Saturday, March 22, 2014


Should Christians circle the wagons? Or engage the culture?

Sure, we’re ticked off about the “marriage equality” laws. And a lot of other things, to be sure. But in our culture now, there are two ways to go: hunker down? Or go and have conversations?

Two articles came across the social media yesterday. First there was a Rod Dreher article from “The American Conservative entitled “Christianity, Collapse, & The Benedict Option”. Then Darrell Bock posted a link to an article where he was interviewed, one that dealt with the same sort of topic, but offering a different solution: “Are Young Christians ‘Embarrassingly Ignorant’ of Their Faith? Professor Has a Plan to Fix That”.

Both described the same problem: a lack of understanding among younger generations particularly. First Dreher:

Bad news for the future of Catholicism in America, according to the Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith, and his colleagues. In their new book Young Catholic America, they build on social science data showing the following about young Catholic adults:

·        They don’t understand their faith well enough to pass it on to any children they may have

·        They believe that their own subjective beliefs and experiences are a more important arbiter of truth than the Church

·        They pick and choose what they want to believe, discarding the parts that they dislike (e.g., in particular, teaching on sexuality)

·        They are less involved with the Church as an institution (e.g., don’t go to mass as often), and feel more loosely tied to it than previous Catholic generations

·        They tend to believe that the Catholic Church is just one church among others, with no special claim to the truth

·        They affirm a Catholic identity, but reserve the right to define that as they want to; plus, they see their Catholicism not as being at the center of their identity, but one facet among others

·        They are unable to articulate a coherent case for what it means to be Catholic

I don’t have a copy of the book in hand, but reading the excerpt available on Amazon, the authors say that the collapse of Catholic identity in the US had a lot to do with the collapse of catechesis after the Second Vatican Council; with a determination among leaders of Catholic universities, which had been important custodians of Catholic identity, to assimilate into the mainstream; and the widespread rejection of Humanae Vitae, the encyclical in which Paul VI reaffirmed the Church’s historic teaching outlawing contraception. The authors are careful not to blame HV for this, but simply to say that once American Catholics decided that they didn’t have to obey the Church on this teaching, a cultural and psychological Rubicon was crossed.

The authors say that the hinge of modern American Catholic history was the generation born in the 1950s and 1960s — the first one to be raised in postconciliar Catholicism. Generally speaking, they were poorly taught, and poorly formed in the habits of Catholicism. They have proven to be terrible at passing on Catholicism to their children. According to Smith et al., social science studies have repeatedly shown that the most important factor in passing on religious faith to the next generation is the practices of parents. This is even more important than one’s pastor. If parents don’t know and live out the faith, it is unlikely that their children will. It takes only a generation to greatly increase the likelihood that the faith will be lost to all subsequent generations. In the past, when there were cultural constructs that were recognizably Christians, parents could at least theoretically afford to be less vigilant, trusting that their kids would be more or less catechized by the ambient Christianity in the culture. Those days are long gone, though.

Smith and his co-authors say this is a rule of thumb for all parents with regard to religious education of their kids: “We will get what we are.” That is, the faith of our children will not be determined by what we profess to believe, or what idealize, but by what we live out every day in our families and communities.

Here’s the important, not-to-be-missed point from Smith’s work: everything that has gone wrong with American Catholicism and its young adults is pretty much equally true of other Christian churches…. (emphasis in original).

Now here is a selection from the Bock interview:

“We believe the church has done a very poor job of helping teens prepare for what they need on the university campus,” Bock said. “And we felt like pastors and youth leaders, not to mention students and parents, needed this basic help and orientation.”

Bock and his co-authors believe that many young people have been ill-prepared to deal with the scrutiny and tough questions they are sure to face — and that a shallow faith hasn’t enabled them to think deeply about Christianity’s more intricate elements.

“They are embarrassingly ignorant of our faith,” proclaims the book’s description, referencing experts’ analysis on young Christians.

Ignorance often leads to doubt, which led Bock to describe why so many young people simply aren’t prepared to handle these ideological and theological battles.

“There’s just a lot more information out there. There’s a lot more happening in terms of documentaries and specials,” he said. “It’s been happening really since the end of the 1990s … you’ve got a lot more niche channels … most of these shows are done through university settings.”

The author said that university experts presenting these projects tend to be more secular in nature and less likely to understand Christian theology. But that’s not the only factor at play.

Bock also said there are many Christians who aren’t attending church today and who are thus not receiving the theological training they need to form solid ideas about the faith.

So, the descriptions of the problems seem to be somewhat parallel. But the two solutions are very different.

First, Dreher:

And so we come to what I’ve been calling the Benedict Option. When I write about it, people have this idea that I’m talking about everybody running away to a compound in Idaho to wait out the deluge. I’m not, not at all. True, I am talking about the possibility of doing things like that, though not so radical — I wrote a TAC story about it last year – but for the great majority of us, that’s not possible, or even desirable. It must not be forgotten that the early Benedictines did not bunker away behind monastery walls, with no contact at all with the outside world. Rather, they constructed a way of life for themselves — a habitus, but one that in their case required a particular material structure (the monastery) — that allowed them to live out the faith and to carry on with the moral life in community, passing it on vertically, to future generations of Benedictines, and horizontally to the peasants to whom they ministered over the centuries and the generations. Without knowing what they were doing, they laid the groundwork for the rebirth of civilized life in Europe.

For Christians living through the current collapse, this is our most important task. It will necessarily have many facets, but it’s the kind of thing that all of us — Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox — have to be working toward, together. I was so thrilled to see on Monday afternoon how excited Jamie Smith was to learn about what Dante had to say to us about this, and thrilled to learn last night how much work Smith, as one of the leading Protestant theologians of his generation, has done to show his people why habitus is so critically important to us all, and why worship, which he says includes “forming us in ways that elude conscious awareness,” is more important than intellection.

