Saturday, February 02, 2013

Extraordinary E.T.s require extraordinary evidence

Atheists raise three objections to the argument from religious experience:

1. The Logical Gap Objection: We have to distinguish the experience and the subjective conviction it produces from the objectivity (or veridicality) of the experience, for example, a very “real” hallucination or dream is a live possibility. The critics, such as Antony Flew and Alasdair MacIntyre,20 admit that religious experiences often produce subjective certitude in the subjects. However, it does not follow that the experience is objectively certain. In other words, there is a logical gap between the psychological data and the ontological claim of the religious experiences. To bridge the gap, we need independent certification of the religious belief. For example, Flew challenges the defenders of religious experiences to answer this basic question: How and when would we be justified in making inferences from the facts of the occurrence of religious experience, considered as a purely psychological phenomenon, to conclusions about the supposed objective religious truths?21

2. The Theory-Ladenness Objection: The religious experiences are heavily (or even entirely) shaped by the conceptual framework of the experients. Hence they are not useful as evidence for ontological claims.22

3. The Privacy Objection: According to Rem Edwards, “the foremost accusation leveled at the mystics is that mystical experiences are private, like hallucinations, illusions, and dreams, and that like these ‘nonveridical’ experiences, religious experience is really of no noetic significance at all.”23

Kai-man Kwan “Can Religious Experience Provide Justification for the Belief in God? The Debate in Contemporary Analytic Philosophy,” Philosophy Compass1/6 (2006).

Carl Sagan was famous for his deceptively simple adage that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” However, Sagan was also deeply invested in the quest for E.T.s. One reflection of that quest was his promotion of S.E.T.I.

But he also wrote a novel which was later turned into a movie: Contact. Here’s a summary of the novel’s climactic scene:

The Machine is activated, and the five of them are shot into a wormhole. They are shot in a kind of cosmic mass transit system, viewing all sorts of star systems (one of which is Vega) and end near the center of the galaxy, where a large docking station awaits.

The five envoys to the galaxy find themselves on what appears to be an Earth beach. While the others explore, Ellie stays behind on the beach. Waiting for a welcome from the extraterrestrials, she instead receives a welcome from someone in her childhood: her father, Theodore. Only it is not her father, but one of the intelligent beings who is hoping to make Ellie at ease. Ellie asks as many questions of the alien as she can, and discovers that there is a long-lost species who has created the tunnels she and her companions traveled through, as well as the strong possibility of a Creator of the universe. Ellie's father suggests that she look at the number pi for a signature.

When the five ambassadors to space return, they are told that they went nowhere and were only out of contact for about twenty seconds. They claim that they have been gone for about eighteen hours, but they have no evidence, as Ellie's camera has recorded only silence. Ellie is accused first of delusions, but later of helping to perpetrate a hoax. She is unable to prove her story, and thus many people are unconvinced. However, there are still many who believe her, including Palmer Joss. There is one bit of evidence to back Eleanor's story up: her camera may have only recorded static, but it recorded eighteen hours of static, not twenty seconds.

What’s striking about this is how Ellie’s first contact parallels the argument from religious experience. It falls prey to the same secular objections. 

1. The Logical Gap Objection: We must distinguish the ostensible experience and the subjective conviction it produces from the objectivity (or veridicality) of the experience, for example, a very “real” hallucination or dream is a live possibility. Ellie’s experience produced subjective certitude in the reality of first contact. However, it does not follow that the experience is objectively certain. In other words, there is a logical gap between the psychological data and the ontological claim of first contact. To bridge the gap, we need independent confirmation of the E.T. belief. Unfortunately for her, Ellie’s camera didn’t record the alleged encounter. It only recorded static. Moreover, by objective metrics, she was only incommunicado for 20 seconds–far shorter than the duration of the alleged encounter. How would Ellie be justified in making inferences from the facts of the occurrence of E.T experience, considered as a purely psychological phenomenon, to conclusions about the supposed objective existence of E.T.s? Much less how would second parties be justified in drawing that inference?

2. The Theory-Ladenness Objection: The ostensible first contact experience was entirely shaped by the conceptual framework of the alleged alien: an earthly beach, Ellie’s father. Hence this isn’t useful as evidence for ontological claims about E.T.s.

3. The Privacy Objection: Since Ellie’s camera only recorded static, all we have to go by is her private recollection of the ostensible encounter. But that makes it indistinguishable from other inveridical experiences, like hallucinations, illusions, and dreams. Hence her first contact experience is really of no noetic significance at all.

Although the example is fictitious, this is Sagan’s own example. Does Sagan think the character of Ellie was justified in believing that she made first contact with real E.T.s? Does Sagan think readers of his novel or viewers of the cinematic adaptation should conclude that Ellie was justified in her belief? Is the narrative viewpoint of his novel consonant with his rules of evidence in assessing religious claims?

NDEs and the argument from religious experience

I’m going to discuss some objections to NDEs (and OBEs). 

I. Theological objections
i) One objection is that it’s illegitimate to use extrabiblical information to make a case for postmortem survival.

In response, I’d say that depends.

a) It would be improper to cultivate NDE or OBE type experiences as a way of discovering the reality of an afterlife. That’s like dabbling in the occult.

On the other hand, if an unsolicited experience simply happens to you, there’s nothing wrong with assessing the evidential value, if any, or logical implications, if any, of your experience. Same thing with evaluating the reported experience of others.

b) We rely on extrabiblical information for many things we believe in. We also use extrabiblical information to help interpret the Bible or to defend the Bible. Although justified belief in Scripture is not dependent on corroborative evidence, God made the world as well as the Word. Providence is a divine source of information. The world is a divinely created object of knowledge. History is a divinely guided object of knowledge.

It would be wrong to test biblical claims by other sources of information, but we can supplement our knowledge from other sources, as long as Scripture remains the standard.

ii) Another objection is that the content of reported NDEs (and OBEs) is sometimes unorthodox. I’ll have more to say about that momentarily, but for now I’d like to draw a quick distinction:

a) If the Bible teaches dualism, if the Bible teaches the survival of consciousness (i.e. the intermediate state), then we’d expect “decedents” to have a postmortem experience. When they “die,” it doesn’t go black. When they “die,” their mind (soul, consciousness) is detached from the body. Their experience is no longer filtered through their body.

Seems to me that Christian anthropology predicts for something like NDEs or OBEs when the conditions are right. When patients talk about “popping out” of their bodies, isn’t that consistent with traditional Christian anthropology? Indeed, isn’t that implicit in traditional Christian anthropology?

b) That’s distinct from what specifically they saw or heard, thought they saw or heard, or say they saw or heard.

c) I’ve put some terms in scare quotes, for we’re dealing with borderline conditions. Technical, medical definitions of “death.”

