Saturday, November 16, 2013

Charismatic glossary

The debate over the charismata is complicated by a lack of standardized terminology. I'm in no position to legislate uniform usage. I'll simply draw some distinctions I think our terminology ought to reflect, and discuss how I think some of the terms ought to be used.

i) In many cases, it would be preferable to use a neutral term like noncessationist as the antonym for cessationist. That doesn't carry any baggage. That doesn't prejudge what noncessationism stands for. It's just a minimal descriptor. A negation of cessationism.

ii) From what I've read, "Pentecostal" usually designates a member of a traditional Pentecostal denomination. In addition, it can reflect an earlier stage of charismatic theology, in the history of the charismatic movement. That includes beliefs like sanctification as a second work of grace, and Spirit-baptism as a third work of grace. Tongues defined as Spirit-baptism. Tongues as the gateway gifts. All Christians ought to speak in tongues, and that, in turn, gives access to the other charismata. Many later charismatics have ditched that paradigm. 

iii) One potential distinction between a charismatic and a continuationist is that a continuationist can be a cessationist in practice, but a continuationist in theory. That is to say, a continuationist may believe in the currency of the charismata on purely exegetical grounds, rather than personal experience. 

iv) By contrast, I think a charismatic is someone who, by definition, lays claim to having experienced one or more of the charismata. 

In addition, charismatics think Christians should actively seek or pursue the charismata. By contrast, a continuationist is merely open to the charismata. Takes a wait-and-see attitude.  

Ironically, cessationists interpret 1 Cor 12:31 & 14:1,39 the same way charismatics do. They just think that's moot. 

v) Likewise, I think charismatics expect the charismata to be more prevalent. Or at least they think they ought to be prevalent, whereas continuationists are more noncommittal on their frequency. 

vi) "Cessationism" has some ambiguities as well. For instance, Calvin was a cessationist respecting Jas 5:14-16. He took the same approach to Jas 5:14-16 that contemporary cessationists take to 1 Cor 12:31 & 14:39. 

By Calvin's yardstick, many modern-day cessationists are continuationists respecting Jas 5:14-16. They don't think that's a thing of the past.

On the other hand, contemporary cessationists accommodate Jas 5:14-16 by redefining a miracle so that divine healing in that context is providential rather than miraculous. An answer to prayer, however, extraordinary or supernatural, is merely providential rather than miraculous. 

Likewise, classical Dispensationalist Merrill Unger originally took a cessationist position on spiritual warfare in reference to Christians, but later changed to a more continuationist position. 

vii) Cessationists typically use 1 Cor 12 as a classification scheme, then fit other Biblical references (e.g. Acts 2) into that preexisting schema. This means other non-Corinthian phenomena like exorcism aren't classified as charismata in cessationist usage. Likewise, this means healers as well as revelatory dreams and visions are automatically reclassified as "gifts." 

viii) From my reading, cessationists usually limit the charismata to apostles or those on whom apostles laid hands. They think the charismata were exclusively transmitted through the apostolic imposition of hands. And they confine the function of the charismata to authenticating miracles. 

Cessationism and continuationism, never mind the Torah, what do we think happened in the golden age when the canon was forming?

How cessationism denies the self-attesting authority of Scripture

I'm going to comment on the latest round of chronic confusions by Ed Dingess:

In his debate with Mike Brown, Sam Waldron repeatedly asked Brown to discuss why believe in a closed canon. Brown never acknowledged Waldron’s question, let alone try to answer it.

Brown specifically responded to that question. Ed may think Brown's response was inadequate, but it's dishonest of Ed to say "Brown never acknowledged Waldron’s question, let alone tried to answer it." However, honesty has never been Ed's strong suit. 

The historical events of revelation are necessarily unique to any other kind of history. It is fascinating to me that bloggers like Steve Hays repeatedly fail to address this uniqueness appropriately. In fact, if one reads enough of Steve Hays, they are left to wonder if he considers any event recorded in Scripture any differently than any other event. It would seem not to this writer.

i) One of Ed's typical confusions. By definition, every historical event is unique. Certain types of events are repeatable, such as human birth. That kind of thing happens repeatedly. But every particular birth is still unique. Each individual is only born once. 

ii) The Resurrection of Christ is fairly unique. That's a one-time event in church history. However, it's not unrepeatable. To the contrary, the Resurrection is the archetype and prototype of the endtime resurrection of the just. 

iii) By contrast, the Incarnation of Christ is both unique and unrepeatable. 

iv) Redemptive history has a progressive, irreversible quality to it. One thing builds on another. Fulfillment succeeds promise. 

v) Likewise, some historical events are far more significant than others. Both the birth of Christ and the birth of Groucho Marx are unique events, but they are hardly of equal significance. 

vi) Ed also fails to distinguish between the uniqueness of an event and the uniqueness of the record of an event. 

In the Gospels, the same event is sometimes recorded three or four times. At other times, only one Gospel records a particular event. 

To summarize then, the sin nature has made it necessary for God to provide man with a self-attesting, fully sufficient, clear, and reliable revelation of Himself.

