Saturday, January 18, 2014

What's Your Worldview?

Voilà! Prof. James Anderson's latest pièce d'awesome.

Update: In case people don't already know about these lectures from Prof. Anderson.

384 Roman Catholic priests defrocked for child sex abuse in 2011-12

Life goes on in the Roman Catholic sex-abuse-by-priests world. When handled internally, the maximum penalty for a priest convicted by a church tribunal is essentially losing his job: being defrocked, or removed from the clerical state. There are no jail terms and nothing to prevent an offender from raping again. But rules are rules.

By The Associated Press
Published: Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

VATICAN CITY — In his last two years as pope, Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests for raping and molesting children, more than twice as many as in the two years that preceded a 2010 explosion of sex abuse cases worldwide, according to a document obtained on Friday and an analysis of Vatican statistics.

The figures — 260 priests defrocked in 2011 and 124 in 2012, a total of 384 — represented a dramatic increase over the 171 priests defrocked in 2008 and 2009.

It was the first compilation of the number of priests forcibly removed for sex abuse by the Vatican's in-house procedures — and a canon lawyer said the real figure is likely far higher, since the numbers don't include sentences meted out by diocesan courts.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Virgin of Guadalupe

I disagree with the viewpoint of this article, which is too concessive and sympathetic. It does, however, provide lots of useful background material to help explain the sociological appeal of Mariolatry in Latin America:

Is Pete Enns a Marcionite?

Hi, Pete. Ok, I will take up the challenge, just so you're not surrounded by an adoring crowd of groupies. :) Part of the problem here is that even though you say you have articulated this 47 billion times, you still pepper the discussion with vague generalities. You talk about different portrayals, profound discontinuities, what the Gospel and the New Testament leave behind, etc. But, with these generalities, you really end up avoiding and dodging the question. Your dichotomy between different Gods versus different portrayals of God is not a true dichotomy. To be sure there are discontinuities, even "profound discontinuities" between the Testaments, but this does not address the question as to whether what is being discontinued is necessarily being evaluated negatively. In other words, it is very much possible to argue that the people of God, NOW, are to leave behind violent ways, without at the same time condemning the people of God in the OT for being violent, or negating the portrayal of the OT deity as a deity who does indeed engage in violence.
Furthermore, your reading of the NT is highly selective. There are, of course, violent texts in the New Testament. There are NT texts that implicitly put their imprimatur on the actions of OT characters who were engaged in violence. There are no texts--none, nada, zilch, zero--which do anything to condemn either what you refer to as a violent "portrayal" of God in the OT, or a violent God in the OT. Rather, God's prerogative to execute vengeance, wrath, and violent punishment of the wicked is both upheld and serves as a reason why God is to be worshiped.
So, here's a test for you. Is the God who is "portrayed" as giving both Moses and Joshua battle plans for warfare against the Canannites, the same God who is "portrayed" as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? If the answer to that question is "No," then, at the very least, we are indeed talking about a "quasi," or "latent," or "incipient" Marcionism. I simply think there is no way to avoid that conclusion. The New Testament gives no evidence whatsoever that Jesus rejected the revelation of the character of God in the Old Testament, or would have concluded after reading these "portrayals" of God in the Old Testament, "that's not my Father."
I am completely convinced that you are not an extra-terrestrial. :) I am not convinced that you can so easily dismiss, at least, an "incipient" Marcionite label.

Unvarnished atheism

Can a timeless God know time?

Jeremy Pierce
That's the one thing timelessness can give them [i.e. freewill theists]. It doesn't resolve the compatibility issue, but it does provide a means of immediate awareness, since every time is immediately accessible for God.

I don't see how divine timelessness ipso facto makes every time immediately accessible to God. Perhaps this assumes an implicit contrast to a temporal God who only has immediate access to the present (as well as remembered access to the past). Unlike a temporal God, a timeless God isn't "confined" to the present. 

Perhaps this plays on the picturesque metaphor of a God who is "above" time, so that he can see the entire timeline. Or, to vary the metaphor, "outside" time so that he can objectify the timeline. If so, that's figurative and anthropomorphic. It's not clear how we'd translate that into a literal counterpart. 

And, if anything, the opposite seems to be the case. If God is timeless, and that's it, then isn't God isolated from time? Hermetically sealed off? He's not in direct "contact" with temporal events. 

Now Calvinism has metaphysical resources which mere classical theism does not. A timeless predestinarian God can know whatever happens, because he makes it happen, by planning it and causing it. 

Chained to the past

Here, signs above the water fountains said, "For Colored Only." Certain parks, restaurants, and swimming pools prohibited all but its white guests. Distant past? No. As recently as 1960, ethnic integration on public transportation was still questionable. 
Home to the Manchester Slave Trail and Lumpkin's Slave Jail, Richmond, Virginia - the capital of the Confederacy - still suffers from its terrifying and unfortunate history. Conversations of white supremacy and suppression among blacks occur in one neighborhood - the black neighborhood - while the stained image of black victimization, slothfulness, and criminalization occur in another neighborhood - the white neighborhood.