There’s nothing in Christian anthropology that precludes resuscitation.  Christian anthropology doesn’t say you can’t temporarily “die,” and be resuscitated a few minutes later. There may well be a transitional stage between expiration and the afterlife, before the vital organs become too damaged, where it’s possible to go either way. Before death becomes irreversible. And in that state, it may be possible to perceive both worlds. I don’t see that Scripture rules that out.

In fact, Scripture itself records some miraculous resuscitations (e.g. 1 Kgs 17:17-21; 2 Kgs 4:18-35; Mt 9:18-25; Acts 20:9-10). This suggests that, to some degree, life and death lie along a continuum. Depending on how long they were dead and the degree of necrosis, miraculous resuscitation would involve healing the body as well as reuniting body and soul.

By the same token, it may be that up to a certain point, medical science can revive people who, in the past, could only be resuscitated by a miracle. Of course, someone like Lazarus would fall beyond the threshold of medical resuscitation.

Likewise, visionary revelation is sometimes depicted in OBE terms. That sensation may be phenomenological, or it may be metaphysical. We can’t rule out the latter.

II. Philosophical objections

Philosophical objections to NDEs and OBEs parallel philosophical objections to the argument from religious experience. These are summarized by Kai-Man Kwan. Cf. “The argument from religious experience,” The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, W. L. Craig & J. P. Moreland, eds. (Wiley-Blackwell 2012), 503-07. I’m going to adapt those objections to NDEs and OBEs, then respond:

i) There’s a logical gap between an objective experience and the subjective conviction that produces. Take a hallucination. So we need independent corroboration to prove that our psychological experience (e.g. NDE or OBE) corresponds to an extramental reality. Put another way, we need that external check to establish the veridicality of the NDE or OBE.

But that argument either proves too much or too little. For that parallels sensory perception. There’s a logical gap between what we perceive, and what there is. Take a hallucination.

ii) There’s the theory-ladenness objection. How subjects interpret their NDEs or OBEs is, to some extent, culturally conditioned by their varied religious background, or lack thereof. So the experience lacks objective content.

But that argument either proves too much or too little. Once again, sensory perception is also theory-laden. To take some examples:

a) If I see the back of somebody’s head, I infer that that’s a human being. I assume the person has a face. A front, as well as a back, although I can only see them from behind. Of course, it could be a cardboard cutout.

b) I’ve read that when “primitive” jungle tribes are shown photographs for the first time, they can’t recognize what those 2D images stand for. When we look at photographs, we perceive more than we see. We perceive 3D objects. We subconsciously grasp the representational character of the images. 

c) Suppose I hear four successive tones. I look around for the source of the tones. I see a clock tower. I conclude that it’s four o’clock.

I didn’t see the tones emitted from the clock tower. The tones are invisible. I didn’t even hear the tones coming directly from the clock tower. It’s not like there’s a series of dots leading straight from the clock tower to my ear. My hearing is more diffuse.

Rather, I associate the tones with the clock tower. I know from experience that it’s the only object in the vicinity which could produce that sound.

Likewise, I didn’t actually hear the clock strike four o’clock. All I really heard was one tone after another. Four tones in a row.

But I’ve conditioned to interpret that as code language for the time of day. If you didn’t belong to a culture with grandfather clocks, and other suchlike, you wouldn’t perceive the same auditory event.

Although NDEs and OBEs are theory-laden, so is ordinary sensory perception. We’re so used to unconsciously interpreting sensory input that we’re generally unaware of how much our conceptual framework is constructing what we perceive.

d) By analogy, NDEs and OBEs could be objective events, even though the experience is in some measure observer-relative. The perception could be unorthodox even though the core experience is orthodox. A misimpression.

iii) There’s the privacy objection. Like dreams and hallucinations, NDEs and OBEs reflect privileged access. An outside observer isn’t privy to your reported experience.

But this argument either proves too much or too little. To paraphrase Kwan:

In what sense is a sensory experience public? My experience of a chair occurs essentially in my mind–it is every bit as private as other experiences in this aspect. I cannot directly experience how you experience the chair and vice versa. What makes a sensory experience public is that verbal reports of different persons can be compared. However, reported NDEs and OBEs can also be compared.

Dr Robert Godfrey: The Inventions of Roman Catholicism

I was suprised at the not-so-kind, but honest language he uses throughout. There's about 11 minutes of video here:

“Comments Unapproved”

This is a public service announcement on behalf of our would-be Christian brethren at Called to Communion:

They asked, and they asked, and they even lectured me in a mighty firm way.

However, insofar as your responses are tangential to the original post, they will not be approved.

Even in the event that the analysis you provide of what is, in history, the only ex cathedra, papally-defined instance of “divine revelation” vis-à-vis the Protestant’s mere human opinion.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Pet mania

Philosophical Myths of the Fall,

Gun Clubs at School

Hindsight masquerading as foresight

Chafer DTS

I was taught by Reformed mentors in the faith to follow the literal grammatical historical method of interpretation of Scripture. I follow this through out the entire Bible or I try to. :) We cannot invent one line of interpretation for one part of Scripture to use and then change to a different one when it comes to the area of Bible prophecy. Otherwise the Bible can be turned to mean anything from a subjective standpoint. Those who deny Ezek 40 to 48 is a future temple with animal sacrifices basically violate the principle of the historical context of which that was written. People who first read this would have understood it as a future actual temple with animal sacrifices if we follow the historical context. If we followed your manner if it a person would never really know what Ezek 40 to 48 is teaching at all and left to the subjective perspective of the person rather than from an exegesis of it. When we formulate positions of passages it must be backed up by proper exposition or exegesis of Scripture otherwise we end up forcing ones own theological mode in to Scripture rather than drawing it from Scripture itself. That’s a real danger all too often found in cults like Jehovah Witnesses like what they do in their translation of John 1:1 as an example. We all should avoid falling in to one error such as the late Dr. George Ladd who claimed that Isa. 53 in it's historical context was NOT a prophecy of Jesus Christ and was made in to one by the New Testament as an example of one wants to claim the NT is the interpreter of the OT or supreme over it or even reinterprets the OT. Yet the OT and NT are equally Scripture and of equal authority one another.

You’re ironically unaware of how much you yourself are viewing Ezk 40-48 through the prism of the NT and your own position in church history. You know more than you’re supposed to know, if you’re hermeneutically consistent. Hindsight masquerading as foresight.

Try this thought-experiment. Put yourself in the situation of a Jewish exile in 6C BC Babylon. Imagine if you all you had to go by was Ezekiel, plus the OT canon up to that point. You didn’t have the NT. And you didn’t have any postexilic scriptures.

Based on that frame of reference, how would you conclude that this refers to a temple that won’t be built for at least 2500 years, during the church age, in-between the binding and loosing of Satan?

Feel free to show me how you derive that interpretation from the historical context, given the historical horizon of the original audience.


The Deeper Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: We Are Not Allowed to Use It
January 25, 2013 By peteenns

The real scandal of the Evangelical mind is that we are not allowed to use it.

