Saturday, April 27, 2013

"Learning to hear God's voice"

This post is a sequel to a previous post:

The comments have outgrown the meta, so I’m going to address them here.

stell4/26/2013 10:40 AM

Steve wrote, “If God wants to send a message, why resort to such ambiguous means? Isn’t that counterproductive?”

I believe that Dr. Moreland (around 27:05 in the video AP references) uses Nehemiah 2:12 (he said 2:17, but I believe he meant 2:12) with regard to your kind of questions. Steve, what do you think of Dr. Moreland’s lecture? Moreland suggests that you learn to hear the voice of God through “trial and error and practice, just like you learn to discern the Bible.”

    steve4/26/2013 11:27 AM

    i) I think Moreland is a prima facie credible witness. However, why would God favor Moreland with an abundance of miracles and private revelations compared to so many other pious Christians to whom nothing remarkable ever happens?

    ii) To say we need to learn how to hear God's voice through trial and error and practice is special pleading. God can express himself with unmistakable clarity to individuals. Why force Christians to read tea leaves? This is too much like heathen divination, where you strain to discern the will of the gods from ambiguous clues or obscure patterns. That's a snare. That invites self-deception.

iii) Another basic problem is that Moreland's trial-and-error-and-practice method of learning how to hear God's voice doesn't bear any resemblance to the examples of special divine guidance I cited from Acts. Yet that's the closest thing we have to a paradigm of NT prophecy. That gives us actual illustrations.

ANNOYED PINOY4/26/2013 9:59 PM

But even Peter didn't immediately understand what the vision he saw meant or how to apply it.

Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon's house, stood at the gate Act 10:17.

That has nothing to do with Moreland's trial-and-error-and-practice method of learning how to hear God's voice, for–as the narrative continues–God demonstrated how to apply it.

In the OT, Samuel didn't immediately recognize that it was the LORD who was speaking to him. 1 Sam. 3:3-10ff.

Once again, that has nothing to do with Moreland's trial-and-error-and-practice method of learning how to hear God's voice. God revealed himself to Samuel in stages. First an audible voice, then an apparition. This isn’t a case of Samuel learning how to hear God’s voice.

If you're specifically referring to the "trial and error" part then it seems that weighing or testing a revelation to determine if it really was from God was a common practice in the NT because of passages like 1 Thess. 5:21 and 1 John 4:1. Even in the OT prophecies needed to be weighed and tested since prophets are still fallible sinners in themselves and can be mistaken.

You’re conflating two different issues:

i) Distinguishing true prophecy from false prophecy

ii) The claim that even when God is the source, the message may be ambiguous.

 Nathan the prophet gave bad advice which David could have taken as prophetic if God didn't correct him (1 Chron. 17:2-4).

Once more, that has nothing to do with Moreland's trial-and-error-and-practice method of learning how to hear God's voice. Nathan hadn’t even consulted God at that point. It was just a snap judgment.

Moses sinned by striking the rock when he shouldn't have (Num. 20:11-12).

Once again, that has nothing to do with Moreland's trial-and-error-and-practice method of learning how to hear God's voice.

 Jeremiah lied about a conversation he had with king Zedekiah (Jer. 38:24ff.).

He told a cover story to save his own life. How is that relevant to the issue at hand?

Jonah had a bad attitude.

A red herring.

 A genuine prophet from Bethel lied to another prophet from Judah about a revelation, then immediately prophesied (by the inspiration of God) the other prophet's death sentence because he didn't weigh his prophecy in light of what God had spoken to him previously(1 Kings 13).

Iain Provan classifies the old prophet from Bethel as “a false prophet who later spoke truly.” Typical divine irony.

People are gifted in different ways. Not everyone has the gift of prophecy even though all are encouraged by God (through Paul) to seek the gift (1 Cor. 14:1).

Paul commands us to pursue love and to earnestly desire spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:1; cf. Heb. 11:6).

That’s inaccurate. As one commentator explains:

Zeloute denotes cultivating a stance of eagerness…[the] NRSV’s strive for positively conflicts with Paul’s insistence that these are “gifts of grace” (as in 12:31, charismata) which God chooses to give or to withhold in his sovereign freedom to “order” the church as he wills (12:18). To read strive for can be pastorally misleading and theologically doubtful.

A. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans 2000), 1082-83.

Back to Pinoy:

In 1 Cor. 14:31 Paul's statement " that all may learn and all be encouraged..." might mean learning to prophesy. If so, then trial and error in learning to prophecy would make sense.

No, it means learning from prophecy, not learning how to prophesy. That’s the purpose of prophecy, as Paul is at pains to underscore.

Sometimes the disparity is due to a lack of faith or pursuit. Our Lord repeatedly encouraged people to grow in faith (Matt 17:19ff.; 14:31; 21:21ff.; Mark 9:23; 11:22ff.; Luke 17:6). Paul commands us to pursue love and to earnestly desire spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:1; cf. Heb. 11:6). James says we have not because we ask not (James 4:2).

Praying or growing in faith are not the same thing as Moreland's trial-and-error-and-practice method of learning how to hear God's voice. That’s a very specific claim which none of your prooftexts specifies.

To add to #4 above. The apostle James says we are to ask for wisdom from God in faith, otherwise we will not receive wisdom (James 1:5-8). That doesn't mean of course that the only way God grants wisdom is by our hearing His voice. But in my opinion, it surely doesn't exclude that possibility.

Jas 1:5 says nothing about learning to hear God’s voice by a trial-and-error-and-practice method. James 1:5 is rooted in the OT wisdom tradition of Proverbs. Cultivating prudence. Moral discernment. Enduring adversity.

Keep in mind that in Proverbs, God gives wisdom (2:6) by giving the proverbs contained in that very book. Not private revelation, but public revelation.

An example I can think of is what happened to Francis Schaeffer when he heard a voice (God's or an angel sent by God) in answer to a prayer for wisdom. The account can be read HERE. Schaeffer claimed this was the 2nd time God had spoken to him in an audible voice. [At least according to Deere's book]

For the sake of accuracy, let’s quote Deere verbatim:

Early in his ministry, Francis Schaeffer faced a minor crisis. He and his young family needed temporary housing during a transitional time, but had very little money. They needed a “minor miracle” from the Lord. While Francis was praying about this, he said to God, “Where can we live, Lord? Please show us.” Immediately, in response to his question, he heard an audible voice…The voice simply said, “Uncle Harrison’s house.”

Surprised by the Voice of God (Zondervan, 1998), 130.

Assuming this is true:

i) It has nothing to do with Moreland's trial-and-error-and-practice method of learning how to hear God's voice.

ii) God spoke to him audibly, unmistakably, and unambiguously.

iii) Nothing in this account about an angel.

iv) Schaeffer didn’t pray for wisdom. Rather, he had a very specific request.

I think Moreland is right when he said learning to discern God's voice is analogous to learning to discern what the Bible actually teaches. Even the Bible seems to teach that people should test alleged prophecies (1 Thess. 5:21). To test the teaching of spirits (1 John 4:1).

Scripture applies a doctrinal test (e.g. 1 Cor 12:3; 1 Jn 4:2-3). That’s very different than spiritual intuition. 

People also disagreed on the proper application of a divine revelation (Acts 21:10-15). When Agabus, inspired by the Holy Spirit, bound his own feet and hands using Paul's belt, most of the Christians there took that revelation and applied it contrary to how Paul applied it. They thought it meant Paul should stay away from Jerusalem. While Paul took it to mean the opposite. As an indication that God was preparing him mentally for what would await him in Jerusalem where God wanted him to go.

I’ve addressed that issue here:

Such negative experiences in the prophetic could the following statement by Paul, "19 Do not quench the Spirit.20 Do not despise prophecies" (1 Thess. 5:19-20). Then the very next verses says, "21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.22 Abstain from every form of evil." The statement of testing and weighing and keeping what is good is in the context of prophecies.

