Saturday, October 20, 2012

I Was Once a Fetus: That is Why Abortion is Wrong

Olson's privative theodicy

rogereolson says:
April 23, 2012 at 4:30 pm

With Augustine and most of Christian tradition I think of evil as the absence of the good. Creatures with free will can bring it about, but it’s not a substance (like a germ or a virus). It’s like a broken bone–not a substance but a deformation.

There’s an obvious problem with that solution to the problem of evil:

The standard solution adopted by medieval thinkers was to deny something the above argument affirms, namely, that evil is a “something.” Evil, they claimed was not a positive reality, but a “privation” or “lack.” As a result, evil has no more reality than the hole in the center of a donut. Making a donut does not require putting together two components, the cake and the hole. Instead, the cake is all that there is to the donut. The hole is just “privation of cake.” Thus, it would be silly to say that making the donut requires something to cause the cake, and then something to cause the hole. Causing the cake causes the hole as a “by-product.” Thus, we need not assume any additional cause for the hole beyond that assumed for the causing of the cake.

The upshot of our pastry analogy is simply this: since evil, like the hole, is merely a privation, it needs no cause on its own (or as the medievals, and Leibniz, liked to say, it needs no “cause per se”). Thus, God is not a “knowing causal contributor to evil” since evil per se has no cause at all. But since God does not contribute to evil, God cannot be implicated in the evil. Thus, the holiness problem evaporates.

Early in his career Leibniz, like many seventeenth century figures, scoffed at this solution. In a short piece entitled “The Author of Sin,” Leibniz explains why he thinks the privation response to the holiness problem fails. Since, Leibniz argues, God is the author of all that is real and positive in the world, God is, by extension, “author” of all of its privations, “It is a manifest illusion to hold that God is not the author of sin because there is no such thing as an author of a privation, even though he can be called the author of everything which is real and positive in the sinful act.” [A.6.3.150]

The reason, says Leibniz, can be gleaned from an example. Consider a painter who creates two paintings, one a small scale version of the other. The details of the pictures are identical in every respect, only the scale is different. It would be absurd, Leibniz remarks,

    … to say that the painter is the author of all that is real in the two paintings, without however being the author of what is lacking or the disproportion between the larger and the smaller painting… . In effect, what is lacking is nothing more than a simple result of an infallible consequence of that which is positive, without any need for a distinct author [of that which is lacking] [A.6.3.151]

Thus, even if it is true that evil is a privation, this does not have as a consequence that God is not the author of sin. Since what is positively willed by God is a sufficient condition for the evil state of affairs obtaining, willing what is positive makes God the author of that which is privative as well [A similar early critique is found at A.6.3.544].

Helping to put things aright

Down below, Jason Engwer left the following comment on my post entitled Reformation Season.

That’s a good idea, John.

To expand on one of the points you made, we should keep in mind that Roman Catholicism’s liberalism has had a major impact on other holidays and seasons. Much of the anti-Biblical material that’s published during the Christmas season, for example, comes from Roman Catholic scholarship and former Catholics (e.g., Raymond Brown, John Dominic Crossan, Geza Vermes). Then there’s the failure of so many Catholics, not just liberals, to do much to defend the traditional view of the infancy narratives or the Biblical resurrection accounts, for instance. Evangelicals are at the forefront of conservative Biblical scholarship and apologetics, whereas Catholics are much less so, despite their advantages (larger size, more money, more media access, etc.). As I’ve worked in apologetic contexts over the years, and in the process of watching what’s going on elsewhere, I’ve been astonished by how much bad and how little good Roman Catholicism does relative to its opportunities.

My response to him was a bit long, so I thought I’d turn it into a fresh post:

Thanks Jason -- We're about to have a presidential election, and I think that Romney will win, and that we'll be able to see an improving economy for a bit. But longer term, a presidential election is not going to solve a lot of problems.

In this country alone, the number of abortions performed every year is so outrageous, the debt structure is so massive, and the morality is such an indictment on our culture, that I honestly think that the only cure for our ills is Christ alone, and by extension, the true church bringing Christ to the world, “making disciples of all nations” as it has been commissioned to do.

I would qualify slightly one thing that you say. You talk about “how much bad and how little good Roman Catholicism does relative to its opportunities”. That much alone is true, looking across the world in our day.

But historically, I think that very many of the evils in the world are the result of things that “the official church”, “the church which perceives itself to be in authority” has done, officially -- extending back into the early church. While many individual Christians have done many good things -- and many of these were either “Catholics” from the first millennium (like Augustine), say, or “Roman Catholics” in the last 500 years, by far it seems to me that what is wrong with the world today is traceable to causes put into motion by the official church.

Some of these are inadvertent. We may think of the sudden rise of Islam. Islam was able to conquer areas of the world where the Christian church was cut off by schism. That includes Monophysite Africa and “Nestorian” Asia. Islam was able to spread so quickly, in part, because huge parts of the church had been cut off from larger portions of the church and did not have the wherewithal to stop its earthly spread.

The Medieval European church, while fostering the rise of learning and the universities, also officially took doctrinal positions which had to be opposed, and the Protestant Reformation, while offering the best hope to the world of that day, was mightily opposed by the Roman church, and had to make strange alliances with secular governments, alliances that turned out not to be in the best interest of the cause of Christ.

This is not an attempt at placing blame, but really, an honest look to try to see what went wrong, and what might be done to try (from our end) to help put things aright.

I continue to think that Roman Catholicism’s claims of authority, the claim that “the church that Christ founded subsists in the Roman Catholic Church”, is the biggest impediment in the world today, working against “the church” being what “the church” really ought to be in the world.

With that said, I’m tremendously encouraged by some of the discussions I’m seeing around the Internet. I think Andrew Clover’s Lutheran and Reformed Discussion Group is a model that we’ll want to look at moving forward. While there are still some disagreements, the potential for folks from one side understanding the other side are tremendous.

And while the “two kingdoms” discussions generate a lot of heat, some of the rough edges on the various sides of this debate are being worn down, and the result, I think, will be that Christians, on the whole, will have a better understanding of the role of the church vis-à-vis government.

As well, The Gospel Coalition has just recently published The New City Catechism, which is very much like one of the earliest confessions from the Protestant era. Using the latest technology to promote some of the best theology is only going to have a good effect on the church.

While I don’t think The New City Catechism will turn the Trinity Broadcasting network into Orthodox Puritans, it will enable far more evangelicals to be honestly and historically informed about the Christian faith. Far more opportunities along these lines are coming. And that’s cause for great hope.

