Saturday, August 25, 2012

Apollo 8 Christmas Eve

Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?

I saw this show last night:

It was refreshing. All my life I’ve heard it said that there are no confirmed reports of people killed by wolves. That’s just folklore. Or so we're told.

Of course, even if there were no confirmed reports, that wouldn’t mean much. Wolves (and scavenges) tend to consume the evidence. Moreover, victims are usually killed in remote, isolated areas. So I wouldn’t necessarily expect their death to be reported. In the wilderness, you can disappear without a trace.

I never believed the claim. This is animal rights propaganda. It’s antecedently improbable that a hungry wolf pack wouldn’t kill a human. An unarmed human is easy prey. Much easier than a bull moose. 

The only reason wolves would hesitate to kill humans is if they fear humans, which would only be the case if wolves are hunted by humans. But that's what "conservationists" oppose. 

Environmentalists, who generally live in cities, are reacting to a time when ranchers hunted local wolves to extinction. So they try to portray wolves as “misunderstood” animals.

I think it’s nice to have areas where wild animals (including major predators) can survive and thrive. But let’s not pretend that wolves aren’t potentially dangerous to man.

Autonomy and responsibility

Apparently the Democrat convention is going to load the speaker roster with abortion apologists. This is to reinforce its demagogical claim that Republicans or conservatives are waging a “war on women.”

Here I’d like to venture a brief observation. On the one hand we’re told that whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term should be entirely up to the mother.

On the other hand, we also hear the complaint about “deadbeat dads.” Men who father kids, then abandon them.

However, you can’t expect men to assume responsibility for the kids they sire if, at the same time, you deny them any say in the process. If our society demands from men that they support the kids they father, then fathers ought to have an equal say with mothers.

Of course, I don’t think either fathers or mothers have the right to kill their children. My immediate point, however, is that you can’t blame men for impregnating a woman (through consensual sex), then deserting her if, at the same time, you say the mother should have the sole say on the fate of the child.

It’s understandable that women don’t want to be stuck with raising a child alone. (Of course, they can usually avoid single motherhood by avoiding premarital sex.) But if they expect the man to stick around and fulfill his paternal duties, then they can’t cut him out of the decision-making process. They have to forfeit their autonomy if they expect the man to pitch in and do his part. Don’t disempower fathers at the same time you complain about irresponsible fathers.  

Undermining Rome’s supposed “infallibility”

In comments below, Nick said:

I'd like to get your take on This Imputation (logizomai) Article. To me, this is what everything comes down to. This might sound arrogant, but I believe there's somewhat of a 'conspiracy' on the Protestant (especially Reformed) end to run away from the plain Biblical teaching on this matter.

Devin Rose cites D.A. Carson on Romans 4:3-5, “The passage is notoriously complex” (pg 50)

Then he says:

This is quite an astonishing admission by a well respected and very conservative scholar, since Protestants teach that the Bible alone is the only inspired source for Christian teaching, including the idea that Scripture clearly teaches all essential doctrines (i.e. Scripture is “perspicuous”). So, from the get to, Carson has not only admitted that Romans 4 is “notorious complex,” but also that Paul does not clearly state Christ’s righteousness is imputed. This should leave room for a long pause to consider the implications of these admissions: the chief proof text for Justification by Faith Alone, Romans 4:3, does not, by their own admission, clearly teach what they need it to teach.

Right from the start, Rose is guilty of misrepresenting what the doctrine of Sola Scriptura actually teaches. Here is what it actually says about “perspicuity”:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

Bryan Cross is “out there” saying things like this:
“when the participants do not exercise the discipline to withhold criticism of prima facie appearances or impressions of their interlocutor’s position, without first confirming that these appearances or impressions are accurate characterizations of their interlocutor’s position. Charity calls us to avoid setting up straw men of our interlocutor’s position, and so it calls to refrain from a shoot first ask questions later approach to our neighbor’s position. That’s a virtue necessary for fruitful rational dialogue”.

And yet that is the very thing that Devin Rose does. He sets up a straw man about perspicuity, and when one New Testament scholar says that a particular verse is “notoriously complex”, he is talking not about the doctrine itself, but the exegesis which goes into following the concept through the Scriptures.

Much of what Rose reports afterward is the in-house discussion, wherein naturally there is some disagreement. That disagreement does not undermine the central truths of the Scripture (“those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them”).

“Imputation of Christ’s righteousness” is not one of “those things” “necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation”. It is rather one of those things which “by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture”, and it is a way of understanding how Christ’s work actually saves us.

* * *

Rose refers to “a serious lack of integrity and honesty in Protestant scholarship and thinking when approaching and speaking on this subject”. This is hogwash. Later on, he talks about “‘drive by’ exegesis”, failing to realize that incredible amounts of work on this topic have already been done by those we understand as “the Reformed Orthodox”, those theologians of the 17th century who explored this question every which way.

Lane Keister notes on one such question, “You need to read some of the older Reformed exegesis here.” I haven’t read it all, but knowing “the older Reformed exegesis”, it is very thorough and not in the least dishonest.

Carson’s article is a very thorough and honest exegetical treatment of this word and topic. Very few people have the ability to do the type of exegesis that Carson did. And there is no need to re-invent the wheel.

In dismissing John Owen, Rose says: This ‘analysis’ of Owen is some of the most in-depth philosophically that I’ve found (I only quoted a portion for brevity), but Biblically it holds no weight. He literally invents a distinction and projects it right onto the Bible. His “antecedent” distinction (i.e. speaking of a quality possessed beforehand) has no basis in Scripture; he invented it simply to make Imputation work.

First, since when is a Roman Catholic averse to a philosophical treatment? But that’s not the real issue with Owen.

Carl Trueman notes that in Owen’s multiple and complex arguments in favor of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, that he “is working within an established framework of standard [Reformed] Orthodox responses to criticisms of the mainstream position”.

>“As is typical of Owen, however, this lack of originality in the basic trajectories of argument does not prevent him from engaging in significant theological elaboration, of a kind which lays bare the sophisticated underlying structure of the Reformed Orthodox theology to which he is committed, particularly as it finds its ground in the doctrine of the Trinity, specifically the covenant of redemption and its determinative impact upon both the history and the order of salvation.”