Let's compare this to an interesting statistic:

0-14 years: 20% (male 32,344,207/female 31,006,688)
15-24 years: 13.7% (male 22,082,128/female 21,157,025)
25-54 years: 40.2% (male 63,802,736/female 63,581,749)
55-64 years: 12.3% (male 18,699,338/female 20,097,791)
65 years and over: 13.9% (male 19,122,853/female 24,774,052) (2013 est.)

If I'm reading that correctly, roughly three quarters of the current American population was born after 1960. Since they didn't encounter "colored only fountains" or segregated restaurants, &c., as far as they are concerned, it might as well be like other historical dates, viz. 1066, 1492, 1776. 

To take another comparison, when I was born, Eisenhower was still President. So that happened during my lifetime. Yet that was ten Presidents ago. So it feels very distant to me.

When I was a kid, I remember L.B.J. breaking into regularly scheduled programs to give updates on the Vietnam War. But that seems like a very long time ago.

Indeed, the very fact that Leon feels the need to give his readers this mini-history lesson is because he can't expect his readers to remember that from firsthand observation. They didn't live through it. For many of them, this is second-hand information. It came and went before them were born, or before they were old enough to know about it. It's like reading The Last of the Mohicans. Or going to the movies. 

Fact is, what was real for someone living in, say, the 19C, might as well be fiction for someone living in the 21C. I may cultivate an imaginary sense of camaraderie or solidarity with people from the past, but they never knew me, and I never knew them. Our lives never intersected. Their world is lost world. An often forgotten world.  

No, 1960 isn't distant history, but unless you belong to that generation, it's distant for you. My father's grandfather used to regale him stories about what it was like to Union soldier in the Civil War. Oral history. Gripping to hear. Yet it might as well have been Beowulf or the Song of Roland for my young father. It wasn't his past.

Finding sola Scriptura

I recently read the following statement by a Catholic apologist:
"Protestant apologists are cre­ative and tire­less in their efforts to find sola scrip­tura in the Bible."
This is deceptive. It illustrates the circular fact that the answer you get reflects the question you ask. Ask the wrong question, get the wrong answer.
To see what this goes awry, let's take a comparison. Suppose a tourist made the following complaint:
"I went to Ashville to see the Biltmore. I even bought a ticket. But try I as might, I never saw the Biltmore. The tour guide took us through room after room, but I could never find the Biltmore. I peered into closets: not there! I peered into cupboards: not there! I peered into cabinets, bureaus, and desk drawers: not there! Where was the Biltmore?"
The fallacy lies is assuming that the Biltmore is located inside the Biltmore. That if you look in the right closet or drawer, that's where you will find it–tucked away. 
Even though the Biltmore is all around him, both inside and outside, our befuddle tourist can't see it because he doesn't know what to look for. The Biltmore isn't in the Biltmore. Rather, the Biltmore is the Biltmore. It's the whole package–inside and out.  
Why assume that sola scriptura is only true if you can find sola scriptura in the Bible? What if sola scriptura simply is the Bible? Sola scripture isn't merely a matter of what the Bible says, but what the Bible is. The Bible is the record of God's public revelation to and for the church. 
And that stands in contrast to non-revelation. There is no additional public revelation we can turn to for infallible guidance. Scripture is set apart, not only by what it is, but by the absence of anything comparable to Scripture. By what is not revelation. The Bible itself draws an antithetical contrast between true and false prophecy. Scripture is demarcated both by what it is as well as by what is not Scripture. 
Christianity is a revealed religion. So divine revelation is the supreme source of doctrinal and ethical guidance. 
We can still use fallible sources of information, but they lack the same authority. And we judge them by that higher authority. 

Roman Catholic “presuppositions” on the early papacy are in retreat

Galileo: “If I can do it, Bergoglio can do it”
Galileo: “If I can do it, Bergoglio can do it”
A “presupposition” is an elementary assumption in one’s reasoning or in the process by which opinions are formed… [In the case of Protestant/Catholic discussions], a “presupposition” is not just any assumption in an argument, but a personal commitment that is held at the most basic level of one’s network of beliefs. Presuppositions form a wide-ranging foundational perspective (or starting point) in terms of which everything else is interpreted and evaluated. As such, presuppositions have the greatest authority in one’s thinking, being treated as one’s least negotiable beliefs and being granted the highest immunity to revision. (

That’s a fairly simple and standard definition given by Greg Bahnsen, early on in his work on “Van Til’s Apologetic (Phillipsburg: New Jersey, P&R Publishing, ©1998, pg 2).

Whatever level of “immunity to revision” one’s presuppositions may have, there are simply times and events which force that simply force one to modify one’s presuppositions. Galileo’s study of the solar system was one such occasion, forcing the Roman Catholic Church to modify its own “presuppositions”. (“The matter was investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, and they concluded that it could be supported as only a possibility, not an established fact”. Over time, Roman Catholicism later modified these views even further, and in the 20th century, described Galileo as being among the “most audacious heroes of research”).

I believe that historical research into ancient cultures and “Earliest Christianity” is having the effect similar to Galileo’s on Roman Catholic doctrine, especially with respect to the papacy. In 1995, Pope John Paul II issued a statement Ut Unum Sint, in which he was asked (by whom?) “to find a way of exercising the [papal] primacy which … is … open to a new situation”

He positions this search for “a new situation” as “a request made of me”.

