical scholarship is headed. The Bible has, over the last 200 years, undergone a far more strenuous rectal exam than anything that I’ve been saying about Roman Catholicism here; and yet, the work that conservative scholars is producing is shedding an incredible amount of light on that world and those times. Such things as Hurtado’s “Lord Jesus Christ” and Kruger’s “Canon Revisited” are shedding new light on the earliest church – the real, historical “church that Christ founded” – their beliefs and practices, the courses of their lives, the world they lived in. This is the most incredible time to be alive – seeing the first century world being brought to life.

Some of the folks here have glommed onto the NPP and N.T. Wright. That’s foolish. Here is what Wright says about Roman Catholicism:

In particular, Trent gave the wrong answer, at a deep level, to the nature/grace question, which is what’s at the root of the Marian dogmas and devotions which, despite contrary claims, are in my view neither sacramental, transformational, communal nor eschatological. Nor biblical.

Meanwhile, Carson, O’Brien, and Siefrid, with their “Justification and Variegated Nomism” series, used Sanders’s method to go far beyond what he tried to do, and in doing so, they put him into perspective. Meanwhile, Dunn and Wright have both made key concessions (see Dunn’s comments in the “Justification: Five Views” volume.

Thus, when you say things like "....when we deal with the word of the Lord, we are dealing directly with the Lord," that God's "character" is "immutable," and that "God rolls" as you describe, you are in no position to explain why such assertions represent anything more than one set of opinions among the many others that circulate. I studied many of those others in college, and of course they've proliferated since.

What you are essentially saying here is that God does not, cannot, reveal himself adequately in Scripture. Lots of people have lots of views. But there is a substantially correct view, and those who prayerfully seek the face of the Lord in the Scriptures are promised that they will find Him.

‘Who knows?’

Michael Liccione won’t talk historical facts with me because I don’t have an “interpretive paradigm” that meets his standard.

In his most recent comment to me, he says:

The reason I decline to delve into the details with you–even though the details are amply provided by some Catholic and Anglican scholars–is that you are relying on your interpretive paradigm to sift the data, when the real question at issue is the prior philosophical question which IP is best suited to yielding propositions calling for the assent of faith as distinct from opinion. You cannot evade that question by continuing to march on the spot and criticize me for refusing to march with you.

Here is what he means by his “interpretive paradigm” (“IP”) thesis:

In many comments on this site as well as old posts on my own blog, I have argued that there is an irreconcilable difference between the respective “hermeneutical paradigms” of Catholicism and Protestantism, meaning conservative Protestantism.

But according to the Catholic IP, [the protestant “IP” that he described is] a methodology [that] is insufficient for reliably identifying the formal, proximate object of faith as distinct from human opinion. Though necessary, studying the early written sources and making inferences from them can only yield human interpretive opinions, unless validated by some clearly identifiable authority whose interpretation of the relevant data is divinely protected from error under certain conditions — a gift which, all sides would agree, is at least logically possible, given what and who God is.

It may be “logically possible” that God would “validate some clearly identifiable authority whose interpretation is divinely protected from error under certain conditions”.

But whether he has ever done so is open to question.

He had plenty of opportunity to do it – in the Old Testament, when he was dealing with one single nation, Israel, he did not do it. This concept (see comment #425) of “some clearly identifiable authority whose interpretation of the relevant data is divinely protected from error under certain conditions” does not come from Scripture, and in striving to provide some kind of certainty like this, you, humanly, work to outdo the Old Testament God and the God of the prophets.

Look at a couple of Old Testament examples of how God “identifies the formal, proximate object of faith in four different instances.

In his first sermon at Pentecost, Peter cites Joel 28:32:

“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.

This is part of a longer sermon from Joel, who first prophesies about “the day of the Lord”, saying “The Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty is the army that obeys his command. The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?”

The earlier part of this prophecy is filled with darkness and gloom and blackness; a mighty arming coming; before them fire devours; behind them a flame blazes; nothing escapes them.

In the midst of this, the prophet offers this opportunity that the Lord may relent:

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing—

Dealing with The LORD in the Old Testament was not a matter of certainty – even a recognized prophet here, while “declaring the word of the LORD”, could not and did not offer certainty on the “formal proximate object of faith” that was right in front of his audience. He said “do what’s right”, and “who knows? The Lord may relent”.

The Old Testament is full of other incidents, where not even the prophets who write the Scriptures offer the correct interpretation. They must leave “the formal proximate object of faith” in the hands of the Lord, and say they simply don’t know.

In the book of Jonah, the prophet promises destruction for the land of Nineveh.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me. … Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

The king of Nineveh, greatly distressed that a prophet of the Lord would say this, “rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust”. And he said:

Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

The passage continues, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”

Similarly Mordecai speaking to Esther said: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Even King David, when the child of Bathsheba was going to die (a prophecy he received from the lips of the prophet Nathan), in spite of this prophecy, proposed for belief by the lips of the prophet, even after the Lord had struck the child with illness, “and he became ill”, “David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them”.

Then the child dies. Note what happened next:

His attendants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”

He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

Even when specific prophecies came up in the Old Testament, with the LORD declaring that he would do something in the immediate future, there was no “infallible interpretation” of these prophesies.

It is said, “a book cannot guide you”. But when we deal with the word of the Lord, we are dealing directly with the Lord – a Lord who spoke, who promised destruction, and then who did or who didn’t keep that promise, according to the counsel of his own will.

God, whose character is immutable, does not feel bound by the human need to have a mouthpiece – any mouthpiece – Old Testament Prophets or New Testament church – that is “divinely protected from error”. That is just not how God rolls.

Even C.S. Lewis noted, “Aslan is not a tame lion”.

For you Roman Catholics who want to hide behind “some clearly identifiable authority whose interpretation of the relevant data is divinely protected from error under certain conditions”, well, you may just be setting yourself up for a big surprise.



Friday, July 06, 2012

Are the uninsured freeloaders?

A common trope among Obamacare defenders is the oft-asserted claim that the uninsured are “freeloaders.” What makes them freeloaders, so goes the claim, is that when they get sick they go to the ER, then let someone else pick up the tab.

Do those who spout this popular objection bother to think through the logic of the objection?

i) Why assume that when the uninsured get sick, they must go to the ER? If you’re uninsured, you come down with the flu, and you want a prescription, can’t you schedule an appointment at a medical clinic, then pay on the spot?

ii) But suppose you go to the ER? Won’t you be billed? Hospitals are businesses. They charge for their services.

