Saturday, December 01, 2012

Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?

Marcus Ross at ETS

Is science committed to methodological naturalism?

Not according to this secular scientist:

Coming home to Mother Synagogue

A few quick comments on this story:

i) Apostasy is always sad. These converts are repeating the error of the congregation in Hebrews. And they don't even have the extenuating circumstance of persecution to mitigate their guilt.

ii) It's quite possible to be both a Christian and a Jew. After all, most all of the NT writers were Messianic Jews.

iii) But to the main point, this parallels Catholic conversion stories about "coming home" and being "deep in history." Only here it's used to justify conversion from Evangelicalism to Judaism rather than Catholicism. That illustrates the promiscuous logic of the Catholic conversion narrative.

God's word for posterity

Some books of the Bible (e.g. the Psalter, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) are anthologies. Indeed, the Psalter contains collections within collections.

This requires us to draw two basic distinctions. We must distinguish between the time of the individual compositions, and the time of their canonical compilation. We must also distinguish between the audience for the individual composition and the audience for the subsequent anthology.

The original speeches or writings were addressed to the contemporaries of the prophet, psalmist, or proverbialist. By contrast, the anthology is addressed to a later audience. That’s for the posterity’s benefit. What is more, the earlier sayings or writings are taken to be comprehensible to posterity. For instance, some psalms were composed centuries before the final edition.

This underscores the fact that the Scriptures were given with a view to a time when the original authors were dead. When the writers were long gone, and we’d be left with their writings. When we’d have to judge what they meant by what they wrote. 

That’s useful to keep in mind when Catholics attack sola Scriptura or the perspicuity of Scripture.

Hiding in plain sight

A stock objection which unbelievers routinely raise to Biblical miracles is the allegation that the world you and I live in doesn’t resemble the world of the Bible. Biblical narratives are studded with miracles, but we don’t experience that in the modern world. Rather, we experience the uniformity of nature.

The contrast between the world of the Bible and the world you and I actually experience strongly suggests the world of the Bible isn’t the real world, but a mythical, fictitious representation.

There are different ways of responding to this argument. One way is to challenge the operating premise. For instance, Jason Engwer and I have cited a lot of material documenting widely-attested and well-attested cases of the miraculous or the paranormal. In that event, the alleged disconnect between the Biblical world and the modern world or the “real” world is bogus. These are, in fact, continuous.

There is, however, another way to challenge the operating premise. On the one hand, the atheistic objection exaggerates the presence of miracles in Bible history in contrast to the (alleged) absence of miracles in modern history.

On the other hand, we can also reverse the equation. It’s not as if miracles are standard operating procedure in the Bible, with a wholesale shift to ordinary providence thereafter. For miracles and providence coexist in Scripture. Both modes of operation are already in place in Bible history.

Before proceeding further, let’s consider some common definitions a miracle: 

A common approach is to define a miracle as an interruption of the order or course of nature. (Sherlock 1843: 57) Some stable background is, in fact, presupposed by the use of the term, as William Adams (1767: 15) notes:

    An experienced uniformity in the course of nature hath been always thought necessary to the belief and use of miracles. These are indeed relative ideas. There must be an ordinary regular course of nature, before there can be any thing extraordinary. A river must flow, before its stream can be interrupted.

David Hume (Hume 1748/2000; cf. Voltaire 1764/1901: 272) famously defined a miracle as “a violation of the laws of nature.”

Thus, Samuel Clarke (1719: 311–12) writes that

    the true Definition of a Miracle, in the Theological Sense of the Word, is this; that it is a work effected in a manner unusual, or different from the common and regular Method of Providence, by the interposition either of God himself, or of some Intelligent Agent superiour to Man…

I cite the first two definitions, not because I think they are good definitions, but because these are popular atheistic definitions, and I’m responding to an atheistic objection. Therefore, there’s some value in casting the issue of miracles in atheistic terms, for the sake of argument.

The third definition is more religious. However, I think that definition is somewhat defective as well. More on that later.

Let’s now turn to a paradigm-case of Biblical providence:

However, the overtly secular atmosphere in which the story of Esther seems to unfold need not be held against it. On the contrary, we may find Esther’s contemporary relevance for ourselves considerably enhanced by this feature, if we interpret it correctly. It may help us with the very difficult question of discerning the purpose and activity of God in political affairs.

A comparison of the story of Esther with the story of the Exodus will help to make the point. Both are stories of the deliverance of Israel from Gentile power…But there is also a significant difference between these two stories. In the story of the Exodus the purpose and activity of God are evident…But in the story of Esther there are no such declarations of the divine purpose…There is no one to point authoritatively to the hand of God and no supernatural signs of it. In other words, the writer of Esther depicts the ordinary world of political action, which was the world as he experienced it and the world as we too experience it most of the time, a world without explicit indications of divine purpose.

The point is not that God is not at work in the story of Esther. The writer takes God’s providential care for his people Israel entirely for granted, but he refrains from referring explicitly to it because he wishes the reader to discern it, as the characters in such a story are obliged to discern it, without any interpretation provided from outside the story. The question is how God is at work and how his activity becomes evident. There is one feature of the story which, for the believer, points clearly to the activity of divine providence: the series of remarkable coincidences. The story hinges on a combination of quite unpredictable occurrences, which the human actors in the story could never have deliberately produced, but without which Israel would have perished. Mordecai’s discovery of the plot against Xerxes’ life (2:22), the vacancy for a queen and Esther’s ability to fill it (2:1-18), the king’s insomnia on that particular night (6:1), Haman’s early arrival at the palace that particular morning (6:4): the combination of these chance events determines the plot…The author has deliberately told a story in which coincidence takes the place of miracle as a signal of divine activity.

In this sense, as David Clines puts it, “God, as a character in the story, becomes more conspicuous the more he is absent.” However, we need to note that this is true only retrospectively. In advance, we know of God’s promise to keep his people safe. But how he fulfils it, his providential activity in actual events, emerges only in the course of the story.

R. Bauckham, The Bible in Politics (WJK, 2nd ed., 2011), 123-24.

i) Now this providential mode of divine operation exists side-by-side the miraculous mode of operation in Bible history. It’s not as if miracles are the default setting in Scripture, while providence abruptly replaces the miraculous in modern history.

ii) There’s a term for what Bauckham describes in Esther: a coincidence miracle. This type of miracle doesn’t fit the conventional atheistic definition. The providential prearrangement of events in Esther doesn’t “interrupt the ordinary regular course,” much less “violate the laws of nature.” There’s no disruption in the “uniformity” of nature.

Moreover, this is not “effected in a manner unusual, or different from the common and regular method of providence.” Rather, God is working through normal second causes. So it’s outwardly “natural.”

Yet the series of events is teleological. The events are linked to achieve a goal. The historical process is internal to the world, but it’s guided by a powerful, superior intelligence that’s external to the process. Events are coordinated beyond the ken or competence of the human participants. The human players are agents who unwittingly implement a plan not of their own making. The plan reflects divine foresight, but they themselves don’t foresee the outcome.

iii) Although this is not how atheists typically define a miracle, it’s no less a case of divine agency and purpose than a “miracle.” 

iv) Now, an atheist might concede all that, but counter by saying we don’t observe that kind of providence in the modern world. Yet that raises a question. How often, or widely, would coincidence miracles be discernable?

In the case of Esther, the reader is able to perceive a series of coincidence miracles because the omniscient narrator is cognizant of compartmentalized information to which no one individual would be privy–information he shares with the reader. In addition, the narrator selects a few apparently random, isolated incidents, out of the vast totality of events, and draws our attention to how those specific incidents line up to produce a particular effect. An outcome which reflects premeditated intent on the part of a powerful, superior intelligence. 

But suppose we didn’t have that privileged perspective. That God’s-eye view of the proceedings. Suppose we didn’t have that continuous red thread connecting some incidents to other incidents?