I have no objection to Owen’s pursuit of the implications of “Reformed Orthodox theology”. It’s true that not everyone accepts it. And it’s likely that there are honest objections to it.

But Devin Rose’s is not an honest objection.

On the flip side, none of these objections do anything to explain what Reymond calls “Rome’s tragically defective representation” of justification. Rome is not just wrong, it is tragically wrong, and it has doubled-down [authoritatively, because it can do nothing else but assert its own authority].

Devin Rose takes the argument form that “Protestantism has conflicts, therefore Rome is correct”. But that is very wrong. One of the chief complaints that Protestants have been having with Bryan Cross over at Green Baggins and other places is that Bryan (following Rome) never puts forth an argument for Rome’s supposed authority. The only thing forthcoming on that score is something akin to Newman’s statement that “it is not a violent assumption” to assume that the Roman Catholic Church is somehow today the bearer of the authority that Christ gave to the apostles. And if you don’t hold to that assumption, anything you say is “begging the question”. Everything a Protestant says is “Begging the question”, and that is the response over there.

But that is a violent assumption, in today’s environment, where we know so much more about the earliest church than Newman ever could imagine.

In asking for an argument for the authority of the papacy, the CTC guys have put up the “Papacy Roundup”, articles full of assertions and “philosophical” treatments of why there is some necessity for Roman style of authority. Philosophically, it is argued that there is some need for some authority who can “infallibly” posit “the formal proximate object of faith”. But never argument either from Scripture or history that such a thing was ever provided by God, or required by God. Nor that the historically-developed Roman Catholic Church was ever the bearer of the Apostles’s authority.

Rome is very much like the emperor with no clothes. Strutting around, without any Scriptural or historical foundation for itself, beyond the fact that it inherited the vacated seat of power in Rome in the fifth century. Prior to that, there was no agreement that Rome, as a church, had any authority outside of its sphere of influence.

The Protestants rightly rejected that.

Getting back to Nick:

If people are really interested in a theological novum, this is it. It's a red-herring to suggest Augustine's view of "righteousness" was the real issue if the very notion of imputation is not being addressed.

Augustine’s was the prior “novum”. His is a foundational error. The issue that I’ve brought up is to show specifically one place where Rome’s supposed “infallibility” is undermined, and specifically how it is undermined. McGrath does a very good job of detailing the problem. In order to maintain its “infallibility”, Rome must have the temerity to argue that even though Augustine made a mistake, and Roman dogma at Trent followed Augustine’s mistake, “we still got it correct because we have the authority to define it as such”.

So much for the “formal proximate object of faith”, and its foundation in error.

If Rome is not what it says it is (i.e., if Rome is not “infallible”), then all the disputing Protestants in the world don’t make Rome what it says it is.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Who's the hater?

Explaining away Augustine's error

Bryan Cross has contested my article on Augustine and Justification from yesterday (here and here). But he doesn't do it by challenging the version of the facts that I presented. He does it by making an argument that if Augustine had made the error, then the Protestant version of history can't be the correct one because in that case no one for a thousand years would have believed "the article by which the church stands or falls, justification by imputation".

Bryan said:

(1): From a Reformed point of view, justification by faith alone is the article by which the Church stands or falls.

I don't think I need to defend this premise, because no Reformed person I've ever met contests it. Luther said it, and prominent Reformed people say it all the time (see, for example, here). Or just google it.

The meaning of "justification by faith alone" here is not "justification by fides caritate formata, i.e. faith informed by agape. Therefore, "justification by faith alone" is here referring to justification by the extra nos imputation of Christ's righteousness.

1. Yes, we say this, and in fact I have said this, but it's not a doctrinal articulation. In the same way that "Sola Scriptura", "Sola Fide", Soli Deo Gloria" were slogans. They were short-hand for things. They were sound-bites. They were not doctrinal articulations.

So no, "you don't need to defend this premise", except that -- and this is the thing you frequently do -- you need to take on the best theologians of Protestantism -- and that means someone like Turretin, or the WCF, or Bavinck -- folks who are thinking through all the ramifications of these doctrines. And not the articulations of the popular masses.

You would have a conniption if James White put together an in-depth "argument" on the phrase "To Jesus through Mary". It is a popular slogan, not the articulation of a doctrine.

So from unpacking (1) we can see that: ... (2) From a Reformed point of view, justification by the extra nos imputation of Christ's righteousness is the article by which the Church stands or falls.

2. I'm not denying it was important. But you need to "unpack" the doctrine as it exists in the confessions, not a popular understanding of it, or worse, your own caricature of it.

(3) Augustine goofed on justification by claiming that justification was by infused righteousness; the whole medieval world followed him in his goof for a thousand years, and the Council of Trent ratified this error infallibly. (source)

3. Augustine clearly misunderstood the Hebrew notion of hasdiq; as the LXX translated it (there is a range of meanings in any translation) Augustine stepped further away from the original meaning, the term "make righteous". And yes, the net effect was that the concept of "infused righteousness" became a concept in Christian understanding for the first time. (Why don't you make a big deal about this theological novum?)

And I'm not the one saying this, it is Alister McGrath, at Oxford, who spent years studying this in the original languages, and whose work was checked by some of the most knowledgeable scholars in the world.

If you want to contest this, it would seem to me that the "logical" thing to do would be to contest McGrath's findings at a factual level. Simply saying, "this doesn't fit with our paradigm so it's wrong" ... I'm sure you are aware of a named logical fallacy named for this.

(4) As soon as the whole Catholic Church adopted Augustine's goof, the Catholic Church fell, and remained fallen for a thousand years. [from (2) and (3)]

4. As I said above, the church did not fall. Christ did not become inoperative in the world because of Augustine's mistake. No doubt he worked around it. Your characterization "the Catholic Church fell" is a straw man in several respects. First, it assumes that "the Catholic Church" structure is the one that Christ put in place; it assumes that the whole church is dependent upon the word of one theologian; and it assumes that "the church" is dependent upon doctrinal articulations.

