Saturday, February 07, 2015

Exorcism and healing


According to one standard theological paradigm, a Christian healer is someone who can miraculously cure medical conditions in general. 

But according to the Gospels, an exorcist can be a healer. The Gospels distinguish between natural medical conditions and demonic medical conditions. Some medical conditions have natural causes while other medical conditions have demonic causes. Possession can manifest itself in medical conditions.

In addition, Ezk 13:17-23 seems to indicate that it's possible to cause a medical condition by hexing the victim. Both possession and witchcraft can result in some medical conditions.

That, however, complicates the analysis of miraculous healing. In principle, an exorcist could cure someone of a medical condition that's caused by demonic activity (i.e. possession, witchcraft), but be unable to cure someone of a medical condition that's caused by natural factors. 

Moreover, there is no gift of exorcism. The ability to cure medical conditions in that situation is indirect. An exorcist doesn't have the power to simply heal someone of their medical condition. At most, he has the power to break the occult bondage that's causing the medical condition.

Furthermore, exorcism is really a matter of invoking God's mercy and power. It's not really an ability on the part of the exorcist. 

This, in turn, imposes a potential limitation on a Christian healer–assuming that's an accurate classification to begin with (see below). What if Christian healers can only cure medical conditions that have occultic causes rather than natural causes? 

There's also the question of whether there's such a thing as a Christian healer. In the locus classicus (1 Cor 12:9), Paul's usage is ambiguous. He doesn't say a "gift of healing" but "gifts of healings."

So he may not even mean that some Christians have a gift of healing. Rather, every healing is a gift from God. 

That's not to deny that some Christians might be agents of God's healing power, but this might be intermittent or unrepeatable. Say, on one occasion, God grants a Christian mother the ability to lay hands on her deathly ill child and convey healing. That might be a once-in-a-lifetime event. 

On that interpretation, both the charismatic and cessationist paradigms are defective. 

Original monotheism

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/leithart/2015/02/original-monotheism

Dousing strange fires


…the carriers of the Christian religion in East Africa refused to incorporate  exorcism ritual into their religious services. The reasons for this are not readily germane to the present study, but one does wonder why this deliberate avoidance of the possession phenomenon in cultures where it is experienced. 
And here is the testimony of a Luo Christian lady:
The Western missionaries do not understand the sufferings of the Africans…The Gospel is clear on this point. Jesus did give his disciples power to expel demons. If the missionaries do not use it, they are either refusing to put it at the service of Africans or they have lost it.  
The churches established by mission societies tend to disregard totally the possession and exorcism phenomenon. If a baptized member exhibits classical symptoms of possession, he is usually treated medically or disregarded entirely. In twenty years as a missionary in Tanzania and Kenya, I know of only a few cases where the "mission type" churches exorcised demons.  
I cannot help believing that this reluctance on the part of mission churches to speak and act meaningfully in the face of the possession phenomenon has contributed significantly to the startling rise of Christian independency in many areas of Sub-Sahara Africa today. Generally speaking, these independent churches confront the traditional power constellations in a forthright manner. 
In the late 1960s, for example, the Masai exorcists in the Moshi area of Tanzania were unable to cast out a strange and highly malevolent demon by traditional means. They observed, however, that people who were baptized into the Christian faith were immune to the power of the strange new demon.  
Generally speaking mission churches do not experience very significant community. The independent churches do. Donald R. Jacobs, "Possession, Trance State, and Exorcism in Two East African Communities," J. W. Montgomery, ed. Demon Possession (Bethany 1976), chap. 9.

i) MacArthurites indict charismatic theology because they think Africa is overrun with WoF quacks and heretics. And you have charismatics like Craig Keener who concede that this is a serious and widespread problem in Africa. 

However, as Jacobs explains, cessationist mission churches were completely unequipped to deal with African witchcraft and possession. That's not a live theological paradigm for them. As a result, African Christians turned to independent churches which practice exorcism. 

To some degree, the fact that the cessationist churches are totally out of their element when confronted with indigenous witchcraft and possession was a stimulus to the development of charismatic churches. To that extent, cessationists helped to create the very thing they now deplore. 

And that's not confined to Africa. The same issues resurface in Latin American and other Third World regions. 

If the most orthodox seminaries and denominations neglect to forearm missionaries who are heading into a country that's rife with witchcraft; if, indeed, they disarm missionaries by a theology that has no resources to counterattack, then they unwittingly delegate that task to less orthodox Christians. Christians with a less reliable theological tradition–not to mention outright heretics and charlatans–will take up the slack. 

However, I'd add a couple of caveats:

ii) The Bible doesn't specifically say or necessarily imply that Christians have the authority to perform exorcisms. By the same token, the Bible contains no ritual or formula for exorcising demoniacs. So we need to guard against overconfidence in that department.

Whether or not it's possible to cast out demons is something we can only find out by experience. There is, moreover, no guarantee that our efforts will be successful. Perhaps we will succeed in some cases, but fail in others. Ultimately, it's a question of God's will in any particular case.

Although Jesus was, among other things, the paradigmatic exorcist, he's not a good role model in that regard. He's not an exorcist in the familiar sense. 

Normally, exorcism is a long drawn-out process. It may take hours or days. Multiple sessions. A team of exorcists.

By contrast, Jesus simply commanded a demon to leave, and that was that. The demon had no power to effectively resist–or even to put up short-term resistance. 

iii) In cultures where witchcraft is prevalent, there's not merely the danger of genuine possession, but the danger of playing-acting. Some people are highly suggestible. They do what's expected of them. They sincerely play the role that's assigned to them. They may imagine they are possessed, and mimic symptoms of possession. But it's make-believe. 