Suppose we just had the vast plethora of indiscriminate daily, weekly, monthly, yearly events. Chains of events, some parallel, others interlocking. Suppose, moreover, our individual knowledge would be extremely fragmented. I saw something you didn’t. You heard something I didn’t. Usually, you’d be in no position to piece it together or perceive a subtle pattern. Any pattern would be lost in the sheer volume of events.

It’s like looking at a subway map. The map shows tunnels fanning out in all different directions. Some directly connected. Others indirectly connected. Tunnels connecting to other tunnels through other tunnels. The map itself doesn’t pick out any particular route or destination. The map itself is omnidirectional. A huge number of alternative combinations. The map doesn’t point anywhere in particular because it points everywhere in general. It has no starting-point or end-point. That’s up to the rider.

v) This doesn’t mean coincidence miracles are inherently indetectible. Rather, it means God must put you in a position to recognize a coincidence miracle. You may need access to compartmentalized information. Know what someone else knows. And you have to be able to see how the outcome is a wholly unexpected, yet tailor-made solution to the problem. Things like that.

By the same token, a coincidence miracle wouldn’t be widely perceived. That’s not necessarily because God is concealing himself from outsiders. Just that the miracle is not for their benefit. Hence, their inability to discern the miracle is simply a side effect of the target audience. Outsiders aren’t party to that transaction. It’s not to them, for them, or about them.

There is, of course, the Biblical theme of a God who hides himself from the lost. Not all the lost, but some of the lost, as a preliminary judgment for their sin.

There are stories in which a friend or bother sneaks into a place where his friend or brother works. Or perhaps he’s captured.

They instantly recognize each other. But the friend or brother who works there feigns ignorance. Protects his friend or brother rather than ratting him out. By contrast, the coworkers have no idea who he is. They don’t know how he’s related to their colleague. Everyone sees the same thing, but everyone doesn’t perceive the same thing. The friend or brother has inside information.

4 reasons the consent argument for abortion is sociopathic

Negative theology

HT: Patrick Chan

“Depraved or not depraved, that is the question”

And the answer is, “I trust that these exchanges can help bring fuller clarity and precision about these things.”

We have an opportunity today that is unprecedented in the history of the Christian church. It’s an opportunity to discuss and resolve problems that would have (and did) cause major, long-term schisms in the past. And better, we’ve all just witnessed this in a circle of blog posts among three leading Reformed Christians, and it happened within the space of less than two weeks.

Tullian Tchividjian, Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, wrote the article Are Christians Totally Depraved? on November 19.

More recently, Rick Phillips (senior minister of the historic Second Presbyterian Church of Greenville, South Carolina. He is the chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology) posted a significant response on Reformation21: Thank God that Christians Are Not Totally Depraved. He responds:

Tchividjian asks, "Are Christians Totally Depraved?" and answers, Yes. Regenerate believers in Christ are, he says, totally depraved. It is true, he admits, that Christians differ from unbelievers in that God's grace has enabled us to believe the gospel, yet total depravity describes both believers and unbelievers with respect to our inability to live so as to please God. He concludes his post with a punchy summary: "Because of total depravity, you and I were desperate for God's grace before we were saved. Because of total depravity, you and I remain desperate for God's grace even after we're saved."

Phillips picks up on something else Tchividjian says: “Many Christians think that becoming sanctified means that we become stronger and stronger, more and more competent. And although we would never say it this way, we Christian's (sic) sometimes give the impression that sanctification is growth beyond our need for Jesus and his finished work for us: we needed Jesus a lot for justification; we need him less for sanctification.” And he presses home the point:

Notice the dichotomy. To believe that in sanctification we are becoming stronger and stronger, and more spiritually competent, must mean we think that we no longer need Jesus and his finished work. Conversely, those who rely on Jesus should not expect to grow stronger or more competent.

This is contrary to the Bible's approach to sanctification…

More recently still, Michael Kruger, cites a work of his own from earlier this year, and then picks up on the Phillips article and comments:

… the problem is that we don’t talk as much about how a person’s dark heart is changed after regeneration. We don’t talk as much about the new man. Thus, we can begin to believe that no one really changes. No one can really be holy. Totally depravity becomes the unfortunate justification for declaring everyone is equally as sinful as everyone else…

… We are certainly still dealing with sin in the totality of our beings, but thank God that we are no longer totally depraved. Praise God that, as Paul wrote, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Tchividjian’s point is not, however, that Christians cannot make progress in sanctification. Just yesterday he popped onto Kruger’thjkmjhgfdfghjkl;s blog and commented:

A careful reading of what I actually said in that article reveals that Christians are not totally depraved in one sense and they are in another. I made it very clear that, as understood and articulated by theologians for centuries, the idea of “total depravity” means more than one thing.

In the sense that the phrase “total depravity” pertains to Christians, I make it clear that what I mean specifically is even after God saves us, there is no part of us that becomes sin free–we remain sinful and imperfect in all of our capacities, in the “totality” of our being. Even after God saves us, our thoughts, words, motives, deeds, and affections need the constant cleansing of Christ’s blood and the forgiveness that comes our way for free. This is what J.C. Ryle was getting at when he wrote, “Even the best things we do have something in them to be pardoned.”

And Kruger responded, “Thanks, Tullian. Great to hear from you. And I appreciate your comments and clarifications. Thanks for explaining your original article more clearly. I agree that there are different senses in which total depravity applies to Christians. I trust that these exchanges can help bring fuller clarity and precision about these things.”

The whole exchange took about 10 days. Any perceived misrepresentations were clarified, in writing and in public, in a way that persists in a form that I can write about it here, and explain it to a whole bunch of people.

Consider, however, the saga of Nestorius and Cyril. These two provided a spark for the Christological controversies of the fifth century. Their feud led to the councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451), and culminated in what, according to Samuel Moffett “it irreversibly split the church not only east and west but also north and south and cracked it into so many pieces that it was never the same again”. These schisms arguably were worse than any others in the history of Christianity, geographically and in terms of sheer numbers. They weakened both the North African churches and the Middle Eastern churches, and paved the way for the expansion of Islam into these areas.

The disagreements themselves began with Cyril misrepresenting something that Nestorius said – to be sure he was following Nestorius’s line of thinking “to its logical conclusion”. But Nestorius wasn’t making that conclusion. Cyril ended up [through brute force] getting the best of the Council of Ephesus. Nestorius spent the rest of his life in exile, and had his name attached to a heresy that he was not responsible for. And yet, major scholars are concluding today, “Nestorius was not guilty of Nestorianism”.

Imagine if Cyril had posted his complaints on the Internet, and allies of Nestorius had shouted him down. Imagine if Luther and Zwingli had been able to hash out their arguments via email before things got too great.

We have opportunities today to explore all of these kinds of questions in great detail, in public. And quickly.

It’s good to see how these things can be, and are, working out.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Are The Mind And Life Natural?

Here's a secular philosopher (or so I assume) who candidly admits some of the daunting problems facing atheism:

The death of Lutheranism

Apparently, contemporary Lutheranism reduces grace to ritualism. Be baptized as an infant, then go to church once a week to consume a consecrated wafer and listen to the pastor pronounce the words of absolution. 

If that wasn’t bad enough, “universal objective justification” has become mainstream dogma in contemporary Lutheranism. Instead of justification by faith alone as the doctrine on which the church stands for falls, we now have justification minus faith. Believers and unbelievers alike are justified. Muslims are justified. Atheists are justified. The damned are justified.

It’s sad to see a once noble theological tradition become an empty shell. But perhaps this is a case where some seminal weeds eventually choke the wheat.