Life under Obama

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Rise of Childless Americans


Divorce & remarriage

This carries over from another post. That exchange has outgrown the combox.


“As to (xiii)(c), what makes you think that a wife has greater rights than a slave?”

i) A wife has a higher social status than a slave. A slave enjoyed certain protections, but his condition was essentially punitive. In the case of a Hebrew slave, he was a debtor.

By contrast, marriage confers certain privileges (as well as responsibilities).

ii) In addition, a Jewish wife clearly had a higher social status than a foreign slave, just as members of the covenant community in general had rights (and responsibilities) which outsiders didn't.

“Where does the Bible ever speak of a woman divorcing her husband?”

i) That’s misleading. For instance, in Mt 19:3, Jesus talks about a man divorcing his wife because that’s how the question was phrased.

ii) In addition, the grounds for divorce (infidelity) would be applicable to husband and wife alike inasmuch as you can have faithful wives of faithless husbands as well as faithless wives of faithful husbands.

iii) In 1 Cor 7:15, Paul treats the grounds for divorce (desertion) as gender neutral.

“i) Why do you think that greater social status is indicative of greater rights?”

Because there’s a typical correlation between social ranking and social prerogatives.

Moreover, greater power or authority confers greater responsibility, and vice versa.

“ii) Do you acknowledge that men (other things like wealth and family relation being equal) enjoyed greater social status than women?”

No. In a hierarchical society, upperclass women outrank lower class men. A queen, queen mother, or noblewoman outranks a slaveboy or male commoner.

“iii) Isn't comparing a male slave to a wife an apples to oranges comparison, rather than a lesser to greater comparison?”

To the contrary, Scripture classifies marriage as a type of “bond” service (cf. Rom 7:2; 1 Cor 7:15,39). Both husband and wife were bound to each other by marriage. So that’s analogous to slavery, without the pejorative connotations of slavery.

“i) The question isn't misleading (more on that below). Matthew 19:3 isn't the only passage talking about divorce. So, it's irrelevant whether one passage or another happens to deal with the issue I've identified.”

That raises several issues:

a) To begin with, the complementarian position is that masculine nouns and pronouns can include women. That follows both from the conventions grammatical gender and generic masculine usage as well as the theological fact that men can function in a representative capacity for women.

For instance, the soteriological and eschatological promises (or threats) of Scripture are often addressed to male referents, yet they implicitly include women. Women as well as men can be saved or damned.

Of course, masculine language is sometimes used to single out males. But there’s no presumption to that effect. Rather, that’s context-dependent.

b) I don’t know how far you wish to extend the analysis. In principle, we could run through all the Biblical references to divorce. By my reckoning, that would cover:

Deut 24:1-4 (where a man sues for divorce)

Deut 22:13-19 (where a husband falsely accuses his wife of adultery)

Exod 22:16-17, par. Deut 22:28-29 (a shotgun wedding)

Ezra 9-10 (Jewish men divorcing pagan wives)

Mal 2:10-16 (Jewish men divorcing Jewish wives to marry pagans)

Mt 5:31-32; 19:3-12; par. Mk 10:2-12; Lk 16:18

I already discussed Mt 19. Mt 5:31 alludes to Deut 24. The Synoptic parallels don’t contribute anything distinctive to the analysis.

The OT passages involve descriptive case studies where men instigate a divorce, or contract an illicit marriage (which must be dissolved), or indulge in sexual misconduct which commits them to marriage without recourse to divorce. Men are singled out as the instigators because that’s a factual description of male misconduct, not a normative statement unilateral male prerogatives. Indeed, in these passages, men are generally singled out as offenders rather than exemplars. Male initiative is descriptive and culpable rather than normative.

Which is not to deny that Scripture assigns certain unilateral prerogatives to men, but these are the wrong passages to find support for that principle.

“ii) "Infidelity" in these kinds of discussions is often a euphemism for adultery. I assume you're using it that way.”

I’m not using that as a euphemism for adultery.

a) To begin with, porneia has a wider semantic range than moichea (the specific term for “adultery”). Porneia means “unlawful sexual intercourse: prostitution, unchastity, fornication” (BDAG 854a).

So it’s possible that Matthew deliberately chooses a more generic term to include a wider range of sexual misconduct as grounds for divorce.

b) It’s also possible that Matthew employs a more generic term because his wording is modeled on the looser usage of Deut 24:1.

“And, of course, both men and women can be guilty of adultery. But that wasn't the question.”

Just because you don’t think that’s relevant doesn’t mean I don’t think that’s relevant. Scripture doesn’t have a double standard for punishing sin. And, if anything, the fact that husbands have more inherent authority than wives would make husbands more culpable, not less so. More liable to sanctions, not less so. Their gender doesn't immunize them from the consequences of their misconduct.

“In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul addresses the issue of the attempted desertion of a believing spouse by an unbelieving spouse. You are right that a kind of gender neutrality is maintained. Neither a Christian man nor a Christian woman is to prevent the desertion of the unbelieving spouse. You should notice, however, that divorce is not mentioned. May I encourage you to re-read the context of the verse you quoted, and you will see the contrast between men divorcing and women leaving.”

The passage is standardly understood as implying the right of the innocent party to divorce and remarry. For an up-to-date defense of that interpretation, cf. R. Ciampa & B. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Eerdmans 2010), 302ff.

Catholics routinely reject the “Pauline Privilege” because their sect commits them to the indissolubility of marriage, regardless of what Scripture says.

As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Mark Seifrid, the Romans commentator in the Carson/Beale work “Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, ©2007), wrote the following:

It is Jacob whom God has chosen, according to the word to Rebecca. In the context of Malachi, Israel lives under straitened conditions in the early Second Temple period, in which the Lord seems distant and indifferent to the conduct of his people (Malachi 3:8–15). The opening words of the oracle thus constitute a rebuke to the nation: “‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord” (Mal 1:1). The Lord answer’s Israel’s unbelieving response, “How have you loved us?” by pointing to Esau. Although Esau is Jacob’s brother (and therefore in no way differs from him), the Lord has loved Jacob and hated Esau. As in Romans 9, God’s love is here defined by its freedom. The evidence for the Lord’s love for Israel lies in the return from exile and the rebuilding that has already taken place. The Lord has brought Esau’s land to ruin, as he has done with Israel. Yet no matter how resolutely Edom determines to rebuild its ruins, the Lord will tear them down (Mal 1:3–5). Matters are obviously different for God’s people. Israel, blind to the evidence all about it of the Lord’s love, seeing only the unrequited conduct of the wicked and the righteous, lives in unthankfuness, indifference, and disobedience (Mal 1:4–14).