Reformed catholicity


I'm going to comment on this review:
I'm not commenting on the book. I haven't read the book. I have no inclination to read the book. My comments don't intend to represent what the book says. That's because I don't know what the book says. I'm just using the review as a launchpad. I'm accepting the reviewer's summary as accurate for the sake of argument. My comments don't depend on that, because my objective is to interpret ideas, not interpret the book. I'm evaluating certain ideas on the merits, whether or not that's actually what the authors espouse.
I'll begin with  a general observation: as I've probably remarked on other occasions, there are Protestants who suffer from an inferiority complex. Sola scriptura makes them feel insecure. They have a hankering for Mother Kirk. 
I don't think you can talk people like that out of their position, because it's temperamental. There's a certain personality type who suffers from a psychological need to have Mother Kirk hold their hand when they cross the street. That's not part of my own psychological makeup, so it's not something I can relate to–or care to relate to. 
Not surprisingly, some of these people eventually exit the Protestant faith. Not surprisingly, when they do, they usually head for the Orthodox church or the Roman church. Their center of gravity always tilted in that direction. 
Is it possible to be both Reformed and catholic? Can one stand squarely within Protestantism and yet be vitally engaged with, say, the early church? Can one be uncompromisingly committed to the Reformation solas while also visibly rooted in the patristic and medieval heritage that preceded the Reformation?
What does it mean to be "rooted," much less "visibly" rooted in the patristic and medieval heritage? Does that just mean appropriating the best of the past? If so, what makes the authors think Protestant theologians haven't already strip-mined the church fathers and scholastic theologians for their precious ore? 
Likewise, how is one visibly rooted in the past? Does that mean anything? Or is it just a nice-sounding, nonsensical metaphor? 
Their call for a retrieval of the entire Christian church…
That's a euphemism. Of all the Christians that lived and died, a fraction were writers. Of the fraction who were writers, a fraction of their writings were preserved. Of the fraction whose writers were preserved, only fraction make the cut. It's a thin upper crust of Christian writers from the middle ages and patristic era who are ever studied. Most of the "entire church" disappeared without a trace. 
...centered on the conviction that “we can and should pursue catholicity on Protestant principles, and that pursuing this path holds promise for theological and spiritual renewal.”
i) Why should we pursue catholicity? What makes that the priority? Consensus for consensus sake?
Christianity is revealed religion. Shouldn't our priority be to think and live according to God's revelation? Begin with that is true. Do my beliefs match up with reality? Do I live accordingly? That's the proper frame of reference. 
ii) Why should we look to the church fathers or scholastic theologians for spiritual renewal, rather than God's revelation? Perhaps the authors would say that's a false dichotomy. Perhaps they'd say the church fathers and scholastic theologians have valuable insights into the meaning of Scripture.
No doubt that's sometimes the case. But it's arguable that many modern evangelical Bible scholars have a far more accurate grasp of what the Bible means than church fathers or scholastic theologians. 
Chapter 1 argues the catholic church is the context for doing theology…
i) The "catholic church" is, itself, a theological category. A theological interpretation. It's not as if you can simply begin with something that's presumptively the "catholic church," then proceed to do theology. For that requires a preliminary theological judgment to decide whether the religious community in question qualifies as the "catholic church" (whatever that even means).
ii) What does it mean to "do theology"? Does that include exegetical theology? Does that mean a Maoist who happens to read a Bible on his own can't come to saving faith, since he's isolated from the "catholic church"? Is he so unable to interpret the Bible on his own that he can never become a Christian by simply reading and believing the Bible? 
...and emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit as the church’s teacher.
People who say that have a habit of acting as if the Holy Spirit retired on the eve of the Reformation. 
…while also rising above the “me and my Bible” approach that too often characterizes modern Protestants. 
That's a popular smear. But surely that's a hasty generalization. Consider all the variations. Protestants who get their theology from a study Bible. From their pastor. From their denomination. From their favorite televangelist. From church websites like John Piper's. From Christian apologists.  
Because theology is a specifically pneumatological and ecclesiological task, churchly tradition is “the school of Christ” that cannot be simply ignored by those under the authority of Scripture.
"Churchly tradition" isn't "catholic." "Churchly tradition" consists of many competing sectarian viewpoints. You have to do a lot of sifting. What is the winnowing fan, if not the Bible? 
This foundational chapter then leads into chapters 2 and 3, where the authors seek to rehabilitate the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura from its “bastardization into a ‘no creed but the Bible’ approach to faith and practice.” 
That's another popular smear. 
Swain and Allen combat several recent accounts of sola Scriptura, particularly those of Brad Gregory and A. N. Wilson, as tending towards subjectivism and individualism. 
"Churchly tradition" originates in the life and work of elite individuals. Bishops and theologians from the past who exerted a shaping influence vastly disproportionate to their numbers. The foundation of church tradition is selective individualism.  
Chapter 3 extends this discussion of sola Scriptura, arguing that the Bible itself encourages us not to read it in isolation from the entire community of believers (they call this “biblical traditioning”).
When you read the Bible with the church fathers or scholastic theologians, that's hardly reading the Bible with the "entire community of believers." The vast majority of Christians never had a voice in that process. These are vacuous slogans.  
Chapter 4 offers a distinctively Reformed perspective on how the rule of faith (regula fidei) might function as a hermeneutical guide for interpreting Scripture. In Swain and Allen’s perspective, church tradition and creed does indeed have a kind of hermeneutical authority, but it’s a “subordinate or ministerial authority” that is itself both established by and accountable to Scripture.
Yes, there's the pro forma disclaimer about how churchly tradition is subordinate to Scripture. Problem is, people who lean in the direction of Swain and Allen subordinate Scripture to churchly tradition in actual practice.

Hell is bad...except when it's good


I generally agree with his critique of universalism. However, his position is ironic inasmuch as Parsons contributed a chapter to a book in which he attacked the Christian God for damning people to hell:

Keith Parsons  
Universalism sounds appealing at first, but then you have to take a deep breath and consider what it really means. Does it really mean that Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, and a motley crew of nondescript slave traders, pedophiles, sadists, drug cartel bosses, serial killers, terrorists, fanatics, etc. will all (eventually) make it to heaven? Hmmmm. I wonder what a Holocaust victim would think rubbing shoulders with Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, Heydrich, Eichmann, and that whole crew. Will parents embrace the fiend that kidnapped, tortured, mutilated, raped, and murdered their child? 
I imagine that the Talbott-esque universalist will answer: "Yes, the infinite love of God will someday bring about universal reconciliation. The tortured will embrace the torturer and the murdered will rejoice with their murderers. All evil and suffering will be redeemed by the bottomless, inexhaustible love of God." 
My first response would be a subjective one: To me such an answer seems shallow, facile, and (I cannot help but suspect), at bottom insincere. To me, it simply fails to take seriously the depth and seriousness of evil and suffering. 
Further, I have to ask the question posed by the pathetic Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire: "Is everything forgivable? Is intentional cruelty forgivable?" Is it? Why should it be? Why is it a good thing to forgive the worst, most deliberate and despicable evils? On the contrary, should not some moral principles be so basic and so important that their blatant disregard is not considered pardonable? Why not recognize some stains as permanent? 
Finally, it is not clear what universalists propose to do with those who refuse to be reconciled. What if someone refuses, ever, to forgive, say, the murderer of her child? Will God not allow her into heaven until she does? In that case, salvation will not be universal. Will the universalist say that eventually, she will give in to God's love and forgive the murderer? But if she has free will, it has to be at least in principle possible that she will never forgive. God, of course, could just override her free will, but is salvation a good thing if it is forced? 
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2015/02/03/heaven-would-be-boring-as-hell/