This is another example of Ed's incorrigible confusions. Cessationism explicitly denies the self-attesting authority of Scripture. According to cessationism, prophets and apostles must be attested by miracles. That's the evidentiary function of the so-called sign-gifts in the cessationist schema. Scripture must be attested by something other than Scripture. Something independent of Scripture: miracles.

Cessationism involves a two-step argument. Cessationism doesn't begin with the authority of Scripture. Cessationism denies the presuppositional authority of Scripture. According to cessationism, the authority of Scripture is merely the conclusion we draw after evaluating the miraculous credentials of the apostle or prophet.  

Moreover, the two-step argument of cessationism is just one stage in a multi-step argument. As Warfield put it:

Meanwhile, as for Christianity itself, it has remained up to this point–let us frankly say–the great assumption. The work of the exegete, the historian, the systematist, has all hung, so to speak, in the air; not until all their labor is accomplished do they pause to wipe their streaming brows and ask whether they have been dealing with realities or perchance with fancies only. 
We must, it seems, vindicate the existence of a senses divinitatis in man capable of producing a natural theology independently of special revelation; and then the reality of a special revelation in deed and word…
But certainly, before we draw it from the Scriptures, we must assure ourselves that there is a knowledge of God in the world. And, before we do that, we must assure ourselves that a knowledge of God is possible for man.And, before we do that, we must assure ourselves that there is a God to know. Thus, we inevitably work back to first principles.
It is easy, of course, to say that a Christian man must take his standpoint not above the Scriptures, but in the Scriptures. He very certainly must. Be surely he must first have Scriptures, authenticated to him as such, before he can take his standpoint in them. Selected Shorter Writings, 2:96-98.

Now Ed may disagree with Warfield's apologetic method. But that's the framework within which cessationism operates, with its authenticating miracles. If Ed rejects that framework, then he rejects a crucial supporting argument for cessationism. 

Now, what is the impact of the position of men like Steve Hays on this age-old position of orthodoxy? If Hays is right that there is nothing unique about what God did in the divine revelation, then it follows that the nature of Scripture as we have come to know it is significantly diminished. The awe inspired by God speaking to Moses or Jesus appearing to Paul is reduced by the phenomena of God speaking to Benny Hinn…

Since Benny Hinn is demonstrably fraudulent, Ed's example is predicated on a false premise. 

…and Jesus appearing to Muslims.

I haven't taken a position on that specific claim.

According to some, this happens all the time, and it really isn’t nearly as rare and therefore as special as orthodoxy claims it is. In this view, there is nothing unique about the record of Scripture. How God interacts with us is no different from how He interacted with Israel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Peter, or Paul. The result of Steve Hays’ argument is a massive downgrading of the revelation of Scripture. 

I specifically distance myself from the claim that "this happens all the time." 

More to the point, if that's a massive downgrading, then did the Spirit massively downgrade Scripture when he told Phillip to witness to the eunuch? If that's a massive downgrading, then did the angel massively downgrade Scripture when he appeared to Cornelius? Did God massively downgrade Scripture when he sent revelatory dreams to the Magi or Pilate's wife? 

This is unavoidable. Hays has said as much himself. He has repeatedly insisted that we are wrong to claim that Scripture is different, it is unique, that what God has given us in Scripture is nothing more than He gives some today.

Notice that Ed doesn't quote me on that.

Finally, the idea of an authoritative canon, a standard by which all truth could be known is completely obliterated by the idea of an open revelation. The point and purpose of a closed canon was the final sealing off of what is self-authoritative, clear, sufficient, and reliable from what is subjective, ambiguous, and questionable. You see, if the canon is closed, all God had to say, needed to say, wanted to say and all we needed to hear and know, we have in the canon of Scripture. However, if revelation is open and prophets continue, the canon cannot be closed…The whole point of closing the canon was fixing the divine standard by which all claims to truth and knowledge would be measured. 

Another example of Ed's incorrigible confusions. By that logic, OT Jews were unable to distinguish true prophets from false prophets, lacking, as they were, a closed canon to furnish their standard. By Ed's logic, the Christians of Thessaloniki were unable to test prophecies, contrary to Paul's command (1 Thes 5:19-21), because the canon of Scripture was incomplete at the time Paul wrote his letter.

According to the non-cessation argument, revelation and prophecy continue. This revelation and prophecy are genuinely new disclosures from God. 

Natural revelation includes "new disclosures" from God. New truths. In his post, Ed himself appeals to natural revelation. Well, something new happens everyday. We discover something new every day. If it rains, that's a "new disclosure" from God, via natural revelation. We know something about today that we didn't know the day before. Revelation encompasses event-media as well as word-media. History reveals God's master plan for the world. Each new day reveals something new about God's plan. 

We know that Matthew’s gospel is self-attesting, reliable, and authoritative. It is binding because it is the word of God. 

According to cessationism, Matthew's gospel is not self-attesting. Revelatory claims must be attested by miracles. Unfortunately for cessationism, there's no record of Matthew performing any miracles to authenticate his apostolic claims. So, by cessationist logic, Christians ought to exclude Matthew's gospel from the canon.

