Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Two Kingdoms and 'gay marriage'

http://paulhelmsdeep.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-two-kingdoms-and-gay-marriage.html

Parsing the problem of evil

I would argue that the ontological existence of gratuitous, pointless, unnecessary evil makes much more sense of Christian theology and human experience than its nonexistence does.


This is Ragozine’s Arminian take on the problem of evil. But, ironically, an atheist would argue that the ontological existence of gratuitous, pointless, unnecessary evil makes much more sense if a world without God. That the existence of gratuitous, pointless, unnecessary evil is just what we’d expect if there is no God. Suffering is random because there is no cosmic purpose or cosmic justice. It’s just your bad luck if you happen to find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

How would Ragozine empirically distinguish his interpretation of events from the atheist?

Calvinism Refuted

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ffr1XL3uA00&list=UUthFPCtTLFuagCMSkQL0I9g&index=2

Friday, December 21, 2012

Guns, Poverty, and Sixties Idealism

http://iwantanewleft.typepad.com/i-want-a-new-left/2012/12/guns-and-sixties-idealism.html

http://iwantanewleft.typepad.com/i-want-a-new-left/2010/06/guns-and-the-left.html

Op-ed on gun control

http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/an-opinion-on-gun-control/

Practical Trinitarianism

The Trinity is frequently, indeed, usually, discussed in rather abstract, theoretical terms. Expounding and debating various philosophical models of the Trinity.

Of late, the Trinity is coming under increasing attack on various fronts. There are different culprits. The Trinity is offensive to Muslims. The Trinity is an obstacle to ecumenists like the late John Hick. And the Trinity has been targeted by Unitarians like Dale Tuggy. Strikingly, we even see the reputation of “semi-Arians” like Samuel Clarke rehabilitated by some followers of Gordon Clark.

Overemphasis on the theoretical or philosophical aspects of the Trinity can obscure the indispensable practical value of the Trinity in Christian piety. Let’s pause for a moment how much the Trinity contributes to our understanding of God.

Consider how much we learn about God when we read about Jesus in the Gospels. How much we learn about God by observing Jesus in the Gospels. Eavesdropping on Jesus in the Gospels. Watching him. Hearing him.

Then consider how much less we’d know about God if Jesus wasn’t the Incarnate Son of God. Consider how much less we’d know about God if we didn’t have the Gospels. If we didn’t have that historical record of a time when God came to dwell among us.

Likewise, consider how much the Spirit teaches us about God. For the Spirit is the primary author of Scripture. The agent of inspiration.

Without the Spirit, we wouldn’t have the Bible. Consider how much less we’d know about God without the Bible.

Try to mentally blank out Jesus, then consider what’s left in your knowledge of God. Try to mentally blank out the Spirit's role in giving us the Scriptures, then consider what’s left in your knowledge of God. This is so engrained in Christian consciousness–and rightly so–that it’s almost unimaginable to consider the cost of losing it.

Moreover, absent the Trinity, not only would we know less about God, but there would be less about God to know. Indeed, we’d know less about a lesser God. For a unitarian deity is a very different kind of deity. A more distant deity. Unitarians deny the Incarnation.

And a unitarian deity has no internal social life. No inner fellowship. In that respect, he has far less in common with social creatures like human beings than a Trinitarian God.

A unitarian deity is more in the nature of a background condition, like the way time or logic conditions our existence. He’s the ground of being, but not much else. An existential precondition rather than an object of worship.  Less a person than a principle. Not someone you look up to. Not someone whose character informs your ideal of goodness. You trust him (or it) in the sense of trusting the law of gravity.

False ecumenism

Every Christian must be ecumenical. That is, every Christian must devote herself to the unity of Christ’s church–a unity that witnesses in the world to the love of the Father for the Son and to their love for those sealed by the Spirit of adoption. Ecumenism is part and parcel of the church’s mission, and it is no accident that the last century has seen an explosion in efforts toward the visible unity of the church and the fulfillment of the Great Commission.


 i) Since I’m not a “her,” I guess I’m exempt.

ii) He doesn’t explain why it’s no accident that the 20C saw an explosion of ecumenical activity–much less why that’s supposed to be a good thing.

iii) In any case, I have a better recipe. Instead of insisting that every Christian must devote “herself” to the unity of Christ’s church, I’d insist that every Christian must devote himself (or herself) to Christ. If every Christian is devoted to Christ, if that’s our goal, then church unity will take care of itself. Devotion to Christ will unite like-minded believers. Multiplied individual devotion results in collective devotion. And surely that’s the only kind of unity worth having: unity grounded in common devotion to Christ. So instead of making ecumenism our focus, shouldn’t we center our lives on Jesus? Christian unity will be a side effect of that primary devotion.

"The peril of worshiping Jesus"

According to Clarkian Scripturalist Drake Shelton,


Samuel Clarke was a semi-arian. Semi-Arians were clearly admitted into communion by Athanasius…Semi-arians are not heretics.

Drake has now added the follow claim:


My friend Mark Xu and I have come to an agreement, in our readings of Clarke, that when Clarke says that the Son and Spirit are not necessities of nature, he is simply affirming that they are not auto-theos. That is his essential point, when you take his statement in context. This interpretation would then be perfectly consistent with Nicene Orthodoxy.

However, that’s not all there is to Clarke’s position. As Dale Tuggy notes, in his summary exposition of his position:


The God of Israel, the one true God, just is the Father of Jesus. Further, he is the main and the primary and ultimate object of Christian worship and prayer, and as the sole recipient of the highest kind of worship.


And that’s not an incidental or disposable feature of Clarke’s overall position. Rather, that’s a logical and practical consequence of how he understands Scriptural usage (“Certain names or titles in the Bible, including ‘God’, always or nearly always refer to the Father, giving him a kind of primacy among the three”), along with his theory of divine derivation.

Do Clarkian Scripturalists like Drake Shelton, Mark Xu, and Ryan Hedrich, agree with Clarke’s conclusion? Is the Father more worshipful than the Son and Spirit? Are there different degrees of worship we should accord the different members of the Trinity? Should we accord the Father the highest degree of adoration?

If they disagree with Clarke, how do they logically distinguish their position from his?

Put another way, was Fosdick right to say worshiping Jesus is perilous? Do Christians run the risk of idolatry if we accord the Son and the Spirit the same level of adoration we accord the Father?

If Jesus is less worshipful than the Father, should Christians practice mental reservations when worshipping Jesus? Should we reserve the highest adoration for the Father alone?