Then Bock:

When asked how believers can be sure Christianity is “true,” the author highlighted the faith’s historical narrative.

“I think if you just look at the roots of how improbable the emergence of Christianity was historically — think about its origins,” Bock said. “It was tucked away in a tiny corner of the Roman Empire … involved people who had no political power whatsoever.”

He added, “If you just look at its emergence, that in itself is almost a supernatural story.”

Bock also discussed some of Christianity’s central figures — people he says were radically changed by the faith. Paul, who had previously persecuted Christians, is perhaps the most prevalent example of the sort of evolution he says belief in Jesus yields.

According to Bock, other faiths are “more of an ethic than they are a movement,” but that, in Christianity, “God fixes the problem for us,” whereas every other religion urges human beings to “fix the problem for ourselves” (emphasis added).

Dreher’s solution, “the habitus”, is in reality the circling of the wagons to preserve what he considers to be “our way of life”, to hand it on, while remaining untainted by the world.

Bock’s way is rather, to continue to trust God, while we gird up ourselves and our young people to face what needs to be faced in the world, and to have intelligent conversations with the people in the world around us, to defend the truths of the Scriptures, and to understand that it’s God who fixes the problems for us.

Especially in the United States, it seems to me, we have the opportunity to influence the world for the better. I’m not advocating a new group, a “moral majority”, or a new movement, or a political action committee. I’m not advocating “transformationism”. What I’m advocating is that each Christian live boldly in the world – understand what it takes to do that, to be sure.

We don’t live in the second century or the fifth century or the middle ages. We live in our world, today, with technology and rampant immorality. Augustine and Dante lived and wrote in times that are radically different from ours. We may or may not find some wisdom for our age in what they wrote.

But the fact is, we are living in our age, today, with its own challenges, its own resources. Remember the past, to be sure. Learn from it. But live boldly, today, as Christians in a hostile world, and the Lord may yet grant us to be pleasantly surprised by the results. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

I Disagree With John Piper About Near-Death Experiences

I think highly of John Piper. I've often quoted him approvingly in my posts on this blog. I often recommend his books, and I've given many copies away. I donate to his ministry. Desiring God is my favorite book outside the Bible. However, he recently made some comments about near-death experiences (NDEs) that I disagree with.

Heroes Of The Remote Control

Given the absurdity of the media coverage of the story about the Malaysian airplane, as well as the absurdity of people's interest in the story, it's worth quoting a recent article about how Americans spend their time:

How corporate election backfires

Brian Abasciano is a NT scholar and prominent Arminian apologist (indeed, the president of SEA). In that respect, he's a younger-generation version of I. H. Marshall. 

Here he's defending corporate election. What's striking is that he defines proginosko in a way that's very close to (or identical to) the Calvinist definition. He doesn't think it means foreknowledge in these passages. Rather, it means prior choice. 

On that view, we should render Rom 8:29 as:

For those whom he chose beforehand he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.
Rom 11:2 as:

God has not rejected his people whom he chose beforehand.

And 1 Pet 1:1-2 as:

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the prior choice of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.

Of course, he'd try to blunt the force of this concession, but it's a damaging concession. 

While agreeing that God knows the future, including who will believe, the corporate election perspective would tend to understand the references to foreknowledge in Rom 8:29 and 1 Pet 1:1-2 as referring to a relational prior knowing that amounts to previously acknowledging or recognizing or embracing or choosing people as belonging to God (i.e., in covenant relationship/partnership). The Bible sometimes mentions this type of knowledge, such as when Jesus speaks of those who never truly submit to his lordship: “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matt 7:23; cf. Gen 18:19; Jer 1:5; Hos 13:4-5; Amos 3:2; 1 Cor 8:3). On this view, to be chosen according to foreknowledge would mean to be chosen because of the prior election of Christ and the corporate people of God in him. “Those [plural] whom he foreknew” in Rom 8:29 would refer to the Church as a corporate body and their election in Christ as well as their identity as the legitimate continuation of the historic chosen covenant people of God, which individual believers share in by faith-union with Christ and membership in his people. Such a reference is akin to statements in Scripture spoken to Israel about God choosing them in the past (i.e., foreknowing them), an election that the contemporary generation being addressed shared in (e.g., Deut 4:37; 7:6-7; 10:15; 14:2; Isaiah 41:8-9; 44:1-2; Amos 3:2). In every generation, Israel could be said to have been chosen. The Church now shares in that election through Christ, the covenant head and mediator (Rom 11:17-24; Eph 2:11-22).

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Out of the mouths of babes

Apollinarianism redux

I've been asked to comment on the Apollinarian Christology of Craig and Moreland. It's been 11 years since they published Philosophical Foundations, so it's possible that they've refined their original position. I'll be quoting from pp608-12 of their book. But I'd like to make a few preliminary observations before commenting on specific statements:

i) For purposes of this post, I'm using Nestorian in the conventional sense (e.g. Christ is two distinct persons, human and divine). There's a scholar debate about whether Nestorius was a Nestorian. Did his enemies libel him by imputing to him a position he didn't espouse? My post ignores that debate.

ii) Craig/Moreland use Nestorianism as a negative benchmark. This is what is to be avoided. They use their opposition to Nestorianism to leverage their Apollinarian alternative. 

However, it's unclear why Nestorianism is worse than Apollinarianism. Why not espouse a Nestorian Christology? Because it's heretical? But Nestorianism is no more or less heretical than the Apollinarian/monothelite alternative which they champion. Since they don't feel bound by the authority of the ecumenical councils, they can't very well use the "heretical" status of Nestorianism to justify their equally "heretical" alternative. It's not as if Nestorianism must be avoided, but Apollinarianism/monothelitism need not be avoided. Once they reopen the ancient debate by treating Apollinarianism/monothelitism as a viable option, then there's no reason why Nestorianism shouldn't be a viable option as well. 