Are Obamacare defenders claiming that the uninsured never pay their medical bills?

iii) Suppose you don’t pay. (a) either you’re able, but unwilling to pay, (b) or else you’re willing, but unable to pay.

In case of (a), how is that different from any other unpaid bill? That’s what collection agencies are for.

If case of (b), if the uninsured are too poor to pay their medical bills, how can they afford mandated health insurance?

And if their mandated health insurance is subsidized, aren’t they “freeloaders”?

Am I missing something?

Living by nihilism

http://catholicphoenix.com/2012/07/02/the-varieties-of-nihilistic-experience-part-2-moral-awakening-in-a-world-of-nothing/

Dennett on Competence without Comprehension

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/06/dennett_on_comp061451.html

Monersynergism

On the one hand:

rogereolson says:
July 6, 2012 at 12:57 pm


I think you’re right. And I am uncomfortable with any attempt to combine monergism and synergism. They just don’t mix.


On the other hand:

rogereolson says:
July 6, 2012 at 12:25 pm


We’ve been over this time and time again. I have explained carefully and patiently the nature of prevenient grace as a partial regeneration of the will–sufficient to overcome the bondage of the will to sin and to make possible a decision for God and the gospel of Jesus Christ with repentance and faith.

The Force was with him




 

In his autobiography (Blessings in Disguise, 34-35), Alex Guinness claims he had a premonition of James Dean’s demise. There used to be a snippet of an interview on YouTube in which he recounted the same story.

And here’s another anecdote:


The next story is also one of a disaster averted–in less dramatic and more tortuous ways. It was told by Sir Alec Guinness during a luncheon with mutual friends; he then kindly put it down in writing at my request:

Saturday July 3rd 1971 was, for me, a quiet day of rehearsals ending with dinner with a friend and going to bed at 11:30 PM. Before going to bed I set my two alarm clocks to wake me at 7:20 AM. When working in London at a weekend it has been my habit to get up at 7:20 on the Sunday morning and leave my flat at 7:45 for the short walk to Westminster Cathedral for Mass at 8:00. (I have been a Catholic, of a sort, for about sixteen years.) On returning from Mass I would have a quick light breakfast and catch the 9:50 Portsmouth train, from Waterloo, to my home near Petersfield. On this particular night I remember I didn’t sleep a great deal as I constantly woke up–perhaps each hour–with a tremendous sense of well-being and happiness, for no reason that I can put my finger one.

By habit and instinct I am a very punctual riser in the morning, and usually wake up two or three minutes before the alarm clock rings. On this particular morning I woke, glanced in the half light at the clock and thought “My God, I’ve overslept!” It appeared to me the clock said 7:40 (I didn’t refer to the second clock). I rushed through washing and so on and hurried to the Cathedral. Very unexpectedly–in fact it had never happened before–I found a taxi at that early hour, so I thought I was at the Cathedral at 7:55. With time to spare I went to confession. When Mass started I thought the attendance was considerably larger than usual for eight o’clock. It was only when what was obviously going to be a rather tedious sermon was underway that I glanced at my watch and realized I was at the 9:00 Mass instead of the 8:00. I went home as usual, saw that both my alarm clocks were correct and decided to catch the 10:50 train instead of the 9:50. (My wife was away in Ireland so it made no difference what train I caught.) When I arrived at Waterloo at 10:30 there was an announcement that all trains on the Portsmouth line were delayed for an unspecified amount of time. An enquiry gave me the information that the 9:50 train had been derailed a few miles outside London. Subsequently I found out that it was the front coach of the train which had toppled on its side and that, although no one was killed, or even grievously injured, the occupants of the coach had been badly bruised and taken to hospital. My habit, when catching the 9:50 on a Sunday morning, had been to sit in the front compartment of the front coach because, when in Waterloo station, that coach was in the open air, away from the roofing of Waterloo and consequently with more light for reading and less likelihood of being crowded.

In my reply to his letter I pointed out that he had not only overslept (by an hour and twenty minutes!) but had also misread the clock by an hour; had he not done so, he might have decided to skip mass and catch the ill-fated 9:50 train after all.

He wrote back that he also thought that his misreading the clock was the oddest thing about the story–“particularly as there were two clocks, almost side-by-side.”

Arthur Koestler, “Anecdotal Cases,” Alister Hardy, Robert Harvie, & Arthur Koestler, The Challenge of Chance (Random House 1974), 184-86.

The hand is quicker than the eye

Unbelievers often say there’s no evidence for God’s existence. Among other things, that turns on what counts as evidence. Let’s take a few examples:


The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Prov 16:33).

12  “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. 13  But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee (Exod 21:12-13).

19 And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20 and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ 23 Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you.”

29 So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead. 30 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself and go into battle, but you wear your robes.” And the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle. 31 Now the king of Syria had commanded the thirty-two captains of his chariots, “Fight with neither small nor great, but only with the king of Israel.” 32 And when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, they said, “It is surely the king of Israel.” So they turned to fight against him. And Jehoshaphat cried out. 33 And when the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him. 34 But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate. Therefore he said to the driver of his chariot, “Turn around and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded.” 35 And the battle continued that day, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Syrians, until at evening he died. And the blood of the wound flowed into the bottom of the chariot (1 Kings 22:19-23,29-35).

8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home (Lk 1:8-23).

These are what are called coincidence miracles. Outwardly, they may seem indistinguishable from chance events. But they’re too “lucky” to be random.

These examples remind me of some lines from The Cincinnati Kid:



                                  BILL
                         "Could" isn't good enough for a man
                         who hates to lose money as much as I
                         do. He's going to need help -- from
                         the best man with a pack of cards
                         between Omaha and New Orleans.

                                     SHOOTER
                         Not a chance, Bill. You ought to
                         know I never ever use what I got
                         with the cards for nothing but tricks
                         and dressing up a game.

                         SHOOTER
                         I made up my mind to this. I ain't
                         going to give him any help till he
                         needs it.

                         THE KID
                         Now, just what the hell are you trying
                         to pull?

                                     SHOOTER
                         Nothing -- what are you talking about?

                                     THE KID
                         You, Shooter Man -- you been feeding
                         me cards for an hour.

                                     SHOOTER
                         Even if I was you couldn't spot it
                         -- I'm too good a mechanic
                         for anybody to spot it.

                                     THE KID
                         But I was looking for it, Shooter --
                         four times you give me the cards I
                         need.