Is worshipping Jesus secondary to worshiping the Father? Is worshiping Jesus just a means to an end? Is the Father the ultimate and true object of adoration and devotion? 

Are Calvinists like B. B. Warfield, John Murray, John Frame, Paul Helm, and Calvin himself, idolaters for worshiping Jesus too much? Must we guard our hearts against the grave danger of esteeming Jesus too highly?

What do other Clarkian Scripturalists like Vincent Cheung, Daniel Chew, Gary Crampton et al. think of these developments?

Pseudepigrapha

Moderate to liberal scholars claim the Bible contains many pseudonymous writings, both in the OT and NT. They claim Jews and Christians had lax standards of canonicity, or were simply gullible about the claimants.

It’s instructive to compare this claim with some testable examples. For instance, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young claimed to rediscover long lost books of the Bible. Did Christian denominations accept that claim? No. The Mormons “scriptures” have been uniformly rejected outside their cult.

Only Mormons took seriously the claim that he was merely recovering long-forgotten books of the Bible. And even within Mormonism, you have liberal Mormons who reject the official etiology. Even many cradle Mormons aren’t that credulous. Same thing with nominal Muslims who are closet unbelievers.

You also have other would-be prophets like Swedenborg, Sun Myung Moon, Ellen G. White, and Herbert W. Armstrong who produce quasi-scriptures. But their “canon” is only honored within their respective sects or cults.

Muhammad is yet another example. The list is long.

Within Judaism, Menachem Schneerson (the Lubavitcher Rebbe) is a handy example.

These examples illustrate the implacable institutional resistance to the introduction of new books (sometimes under the guise of pseudonymity) to the canon of Scripture.

The ‘people of God’: Old Testament expectations

In considering the question, “what is the church?” I noted that we have to go back a ways and ask “what was the church?

That is, we have to ask, and understand, what was the church in the New Testament? What was the Old Testament expectation?

In understanding what “the church” is Edmund Clowney in his work “The Church”, (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, ©1995), relates that there is no question it has reference to “the people of God”. He notes, “the Bible does not deliver shipments of doctrine on cargo containers. Rather, the new grows out of the old, as the flower opens from the bud”. And in understanding the entire process of this unfolding, you have to go back to the beginning.

[The story of what God is doing in the world] does not begin at Bethlehem’s manger: it begins in the Garden of Eden, when God promises that the son of the woman will crush the head of the serpent. It continues in God’s promise to Abraham, made with an oath, ‘because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised’ (Hebrews 6:17). The story of the church begins with Israel, the Old Testament people of God (Clowney, pgs 27–28).

Clowney goes on to relate that, according to the Bible, “the church is the people of God, the assembly and body of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”.

Yes, man fell in the garden, and God promised to redeem him. But, the question is, “redeem him to what?” From what had he fallen?

What did it mean to God’s actually assembled people throughout history?

What is God trying to do in the world? Understanding God’s purpose in creation is a means of understanding what “the church” is today: what it means to be “God’s people”.

G.K. Beale, in his A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic ©2011) notes:

We can speak of Gen 1:28 as the first “Great Commission,” which was repeatedly applied to humanity. The commission was to bless the earth, and part of the essence of this blessing was God’s salvific presence. Before the fall, Adam and Eve were to produce progeny who would fill the earth with God’s glory being reflected from each of them in the image of God. After the fall, a remnant, created by God in his restored image, was to go out and spread God’s glorious presence among the rest of darkened humanity. This witness was to continue until the entire world would be filled with divine glory. Thus, Israel’s witness was reflective of its role as corporate Adam, which highlights the notion of missions in the OT.

According to Beale, this was the ongoing theme of the Old Testament.

Without exception, the reapplications of the Adamic commission are stated positively in terms of what Noah, the patriarchs, Israel, and the eschatological Israel or its king should do or were promised to do. Always the expectation is that of actual conquering of the land, increasing and multiplying population, and filling the promised land and the earth with people who will reflect God’s glory.

Never is there a hint that this commission is to be carried out by what we might call a negative act—that is, by death. Of course, Isaiah 53, Daniel 9, and Zechariah 12 (and a handful of typological Davidic texts such as Psalm 22) prophesy the messiah’s death as crucial to achieving Israel’s restoration, but these texts are the minority, and they are never directly associated with the repetitions of the Adamic commission. Therefore, the Adamic expectations and promises of obedience for Israel’s partriarchs, the nation, and its king are always stated in positive terms of what they were to do or were promised to do (Beale, 58).

Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection were for the accomplishment of a purpose, that was to be fulfilled in the creation and ongoing mission of the people of God.

Beale outlines this story line as it appears in the Old Testament:

I am not positing a center or single topic as the key to OT theology but rather a storyline around which the major thematic strands of the OT narratives and writings revolve. Although story as a hermeneutical approach to biblical literature has become popular in recent biblical scholarship and accordingly has even been applied to the doing of whole biblical theologies, the older Dutch Reformed scholars sometimes employed the notion of tracing the “redemptive-historical story” of “creation-fall-restoration.” It is also significant to recall that all the ancient creeds and confessions had a basic skeletal plotline of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. The threefold pattern of “sin-exile-restoration” of Israel has been proposed recently as the framework of a biblical theology, as has a six-act structure of the Bible as a drama with kingdom as the overarching motif:

1. Kingdom establishment
2. Rebellion
3. The king chooses Israel
—interlude: the kingdom story awaits ending during the intertestamental period—
4. Coming of the king
5. Mission of the king’s message
6. Return of the king
As is evident from the preceding, both the threefold and the sixfold pattern are included here but compose only some of the elements of a larger overall cyclic pattern of sacred history.

In the light of the above, my formulation of the storyline of the OT is as follows:

The Old Testament is the story of God, who progressively reestablishes his new-creational kingdom out of chaos over a sinful people by his word and Spirit through promise, covenant, and redemption, resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this kingdom and judgment (defeat or exile) for the unfaithful, unto his glory.

Rather than referring to this as the “center” of the OT, I prefer to see it as the primary strand of the biblical storyline thread, composed of other minor strands that are held together by the primary one.

The kingdom of the new creation and its missional expansion likely form the major stepping-stone for the accomplishment of divine glory. Accordingly, in the classic fourfold division of the scriptural story as creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, the last two elements are better revised as redemption through new creation and consummation of that new creation. Thus, the story of the Bible in this formulation begins with creation and ends with the restoration of creation (61–62).