The question we have then is related to faith and reliability. How can we know for sure that God has spoken when this speaking is not on par with Scripture? We know this by the witness and testimony of the Holy Spirit Himself. However, I do not have the same witness about modern claims of revelations and dreams and prophecies. Indeed, I cannot have the same level of confidence.

Revelatory dreams don't require speech, much less divine speech. 

If the canon is in fact closed, and divine revelation is fixed and sufficient as well as clear, then whatever these moderns are claiming is unnecessary. We simply don’t need it.  However, one has to ask if God is in the habit of giving us revelation and dreams and prophecies we don’t need. And if we do need them, then one has to justify why we have closed the canon. If we do need them, then Scripture is not sufficient.

How did Phillip know about the eunuch? Did he read about that in Scripture? 

Furthermore, someone is going to have to come up with a way for arguing how on earth it is remotely possible to defend these new prophecies as fully reliable, totally clear, self-attesting, and authoritative.

i) Even Bible prophecies aren't "totally clear." For instance, premillennialists disagree with each other on how to interpret certain Bible prophecies.

ii) Cessationism denies the self-attesting character of Scripture. Why is Ed so dense? Why is he constantly unable to grasp the logical implications of his own commitments, even after someone walks him through the process? 

iii) Who says modern "prophecies" must be "authoritative"? Is a premonition authoritative? Is a premonition a command? 

Incidentally, even if Ed had a good argument for the cessation of revelatory dreams, that's hardly an argument for the cessation of healers. 

Piper on the Strange Fire conference

Friday, November 15, 2013

Keener reviews Strange Fire

How to be a better atheist

I'm going to comment on article by David Lewis. 

Lewis was reputedly the most brilliant philosopher of his generation. In addition, he was a militant atheist. 

Imagine that an offender has a devoted and innocent friend. The offender has been justly sentenced to be punished for his offence. But the friend volunteers to be punished in his place. If the friend undergoes the punishment that the offender deserved, does that render it permissible (or even obligatory) to leave the offender unpunished? Is that any reason at all in favour of sparing the offender? Mostly we think not.
A one-sided diet of mundane examples might convince us that we do not believe in penal substitution; we agree, in other words, that the substitutionary punishment of the innocent friend is never any reason to leave the offender unpunished. But of course we do not all agree to this. For many among us are Christians; and many among the Christians explain the Atonement as a case of penal substitution. They say that when Christ died for our sins, He paid the debt of punishment that the sinners owed; and thereby He rendered it permissible, and thereby He brought it about, that the sinners (those of them that accepted His gift) were spared the punishment of damnation that they deserved.
Although these Christians do believe in penal substitution in the context of theology, they do not seem to believe anything out of the ordinary in the context of mundane criminal justice. We do not hear of them arguing that just as Christ paid the debt of punishment owed by all the sinners, so likewise other innocent volunteers can pay the lesser debts of punishment owed by burglars and murderers. (‘Innocent’ not in the sense that they are without sin, but only in the sense that they are not guilty of burglary or murder.) Why not? I think we must conclude that these Christians are of two minds about penal substitution. Their principles alter from one case to another, for no apparent reason.
An impatient doubter might say that it is pointless to rebuke these Christians for their on-again-off-again belief in penal substitution. The prior problem lies elsewhere. Even if their (sometime) principle of penal substitution were right, and even if they themselves accepted it single-mindedly, still they would be misapplying it. For in the case of the Atonement, the supposed substitution is far from equal. Evil though it is to be put to death by crucifixion, even if the death is temporary and foreseen to be temporary, still the eternal damnation of even one sinner, let alone all of them, is a far worse evil. How can the former be a fair exchange for the latter, even if we grant in general that such exchanges make sense?
Those Christians who explain the Atonement as a case of penal substitution, yet do not in general believe in the principle they invoke, really are in a bad way.

i) Suppose we find penal substitution morally counterintuitive? Does anything of consequence follow from that impression? Unless our moral intuitions are consistently reliable, how much mileage, if any, can Lewis get out of that conclusion? 

In denying that our moral intuitions are consistently reliable, I don't have to invoke a theological premise (not that there's anything wrong with doing so–especially in this theologically freighted context). Rather, there are secular philosophers like Lewis who take that position. For instance, one standard argument for moral skepticism is the empirical fact that smart, well-meaning people often disagree about what's morally permissible on a whole raft of issues. Now, that, by itself, is not a knock-down argument. But it does mean there's no presumption in favor of Lewis's starting-point. 

Likewise, philosophers are fond of concocting thought-experiments which create ethical dilemmas (e.g. the Trolly problem, the fat man, the ticking time-bomb). These are designed to challenge our moral intuitions. 

I'm not invoking the noetic effects of sin or divine inscrutability. To the contrary, I'm citing considerations from secular ethics. 