(5) "The truly catholic church has always been." [R. Scott Clark (source)]

5. I agree with Clark. And keep reading what he says: That it has not always been visible as it was in the Reformation does not mean that there has not always been a remnant or that the church has not at times been profoundly corrupted. There is an developmental understanding of the church that avoids both the trail of blood historiography and its Romanist alternative.

* * *

Then Bryan says:

So this leaves us with a Reformed version of the Baptist trail of blood, in which ecclesial deism is denied by positing a continuous but historically invisible succession of persons holding "justification by the extra nos imputation of Christ's righteousness" for a thousand years, even though there is no historical record that any such persons ever existed during those thousand years.

So, when Clark says there is a church "that avoids both the trail of blood historiography and its Romanist alternative", and you omit that part of his sentence, but immediately say "this brings us with a Reformed version of the baptist trail of blood", how is it that you are not being the dishonest one here?

We are far from agreed on what your definition of the church is, or should be.

And as for your characterization that "there is no historical record that any such persons ever existed during those thousand years", do you believe that the dogma quoad se [doctrines in themselves] and dogma quoad nos [as they have to do with us] are identical with one another and perfectly correspond at every single point?

If you believe that, you have to make that argument.

If Augustine truly made an error, it is more intellectually honest to say that he made that error, than to explain it away. You are the one trying to explain it away.

Bryan has yet to articulate a positive case for his statement that the Roman Catholic Church is "the Church that Christ Founded".

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thoughts on Rom 7

Rom 7 is a well-known crux. Commentators tussle over the identity of the speaker in Rom 7. Is it autobiographical? Is it about Paul’s pre-Christian experience? Post-Christian experience? Something else? Someone else?

In his recent commentary, Colin Kruse runs through the options (314-21). I think he makes some useful points, although I’m going to take a rather different tack:

i) If commentators have so much difficulty identifying the speaker in Rom 7, then perhaps that’s a difficulty of their own making. Maybe they are making it more difficult that it really is, because they are taking the wrong approach or seeking a more specific identification than Paul intended.

ii) Apropos (i), we shouldn’t make it harder than it would have been for Paul’s target audience. Any interpretation we propose ought to be fairly accessible to 1C Roman Christians. Paul was writing to be understood. So he presumably meant something that shouldn’t be too challenging for his audience to figure out. He’s a gifted, practice communicator.

For that reason, we need to avoid overly complicated explanations. The interpretation ought to be simple enough that his original readers could grasp it without too much effort.

iii) And we’d expect the correct interpretation to build on what he’s been saying in the previous chapters. His preceding argument should, to some degree, lead up to what he’s referring to in this chapter. It doesn’t come out of the blue.

iv) Christian readers often identify with the struggle that Paul describes in 7:14ff. And that can influence our interpretation. Likewise, it may well be that Paul himself could identify with the struggle he describes in those verses.

v) At the same time, we need to be careful about that. For instance, novelists, playwrights, and screenwriters frequently create characters whom the reader or audience can relate to. That’s part of the appeal of the film or novel. You can see yourself in one of the characters.

But, of course, that doesn’t mean you are the character. It just means you have something in common with the character. You can relate your experience to the character’s experience.

vi) Paul was both a Jew and a Christian. A pre-Christian Jew, then a Jewish-Christian. In theory, he could identify with the speaker in Rom 7 on more than one level.

vii) Likewise, members of the 1C Roman Church included Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians. So both groups can find themselves in Rom 7. There’s a little something for everyone.

viii) I think Paul’s basic point in Rom 7 is that God's law is good, but we are bad. The law is good, but we aren’t good enough to keep the law. Indeed, the goodness of the law exposes our iniquity.

And this, in turn, plays into Paul’s argument about justification by faith. Because we are sinners, we can’t be justified by works of the law. Our very effort to do good or be good reveals our inability to make good on our good intentions.

Therefore, we can’t be righteous in ourselves. Our standing must come from another source.

And this applies to Jews, Christians, and pagans alike. Paul doesn’t think Jews can keep the law, Christians can keep the law, or pagans can keep the law. All three groups fall short.

ix) In that respect, Rom 7 is less about the “who” and more about the “what.” Through personification, it illustrates the futility of law-keeping as a means or grounds of justification.

Dawkins and Secular Hypocrisy

Bringing good out of evil

German rabbi prosecuted for performing circumcisions

Then they came for my dog

Kill the messenger


Augustine goofs on justification; the whole medieval world followed him in his goof, and the Council of Trent ratified this error infallibly.

Since the Reformation, there have been a couple of major issues that have never been resolved. The issue of “justification” is an instance in which Roman Catholic “Tradition” clearly got something wrong – it turned a mistranslation into a dogma – and yet, the entire history of the Christian church since that time has been unable to resolve this issue. Rome claimed that it had the proper authority to define this dogma, and once defined by a council (Trent) and ratified by a pope, its dogma was “infallible”. The Reformers and their succeeding generations refused to accept the error.

The error started with the fifth-century theologian Augustine. The Hebrew Scriptures were written in Hebrew. Later they were translated into Greek. Augustine knew only a little Greek, and he worked primarily in Latin. It was Augustine’s misunderstanding of a Hebrew (Old Testament) concept that led to 1000 years of medieval speculation, and finally the codification of Augustine’s mistake at the Council of Trent.

The following article goes into some detail on this entire process.

* * *

Historically, according to Alister McGrath (professor of Historical Theology at Oxford), “it will be clear that he medieval period was astonishingly faithful to the teaching of Augustine on the question of the nature of justification, where the Reformers departed from it” (Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification ”, Third edition, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, ©2005, pg 216). However, the key to this was that Augustine's understanding/translation of iustitificare, a Latin term which he held to mean “to make righteous” was “a permissible interpretation of the Latin word”, it was “unacceptable as an interpretation of the Hebrew concept which underlies it.”