Next time, Lord willing, I’ll follow some of these threads through the Old Testament, and begin to tie them into expectations that Israel [the “people of God”] and the disciples carried with them in the New Testament.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Consider the ant

The Bible points out that sometimes animals are wiser than sinners. This dog puts all the Barack Obamas, Sandra Flukes and Peter Singers to shame:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JA8VJh0UJtg&feature=share


"Semi-arians are not heretics"



STEVE DELETED HIS POST “DRAKE’S TILTING WINDMILL’S”!!!!! WAS THE EMBARASMENT JUST TOO MUCH FOR YOU STEVE? I HOPE IT WAS.


No I didn’t. It’s been there all along.

Now let’s get to the best part...or should I say the worst part:


Clarke was not an Arian: http://eternalpropositions.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/richard-muller-vs-samuel-clarke-on-the-trinity/

Clarke was a semi-arian. Semi-Arians were clearly admitted into communion by Athanasius as I showed in the 6 quotations at the bottom of this article: http://eternalpropositions.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/sean-gerety-unqualified/.  Thanks David Waltz!

Semi-arians are not heretics.


It’s certainly damning (in every sense of the word) to see Drake sticking up for Samuel Clarke’s orthodoxy. Is this what Scripturalism/Clarkianism has come to? BTW, isn't Walz into Bahaism?

Here are some of Clarke’s positions:


The core of Clarke's subordinationism is as follows. Certain names or titles in the Bible, including “God”, always are nearly always refer to the Father, giving him a kind of primacy among the three. The word “God” is used in higher and lower senses, and in his view the former always refer to the Father. The God of Israel, the one true God, just is the Father of Jesus. Further, he is the main and the primary and ultimate object of Christian worship and prayer, and as the sole recipient of the highest kind of worship…And if a “creature” must at some time begin to exist, then neither Son nor Spirit are creatures. Still, Clarke thinks that we should affirm with some of the early church fathers that this derivation of the Son from the Father is “not by mere Necessity of Nature, (which would be in reality Self-existence, not Filiation;) But by an Act of the Father's incomprehensible Power and Will” (141, original emphases)…And against the mainstream tradition, “The word God, in Scripture, never signifies a complex Notion of more Persons (or Intelligent Agents) than One; but always means One Person only, viz., either the Person of the Father singly, or the Person of the Son singly” (155, original emphases).



Keep in mind that this is a sympathetic summary of Clarke by a unitarian philosopher. So that’s putting Clarke in the best possible light.

I do hope that Ryan Hedrich will soon shake-off the baleful influence of Drake Shelton. In the past, Ryan struck me as quite reasonable and level-headed by Scripturalist standards. Not prone to the usual extremes. He doesn’t suffer from Drake’s personality disorders.

Ryan, come out from among them, and be ye separate!

A Ministry Worth Supporting

I've often written about the importance of donating to apologetic ministries. Brian Auten just put up a post about some ways you can support Apologetics315, which I recommend doing. Here's an example of the sort of work he does there. One of the ways you can support his ministry is by ordering books through his amazon.com link. Are there any books you've been thinking of getting lately? Why not order them now by clicking one of the three links found here? It doesn't cost you anything extra, but it benefits Apologetics315.

Judging Judges

I’ve been reading Barry Webb’s new commentary on Judges. Webb is a conservative Anglican. It’s striking to compare the approach of a real Christian like Webb to unbelievers like Randal Rauser and Roger Olson–unbelievers who are regularly honored by the Society of Evangelical Arminians. Among other things, Webb says:


Part of the challenge of being a Christian is to bring our thoughts and feelings under the discipline of scriptural teaching. A thing is not necessarily wrong because it is presented in an insensitive way, or because we experience a strong negative reaction to it. So, with reference to the book of Judges in particular, what are the relevant facts?

The opening chapters of the book tell us that after Joshua’s death the Israelites tried to occupy all the territories that had been assigned to them, but they did not succeed in doing so completely, or to Yahweh’s satisfaction (1:1-2:5). As a result they ended up immersed in Canaanite culture, with dire consequences. The rest of the book shows the progressive Canaanization of Israel…

Fundamental to this undertaking is the recognition that Judges is one of “those canonical books of the Old and New Testament whose authority was never in any doubt in the Church”…Among other things, this means that certain options are not available to us as Christian people.

First, we cannot simply view the wars of the judges period as an unfortunate episode in the history of religion, like the Crusades, from which we can draw various salutary lessons depending on how we view them. There may be similarities between the wars of Judges and the Crusades, but the former are part of the canon and the latter are not. Hence they are not subject to our judgment in the same way the Crusades are. On the contrary, we are bound as Christians to let them inform our doctrine and practice.

Second, the acceptance of the Old Testament as part of the church’s canon acknowledges that there is an organic relationship between Christianity and Judaism. The church has been grafted into Israel, not only by direct statement but by the way it is so densely referenced to the Old. As Paul it put, “Abraham is the father of us all” (Rom 4:16 NIV). So we cannot view the wars of Judges as a purely Jewish affair–something that Jews have to own as part of their story, as Christians have to own the Crusades as part of theirs. The acceptance of the Old Testament as canon means that the wars of the Judges are part of our history too.

Third, the church’s rejection of Marcionism means that it is committed to the view that the Old Testament does not present us with an alternative God from the New, or a fundamentally distorted view of the character and purposes of God. It acknowledges progressive revelation (and therefore difference between the Old Testament and the New), but affirms that it is the same God that is revealed in both.

Fourth…the acceptance of these particular texts as Scripture rules out the extension of the accommodation principle as a strategy for avoiding the moral and theological dilemmas they pose for us. Holy war is a case in point. The relevant Scriptures insist that the obligation to utterly destroy the Canaanites and their culture was not something the Israelites were naturally inclined to do. In fact, they did not do it in many cases, even though they were commanded to do so. This command was not a case of God accommodating himself to Israel’s worldview, but of overturning it. In short, acceptance of Judges as canonical rules out such strategies of avoidance. Positively it commits the Christian to listening respectfully to what the biblical text has to say about such war, with a view to learning from it.

First, it was to test (nissa) that next generation (2:22; 3:1,4). It is the same word that is used in Gen 22:1 for the “testing” of Abraham by requiring him to offer up Isaac. In other words, the task of the post-Joshua generation was given was difficult for them, and would therefore force them to confront the basic issue of whether or not they would choose obedience to Yahweh over following their own inclinations. As the whole book of Judges shows, they failed this test.

Second, it was to teach that next generation warfare (3:2). This is not explained, so we are left to draw inferences from common sense and the clues we are given elsewhere. The most obvious is that this generation needed to be “taught warfare” in order to prepare them for what lay ahead. The rest of the book shows how frequent military crises were; people who had no experience of war would not have survived in such circumstances.