Incidentally, to deny that our moral intuitions are consistently reliable doesn't mean our moral intuitions must be consistently unreliable. Sometimes I think our moral intuitions are right on target. At other times we're unsure of ourselves. And it's possible to be certain, but certainly wrong. 

ii) What's the force of Lewis's intuitive appeal? Let's compare moral intuition to another kind of intuition. Suppose I'm a poker player. I intuit that my opponent is bluffing. He feigns a winning hand, but he has a weak hand. In that situation, I can test my intuition by calling his bluff. There's an objective check on my intuition. By forcing him to show his hand, I find out whether or not my intuition was accurate. Likewise, if I'm a successful poker player, I have a track record of reading my opponent. I get it right more often than not.

But moral intuitions deal with intangibles. What's the standard of comparison? There is no external check. You can contrast your moral intuitions with my moral intuitions, but what's to broker competing moral intuitions? Comparing moral intuitions to other moral intuitions is circular.  

From a Christian standpoint, we can test our moral intuitions against revealed moral norms. But Lewis denies that frame of reference. 

ii) Another problem with Lewis's argument is that even if we grant that penal substitution overall strikes us as morally counterintuitive, there are elements of the package which many people find intuitively appealing or even compelling. 

To take a comparison, suppose a sniper comes to school, determined to shoot everyone in sight. Suppose he corners two students who happen to be best friends. Suppose one of them interposes himself between the sniper and his friend, thereby taking a bullet for his friend. He dies to save his friend. Dies to buy him just enough time to get out of range.

Most of us consider that morally praiseworthy. The altruistic student was a hero. He died in place of his best friend. So there's nothing morally counterintuitive about dying to benefit another. That's a paradigm-case of moral heroism. 

If he could, the survivor would repay his friend, but, of course, his friend is dead. Unavailable. However, the mother of the dead student lost her only son when he sacrificed himself to protect his best friend. As a result, the survivor feels a duty to his late friend's mother. This despite the fact that she's not his mother. But because he feels morally indebted to his late friend, he feels an obligation to look out for her as if she was his own mother. The moral indebtedness transfers from his friend to his friend's mother. 

iii) Yet another problem with Lewis's argument is that it plays on tactic assumptions about how humans view themselves. We think it's unjust or unfair for the innocent to take the place of the guilty, even if that's voluntary. Remember, though, that Lewis is an atheist. That's why he's attacking this central Christian doctrine. 

But in that event, we need to back up and view ourselves from a secular perspective. We need to help Lewis become a better atheist. Approach the issue from a thoroughly and self-consciously secular perspective. Here's how Lewis frames the issue:   

Imagine that an offender has a devoted and innocent friend. The offender has been justly sentenced to be punished for his offence. But the friend volunteers to be punished in his place. If the friend undergoes the punishment that the offender deserved, does that render it permissible (or even obligatory) to leave the offender unpunished? Is that any reason at all in favour of sparing the offender? Mostly we think not.

But let's unpack that in secular terms: 

Imagine that a guilty primate has a devoted and innocent primate friend. The friend volunteers to be punished in his place. If the friend undergoes the punishment that the offender deserved, does that render it permissible (or even obligatory) to leave the offender unpunished? Is that any reason at all in favour of sparing the offender?

In terms of naturalistic evolution, the offender is an animal. A primate.  

But are animals innocent or guilty? Is that even meaningful? 

Even assuming that an animal is innocent, are you wronging the innocent animal by taking its life? If one animal takes the place of another, is that a miscarriage of justice? 

Suppose I'm a farmer. A rat is killing my chicks. I set a trap. But I catch the wrong rat. I catch an "innocent" rat–innocent in the sense that the rat that took the bait wasn't the rat that was killing my chicks? Morally speaking, does it make any difference if the dead rat was innocent or guilty? In the end, it's just a rat. 

Now, Lewis might object that a human is higher up the evolutionary ladder than a rat, so even if taking the life of an "innocent"rat is morally innocuous, the same doesn't follow in the case of an innocent human. 

But strictly speaking, humans aren't higher up the evolutionary ladder. Evolution is not progressive. Evolution is not a goal-oriented process. 

Perhaps, though, Lewis would say humans are more complex animals, with additional, morally salient properties. If so, he'd need to turn that into an actual argument. He's not entitled to take for granted the moral status of human animals. Is there anything to morally intuit in the first place?

iv) Let's consider this from another, related angle. He's appealing to the moral intuitions of primate. That's all a human is, from his perspective. What does that amount to? The moral "intuitions" of a primate are euphemistic for the moral instincts of a primate. Why should we put any stock in the moral instincts of a primate? 

Lewis says: "Imagine that an offender has a devoted and innocent friend…But the friend volunteers to be punished in his place." And who does the imagining? Lewis is a primate who's appealing to his fellow primates (the reader) to assess whether or not that's an ethical way to treat a primate. But why should the opinions of one primate about the plight of another primate carry any moral weight? Even if natural selection has conditioned us to care about members of our own species, how is that instinctual empathy a moral fact? How is that different from one animal viewing another animal as food? How is the physical brain state of an animal morally probative? 