The prophetic announcement “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” is intended to open Israel’s eyes. Paul’s appeal to the text implies that the pattern has been repeated in his day. God in freedom has set his love on some within Israel, but not on others. And yet, faintly, the passage also brings a reminder of God’s love for all Israel, which has its beginning in “Jacob” and the word spoken before his birth. Paul later names that nation according to its beginning as he speaks of its final salvation (Rom 11:26–27). The reminder of God’s love for Jacob casts a shadow, faint though it may be, of the salvation of Israel yet to come.

Reformation Season

Jason Engwer has made the appeal here a number of times that we should not forget Reformation Day. I was perusing some of the other Reformed sites, and there are, on Reformation Day (October 31), a number of articles entitled “A Reformation Day Thought” or “A Reformation Day Article”.

Given that I’m a marketer by trade, I’d like to suggest that we expand “Reformation Day” into “Reformation Season”. After all, the secular marketers do that all the time – we are in “election season” right now, and “Halloween season”, and before you know it, the Christmas season (or in Pittsburgh, “Sparkle season”) will be coming along, too.

The concept, too, can be found in church history: the Easter “season”, the Pentecost “season”. These were attempts, even by the early church, to recognize that, even in the midst of the kinds of illness and death to which they were subjected, that life goes on. And it goes on in “seasons”.

But “Reformation Season” should not just be limited to the next two weeks. It should extend through the next five years – October 31, 2017 will be the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. It wasn’t really the beginning. Luther taught through the Psalms from 1513 through 1515. He taught through Romans (1515–1516), Galatians (1516–1517) and Hebrews (1517–1518). All of these will give us ample opportunities for reflection.

And nor will 2017 be the end of the “season”, because we’ll still have the 500th anniversary of the Diet of Worms, for example (2021), the Marburg Colloquy (2029), the first publication of the Institutes (2036), the publication of the Institutes that we have now (2059), and that’s not to mention all of the confessions.

Rome managed to survive the Reformation era, in part, because of a huge misinformation campaign it put out about Martin Luther. For such times as the enemy chooses to “act-up”, we have tremendous resources at our disposal, such as James Swan’s Exposing the Myth series, as well as his other Martin Luther archives.

On the “other side of the aisle”, too, we should not forget that during these next five years, the Roman Catholics will be talking about the 50th anniversary of Vatican II. We should not hesitate to investigate the liberal theologies that they adopted, condemned by Pius X, but warmly welcomed by smiling “Good Pope John”. We should not forget the inconsistencies they adopted with the “Separated brethren” stance.

We should not forget that in the years since the Reformation, Rome adopted such unhistorical atrocities as papal infallibility (1870), as well as two idolatrous Marian dogmas (1854 and 1950), which it imposed on the world, with the intention that “to oppose and counter” these dogmas, would bring with it “the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.”

What a statement. It would be humorous if they weren’t so serious about it.

This is what we’re dealing with in the world, though. And if we look upon the next five – or 50 – years as a “season”, it can be a “teaching moment” that the world will not soon forget.

Obama voters

HT: Peter Pike


These are trying economic times, and writing on biblical prophecy does not pay the bills, so I find gigs where I can to sing about prophecy.

It's a Personal Thing

Meet the Press

Thursday, October 18, 2012

On the Glory of God

Over at Andrew Clover’s Lutheran and Reformed Discussion Group, William M., a Lutheran pastor said:

Where in the Bible does it say that the glory of God is something to be advanced? I can't find this in at least the ESV and RSV? Is this a KJV quirk perhaps? The phrase is simply unfamiliar to me. Help me.

I’m glad to oblige.

First: men and nature glorify God

Psalm 19:1: The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Psalm 86:9: All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.

Psalm 86:12: I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.

Romans 11:33-36: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 6:20: … you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 10:31: So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Revelation 4:11: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Second: the members of the Trinity glorify each other

John 7:18: The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.

John 8:50: Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.

John 8:54: Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’”

John 12:23: And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

John 13:31–32: When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.”

John 16:14: [The Spirit] will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

John 17:1–4: When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”

John 17:10: All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.

Scientia ad Absurdum

Grounds for divorce

Eric10/17/2012 4:21 PM

What is your basis for saying domestic violence would be grounds for divorce? And why the distinction between verbal and physical abuse? Neither is mentioned in the bible as reasons for divorce.

Before getting to the specifics, let’s review some broader considerations:

i) It’s a parody of sola Scriptura to think sola Scriptura means we need direct biblical warrant for whatever we do. Rather, Sola Scriptura means that we are obligated to believe or do whatever Scripture requires, and obligated to disbelieve or refrain from doing whatever is contrary to Scripture.

But there are many issues where we have to use sanctified common sense.

ii) The argument from silence is plausible in situations where, if something were the case, we’d expect it to be mentioned. But the argument from silence has no forces in situations where no reasonable expectation to that effect exists.

iii) A society has unwritten rules as well as written rules. An unspoken understanding of social expectations, based on cultural osmosis. Something you pick up through observation.

Some things aren’t written down because they are so obvious or familiar that everyone knows the score without being told. For instance, the Bible doesn’t prohibit torturing children for fun. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to torture children for fun.

iv) This also figures in communication. Writers leave many things unsaid because they can rely on cultural conventions.

v) Law typically deals with frequent rather than infrequent behavior.

vi) Apropos (v), biblical law is illustrative or paradigmatic rather than exhaustive. Biblical law doesn’t spell out every possible contingency:

Modern societies generally have opted for exhaustive law codes. That is, every action modern society wishes to regulate or prohibit must be specifically mentioned in a separate law…By this approach, all actions are permitted that are not expressly forbidden or regulated. Thus it is not uncommon that criminals in modern Western societies to evade prosecution because of a “technicality” or a “loophole” in the law…

Ancient laws didn’t work this way. They were paradigmatic, giving models of behaviors and models or prohibitions/punishments relative to those behaviors, but they made no attempt to be exhaustive. Ancient laws gave guiding principles, or samples, rather than complete descriptions of all things regulated. Ancient people were expected to be able to extrapolate from what the sampling of laws did say to the general behavior the laws in their totality pointed toward. Ancient judges were expected to extrapolate from the wording provided in the laws that did exist to all other circumstances and not be foiled in their jurisprudence by any such concepts as “technicalities” or “loopholes. When common sense told judges that a crime had been committed, they reasoned their way from whatever the most nearly applicable law specified to a decision as to how to administer proper justice in the case before them.