The third reason is given less directly, by showing us the consequences of Israel’s failure to fully carry out the charge Joshua had given them: “They took their daughters [the daughters of the Canaanites] in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods” (3:6 NIV). This was the danger that the command to destroy the Canaanites and their way of life was intended to protect them from, as spelled out explicitly in Deut 7:1-6 and elsewhere. It was to stop Israel from simply merging into its pagan environment and ceasing to exist. In the context of the canon as a whole, the importance of this derives from the central place of Israel in God’s long-term purpose for the world–a biblical theme which arcs right across the canon from Abraham to Christ to world mission. These reasons may shock us, or at the very least leave us profoundly uneasy, but they are the ones that this part of the canon gives us.

First, it tells us that culture is not morally neutral; it is simply the manifestation of what we are, and is therefore no more exempt from moral judgment than individual people are…Second, evil is something far too deep to be eliminated by the simple punishment of this or that particular act or person. It so corrupts the nature of men and women and their whole way of life that nothing and no one is exempt from it, and only wholesale destruction can remove it. In short, “evil is irremediable,” that is why radical root-and-branch judgment is necessary. Without hell there can be no heaven. The view of both the Old and New Testaments is that there were times in the past when such judgment was justified (e.g., the world of Noah’s day, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Canaan of Joshua’s day), and that the present world stands under the very real threat of similar destruction (e.g., Mt 24:37; Lk 17:26; 1 Pet 3:20).

Third, and closely related to this, is the biblical message that not all religion is good, and that religion does not guarantee protection from divine judgment. Everyone in Judges is religious, Canaanites and Israelites alike. Even at their most reprobate the Israelites are religious, but their religion does not secure God’s favor or make them proof against judgment…The Bible’s view is that religion, like everything else, is capable of being true or false, good or bad. The idea that all religions are equally valid, and therefore exempt from moral judgment, is contrary to the teaching of both the Old and New Testaments. The books of Joshua and Judges make this point in a particularly powerful way.

If we find Judges shocking, that may be no bad thing. It is not the task of the Christian scholar to tame the Bible, but to play his or her part in helping the church listen to it.

B. Webb, The Book of Judges (Eerdmans 2012), 61-67.

Dream Church

http://sacredsandwich.com/archives/1367

Christophany

Traditional Christian theology classifies OT apparitions of the Angel of the Lord as Christophanies. A Christophany would be an appearance of God’s preincarnate Son in OT times. If the traditional identification is right, that creates a bridge between OT monotheism and NT Trinitarianism. But is that correct?

This really bundles two questions into one: (a) the general question of whether the Angel of the Lord is an angelic creature or else a theophany; (b) the specific question of whether it’s a Christophany in particular.

Let’s approach the issue by quoting some objections to the traditional identification:


Nevertheless, it is best not to think of the two figures as simply equated. We should see this in the context of the ancient Near East, where messengers normally spoke for the sender. We see this phenomenon throughout the prophetic writings of the OT. When the prophets brought God’s message to Israel, they typically spoke for God in the first person; e.g. “The Lord said, ‘I am bringing a nation against you,’” rather than, “The Lord said that he is bringing a nation against you.” P. Enns, Exodus (Zondervan 2000), 96.

Some have equated the angel of I AM with Jesus Christ. This argument is plausible in that both are distinct from God and yet equated with God. But this argument must be rejected for several reasons. First, more than one being, such as a priest or judge, can have the status of being distinct from God yet equated with God. Second, there is a crucial difference between the angel of I AM and Jesus Christ. Since in Christ’s incarnation the fullness of the godhead dwells in him bodily, there is no reason to think a preincarnate revelation of him would be anything less. Third, the NT never lowers the identity of the Son of God to an angel of any sort. B. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Zondervan 2007), 363.

What are we to make of these objections?

i) What Enns says is careless. Indeed, the example he gives undermines his claim. The typical prophetic formula is a quotation formula. There’s a third-person introduction, followed by the first-person statement. A shift from indirect to direct discourse. The prophet doesn’t simply speak in God’s name, as if the prophet were God speaking. Rather, he attributes the statement to God: “Thus says the Lord…”

But in Angel of the Lord passages, we don’t have that distinction. There the speaker isn’t speaking for God, but as God.

Now, it’s possible that this is a form of shorthand. But if so, it stands in striking contrast to the prophetic practice.

ii) Apropos (i), notice how God speaking from heaven is interchangeable with the Angel of the Lord speaking from heaven (Gen 22:1-2,11,15-16). There’s a seamless transition.

iii) The ANE was rife with idolatry and polytheism. Indeed, the two went together. If the Angel of the Lord is simply an angelic creature, you’d expect special precautions to be taken to distinguish him from Yahweh. For, by ANE standards, the Angel of the Lord is a very godlike being. He’s depicted in terms indistinguishable from God himself. That would be terribly confusing to listeners accustomed to polytheism, unless a special effort was made to distinguish him from Yahweh.

iv) It’s true that Jesus is above the angels, just as the Creator is above the creature. But that misses the point. If the Angel of the Lord is a Christophany, that doesn’t mean the Son of God is literally an angelic being. It’s just a title, and the Hebrew word isn’t that specialized to begin with.

v) Of course there’s a crucial difference between a Christophany and the Incarnate Son. The traditional identification takes that difference for granted. So it’s hard to see the point of Waltke’s objection.

vi) Pace his claim, I don’t see where the status of a priest or prophet is equated with God. I don’t see anything equivalent to Exod 3, Exod 23:20-23, or Exod 33-34 in the way Scripture depicts prophets and priests.

vii) Exod 33-34 is a classic theophany. Yet that also seems to be an angelophany. The anthropomorphic or angelomorphic depiction dovetails with the Angel of the Lord.

viii) Gen 18 is a threefold angelophany. The three visitors have a human appearance. Two are angels, while the other is Yahweh. That also dovetails with the Angel of the Lord.

ix) Stuart renders the title “Yahweh Angel”. Cf. D. Stuart, Exodus (Broadman 2006). 111.

x) Jude 5 is potentially relevant. According to the best textual tradition, it reads: Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.

On the textual issues, cf. G. Green, Jude & Peter (Baker 2008), 65.