From a naturalistic standpoint, is instinctual behavior moral? From a naturalistic standpoint, would it not be more consistent to admit that instinctual behavior is amoral? Instinct is simply the effect of a blind evolutionary process that inadvertently promotes adaptive behavior. Is that moral? One organism survives at the expense of another organism. Is that moral–or amoral? Would it not be more consistent for Lewis to admit that nature is beyond good and evil? 

v) Lewis says "Christians who explain the Atonement as a case of penal substitution, yet do not in general believe in the principle they invoke, really are in a bad way." One problem with that objection is that Lewis isn't judging the general principle directly. Rather, he's attempting to judge the general principle by specific examples which supposedly illustrate the general principle. But in that case, he's not really judging the general principle itself, in the abstract. Rather, he's evaluating illustrations. The argument is only as good as the counterintutive nature of the illustrations, and not the counterintuitive nature of the general principle. Even assuming that the illustrations are sufficiently analogous. But the problem with that tactic is that our intuitive response varies with the particular illustration. Changing the illustration may change our intuitive response. 

vi) There's another oddity to Lewis's argument. He objects to the vicarious atonement of Christ on the grounds that the innocent party didn't deserve to be punished. But that's a presupposition of vicarious atonement. Of course Christ didn't deserve to be punished! That's the point. By definition, the innocent party is undeserving of punishment. That's why the innocent party dies in the guilty party's stead. If they were both guilty, it wouldn't be redemptively substitutionary. For it's not just one party taking the place of another, but an innocent party taking the place of a guilty party. Only an innocent party can redeem the guilty party. Only an innocent party can assume that redemptive role. 

Lewis's objection is simply paraphrasing vicarious atonement. A description. But vicarious atonement takes that for granted. So it's not as if Lewis has uncovered an internal contradiction in vicarious atonement. To the contrary, vicarious atonement deliberately trades on the dialectical and antithetical relationship between the two parties. 

vii) Lewis says:

Although these Christians do believe in penal substitution in the context of theology, they do not seem to believe anything out of the ordinary in the context of mundane criminal justice. We do not hear of them arguing that just as Christ paid the debt of punishment owed by all the sinners, so likewise other innocent volunteers can pay the lesser debts of punishment owed by burglars and murderers. (‘Innocent’ not in the sense that they are without sin, but only in the sense that they are not guilty of burglary or murder.) Why not? I think we must conclude that these Christians are of two minds about penal substitution. Their principles alter from one case to another, for no apparent reason.
For in the case of the Atonement, the supposed substitution is far from equal. Evil though it is to be put to death by crucifixion, even if the death is temporary and foreseen to be temporary, still the eternal damnation of even one sinner, let alone all of them, is a far worse evil. How can the former be a fair exchange for the latter, even if we grant in general that such exchanges make sense?

That's because it's not reducible to one issue. Rather, it's a relation between two issues. Not just what happens, but who it happens to. By whom and for whom. It does matter who did it. It does matter on who's behalf it happens. 

Personal relationships can be morally germane. Personal relationships can generate unilateral or mutual obligations. Take my example of the dead friend's mother. She did nothing to obligate the survivor. That was her son's doing. But her son's action ends up obligating a boy who is not her son. And he didn't even consent to that transaction. Indeed, it happened against his will. He didn't want to see his best friend gunned down. 

On the need to articulate things clearly

Poster Child for Gay Marriage
Pope Francis:
Poster Child for Gay Marriage
Especially if you are the pope: Pope Francis is now a “poster boy for gay marriage”:
In truth, Francis’s statements have been consistent with Church teachings, even when butchered and misunderstood and misrepresented, especially by the New York Times. That, however, is a problem in and of itself — one that Francis needs to be attentive to. Enthusiasts on the left are running wild with his remarks, particularly the imprecise ones, remaking them and him in their own image. He’s like their personal Vatican II; they seize his statements and exaggerate and exploit them for their contrary purposes.

A friend of mine who attends a parish in Western Pennsylvania told me what his liberal priest did with Francis’ comments on contraception. The congregation was told that the issue is now “dead and just remains to be buried.” The priest’s discourse on gay marriage and abortion was even more enlightening. “In a nutshell,” said my friend, “we were told that we didn’t need to worry about either gay marriage or abortion.”…

In Illinois last week, Democrat lawmakers passed legislation approving same-sex marriage in the state. Leading the charge were Catholic Democrats who brace yourself — cited Pope Francis in support of their actions. Here’s an excerpt from the Chicago Tribune:

Advocates [of gay marriage in Illinois] soon received additional help from Pope Francis, who warned that the Catholic Church could lose its way by focusing too much on social stances, including opposition to homosexuality.

"If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?" Francis said in July.

The comments sparked a wave of soul-searching by several Catholic lawmakers who had battled to reconcile their religious beliefs with their sworn duty to represent their constituents who were increasingly supportive of gay rights even as Cardinal Francis George remained opposed.

"As a Catholic follower of Jesus and the pope, Pope Francis, I am clear that our Catholic religious doctrine has at its core love, compassion and justice for all people," said Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, a Democrat from Aurora who voted for the bill after spending much of the summer undecided.

