Friday, December 28, 2012

The Vatican on gun control

That was then:

This is now:

An ant's view of intelligent design theory


Drone1: Who do you think designed this bicycle?

Drone2: No one!

Drone1: No one?

Drone2: Bicycology is the study of complicated vehicles that give the appearance of having been designed for transportation. Yet all appearances to the contrary, the only bicycle maker in nature are the blind forces of physics.

Drone1: I find that hard to believe.

Drone2: It is almost as if the ant brain were specifically designed to misunderstand bicycology, and to find it hard to believe.

Drone1: I still think a human must have made this bicycle.

Drone2: That’s a science-stopper. That’s the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.

If you don’t understand how a bicycle came into being, never mind: just give up and say human did it. Please don’t go to work on the problem, just give up, and appeal to man. Man-did-it teaches you to be satisfied with nonanswers. It’s a sort of crime against anthood.

Drone1: What’s your alternative?

Drone2: The world is divided into things that look designed (like birds and bicycles) and things that don’t (rocks and mountains). Things that look designed are divided into those that really are designed (anthills) and those that aren’t (bicycles).

Drone1: But isn’t a bicycle maker a simpler explanation than a fortuitous, self-organizing bicycle?

Drone2: The notion of a human bicycle maker belittles the elegant reality of the anthill.

Creeping unitarianism

On the one hand:


On the other hand:

Joh 10:30 I and my Father are One (“(H)EN”).

We later worked through the context and it appears to be referring to their unity according to their wills in salvation – that Christ is the Good Shepherd who wills to save, and that God His Father, who is greater than all, also wills for their salvation (surprisingly, offering an even deeper comfort). Looking again at the errata, Samuel Clarke makes the same argument – that they are not ‘(H)eis – One Person’ but that they are ‘(H)en – one and the same thing as to the exercise of Power.’ (ie. they are of one “(H)en” accord in the matter of salvation).

Anyone who’s familiar with unitarian literature will recognize that Drake’s interpretation of Jn 10:30 (unity of wills) is the classic unitarian gloss on this passage. 

BTW, the alternative to one in will is not one in person

"The greatest"

The Father is greater than I (Jn 14:28).

i) This is a popular anti-Trinitarian prooftext. According to unitarians, this means the Father is God, and Jesus is not.

According to Nicene subordinationists, this means that even though Jesus is still God, Jesus is eternally and ontologically subordinate to Father.

A basic problem with this approach is that it isolates the statement from its surrounding context. “...for the Father is greater than I” isn’t even a complete sentence. And it’s just a small part of a very extended discourse. In order to gauge the force of this statement, we need to compare it with other statements in this discourse.

ii) Jn 14:28 comes on the heels of Jesus saying:

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? (v10a).

The mutual indwelling of the Father and the Son involves a symmetrical relationship. While it’s understandable how the greater could include the lesser, it’s less understandable how the lesser could include the greater. To play on the spatial metaphor, you can put something smaller in something bigger, but not vice versa.

If, on the other hand, the Father and the Son are coequals, then it’s more understandable how each could contain the other.

Of course, it’s possible for the preposition (“in”) to carry different connotations, depending on who or what is referred to. But here identical language is used for both parties, in mirror symmetry.

iii) There’s an obvious parallel between 14:12 and 14:28:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father (v12).

You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I (v28).

Both involve comparative greatness, and in both, the comparative greatness is indexed to the Son returning to the Father.

Given the proximity and similarity of these verses, where v28 rounds out v12, forming a kind of inclusio, we’d expect there to be an analogy between the greatness of the Father and the greatness of the works. But it doesn’t make much sense to say the works are ontologically greater. What would that even mean?

Commentators puzzle over the precise identity of the “greater works” since Jesus doesn’t specify what they are. However, they seem to have reference to answered prayers, where v12 leads into v13.

Jesus may have in mind something like this:

35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor (Jn 4:35-38).

There’s only so much Jesus could do at a particular time and place. Ministering in Palestine for three years.

Collectively speaking, generations of Christians can do “greater works.” The expansion of the Gospel has a global impact. That’s a major force in shaping the course of world history.

iv) It’s also striking that Jesus says:

13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it (Jn 14:13-14).

On a unitarian or Nicene subordinationist reading of 14:28, that’s not what we’d expect him to say. Rather, we’d expect him to say:

Whatever you ask in the Father’s name, he will do it, for the Father is greater than all.

But Jesus instead invites the disciples to address their prayers to him. And he tells them that he will answer their prayers.

v) Likewise, in 16:7, Jesus says:

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.

But if the sender is greater than the sent, does that mean the Son is greater than the Spirit? To my knowledge, that’s not how Nicene subordinationists argue.

vi) Now, a unitarian or Nicene subordinationist might object that elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel, the Father sends the Spirit. Prayer is addressed to the Father. The Father answers prayer.

That’s true. I’m not suggesting that these are exclusive to Jesus. But that very alternation is problematic for unitarianism and Nicene subordination.

How do we harmonize statements which indicate the Son’s equality with the Father with statements which indicate the Son’s inequality with the Father? I don’t think that’s difficult.

For instance, someone with greater ability can perform a job requiring less ability, but someone with less ability can’t perform a job requiring greater ability. It’s easy to see how equals can assume unequal roles. How a superior can accept a self-demotion.