Keep in mind that Paul operates with a rather narrow, specialized definition of “prophecy.” So you can’t just cite some reported charismatic phenomenon, then slap Pauline usage onto that phenomenon.

The upshot is that Moreland is trying too hard to “hear” God’s voice in the static–as if God hides the message through backmasking. That’s not what we find in the Book of Acts.

Known unknowns

Philip Ball writes:

This week's diamond jubilee of the discovery of DNA's molecular structure rightly celebrates how Francis Crick, James Watson and their collaborators launched the 'genomic age' by revealing how hereditary information is encoded in the double helix. Yet the conventional narrative — in which their 1953 Nature paper led inexorably to the Human Genome Project and the dawn of personalized medicine — is as misleading as the popular narrative of gene function itself, in which the DNA sequence is translated into proteins and ultimately into an organism's observable characteristics, or phenotype.

Sixty years on, the very definition of 'gene' is hotly debated. We do not know what most of our DNA does, nor how, or to what extent it governs traits. In other words, we do not fully understand how evolution works at the molecular level.

That sounds to me like an extraordinarily exciting state of affairs, comparable perhaps to the disruptive discovery in cosmology in 1998 that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating rather than decelerating, as astronomers had believed since the late 1920s. Yet, while specialists debate what the latest findings mean, the rhetoric of popular discussions of DNA, genomics and evolution remains largely unchanged, and the public continues to be fed assurances that DNA is as solipsistic a blueprint as ever.

The more complex picture now emerging raises difficult questions that this outsider knows he can barely discern. But I can tell that the usual tidy tale of how 'DNA makes RNA makes protein' is sanitized to the point of distortion. Instead of occasional, muted confessions from genomics boosters and popularizers of evolution that the story has turned out to be a little more complex, there should be a bolder admission — indeed a celebration — of the known unknowns.

Read the rest here.

Miranda and Tsarnaev

John Yoo writes:

Further leaks coming out of the interrogation of the surviving Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, show the continuing mistakes of the Obama administration in its elevation of ideology over national security. Apparently the FBI interrogated the younger Tsarnaev for 16 hours, in which time he claimed that he and his brother acted alone in bombing the marathon, but also revealing that their plan on the night of the shootout with police last Thursday was to drive to New York City and set off five more bombs in Times Square. And then, for reasons that are still unknown, the government read him his rights. And just like Umar Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, he clammed up.

What is the sense in this, and who made the decision to read Tsarnaev his Miranda warnings, which effectively ended the collection of useful intelligence from the interrogation? Who knows how much more valuable information we have lost? Our intelligence agencies are trying to piece together evidence suggesting that Tsarnaev’s older brother may have met with Islamist extremists and even taken military training during a trip to Russia. Our national-security agencies could still question Tsarnaev without Miranda or a lawyer, so long as it decided to foreswear use of the information at his trial. The purpose of interrogation for national security is not to collect evidence for a case to convict a defendant, but instead to gather information to prevent future attacks.

Trying to squeeze all of that into a public-safety exception to Miranda ought to worry everyone. It should worry civil libertarians because the Justice Department is trying to both get intelligence but also preserve the interrogation results for trial, even though there is no lawyer and no warning. And those worried about foreign threats should object, because the exception is limited in time and scope to information about imminent dangers, not collecting information about broader networks and conspiracies. The Obama administration may well be leading the nation down the path to the worst of all possible options in its obsession with treating terrorism as a law-enforcement, and not military, problem.

Erasing death

"Consciousness After Death: Strange Tales From the Frontiers of Resuscitation Medicine" is an interview with Dr. Sam Parnia.

A Manichean Epicurean Nietzschean

"Jobs 2.0" by Bradley J. Birzer.

George W. Bush is smarter than you

"George W. Bush is smarter than you" by Keith Hennessey.

Pomo Marriage Revisited

"Pomo Marriage Revisisted" by Prof. James Anderson.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Why I'm not a Muslim

This is why I’m not a Muslim:

I used to be a Muslim. I converted to Islam when I was 18. I was very devout. I repositioned my bed so that my feet weren’t facing Mecca. I learned to cuss in fluent Arabic. I abandoned my pet beagle. (Dogs are impure, you know.)

I emptied my Jack Daniels into the commode. I boycotted bacon, sausage, spare ribs, and hot dogs. I threw away my Havana cigars.

It was a great personal sacrifice. Well, admittedly there were some fringe benefits to my newfound faith. I could have as many concubines as I could afford to maintain.

Everything was going swell until I tried to discharge my sacred duty by performing the Hajj. I never got past customs at the King Abdulaziz International Airport.

Women were fainting right and left as I strolled down the concourse. Customs agents phoned the House of Saud. The king was terrified his harem girls would desert him for me.

They put me on a private jet and sent me straight home.

How seminaries die

Randal Rauser recently applied for tenure at Taylor Seminary. And obvious problem is that Rauser’s rejection of Biblical inerrancy contradicts Taylor’s statement of faith:

We believe the Bible is God's Word given by divine inspiration, the record of God's revelation of Himself to humanity (II Timothy 3:16). It is trustworthy, sufficient, without error - the supreme authority and guide for all doctrine and conduct (I Peter 1:23-25; John 17:17; II Timothy 3:16-17).

Here are some verbatim excerpts documenting his denial of Biblical inerrancy:

Why think that every single authorial sentence in scripture must be inerrant to begin with? If the human authors of scripture could appropriate the morally errant statements of others in their texts, why think that God couldn’t appropriate the morally errant statements of the human authors of scripture in his text?

A person can say that God superintended a process which led to the inclusion of any number of human errors in the text but that God did so with perfect (i.e. inerrant) intentions. By analogy: an author might include all sorts of factual errors in his novel as uttered by the characters within the novel. Though the statements of the characters are in error, the author inerrantly included them in the novel. So all the criticisms I've raised are consistent with a broad confession of inerrancy.

And anyway what is supposed to be inerrant? Are scientific statements in scripture inerrant? Historical statements? Can a writing be pseudopigraphic and inerrant? Or must we say II Peter was written by Peter? Is a human author of scripture allowed to be ironic? (I.e. can he say the opposite of what he means to make a point?) This is the way many people read much of a text like Ecclesiastes. Even if the human author or redactor was not being ironic, could God have been? (This is one way to redeem the imprecatory psalms.)

That is the kind of attitude I commend toward scripture. There could be errors of grammar (indeed there are), as well as history, science and even morality. In the same way that we could in principle allow such errors in a masterfully composed classic text like Ulysses, so it would seem we could in principle allow such errors in scripture, so long as there is some reason that the author allowed those errors to enter into the final form of the text. Consequently, the reader’s task is not to edit the book into the form he likes, or to ignore the parts she doesn’t like, but rather to work on those errant bits which seem recalcitrant to the reader’s understanding of the logic of the whole.

If I were to summarize the problem with GBB in a single sentence it would be this: in multiple instances the book’s defense of God’s behavior depends at least in part on obscuring the depth of the problem at issue. Whether the issue is punishing an entire nation for the sins of its leaders or committing genocide or causing the mauling of youthful tormenters, Lamb’s defense depends on multiple arguments with implausible moral premises which obscure the nature of the issue of debate.

But the text is still deeply problematic for it still affirms the appropriateness of sacrifice as a means to relate to God (presumably including human sacrifice; more on that below) and it also affirms the appropriateness of asking a father to commit a truly heinous act.

As for Abraham specifically, if it is intrinsically wrong to engage in an act, then it seems also intrinsically wrong to ask a person to commit the act, even if your intention is ultimately that they not perform the action. For example if rape is intrinsically wrong then it is wrong to ask somebody to rape a third party, even if your ultimate intention is that they not do so. I think the intuition is very strong that it is inherently wrong to engage in acts of devotional killing of one's child to a deity. But then it is wrong for a third party -- even if that party is God -- to ask a person to engage in that action, even if God intended ultimately that they not follow through with it.