House Speaker Michael Madigan also cited the pope's comments in explaining his support for the measure.

"For those that just happen to be gay living in a very harmonious, productive relationship but illegal — who am I to judge that they should be illegal?" the speaker said.

Madigan had come under fire from some gay rights groups who argued that he wasn't doing enough to build support in the chamber he controls, but advocates say he was critical in rounding up the final needed votes in the last several weeks.

This is stunning but predictable fallout from Pope Francis’ various remarks. Think about the absurdity: gay-marriage advocates in Illinois got the help they needed in persuading House Speaker Michael Madigan and other Catholic legislators; they believe they got it from Rome, from Pope Francis. And they believe they got it from the pope in direct opposition to their bishop, Cardinal George. By their understanding, Pope Francis and Cardinal George — their pope and their cardinal — are opposed to one another on gay marriage, and they have thus sided with Francis…

As for [Illinois House Speaker] Madigan, he’s a University of Notre Dame grad, Loyola University School of Law grad, and before that attended St. Ignatius College Prep school. He’s a lifetime product of Catholic formation, an education that he’s continuing by looking to Rome for guidance; that is, looking to Pope Francis.

Illinois now has gay marriage in part because of Pope Francis — or at least because of how Pope Francis is being interpreted. His words didn’t slow gay marriage in Illinois; they facilitated it.

To be sure, Francis has never endorsed gay marriage…

[Nevertheless], this pope needs to be really careful about what he’s saying. If he doesn’t, this boil will continue to fester. Unless he clarifies things better, and more strongly affirms and articulates Church teachings, this situation will get worse, spreading major errors throughout the Church, the country, the culture, and the world.

(HT: Bob S).

Dispatches from the Religion of Peace

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The best and the brightest

On prophecy and prayer

But earnestly desire the higher gifts (1 Cor 12:31). 
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy (1 Cor 14:1). 
So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues (1 Cor 14:39).
Is it incumbent on modern-day Christians to obey these injunctions? 
i) For cessationists, Christians today couldn't obey these injunctions even if they tried. If God has withdrawn these spiritual gifts, then he's removed the underlying conditions which make compliance possible. 
ii) There's also some dispute on the best way to render these statements. Consider Thiselton's preferred translations: 
Continue to be zealously concerned about the "greatest" gifts (12:31). 
Pursue love, but be eager for gifts of the Spirit [for utterance], most particularly that you may prophesy (14:1). 
Continue to be zealously concerned about prophetic speech and do not forbid speaking in tones (14:39).
On 14:1, Thiselton contends that
Zeloute denotes cultivating a stance of eagerness. Be eager for permits a corporate concern for the well-being of the community, i.e., that these gifts may operate in the church, which is Paul's horizon of concern. By contrast, NIV's eagerly desire suggests a more individualist concern which Paul does not encourage, while 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 (1082-83).  
iii) Another complication is that you can only obey a command if you understand a command. If you don't know what it means, or what it's referring to, then you can't intentionally obey it or disobey it. Compliance depends on prior understanding of the command or prohibition. What was Paul's concept of prophecy or tongues? Absent correct interpretation, it's a cipher. 
iv) One potential solution is to make it a matter of prayer. Often we don't know how or what to pray for:
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom 8:26-27).
If you're not sure how to obey these commands, or whether to obey these commands (in case they are moot), you can turn it into a prayer, and leave the rest to God. God knows what he meant. And God knows if these are still in force. So God will answer or decline to your prayer accordingly. If it's not his will, he won't do it. Since these are gifts, God must do something to you or for you before you can take the next step. So it's ultimately in God's hands where to go from there–or not. 

Punish the healthy

"Modern apostles"

Is belief in modern apostles a fringe position within the charismatic movement, or a mainstream position? In his debate with Waldron, Michael Brown affirmed the continuance of lower-case apostles–although he didn't define what he meant by that. From what I can tell, Brown is a representative voice in contemporary charismatic circles, although no one man speaks for such a huge movement. But how does his position compare with other academically-inclined charismatics?
Sam Storms defends modern apostles:
Jon Ruthven defends modern apostles in Appendix II of the second edition of his monograph On the Cessation of the Charismata.
And Craig Keener defends modern apostles in Gift and Giver, 128ff. 
This, of course, raises some issues. Even if charismatics can stem the charge that modern apostles entail an open canon, you still have the question of apostolic authority. Do charismatics think modern apostles have the same authority as Peter, Paul, or John? If not, why not?
In his debate, Brown suggested that apostles have less authority than OT prophets, for, unlike OT Jews, all Christians have the gift of the Spirit, all Christians are potential prophets. Hence, it's a collegial relationship. 
However, I think it's abundantly clear from how Paul and John deal with their opponents that they don't think ordinary Christians are in any position to sit in judgment of apostolic teaching. Perhaps Brown will have more to say in his forthcoming book, but his explanation in the debate was unsatisfactory.
For his part, Storms says:
One reason people balk at the mention of modern apostles is based on their erroneous belief that NT apostleship entailed an absolute authority that required unquestioning obedience. But see Galatians 2:11-21 for a clear counter-example. Whereas no apostle ever made a mistake when writing Scripture, they did not live continuously under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in such a way that all their opinions and/or actions were infallible.