This doesn’t refer to a specific incident. But it would certainly be consistent with the Yahweh Angel as a Christophany.

xi) Assuming that the Yahweh Angel is theophanic, is it specifically Christophanic? That identification involves an argument from analogy, between the sender and the sent. If God sends the “angel,” and the Father sends the Son, then the Father sends the Yahweh Angel (i.e. the preincarnate Son). 

xii) If the Yahweh Angel is a Christophany, then that would make the Son a literal warrior God, viz. Josh 5:13-15. The Book of Revelation uses martial imagery, but that’s symbolic. By contrast, Josh 5:13-15 refers to real combat.

Making the Bible unbelievably believable

I notice an increasing trend within evangelicalism. We might identify this with the evangelical left, although it’s becoming more widespread and mainstream. Right now I’m picking on a segment of evangelicalism, but we have parallel developments in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, so don’t foster the illusion that you can take refuge in those alternatives.

I notice the freedom that many professing Christians feel to just set aside whatever they don’t like. To openly and brazenly disbelieve whatever they find displeasing or hard to believe. They have no sense of obligation to submit their hearts and minds to the wisdom of God speaking in his word. No sense of duty to believe anything that happens to rub them the wrong way.

As a result, they feel free to make the Bible more acceptable or credible (as they deem it) by any means necessary. To unilaterally recreate the Christian faith or creatively reinterpret the Bible.

This takes as many forms as what is held to be morally or intellectually offensive. If the creation account is thought to be hopelessly unscientific, then men like Enns, Seely, and Walton tells that that’s because the narrator inherited an antiquated conception of the world. Employed obsolete cosmological notions. People back then didn’t know any better.

If evolutionary biology is thought to put too much pressure on the historical Adam, we simply redefine Adam. Adam becomes a metaphor for Israel. Or Adam becomes one man among many preexisting hominids, whom God singles out.

If we don’t like the Bible’s masculine linguistic bias, we retranslate it to our liking. If we find male headship offensive, we either reinterpret the offending passages or say the Bible is irremediably misogynistic in that regard, which we’re at liberty to disregard (e.g. R. H. Evans). Same thing with homosexuality.

If we take umbrage at God’s command to execute the Canaanites, we reinterpret that to mean it’s just the conventional rhetoric of violence, which needn’t be confused with actual events (e.g. Rowlett).

And we readjust our theory of inspiration to accommodate these modifications. God superintends error, and it’s our calling to discern the voice of God in the cacophony of jarring voices within Scripture.

If we perceive an irreconcilable conflict between divine foreknowledge and human freedom, then we cut the Gordian knot by denying God’s knowledge of the future. Or we declare that God must play the hand he was dealt (W. L. Craig).

If we don’t like everlasting punishment, we substitute annihilationism or universalism. Easy as that.

If we think it’s unfair for death to terminate the opportunity for salvation, we stipulate purgatory and postmortem salvation (e.g. Jerry Walls).

If we think it’s unfair that everyone didn’t enjoy the same spiritual opportunities, we posit that “God could place a person anywhere He wants in human history, regardless of how that person might freely behave in different circumstances. But my suggestion is that God, being so merciful and not wanting anyone to be damned, so providentially orders the world that anyone who would embrace the Gospel if he were to hear it will not be placed in circumstances in which he fails to hear it and is lost. Only in the case of someone who would be saved through his response to general revelation would a person who would freely respond to special revelation, if he heard it, find himself in circumstances where he doesn’t hear it” (W. L. Craig).

If Calvinism rankles, we preemptively dictate that whatever the Bible means, it can’t mean that (e.g. Wesley, Rauser, Olson).

Now the problem I have with all these efforts to make the Bible more believable is that, if I granted their assumptions, their efforts to make the Bible more believable would make the Bible less believable. And that’s because they are clearly manipulating Scripture or theology to yield a desired result. Whenever there’s any tension between the Bible and their prior commitments, Scripture must always adapt to their prior commitments, not vice versa.

But that becomes an exercise in make-believe. Theology as fiction, where you rewrite the story to provide an alternate ending which you find more agreeable.

By contrast, the Bible contains a lot of flinty, gnarly, intractable material. Material that resists domestication.

Take Judges. Along with Lamentations, this may be the nastiest book of the Bible. It contains a series of atrocities. Mutilation, dismemberment, disembowelment, eye-gouging, human sacrifice, gang rape &c. This is not a nice book. Not a hymnal.

But, unfortunately, that’s what makes it so believable. Because, unfortunately, that’s very true to life. The Bible has that raw, gritty, gruesome verity. The very effort to sanitize the Bible makes it less realistic. And in so doing, makes it less credible. That’s projecting how we’d like things to be, rather than how they actually are.

All this moral squalor supplies the dark backdrop for the Bible’s bright redemptive vision. Hope in the shadow of despair. A fallen world is an ugly world. But only a fallen world can be redeemed. 

As we reject the offending passages of the Bible, we ironically sink back into the very depravity at which we take offense. We revert to the heathen brutality which the Bible graphically depicts, as a warning to God’s people. That’s the lesson of Judges.

Out with the old, in with the new [type of university]

Patrick Chan brought an article to our attention yesterday, “The End of the University”, in which the author makes the case that the type of thing we’ve been seeing the Internet do across the culture (i.e., change news, banking and shopping patterns, while foisting some “creative destruction” on news, banking and shopping institutions) is going to happen to the universities over the coming decades.

That will have some good benefits and bad consequences as well. This morning, Peter Escalante provides a good discussion of this, while characteristically keeping his eye on what that will mean going forward:

The bureaucratic leviathan university will not go down without a fight, but its fate is sealed. But either we take charge of what replaces it, or men for whom nothing is of worth unless it is for sale will. It is up to us to ensure that what replaces the present information-factory has the orderly pursuit of wisdom and learning at its heart, or else the new media of study will be little more than a hall of mirrors in which ignorance beholds its own infinitely diversified image, and cannot ever know it for such.

Christmas In The Context Of Loss And Sin

Frank Turk just wrote a good series of posts on how we should view Christmas in the context of an event like the Sandy Hook massacre or the death of a relative: here, here, and here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Australia's Gun Laws: Little Effect

http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1736501,00.html

ADHD

A number of pundits commenting on the Sandy Hook massacre have drawn attention to a frequent connection between crimes of this sort and mental illness. This raises a question which I’m not qualified to answer.

It’s my impression that many boys are overmedicated. They are medicated for so-called attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I suspect that in many cases this is just a way of sedating normal boys who are fidgety when made to sit still in a chair several hours a day, listening to a teacher. Many boys learn better with hands-on instruction.

This leads me to wonder if, in some cases, these massacres are a side-effect of psychotropic drugs. Is the problem that some young men aren’t receiving the psychiatric care they need? Or is the problem just the opposite–that they are overmedicated? I just wonder if that’s ever been investigated.