Stocking stuffer

Ethanol Alert: I Hate the EPA

As far as I am concerned the imposition of ethanol in fuel is a larger scam than global warming (not that it is unrelated to it). Ironically, it was the eco-nuts who first pushed it, and now the same eco-nuts (such as the Sierra Club) says it does not protect the environment! So why still have it? The corn lobby—that simple. And once again, the American people acting like lemmings accepts filling up their tanks with pseudo-fuel.|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

Ethanol costs more, it damages engine parts, and you get less mileage—all imposed on us by big brother.

Warmed over Lutheran talking-points

I see that Lutheran commenters are simply rehashing the same arguments that I already rebutted in the past. For instance:

Lutheranism is application; Calvinism seeks to understand

Given that a number of Lutherans are commenting here, I think it’s important to try and further the understanding between them and the rest of us “Reformed Radicals” (as they tend to regard non-Lutheran Protestantism) by looking at some of the differences between us.

And following some others, I believe that the difference between “application” and “understanding” is one of the simplest ways to describe the differences. It’s very largely the same theology that’s being discussed.

In comments below, Jim Pemberton gave one of the best summaries I’ve seen of where Luther fit into the overall Reformation:

There is certainly much to appreciate about Luther's key role in the Reformation, but he was a stepping stone. His own theology changed throughout his life. I find it interesting, indeed telling, that our idea of reformed theology today differs from his purpose of reforming the RCC in that he never wanted to break away from the RCC. He only wanted to reform the theology and he labored to reconcile much of the RCCs ecclesiology with what he was discovering under the idea of sola scriptura. But since the ecclesiology he was trying to reconcile was still a product of sola ecclesia, I wager he had more to reconcile than he ever got around to. Given another lifetime, he may have discovered this conflict and given the rest of his thinking over to sola scriptura.

Luther wasn’t in a mood to throw things out.

Lutheranism arose out of Martin Luther’s personal struggles, which, at their earliest, arose in answer to the question “how am I made right with God?”

Not long afterward, Luther’s theology seemed to evolve out of a pastoral desire to teach his followers “how should we then live?”

It was his experience in the monastery that he sought to “reform” in some way, and bring it to the common folk.

In another comment thread, the Lutheran writer Nathan Rinne described it this way:

We view justification differently. These differences exist not so much because Luther is hard to understand, but rather because justification as envisioned by Luther cannot be understood apart from its practical application,

In that regard, Luther’s Small Catechism (1529) for example is very personal. The admonition “the head of the family should teach [these things] in a simple way to his household” is repeated throughout the work.

* * *

On the other hand, Calvin famously began his Institutes with the following statement:

Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.

He was seeking to understand.

His treatment through the four books of the Institutes then follows a systematic pattern, through: “The Knowledge of God the Creator”, “Knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ”, “The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ”, and book four, “External Means” and “The Society of Christ”.

Later Reformed theology tended to follow this pattern of stepping back and looking at the “big picture” of Christian theology in a logical and comprehensive way, following the general pattern of “prolegomena”, then “Theology proper” (the study of God, generally), creation, sin, Christ and redemption, and the church.

* * *

This comports nicely with a blog post from a while ago that described the major differences among the earliest churches of the Reformation as if “church tradition” were a “junk drawer”. It went like this:

We all have a “top dresser drawer” into which we throw everything that there's no other place for. Over time, it just gets full of all different kinds of things. In church history, “tradition” kind of filled up the way that drawer does. And there were four different ways that the Reformers dealt with that drawer.

The Lutherans went through the drawer, looking for things that weren't Biblical. Lutheranism took out the things that weren't biblical, but they left everything else in there.

The Reformed took the drawer and dumped everything out on the bed. Then they went through all that stuff, checked it over carefully, and put back the things that were Biblical.

The Anglicans opened the drawer and took out one thing, called "the Pope," and put back in one other thing, called "the Archbishop of Canterbury." (This was probably the least analogous parts of the metaphor, given the 39 articles and all.)

The Anabaptists took out the whole drawer, dumped everything in the trash, and lit the trash can on fire.

Luther didn’t want to throw anything out.

With respect to “church unity”: “the best way forward”

From Steven Wedgeworth: “Reformed Dreams and Church Unity”:

Pastor Danny Hyde gave an address to NAPARC a few weeks ago, arguing for the relationship between church unity and personal piety. His argument was that the Reformed churches stand in need of spiritual revival so that they can grow in personal charity before they can ever hope for church unity.

Steven rejects this notion as “quite silly”:

Many of the 17th century divines, especially those present at Dort and Westminster, were, judged by our standards today, extremely distrustful of one another and even downright hostile and mean. Gomarus challenged Martinius to a duel, on the floor of the Synod, because Martinius claimed that divine election was grounded “in Christ.” This notion was so offensive to Gomarus that he was willing to enter into armed combat with the potential to kill Martinius (see R. Letham’s The Work of Christ, 55). The English delegates at Dort even got into trouble because their clothes were too ornate and brightly colored. There were plenty who held that their Presbyterian polity was handed down directly from Acts 15.

Why was it that these men were able to “get together” then? If it wasn’t their personal piety, what could the answer be?

It was the magistrate. The king made them. Even at Westminster, Parliament issued the call, and the motivation was for a uniform state church. It didn’t work, of course, and those revived souls found themselves later chopping off the king’s head.

This, of course, followed the pattern that had been present for centuries in Christianity, since the time of Constantine. The Orthdodox yearn for that first millennium of Christianity, “the Church of the Seven Councils”, as they say, but it should be remembered that each of those seven councils was called by, and sponsored by, an emperor. The medieval papacy was, among other things, an effort to get the church out from under the civil government. Remember Unam Sanctam: “… we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” This was written to a king.

Steven continues:

So getting overly sentimental about the Reformed past is not going to help us today. In fact, an argument could be made that Reformed Christians and even Protestants are likely as united or more united now than ever before. Sure, we bicker in blog comments, but we mostly do think of each other as legitimately Reformed and even true Christians. Unbelievably, most Calvinists today even allow that Arminians are saved!

A united Reformed polity is not obviously desirable, let alone possible or expedient in our current civic context. The fulfillment of John 17 is the possession of the Holy Spirit and then the extension of love and charity to all. Pastor Hyde admits this briefly, but says that we can and should apply this further, towards church unity. But a sincere and cordial meeting of ETS is as much a fulfillment of John 17 as is a NAPARC meeting. We need some further argument why we should apply John 17 more strictly than personal love and fellowship.

Church polity and discipline are ultimately issues of law and, therefore, under the guidance of reason. Different congregations may legitimately have different polities and not be in schism. And, as history has consistently shown, church polities are typically modeled after or at least consistent with the civic polity of their land. In a variegated and diverse polity like America, it only makes sense that our churches would have political diversity as well.

The key to “unity” in this context is charity. Recognizing the Word as sufficient for “identifying” the church and being modest in our demands and our “dreams” is surely the best way forward.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dropping a wet firecracker

In this book Brodie (a major biblical scholar) drops a bombshell: he has been convinced that Jesus never existed as a historical person since the 70s.

Here’s another bombshell: if atheism is true, then Bertrand Russell ceased believing in atheism since the 70s.  

"Jesus never existed as a historical person since the 70s"

In this book Brodie (a major biblical scholar) drops a bombshell: he has been convinced that Jesus never existed as a historical person since the 70s.

Well, I must say that’s disappointing news. I became a Christian in the 70s. Looks like I became a Christian at about the same time Jesus went out of existence. Clearly my timing was off. If only I’d been born a few decades earlier.

I’m mildly curious to know what caused Jesus to cease to exist in the 70s. Did his deletion from the spacetime continuum have anything to do with Jimmy Carter’s misery index?

Unfortunately, I’m too chintzy to buy the book. I’ll wait for the Ron Howard movie.

The Amazing Spiderman

I recently saw The Amazing Spiderman. I can’t offer detailed comparisons between the remake and the origin since it’s been a while since I saw Spiderman 1. I think Spiderman 1 was a good film, while Spiderman 2 was a great film of its kind.