Yes, Spirits Of The Dead Appear On Earth

Here's something I wrote in another thread:

“Reformation500.com”

For anyone who has visited the site “Reformation500.com” in recent days, and has simply found a blank page, please don’t be alarmed. The URL “Reformation500.com” is now in the custody of the Reformed Theological Seminary – yes, RTS.edu. The seminary is planning to use that URL for events and activities surrounding the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (October 31, 2017).

I’m sure you’ll see more about this in the coming months. However, the blog is still intact for now, at reformation500.wordpress.com, and all the articles are still in place there. Some of us who write there are going to continue to be posting articles, Lord willing.

John Murray on “traditions”: “We should not be dupes of Rome …”

Murray wrote on “tradition” – including Protestant traditions and Reformed traditions:
http://www.the-highway.com/tradition.html

There is truly a catholic tradition to which all due respect is to be paid and for which we should thank God. The Romish Church has attempted to monopolize the word ‘Catholic’ by trying to fix upon itself the denominational name, ‘the Catholic Church’. Protestants should not be the dupes of Rome in this respect and should resist every attempt on the part of Rome to appropriate that denomination. The Church of Rome is not the catholic church. It is presumption for her to claim to be. We should understand that all who profess the true religion belong to the catholic church and in the catholic tradition we glory. The catholic tradition is enshrined particularly in the ecumenical creeds, and is found also in the line of orthodox interpreters and theologians throughout the centuries.

There is also a Protestant tradition. It is the viewpoint of the Protestant church as over against the perversions and apostasies of the Romish communion. This tradition is enshrined in the great Protestant creeds and in the theology of the Protestant reformers. It is also embodied in the worship and practice that prevailed in the Protestant churches of the 16th and 17th centuries.

There is in like manner a reformed tradition. It is enshrined in the reformed creeds, theology, worship and practice. It is in this latter tradition that we specially glory. And we glory in it because we believe that it is the purest repristination and expression of apostolic Christianity. It is in this tradition that we move; it is the stream along which we are borne; it is the viewpoint we cherish, foster and promote. We cannot abstract ourselves from it; it gives direction and orientation to our thought and practice.

The entire article is here.

From The Presbyterian Guardian, 1947, May 10 and 25 and reprinted in Collected Writings of John Murray - Vol. 4 Studies in Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1982) pp. 264-273. This was mentioned in a footnote in Allen, Michael; Swain, Scott R. (2015-01-13). Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation (Kindle Locations 3133-3134). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

* * *

With all of that having been said, I agree there is a “catholic tradition”, but I disagree that we should stumble all over ourselves to find it and claim it. Here’s what I wrote in some Facebook comments in response to reviews I’ve seen of the work “Reformed Catholicity”:

I think “catholicity” is over-rated as a goal or concept. The word “catholic” has come to mean “universal”, but the “universality” was derived from a Greek cultural project before it became identified with the early church. The word “catholic” is derived from the “Second Sophistic” movement, among Greek city-states, to retain their Greek culture in the face of their Roman masters (Allen Brent, “Ignatius of Antioch”). It certainly is not a New Testament word, and while it was a useful concept, helping to unite a geographically disparate group of churches, like the concept of “apostolic succession”, it has been and can continue to be abused. I don't think it is a strong enough or safe enough concept around which to rally in our time.

Reasons why: Here is another marginalized concept from Allen and Swain:

There is no other such gulf in the history of human thought as that which is cleft between the apostolic and the immediately succeeding ages. To pass from the latest apostolic writings to the earliest compositions of uninspired Christian pens is to fall through such a giddy height that it is no wonder if we rise dazed and almost unable to determine our whereabouts. Here is the great fault—as the geologists would say—in the history of Christian doctrine. There is every evidence of continuity—but, oh, at how much lower a level! The rich vein of evangelical religion has run well-nigh out; and, though there are masses of apostolic origin lying everywhere, they are but fragments, and are evidently only the talus which has fallen from the cliffs above and scattered itself over the lower surface.

Allen, Michael; Swain, Scott R. (2015-01-13). Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation (p. 1). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Citing B.B. Warfield here, B. B. Warfield, “The Significance of the Westminster Standards as a Creed” (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1898), 4.

Warfield is correct about the “cleft between the apostolic and the immediately succeeding ages”. I’ve cited other writers, extensively – not marginalized kooks, but first-rate theologians of the 20th century, who have studied this period, including Cullmann, Torrance, and others, who note the absolute abyss into which the “Apostolic Fathers” fell.

“Traditions” (small “t”) as we come to know them are always going to be useful to us, in one way or another. Either they will be helpful to us in understanding what certain generations of Christians believed to be helpful, or as bad examples in seeing excesses that we are to avoid.

But to enshrine “traditions” as normative – this is not something we should be eager to do. Whether they are useful and helpful to us, as are the traditions of the Reformed Orthodox, or whether they are found to have been unhelpful and even harmful (as “apostolic succession” has been) – these are all things that we should be very keen to hold up to the light of Scripture, which is “the ground and pillar of our faith”.

Friday, February 06, 2015

A Timeline Regarding First-Century Mark

Here's a timeline James Snapp has put together for developments surrounding the alleged first-century fragment of Mark's gospel.