Notice, I'm not saying we should adopt any of these. 

iii) Speaking for myself, I'm ultimately concerned with NT Christology, not patristic or conciliar Christology, per se, except where that maps back onto NT Christology. It may also be the case that NT Christology is too coarse-grained to adjudicate some of the finer points raised in patristic debates or Protestant debates. Perhaps some of the more detailed models are underdetermined by Scripture. It moves beyond exegetical theology into philosophical theology. Nothing inherently wrong with that, but we're only bound by revealed truths. 

iv) Craig/Moreland are far too eager to relieve the apparent tensions in orthodox Christology. This betrays them into essentially denying the Incarnation by eliminating the true humanity of Christ–their protestations notwithstanding. It's fine to harmonize the data if we can. It's not permissible to harmonize the data by eliminating any essential datum. The theory mustn't be simpler than the facts. If we can't harmonize the data without oversimplifying the data, then it's incumbent on us to leave the stubborn data intact. Since the Incarnation is miraculous and sui generis, there's no presumption that it will be transparent to human reason. 

If we are to avoid a duality of persons in Christ, the man Jesus of Nazareth and the divine Logos must share some common constituent which unites their two individual natures.

There are two distinct issues here:

i) A union, per se, doesn't require a common constituent. Disparate things can be united. 

ii) It's not as if avoiding Nestorianism takes precedence over avoiding Apollinarianism or monothelitism. It's either a priority to avoid them all or else not avoid one rather than another.

…the Logos contained perfect human personhood archetypically in his own nature. The result was that in assuming a hominid body the Logos brought to Christ's animal nature just those properties that would serve to make it completely human. 

i) This way of framing the issue, which recurs in their discussion, presupposes an Aristotelian/Thomistic anthropology. But why should Christology take that for granted? It's not a requirement of Biblical anthropology or philosophical anthropology. It's just one option in philosophical theology. 

ii) Apropos (i), It treats the human body as an "animal" body, representing animal nature. What sets humans apart from the animal kingdom is the faculty of reason. Human minds in animal bodies. But I don't see any biblical warrant for that bifurcation. 

On the one hand, is the human body just an animal body? Is it just coincidental that God gave us humanoid bodies rather than putting our souls in the body of a snake, dolphin, or raccoon? Didn't God design the human body to be uniquely suitable to our nature and role? 

On the other hand, the Bible doesn't single out reason to distinguish humans from animals. The Bible is silent on that distinction, although it sometimes appeals to the instinctive wisdom of the animal kingdom to reprove human folly. 

Such an interpretation of the Incarnation draws strong support from the doctrine of man as created in the image of God (imago Dei). 

i) This reiterates a traditional mistake of historical theology. Instead of exegeting the image of God in Genesis, theologians use the image of imago Dei as a cipher for what they think demarcates man from animals, as well as what we share in common with God. But that facile prooftexting has no contextual warrant.  

ii) Bible scholars dispute what the imago Dei signifies. I'll just state my own interpretation:

a) The imago Dei is both ontological and function. Function reflects nature. Nature underlies function. 

b) "Image" and "likeness" are synonyms (a literary convention: synonymous parallelism).

c) In both Hebrew and cognate usage, "image" is usually a generic term for statues. And it frequently has a more specific referent. An idol represents a god. A royal statue represents a king. 

d) In the context of Gen 1-2, with its royal and priestly motifs, this signifies sacral kingship. 

e) That is further borne out by the cultural mandate. Man is God's earthly representative. His vice-regent. Man is a "idol" of God. 

Humans do not bear God's image in virtue of their animal bodies, which they have in common with other members of the biosphere. 

That repeats another traditional mistake of historical theology. Because God is incorporeal, theologians assume the imago Dei must denote the incorporeal aspect of man. His soul. The faculty of reason.

But that fails to operate at the relevant level of abstraction. For instance, Scripture often attributes body parts and vital or sensory organs to God. That's not because God is physical, much less humanoid. This is metaphorical and anthropomorphic. But metaphors are figurative analogies. 

The "eyes of the Lord" represent divine omniscience. The "arm of the Lord" represents divine omnipotence in action. God's "heart" represents moral and intellectual attributes. 

The human body is analogous to the incorporeal God inasmuch as this exemplifies or concretely manifests communicable attributes. So the imago Dei could well include the human body (as well as the human mind). It is, indeed, as embodied agents that we fulfill the culture mandate. 

Rather, in being persons they uniquely reflect God's nature. God himself is personal, and inasmuch as we are persons we resemble him.

They seem to be deploying the imago Dei as an implicit argument from analogy, viz., if God is personal, and we are made in his image, then we are personal.

But that proves too much. If God is omnipotent, and we are made in his image, then we are omnipotent. If God is omniscient, and we are made in his image, then we are omniscient. If God is eternal, and we are made in his image, then we are eternal. 

Thus God already possesses the properties sufficient for human personhood even prior to the Incarnation, lacking only corporeality. this Logos already possessed in his reincarnate state all the properties necessary for being a human self. In assuming a hominid body, he brought to it all that was necessary to complete human nature. 

On the face of it, that's equivocal. Although there's a sense in which God is the exemplar of man, divine attributes aren't human attributes. 

i) Divine attributes have a uniquely divine mode of subsistence (e.g. aseity, incorporeality, timelessness). 

ii) Divine attributes lack the limitations of their mundane instances. Both God and man are agents, but God is omnipotent. Both God and man have knowledge, but God is omniscient. 

iii) The divine attributes are inseparable. And some divine attributes are incommunicable. 

iv) Conversely, human nature is distinctively creaturely. For instance, we have emotional needs. We undergo cognitive development. And we properly view ourselves as vulnerable, dependent creatures. That indexical perspective is alien to God. God has no fears or aspirations. 