There’s a striking difference between the way Maguire and Garfield play the protagonist. That’s due, in large measure, to the difference between the two actors, although it may also owe something to how the part has been rewritten. I don’t care enough to systematically compare the two scripts.

Maguire plays the character as an introvert while Garfield plays him as an extrovert. Maguire portrays the character as a reluctant hero while Garfield’s characterization relishes his super powers. 

Maguire plays Spiderman as an Everyman who’s been suddenly favored (or cursed) with extraordinary abilities. Maguire and Dunst lack conventional movie star good looks. So they have a common man appeal. By contrast, Garfield and Stone are more photogenic.

As played by Maguire and Dunst, Peter Parker and Mary Jane are both chronic complainers. That makes them tedious. It doesn’t wear well over time. Who wants to be around a complainer all the time?

As played by Garfield and Stone, Peter and Gwen are more fun-loving. They exude youthful exuberance. In addition, Garfield and Stone are physically drawn to each other in a way that Maguire and Dunst never were. At a time when Hollywood keeps shoving homosexuality in our face, it’s refreshing to see normal heterosexual attraction on display. That passion comes through on the screen.

Hollywood has forgotten, or tried to suppress the fact, that most moviegoers enjoy seeing men and women who enjoy being together.

That natural pairing is what made films with Bogie and Bacall, William Powell and Myrna Loy, Cary Grant and Roz Russell, &c., so popular. Normal men and women like seeing movies in which the lead actor and actress like being in each other’s company.

This isn’t distinctively Christian, of course. It’s just a common grace virtue. Men and women who like to spend time together. You can build a whole film around that simple dynamic. Watching them watching each other.

The Amazing Spiderman would be a better film if it did more with Peter and Gwen, and less with staged crises and computer-generated acrobatics. 

There’s also a scene in which Spiderman rescues a boy from a dangling van. Garfield relates to him like a big brother to a kid brother.

Once again, it’s nice to see a film in which a somewhat older male shows that protective concern for a younger boy. Where he risks his neck to save the kid. The cultural elite tries to suppress that native sense of duty.

On the other hand, the film still reflects an agenda to reinvent men. Garfield tears up in situations where a normal teenage boy would not.

Likewise, there’s also a scene where he breaks down in the arms of his Aunt May. It isn’t very realistic.

As a rule, young men (as well as older men) are more inclined to let their guard down around a trusted male friend. If the film were truer to life, it would give Peter a sidekick or buddy with whom he shares his confidences. But that’s a bit too straight, too retro, for modern Hollywood.

There’s a funny scene on the subway where Peter apologetically beats up some muggers. The rebooted Aunt May is easier to take than the original. At least we’re spared the little goody two-shoes homilies that Rosemary Harris used to dole out.

The film suffers from too many clichés and contrivances. Uncle Ben searches for Peter, so that Uncle Ben can be shot to death by an assailant–who just so happens to be a guy Peter encountered minutes before at the 7/11–so that Peter–who just so happens to be near enough to hear the gun go off–can find Uncle Ben bleeding to death, so that he can be guilt-ridden, so that he can become a winged avenger. 

Gwen just happens to be an intern at Oscorp. Gwen’s dad just happens to be a policeman, who just happens to be the stereotypical by-the-book cop who’s too busy hunting down “vigilantes” to protect his own daughter from the real villain while the real hero just happens to be his daughter’s new boyfriend. 

Gwen goes to Oscorp just in time to be threatened by the Lizard, so that Spiderman can rescue her just in time from the Lizard. 

Peter just happens to find his dad’s old suitcase, which just happens to contain a picture of his old colleague, Dr. Connors. Oscorp just happens to be within commuting distance of Midtown Science High. The suitcase just happens to contain an algorithm, which just so happens to be the missing key to Dr. Connors’ cross-species’ experiment.

Gosh. What are the odds?

Now, some films make a virtue of clichés. There are teen-themed movies that revel in clichés. Spoof clichés. The jock. The diva. The geek. The nerd. The bimbo. The bully. The bad boy. The sidekick. The absent-minded professor. The nice Jewish boy. The bleeding-heart teacher. The inspirational teacher. The disciplinarian principal. Cheerleaders. Punks. Misfits. Wiggers. Emokids. Mean girls.

High school has spawned its own genre of stock characters. A self-contained world. The Amazing Spiderman touches on this, but fails to mine the dramatic and comedic potential.

Finally, the film is clearly a set-up for a sequel. So it contains a lot of deliberate loose ends.

Regarding the film generally, I thought the parts were better than the whole. I think the film is surprisingly good given how uneven it is.

Does God take pleasure in damning the lost?

Arminians are fond of quoting Ezk 18:23 in opposition to Calvinism. But why do they think that passage is at odds with Calvinism?

In what sense do they think the Calvinist God takes “pleasure” in the fate of the damned? Predestination doesn’t mean God enjoys damning people for the sake of damning people. Even if God takes pleasure in justice, that doesn’t mean he takes pleasure in punishment for its own sake.

Moreover, predestination is not a synonym for pleasure. God can predestine something to take place, not because that “pleases” him, but because that’s a way of achieving his goal.

Why do I put gasoline in my car? So that I can use my car to go places I need to go or want to go. The fact that I choose to gas up my car, the fact that I intend that action, doesn’t mean I have to take “pleasure” in that choice or action. It’s not something that either has to please me or displease me. It’s just a necessary step to accomplish something else. 


I find this sort of thing a bit puzzling:

It’s a bit puzzling because Lutherans are just as smart as other Christians, so I don’t know why some Lutherans find really dumb arguments like this convincing.

I have, over the years, talked to many Calvinists, in person and over the Internet. I always ask them, “Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are among God’s elect and are saved?” There are generally two reactions to that question: (1) A long and rather painful pause after which they say, “I hope I am. I do believe in Christ.”

So what? Why assume every Christian should be able to say he knows “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that he’s saved?

Also, why frame the question in terms of knowing you’re elect rather than knowing you’re saved? If a Calvinist is saved, he knows that he’s saved the same way other saved Christians know that they are saved. (I’m distinguishing “saved” believers from nominal believers.)

If our confidence that we are saved is based on our feeling that we have faith, we will flounder. The answer we must always give to the question of “Do you know you are saved?” is not, “Yes, because I have faith” but rather, “Yes, because Christ Jesus died for me” and of course, in my opinion, the very best answer of all is simply to point people to Luther’s explanation of the Creed and say, “Here, this puts it very well.”

Two glaringly obvious problems:

i) To answer that “Christ died for me” is, itself, a faith-statement. That’s an expression of your faith in what you think Jesus did for you.

ii) Since Lutherans believe that Christ died for the damned, how can our confidence that we are saved be based on universal atonement?

Never look to your subjective feeling that there is faith in your heart. Always, always, always, look to Christ and what He has done for you and the whole world. Do not confuse faith in faith, with trust in Christ. There is a key difference.

Once again, he’s ignoring the obvious. You can only “look to Jesus” through the eye of faith. Trusting in Jesus is an act of faith. So that’s hardly an alternative to faith-based assurance. 

If you believe you are a child of God because you feel you have faith, this is no better than the Mormon who tells you about the “burning in his bosum” or the Muslim who tells you he feels the Koran is true, etc.

Of course, that’s blatantly equivocal.

Salvation rests on objective realities that have absolutely nothing to do with feelings or emotions. Faith is merely and only the receiving hand God gives us and into which He pours His good gifts, it is not the cause of our salvation.

We’re not saved apart from saving faith. Our salvation is contingent on faith in Christ. Salvation has subjective necessary conditions as well as objective necessary conditions.

And that’s not a problem in Calvinism, for God controls the subjective conditions as well as the objective conditions.

It’s also fallacious to act as if Christian faith is synonymous with mere feelings or emotions.

We are Christians, not Faith-ians.

From Cyberbrethren Lutheran Blog. Nov 20th 2012.