It is precisely at this point that many Christian conservatives have done the Bible a great disservice by thinking that recognizing the inspired authority of scripture means that we need to accept the truth of every proposition uttered by every human author and approved by every human redactor in the long history of the text’s formation. But that is not the way to read a text or its authority. To note the illustration I have made previously, you don’t respect the authority of The Brothers Karamazov by attempting to affirm the equal truth of every statement by every character in the book. Ivan’s atheism is irreconcilable with Alyosha’s Christian piety. And yet this conflict hardly means that Dostoevsky was somehow inept in including both voices in his book.

By the same token, the Christian should not attempt to reconcile irreconcilable voices in scripture. And much of what the imprecatory psalmist says is irreconcilable with other texts in scripture

So just as the reader of The Brothers Karamazov must choose whether to heed the voice of Ivan or of Alyosha, so must the reader of scripture choose whether to heed the voice of the psalmist or Ezekiel and Jesus.

However, Rauser has been able to play the administration (e.g. Pres. David Williams) for chumps. This is one way seminaries die. The administration either lacks the will or the theological discernment to enforce its public doctrinal standards.

Of course, when con men like Rauser game the system, that’s a pyrrhic victory. They win in the short term. But unlike seminary administrators who are easily duped by slick talkers, Rauser won’t be able to con God on Judgment Day.

Big Bird


Another Lutheran commenting on an old post of mine:

Chuck Wiese

It seems like you might want to actually do some reading in what you call a "noble theological tradition."

I have. For instance:

Read Luther or the Book of Concord.

Whether or not universal objective justification is consistent with Luther or the Book of Concord is the very question at issue.

Lutheranism has always been about clinging to what Christ said.

Filtered through Lutheran hermeneutics.

 Luther taught justification by faith alone because he clung tightly to the words of Scripture.

But is sola fide consistent with universal objective justification?

Luther taught that we born again in the waters of baptism and our sins are forgiven because he clung tightly to the words of Scripture.

If that’s the case, then justification by faith is superfluous.

Luther taught that in the Lord's Supper we receive Christ's body and blood and the forgiveness of sins because he clung tightly to the words of Scripture.

Keep in mind that Luther was a Roman Catholic theology prof. Although he broke with Rome, to some extent he continued to unconsciously read the Bible through the lens of his hereditary faith and theological training. 

I challenge to look up every instance where the Scriptures speak of baptism. You will never find one instance where the Scriptures say baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality or the believer's first act of obedience.

Well that’s naïve. When Bible writers use metaphors, do they preface their usage with the disclaimer: “This is a metaphor!”

 You will find plenty of passages that say baptism is for the forgiveness of sins and now saves you.

I’ve discussed those spooftexts many times. For instance:

 It's not prooftexting, it's believing what the Scriptures say.

Well, the Scriptures say God has feathers (Ps 91:4). Do Lutherans worship Big Bird?

Angels ascending

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (Jn 1:19-51).

i) Jesus’ statement that he saw Nathanael under the fig tree is enigmatic. The narrator must have known that when he recorded this provocative statement, it would invite speculation. So I don’t think it’s inappropriate to speculate, as long as we confine ourselves to textual clues and acknowledge the limitations of our conjectures.

ii) Some commentators don’t think there was anything significant about what Nathanael was doing under the fig tree. They think Jesus’ knowledge is the only significant consideration, and not what it was that Nathanael was up to.

Certainly that’s possible. However, unless Nathanael was overreacting, his exclamation ought to match what Jesus saw. The fact that Jesus exhibits supernatural knowledge doesn’t justify the claim that he’s the “Son of God and King of Israel.” After all, prophets could be clairvoyant (cf. 2 Kgs 6:8-14). But Nathanael’s claim attributes to Jesus a status that far outstrips a prophet.

iii) Some commentators think the fig tree is significant, based on OT symbolism. But while it’s true that fig trees can have emblematic significance, I think it’s artificial to project that onto this scene. This is not a literary construct, but a real event. It’s not as if the narrator invented a fig tree to stick a character under so that he could trade on literary allusions.

I think it’s a little too convenient to imagine that Nathanael just happens to be under a fig tree, that just happens to evoke OT associations. That would be too staged. 

Mind you, Jesus himself can stage certain events, like the cursing of the fig tree–but that’s a miracle.

iv) Fig trees were shade trees. If you wanted to go outside to pray alone, if you wanted a quiet, private place to pray, a fig tree would be a natural setting.

If, in addition, Nathanael was praying that God send the promised Messiah, then that would explain his reaction. What he prayed about would dovetail with Jesus as the answer to his prayer.

v) Admittedly, that’s speculative, but it’s not pure speculation. This very narrative is framed in terms of urgent Messianic expectations. So that’s in the air. That’s in the minds of the participants.

If Nathanael was praying about the coming Messiah, and Jesus, by disclosing to Nathanael that he knew what Nathanael was praying about, revealed himself to be the coming of the Messiah, then that would account for Nathanael’s astonished faith. Nathanael is standing face-to-face with the answer to his prayer. Be careful what you ask for!

vi) There’s also the question of what Nathanael meant by calling Jesus the “Son of God” and “King of Israel.”

a) Some commentators think this is merely the kind of honorific title used for the Davidic Messiah in the OT (e.g. Ps 2, 89; Isa 9). We shouldn’t read too much metaphysical significance into Nathanael’s exclamation.

However, that begs the question of whether the title in Messianic prophecy was merely honorific. It was already a very exalted title in Messianic prophecy.

b) In addition, as the narrative carefully underscores, we’re dealing with individuals who moved in the same circles as John the Baptist. As such, Nathanael’s usage might well be enriched by the Baptist’s understanding of the Messiah. The Baptist received a divine revelation regarding the divine sonship of Jesus (29-34). Like falling dominoes, the narrator relays a rippling series of events linking the witness of the Baptist to the witness of Nathanael. 

Even if, at this stage, Nathanael didn’t operate with a full-orbed Johannine Christology, his usage is probably enhanced by the Baptist’s rarefied usage.

Somebody somewhere might be holding a dissenting opinion

"Transgression: the new conformism" by Carl Trueman.

Restless hearts

"Augustine: For Professors, Poets, and Pastors" by Carl Trueman.

(Augustine's Confessions is one of my very favorite books as well. As I recall, I first read the Henry Chadwick translation.)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

FREE course: The Historical Adam

Looking for Mr. Goodbar

I'm not qualified to comment on how representative this is:

"Why I am still a Christian"

Contextualizing Biblical warfare

B. C. Hodge was kind enough to plug a recent post of mine:

This generated a threeway exchange in the combox

JamesApril 19, 2013 at 4:46 PM

"By contrast, OT holy disincentivized warfare for personal aggrandizement. Israelites did not wage holy war for plunder. They were denied the conventional spoils of war."

Really? What Bible are you two reading?

Numbers 31:9-12 "The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho."

I'm making no commentary about this. Spin it how you want. I'm just saying that his statement is patently false.

    steveApril 20, 2013 at 10:25 AM

    James is raising a patently ignorant objection. He fails to distinguish between the laws governing holy (i.e. herem) warfare and the laws governing conventional warfare. That distinction is drawn in Deut 20.

    On the one hand were the laws of governing the conquest and occupation of the holy land, involving siege warfare. In that situation, Israelite soldiers were not allowed to take plunder in the form of slaves or livestock. Therefore, holy war didn’t have that pecuniary incentive. At that’s the type of war that 1 Sam 15 is describing.

    On the other hand were the laws governing the post-settlement situation. Unlike herem warfare, where Israel went on the offensive, this was defensive warfare, designed to defend the preexisting borders of the holy land against neighboring invaders.