The church has typically dealt with the problem of Christ's evident limitations by means of the device of reduplicative predication, that is to say, by predicating certain properties of the person of Christ with respect to one nature or another. Thus, for example, Christ is said to be omniscient with respect to his divine nature but limited in knowledge with respect to his human nature…
How could Christ be omniscient and yet limited in knowledge if there is a single conscious subject in Christ?

To say there must be a "single conscious subject" in Christ is simplistic. 

We suggest that the "subliminal self" is the primary locus of the superhuman elements in the consciousness of the incarnate Logos. Thus Jesus possessed a normal human conscious experience. But the human consciousness of Jesus was underlain, as it were, by a divine consciousness. 

The conscious/subconscious distinction is valid for a truly human mind. But on their model, the divine mind takes the place of the human mind. Applied to a divine mind, that would commit them, not merely to an Apollinarian Christology, but a Kenotic Christology. A God who is able to repress his knowledge. 

…the Logos allowed only those facets of his person to be part of Christ's waking consciousness which were compatible with typical human experience, while the bulk of his knowledge and other cognitive perfections, like an iceberg beneath the water's surface, lay submerged in his subconscious.

But that really means the Incarnate Son allowed only those facets of his mind to be part of his waking consciousness, while the bulk of the Son's knowledge and other cognitive functions were not a part of the Son's conscious awareness. On their model, Christ has no human mentality distinct from his divine mentality. His mind is reducible to the divine mind. His mind is identical to the divine mind. The mind of the Son replaces the rational human soul. 

Such a model provides a satisfying account of the Jesus was see in the Gospel portrait. In his conscious experience, Jesus grew in knowledge and wisdom, just as a human child does. 

But on their view, that means God is maturing in wisdom and knowledge. 

One does not have the monstrosity of the baby Jesus lying in the merger possessing the full divine consciousness. 

i) To begin with, an omniscient baby is no more or less "monstrous" than an omniscient adult. Both are equally abnormal. But, then, the Incarnation is unique and miraculous.

ii) More to the point, it's simplistic to say the baby Jesus qua baby is omniscient. We're not predicating omniscience of his humanity. 

In his conscious experience, we see Jesus genuinely tempted, even though he is, in fact, impeccable.

But on their view, that means God is genuinely tempted.

Romney to Obama: “Russia is a Geopolitical Threat”

This video clip from a Romney-Obama debate re-surfaced, in which Obama ridicules Romney for suggesting that Russia was a “geopolitical threat”. Perhaps Obama would put things differently after the events of this past week.

The video wouldn't embed, but it's available at the link here; it's only a 30 second clip, but it's worth a watch:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Know your sheep

Reformed evangelism

Moral of the story: leave evangelism to the supras:


That accountability question has always been the Achilles' Heel of the evangelical parachurch movement. 
The result is that a pastor's power and influence are intentionally enhanced and expanded while accountability is in practice detached from a proper ecclesiastical body.

This is Trueman's hobbyhorse, which he keeps riding into the ground. His objection isn't confined black sheep like Mark Driscoll. He constantly has TGC in the crosshairs, as well as parachurch movements generally.

By "accountability" to a "proper ecclesiastical body," I assume he's alluding to something like Presbyterian polity. But is that the solution?

i) To begin with, his position commits one to denominations. The alternative to independent local churches is a denomination. Now, I myself don't think there's anything inherently wrong with denominations. But it's not as if the Pastoral Epistles defined a "proper ecclesiastical body" as a denomination. To the contrary, they focus on the internal dynamics of the local church. 

ii) Having formal accountability structures doesn't ensure accountability. Liberal mainline denominations (e.g. PC-USA, ECUSA, CRC, ELCA) have formal accountability structures, yet that didn't prevent them from sliding into heterodoxy and heteropraxy. Indeed, church gov't enforces whatever the leaders believe. 

iii) The celebrity/megachurch dynamic is hardly confined to independent churches or parachurch ministries. Take Joel Gregory's expose of Dallas First Baptist.

When PCA pastor James Kennedy became incapacitated, a bloodbath ensued from control of his empire, resulting in a very ugly, damaging transition. Some have chided Kennedy for failing to groom a successor, but to my knowledge, a Presbyterian pastor lacks the authority to designate an heir apparent. 

Likewise, Ergun Caner was unanimously elected by the board of trustees to head a Baptist college. That travesty wasn't due to the lack of an accountability system. 

If a church board is packed with cronies, it will rubber-stamp malfeasance. Indeed, all parties may be on the take. 

iv) To my knowledge, Peter Enns is still a PCA elder in good standing. Technically, he's accountable to a "proper ecclesiastical body," but why hasn't he been held accountable? Where's the heresy trial? 

v) Beyond allusion to plural eldership, the Pastorals don't really say anything about an accountability system. Rather, they focus on the moral character of the elder. Choose a man of good character. There's no substitute for personal rectitude. 

Ultimately, it's not accountability structures that keep elders in check, but elders that keep accountability structures in check. That's why Paul makes the paradoxical statement that the law is for the lawless (1 Tim 1:9). Men of integrity don't need it. They do right without it. 

vi) Trueman acts as if the important thing is to be run over at a crosswalk rather than jaywalking. Follow procedure for procedure's sake. 

Dissonant messages

The consistency and infallibility of Scripture is a traditional presupposition of the Calvinist/Arminian debate. Both sides traditionally assume that Scripture consistently teaches one or the other position. And that's a revealed truth. It's just a question of ascertaining what the Bible teaches. 