Calling for Evangelical involvement in public academic discourse is useless if trained Evangelicals are legitimately afraid of what will happen to them if they do.

A more basic need is the creation of an Evangelical culture where the exercise of the Evangelical mind is expected and encouraged.

But, with few exceptions, that culture does not exist. The scandal of the Evangelical mind is that degrees, books, papers, and other marks of prestige are valued–provided you come to predetermined conclusions.

Biblical scholarship is the recurring focal point of this type of scandal.

*Sure, dig into evolution and the ancient context of Genesis, but by golly you’d better give me an Adam when you’re done.

*Knock yourself out with scholarship on the Pentateuch, but make sure at the end of it all you affirm that Moses basically wrote it.

*Be part of cutting edge archaeological studies, but when you’re done we want to see you affirm the historicity of the exodus and conquest of Canaan pretty much as the Bible describes them, regardless of what others say.

*Do whatever work you need to do, but when the dust settles, explain how your conclusions fit with inerrancy.

The scandal of the Evangelical mind is that doctrine determines academic conclusions.

Behind all this is a deeper problem. Evangelicalism is not fundamentally an intellectual organism but an apologetic one. It did not come to be in order to inspire academic exploration but to maintain certain theological distinctives by intellectual means. These intellectual means are circumscribed by Evangelical dogma, though avoiding Fundamentalist anti-intellectualism.

As an intellectual phenomenon, the Evangelical experiment is a defensive movement.

i) Of course, this is a pep rally for fans who already agree with Enns. It’s funny how blinkered he is. It’s trivially easy to reverse his one-sided examples:

*Sure, dig into fiat creationism, progressive creationism, and intelligent design theory, but by golly you’d better reaffirm naturalistic macroevolution when you’re done.

*Knock yourself out with scholarship defending miracles, but make sure at the end of it all you affirm methodological naturalism.

*Study Biblical archaeology, but when you’re done we want to see you deny the historicity of the exodus and conquest of Canaan pretty much as the Bible describes them, regardless of arguments to the contrary.

*Read the best defenses of inerrancy, but when the dust settles, make sure your conclusions repudiate inerrancy. 

Underlying Enns’s argument is the principle that when we investigate different viewpoints, we should be open to adopting the viewpoints we investigate. Let’s apply that principle to some hypothetical cases:

If a Christian missionary studies the Neonazi movement so that he will be better equipped to evangelize skinheads, should he be open-minded about Nazi ideology?

If a Christian studies the Church of Scientology to critique the movement, should he be open-minded about L. Ron Hubbard’s beliefs?

Does Enns take the position that we should have no nonnegotiable theological, philosophical, and ethical precommitments? Does he think all our beliefs should be freely adjustable variables? Should we have no fixed point of reference? Go with the flow, whether upstream or downstream?

Is it asking too much that a Christians be…Christian?

Confessional and nondenominational seminaries

Should seminaries be confessional or nondenominational? By “confessional,” I mean seminaries like Westminster Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Moore Theological College, Asbury, and Concordia. By “nondenominational,” I mean seminaries like Gordon-Conwell and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. 

Put another way, by “confessional,” I mean seminaries that adhere to a particular theological tradition, whereas nondenominational seminaries have faculty representing more than one theological tradition. Of course, where “confessional” seminaries draw the lines is, itself, variable. Some confessional seminaries require tighter packages than others.

I think it’s good to have a mix of both. Each has upsides and downsides.

A danger of nondenominational seminaries, if that’s all we had, is theological relativism. The view that, within a certain spectrum, different theological positions are equally valid.

A strength of confessional seminaries is the presentation of a clear-cut theological alternative. The edges haven’t been worn off by ecumenical compromise.

However, that advantage is offset by potential weaknesses. For one thing, confessional seminaries present their own tradition in the best possible light, while presenting theological alternatives in the worst possible light. If a student is seeing his theological tradition entirely through the sympathetic eyes of its proponents, while relying entirely on hostile sources for his knowledge of the alternatives, that can leave him totally unprepared when he moves out of the artificially controlled environment of the confessional seminary. He’s heard the weakest objections to his own position, and the weakest arguments for the opposing position.

On the one hand, he may find his position confronted with tougher objections that he was exposed to in school. On the other hand, he may be given better reasons for a theological alternative than he was exposed to in school. Suddenly he’s facing stronger arguments against his own position, as well as stronger arguments for the opposing position.

Another potential danger of confessional seminaries is that theological traditions can become so ingrown that adherents lose the capacity to assume the opposing viewpoint even for the sake of argument. You can end up with incommensurable paradigms, where rival adherents can’t even understand what the other side is saying. They are so conditioned by the hermeneutical lens of their particular tradition that they lack the critical detachment to remove that lens and try another lens. They don’t simply reject an alternative interpretation. They find it incomprehensible. They can’t put themselves in that mindset.

That’s ironic because, in order to defend your position, you need to project yourself into the opposing position and see it from the inside out. You’re doing a disservice to the very position you defend, if you can’t temporarily step outside that position to view it through the eyes of its opponents.

So confessional and nondenominational seminaries complement each other. If an amil and a premil share the same office, if an Arminian and a Calvinist share the same office, it’s harder to caricature each other’s positions. You get the best arguments and counterarguments straight from the horse’s mouth. You’re not uninformed or unprepared. That’s the benefit of nondenominational seminaries.

However, because humans are social creatures, diplomatic pressure to get along can result in a disinclination to present a vigorous challenge, or take each position to its logical extreme.

Kafka in New York

I never watched Seinfeld. To judge by trailers, as well as what I read at the time, it seemed to be a vacuous sitcom with a very Jewish, New Yorker vibe. That’s not a world I relate to.

However, it was a cultural phenomenon. More to the point, unlike the glib, happy-face atheism we often encounter, it reflects the cynical, absurdist outlook of a secular Jew.

Beneath the surface, Seinfeld says, much of his act concerns “the pointlessness of life itself. I’ve got jokes where I’m saying your life sucks, your possessions are garbage, you’re not important.” Larry David, to whom Seinfeld remains close, told me, “Jerry doesn’t get enough credit for his misanthropy — it’s why we get along so well.” In a new bit, Seinfeld likens a man to a balloon. At the outset of a romantic relationship, the balloon is buoyant and beautiful and “the woman holds on tight” for fear he’ll fly away. Flash forward, and the balloon’s doddering around, off in a corner somewhere, low to the floor, pathetically unable to “even lift up its own string.” It’s as elegantly crushing a joke about human decay and dashed hopes as has been told.

In conversation, Seinfeld describes an offstage “tendency toward depression,” accompanied by a lifelong spiritual yearning. “There’s always something missing,” he said. He has dabbled in Zen Buddhism (“I love the word games, the koans”), Scientology (“I took a couple classes in 1976”) and transcendental meditation. He still identifies as Jewish. “I was very flattered recently to hear about a Nazi rally in Florida where they took DVDs of the show, sprayed swastikas on them and threw them through the windows of a synagogue,” he said. “That was nice.”