                                     SHOOTER
                         You seen it before often enough. One
                         player draws four good ones.

                                     THE KID
                         Never in a game when I been told
                         ahead the dealer has a stake in my
                         coming out on top.


                                     SHOOTER
                         Kid, you got to understand. It wasn't
                         my idea --

                                     THE KID
                         Well who the hell's was it then --
                         Schlaegel? --

                                     SHOOTER
                         He's got the squeeze on me Kid and
                         he's meaner than hell. He'll cut me
                         up if I don't come through.
                             
                         You think I wanted to deal a phony
                         game? You think it don't mean
                         something to me? I never done a
                         crooked thing before in my life.

                                     THE KID
                         Now you get straight on this. No fix.
 You come along straight or I blow it wide
                         open.

Shooter is a cardsharp. Because he’s such a deft “mechanic,” you can’t spot him stacking the deck. The hand is quicker than the eye.

But even if you can’t detect the process by which he stacks the detect, you can detect the effect of his shuffling. And you can reason back from the effect to the mind behind the nonrandom process that’s invisibly guiding the outcome.

Likewise, even if there were no direct evidence for God’s existence, it would still be possible to infer his existence from events that are too coincidental to be random. Events which may appear to be natural events, chance events, which carry private significance to the parties concerned.

Cf. Arthur Koestler, “Anecdotal Cases,” Alister Hardy, Robert Harvie, & Arthur Koestler, The Challenge of Chance (Random House 1974), 167-224.

Is this the end of America as we know it?

Some critics of the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare have been using defeatist language, as if this marks the end of American democracy. I agree with them that the ruling is detrimental to Federalism and limited gov't.

But what we always need to keep in mind that, in politics, nothing is forever. That's both good and bad. Good policies are precarious, but bad policies are precarious. It all depends on the party in power at any given time. Five votes on the Supreme Court, one way or the other. Elections make a difference.

The Supreme Court ruling is a bad decision, but it's etched in sand, not etched in stone. In politics, nothing is locked in for all time. Indeed, major policies can often change overnight–for good or ill. At the stroke of a pen. What was done can always be undone. Now is not the time to give up and head for the hills.

More about Ignatius and "Apostolic Succession"


Garrison (#392):

You begin your paragraph by assuming the doctrine of sola scriptura in arguing that the New Testament is a witness to all that the Apostles and the early Church believed. You can't have it both ways.

No, I (following Hurtado) begin by assuming that the New Testament writings are an accurate source of information concerning the events and beliefs of the New Testament period.

For you, either there was a succession of teachers teaching with an essentially oral tradition (by which the concept of grace was “misunderstood”) or there was no such thing and Irenaeus, Clement, Ignatius, etc. all had access to the books of the New Testament and knew exactly what they were writing.

Start from “the beginning”. In brief, the argument I am making is that the Apostles were commissioned by Christ in a unique position of “eyewitness”. These alone had the ability to report on the events and articulate the meaning of Christ's life, death, and resurrection.

Per Irenaeus (and Hurtado), this “unique message” was written down. This (in the form of the New Testament scriptures) had divine blessing. The “message ringing in their ears” also had “divine blessing”, but like the Glory of God on Moses’s face, this faded over time.

I’m not saying that what they had gave them “the ability to infallibly posit binding doctrines” in some well-defined (though located after-the-fact) instances. I would rather argue that the concept of “the ability to infallibly posit binding doctrines” is flawed.

I’m saying that what they had was “sufficient”. In God’s purpose, those who were in a position of church leadership during the years 100-150, Clement, Ignatius, Papias, Hermas, all had the living voice ringing in their ears, but that it had (a) faded and (b) become contaminated with other things (per Cullmann, in my comment above). This is why I am able to say they “misunderstood” some things – Grace, to be sure, and other things as well. This did not totally incapacitate them. What they had was sufficient to “turn and be healed” (Acts 28:27).

This is consonant with the history that we know.

Is it not exceedingly arrogant to assume you know better than the men who learned from the Apostles themselves (who were most certainly not heretics) what the concept of grace was?

Interesting that you put it this way. I would suggest that it was “exceedingly arrogant” of Rome to insert itself the way that it did upon the church. The “donum superadditum” comment above illustrates how I believe this happened, not in the case of Rome, but in the case of one particular Roman Catholic doctrine.

It has been repeatedly explained what is meant by development of doctrine as well as infallibility.

And I repeatedly explain why I reject those explanations.

do not keep saying apostolic succession did not exist for Clement or Ignatius without citing direct evidence of such.

I’m not denying that these men understood themselves to be in a position of church leadership. What they denied was that they had anything near the “authority” that the apostles had. Consider Ignatius:

“I do not command you as Peter and Paul: they [were] apostles. I [am] a condemned man; they [were] free, I (am) still a slave”.

You will point to this as some example of what a “bishop” is; you will use this as some kind of affirmation of “succession” in Ignatius.

You will say “this is not inconsistent” with what the Roman Catholic church says about the relationship of apostles and bishops today. Nevertheless, this is NOT a positive articulation of anything near to “the doctrine of succession” – and if you consider the level at which this statement locates bishops vis-à-vis the apostles, there is a huge gulf here, which you will not accept (and I will).

The Roman Catholic doctrine today is found in Lumen Gentium 19f:

calling to Himself those whom He desired, appointed twelve to be with Him, and these apostles … He formed after the manner of a college or a stable group, over which He placed Peter chosen from among them…That divine mission, entrusted by Christ to the apostles, will last until the end of the world …. since the Gospel they are to teach is for all time the source of all life for the Church. And for this reason the apostles, appointed as rulers in this society, took care to appoint successors…. They therefore appointed such men, and gave them the order that, when they should have died, other approved men would take up their ministry…

This is actually an equivocation on what, actually is “that divine mission, entrusted by Christ to the apostles”…

Ignatius has no concept of having this same mission – which Cullmann is careful to describe – how “apostles as the foundation” is completely unique and unrepeatable. Ignatius clearly recognizes this difference. He had no concept that he had been “appointed” as “a ruler” in this society. He knew of himself in a leadership position, to be sure, but also, something completely separate from what the apostles were.

And you are the one who must provide “direct evidence” that Ignatius, in fact, was a bishop in the sense that the modern Roman Catholic Church says that bishops are bishops. Otherwise, Ignatius does not support you in that, and “development”, in this case, is a smokescreen that enables you to avoid fulfilling that obligation on that burden of proof.