I can’t say who made the request, but in the past I have pointed to a growing body of historical literature (and this blog post only touches the surface) – it certainly seems as if this type of work has, in the growing pressure it puts on the papacy over the last century, “made the request”. It is similar to the pressure that Galileo’s work put on Roman Catholicism to change its views on science.

But these changes with respect to “the earliest papacy” have much to do with the “doctrine” of the papacy, which in turn is at the heart of Roman Catholic doctrine and epistemology.

* * *

In turn, this evolution in papal doctrine has a direct bearing in showing precisely how some scientific and historical research is affirming one aspect of Christianity – and affirming some of the presuppositions that some Christians have held – in this case, the development of the canon of the New Testament – while seriously challenging the presuppositions that Roman Catholics hold about the foundations of their own belief something.

Both of these beliefs are held as presuppositions, or “precommitments”, by conservative Protestants and by Roman Catholics, respectively. This was illustrated in a discussion that I had recently:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

"Segregated churches"

Regardless of the reasons for ethnic and socio-economic segregation - and there are many - what is most unfortunate about the segregation that exists in Richmond is that it even exists in the vast majority of churches.

i) To begin with, "segregation" connotes intentional racial separation. How is the fact that many churches are predominantly one race or another intentional, rather than a side-effect of where people happen to live, their preferred worship style, and who chooses to attend?

For instance, I expect you can find more women attending a ballet performance than men. Is that "segregation"? 

ii) Suppose a church is 90% white and 10% black. Does Leon think 80% of the whites should stop attending that church to make it even? Does he tell his white parishioners: "There are too many white folks in this church. Most of you should go away. Drop out!"

Why does Leon assume that white churchgoers are responsible for the choices of black churchgoers? How are they responsible for who doesn't attend? Does he think black churchgoers are responsible for the choices of white churchgoers?

iii) BTW, isn't Leon's confrontational approach counterproductive? Say you're a black pastor of a predominantly white church. Isn't the best way to promote racial harmony to be a good pastor? Become a beloved pastor because you do the things a good pastor does?

If, on the other hand, you're constantly putting your white parishioners on the defensive for being white, then isn't that guaranteed to foster racial acrimony? Should they feel guilty about attending the church you pastor?  Is it wrong for them to attend your church?  

Executors and testators

I'm going to discuss some statements a Catholic commenter left on one of John Bugay's posts: 

Sola Scriptura, in the way you describe it, may not be a self-contradiction, but it definitely lacks merit. In the first place, the NT canon is not apostolic in the sense that it was formed by the apostles themselves. 
i) It's true that the NT canon in toto wasn't compiled by the apostles. So what?
ii) As Stanley Porter has pointed out, Paul probably had a hand in compiling his own corpus. Ancient writers usually kept copies of their own letters. 

There were co-workers to the apostles which much later began to inter-communicate the gospels and epistles of Paul, with the other epistles, Revelation, etc. 
If they were coworkers, then in what sense did they do this "much later"?

In other words, Paul did not know whether his epistle to Laodicea or his preliminary epistle to Corinth would be inserted into what would later be called a NT Canon, something which he could not have possibly envisioned. For all he knew, his first epistle to Corinth, his epistle to Laodicea, or any of his other epistles were just as authoratative for the churches in question.

How is that relevant to anything?
 In fact, the church of Corinth, Laodicea, and any other church Paul planted or some of the other jewish missionaries planted were unaware of the NT canon for some time. For them, the spoken word of the apostles in conjunction with the Law, Prophets, and Psalms was the rule of faith. 
Actually, whatever NT writings existed at the time, whatever NT writings were available at the time, figured in the rule of faith.

We could go on and on, but the NT canon, as it is set in the 27 book organization, is not of apostolic origin in the sense that the apostles knew about them and formed them together. They are however apostolic in nature, but in different senses. So right off the bat, you have a fundamental dogma of Protestantism which came later than the apostles, but which is somehow the only rule of faith. 

Why does Erick think that's a significant observation? When people die, they leave things behind. For instance, many people draw up a will to dictate the dispersion of the estate. In the nature of the case, the testator is not the executor. For administration of the estate presumes the death of the testator. Someone other than the decedent must assume the role of executor. Indeed, that's often specified in the will. That's the point of a will: it's a legally binding document that enables a living testator to make decisions about how his estate will be managed and distributed after his demise. How is the posthumous compilation of the NT canon essentially different? 

You take the 27 books of the Canon, but you won't accept the message of the Christians who formed the 27 book canon. I am not talking about the councils of Hippo or Rome, I am talking about the early Christians who, much after the apostolic era, were able to copy and inter-communicate all of Paul's epistles that were binding, and the other books in the NT, to all the districts and locations of all the churches.

What's the message of anonymous scribes? Likewise, Paul had letter couriers. They were responsible for the initial distribution of his letters. But that's not in competition with his unique apostolic authority. 
What I think you are failing to realize is that as generations pass, in particular from the apostolic era to the immediate post-apostolic era, the original witnesses who can assure the origins of all the books of the 27 in the NT canon are no longer there to be living and contemporary proof, something which is needed for all future bickering and division. Who is to stand in judgement over the present state of affairs?
That's true of historical testimony generally. But why must there be "living and contemporary proof" over and above past testimony? Take Pliny the Younger on the volcanic cataclysm that destroyed Herculaneum and Pompei. How does the fact that he's dead render his historical record of the event suspect? Conversely, how does a modern living contemporary vouch for a past event? He didn't see it. He didn't live through it. 