“Excursus: The Paradigmatic Nature of Biblical Law,” D. Stuart, Exodus (Broadman 2006), 442-43.

The same reasoning applies to NT household codes and other paraenetic material.

vii) Suppose a newlywed discovers that her husband is a serial killer. He’s been married before. His wives die in mysterious accidents. He collects their life insurance, changes his identity, then remarries–repeating the cycle.

Even if this were valid grounds for divorce, we wouldn’t expect the Bible to discuss it because this is so unusual.

Jesus answers a question about divorce (Mt 19:3), while Paul discusses divorce in relation to mixed marriages (1 Cor 7). These are responses to specific questions or particular situations. We know the grounds for divorce and remarriage in those cases because a question was asked, or a particular situation in the NT churched occasioned an explanation.

Scripture might be silent on other grounds for the simple reason that there was no occasion to discuss other grounds, given the needs of the immediate audience.

viii) Jesus had two contrasting criticisms of the religious establishment. On the one hand, he attacked the religious establishment for being too lax. It would invent loopholes to evade God’s law.

On the other hand, he also attacked the religious establishment for being too strict. It would woodenly enforce the law without regard to the purpose of the law.

These might seem to be contradictory criticisms, but they identify a common error: the religious establishment didn’t take seriously the intent of the law.

Therefore, we can’t just play it safe by sticking to the letter of the law. That might seem to be faithful, but Jesus has taught us that this kind of superficial obedience can be the opposite way of flouting the law.

Not all laws are equally obligatory. Some laws are given for the sake of other laws. Sabbath-keeping exists to promote human flourishing. But there are emergency situations where keeping the Sabbath is detrimental to human flourishing.

ix) Both divine and human intent are germane to genuine compliance. For instance, sacrifice offered without right intention invalidates the offering (Hos 6:6; Mt 9:13; 12:7).

Likewise, some vows are unlawful vows (Mt 15:1-9; Mk 7:1-13). By the same token, some vows could be nullified (Num 30:5,8).

x) The Bible deploys a fortiori arguments from analogy, viz.

15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Lk 13:15-16).

9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop (1 Cor 9:9-10).

xi) In discussing divorce and remarriage, Jesus grounds his position in the nature and purpose of marriage. Therefore, that’s a relevant background factor when we consider possible grounds for divorce.

At the same time, Jesus response isn’t meant to be exhaustive. He’s discussing the issue in a Jewish context, with reference to OT law and common law.

If we were to give a fuller description of the nature and purpose of marriage in Scripture, that would include the following:

a) Marriage is a covenant

b) To procreate the image of God

c) To provide a unique kind of companionship

d) To illustrate God’s devotion to the redeemed

xii) For instance, suppose a spouse enters into marriage with no intention of having kids. His intention not to have kids defies (one of) God’s intention for instituting marriage in the first place.

So that might be grounds for divorce. The intentions of both the divine and human parties are germane to the validity of the arrangement. If the human party makes a mockery of the institution by contracting a marriage in defiance of God’s design for marriage, one could argue that his marriage lacks divine authorization.

Likewise, suppose one party deceives the other party, when he or she has no intention of having kids. That might also be grounds for divorce. That would be a fraudulent agreement. By analogy, if you lack right intention when you offer sacrifice, that invalidates the sacrifice. Your hidden motives give the lie to your outward actions.

I’m not presenting a full-blown argument for these two examples. I’m just giving two examples to illustrate how one might argue grounds for divorce. Citing relevant considerations.

xiii) In application to the specific issue at hand:

a) Domestic violence is a travesty of what marriage represents, in terms of companionship as well as the emblematic significance of marriage (i.e. to illustrate God’s devotion to the redeemed). It’s the antithesis of how marriage is supposed to function (e.g. Eph 5:22-33).

b) Breach of covenant can nullify a covenant if one party fails to honor the terms of the covenant. And this isn’t the case of a spouse who makes a good faith effort, but falls short due to sin. Rather, this is acting in bad faith.

c) There is also an argument from analogy. A battered slave could be manumitted (Exod 21:26-27). A fortiori, a battered wife can divorce her husband. What’s true in the lesser case of a slave is true in the greater case of a wife, for a wife has greater rights than a slave.

As I’ve noted, scripture uses a minore ad maius arguments.

xiv) My aim is not to present a full-blown argument, but to show how we ought to frame the issue. The sorts of factors relevant to considering grounds for divorce.

Defining al Qaeda

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Piper on domestic abuse

A few years ago, John Piper answered a question about domestic abuse that’s gone viral on the Internet:

i) I’m going to comment on his answer. Keep in mind that Piper recently took a sabbatical to have more time with his wife, so it’s not as if he’s an ogre.

ii) I’ve only read a few of Piper’s books. I don’t listen to his sermons. So I’m not that familiar with the details of Piper’s theology. Others could offer a more informed assessment.

He has discussed the issue of submission on several occasions. For instance:

Fuller statements like that supply a larger context for his brief answer in the YouTube clip.

iii) Some people come to the YouTube clip loaded for bear. They stereotype complementarians (or “fundamentalists”), and they project that onto Piper’s answer. They don’t really listen to the answer. They blow past the qualifications. They only hear what they want to hear, what they expect to hear. They listen to have their stereotype confirmed.

iv) I think Piper’s answer has some good elements. But overall I find his answer unsatisfactory.

v) For one thing, in dealing with a question that highly charged, it’s best to give a written response rather than answering off-the-cuff. You need to choose your words very carefully.

Piper should anticipate that this type of question invites controversy. He should anticipate the fact that there are people gunning for him.

vi) Likewise, he’s trying to cover too much ground in too little time. In a question with so many permutations, that’s not something you can do justice to in a few minutes.

vii) Piper makes a good point about the fact that wifely submission is not an absolute. A wife has a higher allegiance to Christ. Both husband and wife are under the authority of Christ. In case of conflict, submission to Christ takes precedence.

Piper also makes a good point about different kinds of “abuse,” but he needs to spend more time on that.

We should distinguish between verbal or emotional abuse and physical abuse. We should also distinguish between the intensity of the abuse and the extensivity of the abuse–especially in the case of verbal/emotional abuse. Likewise, we should distinguish between intentional and unintentional (emotional) harm.

To take examples of each, people may say things in the heat of anger that they don’t really mean. Things they regret saying after they cool off.

Needless to say, this isn’t unique to marriage. It’s commonplace in social relationships generally. Between parents and children. Siblings. Friends.