Little Boy

A study in contrasts:

http://godawa.com/movieblog/little-boy-americana-film-family-fatherhood-faith-fighting-bullies/

http://godawa.com/movieblog/boyhood-plotless-boring-rambling-nihilism/

"Magic trees"


i) Atheists mock the Bible for having "magic trees." Atheists refer to the tree of life, the tree of knowledge, and the burning bush. In fact, I've encountered two illiterate atheists who said the burning bush was a talking tree.

ii) To begin with, I doubt the narrator thought the tree of knowledge or the tree of life had the innate ability to confer godlike knowledge or immortality. 

a) For one thing, knowledge is psychological, but immortality is physical. Even if, for the sake of argument, the fruit of the tree of life had the chemical properties to confer immortality, knowledge operates on a very different principle.

b) Moreover, from the viewpoint of the narrator, just because there's a correlation between eating the fruit and a particular result, that doesn't mean the fruit caused the result. 

To take another Pentateuchal example, if unauthorized personnel touched the ark of the covenant, that was deadly. But contact wasn't lethal because the ark itself was fatal to the touch. It's not like the ark was radioactive. It was simply a gold-plated wooden box. Authorized personnel could open the ark and put things inside without suffering harm.

It's not the ark that killed you, but God. The ark was an emblem of God's holiness. For unauthorized personnel to touch the ark was an act of profanation. God struck the offender dead. 

iii) Likewise, as I've argued elsewhere, I doubt the bush itself was on fire. In context, I think it was the luminosity of the angel within or behind the bush that made it seem to be on ablaze from a distance. 

Mind you, I have no antecedent objection to a bush that miraculously burns without consuming itself. 

iv) But what about "magic trees"? Is that inherently absurd? 

Of course, what's absurd is relative to your worldview. To a Christian, atheism is absurd. Indeed, some atheists think atheism is absurd (i.e. existential nihilists)!

It depends, in part, on what you mean by "magic trees." Take animism. Animism was one of the most popular pagan religions. And unlike many dead pagan religions, animism continues to have huge numbers of adherents in parts of the Third World.

According to animism, the physical world is inhabited or haunted by nature spirits and ancestral spirits. That includes rocks, trees, and streams. 

On this view, it's not that a particular tree has inherent "magical" properties. The tree itself is just a tree. But the tree has become the host for some ancestral spirit. 

That doesn't mean that if you cut open a "magic tree," you will find a wood nymph inside. The framework isn't that physical. 

v) From a Christian standpoint, I don't believe in "nature spirits." But I do believe in evil spirits. This includes demonic spirits. But it might also include "restless spirits." By that I mean, souls of the damned that linger on earth. They are doomed. They await the final judgment. But in the meantime they "wander." They tend to hang around places where they used to live. 

On this view, "magic trees" are no more or less absurd than haunted houses. It depends on what you believe about ghosts, demons, and the intermediate state of the damed. 

vi) Apropos (v), this is related to the notion of territorial spirits:


This may also be related to the Biblical concept of bloodshed polluting the land (Num 35:33-34).

It wouldn't surprise me if there's a circular dynamic in play. For instance, it wouldn't surprise me if a locus of human sacrifice became a magnet for evil spirits. Conversely, it wouldn't surprise me if a locus of evil spirits became a magnet for human sacrifice.

Evil feeds on itself. Evil gorges itself on evil. And if you conjure the dark side, you may get what you ask for. 

Now, the Bible is not an encyclopedia. It doesn't attempt to record everything that exists. So I just offer this as a working hypothesis, not a settled fact. 

vii) That said, there is corroborative evidence. For instance:

Well do I recall the almost overwhelming depression that came upon me as I entered the premises and inner "sanctuary" of the "goddess" (Kali) in Nandi, Fiji with its horrifying blood-smeared image. The pace of walking became abnormal and breathing irregular. Similar was the experience in the Kali temple premises in Calcutta, India. Attendance at a ceremonial dance in eastern Zaire brought an impact of oppression and ill feeling to me in the "electrified" general, negative and depressive atmosphere of the situation. It was very similar in Dahomy, West Africa, as we observed a priest at the altar sacrificing chickens and chanting incantations to appease the evil spirits at the bottom of an "indwelt" tree.  
I cannot help but believe that there is such a thing as demonic focalization in certain objects and operating uniquely through certain formulas. These objects (including words) become special embodiments and vehicles of demonic powers and convey supra-human and supra-natural potency. Strange phenomena proceed from them. Sounds and voices are heard, flames are seen shooting forth from rocks and trees as lightning or bright flashes, and strange and destructive influences are emanating from them. Dr. John S. Mbiti reports several rather peculiar experiences in African Religions and Philosophy (pp194-97). Trustworthy eyewitnesses have informed me that they have seen flames shooting up from rocks repeatedly in Timor, Indonesia, and trees have been seen burning without being destroyed. Experiences as described by Dr Mbiti and the reports from Timor are quite common in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.  
It has been experienced that the transportation of an idol has actually brought serious physical disturbances, destruction, and death to the new locality and community. 
The books Demon Experiences: A Compilation [Tyndale House 1972] and [Robert Peterson's] Are Demons for Real? (Moody Press 1972) report numerous instances to support the view. My personal experiences in Africa, especially in Dahomy and certain villages in Nigeria and in Timor, Indonesia, leave no room for doubt in my mind. Unforgettable are the impressions and mental pressures that I experienced in the peculiar atmosphere that surrounded two very large trees in the interior of Dahomy at which trees numerous twin children had been sacrificed to the spirits of the ancestors who were supposed to indwell those trees. Peculiar stories were being told of terrifying phenomena that seemed to proceed from those trees, especially in the evening hours and at times of "sacrifices." George W. Peters, "Demonology on the Mission Field," J. W. Montgomery, ed. Demon Possession (Bethany 1976), 198-200.

viii) I will close with a personal anecdote. I used to go for afternoon walks along a woodsy paved trail that was frequented by cyclists. 

I began to notice that every so often a bicycle accident would occur right around a particular tree. I don't know if I'd classify it as one tree with several trunks or several trees bunched together. 

This didn't happen every day or every week. But the frequency seemed to be unusual.

Now someone might say that's just a coincidence. In the nature of the case, I can only witness an accident if I happen to be at a particular place at a particular time. Similar accidents may occur elsewhere that I don't see because I wasn't there.

Okay, I get that. But it fails to explain why bicycle accidents happened to cluster at that particular spot. There weren't any bumps, cracks, or loose gravel at that spot along the trail. 