Without an authoritative tradition, with the external human face along with it, you are allowing each successive generation to be depending on a weak system of knowing the truth in the present. 
Roman Catholicism has no "authoritative tradition" on the canon. On the eve of Trent, the bishops were divided on the scope of the canon. There were two competing traditions: Augustine and Jerome. 

Your historical evidence is the same sort which is used and debated over with many other ancient topics. I would not leave my faith in one of these categories.

Except that as a Roman Catholic, he can't avoid sifting historical evidence. Take claims of Roman primacy. That's a historical claim that relies on historical evidence, or the lack thereof. Same thing with apostolic succession. 

In the first place, you seem to be indicating the God's sovereignty protected the canonical writings for his elect throughout the world. This always seem to ground some of the relief when things get a bit shaky in the historical journey. The problem is the following: How could God fool His beloved children for 2,000 years on which books go into the NT? 
By that logic, God was fooling the Roman Magisterium. Consider all those Roman bishops throughout the centuries leading up to Trent who agreed with Jerome on the scope of the OT canon. 
Keep in mind, too, that Trent canonized books of Scripture based on traditional ascriptions of authorship. But that's no longer a given in contemporary Catholic scholarship. 
Understand that the 27 book Canon, and the 22 book (post-temple Judaism) was not held in consensus throughout the district of local churches. I think you are well aware of that. Many of God's beloved were quoting from Baruch, but not from Maccabees, and from Wisdom, but not another.
And it what sense are the Tridentine Fathers living witnesses to the OT canon? By his own yardstick, Roman bishops aren't the original witnesses who can assure the origins of the OT books. So they have no inside knowledge of the process. No special expertise. They are in the same boat as the benighted Protestants. 
Not to mention that the LXX included the deutero-Canon, and of which Paul freely quoted.
Of course, that's anachronistic. It fails to distinguish between extant editions in Paul's time and later editions produced by the gentile church. 

Suboptimal grace

Now here is the question: If God can make sure everybody has at least some real opportunity to be saved, why could he not make sure that everyone has optimal grace?  Does he lack the creativity, the wisdom, or the means to do this?  And more importantly, if he could do this, is it not the case that he would do so?   Why would he not?

To which a friend of mine responded:

Does God "lack the creativity, the wisdom, or the means" to avoid creating people he knows will reject him and go to hell, even with postmortem optimal grace offered to him? 
How can Walls's answer to that question be anything but, "Yes, he lacks the ability. Specifically, God doesn't have the ability to know this stuff ahead of time." Unless he goes the open theism route, isn't God a 'moral monster' for creating people whom he knows will reject him, when he didn't have to do this? 
And then once he rejects infallible foreknowledge, wouldn't he have to reject probability knowledge as well? Would God create people for whom he knew it would be very likely they would reject him, despite postmortem optimal grace? What's loving in subjecting multitudes of creatures to such risk? 
For God to be perfectly loving, he can only create people about whom he believes it is very probable that they would accept him. If God is loving, then hell must only be filled with people who truly surprised God. It's the place that secures the divine "Whoops, didn't see that coming!" The divine "Wow, that's incredible!" 
Is this portrait of God seriously preferable to the orthodox tradition?

Robert Kaplan on the enduring power of institutions

Robert Kaplan
Robert Kaplan
Robert Kaplan is of the better commentators, in my opinion, on geopolitics. Kaplan has covered primarily military activities of the US and other militaries around the world.

In the process, he’s had an opportunity to see first-hand the kinds of things that work in a country or government, and those that don’t.

Today he’s published an article on Stratfor’s free email list entitled “Elections Don’t Matter, Institutions Do”, which I think has good power to explain the kinds of situations we find ourselves today (culturally), as well as a guideline as to how Christians can effectively think about their role in the current environment.

Not all of this will be new to most of us, but it’s something to reinforce what we know. And of course a case can be made not to neglect the first while continuing with the other.

[A]s the late Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington once remarked, the genius of the American system lies less in its democracy per se than in its institutions. The federal and state system featuring 50 separate identities and bureaucracies, each with definitive land borders -- that nevertheless do not conflict with each other -- is unique in political history. And this is not to mention the thousands of counties and municipalities in America with their own sovereign jurisdictions. Many of the countries I have covered as a reporter in the troubled and war-torn developing world would be envious of such an original institutional arrangement for governing an entire continent.

What scientific idea is ready for retirement?

Several interesting responses here. For example, there are mathematicians and physicists arguing we should retire the multiverse and string theory (e.g. Eric Weinstein, Frank Tipler).

There are evolutionists arguing we should retire modern evolutionary theory, or at least significantly revise certain key aspects of modern evolutionary theory (e.g. Roger Highfield).

There are physicians and other relevant scientists arguing we should retire or revise evidence-based medicine and how medical research is conducted (e.g. Dean Ornish).

There are other responses worth reading.

Of course, I don't agree with everything. Not to mention there are people like Jerry Coyne who have unintentionally funny responses in light of their own beliefs.