He alluded to romantic dissatisfaction as something that used to depress him. On the sitcom, Seinfeld’s life was a carousel of beautiful women. “Was that my actual life at the time?” he asks. “Probably.” He remained single until he was 45, and in his act today he notes that he clearly had “some issues.” After having kids, he told me, he realized “there was this whole other quadrant of my brain lying there dormant. Kids give you something. If it wasn’t for my kids, I’m pretty much done with living. I could kill myself. Now there’s something else to live for.”

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now you borrowed your title, Shows About Nothing from the oft-quoted description of Seinfeld, so then is Seinfeld a nihilist sit-com?

THOMAS HIBBS: Yes, I think so. The humor often hinged upon the sort of pointlessness of, of the lives of these characters, the way in which they saw no ultimate purpose to their life - no way in which relationships, for example, especially marriage, could ever be possible for these characters because they had no larger vision of themselves apart from momentary preferences. [SEINFELD MUSICAL PHRASE]

JERRY: So Puddy wears a man fur?! [LAUGHTER]

ELAINE: He was strutting around the coffee shop like Stein Ericson! [LAUGHTER]

JERRY: And of course you find fur morally reprehensible.

ELAINE: Ah, anti-fur -- who has the energy any more? [LAUGHTER]

THOMAS HIBBS: If there is a best way of life in a nihilistic world, Jerry seems to have it, because Jerry seems able to live with few exceptions in a very detached way so that he never invests anything emotionally in any other person, and of course his hu--sense of humor which is a way - a kind of detached irony that mocks even the, the deepest sorts of human longing for love. I mean there were shows where they made fun of Schindler's List, made fun of AIDS Walks, I mean all - abortion - euthanasia -all the big debates in our society are satirized on that show in a way that - that enables Jerry to remain detached and sort of free from any connection to anyone, and I think in a world where there is no purpose or meaning, Jerry's way of going through life represents wisdom if there is such a thing in that context.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: But Mr. Hibbs, the characters in Seinfeld often get their comeuppance through fate-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]


BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- fateful coincidences and doesn't that suggest that there's a divine plan at work in the cosmos?

THOMAS HIBBS:You know if there is a divine plan in Seinfeld, it's a very dark one. When they're about to have the-- their pilot accepted at one point, George is worried the whole show about a, a discoloration on his lip, and, and he says I knew this would happen; I knew God wouldn't have let me enjoy my success, and Jerry says to him I thought you didn't believe in God. George says for the bad things I do. Say the episode where Kramer decides to go on the AIDS Walk for example, doing good, and yet he's beaten by the AIDS walkers because he fails to wear the AIDS ribbon, so that in this world it doesn't seem to matter whether you do good or whether you do bad, in the end your desires are always frustrated, so it seems to me that - it might be justice in the sense that not even the bad get away with anything but the good is never rewarded on the show either.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: What has to be present or missing from a movie or a TV show in order for it to be nihilist?

THOMAS HIBBS:Well I think for it to be fully nihilist in the way I'm suggesting that Seinfeld is, even the quest for happiness and justice and truth and beauty, friendship, love, all those great ideals inspiring the American regime from way back when, all of those things are mocked and seen as pointless.

There's one comparison to Seinfeld that, to my recollection at least, has surprisingly never been made. I would argue that Seinfeld may have been the most Kafkaesque show on television, or at least the most Kafkaesque sitcom, sharing a lot of the same themes and obsessions as the famous writer from Prague.

Kafka deals with the themes of alienation, the strange paradoxical freedom and terror that come with being an outsider, and the ineffectualness and mundane evil of bureaucracy. To me, this is just a roundabout and pretentious way of describing George Costanza arguing with a mechanic over whether or not he's eaten a Twix bar, and then being drawn into what may or may not be a menacing conspiracy against him at a car dealership. Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer deal with these themes in almost every episode. The voice of the comedian is the voice of the outsider, and the gang spends most of their time questioning social norms that they don't understand but are forced to deal with on a daily basis.

The show is bursting with examples. In “The Little Jerry,” Jerry writes a bad check at a bodega. The store owner posts the check on the wall as a way to teach Jerry a lesson. After Jerry repays him, the store owner refuses to take down the bad check, claiming, “It's store policy.” When Jerry tells him, “But it's your bodega,” he replies, “Even I am not above the policy,” a dialogue that wouldn't seem out of place in The Castle. Then there's “The Chinese Restaurant,” in which the characters are denied access to a table for no reason they can discern, waiting half an hour in real time. Or the Dragnet-inspired, officious library cop from “The Library.” And of course, “The Soup Nazi,” who's confusing and authoritarian policies lead to George's banishment.

Kafka's protagonists are reactors. They are passive characters who pushed into absurd situations beyond their control. And then there's the characters' “casual acceptance of the surreal,” a phrase I once read somewhere but cannot find the source. Upon realizing that their son has been transformed into a monstrous vermin in his sleep or finding themselves trapped in a nightmarish mansion, Kafka's characters respond with confusion, but not the level of confusion that seems appropriate, instead adapting smoothly to the dream logic the stories follow. The same way that Jerry reacts with a shrug, maybe furrowing his brow, when he walks into his apartment to find Kramer making sausages or learning that Kramer has decorated his own apartment with the abandoned set of The Merv Griffin Show.

And then there's what may be the most obvious connection: Seinfeld's finale and Kafka's most famous novel, The Trial. The novel begins with Josef K. waking up only to discover that he is under arrest. The rest of the novel chronicles his confusion as he deals with the court's bureaucracy and futile attempts to learn what he's being accused of. Josef K. may or may not be guilty, and he's sentenced without ever learning. In a strange coincidence, it's also the only Kafka novel to have an ending. (All three of his novels were unfinished when he died. The Trial includes a final chapter, although it is missing a few of the chapters right before it.) Seinfeld's finale begins with the gang watching a robbery and not helping the victim (played by comedian John Pinette). They are arrested on a technicality, a recently passed Good Samaritan law, and are put on trial (and ultimately found guilty) not for doing something, but for doing nothing.

The main characters on Seinfeld are ruled by their passions, he notes. Their obsessions are revealed always to be arbitrary and irrational and the Seinfeld universe is ruled by chance. The four main characters consistently find their plans rewarded or thwarted not by their own actions but by circumstance. For instance, in one episode, Kramer goes to California and meets a girl. Unfortunately for him she is murdered by a serial killer, and he is blamed for the crime. "Luckily, so to speak, there is another murder while he is in jail," Hibbs writes. The precariousness of one's present choices divests the ultimate issues of all significance, Hibbs writes.