“God needs our help”

I’d like to take off on something that Joshua Lim said, and the hope is that it will have some value in showing what some of the differences are here.

Only what the Catholic Church teaches as binding is binding. The Church is fairly clear as to what is binding and what is not binding. If you have a particular issue in mind it might be better to speak of it specifically rather than in generalities. A Protestant confession or teaching authority has no authority to say what is binding--the only authority a pastor has is to say that he (or she) thinks that Scripture teaches that such-and-such a thing is binding, but going back to the first question, it is not always clear from Scripture whether certain things are binding or not and it ultimately comes back down to the issue of who has the authority to interpret Scripture…

This phrase caught my eye: Only what the Catholic Church teaches as binding is binding. The Church is fairly clear as to what is binding and what is not binding.

Consider this scenario, which I offer as a summary:
1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.


2. God created merely by speaking things into existence. God said “Let there be…” and there was.

a. What God says has power; it actually accomplishes things.

b. This is the point at which the Roman Catholic insistence on “interpretation” presses itself, saying “God’s word is insufficient; therefore, you need an infallible interpreter”.

c. Protestants accept (a), and resist (b).


3. “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). I suppose you would say “this is a verse that requires interpretation”.

a. An exegetical understanding of this verse is given in John Currid, (“A Study Commentary on Genesis”, Volume 1, Genesis 1:1-25:18, Darlington, UK an Webster, NY: Evangelical Press ©2003). “And he pronounces a verdict: ‘Behold it was very good.’ The term ‘Behold…’ [Hebrew hinneh] often serves to call special attention to a declarative statement. And when the word for ‘very’ [Hebrew meod] occurs after an adjective it is an absolute superlative. Therefore, the writer is describing God’s judgement of his own creation with great emphasis – it is perfect in every detail, even down to the very intricacies of its being.” (Currid, pg 89).

b. Creation being “very good”, language also is “very good”.

c. Man, as created, was also “very good”.

i. Roman Catholic Church holds that man was somewhat less “very good” than God says he was, and introduces a donum superadditum, some kind of “superadded gift” of grace an “ontic” (or “ontological” gift) that “elevates” man into supernatural fellowship with God.

ii. Protestants, however, accept that Man was “very good” and reject the notion of a “superadded gift” of grace. Man, in the condition in which God created him to be, was lacking nothing “ontologically” necessary to be in “fellowship” with God, and was already in a “very good” [“perfect in every detail”] fellowship with God.


4. Man fell

a. Roman Catholics hold that sinful man is only “wounded” in his nature – only having lost this “superadded gift” in the fall. The result of this is: “original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called ‘concupiscence’”.

b. Protestants hold that sinful man is far worse than wounded:

i. WCF: By this sin [our original parents] fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.

ii. They being the root of mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by original generation.


5. God’s remedy:

a. in Roman Catholicism: “Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.” God’s “grace” comes through an “infusion” [“ontological”] and man must “co-operate” with this “grace”.

i. An imperfect metaphor of this is that “grace” is a kind of “oil” that provides for a kind of “healing”; it “enables” the parts to get moving again. But it is imperfect, of course.

ii. Eschatologically, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger looks at the “ontological” meaning and asserts: “we are inserted into Christ and united with him as a single subject” (“Called to Communion” Herder and Ignatius ©1991, 1996, pg 25), a “fusion of existences”; just as in the taking of nourishment the body assimilates foreign matter to itself … in the same way my “I” is assimilated to that of Jesus”.

But as I’ll relate below, this is a misunderstanding of the eschatological end that God has in store for us.

b. Michael Horton, in “Covenant and Salvation” (Louisville, KY and London, UK: Westminster John Knox Press ©2007), [summarizing Reformed theologians] posits that what really happened to man in the fall was not “ontic” – no “loss” of “superadded grace”, but rather, it is an “estrangement”, a broken fellowship based on a judgment of “guilty”.

i. Man, being created “very good”, did not change ontologically in the fall; hence, God’s solution, “forensic justification”, re-enables the koinonia, or “fellowship”, that man lost with God.

ii. This restored fellowship manifests itself not in a “fusion of existences”, but rather, a restoring of the original fellowship [again, rejecting the need for some “superadded grace”]. The “unity” of fellowship is rather a gathering together by God, and his everlasting covenant:

This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and [I] will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.

This is very simple, I admit, again, it is only an outline, and it only contains the emphases I’d like to make here.

The Protestant theologian Herman Bavinck (“Reformed Dogmatics”, Vol 1, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, trans. John Vriend, ©2003, pg. 359) speaks of this:

The doctrine of a supernatural end … is integral to the entire Catholic system, which is constructed, not on the religious antithesis between sin and grace, but on the graduated scale of the good, on the ranking of creatures and virtues, on hierarchy both in a physical and an ethical sense.

The Reformation, by contrast, had but one idea, one conception of human beings, that is, of human beings as the image bearers of God, and this was true for all human beings.


The question comes down to, “what is God doing?” And in this, we need to be very careful to understand what he is doing, and not to “read into” what he is doing, things that he is not doing. (See Deuteronomy, as I have cited it above, says: “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you … Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.”

Bryan qualified this to say “another possible interpretation of those verses is that they are prohibiting adding to or subtracting from divine commands. And the existence of a divinely authorized oral Tradition and Magisterium is fully compatible with that interpretation of these passages.”

Nevertheless, I would rather rely on an exegesis of the text, using a hermeneutic that seeks to understand the original meaning of the text – what the writer wrote, in the cultural context, with an eye toward understanding it as the original readers would have understood it.

In this context, the “donum superadditum” is something that is “added” by the Magisterium; if you’re Roman Catholic, you accept it, and if you are a Protestant, it is just one more reason to ask, “how infallible is the Magisterium if it’s adding such things all the way through the Scriptures?”

Just how “binding” should something like this be?

[This notion of a “donum superadditum” has an element, too, that touches on the idea of “special revelation”; it is the notion that “God’s revelation is not sufficient” – in the Genesis 1 sense. What the Roman Catholic Church adds to this is something like the notion that its own “interpretation” is required as a kind of “superadded gift” because God’s own word is somehow not able to be understood properly by God’s own creation. I’ll talk more about this at some future point, Lord willing.]

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Sagacious Street Preaching

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUQlMEA4iVk

Dreams and visions

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them:

"Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

"'And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.'"