That’s a nice-sounding slogan, but it doesn’t survive logical or theological scrutiny.

Hell and Possible Worlds

HT: Paul Manata, Patrick Chan

Donating To Apologetics

People often donate to charities or other causes during the holiday season. Last year, I wrote a post explaining why we should donate more to apologetics, and I gave some examples of apologetic ministries you could support. That post created some controversy. You can read part of the discussion that followed here.

Humans aren't just physical beings, and their non-physical dimension includes a mind. Governments, charities, and individuals are giving many trillions of dollars and a large percentage of their attention to helping people physically. Little of the intellectual help that's provided involves apologetics. Your employer, television ads, web ads, and other sources will encourage you to donate money to help the poor, to find a cure for an illness, or to further some other such cause. Notice what they don't address. Christians ought to think carefully about the way they handle donations.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How to raise a sociopath

Lately, both Bnonn and I have had some revealing encounters on the issue of abortion. There are commenters who have no sense of social responsibilities. If we bring up the example of a newborn baby left on our doorstep, they don’t feel any obligation to the baby in that situation.

They act as if there are absolutely no circumstances under which they should ever be imposed on. They exhibit sociopathic indifference to the needs of others.

There is, of course, a profound contradiction in their position. They think everyone should treat them with utmost deference even though they shouldn’t have to defer to anyone else.

How should we evaluate these responses? Should we take them at face value? Assuming they’re sincere, what accounts for this degree of moral pathology?

i) In some cases, I think people say things they don’t really believe. They make outrageous, irresponsible statements as long as the issue is safely abstract. If, however, they actually found themselves in that situation, some of them would come back down to earth in a hurry.

ii) However, it’s probably the case that many people really are that ruthless. How did we get to this point?

When things go wrong, liberals blame “the system.” They don’t think humans are innately prone to evil. It must be due to purely external factors. “The system” failed them.

By contrast, Christians think this is ultimately a problem of the heart.

iii) However, even though humans have a propensity for evil, that doesn’t mean social conditioning is irrelevant. The Bible also lays great emphasis on moral formation in childhood. Conversely, it describes dysfunctional societies. Given the human predisposition to evil, a morally deficient upbringing or other social forces can reinforce that prior disposition. So there’s nothing wrong with considering aggravating factors. Here are some possibilities.

iv) Traditionally, people grew up in large families. Extended families. Many siblings and relatives under one roof. Likewise, many people were poor.

As a result, you learned to share. You learned to sacrifice. You cared for your own. There was no alternative.

Nowadays, many people grow up in tight little nuclear families. Maybe one or two kids. Likewise, they’re often fairly affluent. The parents have their own bedroom. Each kid has his own bedroom. The kids get new clothes every year. No hand-me-downs. There’s no need to share. No need to make personal sacrifices for the benefit of others.

v) Many teen dramas depict a eugenic utopia where everyone is young, strong, healthy, wealthy, and good-looking. A world of physical, material perfection. I wonder if that doesn’t subliminally foster intolerance towards the needy.

vi) I wonder if cellphones and emergency services haven’t bred a 911 mentality, where our notion of getting involved is limited to making a phone call.

vii) Rationalizing abortion has spawned many arguments that dissolve any sense of social responsibilities or parental duties. And this caters to people’s natural selfishness.

viii) In some cases, I think libertarian politics contributes to this outlook. Libertarians are justly fed up with government intrusion. As a result, they instinctively and viscerally react to any suggesting that gov’t should “force” us to do something.

That attitude is understandable and warranted to some extent. But it easily becomes an overreaction.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hope for Western Civilization

As the U.S. of A. slides into mediocrity, I'm gratified to see that our frosty neighbors to the north are still upholding standards of cultural excellence:

What if everything is ordinary?

The multiverse is a popular theory in physics–especially quantum cosmology (or so I’ve read). Of course, it’s a controversial theory, but it’s a scientifically respectable and respected theory within the guild. Suppose we grant that theory for the sake of argument.

Let’s compare that with a stock objection to miracles: extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. This goes back to Hume, although it was popularized by Sagan. Suppose we grant that objection for the sake of argument.

But doesn’t the multiverse moot Sagan’s objection? If the multiverse exists, then nothing is extraordinary. For if the multiverse exists, then every possibility is realized in some parallel reality or another. Every alternate possibility pops up in some corner of the far-flung multiverse. But in that case, every event is ordinary in the great scheme of things. Indeed, every event is equally ordinary. Nothing is too improbable to occur. Indeed, it’s inevitable. 

So which gives–Sagan, or the multiverse? 

A Tu Quoque Divine Deception Argument

Africa for Norway


To: Comrades
From: Steve
Re: Rhology


I’m afraid our erstwhile teammate, Rhology, has been making impertinent comments about my post on the spiritual gifts. He’s clearly possessed. You can almost catch a whiff of sulfer under his breath.

I’m assuming an evil spirit entered him in his sleep. Most likely a succubus. They’re the worst. You must always wear a breath mask when you sleep.

Urgent intervention is required to rescue his imperiled soul from the clutches of the dark side.

Patrick can bring the chloroform. We’ll need to rent a van without side windows. And take him to an abandoned warehouse.

We should pay that nice waitress at Hooters to drive, so that if we’re stopped by the cops, she can sweet-talk the policeman out of checking the back of the van.

I’ll borrow a copy of the Rituale Romanum from Evan to perform the rite of exorcism. Demons only speak Medieval Latin. When dealing with really intransigent demons, we sometimes need to use Malleus Maleficarum as a back up.

Which reminds me, I must consult Derek Prince’s They Shall Expel Demons to find out which evil spirit is bedeviling Rhology. The list is long. You have to be on a first-name basis with the demon to make any headway.

Garbled in transmission?

22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:22-24).

4 And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem (Acts 21:4).

10 While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done” (Acts 21:10-14).

This invites a variety of differing explanations. Let’s run through the possibilities:

1) The Christian prophets sincerely imagined that the Spirit revealed this to them, but they were deluded.

Given the narrative viewpoint, I think that’s unlikely:

i) Luke takes a favorable view of Christian prophecy. Throughout Acts, he gives us illustrations of how Joel’s prophecy fulfilled.

ii) They receive the same ostensible revelation as Paul. The content is basically the same. It’s corroborative. A confirmation of what Paul himself was told.

iii) This has multiple-attestation. Two different parties (Agabus and the “disciples”) claim to receive the same revelation. They are independent of each other. Seems improbable that two different parties would mistakenly receive the same revelation.

iv) Also, the contention that Agabus bungled the details strikes me as wooden. Agabus is speaking in shorthand.

2) The Spirit did, indeed, reveal something to the Christian prophets, but they drew the wrong inference.

That’s plausible.

3) The Spirit revealed something to them, and they drew the right inference. They were right and Paul was wrong.

i) Since Paul isn’t sinless, it’s possible that he pigheadedly flouted the warning, heedless of the consequences. However, I don’t think that’s the best overall interpretation.

ii) Paul is determined to pursue this course of action because he’s convinced that the Holy Spirit has obliged him to do so (Acts 19:21; 20:22). Hence, Paul is obedient to God’s directive, as he understands it.

iii) It’s inconsistent with apostolic inspiration to suppose an apostle mistakenly thought God was speaking to him, or mistook what God was telling him to do.

4) God was giving Paul a choice.

i) This assumes the warning was a deterrent. That the Holy Spirit issued this warning to give Paul an out. Informed consent.

If so, that raises the question of whether the prophecy refers to the actual future or a hypothetical future. How Paul responds to the prophecy will, itself, factor into the future outcome. He might take it as a warning not to proceed any further. In which case an alternate future will eventuate.