Most Seinfeld episodes turn on questions of social protocol, not on moral issues. When someone does take a moral stand, it is ultimately revealed to be mere posturing. In one episode, a loud argument breaks out over the issue of abortion. Just a little while later, another loud argument starts over when a pizza becomes a pizza. "Pizza, abortion--it's all the same," Hibbs says. Moreover, the rules of etiquette are also revealed to be arbitrary and meaningless. Instead of the nihilistic era eliminating rules, initiating a lapse into a kind of anarchy, there is a medley of rules with no clear relationship to one another, Hibbs writes.

Most famously, the central characters in Seinfeld never learn from their mistakes, never grow. The final episode ends with the same conversation that began the series. Seinfeld treats the aspiration for transcendence, for permanence or wholeness, as misguided, Hibbs says. There is nothing but banal repetition and the experience of eternal recurrence as unending frustration. Jerry Seinfeld, the character, is Nietzsche's Last Man. He looks into the void and shrugs.

More About The Shroud Of Turin

It's highly probable that the Shroud of Turin is one of Jesus' burial cloths. And the image on the shroud most likely was produced by Jesus' resurrection. For those who are interested, you can search the archives of this blog for past threads in which I've argued for those conclusions.

One of the best web resources on the Shroud is Dan Porter's blog. I'll give a few examples.

Here's a post from last fall featuring a video by Thomas de Wesselow. De Wesselow is a medieval art historian. Though he's an agnostic, he acknowledges that the Shroud is one of Jesus' burial cloths. In the video mentioned above, he explains how the Shroud differs from depictions of Jesus in medieval artwork and is unlikely to be the product of a medieval forger.

Here's a thread discussing the implausibility of attributing the Shroud to medieval forgery. Especially note the posts by Yannick Clement in the comments section of the thread.

Here's a thread about a recent presentation on the Shroud by Eric Jumper. He was co-director of the 1978 STURP scientific examination of the Shroud. He's currently a professor at Notre Dame, in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. He rejected the authenticity of the Shroud after the 1988 carbon dating. Since then, he's become more skeptical of the carbon dating and more open to the authenticity of the Shroud.

Called Out Of Confusion

I received this unsolicited email yesterday:

Hi John,

You don't know me, but I wanted to thank you for the work you are doing on Triablogue and in comment boxes on various reformed blogs across the internet.

If you don't mind, I'd like to try to encourage you and share what a positive impact your writing has had on me over the past few months.

I'm almost 30, with a wife and two small children. I grew up in a pretty solid evangelical church, but didn't receive very good theological teaching partially because the emphasis of the church was on theological diversity, and partially because my parents were still pretty new believers when I was born and didn't have solid Christian family backgrounds growing up. When I was 15 I encountered Reformed theology for the first time at the Christian school I attended thanks to a Bible teacher and a friend whose father was a PCA pastor. I immediately saw the truth of it, and have considered myself reformed since then.

Fast forward 15 years to last summer and I found myself confronting the possible failure of my software start-up business and I was looking for surety of God's providence really for the first time in my life. The Bible teacher who helped introduce me to Reformed theology was a Presbyterian minister now, and still a friend, but was being "seduced" by the Called to Communion site, and kept sending me links and books. Having never encountered RC apologetics arguments, my wife (who had grown up PCA) and I became very disheveled and confused. The early church writings are a very disturbing thing to encounter if you've never had any exposure to them and if you've spent your whole life as an "evangellyfish". I started getting sucked down the rabbit hole -- all of the arguments "made sense", somehow. I remember the moment that my wife and I were contemplating attending a mass to see what it was like, and we were on the verge of leaving the house to do so in about 15 minutes, when the Holy Spirit arrested me and I became physically ill with the thought of it. I immediately began reading the copy of Calvin's Institutes that had been sitting on my shelf, unread, and came across various church father quotes that I had never encountered and couldn't find English translations for. I started piecing together an amateur translation from Latin and realized that those guys at Catholic Answers and CtC seemed to be guilty of cherry-picking and prooftexting to the nth degree. Then I came across Triablogue and Reformation500 and /devoured/ the content, and it helped bring about a robust restoration my faith in the True Gospel and dispelled the doubts that had been planted by the kind of people at CtC. Many of your articles played a significant role in helping bring me back from the brink, and I am very grateful for your research, experience and insight.

Keep up the good work!

Moving out of Roman Catholicism is a process – it took me years. The question in my mind was always, “what if they’re right?”

Those are the kinds of doubts that Rome plants in you [which are amplified, in a strange sort of way, by the Called-to-Communion crowd]. The main doubt they put forward is, “has God really said …?” They question your ability to trust God in the Bible.

The thing that people forget when they become involved with Roman claims, is that Rome has had centuries to put together a story that coheres with itself.

This writer, in mentioning the “cherry-picking and prooftexting to the nth degree”, did correctly identify Rome’s method – “The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic” – evidenced by the Medieval practice of florilegia, which actually were books, or lists of patristics citations. The one whose list of citations was more authoritative carried the day.

The Medieval Historian Jacques Le Goff describes this practice:

Some of the sureties were especially favoured and referred to as ‘authorities’. Obviously it was in theology, the highest branch of learning, that the use of authorities found its greatest glory, and, since it was the basis of spiritual and intellectual life, it was subjected to strict regulation. The supreme authority was Scripture, and, with it, the Fathers of the Church. However, this general authority tended to take the form of quotations. In practice these became ‘authentic’ opinions and, in the end, the ‘authorities’ themselves. Since these authorities were often difficult and obscure, they were explained by glosses which themselves had to come from an ‘authentic author’ [or, an “authentic interpreter” who could “tell us what this means.”]

Very often the glosses replaced the original text.
Of all the florilegia [collections of quotations] which conveyed the results of intellectual activity in the Middle Ages, the anthologies of glosses were consulted and ransacked the most. Learning was a mosaic of quotations or ‘flowers’ which, in the twelfth century, were called ‘sentences’ (sententiae or opinions). The collections or summae of sentences were collections of authorities. Robert of Melun was already protesting in the middle of the twelfth century against according credit to glosses in these sentences, but in vain. [The 20th century Dominican theologian] Pere [Marie-Domenique] Chenu acknowledged that the sentences of the inferior thinker Peter Lombard, which was to be the theology textbook in universities in the thirteenth century, was a collection of glosses “whose sources can only be discovered with difficulty”, and furthermore that, even in the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, “one can see a largish number of texts acting as authorities which can only be identified through the distortions of the glossae.”

Of course the men who used authorities stretched their meanings to the point where they barely impeded personal opinions. Alain of Lille, in a saying which was to become proverbial, stated ‘the authority has a wax nose which can be pushed in all directions’… (Jacques Le Goff, “Medieval Civilization,” (First published in France as La Civilisation de l’Occident Medieval, © 1964 by B. Arthaud, Paris) English Translation, © 1988, 1990, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, pgs. 325-326.)

The story of the man who made the nails that held Jesus to the cross

This is one of my best friends ever, the artist Dale Crum, in his one-man drama, Obadiah, an original creation of his. This is an edited compilation of video clips taken from the full-length drama presentation. The actual live drama is approximately one hour. Dale created the character and the story; he is the actor, and he designed the set, the costume, and the makeup.