Conversely, it’s possible for two people who know each other quite well to target each other’s vulnerabilities. They know our soft spots. Some abusive comments are more hurtful than others. And that can be calculated for maximum effect.

Likewise, does verbal abuse take place weekly? Daily? Does it only occur when the spouse is under a lot of pressure?

viii) Up to a point, I think verbal abuse is tolerable in a way that physical abuse is not.

ix) The weakest part of Piper’s answer is his statement that “she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church.”

This sounds as if domestic violence should be dealt with internally. Don’t go to the authorities. And there are Christian groups like the Amish who believe that.

The answer is also reminiscent of how the Roman Church dealt with clerical abuse. Keep it to ourselves.

But there are obvious problems with that response. Domestic violence isn’t just a sin–it’s a crime. Church elders only have moral authority. There’s nothing they can really do to restrain a physically abusive husband.

Moreover, it’s not as if churches have a uniform policy. A battered wife could get very bad advice from the elders.

In my opinion, she should call the police, not call the elders.

Now I’d like to touch on some other considerations:

x) Hostile opponents of complementarianism think complementarianism is conducive to domestic abuse. But traditionally, complementarianism espouses a chivalric code in which the husband’s role is protective. The husband puts his wife’s best interests ahead of his own. That’s the polar opposite of an abusive relationship.

xi) Theoretically, there’s a distinction between separation and divorce. For instance, if a spouse is emotionally abusive on a regular basis, it might be a good idea for the couple to separate for a while

One issue is whether the Bible allows for that distinction.

xii) Another issue is whether or not the couple has kids. Traditionally, many couples stayed together for the good of the children even if the marriage was rocky. I’m not talking about physical abuse or philandering. Just unpleasantness.

There are situations where separation or divorce would be more harmful to the kids than holding the marriage together, even if there’s a lot of tension between husband and wife. That’s sometimes the best bad option.

xiii) Traditionally, Protestants acknowledge two grounds for divorce: infidelity and desertion. I think that’s correct as far as it goes.

However, there may be other grounds for divorce. Biblical case law is illustrative or paradigmatic rather than exhaustive. It doesn’t address every conceivable situation. That’s not possible.

I think domestic violence would be grounds for divorce. Emotional abuse is a gray area.

xiv) Finally, I’d like to consider the alternative. Some folks think the kind of answer Piper gave is an argument for feminism or egalitarianism. Some folks think it’s a reason to chuck the Christian faith entirely.

xv) Keep in mind that the question was one-sided. Piper was asked a question about an abusive husband. Some people took offense. But what if we turned the question around. Instead of asking a complementarian about an abusive husband, suppose we ask an egalitarian (or feminist) about an abusive wife?

Or to put this another way, suppose you asked Piper that question, and he said “I think the husband should put up with verbal abuse for a season, or maybe be smacked one night, and then he should seeks intervention from the church”–would that answer have gone viral on the internet? Would that answer be greeted with the same blistering outrage? Or do we have critics who are blinded by their own lopsided prejudice?

Do egalitarians think a husband should divorce his wife if she’s verbally and/or emotionally abusive? Or do they think the couple should pursue marital counseling? Are they measuring each spouse by the same yardstick?

xvi) Likewise, suppose the wife is physically abusive. Suppose it’s the first time. Do egalitarians and feminists think the wife should be handcuffed and carted off to jail? Do they think he should summarily divorce his wife?

Or would they inquire about mitigating circumstances? Would they ask if the husband did something to provoke his wife?

I’m just wondering if those who wax indignant at Piper’s answer make any effort to be consistent.

xvii) Perhaps they’d say that’s different. Because a man is stronger, he can do more damage. He can hospitalize his wife.

The problem with that answer is that feminists think women should be cops, combatants, and firefighters. They don’t buy the argument that a man’s upper body strength should exclude women from the same jobs.

Do feminists and egalitarians hold men and women to different standards?

xviii) Finally, for critics who use this as a pretext to reject Christianity altogether, keep in mind that if atheism is true, then women have no inherent rights. If, moreover, we look to evolutionary ethics for moral guidance, males are typically dominant in the animal kingdom.

By all means, lets keep checking the facts

Those who have no history are always on the verge of insanity. When individual people lose their memory, they find it a very distressing experience; history is like a collective memory, the recollections of a nation, of a culture, or of the entire world. When a nation forgets its history, or worse still, invents a history to take the place of the facts, the consequences are tragic. The proof of that can be seen by looking at what happened in Nazi Germany half a century ago; there Hitler began rebuilding a whole society on lies about the past, filling the past with demons, of which the worst were the Jews. Under the influence of these lies, ordinary, decent human beings became accomplices in some of the most horrific crimes which humanity has ever committed. There are plenty of other examples, perhaps the most chilling coming from the world of fiction. In the novel 1984, George Orwell created a world where those in power could never be defeated or removed because they were always right; they were always right because they constantly rewrote the past to show that they were always right. They removed the possibility of change from the world by removing the consciousness from people’s minds that change could take place.

From Diarmaid MacCulloch, “Groundwork of Christian History”, London, UK: Epworth Press ©1987, pgs 1-2.

As I wrote at another point:

Prior to Newman’s “theory of development,” it was the practice of Catholic apologists (see Bossuet) to argue that the church had never changed: “semper eadem.” But in the course of further historical research, it became necessary for someone like Newman to explain the huge scope and number of the changes that Rome had effected on the church over the centuries.

In the Orwell novel, 1984, it was the job of the main character, Winston Smith, “to rewrite historical documents so they match the constantly changing current party line. This involves revising newspaper articles and doctoring photographs — mostly to remove ‘unpersons,’ people who have fallen foul of the party.”

To find precedence for this practice, Orwell had to travel no further than the Roman Catholic Church, which had made this its practice for centuries. In describing how we have come to know about the genuine teachings of Nestorius, Friedrich Loofs wrote, “The church of the ancient Roman Empire did not punish its heretics merely by deposition, condemnation, banishment and various deprivation of rights, but, with the purpose of shielding its believers against poisonous influence, it destroyed all heretical writings ... a similar fortune was prepared for Nestorius.” (Loofs, “Nestorius,” 2-11).

Of course, according to Orwell, “If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say this or that even, it never happened—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.” (Book 1, Chapter 3)

This is precisely what the Catholic Church, at an official level, to a greater or lesser degree, has been doing for centuries, and it is the type of thing that its modern apologists continue to do today.
(Especially adherents to Newman’s “theory of development.”)

“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool”

This is what the Lord says:

“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting place be?