However, modern Arminians (especially in academia) often have a more liberal view of Scripture. For instance, Asbury Seminary is the flagship of Arminian seminaries. Here's what Bill Arnold, who's an OT prof. at Asbury, recently said:

I agree that there are many topics in the Bible for which we have diverse voices that sometimes present dissonant messages. Christian biblical theology takes all the dissonant voices and traces progressive messages and themes across the canon, but always including every text. A truly “biblical” theology does not set out deciding which texts fail to express the mind of God. The very presence of a verse in the Bible is witness to its lasting value. These texts are Israel’s witness (Brueggemann’s “testimony”) to the mind of God, and the early church’s witness to God’s continued work through the Messiah.

i) On this view, there's no expectation that Scripture has a consistent position on the Calvinist/Arminian debate. It could, by turns, teach Calvinism and Arminianism alike, expressing dissonant messages. 

It that case, it would be artificial and reductionistic to harmonize these discordant voices. 

ii) In addition, even if consistently taught Arminianism, once you repudiate inerrancy, that could be consistently wrong. And Arnold is far from alone in this respect. It's not uncommon for Arminian academics to deny the inerrancy of Scripture. 

Incarnation and reincarnation

In traditional Christology, the Incarnation survives the death of Christ. That's because traditional Christology has a dualistic anthropology. The Incarnation involves the union of the Eternal Son with a human body and soul. To take a classic formulation: "he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls" (WCF 4.2).

So even in death, the hypostatic union remains intact inasmuch as the Son remains united to a human soul. 

However, if annihilationism is true, then the death of Christ dissolves the hypostatic union. Annihilationism is logically grounded in physicalism. Consciousness or personality can't survive brain death, for the mind is generated by the brain. Conversely, immortality is indexed to the resurrection of the body. There is no intermediate state.

In that event, the Resurrection requires a reincarnation. The Incarnation happens twice: at conception, then again on the first Easter Sunday. 

Whether that's orthodox raises an interesting question. It's strikingly similar to Buddhism, with its no-soul (anatta) version of reincarnation. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Authenticity of the James Ossuary

Simplicity and theism

Parental participation

Russell Moore did a recent post on whether a Christian parent should attend their atheist daughter's wedding:

I'd like to make a quick observation. Mothers and fathers have different roles to play in the lives of their children. For instance, a mother might attend to keep the lines of communication open while a father might absent himself to express disapproval. It's not as if both parents must do the same thing. 

I'm not addressing this specific case, but making a general point. Mothers and fathers don't necessarily have the same duties in situations like this. By the same token, there are stereotypical differences in how sons relate to their mother or father, and how daughters relate to their mother or father. 

Grown children sometimes have conflicted feelings about parents. On the one hand they value their independence. On the other hand, they still hanker for parental approval. 

The golem of Prague

In Jewish lore, the golem is a soulless humanoid made by cabalistic black magic. Lacking a soul, it lacks the faculty for speech. This tradition goes all the way back to the Talmud:

Raba said: If the righteous desired it, they could [by living a life of absolute purity] be creators, for it is written, But your iniquities have distinguished between etc.22  Rabbah created a man,23  and sent him to R. Zera. R. Zera spoke to him, but received no answer. Thereupon he said unto him: 'Thou art a creature of the magicians. Return to thy dust.'

This captured the imagination of Jewish writers. The golem of Prague is the most famous example. According to legend, the chief rabbi created a golem to protect his people from their enemies. 

Although the story is fictional, it taps into genuine insecurity. The very fact that Jews were segregated in ghettos fosters a siege mentality. This is heighten by the fact that they were subject to violent persecution, based on blood libels and other malicious rumors.

And it combines with a sense of divine abandonment. You can pray that Yahweh will intercede to protect you, but what if he turns a deaf ear to your pleas? The Archangel Michael never comes to the rescue. 

One can imagine desperate Jews resorting to cabalistic spells to conjure a supernatural protector. Of course, that doesn't mean they succeed. It's just a last resort.

But this illustrates a larger issue. Charismatics have great expectations for divine intercession. And there's evidence for divine intercession throughout church history. Yet miraculous interventions seem to be oddly disparate. Why do they happen at one time, but not another? At one place, but not another? To one Christian, but not another? At one time of life, but not another?

For instance, you have devout Christians who languish in nursing homes. Forsaken, forgotten, and forlorn. They pray, but nothing happens. Whether they pray or don't pray seems to make no discernible difference. Nothing changes. Their lives are interminable. It's as if God has shunned them. 

This is the mystery of providence. A God who is intermittently present and absent. Unmistakably present in some situations, but inexplicably distant in our extremity. A God who hides himself (Isa 45:15). This is a common theme of the Psalter. 

Why high Calvinism is impossible

Roger Olson imagines that he has posed an unanswerable dilemma for Calvinism:

Not all Calvinists say that God’s goodness is completely different from ours. Paul Helm, for example, in The Providence of God, argues that “goodness” attributed to God cannot be totally other than goodness attributed to human beings (even as an impossible ideal). Unfortunately for him, I believe, he does not follow that insight through consistently but undermines it by attempting to combine assertion of God’s essential goodness with belief in double predestination. 
I argue that belief in double predestination is simply logically incompatible with the claim that God is good—unless “good” is emptied of all meaning so that it is a useless cipher for something we don’t know. 
My point is, of course, that there exists a contradiction between two Calvinist beliefs: 1) that the Bible is inherently and unconditionally trustworthy, and 2) that God, its author, is not good in any sense meaningful to us. Belief “1″ assumes that God is good in a sense meaningful to us—comparable with our highest and best intuitions of goodness. Belief “2″ (necessarily implied by double predestination) empties belief “1″ of foundation. 
Therefore, any exegesis of the Bible that ends up portraying God as not good, which high Calvinism (belief in double predestination) inexorably does, cannot be believed because it self-referentially turns back against the very reason for believing the Bible. In order to be consistent one must choose between belief in the Bible as God’s Word and belief in double predestination. 
This is why I say with John Wesley about the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 “Whatever it means it cannot mean that.” 
I'm interested to see if any Calvinist (or anyone) can defeat it. IF not, then perhaps someday I'll add it to Against Calvinism as another appendix.