Dale is a member of a small Presbyterian church in Memphis; he is available to perform Obadiah for church groups, youth groups, school groups, and other special functions. Please contact me if you’re interested in booking information.

johnbugay [at]

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Insider movements

The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief

Republican annihilation unlikely

"Literally Reading Ezekiel 40-48"

In the interests of fair and balanced coverage:

When God comes to us

I’m going to comment on Henebury’s reply to me:

Because of my “indiscretion” in referring to our debate and my basic assessment of his procedure I am now labelled a “proud self-congratulatory bigot.” (And that’s only some of my good points!).

This is what Henebury said:

For those of you who have thought that God doesn’t really expect you to study this protracted description (because, after all, it’s symbolic of something or other), here’s a great chance to correct the deficiency.

    I am a big believer in the utility of Ezekiel’s Temple vision in Ezekiel 40-48 for dealing with those brethren who want to disbelieve what the Bible says while claiming to believe it.  I especially like to call out those who will not be honest enough just to state the obvious truth that they spiritualize the text (as in they claim a concrete depiction of a named entity should be thought of as a spiritual picture of a different concrete entity).  In Ezekiel 40ff. you cannot use the “Apocalyptic” card.

Yes, he’s making prideful, self-congratulatory comparisons between himself and those who don’t share his interpretation.

Does he honestly believe scholars like Daniel Block and Horace Hummel, who’ve written massive two-volume commentaries on Ezekiel, think God doesn’t really expect us to study this passage? Does he honestly think they “want to disbelieve what the Bible saying while claiming to believe it”?

These are bigoted comments. Of course, I wouldn’t expect him to recognize that. After all, that’s the nature of bigotry.

  He’d already compared me to Don Quixote’s nag.  He follows up with a bit of psychology by suggesting I would lose my faith if God didn’t fulfill the temple vision by causing a temple to be erected.  I may return to this matter later.

Why not? He says God would be guilty of “prevarication” if an amil interpretation were true. He doesn’t think God “says what he means” if an amil interpretation were true. So, by his own yardstick, Henebury doesn’t think God can be trusted to keep his promises unless God is a dispensationalist.

That’s not psychology, that’s logic. That’s taking Henebury’s position to its logical conclusion.

It’s a shame he gets personal because the man is clever and often seeks to represent the truth to those who read his blog.

It doesn’t even occur to Henebury that he got personal in the way in he chose to introduce his original post. He suffers from a classic bias blind spot. That’s typical bigotry. You view your own team differently than the opposing team. You fail to see in yourself what you’re quick to see in others.

But I don’t think Steve has come anywhere near to presenting a convincing argument against the view that Ezekiel was depicting an actual temple, and that was how the vision was to be understood.

Henebury is not the standard of comparison. 

Nowhere in our previous correspondence did Steve explain what he thought Ezekiel 40-48 actually meant.  He tried to tell me what it wasn’t, without explaining any verse in the nine chapters in question.  And now he informs us that Ezekiel 40-48 is “a word-picture” representing, in some form, “the end of the church age, and the onset of the eternal age.”

That’s a half-truth. As I explained in the very post that Henebury is supposedly responding to, I said it’s also a word-picture of the postexilic restoration.

Fine, but does he present any exegetical evidence for this opinion?  Does he interact with these chapters and explain how temple dimensions, materials, rituals, priestly orders, prohibitions, tribal allotments and rivers add up to “the end of the church age” and “the consummation.”  Has he explained how he knows they mean this?  No, no and no.

Henebury has his personal definition of what constitutes an “explanation.” If you don’t explain things his way, then that doesn’t count as an explanation.

He also frames the issue incorrectly. Take a parable. What the individual elements of the parable signify is distinct from the question of whether the story is fictitious or factual. Classifying the genre of the story doesn’t depend on the meaning of each individual clause. Indeed, classifying the story is, to some extent, a preliminary exercise, based on certain clues or conventions. That, in turn, affects how you interpret individual verses. If you think the parable of the wise and foolish virgins is a historical narrative, then you won’t try to match various elements with something outside the story.

And I don’t think he will.  Nor will he explain how he could find out about the church age from only utilizing the OT (he doesn’t believe the church is in the OT).  I believe he will create a diversion and reroute the discussion away from the Bible.

Notice the blatant inconsistency. Henebury himself places this passage in the church age. He inserts Ezekiel’s temple into Rev 20:4-6. He reframes Ezk 40ff. in light of Rev 20.

In my various exchanges with Henebury on Ezekiel’s temple, I haven’t “rerouted the discussion away from the Bible.”

Some questions about God and the Bible are out of order for Steve. 

Loaded questions are out of order.

Anyone with experience with dealing with those who hold covenant eschatology know that it is excruciating getting them to just tell you what the Bible says.  Try this passage or Jer. 33:14-26 on them and see. 

That’s a diversion from Ezk 40-48.

I supposedly asked a loaded question (his inner psychologist again).

i) Really? Does Henebury think classifying a question as a loaded question is a psychological diagnosis? Does he think that when logicians classify this fallacy, that they are engaging in psychoanalysis?

ii) BTW, notice, once again, Henebury’s bias blind spot. What about Henebury’s “inner psychologist”? When he says things like “For those of you who have thought that God doesn’t really expect you to study this protracted description…” “…for dealing with those brethren who want to disbelieve what the Bible says while claiming to believe it,”  “I especially like to call out those who will not be honest enough…”–isn’t he playing psychologist?

Henebury is oblivious to his double standards. And that’s typical bigotry.

 But no, it really is a question, and a good one.  And it’s one Hays doesn’t answer.

I don’t answer loaded questions, since loaded questions beg the question.

  By fiat he declares. “That’s not a question.”

That’s a falsehood. Did I declare that by fiat? No. I gave a reason. I said:

That’s not a real question. That’s a loaded question. An accusation couched as a faux question. A question that builds a tendentious premise into the formulation. As if those who dare to differ with Henebury don’t think God said what he meant.

Why does Henebury think it’s okay to tell falsehoods about what people say?

But to many Christians it is a crucial question.  Steve ought to realize that.

I realize that Henebury posed a loaded question. Having corrected him, how does Henebury respond? By repeating the loaded question.

  Look, does God mean what He says and say what He means when He tells us we are justified by faith in Christ (Rom. 5:1)? Yes! 

Rom 5:1 isn’t a visionary revelation. Rom 5:1 isn’t picture-language.

Does He mean what He says when He describes Hell as a place of fire (Matt. 25)?  Yes! 

So Henebury is sure that hell is literally fiery? If the flames are figurative, then God didn’t say what he means? If the flames are figurative, then God is guilty of “prevarication”?

BTW, are dispensationalists committed to literal hellfire?

Okay then, does He mean what He says when He describes a temple to a priest in minute detail and tells him to fix his attention on it?