From a Reformed standpoint, whichever fork in the road Paul took would be predestined.

ii) However, I doubt that explanation. I think the Holy Spirit is warning Paul, not to deter or dissuade him, or even to give him a choice, but to prepare him for the coming ordeal. To be forearmed. The prediction tells him what to expect, not what to do. He’s foretold the consequences, not to duck the consequences, but to brace himself for the consequences.

5) Both sides were right. It was permissible for Paul to forge ahead, but it was equally permissible for him to change course. There can be more than one morally permissible course of action. Everything doesn’t boil down to a choice between right and wrong.

I think that explanation is valid in the abstract, but in the concrete context I think the narrator has led us to believe, by the programmatic statement in Acts 20:22-24 (cf. 19:21), that it was God’s will for Paul pursue that path.

Michael Shermer dons a clerical collar

One of my concerns about some hardline cessationists is the way their scepticism towards modern miracles implicitly casts doubt on Biblical miracles. If a cessationist automatically and invariably greets every reported miracle in modern times with the same debunking mentality as James Randi or Michael Shermer, then why assume biblical witnesses are somehow more believable? It seems arbitrary to draw a bright red line between the total credibility of biblical witnesses and the total incredibility of modern witnesses.

Now, some cessationists like Jack Cottrell and Francis Nigel Lee do make allowance for modern miracles, but with a significant caveat: they classify all modern miracles as demonic.

This creates an odd asymmetry. During the church age, the Devil is free to perform miracles while the Holy Spirit is disarmed.

Healing Miracles: A Doctor Investigates

This is one of the better books on modern miracles, with special reference to medical miracles:

R. F. R. Gardner, Healing Miracles: A Doctor Investigates (Darton, Longman and Todd 1986).

I think the book is more useful for its documentation than its theological analysis. The author cites an impressive number of well-attested case-studies.

Here’s some background info on the author's qualifications:

R. F. R. Gardner is a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and of the Association of Surgeons in East Africa. He has served as Examiner to the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, as Vice-President of the North of England Obstetric and Gynaecological Society, and as President of the Newcastle and Northern Counties Medical Society. In 1958 he was ordained to the Christian Ministry by the United Free Church of Scotland, and he is a member of the executive committee of the Christian Medical Fellowship.

The moral test

2 “Say to the people of Israel, Any one of the people of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. 3 I myself will set my face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given one of his children to Molech, to make my sanctuary unclean and to profane my holy name. 4 And if the people of the land do at all close their eyes to that man when he gives one of his children to Molech, and do not put him to death, 5 then I will set my face against that man and against his clan and will cut them off from among their people, him and all who follow him in whoring after Molech (Lev 20:2-5).

30 take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ 31 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods (Deut 12:30-31).

10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer (Deut 18:10).

27 Then he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall. And there came great wrath against Israel. And they withdrew from him and returned to their own land (2 Kgs 3:27).

According to these passages, doesn’t the Bible treat gross immorality as a mark of false religion? The moral abomination of child sacrifice was one reason the cult of Molech was a false religion.

This raises a question for Roman Catholics. Can representatives of Rome do anything sufficiently heinous that this would call into question Rome’s claim to the one true church? Is there any line they cannot cross?

Suppose the Vatican ordered priests to perform child sacrifice every Sunday. Burn a baby alive at the alter.

Would that be sufficient to discredit Roman Catholicism, or would loyal Catholics resort to the usual excuses, viz. the Pope is not impeccable, God never promised sinless priests, &c.

Is there any conceivable scenario under which the church of Rome could, in principle, be falsified by the same standards as the Bible applies to pagan practice?

“Yes we can!” [go to hell]

Hell exists, and yes, some people will go there. That’s the not-so-happy conclusion of Andrew Clover, my new colleague over at my Reformation500 blog.

“We sin because we are sinners … We are guilty, all of us, of a cosmic mutiny; justice hangs over us like Damocles’ sword and we know it…”

“The true, biblical doctrine of Hell, and the correlating doctrines of our sinfulness and God’s righteousness and holiness, make the gospel shine with all the brightness and sweetness that it was meant to (Romans 9:22-23).”

This appears to be the first of a multi-part series on what he calls “an independent case for the biblical doctrine of Hell.”

In the not too distant past, I’ve mentioned Andrew’s Lutheran and Reformed Discussion Group on Facebook. Apparently, though, the Lutherans became too raucous for him, and he [the founder] dropped out of the group!

As Steve has said, it’s all about talent recruitment. So when Andrew told me he was leaving that group, I asked him if he would join me, discussing (I hope) the history and pre-history of the Reformation, and some of the ways that the various Protestant groups can be of service to one another and to the cause of Christ as we bring to mind some of the “500th” anniversaries that will be coming up over the next several years.

Andrew has been a good friend of mine for several years. He explored Roman Catholicism, and has ended up being a conservative Lutheran. Maybe over time he’ll tell us more about his journey and why he created, then left that Lutheran discussion group!

Wallace Makes Announcement on New Testament Fragments

…no surprise: largely Alexandrian, with some Western strains also seen…

Earlier this year, in a debate with Bart Ehrman, Daniel Wallace made mention of some recently discovered manuscript fragments that were undergoing some scholarly scrutiny for authenticity, and that the results of this study were to be published in a forthcoming book from E.J. Brill Publishing (notorious for publishing only top-quality scholarly works that none of us can afford).

What we have here is apparently the first of a number of forthcoming announcements about these manuscripts:

The Origins Of The December 25 Date For Christmas

Several factors to keep in mind:

- It seems that the December 25 date was being used by Christians to mark Jesus' birth during the ante-Nicene era. Some of the sources, Hippolytus and Julius Africanus, were born around the middle of the second century and made apparent references to the December 25 date in the early third century. (For more details, see the two articles linked to their names above.) There's some evidence that the Donatists accepted the December 25 date prior to the year 312. Susan Roll refers to "the implication underlying Augustine's reproach to the Donatists that they fail to celebrate the (apparently newly-imported) feast of the Epiphany with the mainline Church, but with no mention of any Donatist failure to celebrate Christmas, which would date the latter feast before the split [between the Donatists and mainstream Christianity] in 311." (Toward The Origins Of Christmas [The Netherlands: Kok Pharos Publishing House, 1996], 102) So, it looks like Jesus' birth was associated with December 25 in Italy and North Africa, at a minimum, during the ante-Nicene era.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Strange bedfellows


I don't see it that way.
Rather, you live as if the Word of God is sufficient to tell you how to have eternal life and tell you how to live, and you can be open to God being unpredictable, but you don't think that God gives out those gifts anymore such that people could routinely perform them.
One could do a heckuvalot worse than thinking the Word of God is sufficient, and that is the farthest thing from being an atheist.

I respect that position, and I think there’s a lot of truth to it. (Keep in mind that I think the position of semicessationists like Poythress and even full-blown continuationists like Sam Storms and Wayne Grudem is consistent with the sufficiency of Scripture.)

I think Christians should be prepared to lead utterly uneventful, unremarkable lives. Lives in which nothing out of the ordinary ever happens to them. No miracles. No premonitions.

I think every Christian should be content to live like that. Be resigned to a cessationist experience (if you will). That’s a trusting, godly attitude. That's the life God has called many Christians to.

I interpret Joel’s prophecy has having reference, not to all Christians, but all classes of Christians.

In addition, one of the dangers of Pentecostalism is to miss the mediated presence of God in providence and Scripture by seeking God’s presence in special or spectacular manifestations. That neglects how much we can and do experience God in the mundanities of daily life.

That said, it concerns me that hardline cessationists, in their reactionary zeal, become the mirror image of James Randi, Susan Blackmore, Martin Gardner, Bill Nye, Paul Kurtz, Paul Edwards, Michael Shermer, et al.

The general outlook is alarmingly similar. A hostile, knee-jerk scepticism to modern supernatural reports. That’s not an attitude which Christians should cultivate. And I think it can be spiritually harmful. Doctrinaire doubt is corrosive to Christian faith and piety.