HT: Steve.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Blue language

Swearing has become ubiquitous in contemporary society. Both men and women do it publicly. In this post I'm not going to comment on this ethics of swearing. Instead, I'm going to focus on something else.

Roughly speaking, swear words involving body functions fall into two sets: those involving the digestive system and byproducts thereof, and those involving sex and sexual anatomy. 

It's understandable why some swear words are based on digestion. After all, that concerns "waste products," so if you want to say something or someone is worthless, there's a certain logic to that metaphorical comparison. 

Mind you, even that's shortsighted. We should be thankful for an efficient digestive system. Consider people who suffer from chronic constipation, incontinence, colon cancer, or have had colectomies. Too many people take their digestive system for granted. Trying living without it. 

Likewise, although it doesn't get much respect, even excrement is far from useless. Ask any good farmer or gardener. In God's wisdom, even waste doesn't go to waste. Everything is useful in the cycle of nature. 

However, swear words based on sex and sexual anatomy are more puzzling. After all, many of the folks who routinely use these words live for sex. They center their lives on sex. That's their favorite activity.

So it's counterintuitive that that would become the source of angry, demeaning rhetoric. I mean, imagine using "chocolate ice cream" as an explicative. Since many people enjoy chocolate ice cream, we wouldn't expect them to turn that into an expletive. 

Ultimately, I think this reflects the fact that sinners degrade even the things they love and value the most. 

Van Gogh and Calvinism

Recently, Jerry Walls posted the following claim:


Every year IVP sends its authors a Christmas gift, including a copy of one of their recent titles. This year the book I got was "In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity" by Jim Belcher. I have been reading the book with enjoyment as part of my devotional reading. One of his chapters is an interesting discussion of the life of Vincent Van Gogh, and how his tortured life and art is a vivid display of "broken beauty." One passage in particular struck me in light of the fact that Belcher is a Reformed theologian who teaches at Knox seminary, a passage that seems rather at odds with the Calvinism he professes. Of course, this does not detract from the book at all. In fact, for me it enhances a book when Calvinists say things (which they almost invariably do) that suggest that deep down they don't believe their theology either. Here is the passage.

"Sadly, many discount his art because of his troubled life. I wonder if some dismiss his art because they don't like dealing with suffering--and Vincent really suffered. Some of it was self-inflicted--his cantankerous nature, his inability to forgive, his careless lifestyle--but much of it was caused by his illness (doctors were just starting to diagnose it as a nonseizure type of epilepsy), which led him to make bad choices for which no medicine existed at the time. Is it right to blame him for a reality that was often out of his control?"

Keep in mind that Walls is picking on a soft target. Jim Belcher isn't a philosophical sophisticate.

However, this devolved into an impromptu debate between Walls and Paul Manata. A debate which went badly for Walls. He was unable to defend his original claim. In the end he did the smart face-saving thing by fading into the crowd and letting his worshipful fans surround him for cover.

Maul Panata Dang it. I was hoping to find an inconsistency and I looked high and low and could not find it. I did find, however, what I take you think is an inconsistency.
January 13 at 2:28pm

Jerry Walls Well Maul, you are among the most elusive when it comes to these things!
January 13 at 2:32pm

Maul Panata The "not responsible for things outside of his control" remark by Belcher is what you took to be inconsistent since, presumably, you think he takes God's determining decrees to be outside our control too yet he thinks God, and others, can hold us responsible.
January 13 at 3:09pm

Jerry Walls Yep
January 13 at 3:10pm

Maul Panata Yep, but I don't think there's an inconsistency there. At least there need not be.
January 13 at 3:11pm

Jerry Walls PERHAPS need not be, but likely is.
January 13 at 3:14pm

Maul Panata Not likely, I don't think. The basic point here is that compatibilists have long recognized a relevant sort of "control" that removes MR and or FW, and a sort that doesn't. "Control", like "can", "able," etc., are multiply ambiguous. See e.g., Fischer and Ravizza's *Responsibility and Control," for some non-elusive spelling out of these points. :-) (Btw, I grant it may be inconsistent when assuming LFW, but I take it the kind of inconsistency you had in mind was internal.)
January 13 at 3:22pm

Jerry Walls Well yes, Maul, compatibilists have given us some interesting analyses of control, being able to do otherwise and so on. But if one is a thoroughgoing theological determinist, and holds that God caused van Gogh to have his mental illness, then certainly van Gogh had no control over that fact. And if one then suggests that van Gogh should not be blamed for his inability to act differently because of this illness, well, I think he is going to have a hard time sustaining moral responsibility in that case.
January 13 at 4:30pm

Maul Panata I don't think mentally ill (depending on the story we tell here) people who do "bad" things should be held responsible, even if God ultimately determines the have this. But, properly functioning people who do bad things, and have no excuse, justification, etc., can be responsible even though God determines them. Where's the "inconsistency"?
January 13 at 4:44pm

Jerry Walls Well, sin is a universal illness with which all are born and which prevents all people from functioning in the way humans were designed to function, for which the non-elect receive no medicine, (saving grace), yet they are still held to be fully responsible for their sins, indeed are punished eternally for them. Why less so in the case of mental illness?
January 13 at 4:48pm