(Acts 2:14-17)

I. Exegesis

  1. What should contemporary Christians expect from this passage? Before attempting to answer that question, we have to do some exegesis.

    i) For general background on dreams in the ancient world, and some modern counterparts, cf. F. Bovon, "These Christians Who Dream: The Authority of Dreams in the First Centuries of Christianity," Studies in Early Christianity (Baker 2005), chap. 11; C. Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, vol. 2 (Baker 2011), Appendix E; "Excursus: Dreams and Visions (2:17)," Acts: An Exegetical Commentary (Baker 2012), 1:911-19; S. Noegel, "Dreams and Dream Interpreters in Mesopotamia and in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)," K. Bulkeley, ed. Dreams: A Reader on the Religious, Cultural, and Psychological Dimensions of Dreaming (Palgrave 2001), chap. 3; S. Noegel, Nocturnal Ciphers: The Allusive Language of Dreams in the Ancient Near East (AOS 2007).

    ii) In this passage, dreams and visions are minimally a subset of prophecy. So it’s referring to prophetic dreams and visions. Revelatory dreams and visions.

    This raises the question of whether dreams and visions are epexegetical of prophecy. Are dreams and visions a special case of prophecy? Is prophecy a general category that includes dreams and visions, but covers additional phenomena? Or is "prophecy" employed here as a synonym for dreams and visions? Is prophecy identical with dreams and visions? We probably can’t answer that question from this passage alone.

    iii) The distinction between dreams and visions is somewhat rhetorical–a feature of Hebrew parallelism. So these aren’t necessarily distinct phenomena.

    At the same time, parallelism doesn’t mean the parallel terms are strictly synonymous. They may be analogous rather than synonymous. They have enough in common to plug into the rhetorical framework.

    iv) There’s a potential distinction between dreams and visions–where dreams take place at night, when the seer is asleep, while visions take place during the day, when the recipient is awake or in a trance. That’s a conceptual rather than a semantic distinction.

    v) Whether or not visionary revelation involves an altered state of consciousness depends on whether we’re dealing with objective or subjective visions.

    vi) The distribution of "visions" to young men and "dreams" to old men is a rhetorical device (iii).

    vii) The passage contrasts the old covenant with the new covenant. Under the old covenant, visionary revelation was generally confined to a special class of seers or prophets, in distinction to ordinary Jews. But according to this passage, the scope of prophecy or visionary revelation will be extended to God’s people generally.

    viii) "All flesh" isn’t necessarily universal. It may be idiomatic or hyperbolic. Indeed, in context, it’s obviously confined to God’s people, and not to pagans or unbelievers (Cf. Num 11:29). Rather, the universal quantifier is a way of saying this applies without respect to race, ethnicity, gender, or social class.

    At the same time, oracular dreams can come to pagans as well as believers (e.g. Abimelech, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Pilate’s wife).

    xi) Pentecost is not an isolated incident. Examples of prophecy, dreams, and visions cycle through the rest of Acts (7:55-56; 9:3-12; 10:3,9-19; 11:5-10; 16:9-10; 18:9-10; 27:23-24).

    x) Not every Christian in Acts is a seer or prophet. So that implicitly delimits the scope of the prophecy.

    xi) This raises other theoretical distinctions. According to one theoretical distinction there’d be a subset of Christians who are seers or prophets. According to another theoretical distinction, all Christians are potential recipients of prophecy, and/or oracular dreams and visions, but that potential is only realized for some Christians some of the time–on a need to know basis.

    In other words, some or many Christians might go their whole life without experiencing anything out of the ordinary in this regard. Other Christians might experience something like this rarely, occasionally, or once in lifetime.

    On this view, no Christian would be a seer or prophet in the sense of receiving prophecies, and/or oracular dreams and visions on a regular basis. Rather, it would range along a continuum. Be person-variable. Depending on exigent circumstances.

    Right now I’m not saying which model is correct (although I incline to the latter). I’m just blocking out different theoretical possibilities. The rest of Acts might clarify the necessary distinctions.

    xii) I also think it’s unnecessary to nail it down. This is not a command. This is not something we do. Rather, this is something done to us. It depends entirely on God’s initiative.

    We don’t have to predict the frequency. That’s out of our hands.

  2. Richard Gaffin defends a cessationist interpretation:

    Peter’s apostolic gloss on Joel’s universal apocalyptic vision, "and they will prophecy" (Acts 2:18), cannot find its fulfillment in the restrictively distributed gift of 1 Corinthians 12-14. Rather...It is best understood in terms of the anointing of 1 Jn 2:20,27. This anointing with the Spirit, John says, is true of all believers, and such that "you do not need anyone to teach you" (cf. Heb 5:12). These words, in turn, echo the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy... (Jer 31:34).

    W. Grudem, ed. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? (Zondervan 1996), 291.

    i) I agree with Gaffin that the wording of Acts 2:17-18 doesn’t map directly onto 1 Cor 12-14. But then, why should it? The phraseology is suited Joel’s situation and genre, then recontextualized by Peter. We must make allowances for different modes of communication, audience adaptation, literary genre, &c.

    ii) In addition, 1 Cor 12-14 isn’t my immediate concern. How that meshes with 1 Cor 12-14 isn’t my immediate concern. I’m just considering the passage on its own terms.

    iii) It’s a hermeneutical misstep to use 1 John to interpret Acts. Why assume they’re talking about the same thing? You have to exegete Acts 2:17-18 in light of Acts. In light of Luke’s narrative strategy, literary allusions, &c.

    iv) Apropos (iii), Luke illustrates what is meant by subsequent examples (7:55-56; 9:3-12; 10:3,9-19; 11:5-10; 16:9-10; 18:9-10; 27:23-24). These are not equivalent to the Johannine anointing. Gaffin is conflating different categories.

    v) Gaffin stresses the definitive character of Pentecost. And that’s no doubt a turning point in redemptive history. However, a turning point is not the end-point, but a new direction towards our destination. It brings us closer to the destination.

    The uniqueness of Pentecost doesn’t foreclose the occurrence of other signs and wonders, dreams and visions in the remainder of the narrative.

    In fairness to Gaffin, he’s responding to a second-blessing theology, and there I agree with him.

II. Experience

i) Responsible Christians normally frown on using experience to interpret Scripture. Rather, we should use Scripture to interpret experience.

And that’s generally sound. However, depending on the passage of Scripture, certain interpretations predict for certain experiences. If a particular passage is taken to be prophetic or promissory, then one way of testing the interpretation is to see if the predicted experience transpires.