As McGrath (“Luther’s Theology of the Cross,” Oxford, UK: and Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, ©1985, 1990) pointed out elsewhere:

There are two aspects to Luther’s discovery of ‘the righteousness of God’. The first relates to the nature of this righteousness: Luther discovered a ‘wonderful new definition of righteousness’ which stood in diametrical opposition to human understandings of iustitia. The second relates to the mode by which this righteousness comes to the individual: man cannot perform good works which are capable of earning justification on a quid pro quo basis, but he can totally abase himself, and cry out to God for grace.

This is one of those McGrath statements that has been picked out of his various works and used by Roman Catholics with some glee, noting that, “the Protestant understanding of the nature of justification thus represents a theological novum.” It is a novum because, after Augustine got it wrong, Luther was the first one to get it right. The “infallible” Roman church had gotten it wrong for a thousand years and counting.

One Roman Catholic blogger specifically asked,

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Another fine myth

Kruger's latest smackdown of common myths about the NT canon:

10 Misconceptions about the NT Canon: #8: "Early Christianity was an Oral Religion and Therefore Would Have Resisted Writing Things Down"

First They Came For Todd Akin . . .

I offered a pragmatic perspective on this kerfuffle, but here's a substantive analysis by someone else:

Fabricating evidence

Keep stories like this in mind when the media cites "hate crimes" to justify its war on heteronormative values. 

Sir Galahad

Then Jen McCreight said it for me, more eloquently and clearly than I could have. This weekend she wrote How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism, which was so well received (and quite rightly) that she wrote a brief follow-up: Atheism +. And Greta Christina and others have taken up the banner: Atheism Plus: The New Wave of Atheism. I am fully on board. I will provide any intellectual artillery they need to expand this cause and make it successful.

It’s very gallant of Carrier to rescue these helpless damsels in distress. They clearly need a man to provide the intellectual firepower. That’s not something they should trouble their pretty little heads over.  

Purging atheism

There is currently an effort within the New Atheism to separate the infidel sheep from the infidel goats:

There is a new atheism brewing, and it’s the rift we need, to cut free the dead weight so we can kick the C.H.U.D.’s back into the sewers and finally disown them, once and for all. I was already mulling a way to do this back in June when discussion in the comments on my post On Sexual Harassment generated an idea to start a blog series building a system of shared values that separates the light side of the force from the dark side within the atheism movement, so we could start marginalizing the evil in our midst, and grooming the next generation more consistently and clearly into a system of more enlightened humanist values.

Since then I blogged On Sexual Harassment Policies and Why I Am a Feminist (which smoked out a few of the dregs who attempted to defend their anti-humanist atheism), but closer to my growing thoughts on what separates us, and ought to separate us, within the movement was my post on (Not) Our Kind of People, which wasn’t really about any moral divide (since lots of people who aren’t my kind of people are nevertheless my people as far as basic values go, and I know they would agree; we just enjoy different company), but it paralleled my more private thinking about the evil among us. Then I read Lousy Canuck’s account of the whole abuse of Surly Amy at TAM and elsewhere, which enraged me (I had previously only known parts of that story). It shows the dregs will now publicly mock humanist values, and abusively disregard the happiness of their own people. Well, that starts drawing the battle lines pretty clearly then.

Dictionary atheists

It’s perfect. It illustrates that we’re more than just “dictionary” atheists who happen to not believe in gods and that we want to be a positive force in the world.  Commenter dcortesi suggested how this gets atheists out of the “negativity trap” that we so often find ourselves in, when people ask stuff like “What do you atheists do, besides sitting around not-praying, eh?”

We are…
Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

It speaks to those of us who see atheism as more than just a lack of belief in god.

So I guess atheism is a philosophy after all. A worldview, heated denials notwithstanding.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Todd Akin

I haven’t followed the Todd Akin flap closely. My off-the-cuff impression is that he’s prolife, but bungled the issue in his attempt to defend a prolife position. Now he’s trying to save face. Rehabilitate his image. That’s understandable.

However, even if he’s right on the underlying issue, politicians need to be politically savvy. They can’t afford to make hugely impolitic statements that distract attention away from key issues. He seems to lack the political instincts to be effective. If so, then he should drop out of the race.

Maybe he can explain himself, but that’s not what we want to spend our time on. There’s a presidential campaign to win, as well as beefing up conservative representation in Congress.

For all I know, he may be a great guy, but every profession has professional requirements.

But it's different with Islam and government, see?


This is reminiscent of how the old Soviet Union used to deal with dissidents, by consigning them to psychiatric prisons:

God's antecedent and consequent will

rogereolson says:
August 21, 2012 at 12:13 pm

The Joseph story is always brought up by Calvinists, but Arminians (and the early church fathers and non-Augustinians throughout the ages) have always had a simple explanation. I don’t know why Calvinists don’t seem to get it. God has an antecedent will and a consequent will. In his antecedent will God did not want Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers because that would be wanting them to sin. In his antecedent will he used Joseph’s brothers sin of selling him into slavery to bring about something good. Simple.

i) The text of the Joseph cycle doesn’t distinguish between a divine antecedent will and a divine consequent will. That is Olson’s makeshift interpolation, which he imposes on the text.

ii) Moreover, imputing contradictory wills to God simply generates a new problem.

Bryan Cross and “Mental Reservation”

Bryan Cross is the master of “Mental Reservation”. “Mental reservation” could rightly be called “Rome’s institutionally-sanctioned form of lying”. Roman Catholic clerics at all levels did this as a way to confound law enforcement and courts. Bryan Cross has been using it to confound the Reformed folks at Green Baggins, Old Life, and other places where he’s interacting.

I’ll explain it below, but look at this incident from the comments at Green Baggins:

In 164, Turretinfan cites Pope Benedict XVI defending John Scotus Erigena, whose work “On the Division of Nature” (867) had been condemned in 1225 by a local council, and Pope Honorius III described his work as “swarming with worms of heretical perversity” and “ordered that all copies [of his book] should be burned”.

Benedict, as pope, said this about him: “In fact, John Scotus represents a radical Platonism that sometimes seems to approach a pantheistic vision, even though his personal subjective intentions were always orthodox.”