Has not my hand made all these things,
and so they came into being?”
declares the Lord.

“These are the ones I look on with favor:
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word.

“But whoever sacrifices a bull
is like one who kills a person,
and whoever offers a lamb
is like one who breaks a dog’s neck;
whoever makes a grain offering
is like one who presents pig’s blood,
and whoever burns memorial incense
is like one who worships an idol.

“They have chosen their own ways,
and they delight in their abominations;
so I also will choose harsh treatment for them
and will bring on them what they dread.
For when I called, no one answered,
when I spoke, no one listened.
They did evil in my sight
and chose what displeases me.”

Photo Caption for this Solar eruption: A long filament of solar material that had been hovering in the sun's atmosphere, the corona, erupts out into space on Aug. 31. The coronal mass ejection, or CME, traveled outward at more than 900 miles per second. The CME did not travel directly toward Earth, but the storm did connect with Earth's magnetosphere, causing auroral displays on the night of Sept. 3. This picture includes an Earth-sized dot to provide a sense of scale.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Teetering on the ledge

Roger Olson recently plugged a new book by Rachel Held Evans:

Among other things, he says:

All that is to say that I don’t live in Rachel Held Evans’ world—at least not in the one she’s struggling with in her book. I see it and hear of it, but I stay out of it. However, I see the damage it does to young women called to ministry. They are among my students and I watch them struggle to be affirmed by their home churches and families. Often they are not affirmed.

Of course, that’s ironically paternalistic. Adults should outgrow the need to be constantly “affirmed.” If a grown man or woman “struggles” with not having emotional pats on the head, then they have a maturity problem.

Olson also uses his review as a pretext to bash Reformed complementarians like Piper and Grudem, drawing an invidious contrast between their Christian piety and the piety of Rachel Evans. Well, here’s something she said recently:

Images of lines snaking out of fast food restaurants, taunts and jeers on Facebook, tearful conversations with gay friends, failed attempts to understand and explain both sides.

If the sight of customers lining up to buy sandwiches at Chick-fil-A reduces Held and her homosexual friends to tears, then homosexuals in American don’t have very much to worry about. Is this their idea of persecution?

Is this what following Jesus is supposed to be about? Eating a chicken sandwich to prove a point?

She conveniently forgets how this got started. Chick-fil-A came under attack.

Is this what mobilizes the people of God?

Why do critics like Held even assume that this was a Christian protest? Is there exit polling on how many customers were Christian? Does Held have the percentages?

Suddenly, my religion is alien to me—small, petty, reactive.  My faith has lost its bearings.

There’s no doubt that her faith has lost its bearings.

I don’t feel like praying anymore…

She doesn’t feel like praying anymore because she sees customers lining up at Chick-fil-A?

Can’t you just imagine Daniel, Elijah, or Jeremiah out of the mood for prayer because they saw lines of Chick-fil-A customers?

…not even for the mom who begged me to pray for her gay son who vowed yesterday never to return to church again.

Can I blame him?  Perhaps it is better if he stays away.

Why did he swear off church? Just because he saw customers lining up at a fast food restaurant to a make a statement? If a teenage boy is that emotionally fragile, then he has serious problems. If he has feelings of rejection at the sight of perfect strangers eating chicken products at a fast food joint, then what does that say about his expectations or his emotional stability?

Indeed, doesn’t that suggest a link between his homosexuality and his deep-seated insecurities? Regardless of who or what you are, everyone isn’t going to accept you. Deal with it. 

I am hanging by the tips of sweaty fingers on this ledge of faith, wondering if letting go will bring freedom or death. I’ve hung on before—through the science wars, the gender wars, the Christmas wars, the culture wars—but I’m just so tired of fighting, so tired of feeling out of place.

First of all, it’s not as if she was conscripted to fight for her pet causes.

But more to the point, she’s teetering on the ledge of faith because she saw TV coverage of Chick-fil-A customers? Really? Seriously? She’s prepared to jump from the ledge of faith because she saw customers lined up at Chick-fil-A restaurants to quietly express their support?

And this is the kind of piety that Roger Olson is lauding and applauding? That’s Arminianism for you.

Obama 2.0

I expect Obama to be more aggressive in tonight’s debate. However, there’s only so much he can do. Even at his best, he’s not outstanding. He’s not Bill Clinton. He’s not that quick on his feet. Ad libbing is not his strong suit. Indeed, when he does speak off-the-cuff, he tends to make gaffes.

I expect him to memorize some applause lines for the debate, but that’s about it.


I’ve seen a few episodes of the NBC series Revolution, although I didn’t watch the pilot episode. I wouldn’t be surprised if the show is canceled. It’s not very good.

For one thing, the screenwriters inflict us with the politically correct cliché of soft, passive, state-at-home guys alongside steely gals who volunteer for hand-to-hand combat.

From what I can tell, the drama is set in a future where an EMP attack permanently disabled the power grid, thereby rendering electronic technology useless at one stroke. This, in turn, led to a collapse of law and order. Filling the void are “militias.”

That’s what I’d like to focus on. The depiction of the militias plays into the malicious liberal stereotype of American militia groups as collective vigilantes or roving death squads. It’s as if the script was written by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Now militias no doubt have some of nutcases. However, it’s my impression that many members of the “militia movement” are genuine patriots who honor Constitutional government.

Moreover, assuming that federal, state, and local government totally disbanded in the wake of an EMP attack (and it’s completely unrealistic to imagine that an EMP attack having that effect), an obvious result is that policemen and professional soldiers would either join preexisting militias or form their own. Policemen and ex-military (e.g. officers) would exercise leadership in the reconstituted militia movement. And I think it’s safe to say many professional soldiers have greater respect for the US Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the principles of limited government, than do many politicians. There’d be a concerted effort to restore the vision of the Founding Fathers.

No doubt there’d be turf wars and atrocities–especially by marauding street gangs. But the militias wouldn’t be equivalent to Latin American death squads.

Images of hell

The Bible uses several different metaphors for hell. Unless we understand the metaphors, we won’t understand damnation.

1. Fire

This is, of course, the dominant metaphor in historical theology and pop culture. This carries with it two dangers:

i) Overemphasis on the fiery metaphor eclipses other, neglected metaphors for hell in Scripture. That leads to an unbalanced view of hell.

ii) There is also a danger of misunderstanding the fiery metaphor. I’ve explored the meaning of this metaphor in the past:

There’s a popular stereotype of the hellfire preacher: a heavyset evangelist with beady eyes, mopping his sweaty brow with a hanky as he gleefully depicts the damned writhing in hell. No doubt there are some preachers who play into the stereotype.