Maul Panata Jerry, because we have the relevant control with one and lack it with the other. Other than that, that's thin gruel out of which to make the argument from analogy you need here. In fact, I don't even think you believe your argument, for you don't think the severely mentally ill are responsible yet you think we "normally" corrupt people are---yet we are, in your other sense, mentally sick with sin. You'd probably say we have LFW with respect to the latter but not the former. I'd say we have CFW with respect to the latter but not the former.
January 13 at 5:18pm

Jerry Walls Well Maul, I think we are responsible because God has given us prevenient grace, indeed, in my view optimal grace, which is the grace best suited to win a positive response from us in keeping with LFW. And God truly desires a positive response. Not so on Calvinism, so no, without such grace that enables a LFW positive response, I do NOT think we are responsible. Even less do I think God could be good in any meaningful sense, let alone perfectly good. Perfect goodness may entail optimal grace.
January 13 at 5:28pm

Maul Panata Jerry, right, but now you've switched from an *internal* critique to an *external* one, but your charge in the OP was that Belcher was *internally* inconsistent. I'm arguing that on determinism—even theological determinism—there are responsibility-undermining ways of being "out of control" and there are also ways or senses of something's being "out of your control" that do not subvert responsibility. So, as I say, I don't see the problem for Belcher. You'd have to argue that compatibilists can't account for such distinctions, but they certainly can, it would seem. To be sure, you think their distinctions are *false* or "all wet," but that's weaker than you originally claimed. Of course, if you just *assume* LFW, then Belcher has problems, but that's dialectically uninteresting.
January 13 at 5:30pm

Jerry Walls Well again, I think he is likely inconsistent because I doubt there is a convincing way to blame someone for acts that flow from the sickness of sin but not ones that flow from mental illness, especially if you agree with Calvin that God determined the fall, and do not try to salvage everything with a single Edenic act of LFW. The sickness of sin is determined as much as mental illness, and out of our control. And the punishment for the non-elect is eternal misery! I doubt there is a convincing account of control that will hold for acts of sin but not for willing acts performed by the mentally ill. Moreover, I doubt that he intends the distinctions you deploy. So yes, I think it is likely he is internally inconsistent, indeed, highly likely.
January 13 at 5:42pm

Jerry Walls And moreover, I switched to an external critique because you suggested above that I was inconsistent in blaming ordinary depraved Calvninsts but not the van Goghs of the world!
January 13 at 5:44pm

Maul Panata If one way of lacking control subverts responsibility and the other way doesn't, then what's the problem? Here's one way to get at it: (mundane) mental sickness undermines reasons responsiveness, sin-sickness doesn't. How does sin-sickness make one not relevantly responsive to reasons (in Fischer & Ravizza's sense)? Indeed, *I* am responsive to reasons! So, unless one really poisons the well and assumes some very particular, and nefarious, view of the noetic affects of sin, how would the argument go that the noetic affects of sin affects reasons responsiveness (again, in F&R's sense)? One problem with trying to advance such an argument is that we just don't know enough about the nature of the noetic affects of sin.

Here's another: (mundane) mental sickness removes one from the moral community by affecting her ability to understand and engage in a moral responsibility conversation, and thus by definition they cannot *be* morally responsible agents, or be *held* morally responsible (here I'm pulling from McKenna's latest book on this subject). From my many readings of the book and convos with the author, I can't see how a similar argument applies to "sin-sickness." a sickness we all share and does not, at least *on Calvinism*, impede our ability to know what is right or wrong, to have the reactive attitudes, to give excuses and justifications, etc. Indeed, on a broadly Strawsonian account of moral responsibility, we can easily see how mental illness undermines responsibility but I cannot see, and have seen no argument to this effect, that theological determinism undermines our having the general capacities needed to be and hold responsible.

There are several theories I could appeal to (and flesh out more fully outside of a Facebook thread) that, as far as I can see, we *know* ordinary mentally insane people can't be responsible and but we *don't* know how to make such a parity argument from the noetic effects of sin.

As for the "determined the fall remark," again, I can see why you'd say that on *libertarianism*, but how does the argument go against compatibilism? Yes, God determined the one "sickness", and I say it doesn't undermine responsibility (cf. above for various theories on which it doesn't seem to); and God determines (ordinary) mental illness too. One one we do acts for which we're responsible, on the other, we don't. What's the *argument* for the inconsistency here? For example, given McKenna's conversational account, I simply can't see how you'd make such an argument.

(Btw, when you switched to the external critique, I was not claiming you were inconsistent by blaming Calvinists but not Van Goghs. I was claiming that even you recognized the being mentally ill in one sense doesn't undermine responsibility but it does in the other. That's because you think in the one the person has the relevant control needed and in the other you think they lack it. Well, that's what I think! You think LFW supplies the control, I think CFW does. So we're *internally* on a par here).
January 13 at 6:47pm

Jerry Walls A person who is not elect CANNOT respond positively to the gospel and believe even if it is presented with the best reasoning and argument. The non-elect sinner's responsiveness to reason goes only so far. And God has chosen not to give him the grace with which he COULD and WOULD respond positively to the gospel. And the sinner will be eternally punished by the very One who has determined that CANNOT respond positively to the gospel. I find the senses in which he allegedly can utterly specious.