Must God choose the best?

If God is supremely good then he could only choose those possible outcomes, instantiate those possible worlds, which are consistent with his having his character, since to act inconsistently is a defect which God could not have. And since God is supremely good it must be supposed that God chooses from all possible worlds that world which is the best, the best of all possible worlds, since to suppose that he might choose a world which was less than the best is to suppose that he might do something which was inconsistent with his supremely good nature.

P. Helm, Eternal God (Oxford, 2nd ed., 2010), 172.

I agree with the first sentence, but I disagree with the second sentence. The paragraph is set up as if the first sentence is the premise, to which the second sentence is the conclusion. But there’s no connecting argument to show how the second sentence derives from the first. No reason is given as to why, if God is supremely good, he must choose the best possible world. That implication is assumed rather than explained.

What’s the implicit argument? It seems to involve a type of symmetry between God and the world, where the greatest conceivable being must choose the greatest conceivable world.

i) If that’s the argument, then it’s equivocal. Any created order is bound to be inferior, both in kind and degree, to God. So there’s no direct correlation between the excellence of God and the excellence of the world. There will always be a mismatch. The world will never come up to God’s level of perfection. Not even close.

ii) Moreover, a lesser possible world might encapsulate a unique or distinctive good that isn’t captured by a greater possible world. So even assuming there’s a best possible world (a very dubious assumption), the best possible world won’t necessarily be better in every respect. The best possible world might well be inferior to a lesser world in one or more respects. 

Purgatory and postmortem evangelism

As always, there are objections. Why can't God just perfect believers upon their death, and then no purgatorial purification will be needed? An answer with which Walls has considerable sympathy is that purification is necessarily a process that the person being purified must go through rather than a quick event the person undergoes. This is reminiscent of Aristotle's 'one swallow does not make a summer' remark -- virtues (and vices) develop via voluntary decisions over time.

It seems natural to associate the notion of libertarian freedom with that of purificational purgatory. A believer who is not ready to enjoy fellowship in heaven lives in company with others in the same situation, and through proper free choices engages in actions that progressively reduce her evil dispositions and strengthen her good dispositions. These mingle with appropriate repentance and contrition. The process may be painful, but is so only because there is no rosy road to final sanctification. Finally the purgatory dweller's character has changed sufficiently that she will be at home in heaven. Heaven would be hell for the unrepentant and unpleasant for the unpurified.

Of course God could deterministically arrange things so that a corresponding process occurred in the absence of free choices. This would raise the question of why God does not just determine people's choices and actions so that they become morally perfect, as well as the question of whether 'determined virtue' is not a contradiction in terms. These are controversial matters, as is the assumption that we have libertarian freedom and must have it in order to be moral agents. The existence of libertarian freedom is an assumption of Wallsian purgatory.

Another assumption is that the imperfect cannot enter heaven. Few, if any, among us have reached perfection when we die. If there is a purificatory purgatory, it will not want for populace. As noted, there is also the view that purification takes time -- is a process that requires the continued willing participation of the person being purified.

There is also the question of whether there are 'second chances' -- whether one who has died an unbeliever can become a believer in a post-mortem existence. The argument for this is that a God of love will do anything short of overriding our freedom to bring us to the sort of relationship that God wishes for us all. This question is in one way separable from the question of purgatorial perfection for those who are pre-mortem believers. One could argue that God's love is expressed through purgatorial perfection without its also being expressed through second chances. Acceptance of the notion of second chances gives support for the idea of a purgatory whose purpose goes beyond purification.


Notice, that purgatory is a logical extension of the Arminian commitment to libertarian freewill. Likewise, postmortem evangelism is also a logical extension of the Arminian commitment to God’s universal redemptive love.

By contrast, these are not logical extensions of Calvinism. More orthodox Arminians may try to resist where Walls is taking Arminian theology, but they can only do so on pain of inconsistency with their own bedrock commitments.

Etched spectacles

I’m going to briefly respond to Drake Shelton. One of Drake’s conceits is to claim that I haven’t responded to his “arguments,” when most of the time he’s just asserting something to be or not be the case.

I’ll begin with something he said to someone else at a theologyonline forum:


So you pray to multiple persons? How is this not paganism?

i) We say the three members of the Trinity are “persons” because the Bible presents them each in personal terms, and there’s no good reason to regard that presentation as a divine accommodation or personification.

ii) As such, Christians can pray to the Father, to the Son, and to the Spirit.

iii) It’s not pagan for the obvious reason that Scripture doesn’t treat the members of the Trinity as equivalent to pagan gods.


Sure I have a definition of God. I defined God by his revealed attributes in Scripture.”

>>Notice Steve defines God by attributes. God is then not a person.

And why should we accept Drake’s dichotomy? Just because Drake says so?

We worship God as God reveals himself to us in Scripture. In Scripture, the way God identifies himself as the true God, and distinguishes himself from false gods, is through his stated attributes and actions. That’s how we know what God is like. This includes a range of personal attributes.


Talk about projection huh? I cannot count how many times I have said that the Latin system defines God as a set of attributes instead of a person. Here we have overlap between the Latin system and Hays #1.

This is Drake’s chronic mental blog. He constantly filters what I say through something I didn’t say. I didn’t begin with the Latin system. I didn’t define God as a set of attributes instead of a person. Rather, I referred to God’s revealed attributes in Scripture. That’s what we’ve got to work with. That’s how God makes himself known to us (apart from general revelation).


It is inescapably clear that what Steve is doing now is, he is placing an ontological distinction between persons and attributes.

Drake has certain categories etched on his spectacles. He picked these up from some books he’s read. Whenever he looks at what I’ve read, he sees something that isn’t there.


First, your symmetries are created.

That’s simplistic. Abstract symmetries often have concrete property-instances.


 That puts this concept in the second Van Tillian circle and incapable of speaking of God ad intra.

This is yet another example of Drake’s mental block. I haven’t made use of the Van Tilian circles in my discussion. That’s something Drake drags into the exchange from left field.


Second, show us where in the history of Christianity that your use of enantiomorphic symmetries, is taught.

Irrelevant.


Your appeal to Clark here is simply a diversion from my exposure of your Neoplatonism.

That’s ironic. Drake is the one who alluded to Clark when he responded to me by paraphrasing one of Clark’s statements.


A representation by definition does not contain the reality.

That only follows in case of abstract/exemplar-concrete/instance relations.