Bryan, without batting an eye, comes up with this (Comment 170):

The aspects of Scotus which Pope Benedicts commends are not the errors for which his work was later condemned. So in no way does his general audience on Scotus call his [i.e. Pope Benedict's] orthodoxy into question.

This is not an actual, and quick, analysis on Bryan’s part. Bryan could care less what was actually said. Instead, Bryan needs to say this: “in no way does his general audience on Scotus call his [i.e. Pope Benedict's] orthodoxy into question”.

So he does say it. And for Bryan, the need to guarantee the orthodoxy of a pope supercedes all else.

Whatever anyone else’s real intentions were, whatever they actually said, “in no way is the pope’s orthodoxy in question.”

It’s his ruling assumption. Whatever the pope says is not in question. This is “the obedience of faith”, and it supercedes even the logic that he professes to profess.

* * *

“Mental Reservation” is the tactic that Bryan has been employing (as I described it in # 195) and above. He is a master of this technique.

I’ve put up two blog posts, talking about how the Roman Catholic Church officially dealt with various sex abuse scandals, relying on “mental reservation”. I’ve cited actual court documents:

Bryan is dealing this way with people:

58.14 One unifying strand in all of the complainants‟ evidence heard by the Commission was the sense of dismay and anger felt by them that their Church, in which they had placed the utmost faith and trust, had in their view, duped and manipulated them over the years and that it had done so in order to preserve its reputation and its assets.

58.19 Marie Collins was particularly angered by the use by Church authorities of ‘mental reservation’ in dealing with complaints. Mental reservation is a concept developed and much discussed over the centuries, which permits a churchman knowingly to convey a misleading impression to another person without being guilty of lying. For example, John calls to the parish priest to make a complaint about the behaviour of one of his curates. The parish priest sees him coming but does not want to see him because he considers John to be a troublemaker. He sends another of his curates to answer the door. John asks the curate if the parish priest is in. The curate replies that he is not. This is clearly untrue but in the Church’s view it is not a lie because, when the curate told John that the parish priest was not in, he mentally reserved to himself the words ‘to you’.

58.20 Cardinal Connell explained the concept of mental reservation to the Commission in the following way:

“Well, the general teaching about mental reservation is that you are not permitted to tell a lie. On the other hand, you may be put in a position where you have to answer, and there may be circumstances in which you can use an ambiguous expression realising that the person who you are talking to will accept an untrue version of whatever it may be – permitting that to happen, not willing that it happened, that would be lying. It really is a matter of trying to deal with extraordinarily difficult matters that may arise in social relations where people may ask questions that you simply cannot answer. Everybody knows that this kind of thing is liable to happen. So, mental reservation is, in a sense, a way of answering without lying.”

Look for this tactic in your interactions with Bryan Cross. It’s there.

James White and Pope Benedict XVI Agree!

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (2002), now Pope Benedict XVI
The Eucharist does not grant any quasi-magical assurance of salvation. It always demands and involves our freedom. And therefore the risk of losing our salvation always remains; our gaze remains fixed on the judgment to come. (From “Eucharist and Mission”, in “Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion”, San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press ©2005, German Original Title, “Weg Gemeinschaft des Glaubens: Kirche als Communio” ©2002by Sankd Ulrich Verglag GmbH, Augsburg, pgs 104-105).

James White
The contrast could not be stated in any stronger terms. The high priest offered sacrifices that could “never take away sins” (Hebrews 8:10-14). He stood in the Holy Place, never sitting down, never resting, because his work was never completed. The offerings he made were inadequate to perfect those for whom he made them. But Christ’s sacrifice accomplishes its goal. He does not stand, repeatedly offering His work. His work of atonement is completed. Instead, He is seated, His work finished, the one offering needed to perfect for all time. There is no need for repetition or for “re-presentation,” as the writer points out in verse 18: “Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.” If an offering is still being made, forgiveness remains incomplete. If the offerings cease, forgiveness is a reality.

The relevance of this passage to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Mass as a “propitiatory sacrifice” is clear. Rome insists that the Mass is the very same sacrifice as that of Calvary, differing only in manner (bloody versus unbloody). Yet it is admitted that the effect of the Mass is limited, and that a person can draw near to the Mass over and over again and still die “impure.” According to their doctrine, it is quite possible for a person to attend Mass every day of his life, commit a mortal sin the hour before his death, and be lost for eternity, despite having approached the Mass as a sacrifice thousands of times. The Roman Catholic response would be that such a person is unlikely to commit such a serious sin because so much grace had already been given him through attendance at so many Masses. The fact remains that God’s grace is said to be channeled through the Sacraments, especially through the Mass. Yet that grace cannot accomplish its goal outside of the cooperation of the person drawing near to worship, and so the possibility of being lost for eternity remains (“The Roman Catholic Controversy”, Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, ©1996, pg 179).

Monday, August 20, 2012

Trusting Christ Through Trauma

Tony Scott

Given the diagnosis of terminal brain cancer, it’s understandable, at a purely emotional level, why Tony Scott killed himself. Like Alzheimer’s, this is one of those diseases that strikes at our core identity. Losing your mind is a terrifying prospect.

Nevertheless, he left behind two young sons. I imagine their father committing suicide will be more traumatic than if he died of brain cancer.

There is no good outcome for terminal brain cancer. This is one of those hopeless situations which forcibly reminds us that the gospel is the only hope we have.

Sweet'n low

According to these articles:

On the one hand, the president of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, would oppose a cure for HIV/AIDS if finding a cure involved animal testing.

On the other hand, the vice president of PETA, Mary Beth Sweetland, is a diabetic and needs insulin which can contain animal products.

Is the Christian Church a 'Hate Group'?

Christ the Borg

Bryan #106:

You said, “participation is not fusion”, and you have cavalierly sought to dismiss that, but there is far more to it than what you have said here, and the folks deserve to have a clarification:

Here’s the Ratzinger quotation again with my clarifying comments in brackets:

Through baptism, answers Paul, we are inserted into Christ and united with him as a single subject [i.e. the single Mystical Body of Christ of which He is the Head]; no longer many alongside one another [i.e. no longer a mere plurality], but “one only in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:16; 26-29). Only Christ’s self-identification with us, only our fusion into unity with him [incorporation into His Mystical Body], makes us bearers of the promise (pg 33).