    Unlike other ANE cultures, Israel didn’t go on annual military expeditions to expand her borders or plunder other nations. Israel’s borders were fixed by divine allotment. So that’s unlike the Vikings.

    If, however, Israel had to wage a defensive war, then her soldiers were entitled to the spoils of war. But that was not the incentive, for we’re dealing with a defensive war rather than unprovoked aggression to secure more wealth or annex territory.

    And even in the very passage James quotes, Israelites soldiers were only entitled to half the booty. So that’s a disincentive. You assume all the risk, but you only get half the booty. You have to share the other half with civilians. That suppresses the profit motive.

    BTW, the war against the Midianites was just reprisal, as the chapter explains.

JamesApril 19, 2013 at 4:48 PM

Oh, I forgot this passage: Numbers 31:32-35 "The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man."

How do you suppose that, in the heat of battle, they determined which women were virgins or not?

I shudder to think of it ...

B. C. HodgeApril 19, 2013 at 5:53 PM

I think he's referring to the herem passages, where there is more than just plunder for plunder sake. The remaining plunder is to give to Israel what is needed to survive, as I have said many times before. They were poor in Egypt, so now they need to increase in number and prosperity. That's very different than just plundering to indulge in destruction or advance an already stable empire and/or society.

"How do you suppose that, in the heat of battle, they determined which women were virgins or not?

I shudder to think of it ..."

You imply that they raped all of the women. I could go on speculating about your life too. Would you like that? It would be easy to determine virgin women, as they were young and under their father's households, rather than being the heads of their own.

But, of course, you would have just let the virgin women die from lack of provision of a husband or father, because that's just the sensible and modern compassionate guy you are.


In his essay on “The Jericho and Ai of the Book of Joshua,” Richard Hess has a section on Rahab, which he connects with his argument that Jericho was a fort. Cf. Critical Issues in Early Israelite History, 38-39.

I wonder if Rahab’s status as a prostitute doesn’t, itself, furnish a bit of supporting evidence for classifying Jericho as a fort. By that I mean, where we find military institutions, we generally find prostitutes nearby. When men are stationed far from home, they typically resort to prostitutes. Traditionally, armies on the march might have a traveling harem to service the troops.

The only moral restraint on that behavior is Judeo-Christian ethics. And, of course, the pagans of Jericho and Ai didn’t have those scruples.

So, within the general framework of his argument, isn’t her identity as an “innkeeper” a euphemism for a brothel? Might she not be more like a Madame?  

Divine guidance

I’m going to comment on Grudem’s concept of special guidance, using this article as my point of reference:

In response to Robertson, I think Grudem has the better of the argument. I say that despite the fact that I don’t agree with Grudem’s overall position. And I say that despite the fact that I think Robertson is a more significant, insightful writer than Grudem.

But I’d like to focus on one aspect of Grudem’s argument:

I suspect that Dr. Robertson, with his strong confidence in the sovereignty of God, might agree (though I have not asked him) that God can work through unusual or remarkable circumstances (or “unusual providences”) to direct and guide us in the way we should go. But many times it takes a combination of two or three or four unusual circumstances before we have increasing confidence that God is leading us through them in a certain direction or another. 

But at other times a pastor whom I respect, or a close friend whom I have known for years, or a fellow elder in my church, or my wonderful wife Margaret, have come to me saying that they think the Lord has shown them something that they should share with me regarding my life. In these cases, when such words come from mature Christians whom I know well, I pay more careful attention. On a number of occasions God has spoken through these words to encourage me in a direction in which I was headed but with some uncertainty, or to encourage me when I was getting discouraged about some ministry activity, or to make me to reconsider some ordering of priorities in my life…

My response to this is to say that if God chooses to guide us through subjective reading of the Holy Spirit, or through the contemporary gift of prophecy, then, yes, we are not free to ignore guidance from the Lord himself.

To give an example, I was convinced at one point in my life that God was leading me to cancel my subscription to the Chicago Tribune, mainly because I was spending too much time reading it each morning.  I did cancel it, and I thought I was doing so out of obedience to God.

i) I’m struck by how vague these are. If God wants to send a message, why resort to such ambiguous means? Isn’t that counterproductive?

ii) I’m also struck by how mundane these examples are. Grudem didn’t see a vision. Or have a premonitory dream. No angel appeared to him.

How unlike examples of special guidance in Acts. For instance:

And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams (Acts 2:17).

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” (Acts 8:26).

About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius” (Acts 10:3).

9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:9-13).

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9).

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent” (Acts 18:9).

23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you” (Acts 27:23-24).

Grudem’s examples of divine guidance are indistinguishable from ordinary providence. There’s nothing distinctively charismatic about his illustrations.

iii) On a related note, take the business about canceling the Chicago Tribune. Why attribute that to divine leading? For that matter, why is divine leading necessary? Isn’t that just a case of making a common sense judgment about time-management? About being a responsible steward of our God-given time and opportunities?

Once again, there’s nothing distinctively prophetic about that conclusion. It’s just a case of using your natural intellectual to make a reasonable decision.

Obey your elders

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account (Heb 13:17).

This is often quoted by high churchman to keep the laity in their place. But it’s important to keep in mind that Biblical commands and prohibitions typically have an implied situation. An implicit or explicit situational context.

To be faithful to Biblical commands and prohibitions means we must make allowance for the implied situation, and apply those biblical injunctions to analogous situations. Far from honoring the authority of Scripture, to disregard the implied situation can make a mockery of original intent.

As I discussed recently, there are well-meaning Christians (e.g. John Murray, Wayne Grudem) who say there are no circumstances in which it is right to lie. They treat the Mosaic prohibition against perjury as a moral absolute.

But in so doing, they are decoupling the Mosaic prohibitions from the Mosaic law, of which they are a part, and reassigning them to any law code. But can you simply transfer those prohibitions from a just to an unjust law code? If a human law code substitutes darkness for light (Isa 5:20), if attaching the Mosaic prohibitions to an unjust law code would generate a Kafkaesque travesty of justice, are we really honoring the Bible? Or have we perverted justice?

Likewise, you have well-meaning Anabaptists who apply 1 Peter 2:13-14 to a modern democracy. But that disregards the implied situation of Christians at the time of writing.

Where Heb 13:17 is concerned, we need to take the implied situation into account:

i) There were no Christian denominations back then. There were no rival theological traditions in the Apostolic church.

But nowadays, which elders should a Christian submit to? Baptist? Methodist? Amish? Lutheran? Anglican? Presbyterian? Assemblies of God? Roman Catholic? Eastern Orthodox? Oriental Orthodox?

Should a Christian layman submit to Pope Francis, John Spong, James Pike, Gene Robinson, Katharine Schori?

Clearly the situation is more complicated. It’s necessary for a layman to make a preliminary judgment regarding which elders merit submission. A layman must decide for himself which denomination or independent church has a better understanding of the Bible.  The alternative is to flip a coin. So a layman has no choice but to exercise some independent theological judgment regarding which elders to submit to. Simply defaulting to an authority-figure isn’t a viable option when there are competing authority-figures vying for our submission.

ii) Does Heb 13:17 enjoin unconditional obedience? This verse qualifies the nature of submission. The laity are accountable to the leaders insofar as the leaders are accountable to God.

By converse logic, if church leaders are derelict, then the laity aren’t accountable to unaccountable leaders.

V17 comes on the heels of vv7,9. The laity are admonished not to be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. Given the fact that false teachers even infiltrated NT churches when the apostles were away, you could easily have a church, even in NT times, a church planted by an apostle, where the leadership went astray. A church where the elders were heretics.

So surely Heb 13:17 doesn’t enjoin blind submission to church elders. That would give false teachers carte blanche.

iii) Keep in mind, too, that at the time Hebrews was written, the NT wasn’t complete, collected, or disseminated.

Most laymen couldn’t read. Even if they could, they couldn’t afford books. That’s why the Scriptures were read aloud in church.

Back then, laymen were far more dependent on church leaders for their knowledge of the Christian faith. But nowadays, Christian laymen can go straight to the source. They can read the Bible. They can read Bible commentaries. Biblical theologies. Systematic theologies.

iv) At the time Heb 13:17 was written, elders were either apostolic appointees or ratified by apostles. Witnesses to the life of Christ were still alive (Heb 2:3).

Once again, we’re in a very different situation. Both pastors and laymen depend on the same source of information–the Bible. It isn’t mediated in the same way.

We need to apply biblical prescriptions and proscriptions to situations comparable to what the injunction originally envisioned. To tear a Biblical injunction out by the roots and transplant it to a completely different situation isn’t honoring the authority of Scripture.


A number of legal issues are swirling around Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

i) I’ve read some libertarians criticize Holder for failing to Mirandize the suspect right away. However, this confuses having Constitutional rights with an alleged Constitutional right to be read your Constitutional rights. To have due process rights under the 5-6 Amendments is not the same thing as having a Constitutional right to be told what your Constitutional rights are.

That involves the burden of proof. Does the onus lie on the person arrested to know his Constitutional rights, or on the gov’t to inform him of his Constitutional rights?

The Miranda warning is a judicial ruling, not a Constitutional right. That was handed down by the Warren Court, which was the mother of judicial activism. Indeed, the dissenting justices in the case attacked the majority opinion as judicial activism:

It’s ironic to see some libertarians rush to the defense of judicial activism.

Keep in mind that ever so many undoubtedly dangerous, undoubtedly guilty suspects have been have been released on this judicial technicality, enabling them to harm additional innocent victims.

ii) To my knowledge, the original design of the 5th Amendment was to protect the accused from confessing to a crime under torture. Extorted confessions.

That, however, is different from questioning a suspected terrorist to gather intelligence. As long as the information he divulges can’t be used against him in a criminal prosecution, I believe he can be compelled to speak without violating his 5-6 Amendment rights.

iii) Another issue is whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be treated as an illegal enemy combatant. Until recently, I believe that designation was reserved for noncitizens captured on the field of battle, not for an American citizen captured on American soil. Unlike the previous issues, libertarians are understandably concerned about creeping power of an American president to unilaterally reclassify an American citizen.

Of course, the fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a naturalized American citizen in the first place raises questions about our lax standards. Naturalized citizenship is a privilege, not a right. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has a Constitutional right to be tried as a traitor under article 3, section 3 of the US Constitution.

Frequently raised but weak arguments against ID

"Frequently raised but weak arguments against Intelligent Design"

The bleeping Psalter

Catholic apologists, many of them evangelical converts to Rome, are wont to claim the Church of Rome gave us the Bible. Erich Zenger was a Benedictine monk and OT scholar. He took great umbrage at how Vatican II “reforms” bowdlerized the Psalter. What Rome gives, Rome can take away:

For this reason, the postconciliar liturgical reform has even rejected certain psalms as unsuitable for the Catholic church’s Liturgy of Hours, and in an act of magisterial barbarism, it destroyed the poetic form of some psalms by simply eliminating individuals verses.

It is undeniable that the object in taking such a stance is, on the one hand, the “rescuing” of the biblical psalms for Christianity. This position aims to avoid the general heresy of Marcion, and yet it partially preserves it. The annoying strangeness of the psalms is attributed to their “less than Christian” Jewish origins…This is evident, with all its consequences and pungent effect, in those authors who regard these psalms, as symptoms and elements of Old Testament religion, as something “alien” in the relationship to Christianity.

In 1962, during the discussions of the reform of the Catholic church’s Liturgy of Hours, the Benedictine Abbot Primate Benno Gut, who in 1969 would become prefect of the new Sacred Congregation of Divine Worship, responded in the Central Commission of the Vatican Council to the question whether the so-called imprecatory psalms would be retained or eliminated…

Among the group are all three of the psalms that have been entirely omitted from the Roman Catholic church’s Liturgy of the Hours (Pss. 58, 83, and 109). Out of the group of nineteen psalms from which ecclesiastical censorship has dropped individual verses, I have chosen Psalms 137 and 139.

E. Zenger, A God of Vengeance?: Understanding the Psalms (WJK 1995), viii, 16-17, 26.

Time travel in movies


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A double-minded man

In this post I’m not going to evaluate AHA (Abolish Human Abortion). Rather, I’m going to evaluate some of Ed’s objections to AHA.

My last objection to AHA is that it is NOT a ministry that flows from the local church. T. Russell Hunter has stated openly and unapologetically that AHA comes under the sole authority of Jesus Christ. When asked if AHA is under a local elder board or a local church, he ignores the question. I have tried to find a local church associated with AHA on their website and their Facebook page. I have also tried to convince Russell to share with me privately the Church that he is affiliated with and he has consistently stiff-armed me at every turn. AHA is a national ministry that is also very controversial. The perception it creates in the mind of many will be transferred to everyone who names the name of Christ. No national ministry or movement is legitimate unless that ministry has been organized and authorized by the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ. In addition, integrity would demand absolute and complete transparency. Russell refuses to talk about the issue in any way, shape or form. Refusal to come clean on this issue in terms of Russell’s relationship with the local church raises red flags that should be cause for concern with anyone who cares about the name of Christ and the reputation of the Christian community. Not surprisingly, the rude crew at Triablogue has decided to support the idea that parachurch ministries do NOT require authorization from the local body. They have made such straw man arguments, as “one does not need their elder’s permission to rescue a child from a busy intersection about to get hit by an automobile.” Others have said that you don’t need your elder’s permission to hand out tracks. It is impossible to take such arguments seriously. In fact, it has become more and more difficult to take many if not most of the young bloggers at Triablogue seriously.

The final kicker is that all this is only true, and should only be considered if AHA were a legitimate work of the Church, having been formerly authorized by the Church and currently under the supervision of the Church. In addition, this authorization and supervision should be true of each chapter and all activities in all locations. Moreover, the project should move from one church to another church. In other words, one group of elders should share the ideas with other groups of elders and so on and so forth.

My specific objections to AHA are:

  • Parachurch ministries have no authority to rebuke or correct local churches
  • AHA is does not flow from a local church because it was not organized and authorized by a local, establish church
  • AHA apparently refuses to submit to a local church, asserting that its only authority is Jesus Christ - given every opportunity to identify his ministerial authority, Hunter refuses
  • AHA’s ecclesiology is defective, creates confusion in the body and is divisive
  • AHA’s leaders who refuse to come under authority are schismatics in the body and should repent and submit to local elders and pastors
  • Finally, it would be rank hypocrisy for anyone to openly reject God's command for submission to your elders in the local Church while pointing your fingers at other Churches who don't oppose abortion strenuously enough to someone else's personal standards

It is NOT a tradition of man that we obey our local elders within the body of Christ. Since when is Hebrews 13:17 the "traditions of men?" Imagine Apollos telling Aquila to back off, that he knew what he was doing. Or imagine Cornelius saying to Peter, no, no, no. I already know the truth.

i) Ed teaches at the Veritas School of Theology. I haven’t found a local church associated with Veritas on its website. I haven’t found any evidence that Veritas is under the authority of a local elder board. I haven’t found any evidence that Veritas was organized and authorized by the leadership of a local church. I haven’t found any evidence that Veritas is currently under the supervision of a local elder board.

Veritas has all the hallmarks of an independent parachurch ministry. The defective ecclesiology of Veritas creates confusion in the body and is divisive. Ed and his colleagues at Veritas are schismatics who ought to repent. It is rank hypocrisy for Ed to openly reject God’s command for submission to his elders while pointing fingers at AHA.

ii) On the one hand, Ed classifies AHA as a national ministry or movement. On the other hand, Ed faults AHA for failing to submit to a local church. How does Ed think a national organization would be answerable to a local church? Wouldn’t that require denominational oversight rather than local oversight?

iii) Ed says “Parachurch ministries have no authority to rebuke or correct local churches.”

Of course, this is how Roman Catholic apologists argue. They recast issues of right and wrong, truth and falsehood as issues of authority. What matters is not what was said or done, but who said it or did it. This shifts the issue from what is right to who has rights.

But Christians don’t need a special right to do or say what is right. If a parachurch ministry is right, and a local church (or denomination) is wrong, the parachurch ministry can rightly rebuke a local church or denomination. Christians are always entitled to speak the truth. They don’t need a permission slip to speak the truth.

iv) Apostate mainline denominations have a formal polity. An ecclesiastical authority-structure. They also teach heresy and immorality. Are they immune to criticism from an orthodox parachurch ministry?

v) Peter and Aquila are not equivalent. Peter is an apostle, but where Aquila and Apollos are concerned, that’s just a case of one layman sharing info with another layman. There’s no evidence that Aquila outranked Apollos. No evidence that Aquila was his ecclesiastical superior. Apollos wasn’t duty-bound to “obey” Aquila. This isn't a question of authority, but whether Aquila was better informed.

Just another example of how Ed constantly grasps at straws.

vi) What about Heb 13:17? I discuss that here:

vii) Ed likes to play the age card. One problem with that move is that I’m probably older than Ed.

In addition, a surefire way of losing the younger generation is to pull rank, throw your weight around, play the authority card and the age card. Young folks don’t respect that.

If you wish to transmit the faith to the next generation, you have to set a good example, and you have to reason with them.

viii) Finally, Ed is a double-minded man: Here are some things he said not so long ago:

Ed Dingess 11/10/2012 9:15 AM

Personally, I have changed my views on how the Christian group ought to relate to American politics.

Ed Dingess 11/12/2012 8:12 PM

I have reached the point where this discussion has become unfruitful. You clearly reject my arguments and seem to be unwilling to consider my line of reasoning. You continually miss my points and I am tired of trying to present them to you for your consideration. Paul instructed Timothy NOT to engage in endless debates. This, my brother, runs the risk of being one of those! I have stated my views and made my points. At this time, I think it is best that I simply bow out of this discussion as it promises very little by way of return. Take care.

Ed Dingess 1/02/2013 9:32 PM

I read Steve's blogs and agree with better than 95% of what he says. I have been reading him for years. There are only a few links on my blog and Steve is one of them. My goal is not to win a debate.

He says one thing and does another. He pulls an about-face. Scripture warns us to beware of that.

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5-8).

Classifying miracles

I’m been corresponding with some friends on the nature of miracles. I’m going to post my correspondence.

In fact, in my notes at this point I wrote: "This is why Calvinists need not be, and should not be, physical determinists: it would rule out miracle."

Wouldn't that only follow on a Humean definition of miracles? In principle, why couldn't miracles be physically determined?

Depending on how we define "miracle" and "law," I think that miracles would, in principle, be consistent with both physical and nomological determinism. But maybe I'm overlooking some counterexamples.

Mind you, I'm not saying that's the best framework for miracles.

There's another distinction. Natural laws are very general. They're not equivalent to natural processes. Many things naturally occur that aren't covered by natural laws, things more particular than the very general principles denoted by natural laws.

Well, yes, since the notion of 'miracle' is ambiguous. On the traditional view, miracles are supra natura (medieval view) rather than contra natura (Hume's view). That is, they are not exceptions to the laws of nature. Rather, they are events that don't fall under the scope of the laws of nature. The laws tell us what happens when nature acts under 'its own steam,' relatively speaking. (Nature never ultimately acts under its own steam, given divine conservation and concurrence.) The laws don't purport to tell us what happens when God decides to go beyond conservation and concurrence to bring about something more immediate - that is, something not mediated by the natural powers of substances.

On this traditional view, it is not the case that the laws of nature + a past state of the universe entails any future state. The laws only tell us what would happen absent divine intervention. Since it is always open to God to intervene, bringing about effects that go beyond the natural powers of substances, then physical determinism is false. For physical determinism amounts to this entailment claim, but the possibility of divine intervention spoils it.

However, there is another view of 'miracle' to which I think you are alluding. It capitalizes on the spectrum of words that are used to indicate these kinds of things in Scripture: 'wonder,' 'sign,' etc. Here what matters is the religious context of the event, rather than its metaphysical relation to the natural powers of substances. Is God using the event to draw attention to himself in a special way? Here miracles don't have to be things that 'go beyond' nature. Rather, God can have ordained from eternity that the laws of nature + a particular set of circumstances would result in an event that is so remarkably timed or located that it draws attention to God. These would be 'physically determined' miracles, and they would be neither supra natura nor contra natura.

When I say that "Calvinists shouldn't be physical determinists, for that would rule out miracle," I mean 'miracle' in the first sense, not the second sense. Physical determinism would allow for miracle in the second sense.

i) To begin with, many OT miracles (e.g. Noah's flood, judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, some/all? plagues of Egypt) could be classified as coincidence miracles. They employ natural processes or natural mechanisms. What makes them miraculous is the opportune timing. But these miracles could indeed be the result of natural laws + the past state of the universe. Within that framework, God, in his plan for world history, would prearrange the natural course of events to providentially produce these conjunctions at just the right time and place. Indeed, I think that's the best way to construe a coincidence miracle.

ii) The problem with defining a miracles as an event that runs contrary to what happens when nature acts under its own steam is that natural agents can intervene to arrest or redirect the course of natural. Take a beaver dam. Not to mention human technology.

Likewise, if I see an egg rolling across a table, I can intervene to prevent the egg from rolling off the table and smashing on the floor. But that isn't miraculous.

iii) Take Daniel's friends in the fiery furnace. Left to its own devices, the heat would incinerate them. However, it's also possible to create natural heat shields. It is possible for God to shield them through a natural medium. In principle, the floating axehead, Jonah's survival, or Joshua's Long Day (depending on how we interpret the description) could involve the same principle.

I'm not saying that's how God did it, but it complicates the analysis of a "miracle," as well as the objection to the miracles as "contrary to nature."

iv) Take miracles like turning water into wine or multiplying fish. Those are paradigm-cases of miracles. Something that the natural course of events could never produce.

Yet these are cases of mental causation. Christ wills something to happen, and it happens. But mental causation is not inherently miraculous. I will my hand to grasp of glass of lemonade and put it to my lips. There's a physical effect of a physical cause (the motion of my hand). Behind the physical cause is a mental cause. Yet that's all perfectly natural.

Take Jesus healing the blind. That's a case of mental causation producing a physical effect.

v) Perhaps one would say the difference is that, in some of these illustrations, I'm using a physical medium to produce the result, unlike changing water into wine or multiplying fish, where the mind directly produces the result. Or perhaps one would say natural laws + plus the past history of the universe could never lead up to that result. It's not a chain reaction, but causally discrete or discontinuous.

However, that's difficult to generalize. For instance, science is open to action-at-a-distance or nonlocality. By the same token, you have philosophers like Stephen Braude who think some human beings naturally have the power of psychokinesis.

Even if we deny psychokinesis in reality, we could still consider it hypothetically. Suppose some agents did have that mind-over-matter ability. Then "miracles" would be consistent with physical determinism or nomological determinism, yes?

Moreover, that wouldn't entail a secular framework.

vi) Take Jesus restoring the daughter of Jairus. According to the Lukan version, her "spirit" returned to her body. On one interpretation, that involves Jesus reuniting her soul and body. Jesus having the authority to summon her soul and return her soul to her body. (On another interpretation, pneuma just means "breath." When you "expire" you stop breathing.)

If dualism is true, then dualism would be "natural." Resuscitating her wouldn't "violate" a law of nature. Personally, I don't care if miracles "break" the laws of nature. I'm just probing the logic of the objection.

vii) Take the burning bush. That depends, in part, on how we are meant to understand the phenomenon. Is that physical fire? This is bound up with the presence of the angel. Exodus also has cases of supernatural luminescence (e.g. Shekinah, pillar of fire). So, contextually speaking, this may not be physical fire, in which case it doesn't even prima facie "violate" a law of nature for the bush to "burn" without being consumed. Rather, the bush would have a fiery aura.

Yet, on that interpretation, this is still miraculous in another sense.

We could examine other Biblical miracles. I think the traditional discussion of miracles, both pro and con, oversimplifies the issue by trying to reduce everything to a common explanatory principle. But the phenomena are more varied.

i) There are basically two different ways of framing the question of miracles. One is a topdown approach. We begin with a preconception of what the world is like. That, in turn, dictates how we define miracles and whether we allow for miracles. Take methodological naturalism. Avoiding the "Divine Foot" in the door.

The other is a bottomup approach. Given the occurrence of miracles, what does that tell us about the kind of world we live in?

Does the world define a miracle, or does a miracle define the world?

ii) On the one hand you have the law/lawbreaker model. That casts God in the role of a homeowner who accidentally locked himself out of his house and has to break a window to get back inside. It's patently absurd.

iii) On the other hand, as Calvinists, we believe that God predestined every event. In that respect, every event is prearranged and coordinated with every other event.

We believe in meticulous providence, by which God normally implements his plan for the world. On Calvinism, many miracles could be classified or reclassified as coincidence miracles.

iv) It's also important to distinguish between natural causal explanations and naturalistic causal explanations. For instance, there are natural ways of cheating at casino poker. But a cheater is succeeding more often than if he played by the rules.

v) Apropos (iv), a miracle doesn't necessarily require a different causal modality. Divine intent can make it miraculous. Even if everything leading up to the outcome seems to be happening "naturally," yet when seen in retrospect, one can perceive how preceding events were aimed at that outcome. The end-result was premeditated. We discern the evidence of forethought, as well as the adaptation of means to an intended result.

There is a [David] Lewisian view of laws of nature such that the laws are just exceptionless generalizations, describing 'what always happens,' but they have no necessity. They supervene on actual events. This contradicts the view of the laws that says such laws have ceteris paribus clauses, restricting their scope to closed systems only, where divine intervention is absent. But Plantinga argues that even on a Lewisian view of the laws, miracles could never contradict or break the laws. For if something happens that contradicts the exceptionless generalization, that only means that what we took to be a law wasn't really a law (remember, on this view the laws have no necessity, and supervene on actual events).

What this means is that on either view of the laws - with ceteris paribus clauses imposing a restricted scope, or as exceptionless generalizations of universal scope - miracles could never contradict or break the laws. I think this is an interesting point. In fact, to get a laws/miracle conflict, you have to add two theses to the laws themselves: physical determinism, plus the causal closure of the physical universe. But that would be to add a gigantic dose of unsupported metaphysics to the results of natural science. Such gratuitous additions are 'where the conflict really lies,' for Plantinga.

Hasn't Robert Larmer argued that miracles are consistent with nomological necessity? I'm not saying that's the best way to model miracles–just that the objection to miracles based on nomological necessity is metaphysically questionable even if we grant nomological necessity.

Seems to me that most-all Biblical miracles fall into one of two categories: coincidence miracles or psychokinetic miracles.

For a rough definition of a coincidence miracle: a highly unlikely but opportune convergence of causally independent antecedent events.

For a rough definition of a psychokinetic miracle: an agent causally influencing a physical system without any physical medium to facilitate the effect.

I think coincidence miracles are clearly compatible with physical or nomological determinism.

Psychokinetic miracles are incompatible in the semantic or superficial sense that they presuppose dualism, which isn’t strictly “physical.”

However, if dualism is true, then dualism is “natural.”

I agree that miracles in both categories would be consistent with nomological determinism (if one allows natural laws to include psychic laws as well as physical laws).

But what about the raising of Lazarus? A coincidence miracle?

No, I'd classify the raising of Lazarus as a psychokinetic miracle: an exercise of Christ's sheer omnipotence.

Another issue is God’s relation to time. On the eternalist view, God doesn’t miraculously “intervene” at discrete, successive points in history. Rather, God made everything by a single timeless fiat. In that respect, God bears the same causal relation to every event–be it providential or miraculous. God instantiated the world as a given totality, by one indivisible creative fiat.

On the eternalist view, you have all the same events. All the same miracles. But history isn’t punctuated by divine interventions, where God jumps in or breaks into the spacetime continuum, then absents himself. You don’t have a temporal series of divine incursions, intercalated with lawful operations the rest of the time. A timeless God doesn’t shift causal gears to perform a miracle. Rather, God instantiates a miraculous event the same way he instantiates a providential event–by actualizing his plan for the world, all at once.

Keep in mind that I don’t subscribe to nomological determinism. I’m discussing the possible consistency of nomological determinism with miracles for the sake of argument, inasmuch as that’s a stock objection to miracles.

So what kind of miracle couldn't be classified as a psychokinetic miracle in that case? Seems to me that any miracle could be understood as "an exercise of Christ's sheer omnipotence" -- which suggests that the category doesn't have much utility for classificatory purposes.

i) Since every miracle is not a dominical miracle, every miracle wouldn’t be an exercise of Christ’s sheer omnipotence. In addition to reported postbiblical miracles, you have miracles attributed to prophets, apostles, demons, witches, sorcerers, and the Antichrist, in Scripture.

You also have miracles attributed to Yahweh in the OT. Although there’s a robust sense in which Christ is Yahweh, it would be anachronistic to say Yahweh in the OT is Yahweh Incarnate.

ii) I don’t think it’s a question of whether every miracle could be psychokinetic, but whether that’s the best explanation in any particular cases.

Assuming that we reject occasionalism and idealism, then we believe the physical world normally operates by natural forces, mechanisms, and processes that are genuine agencies. That have real casual or productive power.

Likewise, as Calvinists, we subscribe to exhaustive predestination and meticulous providence.

Given that explanatory frame of reference, it is more economical to classify some miracles as coincidence miracles rather than psychokinetic miracles.

iii) Seems to me that in the case of judicial natural disasters (e.g. the flood, destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, plagues of Egypt, drought [in Elijah’s time], fall of Jericho, &c.), that a coincidence miracle is the best explanation. God prearranging natural conditions to yield that result.

Other examples might include quail blown off course to feed the Israelites in the wilderness, water from the rock, or the bear-mauling to avenge Elisha.

It’s possible that God created a bear ex nihilo to punish Elisha’s detractors. But given a doctrine of Biblical providence, I think it makes more sense to say God prearranged two she-bears to be in the vicinity to carry out the divine judgment.

Likewise, it’s possible that God created the spring (i.e. water from the rock) by direct fiat, but I think it makes more sense to view this as a coincidence miracle. God guiding the Israelites to that location.

iv) I do think most dominical miracles are best classified as psychokinetic miracles. But let’s consider some possible or actual exceptions:

a) Take the cursing of the fig tree. That could be a psychokinetic miracle. Christ simply wills the fig tree to wither on the spot. On the other hand, God can cause a plant to wither overnight by natural means (Jonah 4:7). So it could be a coincidence miracle.

If it withered “instantly,” then that would favor a psychokinetic miracle. But due to Synoptic variants, that’s ambiguous.

b) Take Jn 1:48. The fact that Christ is privy to Nathaniel’s prayer is telepathic. A reflection of his divine omniscience.

Yet the convenient timing of the event, where it happens just before Nathaniel’s encounter with Christ, so that Christ uses that to reveal himself to Nathaniel, also makes it a coincidence miracle. A natural, outwardly ordinary conjunction of events that has no special extrinsic significance, yet is deeply significant to Nathaniel.

c) Take the miraculous draught of fish (Lk 5:4-7; Jn 21:6). It’s possible that Christ made these fish ex nihilo, rather like the multiplication of loaves and fish. But I think it makes more sense to assume God/Christ prearranged the natural course of events so that a school of fish would pass by at just the right time and place. A coincidence miracle.

d) Finally, take the way Christ paid the temple tax (Mt 17:24-27). I’d say that’s a clear case of a coincidence miracle. God/Christ prearranged the fish to swallow the coin, and prearranged the fish to be at the right time and place when Peter went fishing.

It’s possible that Christ made a fish with a coin inside by direct fiat. Even if that were the case, the fact that Peter happened to find exactly the right spot at the right time of day to catch the fish still makes it a coincidence miracle–even if it had a psychokinetic component.

My immediate interest is the compatibility of such miracles with nomological determinism and the notion of natural laws. What kind of natural laws would be consistent with a miracle like the raising of Lazarus? I agree that if dualism is true then the mental can be understood as natural-but-not-physical. But I find it hard to imagine that the state of Lazarus being raised might follow by natural laws alone from the state of Lazarus being dead for several days.

i) Seems to me that depends, in part, on how we define natural laws. If we define natural laws as (physical) productive powers, then I certainly don’t think natural laws could cause that effect. The past history of the universe + natural laws would be unable to produce that outcome.

ii) If, however, we include mental causation, then a mind of sufficient power could will that to happen.

iii) It also depends on whether we view natural laws as something over and above natural forces, processes, and mechanisms. If we define natural laws as the most general or fundamental natural forces, then many things naturally occur that weren’t caused by natural laws. Rather, they were caused by natural mechanisms or processes that are less general or fundamental than natural laws.

iv) If, on the other hand, we define a natural law descriptively, as a summary of collective human observations–or if we define a natural law as what happens when nature is left to its own devices, then raising Lazarus would be consistent with natural laws even though natural laws don’t account for the raising of Lazarus.

My immediate interest is the compatibility of such miracles with nomological determinism and the notion of natural laws. What kind of natural laws would be consistent with a miracle like the raising of Lazarus? I agree that if dualism is true then the mental can be understood as natural-but-not-physical. But I find it hard to imagine that the state of Lazarus being raised might follow by natural laws alone from the state of Lazarus being dead for several days.

i) Once again, that depends on how we define a natural law. On one influential definition, natural laws have prescriptive force: they constrain the scope of what’s naturally possible.

So, on that definition, miracles might be incompatible with nomological determinism.

ii) However, even if we grant that definition for the sake of argument, it has no directional or predictive power. At most, it tells us that natural laws constrain what’s naturally possible, but not what natural laws constrain. The specifics are wide open.

Put another way, natural laws don’t tell us what nature is like; rather, nature tells us what natural laws are like. That remains to be discovered.

If miracles happen, then whatever else natural laws constrain, they don’t constrain the occurrence of miracles.

iii) In addition, a Christian could simply define natural laws as ceteris paribus laws. On that definition, miracles would be compatible with nomological determinism.

a) One might object that that’s a controversial definition of natural law. However, every definition of natural law is controversial. And there are leading philosophers of science who so define natural law.

b) On might object that that’s an ad hoc definition. The Christian self-servingly defines natural law to make room for miracles.

However, I don’t think that’s ad hoc. If God exists, then God is the supreme agent in (and over) the world. God is not a machine or automaton. God has rational discretion.

Given that fact, we’d expect all natural laws to be ceteris paribus laws.

One could try to challenge the presupposition (of divine existence), but that’s a different objection.

With respect to your most recent comments (below) I have one objection for now. On some of the conceptions of natural laws you suggest, those laws could be utterly disorderly. For example, if natural laws are merely descriptions of how things actually go in nature (which is how I understand your "nature tells us what natural laws are like") then even an utterly chaotic universe would have natural laws of some sort. But that seems to make the notion of 'law' quite vacuous (likewise for any nomological determinism defined in those terms). In short, if our conception of natural laws doesn't entail that we can make at least reliable (if not infallible) predictions about future events/states based on past events/states, then it's not a very useful conception or one relevant to science.

i) If we happen to inhabit a lawlike universe, then the laws will reflect that reality. If we happen to inhabit a chaotic universe, then the notion of law may, indeed, be vacuous.

ii) I believe that according to chaos theory, certain kinds of outcomes (involving complex dynamic systems, viz. weather, 3-body problem) can both be determinate and unpredictable.

iii) Do natural laws predict that a particular bird will build a nest in a particular tree on a particular date? Do natural laws predict that Caesar will cross the Rubicon?

Seems to me that the role assigned to natural laws operates at a more general or fundamental level. Don’t we usually have in mind, say, predicting a solar eclipse 1000 years from now?

iv) Apropos (iii), when we talk about lawlike behavior, don’t we usually have in mind such things as organic and inorganic chemistry (e.g. crystal formation)? We might include phenomena like the growth of trees, and photosynthesis. Or the cardiovascular system. Or the instinctual behavior of lower animals.

When, however, we shift to personal agents, then their behavior isn’t lawlike or predictable to the same degree.

On the one hand, nature contains a lot of biological machinery. That’s a paradigm-case of uniformity.

On the other hand, personal agency isn’t mechanistic in that respect.

Of course, humans have a human nature. Generic traits. We have common wants and needs. What’s unpredictable (from a scientific standpoint) is how we will go about seeking or achieving the satisfaction of our wants and needs.

So what kind of natural laws would (1) be consistent with a miracle like the resurrection and (2) allow us in principle to predict the resurrection in advance?

i) I don’t know if you’re linking these two questions. I think something can be consistent with natural law, but still be unpredictable. Caesar crossing the Rubicon is consistent with natural laws, but could we predict that outcome by knowing natural laws plus past states of the universe?

ii) Apropos (i), inasmuch as the Resurrection involves personal agency, I don’t think that natural laws or the past states of the universe select for that outcome.

Right, and that's been my point from the outset. It's hard to square immediate divine agency (if that's what some biblical miracles involve) with nomological determinism, without building ad-hoc-ish exception clauses into the latter.

Okay, but is your objection confined to the relationship between miracles and nomological determinism, or personal agency (of which miracles would be a subset) and nomological determinism? Personal agency covers ever so many "ordinary" events.

Moreover, the question of causal “immediacy” has some complications. That depends on how we model miraculous agency. Since the Bible doesn’t spell that out, we’re left to theorize. To illustrate, let’s take Paul blinding the magus (Acts 13:11).

i) On one possible model, God empowers or enables Paul to do that. Paul enjoys an enhanced human ability to perform miracles like that. That would be psychokinetic, but the human agent rather than the divine agent would be the immediate source. Put another way, the effect (blindness) would be mediated through a human agent, although the action itself would bypass a physical intermediary cause.

ii) On another possible model, it’s like preestablished harmony, where, whenever Paul intends a miraculous effect, his intention and outward action–be it physical or verbal–are coordinated with divine action. On that model, God is the immediate cause of the blindness.

iii) Demonic possess supplies a possible analogy. The demoniac has paranormal powers, not because the human host has this ability, but because the incubus has dragooned the body for its own purposes.

At the same time, a demon is a creature, just like the human host. So this is still a creaturely ability–albeit superhuman.

iv) There’s a further complication in the case of dominical miracles. Unlike prophetic or apostolic miracles, dominical miracles would be grounded in the divine nature of Christ.

v) Finally, the Resurrection is generally attributed to the action of the Father rather than the Son. We might ask why that is, inasmuch as the Incarnate Son as the ability to raise himself from the dead. Presumably the Father reserved that action for himself to reinforce the economic, sender/sent dynamic. Raising Christ demonstrates the fact that the Father sent the Son, as a climactic vindication of his mission.