The war on men

Romans 9.1 and Asyndeton

Pope Benedict XVI's Book On The Infancy Narratives

(The citations below refer to approximate location numbers in the Kindle edition of the book.)

The Pope recently published the third volume in his series of books on Jesus (Jesus Of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives [New York: Random House, 2012]). The latest volume focuses on the Biblical accounts of Jesus' birth, with an epilogue about the temple visitation (Luke 2:41-52). It's less than 150 pages long, and it's more exegetical and theological than apologetic. Most of the book is good. It has the sort of weaknesses you'd expect from a Roman Catholic work (e.g., a false view of Mary). It doesn't break much new ground. However, it's a generally good overview of the infancy narratives from a conservative perspective, at an intermediate level.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Standing tall on a stepladder

For those of you have have read my blogs over the past year or so, I am about to beat on a familiar drum. And I am going to keep beating it, because I think its a huge point that gets overlooked.

Rachel Held Evans’s recent book A Year of Biblical Womanhood has inspired some strong reactions in certain American Christian subcultures.

She is standing up to powerful ecclesiastical bullies, self-proclaimed gatekeepers who are quick to level the charge “unfaithful to the Bible” to those within earshot. She is showing them, with wit and insight, that their game collapses rather quickly.

Let’s be brutally honest for a moment. We’re living in a culture where you can get fired for being brutally honest. We’re living in a culture where it’s becoming illegal to be brutally honest. But for a brief, forbidden moment, let’s be brutally honest.

Women get ahead because of deferential men. Women get ahead when men let them get ahead. Women become powerful because men empower them. Because men share their power with women. Or relinquish their power to women.

It’s men who gave women the vote. It’s men who passed anti-discrimination laws. It’s men who promoted affirmative action policies.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some very capable women. Women who succeed on the merits. Women who go far  by dint of their talent and tenacity. Women of great personal accomplishment.

There brilliant women. Tough women. Women who can best most men in an argument.

Take Maggie Thatcher. She clawed her way to the top through brains and steely determination. She earned the top spot. She got there the hard way.

Yet even that was only possible because men cleared a path for her. Thatcher would not have been possible a century earlier. Not because Thatcher would be different. But because her ascent to power would not have been permitted. So even she owed her success to deferential men. And that’s in spite of the fact that she got there on the merits.

But then you have another kind of woman. A woman like Rachel Held Evans, Sandra Fluke, Ellen DeGeneres, or Rosie O’Donnell. These are kept women. Women who go far, not because their ascent is commensurate with their ability, but because they enjoy male patronage. Because it was handed to them.

Take Ellen DeGeneres. She got to where she is, not because she’s popular. The Ellen Show bombed. No, she’s kept in the spotlight because she’s a liberal mascot. TV producers advance her career to prove how socially enlightened they are.

By the same token, the only reason Evans can “stand up to powerful ecclesiastical bullies” is because some accommodating men pulled out a footstool for her to stand on. Because she gets softball questions from fawning interviewers.

It’s like those make-believe superheroines we see all the time. A girly-girl with a tough girl demeanor. A woman with a ballerina build walks into a bar and levels ten beefy men with her kung fu. Of course, that only happens in movies.

I’m reminded of Madame de Maintenon. She wielded enormous clout because she was the king’s favorite. Her power came from her intimate association with a powerful man.

The cultural elite is actively cultivating this feminist fantasy. Girls who play tackle football with the boys. That only works as long as the boys pull their punches. The girl can only play the plucky feminist if the guys play Sir Galahad.

Peter Enns also knows that by heaping praise on Evans, her fans will heap praise on him. It’s a mutual congratulation society.

Men like Enns condescend to women. They demean women of real achievement by pretending women like Evans deserve all this attention and adulation. 

Finally, our curriculum vitae won’t get us to heaven. Hell is full of high achievers. The race is not to the smart, rich, famous, talented, popular, powerful, or beautiful. Only the godly enter God’s kingdom.

The charismata

Since the issue of cessationism/continuationism has cropped up in the combox, I’m going to briefly revisit the issue.

We should begin with some definitions. I’d distinguish between strong cessationism and moderate cessationism. (These are my own definitions.) Strong cessationism is the view that divine miracles were tied to the era of public revelation. They ceased with the death of the apostles. God doesn’t perform miracles in the post-apostolic church age.

That might strike some readers as quite extreme. Indeed, that might strike some readers as a straw man.

However, this isn’t a purely hypothetical position. For instance, the late Francis Nigel Lee was a learned proponent of this position. And he classifies B. B. Warfield as a proponent of this position, but I find Warfield’s position ambivalent. A classic exponent of this position was Conyers Middleton.

Although this might strike modern readers as a fringe position, it’s my impression that strong cessationism was fairly typical among past Protestant writers. It’s related to the traditional polemic against Rome.

One of the stock arguments for Roman Catholicism is the argument from miracles. Rome claims to be the “church of miracles.”

A straightforward way for Protestant apologists to undercut that claim was to adopt strong cessationism. To simply deny any appeal to ecclesiastical miracles on the grounds that God doesn’t perform modern miracles.

BTW, it’s quite possible that Middleton was a closet Deist who cloaked his Deism in traditional rhetoric against ecclesiastical miracles. Deism was politically risky, so one way of arguing for Deism without tipping your hand would be to use the Church of Rome as your foil. That tactic had unimpeachable theological credentials. It would give you cover.

More common today is what I’ll call moderate cessationism. In the nature of the case, this isn’t quite as clear-cut as strong cessationism. One way of drawing the distinction is to evoke Warfield’s distinction between a miracle-working church and a miracle-working God. Cf. Counterfeit Miracles, 58.

As Warfield goes on to state:

All Christians believe in healing in answer to prayer. Those who assert that this healing is wrought in a specifically miraculous manner, need better evidence for their peculiar view than such as fits in equally well with the general Christian faith (ibid. 187).

First of all, as regards the status quaestionis, let it be remembered that the question is not: (1) Whether God is an answerer of prayer; nor (2) whether, in answer to prayer, He heals the sick; nor (3) whether His action in healing the sick is a supernatural act; nor (4) whether the supernaturalness of the act may be so apparent as to demonstrate God’s activity in it to all right-thinking minds conversant with the facts. All this we all believe. The question at issue is distinctly whether God has pledged Himself to heal the sick miraculously, and does heal them miraculously, on the call of His children–that is to say without means–any means–apart from means, and above means; and this so ordinarily that Christian people may be encouraged, if not required, to discard all means as either unnecessary or even a mark of lack of faith and sinful distrust, and to depend on God alone for the healing of all their sicknesses (ibid. 192-93).

However, this still leaves his position somewhat obscure. He seems to distinguish between divine, supernatural healing, on the one hand, and miraculous healing (defined by healing apart from medical means), on the other hand.

I take it that he’s alluding to the traditional distinction between miracle and providence. If God heals someone in answer to prayer, but utilizes medical science, this is still divine, supernatural healing in these sense that providence is divine and supernatural. But that’s distinct from “miraculous” healing, in the sense of healing “apart from” or “above” medical intervention.

So it’s unclear whether Warfield is open to the possibility of miraculous healing in the modern age. Is he opposing the notion that miraculous healing should be our default setting? That we should count on God to heal us miraculously? That that’s the norm? Or is he opposing miraculous healing in toto?

Cessationists typically oppose the continuation of the “spiritual gifts” or “sign-gifts.” The charismata listed in 1 Cor 12, viz. tongues, prophecy, healing, miracles. On a related note, they typically oppose exorcism or “deliverance” ministries.

Warfield conveniently categorizes the spiritual gifts as miracles of healing, miracles of power, miracles of knowledge, and miracles of speech (ibid. 5).

Tied to both strong and moderate cessationism is the view that the overriding purpose of the charismata was to attest the apostolic kerygma. 