This is not an obliteration of the Creator-creature distinction, but an affirmation of our union with Christ — a union in which while we retain our created being, our individuality, our personality, our intellect, our consciousness, our will, etc., we are united to Christ and His family by incorporation into His Body and participation in His divine life.

Yes, Let’s take a further “clarifying” look at what Joseph Ratzinger genuinely means by “communion” and “fusion”:

Communion means that the seemingly uncrossable frontier of my “I” is left wide open and can be so because Jesus has first allowed himself to be opened completely, has taken us all into himself and has put himself totally into our hands. Hence, Communion [capital in original] means the fusion of existences. Just as in the taking of nourishment the body assimilates foreign matter to itself, and is thereby enabled to live, in the same way my “I” is “assimilated” to that of Jesus, it is made similar to him in an exchange that increasingly breaks through the lines of division. This same event takes place in the case of all who communicate; they are all assimilated to this “bread” and thus are made one among themselves--one body (36)

This is not a “one-time” thing that happens “at Communion”. This has eschatological aspects. Speaking of “the institution narrative”, he says:

…. it is the act of entering into that inner core which can no longer pass away. That is why the “preaching” of Christ’s death is more than mere words. [The prayer of ‘institution’] is a proclamation that bears the truth within it. In the words of Jesus, as we have seen, all the streams of the Old Testament—law and prophets—flow together into a new unity that could not have been foreseen. Those words that had simply been waiting for their real speaker, such as the song of the Suffering Servant, now become reality. We could go farther and say that ultimately this is where all the great streams of the history of religions meet together, for the most profound knowledge of the myths had been that of the world’s being built up on sacrifice, and in some sense, beneath shadowy forms that were often taught, it was being taught that, in the end, God himself must become a sacrifice so that love might prevail over hatred and lies. With its vision of the cosmic liturgy, in the midst which stands the Lamb who was sacrificed, the Apocalypse [book of Revelation] has presented the essential contents of the eucharistic sacrament in an impressive form that sets a standard for every local liturgy (from the essay “Eucharist and Mission” in “Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith”, pgs 110-111).

This “fusion” you are talking about becomes permanent. It is no matter that “we retain our created being, our individuality, our personality, our intellect, our consciousness, our will, etc” No one remains an individual in this vision of things. Everyone is “assimilated”.

In the first place, you owe me an apology here for suggesting that I am making some kind of “word/concept” fallacy.

Second, you owe the members of this board an apology for your abject dishonesty in suggesting that “participation is not fusion”, and trying to slough off the rest of all this.

This discussion has a lot of range beyond merely the word “fusion” – there is much more to this – including the notion that “the church is the ongoing incarnation of Christ”, and the whole range of ontological aspects of where “infusion” language leads.

Rome goes even further and incorporates its own hierarchical leadership structure into this ontological soup – the papacy as a permanent part of the “structure” of the body – and that is the tie in with some of these Green Baggins discussions.

You have turned on its head the notion that “we should not attribute to our opponents positions that they will not own”.

You, in fact, are denying Roman positions at this point, for the sake of sparing these folks the full impact of the Roman position so that you can set some sort of “foundational” point for it.

But the Roman self-infatuation, in its desires to perpetuate its grandiose claims about itself, effectively repeats the promise of Satan: “You will be like God.”

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Nearsighted shepherds

The Chic-fil-A kerfuffle exposed a lot a moral confusion in some Christian circles. For this reason I think it’s worth discussing. Not because that particular controversy is all-important, but because it illustrates a larger problem among some Christians who ought to know better. With that in mind, I’m going to comment on some statements in this post:

Here I hope to offer a discerning third option.

How about both?

Support CFA for their stand AND love homosexuals and unbelievers (yes, including liberals!). After all, we do believe in both common grace and the antithesis. We believe that being a Christian in the world often means taking a stand for what is right, even if it means our marginalization. On the other hand, as Christians we believe that we should love our neighbors, and not marginalize them (even gays and liberals).

Supporting a Christian business owner is nice, but not necessary for the advancement of the Kingdom.

However, if you think the reaction against the stand of the COO of CFA is ridiculous and non-sense (as it surely is), then go. Go as a person with common sense. Go as an American who believes in freedom of speech. Go in good conscience simply because their waffle fries are pretty good. Go because you think the mayor of Chicago is a moron. Go as a Christian, if you are a Christian, and take a stand for biblical principle. But don’t think that this will advance the cause of Christ in the Gospel. Taking a stand for biblical principle is a must for a Christian, but it won’t save any souls. Yet, it may, in fact, advance the cause of common grace – and there is value to that.

There is a place for the Christian to fight the cultural war. But we need to always remember how and why we fight it. God has given us weapons to fight, as Christians. And its not long drive-in lines at fast food joints. Our weapons are spiritual, they are not carnal. Numbers are good and helpful in fighting the cultural wars, but they do not win the battle. Only the Gospel of God’s free grace in Christ can and will do that.

James J. Cassidy is the pastor of Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Ringoes, NJ. He also serves as Vice President of Reformed Forum and is a PhD candidate at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Several issues:

i) Before I go any further, I’m not contending that Christians had a moral or spiritual obligation to participate in Chick-fil-A appreciation day. That’s not the thesis I’m defending in this post.

ii) Why does Pastor Cassidy cast the issue in terms of what “advances the kingdom”? No doubt that sounds very pious, but let’s think about that for a moment. Should everything Christians do be with a view to advancing the kingdom? Does deodorant advance the kingdom? Does toothpaste advance the kingdom? Does bathroom tissue advance the kingdom? Does buying a gallon of milk advance the kingdom? Does playing catch in the backyard with your 10-year-old advance the kingdom? Does making love to your wife four times a week advance the kingdom? Does owning a tabby cat advance the kingdom? Does trimming your toenails advance the kingdom?