And what is the common moral community of the elect and the non-elect? The elect are determined to accept Christ and please God and the non-elect are determined not to. Can the non-elect really understand the beauty of the gospel. Can they see the glory of incarnation and the atonement? Can they appreciate the beauty of divine love and how it requires a response of love and obedience in return?

The non-elect on this score are FAR more removed from the moral community of the elect than mentally ill people are from "normal" people. Indeed, mentally ill people often recover, they often have islands of clarity from which sanity and mental health can be restored, and thus retain some contact with moral reason.

As for the parity of the fall and mental sickness. God determines the fall and universal sin sickness, and then determines countless people to eternal misery for acting out that sickness. I do not see any way a "good" God could do this that would not license blaming and eternally punishing a mentally ill person for acting out of his illness.

Indeed, a manipulation argument paralleling van Gogh and van Til might be most illuminating!
January 13 at 10:45pm

Maul Panata Jerry, right, I know you can't see how a good god can do those things. But that's an *external* criticism. You're supposed to be defending the charge of *internal* inconsistency. I have *two* ways that could go. One--reasons responsiveness--you didn't respond to, instead you responded to a classical compatibilist position I didn't raise (and in fact, the Fischer & Ravizza model denies the "specious" senses you speak of, as they're *semi*-compatibilists). But even here you didn't argue against classical compatibilism but said that with libertarian glasses on you think they're anslysis are specious. So this doesn't get your internal inconsistency charge.

On the other point, you seem to simply misunderstand some of the terms I'm using here. I'm speaking of a common moral community all humans belong to. I even gave a relevant example of what membership looks like, viz., knowing right and wrong, being able to interpret agent meaning, being able to give and respond to excuses, justifications, etc.

Your response to my remarks about the fall again tell us "you can't see how this works, but we knew that going in---you're a libertarian! This response is a slender reed on which to hang an inconsistency charge.

If you can run manipulation argument, do it :-)

Again, you don't blame mentally ill people yet you blame their spiritual analogues. How? Because you think mental illness rules out LFW but the spiritual analogue doesn't. Right, and I say the same thing but sub CFW for LFW. We're on a par here. Now, I note you don't like Belcher 'a Calvinism. I grant you don't think compatibilism is true. We know all that, but you're supposed to be defending an *inconsistency* charge, and I've offered several quick and dirty ways Belcher could easily avoid that charge. Your response seems to be that "you can't see how those work" or how it's consistent with "God's goodness", but again, these are charges of external consistency. Lastly, I should note that your entire response to me depends on a deeper analogy between the now tic effects of sin and ordinary mental illness. I think it's actually a *metaphor* and not and analogy, but moreover, we don't know enough about it's precise nature to make it analogous. In fact, draw the analogy too tight, we can't blame sinners for anything, on either CFW or LFW. Loosen it, you lose the connection needed for the argument.
January 14 at 4:22am

Classic Arminianism is dead!

Classic Arminianism is dead. Ironically, freewill theists delivered the coup de grâce. 

I. Open theism

For centuries, philosophers and theologians have noted the tension between God's foreknowledge and man's libertarian freedom. Open theists admit that this is a genuine contradiction, and they relieve the tension by surrendering divine foreknowledge. Moreover, this isn't just a fringe movement. Within freewill theism, it has substantial representation, viz. David Bartholomew, David Basinger, John Martin Fischer, William Hasker, Nelson Pike, Alan Rhoda, Richard Swinburne, Patrick Todd, Peter van Inwagen, Keith Ward, Dallas Willard, Nicholas Wolterstoff, Linda Zagzebski, Dean Zimmerman.

II. Molinism

William Lane Craig tacitly concedes that classic Arminianism is at odds with God's omnibenevolence. In classical Arminianism, God doesn't do everything within his power to save sinners, consistent with their libertarian freedom. So Craig tries to salvage God's omnibenevolence by two conjectures:

i) He postulates that God has middle knowledge of what every human would freely do in every situation.

ii) He postulates transworld damnation.

According to Craig, some humans will resist God's grace in every possible world which contains them. Because God knows who they are, the only hellbound humans in the real world are humans who'd resist his grace even if they were given the opportunity. Of the feasible worlds God has to choose from, that's the world he chooses to instantiate.

III. Postmortem salvation

Jerry Walls concedes that classic Arminianism is at odds with God's omnibenevolence. In classical Arminianism, God doesn't do everything within his power to save sinners, consistent with their libertarian freedom. So Walls shores this up by postulating optimal grace, which extends into the afterlife. 

I'd add that Walls and Craig both reflect a trend in freewill theism: they erect their theology on a foundation of fanciful conjectures. They begin with their desired result, then postulate whatever they need to achieve the goal. As I put it recently, they are sprinkling pixie dust on the gold at the end of the rainbow. 