The stretch of trail I used to walk along was about 2 miles in either direction. Yet I didn't witness bicycle accidents clustering elsewhere along the same stretch of trail.

Moreover, two other points along that same stretch were naturally more accident prone. That's where the trail bottlenecked, with barriers on either side. That's where you had a bend in the trail around blind curves. 

A speeding cyclist couldn't see what was just around the curve. He'd be unable to stop in time to avoid a collision. Yet I never witnessed a bicycle mishap at those locations.

So it seems as if there was something about that tree. Did something evil happen there years ago that made it treacherous be around?

I don't have a firm conviction. It could just be a coincidence. But it's one of those things I notice as I go through life. If you're observant, you pick up on little uncanny things that happen here and there. Not something you expected or sought out. 

Fetal tissue and vaccination

http://www.drwile.com/lnkpages/render.asp?vac_abortion

The Greek Fathers


Critics of Protestantism sometime contend that the Greek Fathers had a signal advantage over modern NT scholars. After all, that was their mother tongue. There are, however, numerous problems with that contention:

i) At best, that argument would only work for Greek orthodox apologists, not Roman Catholic apologists. Catholic theology owes more to the Latin Fathers than the Greek Fathers.

ii) No doubt there's a certain initial advantage in being a native language speaker. That, however, is easily offset by other considerations.

iii) For instance, there are lots of Arabs who are fluent in conversational Arabic, but they lack a command of classical literary Arabic to read the Koran. 

iv) Shakespeare uses many obsolete words which are unintelligible to the average contemporary English speaker–even well-educated speakers. That's why we have annotated editions of Shakespeare. 

In principle, someone who learned English as a second language could acquire a better understanding of Elizabethan English than a native speaker. You can have a German Shakespeare scholar. 

v) And it's not just obsolete words. Some words remain in currency, but change their meaning. To take a classic example:

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep (1 Thes 4:15, KJV).

In period English, "prevent" had the archaic sense of "precede." But the wording can trip up a modern reader. His idiomatic command of contemporary English is a disadvantage in that situation. 

Misunderstanding a word is worse than not understanding a word. If you know that you don't know what it means, then you're not misled. But if you think you know what it means, even though you're mistaken, then you have a false belief about what it says. Ignorance is better than error. 

vi) There's much more to exegesis than word-studies and parsing syntax. There's tracking the flow of the argument or narrative arc, having an ear for literary allusions, &c.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Apologetics 315

If you haven't been to Brian Auten's blog recently, you may want to take a look. He's been updating it a lot lately, including with some new interviews.

The ethics of vaccination

http://erlc.com/article/vaccines-and-aborted-human-fetal-tissue

Dogs and wolves


This post isn't really about dogs and wolves. That's just an illustration. But I need to develop the illustration a bit before I apply it. 
Dogs are wildly popular pets. There are two reasons that dogs "bond" with humans (and vice versa):
i) Dogs are descended from social animals (wolves). So they have an innate capacity to form social bonds–unlike cats (except for lions).
ii) Dog breeders enhance that capacity by suppressing certain traits while cultivating other traits that make them friendlier around humans. 
Of course, different dog breeds are bred for different physical and temperamental traits. You have guard dogs, hunting dogs, sled dogs, sheep dogs, &c. Not all dogs are bred for friendliness, and dogs used in dogfights are bred to be vicious. 
But pet dogs are bred to have great rapport with humans. This is based on their innate capacity as social animals, enhanced by domestication and selective breeding. 
To my knowledge, dogs are much better at reading human body language than wolves or chimpanzees. At a certain level, they understand us. 
On the other hand, wolves are reputedly much smarter than dogs at problem-solving skills. That makes sense.
It might be that a dog breed like a sheep dog would be closer to a wolf in its problem-solving abilities. I don't know what dog breeds have been tested against wolves in that respect.
Speaking for myself, looking into the eyes of a wolf is a unique experience compared to other wild animals. 
For one thing, they instantly take us back to the experience for our Ice Age forebears. That's the world in which our distant ancestors had to survive. 
In addition, you do a double take. It's kind of jarring.
On the one hand, wolves remind us of dogs. And some dog breeds retain a lupine appearance. So wolves remind us of dogs. There's that family resemblance.
They trigger similar associations. We're conditioned to subconsciously associate wolves with what we expect from dogs. If I make eye contact with a dog, what is the dog's expression? When does a dog register when it sees a human? But wolves are another story. 
i) One difference is automatic hostility. Wolves are not our friends. In the wild, they view humans as potential prey. When hunted, they learn to fear humans. 
ii) But there's something even deeper: the complete absent of rapport. Wolves are not simpatico with humans. When you look into the glinty amber eyes of a wolf, that animal doesn't connect with you. It's like an alien life-form. There's no psychological affinity. The look of recognition is gone. 
To my knowledge, even "tame" wolves are dangerous. They inhabit in a world of invisible lines. If you inadvertently step on the invisible line of a "tame" wolf, it will attack you. 
A wolf is a reminder of what your lovable pet dog would be like without selective breeding. 
And in that respect, wolves are like dogs without common grace or special grace. Wolves are the canine analogue to the damned. 
Some unbelievers are already quite lupine in this life. Other unbelievers can be brave, decent, kind, loyal, and honest. They exhibit common grace virtues. But when they go to hell, the dog reverts to a wolf. Centuries of selective breeding undone. It flips back to its wild ancestors. Deevolves–in the microevolutionary sense. 
Both like and unlike the person you knew. Recognizable, but something essential is now missing. Something crucial is lost. All that's left is savage. Inhuman. Sociopathic. 

Bavinck on General Revelation, Nature, and Grace

Yet objectively nature is antecedent to grace; general revelation precedes special revelation; Grace presupposes nature. To deny that natural religion and natural theology are sufficient and have and have autonomous existence of their own is not in any way to do an injustice to the fact that from creation, from nature and history, from the human heart and conscience, there comes divine speech to every human. No one escapes the power of general revelation.

Elsewhere, Bavinck comments upon the notion that all humans “have a habit and disposition” to worship, vis-à-vis some, any known or unknown deity – it is said that either man creates God or God creates man. Man is said to be a “religious” being. The need for “religion” derives from a “question of truth” by which every human being naturally “posits the reality of its object” and “it automatically falls under the heading of truth or untruth”.