Surely devout Christians do many things that don’t directly advance the kingdom. Surely devout Christians do many things that may or may not indirectly advance the kingdom.

I notice that Pastor Cassidy wears a tie. Does that advance the kingdom?

Why do Christian leaders like Pastor Cassidy make glib statements that invite so many obvious counterexamples?

iii) Or take his statement that “Supporting a Christian business owner is nice, but not necessary for the advancement of the Kingdom.”

Well, pastoring an OPC church isn’t necessary for the advancement of the kingdom. If his OPC church in Jersey didn’t exist, the kingdom would manage to advance in its absence. Being a PhD candidate at WTS isn’t necessary for the advancement of the kingdom.

iv) Or take his statement that “as Christians we believe that we should love our neighbors, and not marginalize them (even gays and liberals).”

Yes, we should marginalize the political power of liberals and homosexuals. They have a harmful agenda. And part of neighbor love is protecting your neighbor from a harmful ideology. Why is Pastor Cassidy unable to draw that elementary connection?

v) Or take his statement that “God has given us weapons to fight, as Christians. And its not long drive-in lines at fast food joints.”

Why not? Why not view that as a God-given opportunity? Shouldn’t an OPC pastor have a greater appreciation of providence?

vi) Or take his statement that “Numbers are good and helpful in fighting the cultural wars, but they do not win the battle. Only the Gospel of God’s free grace in Christ can and will do that.”

Just preaching the Gospel won’t win the battle, either. Not everyone who hears the Gospel believes the Gospel. Only Christ will win the battle when he returns on Judgment Day.

vii) Likewise, defending Christian liberty does advance the kingdom. Let’s take two obvious examples:

a) It’s currently legal for Christian parents to homeschool their kids. That advances the kingdom. That promotes the cause of Christ. But if Christians didn’t fight for the right to educate their kids, liberals would take it away from them. That would represent a setback for the kingdom.

b) Likewise, it’s currently legal for Christian public school students to organize a Bible club on school premises. That advances the kingdom. That’s an opportunity to share the gospel with their peers. To save souls.

But they wouldn’t have that legal right unless Christians continue to defend it.

Why is Pastor Cassidy so shortsighted that he can’t see ten feet in front of him? There’s no excuse for Christian pastors to be so undiscerning. It's time to wise up.


News outlets regularly cover the ongoing bloodbath in Syria. The Syrian civil war illustrates the evil of egotism. I’m struck by what a megalomaniac Bashar al-Assad is. What makes him think he’s that important? What makes him think his political survival is worth murdering thousands of his own citizens, including women and children? Bombing neighborhoods?

Notice I said political survival, not personal survival. He’s not doing this to stay alive–he’s doing this to stay in power. I understand that some folks will do anything to live another day. They will murder their best friend and cannibalize him, if that’s what it takes.

But I assume that, like other doomed dictators, Assad could exercise the golden parachute option. Raid the treasury, then flee the country to a nice island paradise without an extradition treaty, and live in opulence for the remainder of his days

But here he’s fighting to the last drop of blood, as if his life depended on it, when–as far as I can tell–all he has to lose is his job, not his life or lifestyle. Everyone should die for him so that he can remain in power. He clearly doesn’t suffer from low self-esteem.

Compare this with Christian piety. We’re not supposed to take ourselves seriously. We take God seriously, and we care for others–even at our own expense.

Minnesota-Wisconsin Bible Prophecy Conference this Coming Weekend!

The case against Peter Singer

Cardinal sin

Killing, letting die and ensuring death

Killing, letting die and ensuring death

(Note: I am talking of here of intentional ensuring. We also sometimes speak of some action unintentionally ensuring a result. In that case, "ensuring" just means something like "causally necessitating".)

Rachels thinks that this case shows that the distinction between killing and letting die is bogus. Jones is morally on par with Smith.

Rachels is probably right. But the reason for this isn't that there is no morally salient distinction between killing and letting die. It is, rather, that there is no morally salient distinction between killing and ensuring death. What Jones does is ensure death.

This distinction is also germane to theodicy. Arminians exonerate God for the problem of evil because, according to them, God merely allows evil to happen, unlike Calvinism, according to which (or so they say) God causes evil to happen.

But one of the problems with their argument is that, even according to Arminian theology, God does more than merely allowing evil to happen. Rather, by creating a world with foreseeable evil, God ensures evil. Indeed, God intentionally insures that evil outcome. (This applies equally to foreknowledge and middle knowledge.)

And, to extend the argument of Pruss, there’s no morally salient distinction between causing evil and ensuring evil–or “casually necessitating” evil (analogous to killing and ensuring death).

Public prayer

In addition to private prayer, the Christian church has a tradition of public prayer. This winds back through the NT to the OT. Broadly speaking, this is a very ancient tradition, although that doesn’t necessarily mean our sectarian ecclesiastical practice is analogous to public prayer in the OT or the NT.

The principle behind corporate prayer is that Christians have a corporate identity as well as an individual identity. We are collectively the people of God. The Body of Christ. And there are times when we ought to act collectively as well as individually. A time when we pray a united prayer.

There are different types of public prayer: praise, petition, thanksgiving, confession, benediction, adoration, intercession–or even malediction.

Public prayers are frequently informative to some degree. The rationale is not to inform God (who is omniscient), but to inform or remind the congregation. Sometimes this involves reminding the congregation of what God is like, what God has done, what God has yet to do. Or reminding the congregation of their sinfulness and neediness.

In a prayer of petition or intercession, informing the congregation of the situation, so that it will know what to pray for. The more we know about the situation, the more specific we can be. The better we can tailor the prayer to the personal circumstances of the individual we pray for.

Different theological traditions have different traditions of public prayer. Indeed, this can distinguish one theological tradition from another. It can also be controversial.

Liturgical prayer

Liturgical churches have prayerbooks with form prayers. This is a type of guided prayer. And it generally takes either of two forms: (a) the lector reads aloud specific petitions while the congregation alternates with a refrain; (b) the lector and the congregation read aloud a prayer in unison.

Form prayers of the (a) variety have a fill-in-the-blank component, where the lector adds a specific name or names.