Okay, let’s measure Henebury’s position by his own yardstick. Consider the following passage:

18 And he said to me, “Son of man, thus says the Lord God: These are the ordinances for the altar: On the day when it is erected for offering burnt offerings upon it and for throwing blood against it, 19 you shall give to the Levitical priests of the family of Zadok, who draw near to me to minister to me, declares the Lord God, a bull from the herd for a sin offering. 20 And you shall take some of its blood and put it on the four horns of the altar and on the four corners of the ledge and upon the rim all around. Thus you shall purify the altar and make atonement for it. 21 You shall also take the bull of the sin offering, and it shall be burned in the appointed place belonging to the temple, outside the sacred area. 22 And on the second day you shall offer a male goat without blemish for a sin offering; and the altar shall be purified, as it was purified with the bull. 23 When you have finished purifying it, you shall offer a bull from the herd without blemish and a ram from the flock without blemish. 24 You shall present them before the Lord, and the priests shall sprinkle salt on them and offer them up as a burnt offering to the Lord. 25 For seven days you shall provide daily a male goat for a sin offering; also, a bull from the herd and a ram from the flock, without blemish, shall be provided. 26 Seven days shall they make atonement for the altar and cleanse it, and so consecrate it. 27 And when they have completed these days, then from the eighth day onward the priests shall offer on the altar your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, and I will accept you, declares the Lord God” (Ezk 43:18-27).

This describes the dedication of the altar. Notice who God is commanding. God is directly addressing the prophet Ezekiel. God isn’t commanding the reader. God is commanding Ezekiel. God is telling Ezekiel to consecrate the altar. Ezekiel is supposed to officiate.

Now, since Henebury refuses to distinguish between the world depicted in the vision and the world outside the vision, does Henebury admit that the temple was built in Ezekiel’s lifetime, so that he could personally dedicate the altar?  

The Fictional Beginnings of Papal Infallibility, Part 1

It is no stretch at all to call this fictional. The concept of “papal infallibility”, the foundation of the Roman Catholic IP, the epistemological foundation of certitude for a narrow band of Roman Catholics, never existed for the first 1200 years of church history.

Michael Liccione wrote of “papal ratifications of dogmatic canons issued by general councils meant to bind the whole Church”. Of these he says:

Whether purely papal or conciliar, such definitions are exercises of the “extraordinary magisterium” of the Church, and thus require the assent of faith from all believers. All are set forth infallibly.

Of course, it’s not like “popes” had called these councils, or were leading these councils, or even present at these councils, or were even afterthoughts at these councils. In some cases, they didn’t even know about them until after-the-fact.

Of course, “Pope Sylvester” was not present at the First Ecumenical Council (Nicea 325AD). Only two priests from Rome were present (among the 300+ Eastern bishops at the council) and he is neither mentioned by, or even apparently though of at this council. At the Second Ecumenical Council, Constantinople (381AD), from which we have “the Nicene Creed” in its present form, “Pope Damasus” (366–384) didn’t even know it was occurring, and only received reports about the council later.

What was “the papacy” like at this time? This is from Hans Küng: “Infallibility, an Inquiry”:

[the murderer] Bishop Damasus was the first to claim the title of Sedes Apostolica (“Apostolic See”) exclusively for the Roman See; Bishop Siricius (contemporary of the far more important Ambrose, Bishop of Milan), was the first to call himself “pope,” began peremptorily to call his own statutes “apostolic,” adopted the official imperial style, and energetically extended his official powers on all sides; Bishop Innocent I wanted to have every important matter, after it had been been discussed at a synod, put before the Roman pontiff for a decision, and tried to establish liturgical centralization with the aid of historical fictions, and so on.

The historian Eamon Duffy writes of this “official imperial style”:

They [bishops of Rome] set about [creating a Christian Rome] by building churches, converting the modest tituli (community church centres) into something grander, and creating new and more public foundations, though to begin with nothing that rivaled the great basilicas at the Lateran and St. Peter’s. Over the next hundred years their churches advanced into the city – Pope Mark’s (336) San Marco within a stone’s throw of the Capitol, Pope Liberius’ massive basilica on the Esquiline (now Santa Maria Maggiore), Pope Damasus’ Santa Anastasia at the foot of the Palatine, Pope Julius’ foundation on the site of the present Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santa Pudenziana near the Baths of Diocletian under Pope Anastasius (399-401), Santa Sabina among the patrician villas on the Aventine under Pope Celestine (422-32).

These churches were a mark of the upbeat confidence of post-Constantinian Christianity in Rome. The popes were potentates, and began to behave like it. Damasus perfectly embodied this growing grandeur. An urbane career cleric like his predecessor Liberius, at home in the wealthy salons of the city, he was also a ruthless power-broker, and he did not he did not hesitate to mobilize both the city police and [a hired mob of gravediggers with pickaxes] to back up his rule… (Duffy, 37:38).

It was Siricius (384-399), who was the successor of Damasus, who “self-consciously … began to model their actions and style as Christian leaders on the procedures of the Roman state. … [Siricius responded to an inquiry from a neighboring bishop in Spain] in the form of a decretal, modeled directly on an imperial rescript, and like the rescripts, providing authoritative rulings which were designed to establish legal precedents on the issues concerned. Siricius commended the [inquiring] Bishop for consulting Rome ‘as to the head of your body’, and instructed to him to pass on ‘the salutary ordinances we have made’ to the bishops of all the surrounding provinces, for ‘no priest of the Lord is free to be ignorant of the statutes of the Apostolic See’” (Duffy 40)

Regarding the way that “historical fictions” worked their way into papal consolidation of their power, Roger Collins, Keeper of the Keys (New York, NY: Basic Books (Perseus Books Group), ©2009) writes:

In 416 Pope Innocent I (401–417) declared ‘in all of Italy, Gaul, Spain, Africa, Sicily and the isles that lie between them no churches have been established other than by those ordained bishop by the venerable Apostle Peter or his successors”…. (58)

This was totally historically inaccurate, although it wasn’t the only such incident giving sanction to historical inaccuracy.

The purpose of such “novelties”, according to Collins, was “always the” invention “maintenance of tradition” (59).

Later, Collins writes about the “Symmachan forgeries”:

This was the first occasion on which the Roman church had revisited its own history, in particular the third and fourth centuries, in search of precedents…. Some of the periods in question, such as the pontificates of Sylvester (314–355) and Liberius (352–366), were already being seen more through the prism of legend than that of history, and in the Middle Ages texts were often forged because their authors were convinced of the truth of what they contained. Their faked documents provided tangible evidence of what was already believed true.

The Symmachan forgeries reinterpreted some of the more embarrassing episodes in papal history, both real and imaginary. … How convincing these forged texts seemed in the early sixth century is unknown, but when rediscovered in later centuries, they were regarded as authentic records with unequivocal legal authority. … (Collins, 80–82).

