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.

Joel McDurmon apologises for the worst of his article on Ray Comfort

I am relieved to see that Dr McDurmon has in part come to his senses and, while not expressing the contrition I'd like to see for the severity of the charges he made, not only without, but in fact against all available evidence, I guess I can take him at his word that he really does think he sinned.

The main charges against Comfort were of money-grubbing and indeed extortion. Dr McDurmon apologised for saying "money-grubbing", yet didn't say anything about extortion in his apology article. That is a shame.

Dr McDurmon goes on to say:
And be sure, had I seen any of this, I would not have transgressed on this point.

This is a tacit admission that Dr McDurmon wrote his article in ignorance, which I pointed out earlier was likely. One hopes he will reconsider how much research he does in the future before dashing off such kinds of accusations against faithful brethren.

I searched the apology in vain for any mention of speaking so disrespectfully and flippantly about Comfort's street evangelism, for his calling it "high-pressure" (whatever that means), "hidden-agenda, stealth-attack approach", or "needl(ing) people on the spot about their sins". Sadly, nothing.

Speaking of which, there are a lot more areas in which this article is lacking.

No apology for attacking the video based on what he wanted to see in it.

No apology for implying that Comfort endorses an approach to evangelism that is summed up in, as Dr McDurmon put it, "nothing matters more than saving souls".

No retraction of the unhelpful (at best) line: "A gospel with questionable ethics is no gospel at all."

No apology for calling everything else Comfort has ever said into question, when he himself has demonstrably twisted Scripture in the past, thus tempting the objective reader to ignore all of Dr McDurmon's own writings.

No apology for accusing Comfort of hypocrisy.

All that to say, I am unimpressed at the apology, but my impression from watching and listening to many hours of Ray Comfort is that he is a deeply gracious man, who will doubtless be fine with Dr McDurmon's apology. Dr McDurmon would do well to follow such an example.

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. 

Joel McDurmon's hit piece on Ray Comfort's "Noah"

About week ago I bought and watched the digital download of Living Waters' "Noah and the Last Days" video. As with earlier LW movies like 180, Evolution vs God, Genius, etc, it was pre-launched in that format, for $20, before it was to be launched for free a little later. I have no problem supporting Living Waters' ministry, so I went ahead with it. 

To be honest, I found it to be the weakest of all of their movies so far, but I still applaud the effort and as always appreciate Ray Comfort's zeal to share the Gospel with the flakes, fruits, and nuts of California, the Cereal State. 
To my displeasure, a friend sent me a link to Joel McDurmon's recent attack piece on Ray Comfort and the movie, so I'd like to address it here. Let me cut to the chase first - Joel McDurmon has sinned against Ray Comfort in his article, and he should publicly repent and apologise for what he has said. It is even worse than his unhelpful critique of James White's debate against Bart Ehrman, which suggested even those years ago that there may be an unfortunate sort of pattern to Dr McDurmon's train of thought.
Disagreeing with someone doesn't obligate them to apologise. Dr McDurmon seems to be mostly correct in his review of the content, except for the way he dealt with 2 Peter 3, which was quite unclear to me. I don't see how 2 Peter 3 refers to 70 AD at all, and Dr McDurmon seems to imply that it does, though I wasn't too sure about what he meant in those sections.
It's the accusations of dishonesty and especially of money-grubbing that he should apologise for. A commenter made it quite clear that Dr McDurmon missed the boat on that one, badly, and he should repent.

Michael Earley says:
When you paid for the movie, did you miss this?:
“Those of you who took advantage of our pre-release download offer on “Evolution vs. God” enabled us to fund the production of “Noah—And the Last Days.” We would be grateful if you would consider doing the same with this movie, and in turn help us to continue producing similar projects in the future.
When you download this movie for $19.99, you will get a free downloadable Companion Guide (valued at $4.99) containing further evidence for the Ark and the worldwide Flood, plus a special video message by Ken Ham, “Creation and the Last Days” (valued at $12.99). “Noah—And the Last Days” will be available on YouTube and DVD starting March 28.”
I request you withdraw your slights about money. You sir, are in the wrong on that…
This commenter Michael Earley is 100% right to say that and Dr McDurmon, in comparing Comfort to the Word of Faith heretics, acts sinfully.
The movie will be available on YouTube. That means it will be free of charge. Just like all the other Living Waters movies.  And you can buy their DVDs for like $2 apiece on March 29. That's money-grubbing? If Dr McDurmon resents it so much, he should contact LW; I bet they'd let him withdraw his charitable donation, if he wants to be such a jerk about it.
I knew precisely what I was getting when I paid my $20 - a video of Comfort evangelising people all by himself with a chest-mounted camera and handheld mic, and using his theme as a bit of a hook to talk to people. I was not expecting a volume of systematic theology. I was not expecting Russell Crowe engaging in hand-to-hand battle with CGI sharks or herding dinosaurs onto a big CGI ark. If Dr McDurmon was expecting that, he is ignorant of LW videos anyway and should have kept his mouth shut, so that his critique would not be tainted by valid accusations of a hatchet job. If he has a problem giving $20 to such a ministry, nobody put a gun to his head to do it. I have zero problem playing a small part in funding Comfort's ministry, and I don't think anyone should. It wouldn't've killed Dr McDurmon to delay his critique until March 29, the day after the movie comes out for free on YT.

Dr McDurmon says:
I will show you there is no other explanation short of a cavalier sloppiness with the text that would disqualify anyone from being a public teacher of Scripture.

Fine, fine. Comfort is not the best exegete any of us have ever seen.
Now, prove your charges of dishonesty. He can't and he doesn't do so. So he should repent of this sinful accusation.