Indeed, this is the case throughout Bible history. Because we can’t come up to God’s level, God comes down to our level. This is also the case in the Fourth Gospel. The earthly ministry of Christ is clearly a comedown from his natural status. That’s how it’s portrayed. A greater temporarily assuming a lesser standing.

vii) I think 14:28 involves the same principle as 17:4-5:

4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

The Father is “greater” in the sense that the heavenly realm is greater than the earthly realm. By returning to heaven, Jesus is leaving behind the limitations of his earthly ministry. He can do more from heaven, for that mode of existence isn’t subject to our spacetime limitations. Of course, his earthly ministry lays the groundwork for his heavenly ministry. The ascended Son can empower the disciples to do greater works because heaven affords a greater field of action.

In 14:28, I think the “Father” functions as a metonymy or synecdoche for God’s exclusive domain, in contrast to the world. A greater place.

That identification accounts for the emphasis on changing places (heaven>earth, earth>heaven), with the attendant abilities.  

This is similar to how the Gospels alternate between “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven,” where “heaven” is a synonym for “God,” and vice versa. 

Joel Richardson, Tim Warner, and "The Time of the End"

Tim Warner of the Pristine Faith Restoration Society is the most recent date-setter. Warner has written the recent book The Time of the End, which is a Christian version of the Mayan prophecy. He concludes,
[My] new book The Time of the End provides a complete standard biblical chronology of the entire Bible based on these two calendars, showing that we are only about 2 decades away from the time of Great Tribulation.
Joel Richardson has enthusiastically endorsed Warner's date-setting book. I have responded to both here and here and here. Richardson did not like my criticism to another date-setting book with him deflecting away from the issue saying that I am unloving (as if Jesus and Paul did not have the freedom to be pointed with those who misled God's people). And Warner has responded to me—as predictably as any date-setter has in the past–with, "Read my book!" So according to Warner and Richardson we cannot discourage people away from date-setters until we have read their books. Wow. This is absurd. The fact that date-setting is discouraged by the biblical writers is good enough reason to reject it. Oh sure, Mr. Warner may claim, “I am not really a date-setter because (fill in the excuse).” But that is a shame that individuals feel justified to skirt around this biblical prohibition.

History and chronology

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The earth shall not be moved

One of the stock objections to the Bible is the allegation that it teaches a stationary earth. Passages about “the earth shall not be moved” are quoted to prooftext this assertion.

i) As I’ve noted before, one problem with this allegation is that it simply misinterprets the verses. These aren’t referring to the immobility of the earth in relation to the sun, moon, and stars, but to the seismic stability of the earth. Not about planet earth, but the surface of the earth, where humans live. About the presence or absence of catastrophic earthquakes which destroy human life and disrupt human livelihood.

ii) But there’s another issue. Even ancient earthbound observers, without our modern scientific apparatus, were quite able to imagine, and argue for, the axial rotation of the earth:

Jesus walked on H2O

Drake is having conniption fits:

It has become abundantly clear that Steve Hays thinks he can appeal to completely unverifiable and undefinable concepts in a debate over Theology Proper. When I accuse him of worshiping three gods, he simply appeals to anthropomorphic tri-theism and thus over-rules any inquiry into his view by falling back on the unverifiability and undefinability of his words.

i) That’s a very telling accusation. I didn’t appeal to anthropomorphic tritheism in response to Drake Shelton. Rather, I made that appeal in response to Dale Tuggy. Nice to see Drake’s inadvertent admission that he and Tuggy see eye-to-eye.

ii) Unitarians have always accused Trinitarians of tritheism. It’s not incumbent on Christians to justify the tritheistic appearance of Trinitarianism. For Biblical theism has a tritheistic appearance. God reveals himself in ways that look tritheistic.

It’s not particular formulations of the Trinity that generates that appearance. Rather, it’s the primary data of Scripture that generates that appearance.

In Scripture, God is apparently tritheistic. That, in turn, is counterbalanced by the fact Scripture also discloses a monotheistic conception of God.

Christians shouldn’t be made to feel defensive about the apparent tritheism of the Trinity, for that is based on God’s self-revelation. That’s normative–as far as it goes.

Now we know from the monotheistic passages that the Trinity is just apparently tritheistic, not really and truly tritheistic. But it’s not as if the monotheistic passages take precedence over the “tritheistic” passages. It’s all inspired. It’s all revelatory.

Moreover, even the monotheistic passages were more contextually qualified than unitarians make them out to be.

He claims that eternal generation cannot be true because it is a metaphor.

One wonders if Drake is actually that simple-minded. Was that my claim? No.

I never said–or even suggested–that eternal generation cannot be true because it’s a metaphor. Rather, I said that because the sonship of Christ is a metaphor, you must make allowance for the disanalogies as well as the analogies.

A metaphor both compares and contrasts one thing with another. You’re not entitled to arbitrarily pick-and-choose what you think carries over from the metaphor to the analogue.

 I ask him what he means by metaphor and he simply cops out by saying that the Bible does not define metaphor. 

That’s an amusing complaint from a Scripturalist. Well, the Bible doesn’t define metaphor, so why is a Scripturalist requiring an extrascriptural definition of metaphor?

Of course, it’s easy to define a metaphor. But that’s really not the point. Drake acts as though you have to provide a full-blown theory of analogical predication before you can recognize a metaphor or draw any distinctions reasonable between the analogous and disanalogous features of the metaphor.

But the Bible itself clearly makes no such assumption. It doesn’t demand that from its readers. They were expected to exercise common sense.

Take the sheepish metaphor, where the Bible uses sheep to symbolize Jews and Christians. You don’t have to have a theory of analogy to intuitively grasp the limitations of that comparison. You can tacitly appreciate both the similarities and dissimilarities between men and sheep when the Bible draws that comparison.

Drake is acting like Christians couldn’t know what it means for Jesus to walk on water unless they could define water as a chemical compound consisting of one oxygen molecule to two hydrogen molecules connected by covalent bonds.  But you don’t have to be Linus Pauling to understand the account of Jesus walking on water.

Likewise, take the sonship of Christ. You don’t have to begin with a general theory analogical predication. Rather, you can just study what the Bible says about the sonship of Christ. What’s the significance of that metaphor in various scriptures? How does that function in the argument or the narrative of a particular Bible writer? That’s how you determine the parameters of the metaphor. 

Loftus’ faulty argument for atheism gets an F double minus

The beginning of the end

Creative measures in crime-fighting

God as author analogy

Of course, I think the analogy breaks down. If a human author somehow gained the magical ability to bring her characters to life so that they do actually commit horrific acts of murder (for example), we would hold the author responsible (as well as the now alive characters). The only reason we don’t hold authors responsible for murders committed by their characters in novels is because the characters and the murders are imaginary, not real.

Actually, I think creative writers are responsible for the characters they create. They are responsible for whether their stories glamorize evil or expose evil for what it is. Are they using the villain as a foil, to promote good by way of contrast? Or does the writer make the villain the anti-hero?

I’ve already talked with numerous Calvinists about that and other points related to God’s sovereignty and, for the most part, our conversations have ended in what I would consider impasses.

To my knowledge, the only Calvinist whom Olson has publicly debated is Michael Horton. But Horton is basically a popularizer. 

Olson hasn’t tested his position against the toughest Reformed competition. He hasn’t debated Reformed philosophers like James Anderson, Jeremy Pierce, Greg Welty, or Paul Helm (to name a few). He hasn’t debated Reformed exegetes like Tom Schreiner, Gregory Beale, Don Carson, or Vern Poythress (to name a few). So he’s made things easy on himself.

Likewise, he censors Calvinist commenters at his blog. Now that’s his prerogative. But it’s duplicitous to shield your position from astute criticism, then complain that you never heard a good response to your objections. Olson himself avoids engaging the most able opponents of his position.

That’s not always deliberate, although there’s some of that in his moderation policy. I think it’s more due to the fact that because he hates Calvinism, he simply lumps all Calvinists together. He doesn’t distinguish popularizers from scholars, philosophers, &c.

IF God foreordained and rendered certain a particular event…

“Foreordained and rendered certain” has become one of Olson’s stock phrases. What does he mean by “foreordained” and “rendered certain”? Is he using them synonymously? If not, how do they go together?

Would it be okay for God to foreordain a particular event, but not ensure it? Would it be okay for God to ensure a certain event without foreordaining it? What exactly does Olson find objectionable? The combination? Each considered separately? How does he define his terms? How does he think they’re interrelated?

Does he think foreordination entails the certainty of the outcome? If so, isn’t it somewhat redundant to use both expressions?

For instance, an outcome needn’t be foreordained to be a sure thing. Causation, determinism, or causal determinism doesn’t require premeditation. Chemical reactions are deterministic without the catalyst foreintending a particular outcome.

Does Olson think about what he’s saying, or has it just become mechanical. This phrase rolls off his tongue without consideration.

IF God foreordained and rendered certain a particular event for a greater good (as you assert), why, as a Christian, embrace feelings of abhorrence about them? Shouldn’t you at least TRY not to feel abhorrence about them? After all, they are actually good from a higher perspective–the one you claim to have that sees them as necessary events brought about by God for the greater good.

Before addressing his objection directly, notice that it would be trivially easy to recast the alleged problem in Arminian terms:

If God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing tragedies, then why, as an Arminian, do you react with abhorrence? After all, God had a good reason for permitting it. If you react with moral abhorrence, aren’t you implicitly judging God’s wisdom and goodness by allowing this to transpire? If you express moral abhorrence at a tragedy which God allowed, aren’t you implicitly expressing moral abhorrence at God’s permission?

By Olson’s own admission, there are many situations in which God can and does override human freewill. Therefore, God doesn’t permit it because he has to:

rogereolson says:
June 28, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    I’ve talked about this quite a bit in the past. No Arminian I know denies that God ever interferes with free will. The Bible is full of it. The point is that in matters pertaining to salvation God does not decide for people. If he did, he’d save everyone. The issue is personal relationship. God cannot and will not override a person’s free will when what is at stake is his or her personal relationship with God of love. But God certainly can and does knock people off their horses (as with Saul). I think you are over interpreting Arminianism’s view of freewill. Free will, as I have often said, is not the central issue. The central issue (and only reason we believe in free will) is the character of God including the nature of responsible relationality.

rogereolson says:
June 30, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    The difference lies in the character of God. I don’t have a problem with God manipulating people’s wills so long as it doesn’t coerce them to do evil or force them to enter into a relationship with him. If God causes a person to turn one way at a corner rather than the other way, so that the person sees a sign that brings attention to his or her need of God, I don’t have any problem with that. You seem to be laboring under the misconception that Arminians believe in free will above everything. We don’t. That’s never been the point of Arminian theology as I have shown in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.

So Olson has conceded that God, consistent with Arminian principles, could prevent many of these tragedies. Therefore, Olson can’t say it would be wrong to feel moral repugnance at God’s permission because God’s hands were tied. For Olson has granted God’s vast latitude to meddle in human affairs. Since the Arminian God was in a position to stop child murders, why, by Olson’s logic, shouldn’t our moral repugnance at the tragedy transfer to moral repugnance at God’s inaction?

Perhaps you’ll say that such feelings are simply irresistible. But my question is whether you think they are right. What justifies them rationally? Even if they are irresistible, why not ALSO celebrate such horrific events since you know, however you feel, that they are ordained and rendered certain by God FOR THE GREATER GOOD?

Again, IF I held your perspective about God’s sovereignty I would do my best to push aside feelings of moral repugnance in the face of, for example, child murders, and view them stoically if not as causes for celebration. Why not?

i) For one thing, it doesn’t occur to Olson that the Calvinist God uses our moral repugnance to accomplish his will. Our moral repugnance isn’t contrary to God’s will. Rather, giving us a sense of moral repugnance is one of the ways in which God moves historical events. Moral repugnance is a deterrent against certain crimes. So moral repugnance is a part of historical causation. World history would unfold very differently absence moral repugnance. Moral repugnance is a factor in what does or doesn’t happen. That’s consistent with God’s plan for history. Human psychology has an impact on history.

ii) In addition, moral repugnance, like the evil which elicits moral repugnance, reinforces the contrast between God and evil. Makes us more appreciative of God.

rogereolson says:
December 27, 2012 at 12:59 pm

But what I am asking is why Calvinists such as the author of the essay in question do NOT celebrate dead soldiers and children. That would seem to be a logical response to their deaths IF those deaths are willed, planned and rendered certain by God for the greater good. Now let me be clear, I’m not claiming that “celebrating” them would mean having no normal human sorrow or feelings of loss. Rather, those normal feelings could remain even as a divine determinist praised and thanked God for the deaths. And by “celebrate” I don’t mean publicly. That would rightly be avoided in order not to cause hurt to those who lost loved ones. By “celebrate” I mean only interiorily–within one’s own mind. That’s what I’m asking of the author of the essay. Does he or doesn’t he celebrate in his own mind horrors such as mass murders of children? If not, why not?

i) This is one of Olson’s persistent mental blocks. He’s unable to keep two ideas in his head at a time. The same event can be evil in itself, but also contribute to something good. These are both true. One doesn’t negate the other. Something can really be evil it its own right, but serve a good purpose in spite of its evil character.

ii) We don’t have God’s perspective. We can’t see for ourselves how all things working together for the good of those who whom God has chosen (Rom 8:28).

That’s something we take on faith. And there are partial illustrations of that principle in Scripture.

But in most situations, we’re completely in the blind. We don’t see the future. As a rule, we’re in no position to perceive the trajectory by which God brings good out of evil. Our knowledge of the past is fragmentary. Compartmentalized. Our knowledge of the present is fragmentary. Compartmentalized. And our knowledge of the future is guesswork.

We only see what we can see. That’s what we’re reacting to. The sample of reality that’s available to us. The tiny sample that we can inspect.

Faith in science

Some Christians feel intimidated by science, while many more Christians are told that they ought to feel intimidated by science. We’re told that Christianity is unscientific. That we should either abandon the faith wholesale or at least perform radical surgery.

In light of that, here’s something I found revealing. You might suppose that physics majors are the cream of the crop. The brainiacs. Not only would you expect them to be in the top percentile of the student body generally, but among the best and brightest science majors. We associate physicists with brainpower. Daunting I.Q.

So it’s striking to see the vast intellectual gap between these physics majors and a distinguished physicist:

And although Don Page may be near the top of his field, I don’t think he’s quite up there with Roger Penrose or Edward Witten. So the gap would be even wider in their case.

It makes you wonder how much even the average science major actually understands about his chosen field. How deep his understanding goes. How much he’s qualified to evaluate. How much he’s taking on faith. How little he can prove on his own. How many science majors must simply take the word of a few geniuses at the very top of the pyramid.

Now you might say that’s unfair. These aren’t graduates, much less post-doc students at Harvard, Princeton, Caltech, MIT, or Cambridge. But, of course, that’s a winnowing process. An elite few. So it reinforces my point. What minuscule fraction of the population knows the intricacies of science well enough to even assess scientific claims against the Bible? How much is just bravado? 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Help a child

Outside the camp

12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Heb 13:12-14).

This is a continuation of my [lightly edited] email exchange with David Baggett. He coauthored Good God with Jerry Walls.

It’s a sequel to this post:

    Your brother in Christ,

Nice sign-off. I appreciate the sentiment. However, when you say that, I can’t help comparing it to something else you and Jerry said. Permit me to begin with a hypothetical story.

Suppose I have a best friend in high school. Let’s call him Spencer. We’ve known each other since first grade. He lives two houses down from me.

Over the years, Spencer has been a better friend to me than I’ve been to him. He’s been a better friend to me that I’ve been to myself. He’s been strong for me when I was weak.

One time, Spencer and I were competing for the same scholarship. When he found out, he withdrew from the competition. He didn’t want to win the scholarship if that meant my losing the scholarship.

One time, when we were at a 7/11, an armed robber came into the store and pointed a gun at me. Spencer stepped between me and the gun to shield me.

My family and his family are both into breeding racehorses. That’s the family business. Spencer and I have always tried to keep the family business separate from our friendship.

One time my family was almost broke. We really needed to win the purse to stay in business. Spencer overheard his dad telling someone on the phone to throw the race by threatening our jockey.

If we lost, we would have lost everything. But Spencer tipped me off. When his dad found out, his dad threw Spencer out of the house. Cut him off.

That’s the kind of friend Spencer has been to me.

One day I was talking to a new student at school. Let’s call him Scott. He’d only been there a few weeks. I was trying to help him fit into his new surroundings. We were sitting on the bleachers, watching a football practice. I was pointing out the students to Scott, so that he knew their names.

When I pointed to Spencer, Scott grimaced. I asked him why.

He told me that he couldn’t stand Spencer. He told me Spencer was probably the kind of guy who tore the wings of flies as a little boy. If there were dismembered cats in the neighborhood, Spencer would be the prime suspect.

Needless to say, Scott’s reaction to my best friend made a tremendous first impression. At that moment I said to myself, “Scott and I can’t be real friends. I can still be a friend to him. I can help him out if he gets in a bind. But he can never be a friend to me. Not as long as that’s how he feels that way about Spencer. Given his contempt for my best friend, there’s no rapport between us.”

Now let’s compare that to a real story. My story. God awakened me when I was a teenager. Now I’m 53. God not only saved me when I was a teenager, but he’s kept me all these years. He’s guarded me and guided me. Protected me and provided for me. He’s been more faithful to me that I’ve ever been to him. This is the God I live for. I owe him everything. He’s done far more for me than the idealized friend in my hypothetical story.

Then I read a book by Jerry Walls and David Baggett which says my God could command people to torture little children for the fun of it.

When I read that, it doesn’t hurt my feelings. It doesn’t offend me. But it does alienate me. It instantly dissolves any sense of spiritual rapport between me and Jerry or David. A chasm opens up between us. They can’t talk that way about my God, and still expect to be friends. That’s too compartmentalized. Too horizontal–at the expense of the vertical.

Now, you might respond, “Oh, we’re not talking about God. We’re just talking about your idea of God. Your Calvinist conception of God.”

Except that if I’m right, then my idea of God maps onto the one true God–just as you think your Arminian concept of God maps onto the one true God.

    Steve, you have your convictions and I have to respect that. We have deep disagreements but I would hope our agreements trump. I do not deny you are a Christian. I would hope you would not deny that we are.

Thanks. My point is not to stifle your freedom of expression, but to point out that when you make certain statements, these have consequences. This isn’t just theoretical. It isn’t just debating ideas for the sake of ideas.

It’s too facile to put respective theological convictions in airtight containers that have no impact on Christian fellowship. That reduces Christian faith to sociology. I’d be dishonoring God if what you said about God–as I understand him–had no impact on what I thought of you. I’d be acting as if God isn’t the most important person in my life. What you think about God, what I think about God, and what I think about you are intertwined.

I haven’t said anything about your Christian bona fides or Jerry’s. I was discussing a different issue. If, however, you’re actually asking how I’d respond to that question, I’d say the following:

i) Do I think Arminians can be genuine Christians? Sure. Conversely, some Calvinists are nominal Christians. Some Arminians are heavenbound while some Calvinists are hellbound.

ii) There are different types or levels of disagreement. At one level, there’s the purely exegetical debate. For instance, I. H. Marshall interprets John, Romans, and Ephesians differently than Tom Schreiner, Greg Beale, or Vern Poythress. That’s simply a disagreement over what the Bible teaches. That, of it, shouldn’t distance us from one another. At that level it’s not fundamentally different from film criticism, where we offer competing interpretations of a particular film.

iii) However, you, Jerry, and some other Arminians (e.g. Roger Olson) have upped the ante. If you say (and this is a stock example which you and Jerry use throughout your book) that the Calvinist God could command people to torture little children for fun, then that’s not like debating the best interpretation of ancient texts.

And your position generates something of a dilemma. For you think a Calvinist should cut you more slack than your own position allows for.

We don’t worship God directly. Rather, mental worship is mediated through our concept of God. Our worshipful attitude is directed at what we believe God to be like.

If you say the Calvinist God could command people to torture little children for fun, and if it turns out that the Calvinist God is real, then were you and Jerry worshiping the one true God?

Notice that I’m not judging your Christian profession from a Calvinist perspective. Rather, I’m judging your Christian profession on your own terms, given how you yourself chose to frame the issue.

Haven’t you burned your bridges? Is the Calvinist God still a viable fallback option for you, given what you’ve said about him?

iii) Finally, one of my basic beefs with freewill theism is how often the freewill theist’s conception of God reduces to a purely theoretical (and ultimately fictitious) intellectual construct. Their starting-point is philosophical anthropology. Specifically: human libertarian freedom. That’s their axiomatic postulate.

They then retroengineer their model of God and providence from that starting-point. They constantly tweak their model of God, adding an attribute here, subtracting an attribute there. Their concept of God is a concept they’ve created through various ad hoc adjustments to make it consistent with philosophical anthropology. Make it all balance out.

Their idea of God is hardly an object of faith or worship. The whole exercise has an air of unreality. A made-up idea of God–like a boy who builds a castle out of LEGO bricks.

I think freewill theists of that variety lack genuine piety or reverence.

Your position is an instance of Ockhamism, in my estimation.

You and Jerry simply redefined Ockhamism in ad hoc fashion. There’s nothing Occamist about saying God doesnt love every sinner. You can try to attack reprobation/limited atonement on other grounds (exegetical, philosophical), but don’t take a historic theological position with an established meaning, unilaterally redefine it, then use it as a term of abuse. That’s simply unethical.

    I meant to say I do not think the God you worship is different from the God I worship.

Sorry to be a pest, but isn’t that ambiguous?

Are you saying Arminians and Calvinists subjectively worship the same God or objectively worship the same God?

For instance, are you saying Calvinists subjectively worship the God of Reformed theism, even though the real God is the God of Arminian theism, and the Arminian God accepts their confused worship as if they were intentionally worshiping the Arminian God?

Since you don’t think the God of Reformed theism actually exists, he can’t be objectively worshiped. There is nothing real that directly corresponds to that idea of God. And when a Calvinist worships God, the mental or psychological object of his worship is his Calvinist concept of God, in distinction to the extramental reality. So how does your position sort out?

I think a function of our being Christians is that, though we can’t both be right about every aspect of soteriology, we worship the same God. Else we wouldn’t both be Christians. None of us has it all figured out, but we needn’t to in order to be reconciled to God. What we agree on is enough for that purpose.

And if you came to the conclusion that the God of Reformed theism was real, what would your reaction be?

I would be sad. :) If God reveals this, I would have no choice to submit to the truth.

I appreciate your charitable spirit, but ultimately I don't want Arminians to treat me more charitably than they treat my God. We should be in solidarity with our God, out of sheer, immeasurable gratitude.

If, say, someone mistreated my mother, I’d rather share her mistreatment than be treated better than my mother. Indeed, it would be unconscionable for me to accept better treatment for myself, but worse treatment for her. If she is mistreated, I’d rather be mistreated with her, than be well-treated.

And it’s far more important to treat God as he deserves. I can’t divvy things up the way you do. That’s too abstract. Christian faith is ultimately about devotion to God. I can’t bifurcate how Arminians regard my God from how they regard me. I don’t wish to. I’d be slapping God in the face to accept that dichotomy. If anything, they should obviously think far less of me than they do of my God.

Christian* unitarianism


        Steve, you seem to have little idea of Christian unitarian theology. If you did, you’d know that we too believe in a self-revealing God, who by his spirit inspired the prophets and apostles, and through them the Bible, and who loved us so much that he sent his only Son as the best and last revelation of him.

But doesn’t Dale classify himself as a “humanitarian unitarian”? Here’s how he defines that category:

Some Christian unitarians past and present define their thesis as the claim that Christ has a human nature but not a divine nature – that is, they define a unitarian has what I have called a humanitarian unitarian (what is nowadays often called a “biblical unitarian”), understood as implying that Jesus existed no earlier than his conception.

So on that definition, in what sense is Jesus God’s “only Son”? Isn’t Dale just playing a shell-game?

Notice, too, that Dale says God sent Jesus, not to save us, but to merely reveal himself to us. Indeed, how could a merely human Jesus save us? How could he even save himself?

A brief history of the conservative movement in America

It has long been understood that there is something peculiar, even paradoxical, about conservatism in America. American conservatism is different from conservatism in other countries, even those countries which were the original source of many other American ideas and ideals, i.e., the countries of Europe. Indeed, the very term “American conservatism” is something of an oxymoron. For most Europeans who came to America, the whole purpose of their difficult and disruptive journey to the New World was not to conserve European institutions but to leave them behind and to create something new, often an entirely new life and even a new identity, for themselves.

In this essay, we will examine how the paradoxes of American conservatism have unfolded and revealed themselves during the period of the last three or four decades. We begin our discussion by noting the three distinct dimensions that have always defined American conservatism. The original and traditional American conservatism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries collapsed in a great debacle during the Great Depression of the 1930s, but this was followed by a creative reinvention of American conservatism during the Great Stagflation of the 1970s. This reinvented conservatism experienced its own debacle during the current Great Recession, which began in 2007 and which continues into the 2010s. We conclude with a review of the current condition of what was once a reinvented, but now seems to be YET another collapsed conservatism, in the light of the elections of 2012. The decisive defeats of the Republican party, particularly in the Presidential and Senatorial elections, have demonstrated that American conservatism will once again have to be reinvented and the Republican party will have to appeal to new constituencies or they, like the Federalists, Whigs, and traditional conservatives before them, will disappear or be eclipsed.

Thomism on the zombie apocalype

Euthyphro’s Dilemma and the Goodness of God

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Have Yourself a Barry Little Christmas

Because It's Christmas


    Steve, you seem to have little idea of Christian unitarian theology. If you did, you’d know that we too believe in a self-revealing God, who by his spirit inspired the prophets and apostles, and through them the Bible, and who loved us so much that he sent his only Son as the best and last revelation of him.

Given the season, his claim raises an intriguing question: How do Christian* unitarians celebrate Christmas? They can’t very well sing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” or other Incarnational Christmas hymns and carols. Well, I suppose they could–with their fingers crossed.

What does their hymnal look like? Is there a Christmas section, or blank pages at that point in the calendar? More likely, a Christian* unitarian hymnal has the Barry Manilow Christmas repertoire:


Jingle Bells

Violets for Your Furs

Happy Holiday

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

My Favorite Things

The Christmas Waltz

I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm

"Christian ufological theology"


Steve, you seem to have little idea of Christian unitarian theology. If you did, you’d know that we too believe in a self-revealing God, who by his spirit inspired the prophets and apostles, and through them the Bible, and who loved us so much that he sent his only Son as the best and last revelation of him.

Dale acts as though you can swap out the key players (redefining the Father, Son, and Spirit), swap in new players, while leaving the Christian story intact.

Now, it’s superficially true that you can change the players while you retain the same basic plot, but the meaning of the story has been radically subverted. The story of salvation is not just a string of bare events, but theologically interpreted events. Dale is acting like a positivist historian.

Take ufology. Following Dale’s lead, we could substitute three aliens for the Trinity. From the mother ship, in high orbit, the alien captain (the alien “Yahweh”) sends an alien “prophet” to earth to prepare humans for an alien “savior”. This could follow the narrative outlines of the OT and NT. Same plot, different players.

Indeed, some science fiction, like the Stargate series, toy with the idea that ancient “gods” are really space aliens masquerading as gods and goddesses. Their “miracles” are simply advanced alien technology.

Moreover, this isn’t just fiction. There are ufologists who really believe that sort of thing.

Clearly, though, this would be a completely different religion. It would only be Christian on the surface.

The Last Adam

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
(Gen 1:26-28)

7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature…17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.
(Gen 2:7,17).

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
    and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.”
(Gen 3:17-19)

3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
    and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
(Ps 8:3-8)

21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
(1 Cor 15:21-28,45-49)

1 Cor 15:24-28 is a popular prooftext for anti-Trinitarians. They quote it to prove the essential subordination of the Son. However, that rips the passage out of context.

In 1 Cor 15, Paul’s discussion is governed by his two-Adams scheme. That’s explicit in vv21-22 as well as vv45-49. And notice how v24 picks right up from v22, via the transitional verse (23).

But over and above that, the two-Adams scheme is implicit in vv24-28, where the discussion is undergirded by reference to Ps 8. Ps 8:5-8 is an interpretive paraphrase of Gen 1:26-28, concerning the creation and dominion of original humanity.

Paul uses the two-Adams scheme to compare and contrast the respective roles of Adam and Christ. That’s the operative framework in 1 Cor 15.

The first Adam was subject to God, as God’s earthly viceroy, but insubordinate. In reversing the Fall, Christ, in his economic role as the last Adam, and the eschatological viceroy, will be subject to God–in contrast to the disobedient first Adam.

So this is not referring to the ontological status of the Son. The Son of God is not an Adamic representative by nature, but by Incarnation and mission. He assumes that office.

The filial subordination in v 28 is economic subordination, which figures in his Adamic role, as the Second Man. It does not and cannot refer to the Son in himself, for the Son qua Son isn’t Adamic–either naturally or federally. Hence, Paul isn’t discussing the status of the Son absolutely, but giving the reader a narrowly-drawn comparison between rebellious Adam and his eschatological counterpart.

The Sun Came Down To Earth

"That which, long ago, the Patriarchs travailed with, the prophets foretold, and the righteous desired to see, has come to pass, and received its completion today: God both was seen upon the earth through flesh and associated with humans. Therefore let us rejoice and be glad, beloved….For consider how great it would be to see the sun, descended from the heavens, running its course upon earth and thence sending forth its rays upon all. And if this happening in the case of the perceptible sun would have astounded all who beheld it – behold consider with me now – how great it is to see the Sun of righteousness sending forth rays from our flesh and illumining our souls." (John Chrysostom, On The Day Of The Birth Of Our Savior Jesus Christ, p. 180 here)

Monday, December 24, 2012

"Ontological subordination"

In recent weeks we have seen so called Reformed apologists deny the eternal generation of the Son, deny the subordination of the Son to the Father and belligerently affirm that John 14:28 merely asserts a functional subordination to the Father in the economia. This interpretation is a complete innovation and has no historical credibility, except for an ambiguity in Basil the Great.[1] Here then I catalog a series of Early Fathers on the interpretation of John 14:28 affirming an ontological subordination that pertains not to a denial of homoousios but an affirmation of the Father’s hypostatic Monarchy and the Son’s subordination to the Father as his source and origin.

i) Quoting some church fathers, even if they happen to agree with him, is a fallacious argument from authority. The church fathers were just some Christian writers who lived a long time ago. Their opinions merit no special deference. The fact that they believe something doesn’t make it true or probably true. Their opinions are only as good as their supporting arguments.

Drake is play-acting. This is the behavior of someone who’s so consumed by the role he’s playing that he resorts to patently fallacious arguments

It’s also amusing to see a defender of Samuel Clarke feign to be the champion of historical orthodoxy.

ii) Did I “belligerently affirm” a particular interpretation of Jn 14:28. No, I merely posted, without comment, some exegesis of that verse by Herman Ridderbos. Notice that Drake does nothing to disprove the interpretation.

iii) Finally, Drake is no expert on historical theology. For instance, William Cunningham, even though he himself defends the eternal generation of the Son, goes on to say:

The use of the word subordination, however, even when thus explained and limited, has been generally avoided by orthodox writers, as fitted to suggest ideas inconsistent with true and proper divinity, and to give a handle to the Arians. Historical Theology 1:296.