An oddity of Warfield’s position is that it seems to make allowance for miracles outside the church, yet it removes miracles from the community of faith. But isn’t the praying, believing community the natural environment in which God does wonders for his people?

This is perhaps understandable as a hangover from the polemic against Rome, but it’s peculiar to think God might miraculously heal a Christian in a hospital, but exclude healing in a more religious setting, like Jas 5:15-16.

In defense of Warfield, Roman Catholicism lies in the background. For instance, exorcism is traditionally a church office. Minor orders. Spiritual gifts are channeled through the clergy. Warfield was right to oppose that ecclesiastical paradigm.

BTW, some people also think Warfield’s antipathy to “faith-healers” was influenced by personal experience. When they were hiking in the mountains on their honeymoon, Warfield’s newlywed wife was struck by lightning. This did permanent damage to her nervous system, leaving her an invalid or semi-invalid for the rest of her life.  From what I’ve read, her condition went from bad to worse.

In addition, they had a childless marriage. I assume this meant they abstained from conjugal relations because they didn’t think she was up to the physical demands of maternity.

This was a great hardship on both of them. And it’s possible that Warfield personally resented slick faith-healers, given his wife’s pitiful condition, and his own deprivations.

Cessationist opposition to the charismata tends to focus on just a few of the gifts. Moreover, it’s my impression that the emphasis has shifted somewhat over the years. Cessationist literature used to target glossolalia, but nowadays cessationist literature is more likely to target prophecy.

I think there are historical reasons for the shift. On the one hand, Pentecostalism fixates on glossolalia. Every Christian is supposed to speak in tongues. That’s the gateway gift to other gifts. Spirit-baptism is a post-conversion experience, signified by glossolalia. Speaking in tongues is also prevalent in Pentecostal circles because it’s far easier to fake glossolalia than it is to fake the gift of prophecy, healing, or other miracles.

So it was natural for early critics of Pentecostalism to focus on tongues. However, the charismatic movement has broadened over the years.

Nowadays, I think the emphasis has shifted from tongues to prophecy because prophecy is more theologically significant than tongues. Cessationists view modern prophecy as a threat to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.

Charismatic writers are often sensitive to this charge. One way they deflect the charge is to distinguish between canonical prophecy, which is infallible–and the NT “gift of prophecy,” which is fallible. There are some Jewish precedents for that distinction. Cf. D. Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World (Wipf & Stock 2003); C. Keener, “5. The Nature of Prophecy,” Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: Introduction and 1:1–2:47 (Baker 2012), 902-908. They also cite examples of what they take to be fallible Christian prophets in Acts 21:4,11.

Cessationists counter on various grounds. What’s the point of fallible prophecy? Isn’t that innately unreliable?

There’s some merit to that objection. However, prophecy doesn’t have to be prospectively edifying to be retrospectively edifying. Even if you don’t act on it, if it comes true, that’s something you can appreciate after the fact.

O. P. Robertson raises another objection:

So what impact will this ambiguity have on the Christian’s peace of mind? Can a person’s conscience remain guilt-free when he deliberately chooses to disobey a prophetic declaration addressed specifically to him, knowing that the prophet’s directions very likely are based on a revelation from God about his concrete situation? The Final Word (Banner of Truth 2004), 123.

This objection is ironic, for we have a NT illustration of that very thing: Paul blithely disregards a “prophetic” warning (Acts 20:22).

There’s also a tendentious assumption built into Robertson’s objection. We don’t know that the “prophet’s directions very likely are based on a revelation from God.”

There’s a basic difference between the level of confidence I might place in a premonition I had, and the (alleged) premonition of a second party, precisely because his experience isn’t my experience. I’m not directly privy to what he saw, thought he saw, or said he saw.

Robertson raises an additional objection:

It is now appropriate to consider a central OT passage that has significance for understanding the phenomenon of prophecy as it appears in the NT. The classic “prophecy about prophecy” in Joel 2 links the OT experience with the NT phenomenon.

Joel uses the identical term for “prophecy” found throughout the rest of the OT. Does this word suddenly have a new meaning? Is Joel expecting a different kind of prophecy from that described in the foundational passages already considered?...No. Joel draws on the passage in Num 12 which so clearly describes the origin of prophetism in the days of Moses.

So what did Joel expect? What would be the experience of God’s people with respect to prophecy in the future? Joel predicted a widespread manifestation of prophetic revelation in the future. The consummation of the ages would be accompanied by extensive revelatory experiences (ibid. 11-12).

i) It seems to be that Robertson’s appeal to Joel vis-à-vis Acts backfires. Surely the scope of this prophetic promise, which deliberately cuts across demographic boundaries (age, gender social class), in implicit contrast to the more restrictive scope of OT prophetism, directly undercuts his attempt to confine prophecy to canonical prophecy. The referents are hardly limited to apostles or NT writers.

ii) Robertson also fails to draw two crucial, interrelated distinctions:

a) This isn’t talking about propositional revelation, but visionary revelation. Nonverbal rather than verbal revelation.

b) Visionary revelation also subdivides into theorematic revelation, which is representational–and allegorical revelation, which is symbolic. Allegorical visions are inherently ambiguous. That’s why, in Scripture, visionary revelation (especially allegorical dreams and visions) are frequently accompanied by propositional revelation. Inspired interpretation to explain the inspired dream or vision.

The meaning of an allegorical dream may also be clarified by its realization. Suddenly you see how it all falls into place. But, of course, that’s hindsight rather than foresight.

Absent that, it’s easy to see how a Christian prophet or his listeners could misconstrue the dream or vision. And that, of itself, furnishes a principled distinction between infallible canonical revelation and a fallible gift of prophecy.

A lot also depends on content. For instance, a mark of false prophecy is if it contradicts prior revelation.

My own position on modern miracles, healing, and prophecy is that God is unpredictable. We need to take a wait-and-see attitude. We shouldn’t expect God to act miraculously in any given situation, and we shouldn’t expect him not to act miraculously in any given situation. To that degree, I disagree with charismatics and cessationists alike. I don’t think there’s a presumption one way or the other. I don’t think we can anticipate God’s next move in that respect. God takes the initiative.

Up to a point I think it’s good for both sides to make their best exegetical case. That said, I don’t think this is one of those issues we need to debate to death. Every issue can’t be resolved by trading arguments and counterarguments.

It’s like weather forecasting. Will it rain tomorrow? There are probabilistic methods of predicting the weather, with varying decrees of success. Or you can just wait until tomorrow and find out for yourself.

On some issues, our only real source of knowledge is divine revelation. Take the eternal fate of the lost. Even if there are veridical NDEs, even if there are real ghosts, that doesn’t give us any long-term information about the afterlife.

But the situation is different with the charismatic/cessationist debate. If charismatics are right, that should have real-world consequences. If charismatics are wrong, that should have real-world consequences. If cessationists are right, that should have real-world consequences. If cessationists are wrong, that should have real-world consequences.

Both positions, as well as their negations, should be evidentially distinguishable. Have observable implications.

If God’s intentions are what charismatics claim, that should be manifest. Same thing in reverse for cessationists.

And each position has potential downsides in case you’re wrong. If you’re a cessationist, and that’s wrong, you run the risk of living like an atheist. Acting as if God ceased to exist 2000 years ago. In practice, it makes no difference if God does or doesn’t exist. You live your life the same way. The uniformity of nature. A closed causal continuum.

If you’re a charismatic, and you’re wrong, you run the risk of being easily duped and easily disillusioned. Nursing false expectations. Trusting charlatans. Making important decisions based on dumb luck or imaginary leadings. Straining to hear God’s faint voice or squinting to see a divine sign. Blowing real opportunities in a futile quest for manna from heaven.

Admittedly, I’m just scratching the surface in this post. I’ve discussed related issues on other occasions. Here’s my general position on Christian prophecy:

Here’s my general position on the occult and the paranormal:

And here’s my general position on Catholic miracles: