Friday, October 11, 2013

Purveyors of a false gospel

Jason appears to have a similar charitable perspective to alleged miracles among non-Christian faiths, particularly Roman Catholics. I find that to be odd, knowing what I have read of him in the past outlining the false gospel Catholicism promotes. His conclusion is that within Catholicism, there are Catholics who are genuine believers and the alleged miracle claims from Catholic circles is God working out of compassion on behalf of those Christians. I personally see no precedent from Scripture in which God worked in such a fashion among the purveyors of a false Gospel…I am of a contrary opinion. I believe that God would never heal through a person who is then proclaiming a false religion that only assigns men’s souls to judgment, or a false teacher who may claim to speak for Christ, but proclaims an unbiblical and errant Gospel.

The problem with Fred's strictures is that John MacArthur is vulnerable to the same charge. Here's a little-known fact about MacArthur. 20 years ago I had a conversation with a student at Westminster west. I won't name names, except to say that this student was one of the two top students in his graduating class at Westminster west. 

When he was in college, he wrote MacArthur a letter. At that time, MacArthur was already embroiled in the Lordship Salvation controversy. He was opposing the antinomianism and easy-believism of some fundamentalists. 

He wrote a commentary on Romans (published by Moody). In the first edition, he stated that justification is not a forensic reckoning of righteousness, but an act that makes us actually, inherently righteous. Unfortunately, that's essentially the Tridentine interpretation of Paul. The Tridentine doctrine of justification.

In his letter, the student quoted various Reformed theologians showing him that his view was not only unbiblical and un-Protestant but basically the same as that of the Council of Trent.

MacArthur initially brushed off the letter until Lance Quinn got hold of the letter and told him that he needed to take the criticisms seriously. As a result, MacArthur revised his interpretation in the second edition of his commentary on Romans.

Until he was corrected, MacArthur was unwittingly the "purveyor of a false gospel," mirroring Rome on this crucial doctrine. And he was initially resistant to correction.

Presumably, MacArthur fans think we should cut him some slack. Make allowance for the fact that like every uninspired Christian, he has intellectual and theological limitations. But when it comes to reputable charismatic scholars like Craig Keener, Gordon Fee, Max Turner, and Graham Twelftree, or even mediating scholars like D. A. Carson, MacArthurites are wholly dismissive, if not contemptuous.   

Miracles in Western culture

Christians in China

A church worker in Beijing repeated to me the tale of a church that had worshipped in a cave during the Cultural Revolution. These Christians had somehow saved a single Bible from destruction, but they lived in terror that it, too, would be lost. So the believers each memorized a book—as long as they lived, so did the Word.

Ironically, persecution strengthened Chinese believers’ faith and determination, and religion eventually proved stronger than its opposition. Document 19—one of the primary policy statements on religion in China, derived from the same party gathering that established Deng Xiaoping’s rule—states that “those who expect to rely on administrative decrees or other coercive measures to wipe out religious thinking and practices with one blow are even further from the basic viewpoint Marxism takes toward the religious question. They are entirely wrong and will do no small harm.”

That’s an incredible acknowledgement of failure from the government. Since Deng Xiaoping, Beijing has attempted to manage and control religion through an elaborate religious bureaucracy, all the while predicting religion will die out naturally.

But statistics, however fuzzy, suggest precisely the opposite has happened:

High hopes, they’ve got high hopes

Ratzinger’s discussion of the [Vatican II] Council’s second session explores at some length the procedural problems faced by the Council fathers. These began to change with the election of Cardinal Montini as Pope Paul VI. Calling for a reform of the curia, the pope subsequently took a number of important steps. He revised the Council’s statutes to improve its workings; created a new governing body, which consisted of four moderators, who were generally more progressive cardinals; strengthened the conciliar commissions by expanding their membership, with new members ...

(Ratzinger, “Theological Highlights of Vatican II”, first published by Paulist Press, 1966, by special arrangement with Verlag J.P Bachem in Köln. English translation ©1966 by The Missionary Society of St Paul the Apostle in the State of New York; Introduction Copyright ©2009 by Thomas P. Rausch, SJ, pgs 6, from the Introduction)

I thought this statement was ironic in light of the Pope Francis appointment of eight cardinals whose job was to effect “a reform of the curia”. The first meeting of the “gang of eight” has come and gone with little news except that “A first fruit from the Oct. 1-3 meeting of the pope's new Council of Cardinals is already clear, with announcement of the theme for the next Synod of Bishops and plans for significant changes in the process designed to make it more participatory, substantive and efficient.”

That seems like real progress. Significant changes in the process of holding a Synod of Bishops in order to make it more participatory.

This is in light of Bergogilo’s intense desire to “do something”:

Vatican II, inspired by Pope Paul VI and John (XXIII), decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to be open to modern culture. The Council Fathers knew that being open to modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers. But afterwards very little was done in that direction. I have the humility and ambition to want to do something.

Seems like the curia, at least, is ignoring him.

But he’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie, in the sky hopes ...

Science in theory and practice

As scientists, we like to make our theories as delicate and fragile as possible. We like to arrange things so that if the slightest thing goes wrong, everything will collapse at once! Why do scientists use such shaky strategies? So that when anything goes wrong, they'll be the first to notice it. 
Marvin Minsky, Society of Mind (Simon & Schulster 1988), 193.
Sounds like a prudent principle. Pity scientists don't apply that to evolutionary theory, global warming, &c. 

Hume in sheep's clothing

Some typically confused comments from Ed Dingess:
Steve Hays is at it again with his at-a-distance pie-in-the-sky non-falsifiable theory that God continues to work miracles in a manner not at all materially different from how He has always worked miracles. Hays’ argument is really an argument from silence. What I mean by that is that Hays’ argument appeals to claims of miracles far, far away, in a distant land in order to defend his position.

i) I've never said modern miracles only occur in Third World countries. Rather, I've objected to how MacArthurites dismiss reports from Third World Christians out of hand.

ii) Notice, though, how Ed's argument is indistinguishable from how atheists attack Biblical miracles: 

at-a-distance pie-in-the-sky non-falsifiable of miracles far, far away, in a distant land 

Isn't that exactly how secular debunkers discount Biblical miracles? "You Christians appeal to conveniently unfalsifiable miracles from the distant past." 

If someone claims to be a miracle worker, we simply demand some form of clear and acceptable proof. Had someone been able to supply such a certification, perhaps the contours of the debate would shift. 

Even when medical corroboration is provided, MacArthurites fold their arms say that's not "on the level of undeniable miracles in the NT." 

Full of eyes

Full of Eyes looks like a good ministry.

Here are some free resources.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Down the rabbit hole

Cessationism and the argument from miracles

Some MacArthurites seem to be confused about the relationship between cessationism and the argument from miracles. Of course, Ed Dingess is incapable of honesty. But let's spell out the relationship:
i) From what I've read, MacArthurites classify Biblical miracles as sign-gifts. The function of sign-gifts is to attest the message by attesting the messenger. This is divine validation that the messenger speaks for God.
ii) The identity of Biblical miracles as sign-gifts is a key plank in the cessationist argument. Once the message (i.e. the Bible) was complete, there was no further need of messengers (i.e. prophets, apostles). Once there was no further need of messengers, there was no further need of sign-gifts. So miraculous sign-gifts have an expiration date. 
iii) This, in turn, figures in the traditional argument from miracles. According to the structure of the argument, we don't primarily believe in Biblical miracles on the authority of Scripture. Rather, we believe Scripture because miracles authorize the Bible writers. Miraculous sign-gifts are compelling evidence that the Bible writers were divinely commissioned. We believe the reported miracles because miracles certify the reporter. 
Having established the bona fides of Bible writers by the argument from miracles, we can now appeal to the authority of Scripture.
iv) This is a classic evidentialist argument. At least some MacArthurites are presuppositionalists. But that generates an unresolved tension between cessationist argument from miracles, which is an evidentialist argument, and presuppositionalism. You can't just graft presuppositionalism onto that preexistent framework. 

Is Wayne Grudem a heretical cult-member?

Throughout the portion of his book where he documents alleged testimony of modern-day miracles, Keener seems to be comfortable confirming miracles happening among groups I would consider not only heretical, but also cultic. For instance, he reports miracles happening among Catholics like Father Ralph DiOrio, the classic television style Pentecostal evangelists like Amiee Simple McPherson and Oral “900 foot tall Jesus” Roberts, and the real crazy charismatics like John Wimber and the Bethel Church in Redding which is a shaman healing lodge, rather than a Christian church.
I'm curious about the scope of Fred's indictment. Wimber founded the Vineyard church. For 5 years, Wayne Grudem was a member of the Vineyard church. Is it Fred's contention that Grudem is or was a heretic as well as a cult-member? 

In-house narratives

Throughout the portion of his book where he documents alleged testimony of modern-day miracles, Keener seems to be comfortable confirming miracles happening among groups I would consider not only heretical, but also cultic. For instance, he reports miracles happening among Catholics like Father Ralph DiOrio, the classic television style Pentecostal evangelists like Amiee Simple McPherson and Oral “900 foot tall Jesus” Roberts, and the real crazy charismatics like John Wimber and the Bethel Church in Redding which is a shaman healing lodge, rather than a Christian church.
Let's take Aimee Semple McPherson. I don't have an informed opinion about her one way or the other. She was born in the 19C, and died almost 70 years ago. I haven't read any critical biographies about her. I don't know if there are any critical biographies. By "critical," I mean biographies written by church historians or academic scholars that reflect intensive original research.
Consider what's involved in researching someone's life. If you were writing a biography, what kind of research should you conduct. What are the primary sources? Off the top of my head, these sources come to mind. 
i) Interviews the individual gave
ii) Interviewing acquaintances of the individual. Family, friends, associates, critics 
iii) Reading diaries and private correspondence
iv) Combing through archived newspaper articles 
v) Consulting police reports and court documents 
Have MacArthurites who cite McPherson as a charlatan conducted any independent research? What secondary literature have they read (much less primary sources)? Or is their information based Googling her name? Skimming a Wikipedia article? 
As far as I'm concerned, McPherson could well be a con artist. But I often wonder if MacArthurville hasn't created an unquestioned, in-house narrative of Pentecostal history. I don't take their givens as a given. How much of this is based on hard evidence (e.g. careful documentation)? How much is recycled urban legends? 

Unfulfilled prophecy

If, then, fulfilled prophecies are evidence for Scripture's reliability, then don't unfulfilled prophecies have to count as evidence against its truthfulness? It would certainly seem so, especially when we remember that a lot of these prophecies were given two thousand years and more ago. If some modern-day astrologer made a prediction that didn't come to pass even in a hundred years, would we still believe the prediction was correct? I doubt it, but then the skeptic is likely to tell us that if these prophecies about the end times were really true, they would have been fulfilled by now. Certainly, these prophecies can't be used as evidence that Scripture is reliable. J. Feinberg, Can You Believe It's True: Christian Apologetics in a Modern & Postmodern Era (Crossway 2013), 403.

I find this argument odd on several levels:

i) In principle, an unfulfilled prophecy is not equivalent to a failed prophecy. Of course, there can be some overlap. But even though some unfulfilled predictions are failed predictions (i.e. short-sighted psychics), not all unfulfilled predictions are failed predictions. After all, every fulfilled prophecy was unfulfilled before it was fulfilled. There was an interval during which it was unfulfilled. 

ii) If a prophecy says something won't happen until something else happens first, then the nonevent can be a confirmation of the prophecy. Some nonevents are surprising. We normally expect some things to happen. If something hasn't happened, that sometimes calls for special explanation. Some prophecies predict more than one thing, where a later event is contingent on an earlier event. 

iii) Whether we'd expect a prediction to come to pass by now depends on the wording of the prediction, as well as the nature of the problem which the fulfillment is intended to solve. There's nothing antecedently improbable about long-range prophecies. 

iv) As a matter of fact, the OT contains some messianic prophecies which weren't fulfilled for centuries or millennia. So there's precedent for long-range unfulfilled prophecies.

v) Some prophecies are conditional. Contingent on repentance. If you do A, B will happen–but if you don't to A, C will happen. 

vi) If Jesus returned in 500 AD or 1000 AD, you and I wouldn't be here. Our parents wouldn't be here. Our children wouldn't be here. Whether we should expect endtime prophecies to have been fulfilled by now depends on how many fallen generations God intends to save. The sooner Jesus comes, the fewer the number of fallen generations who were given the opportunity to enjoy eternal life. Even if there's procreation in the world to come, those are different generations. Different people. 

Is the objective of the new covenant for Jesus to return as soon as possible? Or is the objective to save more people? 

The new covenant is more expansive than the Mosaic covenant. A missionary faith directed at all people-groups. Expansive in time as well as space. Diachronically as well as geographically. 

Ratzinger: “for every statement advanced in one direction, the text offers one supporting the other side”

A week ago, I cited Protestant theologian David Wells describing Rome’s Divided Mind. The gist of what he was saying was this:

[Vatican II] actually endorsed two very different theologies and sometimes the differences could not be hidden. Neither side would accept ambiguity nor allow compromise. As a result, on some points the documents speak with two voices—one conservative and one progressive …

When neither side would back down and both insisted on having their views adopted, the Council searched for a reconciling statement which would be ambiguous enough to accommodate both schools of thought. When the Council was successful, both viewpoints were represented in one statement which obviously meant different things to different people …

There were times, however, when no reconciling statement could be found, and attempts to induce a surrender by one side or the other failed. In those cases, the Council would only endorse both positions with professional aplomb as if their mutual incompatibility were not longer glaringly obvious.

One kind of interpretive problem, then, which an analyst of the documents faces concerns the existence of those passages which are so brilliantly ambiguous as to be capable of serving the interests of both parties …

While reading Ratzinger’s work “Theological Highlights of Vatican II”, a work recently re-published touting Ratzinger as now Pope Benedict XVI, it seems as if the good Herr has confirmed the essential correctness of Wells’s analysis of Roman methodology.

Discussing “The So-Called ‘Explanatory Note’” tacked on to the end of the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, which sought to clarify the relationship of “bishops acting in conjunction with their head” with “bishops acting independently of the Pope”, Ratzinger says:

A detailed analysis of this very intricate text would take us here too far afield. The end result, which is what we are concerned with, would be the realization it did not create any substantially new situation. Without doubt the scales here were further tipped in favor of papal primacy as opposed to collegiality. But for every statement advanced in one direction the text offers one supporting the other side, and this restores the balance, leaving interpretations open in both directions. We can see the text as either “primatialist” or collegial. Thus we can speak of a certain ambivalence in the text of the “explanatory note,” reflecting the ambivalent attitude of those who worked on the text and tried to reconcile the conflicting tendencies. The consequent ambiguity is a sign that complete harmony of views was neither achieved nor even possible (Ratzinger, “Theological Highlights of Vatican II”, first published by Paulist Press, 1966, by special arrangement with Verlag J.P Bachem in Köln. English translation ©1966 by The Missionary Society of St Paul the Apostle in the State of New York; Introduction Copyright ©2009 by Thomas P. Rausch, SJ, pg s 170-171)

It should seem clear, even to the staunchest Roman Catholics now, that Wells was correct in his assessment, as it has been verified in print by Herr Ratzinger that official Roman documents “leave interpretations open in both directions”.

Now, this is a convenient state of affairs if you simultaneously (a) want to claim infallibility on a statement and (b) want to claim plausible deniability on a statement.

In the past, I have used phrases such as what Rome gives with one fork of its tongue, it takes away with the other

Speaking of “forked tongues” is not at all off the mark here. For in the light of Ratzinger’s statement, where, do we imagine, that Jesus’s statement fits into this official Roman methodology?

let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Dale Tuggy's ruse

Apostate anti-Trinitarian Dale Tuggy has a forthcoming article.

What is this "identity of God"? It is "who God is."

This is how Dale endeavors to trip up Christians. Lead by asking if they believe Jesus is God. When they say "yes," ask if they believe the Father is God. When they say "yes," ask if they believe that Jesus is the Father. Tie them up in knots with this semantic game.

But "Jesus is God" in the sense that the NT describes Jesus as God. By ascribing to Jesus exclusive names, titles, attributes, actions, and prerogatives that are uniquely reserved for the one true God. The same way the NT describes the Father. The same way the OT describes God.

Third, we can dismiss the paradigm, fairly popular in twentieth century theology, that there was a shift from a "functional" to an "ontic" christology (roughly, from viewing Christ as a man performing functions on behalf of and at the behest of God, to viewing Christ as himself divine).

Does Dale take the opposite position? Does he think the NT contains an evolutionary Christology and/or conflicting Christologies, some higher and some lower?

But if he's going to say the NT is not a trustworthy witness to the person of Christ, then by the same token, he can't appeal to his unitarian alternative, for a unitarian Bible would be just as unreliable as a Trinitarian Bible.

Sixth, we can ignore recent complex debates about the status of supposedly divine or semi-divine "intermediaries" between God and humankind in the period of Second Temple Judaism.

To say the NT doesn't really mean Jesus is God, but is just using agential language based on Second Temple models, won't cut it with scholars like Bauckham and Hurtado. They're thoroughly familiar with that argument, and they know their way around the literature far better than Tuggy.

Seventh, there is no need to think of catholic/mainstream christology as really developing in higher direction after the composition of the New Testament. High christology didn't finally emerge circa 180, 210, 325, 381, or 450 CE; no, Bauckham urges, it lies fairly obviously on the surface of the New Testament, for all faithful eyes to see, and the catholic tradition has always recognized this. Eighth, we can view the ecumenical creeds as simply recognizing Jesus' inclusion in the divine identity, and expressing it in a more Greek idiom, in metaphysical terms (nature, being, essence, person). Ninth, it is not hard for us, then, to confess orthodox/catholic belief (i.e. the content of the ecumenical creeds, rightly understood). We needn't fuss over the processes which led to the creeds, their metaphysical language, or their foreignness to our ways of thinking. They indeed say, or imply, that Jesus is included in the divine identity – and that is what we, following Bauckham, say. And this doesn't seem arcane, outdated, metaphysics-laden, or particularly hard to understand. Tenth, we can dismiss as wrongheaded most of the questing (past or current) for a "historical Jesus" which supposedly differs from the "Christ of faith." What we know about Jesus is nearly all in the New Testament, which is packed with non-subtle clues to Christ's inclusion in the identity of the one God.

That's a diversionary tactic.

The reader should take note that I'm using "identity" in this paper to mean only numerical identity, i.e. being numerically the same thing as – a relation which a thing may only bear to itself, and which as it were obeys the law of the indiscernibility of identicals, as explained an the end of section II below.

Unless Bauckham is using "identity" in the same sense as Tuggy, Tuggy's attack on Bauckham's argument is vitiated by equivocation.

This principle is sometimes called "Leibniz's Law." It is commonly expressed in standard logical symbols like this: □(x)(y)( x = y → (F)(Fx ↔ Fy)). (Necessarily, for any x and any y, x is identical to y only if for any F, x is F if and only if y is F.) Roughly: it is impossible for numerically identical things to differ. In my view, this principle should be explicitly complicated so as to allow that a thing may intrinsically change through time.

i) That's a fatal concession. No wonder he demotes that to a footnote–the way the New York Times buries a retraction in the back pages. He's compromised his key principle. By diluting abstract identity to make allowance for change over time, he can no longer deploy abstract identity to attack NT Christology or Triadology as contradictory.

If an individual can intrinsically change over time, and still be the same "self," rather than a series of selves, then what excuses his applying a stricter principle to the Trinity? Why does he allow for discontinuities in the case of personal identity, but not in the case of Trinitarian identity? If a person is the same self despite differences between earlier and later stages over a lifetime, why does he refuse to allow for any distinctions concerning the members of the Trinity?

ii) In addition, his "complication" is an ad hoc qualification on Leibniz's Law. For Tuggy has now abandoned strict identity. How does that follow from the identity of indiscernibles/indiscernibility of identicals?

iii) Another exception would be counterfactual identity. If we say an agent could do otherwise, and we gloss that by reference to possible worlds, then is he the same self?

Is this, then, Bauckham's bargain, that we should (1) construct a patently incoherent reading of the New Testament, (2) believe that interpretation, and (3) choose to loudly say only the positive side of the contradiction in order to stick it to the Jesus-seminar types of the world? This is, to be sure, a problematic claim, for the reason explained at the start of section IV above. In short, it strongly seems (to anyone who carefully considers it) to be false. For this very reason, we should be wary of attributing it to the New Testament authors.

Should we really take them to be asserting or assuming what is obviously false? Perhaps we should, if after all relevant considerations, this best explains what they say and don't say. But we should leave no stone unturned in considering seeminglyself-consistent readings. There is no way, in doing exegesis, to postpone these considerations for some later theological stage; inconsistency is an indispensable tool of interpretation, specifically, for ruling out proposed interpretations.

Self-consistency, and consistency with obvious truths, are important not only for theology, but also for interpretation. So is vagueness. A good interpretation of a text should fit well with and explain what the text says and does not say. If someone offers a very vague thesis, we won't be able to judge its fit with the text, nor its explanatory power, and so we won't be able to reasonably read the text in that way. Suppose that someone suggested that according to the Gospel of John, Jesus "had it." It is unclear what this means, and so unclear whether it fits the text of John. And as it stands, it is unqualified to explain what that text says about Jesus and God. Likewise, if we were decide on the content-thin reading of Bauckham's "christology of divine identity" sketched at the end of section IV above, we would have a problematic interpretation of any given New Testament text, for it would be too vague for us to judge its fit or explanatory power. I conclude that construing the "christology of divine identity" as mere exegesis does not exempt it from problems of consistency and unclarity.

He's projecting his own complaints onto the text, as if the NT writers saw the issues the same way he does.

But suppose for the sake of argument that what St. Paul or St. John thought that what God revealed to them was incoherent. What then? Are they supposed to exclaim, "God, that doesn't make any sense! You can't expect me to pass that along to the church!"

Their duty is to faithfully transmit whatever God discloses to them. Assuming that appears to be contradictory, so what? It's not their job to sit in judgment of God's self-revelation.

900 foot Jesus

Fred Butler has pried away some spare time to respond to us on the issue of modern miracles:

I appreciate the fact that unlike some MacArthurites, Fred argues for his position. His post is mainly directed at some comments by Jason Engwer, but I will weigh in.

Where I think Keener derails, however, is his suggestion that skepticism toward miracles in our modern day has its roots with David Hume’s skeptical philosophy.  Thus, if you are a cessationist, such as myself and the rest living in “MacArthurville” as Steve has so defined us, we have been unwittingly influenced by Hume’s skepticism.
I never used that argument. Rather, I've pointed out that MacArthurites often resort to skeptical tactics to dismiss modern miracles which are indistinguishable from the tactics of Hume and secular debunkers. That doesn't suggest or imply that MacArthurites have to be influenced by Hume. 
That is particularly true regarding alleged testimonies of miracles in third-world settings. The idea being that if the evidence of such miracles is merely the testimony of superstitious, mud-hut dwelling tribesmen, then such miracles cannot even be genuinely considered.
And I've quoted MacArthurites doing that very thing.
Keener, on the other hand, attempts to argue that just as the authenticity of the NT record of miracles is established by eye-witness testimony, so also must eye-witness testimony to modern miracles be at least considered. Why would Christians accept the testimony of ancient eye-witnesses who establish the credibility of the NT, yet not consider the testimony of modern witnesses, even if they are located in third-world venues? [The fact that it is called "God's Word" has something to do with that, but I digress...]
What about Fred's digression? His response is circular. Remember that MacArthurites classify Biblical miracles as sign-gifts whose function is to certify the messenger. So although Fred believes in Biblical miracles because he believes in the Bible, his position also commits him to believing in the Bible because the Bible was attested by sign-gifts. Therefore, he can't simply exempt Scripture from testimonial evidence in general. On the one hand he believes in Biblical miracles because the Bible attests them. On the the hand, he believes in the Bible due to miraculous attestation. So his cessationism ironically creates some parity between the case for Biblical miracles and the case for modern miracles, given the function which cessationism assigns to miracles (i.e. to accredit the messenger). Given that paradigm, you can't discount the one without discounting the other.
The main point of contention I have with any miracle that people say happened is the supernatural SOURCE of that miracle. In other words, I don’t believe every instance is necessarily from God…Other passages of Scripture imply that miraculous activity can be produced by our demonic enemy designed specifically to lead people into theological error. 
I don't deny that. I doubt Jason does, either. On the other hand, I believe Jason does object to defaulting to a demonic explanation. I think he regards that as an easy out in too many cases. 
Throughout the portion of his book where he documents alleged testimony of modern-day miracles, Keener seems to be comfortable confirming miracles happening among groups I would consider not only heretical, but also cultic. For instance, he reports miracles happening among Catholics like Father Ralph DiOrio, the classic television style Pentecostal evangelists like Amiee Simple McPherson and Oral “900 foot tall Jesus” Roberts, and the real crazy charismatics like John Wimber and the Bethel Church in Redding which is a shaman healing lodge, rather than a Christian church.
Let's briefly comment on a few of these examples:
i) I've never bothered to investigate Aimee Semple McPherson. I'm quite open to the possibility (or probability) that she was a charlatan.
Over against that, Robert Godfrey, in one of his church history classes, did a sympathetic presentation of "Sister Aimee." He didn't treat her as a fraud. Godfrey's a church historian, and president of a Reformed seminary. I also assume that he's a Reformed cessationist. So it's not as if he's predisposed to vouch for her sincerity. As a church historian, I assume his assessment of her is based on scholarly sources regarding her life and work. 
ii) Likewise, I never did an in-depth study of Wimber. As I recall, he was asked (by Peter Wagner) to speak at Fuller Seminary. When he was there, sensational things began to happen. That's ironic because by that time, Fuller had gone liberal. This was a throwback to a primitive supernaturalism that liberal seminary profs. would disdain.
My off-the-cuff impression of Wimber is that he was a sincere, but theologically unsophisticated Christian. As such, he probably said a number of questionable things, and exercised poor judgment in some of his associations. But that's distinct from whether genuine miracles occurred under his ministry. I have no firm opinion, not having researched the issue. I don't think he's a reliable theological guide. For a sympathetic analysis of Wimber's theology:
iii) Kurt Koch thinks that Oral Roberts did have genuine healing ability. Koch attributes that to Roberts having been healed by an Indian witchdoctor when he was  a young man. As a result, Koch thinks that occult ability was transmitted to Roberts. I have no firm opinion. Certainly his "seed-faith" doctrine was a fundraising gimmick. 
The "vision" of the 900 foot Jesus was a fiasco. It was a fundraiser for a medical center, which became a boondoggle–bankrupting ORU. The 900 foot Jesus turned out to be a white elephant in disguise.
Whatever his paranormal abilities, if any, Roberts was a conman. 
Jason appears to have a similar charitable perspective to alleged miracles among non-Christian faiths, particularly Roman Catholics. I find that to be odd, knowing what I have read of him in the past outlining the false gospel Catholicism promotes. His conclusion is that within Catholicism, there are Catholics who are genuine believers and the alleged miracle claims from Catholic circles is God working out of compassion on behalf of those Christians.
i) I have my own take on Catholic miracles:
ii) I don't know the source of Jason's interest in Lourdes. However, I can think of one possible source. A few years ago, Jason and I reviewed a book edited by John Loftus. One of the contributors used Lourdes as a test-case for Biblical miracles. It was an argument from analogy. He took the position that reported miracles at Lourdes are better attested than Biblical miracles. But if reported miracles at Lourdes are bogus, then so much the worse for Biblical miracles. That may have peaked Jason's interest in Lourdes, as a way of challenging the secular debunker on his own grounds.
Jason has also taken in interest in the Shroud of Turin. Of course, that's not unusual among evangelical apologists (e.g. Gary Habermas). Although the Shroud is currently a Catholic relic, if the Shroud is authentic, then that association is adventitious (like the bronze serpent). I have no opinion about the authenticity of the Shroud.
He [Keener] explains those claims of miracles among those of “incompatible religions” as the possibility of a supreme powers’ good will toward people of different faiths that doesn’t necessarily endorse any particular belief. He also suggests the work of alternative supernatural powers, such as evil spirits. Whatever the case, what matters is that we recognize and affirm a clear manifestation of the supernatural…I personally see no precedent from Scripture in which God worked in such a fashion among the purveyors of a false Gospel…Well, what about it? As I noted above, Keener would probably respond by saying there are many non-Christian examples of miraculous healings, but then speculates that it could be a loving God who is doing such powers of mercy through false religions because it is in His nature to be merciful.  I am of a contrary opinion. I believe that God would never heal through a person who is then proclaiming a false religion that only assigns men’s souls to judgment, or a false teacher who may claim to speak for Christ, but proclaims an unbiblical and errant Gospel. Hence, such “healings” and “miracles” are the deception of demons.  I am of that opinion not because I carry with me Hume’s skepticism, but because my theology of miracles is grounded in the Word of God. 
i) Consider a counterexample. The Bible records a number of revelatory dreams. In several cases, pagans are the recipients of these revelatory dreams: Abimelech (Gen 20:3-7), the Egyptian baker and cupbearer (Gen 40), Pharaoah (Gen 41), Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2, 4), and Pilate's wife (Mt 27:19). We might include the Magi (Mt 2:12). 
God is the direct source of these miraculous disclosures. And these are true revelations rather than delusive revelations. 
So there is Biblical precedent for God miraculously revealing himself to and through adherents of false religions. 
ii) That's only a problem if you artificially restrict the function of miracles to accrediting doctrine. And, ironically, that's how Hume frames them, then deploys that framework to conclude that reported miracles from competing religions cancel out one another.  

Google Hangout with Sinclair Ferguson

Sinclair Ferguson talks about life, pastoral ministry, and the church in light of his recent retirement:

Arminianism and penal substitution

Jerry Walls The issue here is what would perfect love do if faced with the scenario of the three children. It's very telling that Calvinists always cast the issue as one of justice rather than love. Moreover, if the atonement is understood as Calvinists often do, in terms of penal substitution...

i) We cast it in those terms because that's how Scripture casts it. Even when Scripture speaks of God's love, it's using love as a synonym for God's mercy or pity or grace. God's love for sinners rather than creatures. It's a mercy/justice dialectic. 

ii) It's striking that he comes out of the closet as an opponent of penal substitution. Walls has quite a following among Arminians. Yet many modern-day Arminians espouse penal substitute. Yet to judge by this comment, Walls regards penal substitution as a part of the Calvinist package rather than the Arminian package. 

iii) Since Walls is not a universalist, how does he justify eschatological punishment if divine love trumps divine justice? I don't know if he espouses annihilationism or everlasting hell. But in either event, that's retributive rather than remedial.

Scripture definitely treats eschatological judgment as punitive: just deserts. Comeuppance. 

By process of elimination, he's committed to retributive punishment. There are three basic options: deterrence, retribution, or remediation.

Postmortem punishment can't be for deterrence. Too late for that. And since he's not a universalist, it can't be for remediation.

It's possible that given his belief in postmortem salvation, he'd include remedial punishment to motivate postmortem conversion. Mind you, that's coercive, so that collides with his commitment to libertarian freedom.

But even if he thinks postmortem punishment has some remedial benefit, he doesn't believe all dead unbelievers will be responsive to God's postmortem overtures. So he must still fall back on retribution for that recalcitrant subset. 

But if love is God's primary attribute, then why does God punish anyone for not believing in him or reciprocating his love? Assuming (arguendo) that he can't make them love him or trust him, how are punitive measures the alternative to salvation?

Why not make the lost as comfortable as possible? Why not continuously treat unbelievers better than they deserve? 

Given Walls's theological assumptions, eschatological punishment seems petty and vindictive. 

What it means to be “catholic”, according to Rome

This blogpost is for all of you who think that Protestants can and should be “catholic” – the pope provided some relatively standard [from a Roman Catholic perspective] definitions of what it means to be “catholic” – it’s important that you make certain you clarify what YOU mean by being “catholic”, compared with what they mean.

From his address this morning:

First, the Church is catholic because she proclaims the apostolic faith in its entirety; she is the place where we meet Christ in his sacraments and receive the spiritual gifts needed to grow in holiness together with our brothers and sisters.

By “the apostolic faith in its entirety”, he means “the fullness of the faith”, which means, “you Protestants are lacking significantly by not accepting Roman sacraments such as penance, prayers to Mary, etc. It’s a euphemism for “your ‘eucharist’ or Lord’s Supper is fake,” for example.

The Church is also catholic because her communion embraces the whole human race, and she is sent to bring to the entire world the joy of salvation and the truth of the Gospel.

This is the “kumbaya” portion of Roman “catholicism” – they say “we want you all under our tent.”

Finally, the Church is catholic because she reconciles the wonderful diversity of God’s gifts to build up his People in unity and harmony.

This is euphemism for “we incorporate all kinds of cultures and cultural practices into our beliefs and practices” – the first instance having been the wholesale adoption of “household gods” and calling them “saints”, etc. More recently, they have adopted “postmodernism” and they tell us it was “catholic” all along.

There is great danger for diluting the Biblical gospel if you don’t first clarify your terms.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Self-destructive naturalism

Repent or else!

Freewill theists take the position that God can't make anyone love him or believe in him. They fault Calvinism because they think Reformed soteriology is coercive. 

Yet except for universalists (who may or may not be libertarians), freewill theists believe in eschatological judgment. Some freewill theists espouse annihilationism while others espouse everlasting punishment. But in either case, disbelief has punitive consequences.

And, of course, the Bible often uses the threat of eschatological punishment as incentive for sinners to repent and believe. But from a libertarian perspective, that's coercive. The sinner is repenting or believing at gunpoint. Worse than gunpoint. 

To submit because you fear the consequences isn't voluntary consent. Technically, you had a choice, but given the dire consequences of one option, you were acting under duress. Left to your own devices, you wouldn't make that choice. If you're punished for making the wrong choice, then it's not a choice for God, but a choice against the painful alternative. 

Wok your dog

This raises an interesting conundrum for liberal ideology:

On the one hand you have vegans and animal rights activities who think "meat is murder."

On the other hand you have Asian cultures who view dogs and cats as edible. Gives new meaning to the phrase "pet food."

So does multiculturalism take precedence?

God and country

Should Christian Americans love their country? Should Christian Americans be patriotic? 

i) This is debated from time to time. Let's begin with a critical cliché of Christian patriotism:

"Evangelical Americans equate the gospel with the GOP. They've turned the church into a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party. But Christians are international citizens. We have dual citizenship. We have a higher allegiance. The world is our parish." 

Now, there's sometimes a grain of truth to that allegation. There are some Americans who consciously or unconsciously equate Christianity with American nationalism. 

But as a rule, I think this is a popular caricature on the part of faux-Anabaptists who like to make themselves look good by indulging in self-congratulatory rhetoric. 

ii) Let's take a different comparison. Eduardo Saverin is a pariah in some circles. Last year a heated debate broke out in the Corner of National Review over Saverin. Many pundits regard Saverin as a traitor for renouncing his American citizenship to evade corporate taxes. He ought to be more grateful for what he owes his country.

I understand the sentiment, but I don't think he's a good candidate to illustrate the sentiment. Now, for all I know, Saverin may be a cad. I'm not vouching for his character by any means. I'm just addressing this particular attack on his character. He may be a creep for other reasons.

From what I've read, he didn't choose to come here. His parents brought him here. He came here as a young teenager. And all his close relatives are Brazilian. 

Given those basic biographical facts, I wouldn't expect Saverin to identify with the American experience. He's not psychologically American. That's not his formative experience. That's not engrained in his character. If he doesn't feel the same national attachment as somebody who was born and raised here to American parents, I don't think that's disloyal. Given the awkward age at which he was uprooted, I doubt he feels at home anywhere. 

This also raises the contentious question of whether he should credit his success to America. Remember Obama's infamous "You didn't build that!" speech? 

From what little I know of him, Saverin is gifted and enterprising businessman who'd probably be succeed in most places where he was planted or transplanted. 

iii) The debate also suffers from ambiguous definitions. What does it mean to love your country? That's not easy to answer because enculturation is something we pick up by osmosis, so it's not something we're normally conscious of. 

If I say I love my country, I may be using my own life-experience as my frame of reference. It's not a statement about American history in general, or the continental US. It may involve a very narrow and deeply personal comparison. How I, as an American, living at a particular time in American history, and growing up in a particular region, feel about my nationality. 

There are many variables that shape that perception. Friends, relatives, and classmates. 

If you grow up on Long Island, coastal Southern California, the Bronx, a Montana ranch, Charleston, or Johns Island, these are all distinctively American, yet distinct from one another. 

Same thing with when you live. When you come of age. The century. The decade. 

iv) There are also certain commonalities that often shape national self-perception, like sports. Or movies about underdog sports teams. Likewise, the Western film genre has created an iconic American self-image. Pop music, from Frank Sinatra or Johnny Cash through rock or jazz, to Latin dance, &c., can also inform our national gestalt. 

These can be subliminal reference points. They contribute to a national mythos. 

v) Some Christian commentators define "love of country" in the theological sense of the duty to love our neighbors and even our enemies. By "enemies" is meant government officials or cultural elites who increasingly oppress Christian Americans. That's a valid definition, and a valid duty. But it's a rather specialized definition. It's not what we normally mean by "loving your country."

It defines "love" in terms of acting in the best interests of another. That's a valid, important definition. But "love of country" often has emotional or sentimental connotations. And that's valid, too, in a different sense.

vi) Love of country doesn't mean you necessarily look down on other countries. It isn't inherently chauvinistic. Rather, it's like an acquired taste. 

vii) Some critics act as though Christians are pure Cartesian souls. Our ethnicity and culture is like a snakeskin which we shed when we die and go to heaven. But I think that's a very artificial view of human nature. Our socialization is an essential and irreversible component of who we are as individuals. Biblical eschatology presents the world to come as a restoration and purification of human civilization, not an erasure of human civilization.  

Dissecting Darwinism

"Dissecting Darwinism" (pdf) by Joseph Kuhn.

"Reader comments" including a response from Kuhn.

Craig's selective charity

I'm going to comment on Craig's response:

Before commenting on the specifics, I'd like to make a general observation. I'm struck by the fact that Craig is often more charitable towards atheists than Calvinists. I'm also struck by the fact that he makes more effort to inform himself on the details of atheism than he does in reference to Calvinism. 
I think it’s not hard to explain these passages in light of Scripture’s teaching that God loves sinners. Notice that almost all of them come from poetic passages. They are religious hyperbole expressing God’s hatred of evil and the wicked acts people commit. It would be a hermeneutical mistake to press them literally as statements of Christian doctrine. Drawing hyperbolic, black-and-white dichotomies was a common semitic idiom. For example, “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau” (Malachi 1.2-3; cf. Romans 9.13) is a way of saying that God has chosen Jacob and not Esau. When Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14.26), he means that if one prioritizes even one’s most cherished loved ones above Jesus, one’s discipleship is incomplete—a claim which is radical enough without taking it literally! Over against these few hyperbolic passages stands the clear doctrinal teaching of Jesus and the apostles that God loves all persons, even sinners.
i) I think what Craig says in the first two paragraphs is largely correct. However, that stands in ironic contrast to how he immediately switches to passages about divine love. But if he's going to appeal to poetry, hyperbole, and idiomatic expressions concerning divine hatred, would it not be more consist for him to apply the same yardstick to passages about divine love? Don't many of the most vivid depictions of divine love in Scripture have a poetic or anthropomorphic cast to them? Aren't they subject to the same qualifications? 
ii) The divine hatred passages aren't the best passages to illustrate the questioner's point. What about divine wrath passages, which are far more prevalent? 
God is our model in loving others. We are to love even our enemies. 
The problem with resorting to the Sermon on the Mount is that, in contrast to passages of eschatological judgment, this is limited to the church age. So it's a hasty generalization to extrapolate from the Sermon on the Mount to a universal principle. 
That is how God loves. Paul later wrote, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. . . . while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (Romans 5. 8,10). Our love is to be impartial, just as God showers good upon the evil and righteous alike. Our love is to be universal, not reserved just for a few. Our heavenly Father is perfect, and so He loves perfectly.
i) Inferring universality from impartiality is fallacious. Even assuming God is impartial, that doesn't mean God treats everyone the same way. Judicial impartiality is morally discriminating. It condemns the guilty but acquits the innocent. 
Impartiality doesn't' mean treating everyone alike. Rather, it means treating like cases alike and unlike cases unalike. All things being equal, you treat two parties the same way, but all things considered, you may treat two parties differently if, in fact, the two parties are relevantly dissimilar. 
ii) There's also his equivocal appeal to "impartiality." "Impartial" in reference to what? To say that God is impartial in reference to justice doesn't entail that God is impartial in reference to mercy. 
iii) In addition, there are degrees of love. Doesn't Craig love his own wife more than he loves the wives of his colleagues? I certainly hope so. Doesn't he harbor a special love for his own mother? 
iv) Finally, he recycles the the popular falsehood that according to unconditional election, God's love is reserved for "just a few." Why is Craig so conscientious about accurately representing the atheists and Darwinians he debates, but so indifferent to accuracy when it comes to Calvinism? 
How wonderful God is! As I reflected on Jesus’ words, it struck me forcefully that Allah’s love as described in the Qur’an rises no higher than the love exhibited by pagans and tax collectors! It is conditional, partial, and has to be earned. But the love of God our heavenly Father is unconditional, impartial, and universal.
Is God's love "unconditional"? Craig believes in hell. Craig believes in damnation. Craig is not a universalist. If God's love is unconditional, why does God make faith and repentance conditions of salvation? 
Frankly, Bridger, I’m appalled at the fact that some Christians have an understanding of God’s love which is comparable to that of the Qur’an. They actually think that God does not love all people unconditionally. They have failed to understand something so fundamental and basic to Christian discipleship: God’s wonderful love.

i) To begin with, Craig cherry-picks his prooftexts. But take the OT. In the OT, God often shows his love for Israel in contrast to how he treats her pagan neighbors. Oftentimes, God makes no effort to do for her enemies what he does for the Chosen People. At the very least, God withholds his grace towards her enemies. At most, God judges her enemies while he forgives Israel. The disparity is stark, routine, and deliberate.

There are some OT prophetic passages which indicate that God will someday extend redemption to the Gentiles, and, of course, that anticipates the new covenant. But that's in studied contrast to God's operating policy under the old covenant.

Moreover, even under the new covenant, you have huge swathes of unreached people-groups

ii) In addition, Craig has concocted a scenario in which 

He [God] has instead elected to create only persons who would freely reject Him in any world which is feasible for Him to actualise, persons who, accordingly, freely possess the property of transworld damnation. God in His providence has so arranged the world that as the Christian gospel went out from first century Palestine, all who would respond freely to it if they heard it did hear it, and all who do not hear it are persons who would not have accepted it if they had heard it.

Craig finds it necessary to supplement his prooftexting with this conjectural wishful-thinking. But there's no good reason to think his speculation is true. 

Parents (And Grandparents) Need To Change Their Time Management

Brett Kunkle writes:

In September, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of parents from Village Academy Christian School in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Earlier in the day, I taught the junior and senior high students at chapel and spoke to three different twelfth grade classes. I role played an atheist with the seniors, to give them a glimpse of the intellectual challenges awaiting them at college, and decided to give the parents, who had come out for an evening lecture, a glimpse in the same way.

There was no surprise factor. The parents knew who I was and the Christian organization I represented. Indeed, I told the audience what I was about to do, turned my back on them for just a moment, and then turned round again in full atheist character. I jumped into my role and they jumped into theirs, attempting to defend the faith against atheist professor “Dr. Kunkle.” Sadly, they were ill equipped to handle my challenges. I was glad to see their fighting spirit, but their responses were only vigorous in style, not substance. After half-an-hour, many parents were exasperated and I ended the role-play.

“How was that for you?” I asked. “Extremely frustrating,” was the immediate parental consensus.

“Why was it so frustrating?” I pressed. One mom blurted out, “Because I didn’t have any good answers.” As soon as the words left her mouth, tears began streaming down her cheeks. It was a painful recognition of her own inadequacy and she knew what was at stake. As I glanced around the room, other parents were nodding in agreement, eyes moist with their own tears.

I've said before that I like the role-playing approach that Stand To Reason takes. However, I'd supplement it with more of a discussion of why students and parents are so poorly prepared to argue for their beliefs. It's important that they think in depth about what it is they need to change in their lives. One of the most significant factors is time management, an issue I've often discussed.

I recently overheard a conversation I've come across many times over the years. A man had recently retired. He explained that shortly after retiring, he returned to work. Supposedly, there wasn't much to do after he retired.

The Historical Roots of the Reformation

What’s the history of infant baptism?

How does Irenaeus compare – and contrast – with Roman Catholicism? What really did the early church think about “Apostolic Succession”?

What did “Clement of Rome” think about Purgatory?

“Reformation Season” is upon us – it’s October, and it’s been 496 years since Martin Luther posted his famous 95 theses, sparking the movement that became known as the Reformation.

Jason Engwer’s Historical Roots of the Reformation and Evangelicalism is a great resource, providing dozens of links to sources for understanding early church history, and just how different and distant the “Roman Catholic Church” was from the earliest historical Christianity.