But that's a precarious argument. To begin with, there's a difference between teaching and action. Since the apostles were not impeccable, we know that their personal behavior might be an unreliable guide. That doesn't mean their teaching is unreliable. It's because we have the right standards that our behavior can be substandard. And, as sinners, living below our God-given standards is inevitable to one degree or another.
Moreover, it's not as if Peter was trying to set an example in this situation. He suffered a loss of nerve, which inadvertently sent the wrong signal. His action in that case was never meant to be exemplary. He wasn't attempting to be a role-model in that respect. 
Rather, because of his upbringing, he was reflexively uncomfortable in mixed company. The purity codes were ingrained by cultural conditioning. He had to overcome his deep-seated religious inhibitions. An integrated setting made him very self-conscious. That's an emotional reaction, not a doctoral position. 
Even assuming that charismatics don't think modern apostles can speak for the universal church, what do they think a Christian should do if a "living apostle" tells an individual to do or not do something? 

Hacking nature

i) Normally, it's not terribly important for Christians to be able to define a miracle. Where Scripture is concerned, it's sufficient to affirm the occurrence of whatever events the Bible says have occurred or will occur, as the Bible describes them. It isn't generally necessary to assign each event to a miraculous or providential column. 
ii) There are, however, times when this becomes more important. If a Christian apologist deploys the argument from miracles, he needs to define his terms. If an atheist attacks Biblical miracles, we reserve the right to challenge his definition. If cessationists insist that certain kinds of miracles don't occur in Medieval or modern times, then it's incumbent on them to define their terms. 
iii) Let's consider some standard definitions in the Christian apologetic and philosophical literature:
Either the event appears to defy known physical laws (a superseding miracle), or a set of events seems too improbable to come together on the basis of coincidence alone (a configuration miracle).
Coincidences and unusual things do  happen; so, in order to be called a miracle, the event should be the kind of occurrence in which we might look for God's direct intervention. By "direct intervention" we mean that God is directly responsible for bringing about this usual event. Christians recognize God's hand in providence (His everyday care for us) as well as in answered prayer, but we may consider God to have answered a prayer even if the answer consists of an otherwise normal event. Only when we are confronted with the "unusual" and see that God's action is the easiest explanation for it that we are inclined to call it a miracle. W. Corduin, Reasonable Faith (B&H 1993), 157-58.
In order to differentiate between the customary way in which God acts and his special, miraculous action, theologians have traditionally distinguished within divine providence between God's ordinary providence and his extraordinary providence, the latter being identified with miracles.For example, just as the Israelites approach the Jordan River, a rockslide upstream blocks temporarily the water's flow, enabling them to cross into the Promised Land (Josh 3:14-17); or again, as Paul and Silas lie bound in prison for preaching the gospel, an earthquake occurs, springing the prison doors and unfastening their fetters (Acts 16:25-26).Events wrought by special providence are no more outside the course and capacity of nature than are events produced by God's ordinary providence, but the context of such events–such as their timing, their coincidental nature and so forth–points to a special divine intention to bring them about. J. P. Moreland & W. L. Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (IVP 2003), 566.
iv) Apropos (iii), in theological parlance, extraordinary providence is a synonym for the miraculous, in contrast to ordinary providence. Let's begin with a rough and ready distinction between providence and miracle. An automated traffic system illustrates providence. The system regulates traffic flow by programming the duration and timing of traffic lights. When the red light goes on. How long it stays on. This has to be coordinated with traffic lights up and down the street to prevent gridlock. Once the system is programmed, things always happen the same way. Lights go on and off in a predetermined sequence, relative to other intersections.
In The Italian Job, a character hacks into the system to override the system. He makes the driver of an armored car go to a particular destination by selectively operating the traffic lights to reroute the armored car. 
Now this is still "natural." But it's analogous to a miracle because it's not something the system would do on its own. The system is indifferent to individuals. It doesn't target a particular vehicle for special treatment. Unless the system is artificially intelligent, it can only do what it's programmed to do. It takes a rational agent to be more discriminating. 
Here we might invoke Del Ratzsch's criterion of counterflow:
Counterflow refers to things running contrary to what, in the relevant sense, would (or might) have resulted or occurred had nature operated freely. Nature, Design and Science (SUNY 2001), 5
Providence is what nature will do on its own unless an agent intervenes to impede, deflect, or redirect nature. Change must come from outside the system.  For instance, orange trees don't naturally grow in evenly-spaced straight rows. It takes a farmer to arrange them that way.
At the same time, that doesn't break any law of nature. Indeed, the farmer takes advantage of lawful nature. Once in place, the seeds, thusly planted, will grow accordingly. 
v) In addition to the examples cited by Moreland and Craig, we might consider examples of divine judgment where God sends a deadly plague (e.g. Num 11:33; 14:37; 16:46-50; 25:8-9; 1 Sam 5:6ff.; 24:15).
In a sense, that's death by "natural causes." But the specificity of the event in time and place is miraculous. 
Likewise, the fate of Korah and his cohorts (Num 16:31-33). You could say that's death by natural causes, but the specificity of the event is miraculous. It was predicted. It happened at a particular time and place. And nature, left to its own devices, wouldn't single out Korah and the other culprits. 
Or take the death of Ananias and Sapphira. Is that miraculous?
If they were autopsied, the coroner might discover that they died of natural causes. A heart attack. He might also discover that they both had coronary artery disease, which put them at high risk of heart attack.
What makes it miraculous is not the physical cause, but the opportune timing of the event. Judicial punishment. Predicted punishment. 
Same thing with the draught of fish (Lk 5; Jn 21). Is that miraculous? 
Phil Johnson says "here’s a proper definition: A miracle is an extraordinary work of God that transcends or contravenes the ordinary laws of nature."
By that definition, none of these events was really miraculous. But why should we accept his narrow, a priori definition?  
vi) MacArthurite sometimes favor ostensible definitions of the miraculous, like raising the dead, restoring lost limbs, restoring sight to the congenitally blind. But there are problems with that maneuver:
a) Does that mean other examples cited in this post are sub-miraculous? 
b) In what sense do MacArthurites think curing the congenitally blind is distinctively miraculous? In principle, medical science might well reach the point where it can cure the congenitally blind. On the face of it, that prospect doesn't violate a law of nature. If medical science can someday pull that off, would it cease to be miraculous, as MacArthurites define it?
c) What makes healing the blind miraculous? In the sense that, when nature is allowed to run its course unimpeded, the sightless don't become sighted. For that to happen requires intervention, be it medical intervention or divine intervention. 
d) It's natural for some animals to regrow lost appendages. But that doesn't come naturally for humans. In principle, medical science might figure out how to transfer that ability to humans, or clone replacement limbs. 
That wouldn't be miraculous. But it would be miraculous if that happened apart from changing the status quo by introducing a new dynamic from outside the system.  