This is how Rome does “interpretation”. The reliance of these bishops of Rome on fictions and forgeries to expand their realm is truly staggering. Collins says “It is no coincidence that the first systematic works of papal history appear at the very time the Roman church’s past was being reinvented for polemical purposes.” We have only seen the tip of the iceberg.

* * *

There was a representative of a pope present at the third Ecumenical council. History records a speech from “Philip the Roman Legate” at the Council of Ephesus (431 AD). It is important to note that this was at the third session – after all of the major issues had been decided, “after the conclusion of the whole matter”, after many of the important players had left. Philip stood up in front of an almost-empty room and said:

No one doubts, but rather it has been known to all generations, that the holy and most blessed Peter, chief and head of the Apostles, the pillar of the faith, the foundation stone of the Catholic church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ the Savior and Redeemer of the human race, an that the power of binding and loosing sins was given to him, who up to this moment and always lives in his successors, and judges (D. 112).

For Roman Catholics, this counts as “papal ratification” of a council.

In reality, this speech of Philip’s was a novelty, a burp after a meal, a “don’t-forget-about-me” moment” which wasn’t on anybody’s mind at the time (except for those at Rome), and at Vatican I, we see here the real-life practice of what I’ve been calling “The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic”, returning “to the sources of divine revelation” – interesting how this afterthought of a speech turns into “a source of divine revelation” for the great and certain Roman Catholic IP, that fountain of all epistemological certainty.

This unimportant speech was cited at Vatican I (D. 1824), as precedent for and evidence of “the Perpetuity of the Primacy of Blessed Peter among the Roman Pontiffs.”

(The “D.” stands for Denzinger’s “Sources of Catholic Dogma”).

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

“The Crucial Role of Union with Christ”, part 2

... we “own” the righteousness of Christ because we are really are truly united to him; his righteousness is truly “in” us, as opposed to merely fictitiously attributed to us. The converse of that is also true: our sin is really and truly owned by Christ because we are really and truly united to him. That is one reason why he had to be “like” us, sharing our blood. In this second part, I look at the Old Testament evidence of union, which underlies the whole concept of sacrifice in the New Testament, and finish with pastoral advice on how this works out in the lives of Christians.

Old Testament evidence
Perhaps the most important evidence for the importance of union with Christ in the New Testament is the constant reference to Christ’s death as a sacrifice of the type described in the Old Testament. Paul, in Romans 3:35, starts out his presentation of the Gospel, which we have been tracing backward, by referring to Christ’s death as a “propitiation”, a direct reference to the temple sacrifice (cf. Hebrews 9:5, where this word is also used).

The sacrifices of the Old Testament are full of the imagery of union. In every case, the mode of offering is for the priest to lay his hand on the head of the animal to be sacrificed (Leviticus 1:4, 3:2, 3:8, 3:13, 4:4, 4:24, 4:29, 4:33) including the laying of both hands on the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:21). The essential symbolism of this laying on of hands is that of union…


“You say that as if it were a bad thing”

Jonathan Prejean stepped out of retirement yesterday to ask me a few questions.

[Michael Liccione’s] point is simply that if Scripture was intended by God to function as you describe, then there would be observable consequences.

Just because the “observable consequences” are not what you expect, doesn’t take anything away from the view of the Scriptures that we hold.

We are constantly told, “If the Protestant perspicuity thesis were true, then over the past five hundred years we should expect to see not an explosion of fragmentation into various Protestant sects, but a coalescing into one body of all persons who in good faith attempt to discern the meaning of Scripture.”

This is a bogus condition to place on this view of Scripture at two levels.

When I say I am a Christian

My 14-year-old daughter was moved strongly enough by a graphic of this little poem to post it on her Facebook status:


When I say, "I am a Christian"
I'm not shouting, "I’ve been saved!"
I'm whispering, "I get lost!
That's why I chose this way"

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I don't speak with human pride
I'm confessing that I stumble—
Needing God to be my guide

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I'm not trying to be strong
I'm professing that I'm weak
And pray for strength to carry on

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I'm not bragging of success
I'm admitting that I've failed
And cannot ever pay the debt

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I don't think I know it all
I submit to my confusion
Asking humbly to be taught

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I'm not claiming to be perfect
My flaws are all too visible
But God believes I'm worth it

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I still feel the sting of pain
I have my share of heartache,
Which is why I seek His name

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I do not wish to judge
I have no authority...
I only know I'm loved

Used by Permission
Copyright 1988 Carol Wimmer

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Coed Combat Units

The great escape

20 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. 9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
(Rev 20:1-10).

It’s a pity that the Millennium has attracted disproportionate attention. I say “disproportionate,” because this is of penultimate importance rather than ultimate importance. What happens in Rev 21-22 is more important than what happens in Rev 20.

i) Why do we have the following sequence in Rev 20:1-10?

Satan bound>the Millennium>Satan unbound

The short answer is the John is roughly following the sequence of Ezk 37-48:

Resurrection of Israel>messianic reign>battle of Gog & Magog>new Jerusalem

So it’s a literary progression. A literary alternation.

ii) What does the Millennium represent?

a) At one level it represents the intermediate state. When Christians die, they pass into the afterlife. They come alive in heaven. That would be especially encouraging to Christians facing the threat of martyrdom. A prospect which members of John’s churches had to take into account.

b) In addition, it has a more specific resonance. Not only does this text have its background in Ezk 37, but Dan 7. It’s a scene of the heavenly courtroom, where the faithful are vindicated before the bar of God. That would give the scene (20:4-5) a heavenly rather than earthly setting.

iii) The duration of Satan’s incarceration is commensurate with the duration of the “first resurrection.” If the “first resurrection” represents the intermediate state, then the binding of Satan spans the church age.

iv) Why is Satan released? Since the text doesn’t say, scholars are left to speculate. As long as we’re speculating, I’ll venture my own conjecture.

One way of punishing a villain is to let him think he got away with it. To let him imagine he won. He succeeded. He beat the system.

Suppose God “let” Satan escape. In other words, God let Satan think he managed to escape captivity. Having a brief time on the lam, only to be rearrested, makes it harder to come back to prison than if you never had that bit of freedom, had a glimmer of hope.

What if Satan belatedly realizes that the lax security was a trick? He thought he had God fooled, but God had him fooled. He thought he planned his daring escape, but it was actually God who planned it. 

In addition, the effect of Satan’s jailbreak is to lead the “enemy” straight to Satan’s hideout, straight to Satan’s encampment. It smokes out the remnant opposition to God. Exposes the forces of evil, as they regroup for a final, futile assault.

v) Keep in mind that this is a story. Revelation tells an allegorical story–with a plot, setting, and characters. This is parabolic rather than historic.

So what does this reflect in real life? In Bible history and church history, there are times when Satan may think he’s winning. Satan scores many pyrrhic victories in the course of world history. Where the tide seems to be turning in his favor. But try as he might, he can never stamp out the faithful. Like tenacious weeds, the faithful keep growing back.