Spiration and filiation

i) One of the traditional motivations for the monarchy of the Father is to supply a unifying principle for the Trinity. This supposedly safeguards monotheism against tritheism. On this view, the Trinity is still one God because the members of the Trinity share the same nature.

One reason the Eastern Orthodox reject double procession (i.e. the filioque clause in Latin/Western editions of the Nicene creed) is that this introduces two constitutive principles into the Trinity, for the Spirit is said to derive from both the Father and the Son. If the Trinity has one than one constitutive principle (i.e. the monarchy of the Father), the result is polytheistic. Or so goes the argument.

ii) On a related note, the eternal generation of the Son and the eternal procession of the Spirit are treated as individuating principlesto distinguish the three persons. Two take two classic formulations:

The Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son (WCF 2.3)

Q. 10. What are the personal properties of the three persons in the Godhead?
A. It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father, and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity (WLC Q/A 10)

It’s striking that the Westminster standards rubberstamp the Nicene formulations at this juncture, despite Calvin’s reservations.

iii) There are, however, some obvious problems with the Nicene argument. To say the Father filiates the Son and spirates the Spirit has no explanatory value, for the claim is, at best, tautologous. All we’ve done is to recast a noun as a verb. This is somewhat obscured by the fact that English sometimes mixes Germanic nouns with Latin verbs. Let’s use the same language for both:

The Father filiates the filius and spirates the spiritus.

Does that explain anything? No. The verb doesn’t add anything to the concept. For the verb belongs to the same word-group as the noun. If you know what the noun means, you know what the verb means, but the verbal description doesn’t contribute anything new to your prior understanding.

It’s like saying a flower flowers, a light lights, or water waters. That doesn’t advance our understanding of the process, for the definition is circular. It leaves us where we started.

So it has no explanatory power. It’s just a pun or play on words. A purely linguistic analogy.

iv) Of course, Nicene proponents to attempt to define generation/filiation and procession/spiration by saying this means the Father conveys his nature, essence, or substance to the Son and Spirit. However, there are problems with that definition:

v) How do they derive “communication of essence” from the concept of filiation? Even if it’s true that when a man begets a son, he conveys his nature to the son, we’re working off a biological metaphor. For it’s also true that when a man begets a son, he impregnates a woman. That’s a necessary element of the same process. So how do Nicene proponents decide which aspects of the metaphor to apply to the Son? How do they determine what’s analogous and what’s disanalogous? To seize on “communication of essence” is arbitrary. The metaphor itself doesn’t single out that particular aspect.

vi) However, let’s grant the conceptual derivation in the case of filiation. By what argument do Nicene advocates derive the same concept from procession or spiration?

Even if a man conveys his essence by begetting, does he convey his essence by exhaling? How do you derive the concept of communicating one’s essence from the concept of procession or spiration?

Is this supposed to be an argument from analogy, in which we  spiration is comparable to filiation? But if it’s an argument from analogy, why define spiration by reference to filiation rather than vice versa?

vii) Roger Beckwith says eternal spiration is

…symbolised, when he proceeds from Christ, by human breath (John 20:22). This is perhaps as near as we can get to a conception of the eternal procession of the Spirit, and if so it is a personal activity… if the very name of the ‘Spirit’ implies being breathed out, as seems probable (Job 27:3; 33:4; Ezek. 37:5f., 14), the idea of proceeding from God is essential to his nature,” R. Beckwith, “The Calvinist Doctrine of the Trinity.” 

But why assume the Spirit is named the “Spirit” (breath, wind) to denote the effect of a process? Surely pneuma and ruach have wider connotations. The Spirit might be called “spirit” because he is invisible. Intangible. A discarnate agent.

Or he might be called “spirit” because he’s the source of life, like the breath of life. Not the effect of respiration, but the cause of respiration.

God animated Adam by breathing life into him (Gen 2:7). Conversely, to die is to expire. The Spirit reanimates the dead (Ezk 37:1-14). Divine CPR.

Or he might be called  “spirit” because, like the wind, he is powerful, unpredictable, untamable (cf. Jn 3:8). Or because he’s both creative and destructive (Cf. Gen 1:2; Ps 104:30; Isa 40:7).

Or he might be called “spirit” to evoke the spoken word. Speech. He inspires the prophets.

Or he might be called “spirit” on analogy with the human soul (1 Cor 2:10-11).

Indeed, it’s likely that Scripture is exploiting all these polyvalent connotations of pneuma or ruach. It’s a very flexible metaphor.

viii) Finally, how does communication of essence differentiate the Son from the Spirit if the same essence is communicated to both? If you define generation and procession both in terms of communicating the Father’s essence, then it’s the same process. How can the same process yield different results?

And even if you say generation and procession represent different processes, if the same essence is conveyed to both the Son and the Spirit, how does the process have any differential effect? So the Nicene argument fails on its own grounds.

Keep in mind, too, that the Nicene argument has spiraled into extrascriptural speculation. It’s not as if the Bible commits us to these speculations.