The obvious problem with his dilemma is that he assumes what he needs to prove. To assert that "double predestination is simply logically incompatible with the claim that God is good" takes for granted the very issue in dispute. So his dilemma is circular. How an Arminian defines "goodness." Judging Calvinism from an Arminian standpoint.

But, then, why not judge Arminianism from a Calvinist perspective? If it's sufficient to stipulate your own viewpoint as the standard of comparison, then that cuts both ways. 

The unity of Scripture

i) Arminians have their prooftexts, and when Calvinists present alternative interpretations, they accuse Calvinists of twisting Scripture. 

One issue is whether we think the Bible is consistent. After all, Calvinists have their prooftexts too. So the question is whether it's proper or improper to seek a consistent interpretation of Scripture. 

Put another way, if you subscribe to the inerrancy of Scripture, then that commits you to pursue a uniform understanding of what Scripture teaches. You try to harmonize Scripture. 

Arminians think Calvinists try to explain away problem passages (problematic for Calvinism), but Calvinists think Arminians try to explain away problem passages (problematic for Arminianism). 

ii) It's difficult to show how a predestinarian interpretation of Scripture is inconsistent. For if predestination is true, then whatever happens is consistent with predestination. That's why it happened the way it did. 

When some people believe the Gospel while others disbelieve the Gospel, Arminians chalk that up to our freedom to do otherwise. But, of course, that reaction is perfectly consistent with predestination. Some (the elect) believe because they were predestined to believe while others (the reprobate) disbelieve because they were predestined to disbelieve. 

When some people keep the faith while others lose their faith, Arminians chalk that up to our freedom to do otherwise. But, once again, that reaction is perfectly consistent with predestination. Some people keep the faith because they were predestined to keep the faith while others lose their faith because they were predestined to lose their faith. 

Arminians like Jerry Walls think it's clever to tell a Calvinist that they were predestined to be Arminian. So what? The Calvinist was predestined to tell the Arminian that his position is false. And God predestined Arminians to play the foil, to better contrast the doctrines of grace with defective theological positions. 

iii) Especially in modern times, we have Arminians who reject the inerrancy of Scripture (e.g. Randal Rauser, Roger Olson, William Abraham, Frank Spina, Robert Wall, Bill Arnold). Of course, that's not confined to Arminians. It's a generic liberal outlook (e.g. Thom Stark, Peter Enns, Kent Sparks, Eric Seibert).

On this view, the Bible is a collection of conflicting theological voices. It reflects theological diversity rather than unity. On this view, you could say Isaiah is predestinarian, Ecclesiastes is deistic, and the Joseph cycle (Gen 37-50) is fatalistic. 

On this view, you could say some books or chapters of Scripture present a pagan view of God. A Zeus-like deity who's finite in knowledge and power. A bipolar God who's prone to violent mood swings. An embodied God. A God who shares much in common with his ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman counterparts. 

iv) Or course, that has it's own problems. On that view, the canon of Scripture is arbitrary. Peter Enns is an OT scholar, yet why does his canon include Genesis, but exclude Babylonian and Egyptian creation myths? Why include Daniel, but exclude 1 Enoch? One can't really appeal to inspiration, for liberals have such a diluted view of inspiration. 

Given their outlook, why is the Bible Scripture but the Koran is not? Or the Upanishads? Why not take the next logical step and embrace full-blown religious pluralism, viz. John Hick, Huston Smith, Mircea Eliade?

Let's consider another example. They take an evolutionary view of the afterlife in Scripture. They think this represents a late development in the OT. And it's tied to an obsolete cosmography of heaven above and the netherworld below. 

But in that case, there's no reason for them to continue believing in the afterlife. This isn't a divine revelation, but a human idea. Wishful thinking. This life is all there is. 

Pastor, Inc.

Recently I was contacted by a member of John MacArthur's inner circle. It was in response to this post:

I'm going to post my side of the email exchange. In the interests of confidentiality, I'm stripping out biographical references which would identify my correspondent. 

Since he thinks I misrepresented the situation, my quoting him gives him an opportunity to publicly set the record straight (in his own mind, at least). And he is, of course, free to comment on my post, is he so desires. 

How are you responding in the current economic environment?

I’ve been a fan of Tom Peters since the early 1990s – a recent email of his caught my eye as being particularly reflective of what’s happening in today’s economy:

Radical Personal Development

On 1 January 2014, Tom tweeted: "Accelerating tech changes/etc.= Middle class in tank: good jobs are falling to algorithmic automation and offshoring. ONLY answer/ONLY chance: Determined/intensive commitment to personal growth. Start date 1/1/14.

Tom continued: "You totally misunderstand overall economic context if you choose not to start today on RPD/Radical Personal Development." For more on this topic, see Tom's latest manifesto, "Excellence. NO EXCUSES."

We all face the challenge of thriving in a world where white collar work will change in ways we can scarcely imagine. Prominent observers warn of job destruction at a faster rate than new jobs can be generated and mass middle class unemployment, leading to social unrest. I.e., a Revolution! Tom has been talking about the White Collar Revolution since 1999. It's starting to take some twists even he didn't see coming.

Other commentators are predicting that future economic success depends on the creation of jobs that require a significant element of human ingenuity and creativity; that is, worth the high wages we require to support our preferred living standards.