If, say, you interpret Acts 2:17-18 to mean many, most, or all Christians will be seers or prophets, and if that doesn’t pan out, then experience counters your interpretation. There’s nothing wrong with appealing to experience in that case, for the nature of your interpretation carries observable consequences.

Of course, that cuts both ways. If experience can disconfirm your interpretation, it can also confirm your interpretation. At least tentatively.

To take a comparison, a classic test of prophecy is whether or not the prophecy comes true (Deut 18:22). To some extent, fulfillment or nonfulfillment is interpretive. (At the same time, interpreting ancient oracles is not without uncertainties.)

ii) Many passages of Scripture aren’t prophetic or promissory, so experience is hermeneutically irrelevant in those instances.

III. Types of dreams

There are different types of dreams:

i) Ordinary dreams

Ordinary dreams are the immediate product of the dreamer’s imagination. They incorporate elements from his experience, along with fictitious elements.

There’s a sense in which even ordinary dreams are revelatory. Revelatory in the way that natural or general revelation is revelatory. Ordinary dreams are a subdivision of general revelation. All dreams have their ultimate origin in divine agency. In that respect, all dreams, like nature and history, reflect the nature of God. But ordinary dreams have no directional value. They provide no guidance.

ii) Lucid dreams

Lucid dreams occupy a borderland between consciousness and unconsciousness. The lucid dreamer is consciously dreaming while he’s still asleep.

iii) Oracular dreams

We find many paradigmatic examples in Scripture. These are revelatory in the higher sense of special revelation. They are not the product of the dreamer’s imagination. Rather, they are divinely inspired.

They provide guidance. That may be precautionary (Mt 2:13,19-20; 27:19) or–more often–predictive.

Precautionary dreams are counterfactual. By forewarning the dreamer, the dreamer can avoid the danger.

IV. Interpreting dreams

i) Scripture cautions us against delusive dreams (e.g. Deut 13:1-5; Jer 23:25-28). This parallels the stock distinction between true and false prophecy.

ii) If you had a premonition, like a prescient dream, would you be in a position to know if it was prescient? You could know in retrospect if the dream was prescient. If it "came true," then it was prescient. But could you know ahead of time?

If you had a vision of the future, you wouldn’t necessarily know it was about the future. It would just be a scene of some place.

iii) In principle, a character within the dream could tell the dreamer if his dream was a presentiment of things to come (or something to avoid). But that raises another question. How do you know whether or not the character is just a figment of your imagination? You might know after the fact, if the dream comes true, but that’s the same conundrum.

iv) This, in turn, raises the question of whether we should ever act on our dreams. And that’s a risk assessment. What’s the cost/benefit analysis?

For instance, it would be very imprudent to sell your house or quit your job. If, on the other hand, it meant waiting for a different bus, taking a different route to work, catching a different plane, the inconvenience might be fairly trivial.

v) Dreams don’t have to be oracular to be edifying. Suppose you have a comforting dream about a loved one who died. After you awaken you can thank God for the dream and pray to God that the dream is a harbinger of the world to come. You’re not assuming that the dream is significant. Rather, you’re praying about the dream.

Indeed, it’s possible to turn this into a devotional cycle, where you dream about what you pray about, then pray about what you dream about. A supplementary source of hope and encouragement, resting on prayerful dreams.

Prayer is a source of hope. We can pray for what we hope for, and hope for what we pray for. Prayer bolsters hope.

vi) Some Christians construe Acts 2:17-18 in cessationist terms to forestall abuses or excesses. But that defensive strategy is like a pebble holding back a boulder. If the pebble gives way, the boulder will come tumbling down the hillside and crush the cottage at the foot of the hill. That’s a very precarious defensive strategy. Only a pebble stands between you and the boulder. Remove the pebble and the bolder is unstoppable.

That, of itself, is not a reason to question a cessationist interpretation of Acts 2:17-18–which is primarily a question of sound exegesis

My point is that if the chief recommendation for that interpretation is apologetic, is a first strike to preempt abuse, then one good counterexample leaves you defenseless against the very thing you fear.

If we vacate the field, then by process of self-elimination, we leave the field to some of the least responsible spokesmen, viz. pop Pentecostals, psychics, New Agers. Fraud and abuse becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy (pardon the pun).

It’s better to have criteria in place to anticipate contingencies. Criteria to evaluate dreams, rather than hoping the boulder won’t be dislodged and come rolling down the hill. Have a backup plan.

V. Examples

(1) Only once do I remember hearing him [William Nobes] speak and that was truly an occasion to be remembered. It was at the Fellowship Meeting...[when] he told us the story of his conversion.

He said little about his early days...And then, with his youth behind him, when he was well on to middle age, he had a dream. The horror of that dream was real to him yet, and he managed, in the hush of that meeting, to involve us, too, in the horror of it. In his dream he was hanging over a flaming inferno, helpless and frantic. Above him and almost obstructing the opening of the pit was an enormous ball, like a great globe, and he found himself trying to climb up the roundness of this ball to get away from the heat of the flames below, and out into the clean, cool air above. Sometimes he would make two or three feet, sometimes more, at times only two or three inches.

Once he thought he had really got over the widest part of the ball, but in spite of all his efforts and his mounting fear and agony, the result was always the same–he would fail to keep his hold, fail to make another inch, fail to keep what ground he had gained, and in helpless weakness slide and slither back along that fearsome slope, to find himself back where he had started.

This seemed to go on for an eternity, and then at last, all hope gone, and hanging over the open jaws of hell, he looked up once more at the light above him and uttered one great despairing cry and there was a face in that light looking down at him, full of love and pity, and a hand reached down and grasped his, and drew him up out of all the horror below him and stood him on the firm sweet earth and in the pure clear air...From then on he walked before the Lord in love and thankfulness.

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

(2) A gentlewoman [i.e. Cotton Mather’s late wife] whom I may do very well to keep alive in my memory, fell into grievous languishments wherein a pain of her breast and an excessive salivation were two circumstances that were become as insupportable unto her as they were incurable. She apprehended (in her sleep, no doubt) that a grave person appearing to her directed her, for the former symptom, to cut the warm wool from a living sheep and apply it warm unto the grieved part; for the latter symptom, to take a tankard of spring water, and therein over the fire dissolve an agreeable quantity of mastic and of gum-isinglass and now and then drink a little of this liquor to strengthen the glands. The experiment was made, and she found much advantage in it.

Selected Letters of Cotton Mather (Louisiana State University 1971), 116.