THIS IS DAMNING. STEVE COMPLETELY AVOIDED THE ARGUMENT BEFORE HIM. HE KNOWS THIS IS THE CRACKING POINT OF VAN TILISM. The Van Tillian two circles precludes a hypostatic union and thus also revelation.

Notice how Drake is framing the discussion according to Van Til’s two-circles paradigm, even though I never used that paradigm.


HERE IT IS AGAIN. Clearly, Steve appealed to analogical knowledge above. Van Tillians have despaired to show any real difference between Aquinas’ and Van Til’s analogical knowledge of God. It is identical in my estimation.

One doesn’t have to be a Van Tilian or a Thomist to appeal to analogical knowledge. You can get that direct from Scripture. The Bible uses a variety of theological metaphors to describe God. That’s analogical.


Secondly, Clarke clearly showed that the Bible teaches that the one God is one person.

i) It’s revealing to see Drake’s reliance on an Arian like Samuel Clarke.

ii) If, according to Drake, the one God is one person, and the Father is the one God, then where does that leave the Son and the Spirit?


A set itself is not abstract, unless it is meant with reference to object instead of concept and that still would not preclude a generic unity.

By definition, the Mandelbrot set is an abstract object.


Physical objects are not the only objects that have a generic unity. Angels are spirits, yet, they have the same generic nature.

Although angels are incorporeal, they are not timeless.


Lacking spatio-temporal parts is a diversion with reference to simplicity. Thoughts are not temporal parts…

Since human thoughts are successive, they are divisible into temporal parts.


 ...yet Plotinus was consistent to deny thought to his simple One because thoughts require distinction; thus they are not simple.

I didn’t use Plotinus. 


But here is the rub: One of the trinity is the Son. Thus the Son, the HS, and the Father are not simply called one name but are one name. That is Sabellian.

No, that is Scriptural. The NT frequently uses Kurios for Jesus, in settings where that’s a Septuagintal rendering of Yahweh.

And beyond naming is the fact that the NT often equates Jesus with Yahweh, whether or not the same name is used.


I understand that language is arbitrary, but the context is damning to you. This context is historical Christian Theology Proper. I will quote yourself to condemn you:

    “but each of them also has property the other two do not–a property which distinguishes one from another.” http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2011/06/parsing-trinity.html

You have clearly advocated that the three persons have the same attributes, so to distinguish them you appeal to properties, thus admitting the distinction.

No, I’m not differentiating properties from attributes. Rather, in addition to the properties they share in common, each has a distinguishing property not shared by the other two.


“26. Steve has a fundamental confusion between the ontological and economical trinity! This mistake is fleshed out more in Latin Theology Proper with the Filioque Heresy. Steve is saying that the distinction between Father and Son in the Ontological Trinity is the same distinction in the economy of salvation.?

    I haven’t said anything of the kind.”

>>>I quote you from Seeing and Revealing

    “You are misconstruing the passage to say the opposite of what it’s intended to say. You are joining with the Jewish enemies of Jesus in Gospel who drive a wedge between God and Jesus, whereas the point of Jn 17:3 just the opposite: whoever rejects Jesus rejects Yahweh. ”

>>>Here we have a fundamental confusion between the ontological and economical trinity! This mistake is fleshed out more in Latin Theology Proper with the Filioque Heresy. Steve is saying that the distinction between Father and Son in the Ontological Trinity is the same distinction in the economy of salvation. This refutes Steve’s interpretation of John 17:3 and his understanding of Yahweh.

No, that doesn’t follow from what I said.

The Geopolitics of Shale

www.stratfor.com/weekly/geopolitics-shale

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Why Israel Has No Newtowns

http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/119408/why-israel-has-no-newtowns?print=1

Guns save lives as well as take lives

http://www.lp.org/news/press-releases/halt-the-massacre-of-innocent-children-by-ending-prohibition-on-self-defense-in

Gun-control ignorance

http://www.nationalreview.com/blogs/print/335848

Poor little LGBTQ's

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2012/12/10/prudential-study-shows-lgbt-wealth/

Drake's tilting windmills

-->

I’m going to respond to a post by Drake Shelton:

 

 

Drake is your typical Scots-Presbyterial/Greek-Orthodoxal/Gordon-Clarkian White Supremacist.

 

I’m not debating Drake at this juncture. I’ve had enough experience debating him to realize that he’s not capable of interacting with a theological opponent. I’m just responding to his post to set the record straight.


As a Clarkian and seminary drop-out (?) at GPTS, Drake may have had a following or built-in audience, at least before he marginalized himself. So this post is for the benefit of those (few?) who may be relying on secondhand misinformation from Drake regarding my beliefs.

BTW, it’s very revealing to see him to devote lots of time to my position while he ignores Dale Tuggy. I was defending the deity of Christ in response to Tuggy’s attacks on the deity of Christ. The fact that Drake spends his time attacking someone (me) who defends the deity of Christ rather than defending the deity of Christ against someone (Tuggy) who attacks it betrays his true center of gravity.

A Full Refutation of Steve Hays’ Van Tillian and Thomistic Theology Proper

For more info see David Waltz’s articles on the Nicene Creed 325 vs. Constantinople 381 here here and here and my denial of the essence and energy distinction which is nothing short of ADS Monadism here.

As a side note I thank Hays for posting his blogs publicly because cowards like Bob Letham and Jim Dodson refused to let my examinations of Latin based Protestant Scholastic Theology Proper become public but this summary lets the reader see in detail the problems with Thomistic and Van Tillian Theology Proper.

This unwittingly illustrates the fundamental flaw in Drake’s alleged refutation of my position. He’s actually not refuting my position. Rather, he’s filtering my position through a presumptive theological grid which he superimposes on my position.

Drake is basically self-taught. He’s read some books, from which he drives his categories. When he comes to my position, he reframes the discussion in terms of his own categories. He doesn’t derive my position from what I’ve actually said. Rather, he’s attacking a simulacrum.

This is one reason it’s impossible to have an intelligent debate with Drake. He isn’t really debating you. Rather, he’s debating a position that he’s projected onto you. 

Monstrous bedroom furniture

Taken to theology, then, one gets voluntarism in the doctrine of God. God does not have an eternal nature of character; he is pure power and will. God is whatever God decides to be. The result is that the “good” is whatever God commands and God does not command anything because it is good. It is good only because God commands it.

Voluntarism, in the form of the “deus absconditus” (hidden God), was a metaphysical compliment Luther paid to God. He thought this protected God’s deity. This idea was taken up by certain Reformed theologians and appears throughout post-Reformation history when some Calvinists (and others) claim that “Whatever God does is automatically good and right just because God does it.”