A fate worse than death

9 And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. 2 He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. 3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. 6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them (Rev 9:1-6).
In what sense did death elude the unbelievers?
i) Beale thinks they wanted to die, but lacked the willpower to commit suicide. That's possible. Someone may flirt with a death wish, yet he can't screw up the courage to go through with it.
One reason for the psychological tension is that a sufferer doesn't really want to end his life. Rather, he wants to end the pain (be it physical or psychological), and ending his life is the only way of ending the pain. So there's a conflict between unbearable pain and the fear of death. 
On this interpretation, the sufferer is able, but unwilling to die. The decision lies with him. 
ii) But in context, that's not the most likely interpretation. Seems more like they are willing, but unable to die. They were tormented just short of death. If they were free to kill themselves, that would defeat the purpose of the torment. That would be their out. They'd be able to shorten the torment on their own terms. But the context speaks against that. 
In this case, they won't die, not because they exercise self-restraint, but because something or someone restrains them. They won't die, not because they can't bring themselves to end their life, but because they can't bring it about. What they lack is not the resolve, but the ability. 
We can speculate on what that scenario envisions. Captives can be under physical restraints. Chained. Strapped to a table or chair. Or their quarters may have nothing they can use to commit suicide. The proverbial padded cell. 
iii) Another even grimmer possibility is that they can kill themselves, but they can't stay dead. They are revived against their will. A partial parallel would be the Beast, who dies, but returns to life. 
On that scenario, even death is no escape, for even if they succeed in ending their life, they will be brought back to life to suffer again. A vicious  cycle.
iv) This invites a comparison with the "second death," which is John's paradoxical description for eternal punishment. There is a fate worse than death: where life is unbearable, but you just go on existing. If this historical, but temporary punishment (vv5-6), is worse than death, then unending eschatological punishment will exacerbate rather than ameliorate that condition. (BTW, that's a problem for annihilationism.)
v) Finally, what kind of event does this foresee? It's easy to think of examples in which the faithful are tormented by their persecutors. But examples in which the persecutors experience the torment they usually exact on the faithful don't come as readily to mind. Moreover, this isn't just a case of turning the tables. For the persecutors don't merely suffer–they are impotent to end their pain through suicide.
The fall of Rome led to some Romans dying at the hands of the invaders. But that was a quick, violent death. Of course, we must make allowance for the symbolic and hyperbolic nature of apocalyptic language.
In terms of modern analogues, secular regimes begin by rounding up the faithful. Consigning them to gulags. Or resorting mass extermination.
However, having eliminated the faithful (or at least driven the church underground), secular regimes turn on their own. Secular regimes become increasingly oppressive, capricious, and sadistic. In a Kafkaesque scenario which often plays out in real life, no citizen, even a loyal party member, is ever safe. 
But it's also possible that John envisions some as-yet future calamity. Something for which there is no historical precedent.