After a long analysis, especially of 19th century science (“naturalism”) and philosophy, Bavinck says of “religion” that “God is the great supposition of religion. His existence and revelation are the foundation on which all human religion rests”. He defines “religion” as “a disposition or virtue” that arises directly from God’s revelation of himself.

“Corresponding to the objective revelation of God, therefore, there is in human beings a certain faculty or natural aptitude for perceiving the divine. God does not do half a job. He creates not only the light but also the eye to see it (“Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 1, pgs 278-279).

This concept not only stifles those who say that we (Christ’s own church) need an “infallible Magisterium” to tell us what is or isn’t revelation from God; but it helps us to live our daily lives as we understand that God reveals himself “in everything”.

Thus, “religion” [that sense in every human being which perceives “revelation”] belongs to the essence of a human. The idea and existence of God, the spiritual independence and eternal destiny of the world, the moral world order and its ultimate triumph—all these are problems that never cease to engage the human mind. Metaphysical need cannot be suppressed. Philosophy perennially seeks to satisfy that need.

It is general revelation that keeps that need alive. It keeps human beings from degrading themselves into animals. It binds them to a supersensible world. It maintains in them the awareness that they have been created in God’s image and can only find rest in God.

General revelation preserves humankind in order that it can be found and healed by Christ and until it is. To that extent natural theology used to be correctly denominated a “preamble of faith,” a divine preparation and education for Christianity. General revelation is the foundation on which special revelation builds itself up.

From “Reformed Dogmatics”, Vol 1, pgs 321-322.

This is foundational material. It is the background to Bavinck’s entire program, as he discusses nature and grace (a topic which I’ll be focusing on, Lord willing, in the coming weeks and months, as one of the key differences between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism – in conjunction with my ongoing discussions of the Leonard De Chirico and Gregg Allison works on Roman Catholicism.

Mandatory vaccination

This is an issue that involves competing questions of public safety, civil liberties, and parental rights.

http://www.hoover.org/research/measles-misinformation-gone-viral

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Atheists Flunking The Outsider Test

I recently listened to John Loftus and David Marshall discussing Loftus' outsider test and a book Marshall wrote about it. See here and here. Near the end of the first program, Justin Brierley (the host) and Marshall discussed the growth of Christianity in China. Even though Brierley and Marshall made important points about how Christianity is growing in China and the role of miracles in that growth, Loftus ignored what they'd said and returned to discussing people who believe what their parents taught them, how unimpressive it is that Christianity has survived for so long, etc. But China isn't a Christian culture, people who convert to Christianity in China on the basis of miracles aren't just accepting what their parents or culture taught them, and Christianity isn't merely surviving in China. Loftus' response was irrelevant and evasive. In the second program, he acknowledged that he doesn't know much about Christianity in China.

Craig Keener has a lot of material on miracles and the growth of Christianity in China in his book Miracles (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011). I wrote several posts about his book here, including excerpts of his comments on China. Here's a post about hostile corroboration of Christian miracles, in China and elsewhere. And here's a post I wrote about Christian and non-Christian miracles witnessed by skeptics who then changed their position.

While Christianity is so large and growing, atheists remain such a small minority of the population. Atheism hasn't been doing well with outsiders.

We know less about the ancient world than we think we do

http://bedejournal.blogspot.com/2015/01/we-know-less-about-ancient-world-than.html

More Bavinck on General Revelation

… Christ is the center and content of the whole special revelation, which starts in Paradise and is completed in the Apocalypse. Now special revelation has recognized and valued general revelation, has taken it over and, as it were, assimilated it. And this is also what the Christian does, as do the theologians. They position themselves in the Christian faith, in special revelation, and from there look out upon nature and history.

And now they discover there as well the traces of the God whom they learned to know in Christ as their Father. Precisely as Christians, by faith, they see the revelation of God in nature much better and more clearly than before. The carnal [non-Christian] person does not understand God’s speech in nature and history. He or she searches the entire universe without finding God. But Christians, equipped with the spectacles of Scripture
(Calvin, Instititues 1.6.1), see God in everything and everything in God. For that reason we find in Scripture a kind of nature poetry and view of history such as is found nowhere else.

With their Christian confession, accordingly, Christians find themselves at home also in the world. They are not strangers there and see the God who rules creation as none other than the one they address as Father in Christ. As a result of this general revelation, they feel at home in the world; it is God’s fatherly hand from which they receive all things also in the context of nature.

From “Reformed Dogmatics”, Vol 1, pg 321.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Abolitionism and child abandonment


Abolitionists accuses prolifers of "abandoning" babies because legal restrictions on abortion fail to protect many babies. But one problem with that allegation is that it boomerangs on AHA. Consider their stated position:
The pro-life movement argues that we should focus on saving babies. The abolitionist movement argues that we should focus on converting the culture. 
http://abolishhumanabortion.com/the-difference-between-pro-lifers-and-abolitionists/ 
Abolitionist[s] think the fight against abortion will be a long one… 
http://blog.abolishhumanabortion.com/2013/11/a-plea-to-incrementalists.html

Converting the culture is a long-term strategy. A long-range goal. 

Combine that with their opposition to legislation that restricts access to abortion, and guess what you have? For the time being they are abandon all the babies who'd be protected by restrictions on abortion in the hopes of abolishing abortion in toto at some indefinite point in the future. 

Keep in mind, too, that all they offer in exchange for the babies they barter in the interests of their distant objective are IOUs printed in the abolitionist mint. They issue promissory notes about their future success. It's all based on a rosy prediction. Wishful thinking.