(3) Even within a fortnight of my writing this, there was a physician who sojourned within a furlong of my own house. This physician, for three nights together, was miserably distressed with dreams of his being drowned. On the third of these nights his dreams were so troublesome, that he was cast into extreme sweats, by struggling under the imaginary water. With the sweats yet upon him, he came down from his chamber, telling the people of the family what it was that so discomposed him. Immediately there came in two friends that asked him to go a little way with them in a boat upon the water. He was at first afraid of gratifying the desire of his friends, because of his late presages. But it being a very calm time, he recollected himself. "Why should I mind my dreams or distrust the Divine Providence?" He went with them, and before night, by a thunderstorm suddenly coming up, they were all three of them drowned. I have just now inquired into the truth of what I have thus related; and I can assert it.

Magnalia Christi Americana (Banner of Truth 1979), 2:468.

(4) John Sanford wrote of a dream his father experienced a week before his death. Sanford’s father was dying of kidney failure:

In the dream he awakened in his living room. But then the room changed and he was back in his room in the old house in Vermont as a child. Again the room changed: to Connecticut (where he had his first job), to China (where he worked as a missionary), to Pennsylvania (where he often visited), to New Jersey, and then back to the living room. In each scene after China, his wife was present, in each instance being a different age in accordance with the time represented. Finally he sees himself lying on the couch back in the living room. His wife is descending the stairs and the doctor is in the room. The doctor says, "Oh, he’s gone." Then, as the others fade in the dream, he sees the clock on the mantelpiece; the hands have been moving, but now they stop; as they stop, a window opens behind the mantelpiece clock and a bright light shines through. The opening widens into a door and the light becomes a brilliant path. He walks on the path of light and disappears.

K. Bulkeley & P. Bulkley, Dreaming Beyond Death: A Guide to Pre-Death Dreams and Visions (Beacon Press 2005), 64.

(5) The present writer has a personal interest in the subject of religious visions, since he became a Christian as a result of a vision of Jesus. This occurred one winter afternoon when he was sixteen years old, during term time in a residential school. Sitting alone in my study, I saw a figure in white approach me, and I heard in my mind’s ear the words, "Follow me." I knew that this was Jesus. How did I know? I have not the slightest idea. I had no knowledge of Christianity whatsoever–it had intentionally been kept from me. My parents were both Jewish–my father was president of his synagogue. I had never been to a church service. I had never read the New Testament. I had never discussed Christianity with my friends. The only manifestation of Christianity that I had witnessed was that a few boys knelt beside their bed to say their prayers at night in the dormitory. (Jews do not kneel to pray.) Apart from at school, all my friends and acquaintances were Jewish. I had been barmitzvahed at my synagogue, and at school I did not attend chapel or religious education lessons. Far from attending them, someone from outside the school came to give me lessons in Judaism. I had not been searching for a faith: indeed, I had even thought of becoming a rabbi. Yet I immediately recognized the figure I saw as Jesus. How I knew this, I have no idea. He was not a person who had crossed my conscious mind. (Naturally I do not know what happens in my unconscious, or it would not be unconscious.) In my vision, Jesus was clothed in white, although I cannot remember the nature of his clothes, nor yet his face, and I doubt if I ever knew them. I feel sure that if anyone had been present with a tape recorder or a camcorder, nothing would have registered.

It was certainly not caused by stress: I was in good health, a happy schoolboy with good friends, leading an enthusiastic life and keen on sport as well as work...Again, I am sure it was not wish fulfillment. I was (and still am) proud to be Jewish.

I cannot account for my vision of Jesus by any of the psychological or neurological explanations on offer. That does not prove that it was of divine origin, but my experience over the last sixty plus years of Christian life confirms my belief that it was.

H. Montefiore, The Paranormal: A Bishop Investigates (Upfront Publishing 2002), 234-35.

(6) Close friends recently told me about Hilda (not her real name), a woman of their acquaintance who recently died of cancer at forty years of age. Hilda’s parents have been involved in Christian ministry all of their lives, and her maternal grandparents were, too, while they were alive. Hilda’s parents received three unusual telephone calls on the day after her death. One was from a city close to my own, where someone reported a dream in which Hilda’s grandparents were seen in heaven with their arms outstretched welcoming someone whose identity they were not given. A second telephone call came from a family friend from Wales, where someone had a dream that was identical to that reported in the first call. Finally, a chaplain who occasionally visited Hilda phoned her parents, saying that he had dreamed that he met her in heaven and began to converse with her about her sufferings. He did not know that Hilda had just died. In the conversation, she dismissed her pain as insignificant in comparison with the joy she was experiencing. Hilda’s parents do not think these three individuals had any contact with each other.

P. Wiebe, God and Other Spirits: Intimations of Transcendence in Christian Experience (Oxford 2004), 66-67.

(7) Preachers and Christians in general had often come to me and I used to resist them and persecute them. When I was out in any town I got people to throw stones at Christian preachers. I would tear up the Bible and burn it when I got a chance.

I was faithful to my own religion, but I could not get any satisfaction or peace, though I performed all the ceremonies and rites of that religion. So I thought of leaving it all and committing suicide. Three days after I had burnt the Bible, I woke up about three o-clock in the morning, had my usual bath, and prayed, "O God, if there is a God, wilt thou show me the right way or I will kill myself." My intention was that, if I got no satisfaction, I would place my head upon the railway line when the 5 o’clock train passed by and kill myself.

I was praying and praying but got to answer; and I prayed for half an hour longer hoping to get peace. At 4:30 AM, I saw something of which I had no idea at all previously. In the room where I was praying I saw a great light. I thought the place was on fire. I looked round, but could find nothing. Then the thought came to me that this might be an answer that God had sent me. Then as I prayed and looked into the light, I saw the form of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I felt that a vision like this could not come out of my own imagination. I heard a voice saying in Hindustani, "How long will you persecute me? I have come to save you; you were praying to know the right way. Why do you not take it?" The thought then came to me, "Jesus Christ is not dead but living and it must be He Himself." So I fell at His feet and got this wonderful peace which I could not get anywhere else.

B. H. Streeter & A. J. Appasamy, The Message Of Sadhu Sundar Singh (MacMillan 1921), 6-7.

(8) I have had firsthand, incontrovertible experience of extrasensory perception, and a little precognition. But the experience I want to mention here is relevant to the matter of the resurrection.