2. The lost

I’ve discussed this image in a recent post:

3. Death

The Apocalypse describes eternal punishment as a “second death.” That plays on the connotations of death. So what’s the emblematic significance of death?

An obvious suggestion is that death signifies loss. Ultimate loss. Total loss. Irrevocable loss.

One of the most illuminating passages in that respect is Eccl 12:1-8, with its famous, poignant evocation of old age.

Solomon uses the image of a dilapidated house to portray the aging process. Due to infirmity and sensory deprivation (imbalance, loss of sight, loss of hearing), the elderly suffer from increasing social and resultant emotional isolation. The steady, involuntary withdrawal from the world. Forced isolation, due to a mind trapped inside a body that’s become a prison.

Blindness is a common affliction in the Mideast, with its unremitting glare. 

The elderly outlive older relatives (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles). They outlive their spouse. They outlive childhood friends. And in the ancient world it wasn’t uncommon to outlive some or all of your children.

They are shut-ins. They don’t venture outside very often because they are unsteady on their feet. Because they can’t see well. Because they fear muggers. They are weak. Defenseless. Easy prey.

Time has passed them by. The world has passed them by. Yet they linger on.

Outside, the lifecycle repeats itself with another spring and summer. The almond tree blossoms anew. But life is autumnal or wintry for the aged. Outside, the younger generation is doing what they used to do at that age. Children laughing, shouting, playing in the streets. Young lovers. Shoppers haggling in the town market. Women at the well. Palestine is a sunny, outdoor climate.

Separation is a type of loss. Death separates us from this life. Sooner or later the damned lose everything. They begin losing what they cherish in this life. Friends. Family. They may wax wistful about the past. Lost youth. The past taunts them. Something they miss. Something they vividly remember, yet it lies just out of reach. Tantalizing.

Conversely, heaven represents reunion and restoration. Reconnecting the past with the future.

4. Forgetfulness

The Bible depicts death as a state of forgetfulness. Of course, death isn’t equivalent to damnation. But forgetfulness can signify the state of the lost.

Forgetfulness can be taken in different directions:

i) The elderly are often forgetful. This may begin with a less retentive short-term memory. But it can also erode long-term memory. They lose track of time. Forget what day it is. Forget what year it is. Forget where they are. They may ask to be taken “home,” when their old home is long gone.

ii) Forgetfulness can be both a blessing and a curse. Ideally, we like to remember the good things and forget the bad things. By the same token, we hope to be remembered at our best, not our worst.

iii) Then there’s the specter of being forgotten. Take elderly men and women who outlive everyone who was ever close to them.

Five years ago I got a phone call from a member of my high school reunion committee. She was an old classmate. I hadn’t spoken to her since we graduated. Yet we were able to pick up where we left off, 30 years ago, without missing a beat. There was that instant recognition when I’d mention an old teacher or fellow student or the school building.

What happens when there’s no one left in your life who shares your old memories?

It’s like a man who goes on an ocean cruise. He may be surrounded by hundreds of passengers, but they are strangers. He eats by himself. No one knows who he is.

If he falls overboard at night, no one will notice that he’s gone. Nobody will register his absence.

He will splash around in the dark, watching the lights and sounds of the ship recede into blackness. He shouts for help, but no one hears him. He’s left alone, in the darkness. In the chilly waters. He will die alone.

It’s a terrible thing to be a missing person. In a way, it’s worse to go missing, and no one misses you. Not just that no one cares. No one is even aware.

To be forgotten is to be forsaken. That’s a common fate for orphans and widows in OT times. And that’s still the case today.

Assurance and “Fear and Trembling” from the text of Paul’s letters

Over at Reformation21, Noel Weeks has posted the second part of his two-part series, Background in Biblical Interpretation.

Weeks offers a piece of guidance that is always important to keep in mind, especially in discussions of Sola Scriptura with Roman Catholics:

First and most important of all, the biblical text must have priority. If the explanation does not fit what the text itself tells us, it is wrong.

How different is this thought from the notion that “the Church has the authority to tell us what the interpretation is”.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Predestination and foreordination

By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death (WCF 3.3).

Does Calvinism teach “double predestination”? The answer depends in part on whether we’re posing a semantic question or a conceptual question. And even the semantics are variable.

i) “Predestination” and “foreordination” can be used synonymously. On that definition, Calvinism teaches double predestination.

ii) However, the Westminster Confession uses one term for election and a different term for reprobation. According to Warfield, the reason for this linguistic distinction is that, in 17C usage, “predestination” was a synonym for “election.” Therefore, the Westminster Divines chose a different term for the clause describing reprobation. Yet Warfield says the two terms can also be used interchangeably.

Cf. The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, 2:4-5; 4:125.

iii) At the same time, it doesn’t seem as though “predestination” was a technical term for “election,” because the Confession goes on to specify the objects of “predestination” (“until everlasting life”), as it also specifies the objects of “foreordination” (“to everlasting death”).

So “predestination” and “foreordination” aren’t technical terms for “election” and “reprobation” respectively, otherwise it would be unnecessary to clarify their scope by the additional referents. It’s the meaning of the sentence, not the meaning of one verb or another, that distinguishes them.

In principle, the Confession could just as well say “some men and angels are chosen beforehand to enjoy everlasting life while others are chosen beforehand to endure everlasting death–or something along those lines.

Or we could say “some are predetermined to everlasting life while others are predetermined to everlasting death.

In other words, we could use the same verb for both. What distinguishes the two propositions is not the bare choice of the verb, but the stated referents.

Of course, we do have technical terms for both concepts: “election” and “reprobation.”

iv) It’s also important to avoid the word=concept fallacy. There’s a difference between a semantic distinction and a conceptual distinction. The meaning or dictionary of “predestination,” “foreordination,” “election,” and “reprobation” won’t suffice to explain what they have in common or what differentiates one from another.

For instance, Reformed theologians frequently say election and reprobation are “asymmetrical” in some respects. They are said to have different grounds or different modes of execution. Those are not nuances you can pack into a single word. Rather, that requires a detailed explanation. That can also involve us in different theories of causation and/or determinism. 

Operation Pig Drop

Our secret weapon against global jihad:

Jihad-proofing your city

Sometimes we need to get creative about counterterrorism:

Design detection

For millennia, man has practiced selective breeding on wild plants (horticulture) and animals (husbandry). Suppose we didn’t know that these domesticated plants and animals were the result of selective breeding. Suppose all we had to go by were the plants and animals.