Are most folks hellbound?

http://bnonn.com/has-god-predestined-most-people-to-hell/

Moses and Sargon


The birth narrative of Moses has a striking similarity to the story of the birth of Sargon of Akkad (c. 2334-2279 BC)…The date of composition of the Sargon birth narrative is unknown, but it is universally  regarded as pseudepigraphal; that is, Sargon I did not write it. Theoretically, it could have been written at any time from soon after the death of Sargon until the reign of Ashurbanipal (r. c. 668-627 BC). 
First, [Brian] Lewis only succeeds in creating the appearance of a strong parallel between the Moses and Sargon stories by "stripping away" (his term) elements in the story not paralleled in Sargon. These include that (1) genocide is the motivation for hiding Moses, (2) Moses is hidden for three months, (3) Moses' sister watches over him, (4) a person of high rank, Pharaoh's daughter, adopts Moses, and (5), Moses' own mother nurses him.  
But one cannot simply excise everything in story B that is unlike story A, and then declare store is A and B to be parallel. Unless one has prior knowledge that there is a Vorlage [i.e. copy of a source document] to a story B that is dependent on story A,one has no basis for recreating this putative Vorlage. Otherwise, any time two stories had something in common,one could declare the Vorlage of B to be dependent on A simply by excising as a later accretion everything in B that is different from A.  
Second, the parallels that Lewis claims for Moses and Sargon are for the most part illusory, and there are numerous differences. For example, it is not correct to say that in both cases the hero is born to a mother of high rank. This is true of Sargon, born to a "high priestess," but Moses' mother is simply a "Levite woman" (Exod 2:1). In addition, Moses is not truly abandoned or even set adrift on the river, as Sargon is. Moses' mother places his basket among the reeds so that he will not drift away (and also Moses' sister watches over him.
Sargon is raised by a peasant and is set to work in an orchard; Moses is raised in the aristocracy. The Moses story has an account of the hero's naming, and the name reflects the fact that the child was set on a river (Exod 2:10); the Sargon story does not. 
Even the most obvious parallel, setting the baby in a basket, is probably not significant. One can hardly doubt that in the ancient world there were many examples of women who for some reason (poverty, disgrace, danger, etc.) decided that they could not keep their children. These women would, as in the more recent counterpart of putting a baby in a basket on a doorstep, place their children outside either to die of exposure or to cast upon the charity of others. In a country such as Greece, with many mountains but with no significant rivers, the logical place to do this was on a mountain side (as in the story of Oedipus, whom a shepherd was supposed to abandon on a mountain). In the cases of Mesopotamia and Egypt, two regions dominated by rivers, the logical place to do this was on the Euphrates or the Nile. In short, the setting of the baby in a basket onto a river is simply something that arises from the environment; it is not a motif useful for establishing literary dependence. D. Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus (Kregel 2014), 172-74.

Exodus and evidence


From Duane Garrett's recent commentary on Exodus (Kregel 2014):

We should bear in mind that Jericho, as archaeological sites go, is in terrible shape (this is obvious even to the untrained eye when comparing Jericho to sites such as Megiddo, Hazor, or Beersheba). Every archaeological dig to some degree ruins evidence, and this site has been dug repeatedly (and at least sometimes with primitive methods). Furthermore, erosion at the site has been extremely severe (76).

Umberto Cassuto points out that the Sumerian king lists have the names of kings of various Mesopotamian cities together with the number of years of their reigns. Since these kings ruled over separate cities at the same time, their reigns overlapped. But when the list gives the total number of years of the reigns of the kings, it does not give a total for the region as a whole. It acts as though every king had reigned successively, one after another and in a single sequence, disregarding the fact that many kings reigned as contemporaries (92).

In the Bible, the numbers are correct, but they are correct in asserting what they actually meant, and this is not necessarily the same as what we think they meant. If we do not know how the authors computed their numbers or what, to them, as the significance of the numbers, our interpretations will be wrong, even when we read a text that to us seems obvious and unambiguous in its meaning. And in fact, we probably do not understand the reasoning behind some of the biblical numbers (93).

The case against the historicity of the exodus is primarily negative in nature: there is in Egypt no evidence for a Hebrew sojourn or exodus.That is, no Egyptian text refers to either event, and no physical evidence for an Israelite sojourn has been found. Superficially this appears to be devastating, but in reality it is not even surprising. 

There are relatively few texts at all from ancient Egypt. Indeed, it is said that an Egyptologist can, in the course of his or her career, read every single surviving text from classical Egypt. The Egyptians wrote on papyrus, an early version of paper, and even in the arid conditions of Egypt almost no papyrus documentation from as early as 1400 BC has survived. It has been estimated that at least 99 percent of all papyrus documents from Egypt have completely perished. Many of the written records that we do have are carved into stone or painted onto tomb walls. Monuments, by their very nature, celebrate the victories and achievements of a government and leave its failures in obscurity. We should also observe that a large number of Egypt's monuments have also been lost. In addition, the Hebrews inhabited mudbrick homes in the soft, wet soil of the Delta. That being the case, it would be remarkable if identifiable and distinctive remains of their presence has survived to be found (96-97).

Whether one supports the Early or the Late Date, both agree on the fact that the city of Raamses is Pi-Riamsese at Tell el-Daba. But the most important fact is that the city there disappeared by the end of the 20th dynasty (c. 1069 BC). If the exodus is a piece of fiction devised much later in Israelite history, how did its creators know that there had been Semites in the area of the long-lost city of PI-Riamsese, or indeed that there had ever been such a city? Some scholars, therefore, will insist that what the Bible calls Raamses was actually the much later city of Tanis. These scholars will claim that the biblical writers were simply confused about the history of the Delta and wrongly placed Israelites at Tanis because that was the only big, Egyptian city that they knew about. But this argument only shows, as Hoffmeier has written, that these scholars "are bent on denying credibility to the biblical narratives at any cost."…By placing the Israelite workers at Raamses (Tell el-Daba) and not at Tanis, the Bible demonstrates firsthand knowledge of Egypt as it was in the latter half of the 2nd millennium BC (98-99).

The sudden appearance of Israelite settlements at the beginning of the Iron Age–with no convincing explanation except that they came from outside–also supports the idea that there was an exodus and conquest (99).

The structure of the Tend of Meeting, as described in Exod 24-40, is regarded by many scholars as a piece of fiction, a literary creation of the Priestly writer (P) during the postexilic era…Kitchen has demonstrated that this thinking arises from total ignorance of the actual practices of ancient Near Eastern peoples…It is doubtful that a postexilic writer would be able to describe accurately a 2nd millennium-type portable shrine (98-99).

If this causes us to despair, we do well to remember that Exodus never alludes to the Hyksos, or to Ahmose, Hatshpsut, Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, Akhenaten, Ramesses II, Merenptah, Ramesses III, or to any other pharaoh that might be associated with the oppression or the exodus. If we find ourselves vexed at trying to defend, for example, that Thutmose III was the pharaoh of the exodus, we are becoming distraught over defending a claim that the Bible never makes. Not only that, but we cannot be sure that details regarding the chronology of the Egyptian pharaohs or of Canaanite archaelogy may not be revised as research continues (101).