“The root of our problem is not that we’re in a Great Recession or a Great Stagnation, but rather that we are in the early throes of a Great Restructuring. Our technologies are racing ahead, but our skills and organizations are lagging behind.”—Erik Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee/Race Against The Machine

Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown (A New Culture of Learning) report that the Internet has opened up a revolutionary type of learning, which they call “Arc of Life Learning.” Thomas and Brown indicate that the Internet offers us endless content and enables proactive learners to capitalize on these opportunities. It is up to each individual to dive in.

Over the last several years, I personally have benefitted by taking a large number of seminary courses that are offered online by seminaries such as RTS and Covenant. But there are so many more possibilities. I think that the more Christians can be aware of and try to stay current with these trends, the better things can be for our culture as a whole. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Massive elephants

I'm going to comment on some remarks Fred Butler makes in reviewing chap. 6 of Brown's Authentic Fire. The problem with reviews like this is fostering the misimpression that disproving the author's position proves the reviewer's position. Take this general statement:

The question to be asked, then, is whether or not the overall context of the NT brings us to the conclusion miracles continue until today and God intends for all Christians to experience signs and wonders now.  Or does the context of the NT bring us to the conclusion those spectacular, public displays of miracles were meant only for a period of time at the hands of Jesus Christ and His chosen apostles during the first century when the NT church was being established.
i) Framing the issue this way invites a false dichotomy, as if that exhausts the alternatives: either God intends these for all Christians throughout church history or else God only intends them for Jesus and the apostles. 
ii) Also, at the risk of stating the obvious, even if you confine them to the 1C, they weren't confined to the apostles. 
Brown appeals to John 14:12 where Jesus says “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to the Father” and argues that the language used here is universal in scope. Meaning that Jesus is clearly stating that all Christians without exception will not only do the same miraculous works He did, but will do even greater ones than even He did.
I think there may be a hermeneutical link between Brown's Arminian interpretations and his charismatic interpretations. Both rely on passages which employ general language. Both qualify the actual outcome based on the faith or faithlessness of the individual. 
Thankfully, Matt Waymeyer has helped me out by writing up a thorough response to Brown’s use of this passage. I refer readers to his discussion to get a fuller understanding of what Jesus was saying, but I’ll provide brief summary and some additional comments.
Well, that's optimistic and premature. Brown wrote a thorough rejoinder to Waymeyer's "thorough response." And that, in turn, generated some direct exchanges between Brown and Waymeyer. So it hardly ended where Fred leaves it. 
While it is true, as Waymeyer points out, that the language of Jesus is universal, it is only “universal” to a specific group: the immediate apostles to whom He was addressing.
i) By that logic, it doesn't apply to St. Paul, since he wasn't in the Upper Room when Jesus was addressing the disciples.
ii) Also, by that logic, the True Vine parable (Jn 15) only applies to a specific group: the immediate apostles whom he was addressing. 
 All of them certainly did works equal to, and even greater than, Jesus. 
That claim is not self-explanatory. Did they walk on water? Multiply food? Turn water into wine? 
 So that promise of Jesus is not given to all believers throughout church history.
i) I agree with Fred's conclusion, but that's not justified by his supporting argument.
ii) In addition, to say that promise is not given to all believers throughout church history does not entail the converse: that promise is not given to any believer after the NT era.  
One of the key reasons, as Waymeyer notes, is the fact that Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12 that the gifts of healings and tongues are listed among the other gifts given to Christians and are distributed according to the Spirit’s will within the body of Christ. Thus not everyone can speak in tongues and heal because it is not the will of God for everyone to do so.
i) It's exegetically dubious to use 1 Cor 12 to interpret a statement in John's Gospel.
ii) I agree with Waymeyer that in 1 Cor 12, every Christian doesn't have the same gifts, for the Spirit apportions the gifts according to his sovereign discretion.
iii) However, that's a double-edged sword for the cessationist to wield. For the cessationist will turn right around and deny the Spirit's prerogative to bestow miraculous gifts on Christians after the NT era. Therefore, it's an arbitrary appeal. 
I would add that the alleged works that charismatics claim they do are nowhere near being the same quality and magnitude as those done by Jesus.
That's just a vague, tendentious claim.
Charismatics, while insisting that Jesus promises all believers the ability to do greater works than what Jesus did, have a credibility problem.
I agree. Many charismatic oversell their position. 
But both cessationists and charismatics have a credibility problem. It just runs in opposite directions. Charismatics have a credibility problem when outcomes fall short of their rosy predictions. Cessationists have a credibility problem when they resort to preemptively dismissing evidence that runs counter to their own position.
The reason being is that those works never materialize in any undeniable, verifiable public display.  
Once again, that begs the question. And it's ultimately circular. It reduces to giving the cessationist a unilateral veto: nothing a charismatic does ever counts as an undeniable miracle, for whatever he does will be denied by the cessationist. So this is Fred's unfalsifiable cessationism. 
When Jesus and the apostles performed miraculous works, they did so in the public square first and foremost before unbelievers. That is a sharp distinction from healing services held at a large church or during a crusade at a basketball arena.
i) Fred is misrepresenting the NT record. You also have NT miracles performed in private settings in front of believers. Some cessationists are so fanatical that they begin fibbing about the NT record. 
ii) Also, why does Fred constantly limit his standard of comparison to NT miracles? Why does he constantly exclude OT miracles? 
Additionally, Jesus and the apostles performed miracles without fail.
i) To begin with, that's, at best, an argument from silence. It assumes that the NT would normally record failed miracles.
ii) Also, Fred has been corrected on this before. What about the deaf-mute demoniac (Mk 9:14-29)? What about Trophimus (2 Tim 4:20)? What about Mk 6:5? Why is Fred so hardened in his position that he makes deceptive (if not downright false) statements about the NT record? 