Munchausen syndrome by proxy

Here is where optimal grace comes in. In short, optimal grace is whatever form and measure of grace is best suited to elicit a positive response from us, without overriding our freedom.  Because we are all different, the exact nature of this will vary from person to person. But the important idea is that if God truly loves each one of us, and truly desires our salvation, he will offer his love and grace to each of us in the way that is optimal to elicit a positive response.
Pretty clearly, not everyone has such grace in this life, and that is one of the reasons I believe in postmortem grace and repentance. What this means is that in the long run, everyone has an equal opportunity to be saved. In the afterlife, God can find ways in his infinitely creative wisdom to give everyone the best opportunity to respond to the gospel.
What this underscores is that no one goes to hell because of ignorance or lack of opportunity to be saved. Nor does anyone go to hell for rejecting a distorted or garbled view of Jesus and his amazing love. No, emphatically not! You go to hell for rejecting Jesus, not a caricature of Jesus. You go to hell for spurning the amazing grace he showed us in the cross and resurrection, not for being ignorant of it. 
Now what I find interesting, however, is that many people who are not Calvinists believe that God gives everybody at least some chance to be saved, but not optimal grace. They hold that at least some ray of light has come into every life, or that everyone has heard the gospel at least one time. They affirm that everyone is given at least what we might call “minimal grace.”
But in order for that to happen, you have to be properly and truly aware of who he is and the truth and beauty of his love.  Only when you are properly informed of the truth can you freely, deliberately and decisively reject it. In other words: a decisive choice of evil is only possible given optimal grace. 
And why do they insist on this? Because they want to be able to say that God is fully just in damning such people. In other words, it is important that everyone have enough grace or opportunity for salvation that God can be just in sending to hell those who die without faith.  But optimal grace is not required for this. 
Now here is the question: If God can make sure everybody has at least some real opportunity to be saved, why could he not make sure that everyone has optimal grace? Does he lack the creativity, the wisdom, or the means to do this? And more importantly, if he could do this, is it not the case that he would do so?  Why would he not?
So here is one of the most fundamental issues in how we conceive of God, one that will profoundly shape not only our view of hell, but our entire theology. Does God genuinely, deeply, love all persons and desire to save them? Or is his only concern to give them enough revelation and grace that he can justly damn them if they die without faith?

i) Ironically, this is a backdoor admission that classic Arminianism is self-contradictory. Sufficient grace is insufficient. Sufficient grace must be supplemented by postmortem opportunities to even the playing field. So Walls is conceding, in roundabout fashion, what Calvinists have been saying about Arminianism all along. Here's an Arminian torpedoing classic Arminianism. Conceding Calvinist objections to classic Arminianism. 

ii) Walls is right that on Arminian grounds, death is an arbitrary cut-off. But what about his alternative? Optimal grace is the Arminian equivalent of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a form of child abuse in which a "loving" mother makes her child sick, then takes him to the ER to be treated for the illness she induced. 

According to Walls, the Arminian God places humans in a harmful environment, then takes them to the postmortem ER to cure them of the damage he caused them by placing them in that harmful environment in the first place. 

Life's a beach

I'm going to comment on this post, where Leon Brown a PCA pastor:

The ethnic and socio-economic make-up of our congregation is 95+ white and 99% middle-upper middle class. 

I don't know why Leon fixates on the ethnic composition of predominantly white churches. He seems to think that reflects unconscious institutional racism.

(To be sure, this isn't Leon's statement. This is the answer given by his respondent. But the answers reflect Leon's questions. His agenda.) 

What about the ethnic composition of predominantly black churches like the A.M.E, Church, Missionary Baptist convention, and the Church of God in Christ? What about the ethnic composition of Korean-American churches or Spanish-speaking churches in the US? Is that racist?

BTW, I think multiethnic churches are great. 

During and following my college years the Lord began to convict me of my racism. I began to reflect more on my experience in church growing up and of racism and race issues in the church. I was writing a paper for ordination on the Image of God and was required to use some Presbyterian and Southern Presbyterian theologians. I was shocked to see some of the things that Dabney and others had written with respect to their views on slavery and the status of blacks compared to whites in the church. This seemed very inconsistent with their teaching on the Image of God in other places. I also was reading Anthony Bradley's blog which from time to time talked about his experience as a black man in the PCA and began to read more about Dabney, Thornwell, and others. I knew he wasn't making up his experiences because I knew quite personally that racism existed in Reformed Presbyterian circles.

i) To begin with, why would that be "shocking"? "Shocking" suggests this was a surprising discovery. Why did Leon's respondent find it surprising to learn that someone with Thornwell or Dabney's social conditioning would be racist? Isn't that fairly predictable? Wouldn't it be exceptional if they didn't suffer from that outlook? 

ii) More to the point, notice the historical guilt-by-association. Some 19C Presbyterian theologians were racist. Therefore, that taints 21C Presbyterians. That's logically and causally bogus. There's not the slightest reason to assume that Presbyterian who was born c. 2000 shares the views of someone (Thornwell) born in South Carolina in 1812 or some (Dabney) born Virginia in 1820. The sociological dynamics are drastically different.

iii) Let's take a comparison. I've lived in both the coastal southeast and coastal southwest. The coastal southeast where I reside was predominately black and white, while the coastal southwest where I resided was predominantly white and hispanic. 

I often went to the beach. I noticed that for some reason, most beachgoers were white. I don't know why that is. Nothing prevents blacks and Latinos from frequenting the same beaches in higher numbers. It's a self-selected result. 

I don't know how to account for the disparity in racial preferences in that regard. But it's not as if white beachgoers should feel guilty because they like go to the beach more often than blacks and hispanics in the same area. These are public beaches. Open to anyone regardless of race. Are white beachgoers somehow responsible for whether or not more blacks and Latinos want to frequent the beach?