Comfort begins with the claim that “according to Jesus, the events surrounding the life of Noah are directly related to you.” He refers to the text where Jesus says, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:37; Luke 17:26–27). This all, of course, assumed Jesus was talking to you and not His audience, but more of that as we go.

Yet that is poor exegesis of Comfort's remark here. Part of Comfort's claim is that the end will come suddenly upon people, and while I agree with most of Dr McDurmon's discussion of how most of those passages refer to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the obvious parallel and principle remain, which is what Comfort alludes to during his evangelism efforts later on - the urgency of repenting now à la Hebrews 3.

an entire quarter-length of that very short time is devoted to a surprise gospel attack, not addressed at all to the subject the movie purports to be about. This is deceitful.

No, it's not deceitful. Dr McDurmon is just ignorant, and I would presume he didn't watch the trailer either. This is how LW movies are. If he doesn't like them, fine. "I don't like it" is not equivalent to "This is deceitful".

But this kind of hidden-agenda, stealth-attack approach is the very thing that turns away more people than it saves

I am amazed at how foolish this is. Dr McDurmon is supposed to be a Calvinist, and yet here he sounds just like the milquetoast evangellyfish he (rightly) critiques so much in other areas of his life. How precisely do people who are dead in sin get turned away from God more than they were before? And what is his evidence that more were turned away than not? What does he make of the many thoughtful conversations that Comfort had during the movie? Why does he imply that the approach is that which saves? This is just sloppy support for his sinful accusations.

It does not deliver what it borders on fraud...

Where precisely did it promise something that it did not deliver? Dr McDurmon seems to exegeting his own preconceived impressions of the movie. He judges it by what he thought it would be or wanted it to be and finds it so wanting that he accuses a godly man of deceit and money-grubbing dishonesty.

Some people will say that it’s OK because we should do anything we can do to save souls.

Dr McDurmon disingenuously implies that Comfort or other LW personnel have said this, when in fact they have a long history of saying precisely the opposite and have biblically defended their preferred methods of evangelism at length. Where is Dr McDurmon's refutation? What is Dr McDurmon's preferred method of evangelism? How "effective" is it? How "well" does it "work"? How often does he do it?

This “nothing matters more than saving souls” approach takes more away from Christ’s Commission than it wins.

But who said this? When? Where?
How did Dr McDurmon extract this intention from the hearts of Comfort and other LW personnel? Some private correspondence between Dr McDurmon and Comfort, where Comfort said "Yes, you're right, Joel, I'll do anything to save souls; it doesn't matter what"? What is Dr McDurmon talking about?

It shows the world that Christians will lie and extort in order to do what Christians are allegedly supposed to do.

Now it's not just money-grubbing. Comfort is extorting money from his viewers. Somehow Comfort found a skeleton in Dr McDurmon's closet and forced him to pay $20 to watch a half-hour film, and yet forgot to demand that Dr McDurmon not write a hatchet job review about how much he hated it.
Dr McDurmon should repent of this sinful language.

A gospel with questionable ethics is no gospel at all.

1) So Dr McDurmon believes that the sin of the man proclaiming the Gospel can in fact destroy its power. If I were American Vision, I'd want to check up on that pretty closely.
2) So I guess that means that the only people who should be proclaiming the Gospel are perfect preachers. Maybe we should all walk around like "Brother" Jed Smock and proclaim our sinlessness; at that point Dr McDurmon might say "OK, maybe you can preach the Gospel".
3) In fact Dr McDurmon himself has violated proper ethics in his sinful language about this faithful brother.

If a preacher is willing to twist scripture so transparently like this, how can you trust anything else he says?

Probably the same way Dr McDurmon presumably would like people to trust what he says even though he delivers poor exegesis at times. For example, not long ago he compared the charismatic church to a "wheat field with tares in it".
Yet in Matthew 13:37-38, Jesus explicitly states that the field is not the church, but the world.
And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one..."

Dr McDurmon twisted Scripture. I guess we should never trust anything else he says.

Or, maybe, he'd ask where our charity and patience with a brother are to be found. So I ask him the same question with respect to faithful brother Comfort.

What about hypocrisy in dozens of other areas? For example, say, Christian ministries bordering on false advertising and selling videos filled with half-truths and hidden agendas?

Again with the harsh accusations against brethren. I can't figure out what has prompted this sort of language from Dr McDurmon.
False advertising - where?
Selling videos? That will be given out for free in a week and a half?
Hidden agendas? You mean like sharing the Gospel and encouraging others with a video of how an experienced and skilled evangelist does it?

It was at this point, at about 21:10 through the video, that Comfort turns to his brand of high-pressure evangelism for the rest of the flick.

Perhaps the reason behind all of this is that Dr McDurmon's stomach turns when he thinks of approaching people you don't know on the street in order to share the Gospel with them. One is left wondering why. Could he not at least pat Comfort on the head and say "That's your calling, but not mine"? Why oppose this faithful evangelist in this way?
The very next line, he weakly protests "While I support evangelism, obviously", but it comes across as less than forthright.

I did not pay twenty bucks to watch Ray Comfort needle people on the spot about their sins. I paid to hear about Noah and the Last Days.

And there it is. Dr McDurmon did not want to support LW and their ministry and work. He wanted to be entertained.
And clearly he is not the kind of guy who finds entertainment in people being confronted with the truth of the Law and the Gospel. For my part, I like it a lot. I don't really fault Dr McDurmon for disliking it. I do fault him for his evil speech in his article.

he has to know exactly what he is doing.

My question is: How is it that Dr McDurmon doesn't know exactly what he is doing in this smear?

I want at least 25 percent of my money back.

If it would make Dr McDurmon feel better, if he values his Andrew Jackson that highly, I will personally send him $20. Just say the word, sir, and we will make it happen.

UPDATE: Dr McDurmon sort of apologises.