Certainly he is correct that Christ’s first coming brought in the last days, or what is also called the latter-days or last times in other Scriptures. MacArthur even writes in the notes of his study Bible for Acts 2:17 that, “This phrase [last days] refers to the present era of redemptive history from the first coming of Christ to His return.” So Brown’s understanding of the term “last days” is not particularly unique to a continuationist perspective, nor is it special in proving the reality of continuationism for the modern church.
If the modern church is still in the last days, why wouldn't that apply? 
The prophecy of Joel has an emphasis upon the revelatory work of the Spirit. It speaks to prophecy, dreams, and visions, which are a supernatural work of the Spirit described throughout Scripture as imparting divine revelation to the recipients.  The notion of miraculous works like healings is not implied with this prophecy Peter quotes, but the idea of God revealing divine content, in this case, the work of Christ and the establishment of the NT church.
i) The prophecy also refers to "signs on the earth below." 
ii) In addition, the remainder of Acts is epexegetical of Acts 2, including miraculous healings. Are those unrelated to the promise in Acts 2? Or is Joel's oracle a synecdoche for what follows? 
The greater idea being presented here by Peter is the work of the Spirit transcending national boundaries, gender boundaries, and class distinctions. The move of the Spirit will be among gentiles as it is with Jews, among women as it is men, and among all the classes of people within a society. All of them will receive the Spirit without exception.
I agree with Fred that the intended scope of the language is representative rather than universal. 
It should be noted that Brown leaps from the emphasis of the spiritual outpouring made by Peter upon the divine revelation of prophecy, visions, and dreams, to expanding the outpouring to include miraculous gifts like healing and tongues. Yet nothing in what Peter says in Acts suggests miraculous healing gifts. It is focused exclusively on prophecy. Brown expands the emphasis into these other areas without any real exegetical warrant.
This artificially compartmentalizes Acts 2 from the rest of Acts. 
Nothing Peter proclaims in the text of Acts  2 tells us that miraculous gifts should be expected to continue among Christians throughout church history.
Sure it does. Both the fact that it's indexed to the "last days" and promise to subsequent generations. 
After Peter explains to his hearers that the episode they were witnessing among the Christians there was the Holy Spirit being poured out, he presents to them the Gospel, reminding them that it was they who crucified the Lord of Glory. The people were cut to the heart and react by crying out in anguish asking Peter what they must do. Peter answers them by calling them to repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, and then they will be be forgiven their sins.But does this mean that now they are in the place where they can receive the ability to perform miracles if they pray for them?  Brown directs us to the phrase “gift of the Holy Spirit” and links that to the promise as noted in Isaiah 59:21. By that connection, it is concluded that this outpouring includes the profusion of the gift of prophecy along with the addition of God’s miracle power [AF, 198].But is that what Peter is really saying? Or is it a promise of salvation and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit taking up residence within a person to bring them into conformity to God’s laws and holiness? I believe that is what Peter had in mind, and Brown is importing his charismatic theology into this text to make is say God is promising miracle power.
That's another false dichotomy. It's not as if Acts 2 restricts the promise to salvation. Rather, the promise covers salvation as well as miracles and revelations. 
The fact that Brown hints at the reality that people aren’t being healed in spectacular, supernatural ways according to the formula given to us here in James reveals the massive elephant standing in his room. 
Where does Jas 5:13-16 specify "spectacular" healing of "catastrophic ailments"? Fred begins by adding something to the text to make it easier for him to exclaim failure. 
BTW, isn't it a tad redundant to speak of "massive elephants"? That's not in contrast to miniature elephants, is it? 
If what James is saying here was truly meant to provide guaranteed supernatural healing, then desperate people suffering with catastrophic aliments all throughout the church would be calling elders to lay hands upon them and anoint them with oil to heal them from their stage four cancer or spinal cord injuries. The fact they do not tells us James may have had something else in mind.
i) I agree with Fred that Brown overplays his hand.
ii) Does Fred take the position that because not every Christian with a catastrophic ailment who undergoes this ceremony is healed, that no such Christian is ever healed?
Taking a closer look at the words of James, there is much more to the situation described than just a sick person calling for the elders and him receiving a supernatural healing by the means of their prayers. The word for “sick” is asthenei, and it indicates a serious condition, as other NT uses reveal (John 4:46-47, John 11:1-3, Acts 9:37). Moreover, the sick person is the one who calls for the elders, and after they pray for him, he is raised up and then James writes that if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.The inclusion of sins and being forgiven is interesting, because it implies that the sickness described here may very well have been due to the person’s sinful behavior. The presence of elders also indicate that maybe there was some disciplinary action taking place. So it could be that James is describing a situation in which a person in sin who is quite possibly under divine judgment, becomes sick. He then calls the elders in order to seek restoration, and by the confession of sin and the prayer for his sickness, the person is raised up.
i) James doesn't indicate that sickness is always the result of sin. 
ii) Does Fred really wish to stake out the position that there's a one-to-one correlation between illness and personal sin? If a Christian has cancer or spinal cord injuries, is that invariably (or even characteristically) due to sin on his part?  
iii) Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that Jas 5 is confined to the subset of Christians who have fallen ill due to sin, the connection between sin and sickness in turn links to the connection between forgiveness and healing. By Fred's own logic, doesn't that "guarantee" the supernatural healing of penitent Christians? 
Whatever the case, nothing with what James writes tells us he is providing a supernatural formula that includes church leaders, anointing oil, and prayer that will certainly guarantee supernatural healing of what ever disease the person may have.
I agree. But are there some ailing Christians healed as a result of that ceremony who'd not be healed otherwise? It's irresponsible for Fred to leave the issue dangling in mid-air. At the end of the day, what should we do with that Scriptural command?