This makes God truly monstrous because God, then, has no virtuous character. “Good” becomes whatever God decides and does and, ultimately, becomes meaningless because it has no essential connection with anything we know as “the good.”

So far I’ve blamed Luther for injecting nominalism/voluntarism into Protestant theology (while acknowledging that Lutheran theology is not per se nominalist). But just as guilty is Zwingli who adamantly asserted that God can do whatever he wills and there is no reason for what he wills other than he wills it.

This is the underlying problem in the “young, restless, Reformed” movement. It isn’t just their Calvinism; it’s their nominalistic voluntarism in their doctrine of God. This God could simply change his mind and decide that salvation is by works and not by grace. His faithfulness becomes a thin thread of moment-by-moment decision to stand by his promises, but nothing internal to God governs him so that faithfulness is what he is.

The word “trust” in “trust God,” then takes on two very radically different meanings. To the nominalist/voluntarist it means “hope God decides to keep his promises.” Nothing makes that certain. God has no eternal character that keeps him from breaking his promises. If he decided to, then that would be good because “good” is whatever God decides and does. To the realist “trust” means “confidence that God cannot break his promises” because God is goodness itself and cannot lie or contradict himself or go against his word.

To be sure, not all Calvinists are nominalists, but my experience is that many of them suddenly become nominalists/voluntarists when pushed to explain in what sense God is good in light of his decree to NOT save many people he COULD save because salvation is totally his own decision and accomplishment apart from any cooperation by creatures. The answer is usually “Well, whatever God does is good just because God does it.” That’s sheer nominalism/voluntarism and it empties God of any stable, enduring, eternal character such that he could, if he chose to, change his mind and decide not to save anyone. And it empties the word “good” of any meaning. It is simply whatever God does, period.

Nominalism is, in my opinion, the ultimate theological error. I won’t call it heresy (although the Catholic Church does and for good reasons).

The only way to avoid sheer relativism in a nominalistic cultural atmosphere is with divine command ethics. “Evil is what God says no to.” But the question remains and lingers and inquiring minds want to know “Why?” Why does God say no to, say, lying? Is there something instrinsically wrong, bad, harmful about lying or does God just not like it for whatever reason or none at all?

Logos theology says that there is a link, an intrinsic connection between God’s character and right and wrong in the world. And between God’s truth and ours. “All truth is God’s truth.” Reason, healed by grace, reaches upwards to God by the light of revelation and faith, and is capable of grasping, to some extent, the truth, beauty and goodness of God embedded in creation. Sure, because of our finitude and fallenness, we will never, at least in this world, have a full or perfect grasp of them. And our grasp of them will never be autonomous. We need revelation and faith, the “light of the mind” that Augustine talked about, illumination and wisdom from God. But there’s no arbitrariness in truth, beauty and goodness, not even in God himself. They are embedded in him, his eternal nature, and shine forth into his creation. Christian philosophy seeks them out and, by God’s grace, can grasp them at least partially.


i) Roger Olson’s animosity towards Calvinism has become so deranged that his latest description is simply unrecognizable. He’s like a little boy in whose vivid imagination the bedroom furniture assumes ominous, menacing shapes in the dark. The boy cries out to his parents. When they switch on the lights, the “monstrous” furniture instantly reverts to ordinary, inanimate objects.

ii) Is this really how Calvinism defined God?: “God does not have an eternal nature of character; he is pure power and will. God is whatever God decides to be”?

Just recently, Randal Rauser was attacking traditional Reformed theology because it’s too closely aligned with classic Christian theism, viz. divine simplicity, timelessness, impassibility. Well, that’s hardly equivalent to “God is whatever God decides to be.”

Likewise, Reformed theism traditionally ascribes immutability to God. Well, if God is immutable, then, by definition, God has an eternal character. If God is immutable, then, by definition, God can’t go back on his promises.

In addition, Reformed theology ascribes various moral attributes to God. So he’s not “pure power and will.”

iii) The Calvinist God is not the deus absconditus. Rather, Reformed theism is based on revealed theology.

iv) Even if his characterization of Zwingli was correct, the influence of Calvin and the Westminster Confession dwarfs the influence of Zwingli in the development of Reformed theology.

v) Olson is hung up on phrases like “Whatever God does is automatically good and right just because God does it,” “Well, whatever God does is good just because God does it.”

These are shorthand expressions. By definition, whatever God does is good given how God is defined. These shorthand expressions take God’s goodness for granted. Whatever God does is good because God is good. Whatever God does is good because it is done by a good God.

vi) “My experience is that many of them suddenly become nominalists/voluntarists when pushed to explain in what sense God is good in light of his decree to NOT save many people he COULD save because salvation is totally his own decision and accomplishment apart from any cooperation by creatures.”

a) But that begs the question. Olson is judging reprobation by his (selective) Arminian standards. But there’s no onus on a Calvinist to explain God’s goodness in light of reprobation unless you begin with the prior assumption that reprobation is contrary to God’s goodness. So Olson is reasoning in a vicious circle. 

b) Moreover, there are Arminians who admit that God could save more lost souls than he does, but God refrains from doing so because his goal is to strike an optimal balance between the saints and the damned.

vii) “The result is that the ‘good’ is whatever God commands and God does not command anything because it is good. It is good only because God commands it.”

a) Olson is paraphrasing the Euthyphro dilemma. Notice that he seems to accept the Euthyphro dilemma. He opts for the horn that says God commands something because it is good. But as many atheists point out, that makes God answerable to an ultimate source and standard of goodness over and above God. That makes goodness independent of God. That subjects God himself to a superior good.

b) But it’s a false dilemma. As a Christian blogger (Andrew Fulford) recently put it: God’s commands are “simply the will of God inscribed in our very nature. God tells us to act the way he made us to act, and when we act the way he designed us to, we flourish, not wither.”

viii) “This makes God truly monstrous because God, then, has no virtuous character. ‘Good’ becomes whatever God decides and does and, ultimately, becomes meaningless because it has no essential connection with anything we know as ‘the good.’”

Notice the illicit slide from what is good to what we perceive is good. But that’s clearly fallacious.

For instance, God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac didn’t seem to be good at the time the command was issued. It’s only in retrospect that we’re in a position to appreciate the wisdom of God’s command. What made God’s command to Abraham a test of faith is that it seemed to contradict God’s promise.

ix) “All truth is God’s truth.”

Like other tautologies, that platitude is both unobjectionable and useless. By definition, whatever is true is true, but that doesn’t tell you what’s true. You can’t use that tautology to distinguish truth from falsehood. It has no discriminatory force.