Many of us who believe in what is technically known as the Communion of Saints, must have experienced the sense of nearness, for a fairly short time, of those whom we love soon after they have died. This has certainly, happened to me several times. But the late C. S. Lewis, whom I did not know very well, and had only seen in the flesh once, but with whom I had corresponded a fair amount, gave me an unusual experience. A few days after his death, while I was watching television, he "appeared" sitting in a chair a within a few feet of me, and spoke a few words which were particularly relevant to the difficult circumstances through which I was passing He was ruddier in complexion than ever, grinning all over his face and, as the old-fashioned saying has it, positively glowing with health. The interesting thing to me was that I had not been thinking about him at all. I was neither alarmed nor surprised nor to satisfy the Bishop of Woolwich, did I look up to see the hole in the ceiling that he might have have made on arrival. He was just there–"large as life and twice as natural"! A week later, this time when I was in bed reading before going to sleep, he appeared again, even more rosily radiant than before, and repeated to me the same message, which was very important to me at the time. I was a little puzzled by this, and I mentioned it to a certain saintly Bishop who was then living in retirement here in Dorset. His reply was, "My dear J..., this sort of thing is happening all the time."

J. B. Phillips, Ring of Truth (Harold Shaw Publishers 1989), 116-17.

(9) Some years ago I got up one morning intending to have my hair cut in preparation for a visit to London, and the first letter I opened made it clear I need not go to London. So I decided to put the haircut off too. But then there began the most unaccountable little nagging in my mind, almost like a voice saying, "Get it cut all the same. Go and get it cut." In the end I could stand it no longer. I went. Now my barber at that time was a fellow Christian and a man of many troubles whom my brother and I had sometimes been able to help. The moment I opened his shop door he said, "Oh, I was praying you might come today." And in fact if I had come a day or so later I should have been of no use to him.

It awed me; it awes me still. But of course one cannot rigorously prove a causal connection between the barber’s prayers and my visit. It might be telepathy. It might be accident.

I have stood by the bedside of a woman whose thighbone was eaten through with cancer and who had thriving colonies of the disease in many other bones, as well. It took three people to move her in bed. The doctors predicted a few months of life; the nurses (who often know better), a few weeks. A good man: laid his hands on her and prayed. A year later the patient was walking (uphill, too, through rough woodland) and the man who took the last X-ray photos was saying, "These bones are as solid as rock. It's miraculous."

C. S. Lewis, The World's Last Night (Mariner Books 2002), 3-4.

(10) He [Spurgeon] also mentioned the sermon at Exeter Hall, in which he suddenly broke off from his subject, and pointing in a certain direction, said, "Young man, those gloves you are wearing have not been paid for: you have stolen them from your employer." At the close of the service, a young man, looking very pale and greatly agitated, came to the room, which was used as a vestry, and begged for a private interview with Spurgeon. On being admitted, he placed a pair of gloves upon the table, and tearfully said, "It's the first time I have robbed my master, and I will never do it again. You won't expose me, sir, will you? It would kill my mother if she heard that I had become a thief'."

H. J. Harrald, ed. Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon (American Baptist Publication Society 1878), 3:88-89.

(11) While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I [Spurgeon] deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, "There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took nine pence, and there was four pence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for four pence!" A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, "Do you know Mr Spurgeon?" "Yes," replied the man "I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and under his preaching, by God's grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place: Mr Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took nine pence the Sunday before, and that there was four pence profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul."

I [Spurgeon] could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, 'Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.' And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, 'The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door.'

H. J. Harrald, ed. Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon (Flemming H. Revell Co., 1899), 2:226-27.

(12) Cessationists are correspondingly susceptible to the sins of the debunker. I am much less likely to get a cessationist to believe in a remarkable response to prayer than I would be able to get a charismatic to believe it.

Ferinstance. A number of years ago a good friend of ours was dying. When she finally passed away, Nancy and I were on the road (in Philadelphia). It was the middle of the night and we both woke up. Are you awake? Yeah, are you awake? How come? Beats me. A few minutes later the phone rang, and it was the news that our friend had gone to be with the Lord. Back home, our grandson Knox had been praying regularly for her, and he was two or thereabouts. But that night while praying for her, he stopped, and said, "She died. She is in Heaven." They found out later that she had in fact died that night.

http://dougwils.com/the-church/excesses-of-the-wahoo-brethren.html

(13) When I first came to America, thirty-one years ago. I crossed the Atlantic with the captain of a steamer who was one of the most devoted men I ever knew, and when we were off the banks of Newfoundland be said to me:

"Mr. Inglis, the last time I crossed here, five weeks ago, one of the most extraordinary things happened which, has completely revolutionized the whole of my Christian life. Up to that time I was one of your ordinary Christians. We had a man of God on board, George Muller, of Bristol. I had been on that bridge for twenty-two hours and never left it. I was startled by some one tapping me on the shoulder. It was George Muller:

"'Captain, he said, 'I have come to tell you that I must be In Quebec on Saturday afternoon.' This was Wednesday.

"'It is impossible,' I said.

"'Very well, if your ship can't take me, God will find some other means of locomotion to take me. I have never broken an engagement in fifty seven years.'

"’I would willingly help you. How can I? I am helpless.'

"'Let us go down to the chart-room and pray.'

"I looked at that man of God, and I thought to myself, what lunatic asylum could that man have come from? I never heard of such a thing.

"'Mr. Muller,' I said, 'do you know how dense the fog is?'

"'No,' he replied, 'my eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God who controls every circumstance of my life.'

"He got down on his knees and prayed one of the most simple prayers. I muttered to myself: 'That would suit a children's class where the children were not more than eight or nine years old.' The burden of his prayer was something like this: 'O Lord, if it is consistent with Thy will, please remove this fog in five minutes. You know the engagement you made for me in Quebec Saturday. I believe it is your will.'

"When he finished. I was going to pray, but he put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to pray. "First, you do not believe He will; and second. I believe He has. And there is no need whatever for you to pray about it.' I looked at him, and George Muller said.

"'Captain. I have known my Lord for forty-seven years, and there has never been a single day that I have failed to gain an audience with the King. Get up, captain, and open the door, and you will find the fog is gone.' I got up, and the fog was gone!

"You tell that to some people of a scientific turn of mind, and they will say, 'That is not according to natural laws.' No, it is according to spiritual laws. The God with whom we have to do is omnipotent. Hold on to God's omnipotence. Ask believingly. On Saturday afternoon, I may add, George Muller was there on time."

The Herald of Gospel Liberty (August 25, 1910), 1060.