If an evolutionary biologist who espouses naturalistic evolution or methodological naturalism examined these organisms, he’d automatically assume that they were the result of a nondirective process, even though, as we actually know, it required intelligent intervention to produce them. Are Darwinians prepared to recognize the hand of God? Even if organisms were, in fact, the product of divine engineering, Darwinians preemptively exclude that explanation.

Background in Biblical Interpretation: Part 2

Tips on taking the Demon Test

Dear Screwtape,

I was wondering if I should take Bob Larson’s Demon Test. I, along with some other fledging devils, recently took possession of a retired kindergarten teacher in Florida. Should we make her take the test?

If so, how should we make her answer the questionnaire? It doesn’t seem to occur to Rev. Larson that a demoniac might lie on the test. Doesn’t he realize that demons are congenital liars?




Dear Wormwood,

Thanks for your inquiry. Yes, Larson seems to be pretty gullible for an exorcist and countercult specialist. I mean, if a respondent really were possessed, how could Larson trust him to answer truthfully? But we can turn his credulity to our advantage.

Mind you, if I were a cynical demon, I’d suspect that Larson is just a scam artist who’s trying to con simple believers out of their greenbacks. But I’m too idealistic to impute such venal motives to this great man of God.




Dear. Screwtape,

Thanks for the suggestion. You’re such a sly devil!

You said we should exploit Larson’s gullibility. How do you propose we do that?




Dear Wormwood,

Use the Demon Test as a set-up to expose Larson as a greedy charlatan and shameless opportunist. Feed him the answers he wants to hear. Play him for a chump.

Arrange an “exorcism” with his ditzy daughters. Make sure someone’s there with a digital camcorder.

His bimbo girls have never confronted a real live demon. They are just play-acting. They don’t have the slightest inkling what it’s like to actually come face-to-face with the dark side.

Give them the real thing, complete with poltergeist effects. Flying furniture. Hellhounds. Red eyes glowing in the dark. Freak lightning strikes. A Carmina Burana soundtrack playing in the background. The works!

Scare the living daylights out of them. Then when they run screaming from the room, upload the whole scene on YouTube.




Dear Screwtape,

Thanks for the helpful advice. Larson is such a tool! It’s unwitting dupes like him who encourage unbelievers mock the very existence of the devil by making the whole thing seem utterly ridiculous. That enables us to fly under the radar.



Is reprobation conditional or unconditional?

Since this issue continues to crop up, I’ll discuss it from another angle. I’ve often read Arminians claim that Calvinism subscribes to unconditional reprobation. I don’t see them quoting any representative Reformed theologians to that effect. Rather, they apparently infer that if election is unconditional, then, by parity of argument, reprobation must be unconditional. However, that’s a fallacious inference.

The question of whether or not reprobation is unconditional suffers from a couple of ambiguities or equivocations.

i) To begin with, Reformed theologians classically subdivide reprobation into two distinct decrees or divine acts (i.e. timeless mental acts). As Berkhof puts it:

Preterition is a sovereign act of God, an act of his mere good pleasure, in which the demerits of man do not come into consideration, while precondemnation is a judicial act, visiting sin with punishment Even supralapsarians are willing to admit that in condemnation sin is taken into consideration.

Systematic Theology, 116. Turretin has a more detailed analysis. Cf. Institutes, 1:380ff.

Recasting this is philosophical jargon, we’d say preterition is unconditional whereas predamnation is conditional. (Called “predamnation” rather than “damnation” because we’re dealing with God’s timeless decree, whereas damnation occurs in time.)

ii) The term “conditional” is also ambiguous without further definition. For instance, Turretin says:

The question is whether the decree of reprobation is absolute from a cause properly so-called (immediate and external) by which God was influenced out of himself to reprobate man (1:382). 

Here, “absolute” is a synonym for unconditional.

For instance, in 1 Cor 1-3, Paul talks about God disproportionately electing or reprobating certain social classes. One might be tempted to say that makes election conditional, but that’s ambiguous–for in this case, God creates the distinguishing conditions. God determines when, where, and to whom you will be born. So God isn’t electing or reprobating individuals on account of their social class, as if that’s an independent variable. It’s not “conditional” in that sense.

Likewise, both Calvinists and Arminians say faith is a necessary condition of salvation. But in the case of Calvinism, faith is not an external factor which affects or effects the divine response. Rather, faith is a divine gift. That’s a condition which God himself supplies and satisfies.

In both cases, the condition is ultimately contingent or dependent on divine agency. Not something God responds to. Rather, our responsiveness, or lack thereof, is the result of divine agency.

Likewise, God can have reasons for electing one sinner and reprobating another sinners. But these are his reasons. They don’t take their source of origin in the creature. If God differentiates one creature from another, God made them different in the first place.

The Character Of Miracle Witnesses

One of the ways critics attempt to undermine the credibility of a miracle report is to cast doubt on the character of the witnesses. The witnesses are too gullible, dishonest, liable to hallucinate, or whatever.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Why veganism will never catch on

The key to longevity

Given our cultural climate, it’s not surprising to see involuntary organ harvesting on the rise:

This used to be the stuff of B horror flicks, but now it’s for real.

In light of this ominous development, it’s necessary to take precautionary measures so that, if you land in the ER, the transplant committee won’t look at you like a dog eyeing a backyard BBQ.

i) Needless to say, don’t have “organ donor” stamped on your driver’s license. That’s a dead giveaway (pardon the pun).

ii) Change your legal surname to “Gambino.”

iii) Stuff your wallet with business cards for IHOP, KFC, Dairy Queen, Baskin-Robbins, Russell Stover, Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts, Domino’s Pizza, all-you-can-eat buffets. &c. That way, when the ER staff is rifling through your wallet for ID and next-of-kin, they will see what a lousy donor candidate you’d make.

iv) Assiduously cultivate an unhealthy lifestyle. Pork out on fast food and junk food. Be at least 50-75 lbs. overweight. It’s the guy with the six-pack abs who’s at high risk of being dismembered when he lands unconscious in the ER.

v) When they take lab samples, make sure your triglyceride and bad cholesterol counts are off the charts by eating all the wrong foods.

vi) Be a chain-smoker. Guzzle beer and whisky by the gallon.

vii) Don’t visit the dentist. Make sure you have prominent nicotine stains on your teeth.

viii) Avoid exercise at all cost. Carefully maintain flaccid muscle tone.

If you follow these steps, you have a good chance of living a long time. If, on the other hand, you’re a health nut, your next visit to the ER will resemble New Guinea tribes inviting Methodist missionaries to supper.