In their defense, liturgical prayers can have a catechetical function. They teach the congregation how to pray. Inculcate a theology of prayer. Foster a lifelong habit of prayer.

But there are potential downsides to liturgical prayer:

i) Public prayer can become a substitute for private prayer. Likewise, reciting the same rote prayers every week can lead to dead formalism and spiritual stultification. I realize that’s a cliché, but it has a grain of truth, which is why it became a cliché in the first place.

ii) It can reduce prayer to oratory or poetry. Foster the impression that the efficacy of prayer is proportional to the eloquence of the supplicant. If we speak pretty words to God, then God is more likely to do what we ask.

Needless to say, God doesn’t care about our verbal elegance. Prayer is not a work of art.  Aesthetic merit is not the essence of prayer.

iii) The catechetical function of liturgical prayer was more germane at a time when literacy was rare, and books were prohibitively expensive. But in an age of (near) universal literacy and (near) universal access to theological literature, the laity should take more initiative in their spiritual instruction.

iv) The catechetical function of liturgical prayer is only as good as the denomination or theological tradition that writes the script. Liturgical prayers can inculcate bad theology as well as good theology, depending on the sponsoring tradition (e.g. the Rosary).

Up to a point, I think liturgical prayer can be edifying, but it shouldn’t be the only way the church prays.

Prayer leader

In some traditions, you have a prayer leader. Like liturgical prayer, this is a type of guided prayer. It often takes the form of the pastoral prayer, although the elders sometimes assume this role, leading the congregation in prayer. Indeed, pastor and elders may rotate.

In this tradition, the prayer leader prepares a lengthy prayer. This is generally written out in advance, and read aloud. The prayer leader prays on behalf of the congregation, as their spokesman. He prays a representative prayer.

In its defense, if you’re going to have a long public prayer, it is best to organize your thoughts when you speak in public. It’s even harder for the congregation to pay attention if it’s a rambling prayer where the speaker meanders and gropes for words.

This can also screen prayers from the congregation. Invasion of privacy (or even defamation) is a potential risk of intercessory prayer if embarrassing information is publicly divulged without the consent of the named individual (who is often absent from the proceedings).

But there are potential downsides to this method:

i) These prayers tend to be longwinded and dull. The mind is apt to wander.

ii) There’s a risk of showmanship. Elders can be frustrated preachers. This is their chance to shine, seize the limelight.

iii) The prayers are often more like lectures, with a theological prolegomenon on the nature of God.

iv) Is this a corporate prayer? Or is this simply listening to someone pray? Hearing a prayer isn’t the same thing as praying.

In theory, the congregation is supposed to lend its assent to what it hears. But that’s hard to put into practice. By the time you hear what was said, that’s already past and the speaker is on to the next item in the litany. So the mind never has a chance to linger or catch up. This is unlike private prayer, where we pray at our own pace.

iv) I don’t think this works well for intercessory prayer. The prayer leader rattles of a list of names. One after another in rapid succession. It’s hard to remember every name, much less pray for them individually. You can’t simultaneously pray for them and listen to the speaker, for if you mentally pause to pray for them, you must momentarily tune out the speaker.

Seems to me that intercessory prayer is more meaningful if we take the time to really think about the person we pray for, as a unique individual. Think about his particular situation. And adapt our prayer to who he is and what he needs.

From the floor

I once attended a church where there was a segment during the worship service when the pastor solicited prayer requests from the floor. In my experience, that worked out nicely.

However, it’s easy to imagine situations in which it wouldn’t work as well. There’s the risk that a talkative parishioner will hog the show, monopolize the proceedings. There’s the additional danger if the parishioner is indiscreet. Airing things in public about another person which should only be shared with a few confidants. Or even use the occasion as a pretext to slander someone. Enlist the support of a captive audience.

Moreover, this would only be feasible in small church. In a megachurch, there would be too many prayer requests from the floor.

At the alter

I also attended a church where the pastor and elders invited parishioners to come forward to the alter to be prayed over. This had an edifying effect on the congregants. However, I’m not sure that I’d recommend it.

For one thing, it can foster a sense of spiritual elitism. We can’t pray directly to God. God will only hear us if an anointed mediator takes our petitions and offers them up to God.

I also think this can cultivate the false assurance that you got through to God by going forward and having someone pray over you. So you can put that behind you.

But were you really in contact with God? Having someone pray in your stead isn’t the same as you praying to God. That can supplement prayer, but that shouldn’t substitute for your own prayer.

Prayer chain

With the advent of the telephone, many churches developed the tradition of a prayer chain. A subset of the congregation (the “faithful few”) that takes an interest in intercessory pray forms a prayer group. They pray for one another. This was like a “chain” inasmuch as you’d phone a parishioner, share your request, and pray together. She, in turn, would share this with the next member of the prayer chain. In my observation, it’s usually women who organize a prayer chain.

Nowadays, with the advent of the Internet, this often takes the form of email to multiple recipients.

This, in turn, raises the question of how we define corporate prayer. Corporate prayer can either be synchronic or diachronic, simultaneous or distributive. When the church gathers for worship, it can pray at the same time and place.

Or it can be collective in a cumulative sense–like a prayer chain. Parishioners pray for one other at different times and places, but it all adds up.

Prayer meeting

Some churches have the tradition of a prayer meeting. A prayer meeting is a weekly, monthly, or bimonthly service which is set aside just for corporate prayer–although it may be a prayer and praise service, in which prayers and hymns alternate.

My impression is that this is more customary for small, rural, fundamentalist churches. And it’s more common for women to participate.

A subset of the congregation (the “faithful few”) will come together to pray for one another. One way of handling this is to have an individual will ask for prayer, either for herself or for someone else, then parishioners in attendance will offer brief, individual prayers.

I think that’s a good way to handle intercessory prayer at a corporate level.

Praying with the Bible

Finally, the Bible is chock-full of prayers–both public and private. This can be a way of teaching ourselves how to pray. It’s good to read and reflect on these prayers. Internalize these prayers. Kneed them into the texture of our own prayer life.