A large number of surviving texts from ancient Egypt are monumental; almost all of the papyrus documents have disappeared. By contrast, the clay tablets popular for documentation in Mesopotamia could last for millennia (27).

We, too, have limited knowledge of Egyptian history (lists of pharonic names and the remains of tombs and temples built by these kings does not constitute a history). Indeed, in contrast to what we know of classical Greek and Roman history, Egyptian historiography for the New Kingdom is staggering for its meagerness, for its fragmentary nature, and for how much of it is really scholarly speculation (no disrespect for  the intelligence, diligence, and careful scholarship of Egyptologists is implied or intended). The fragments of Manetho for Egyptian history can hardly be compared to Thucydides for Greek history or Polybius for Roman history, and these two are but a small piece of the iceberg of information available on the classical world. 

We should learn as much as we can about Egypt so that we may speak from light and not from darkness, but we should teach the biblical history and not some reconstructed, hypothetical model that tries to make definite what the Bible leaves indefinite (103).

Messianic Holocaust survivor

http://lydiaswebpage.blogspot.com/2015/02/remarkable-comments-from-christian.html

Leaves without fruit


I'm going to comment on a post by Matthew Martellus:


It's a very repetitious post. I won't respond to the same formulaic claims more than once. 

Any abolitionist I know (and I know quite a few) would applaud such actions and seek to do likewise if ever placed in a similar situation. Steve Hays, however, would beg to differ.  In a recent post, he contends that such actions are at odds with the abolitionist tenet of immediatism.

Actually, my argument was more specific. It's at odds with what abolitionists like Rance Bennett (whose post I was responding to) say about "discriminatory" laws. And Martellus goes on to reiterate that claim: "all the while denouncing discriminatory legislation…" So that's the specific frame of reference–"discrimination," not "immediatism." 

But, since it is obvious that a denunciation of Wallenberg neither follows from our actions…

Which simply means their actions are, at best, inconsistent, and, at worst, hypocritical in relation to their stated position. 

On the other hand, a legislator has the power to put forward legislation that will establish justice (and thus legal protection) for all human beings who are murdered within his jurisdiction.  The ministrations of a private individual with respect to other specific individuals are necessarily limited to a specific time and place - they cannot be universalized.  On the other hand, the actions of a legislator are, by nature, universal (in that they apply, or potentially apply, to all members of his jurisdiction), and are only reduced in scope by the specific and intentional addition of qualifiers to the proposed legislation. 
As such, it should be clear to anyone who is seeking to be judicious in this matter that there is a fundamental asymmetry between the scope of actions taken in the capacity of a legislator and actions taken in the capacity of an individual ministering to other individuals.  And if there is a fundamental asymmetry between the two groups, then it should be clear to any fair-minded individual that whatever "logic" undergirds the criticism of the actions of legislators does not necessarily apply to the ministrations of private individuals.

i) To begin with, Wallenberg wasn't just a private citizen. To the contrary, he was a government official. A diplomat. In addition, his official mission was to rescue Jews from extermination. For instance,


So the wall that Martellus labors to erect between private citizens and public officials, between private good deeds and official policy, crumbles. 

ii) What is more, notice his moral and intellectual sleight-of-hand: "a legislator has the power to put forward legislation that will establish justice (and thus legal protection) for all human beings who are murdered within his jurisdiction."

Of course, that's fatally equivocal. That just means an individual lawmaker only has the power to propose such legislation. That's hardly something he can push through single-handedly. Success or failure is contingent on the cooperation of his fellow lawmakers. 

We believe, from Rom. 13 and other passages of Scripture, that all legislators have a moral duty to propose and approve laws that provide justice and legal protection for all individuals - not least of all those who are being murdered unopposed on a daily basis. 

It is not within the power of an individual legislator to make his fellow legislators approve laws that provide justice and legal protection for all everyone. Since he can't compel that outcome, in what respect is it his duty to indulge in empty gestures? That's just moral grandstanding. It changes nothing. Improves nothing. Where does Rom 13 (or other passages of Scripture) say a lawmaker has a duty to engage in futile moral posturing? 

And as such, we believe that any legislator whose "stand against injustice" consists of proposing and/or approving measures that discriminate against 99% of the victimized population has failed greatly at his moral duty.  

Yet another example of moral and intellectual legerdemain. There's a fundamental difference between introducing discrimination and reducing discrimination. How is a lawmaker derelict for curtailing injustice to the best of his abilities? 

And this in no way contradicts our position that the legislator has the moral duty to propose and contend for legislation that protects all individuals in his jurisdiction.  

i) That's been tried–repeatedly:


ii) Moreover, this is yet another example of his ethical and intellectual legerdemain. Martellus sets up a false dichotomy. Sure, we can keep on proposing broader laws. But if that fails, what's the fallback? 

Now, in contrast to our convictions, Steve Hays seems to believe that it is morally permissible for legislators to spend their careers proposing and approving measures that discriminate against a vast majority of the victimized population but provide protection only for a comparatively minuscule few, provided that those are the only measures they believe have a reasonable chance at getting passed through the legislature.  

i) Notice how Martellus chronically resorts to the same sleight-of-hand. Prolife legislators aren't creating discrimination, but curtailing discrimination. Absent legal restrictions on abortion, the law discriminates against an entire class of humans by making all unborn babies liable to murder. 

ii) Notice how Martellus devalues the lives of "a comparatively minuscule few." 

iii) The proper job of a lawmaker is to pass good laws and block bad laws. It is not the job of a lawmaker to spend his career doing nothing of consequence. He doesn't need to be a lawmaker to do nothing of consequence. The duty of a lawmaker is to make a difference. Make things better. Not just have a nice office on Capitol HIll. Have a Congressional staff for the sake of having staffers. Make speeches for the sake of speechifying. 

These organizations have the power to lobby for legislation that protects all human beings, but they do not.  

And if lobbying fails to achieve that goal, what's the fallback position? 

Now, Steve Hays would contend that incrementalism is a valid strategy (and perhaps the best or only feasible strategy). 

Actually, I don't begin with an a priori strategy. That's one of the errors of AHA. You only know what's feasible by giving it a try. 

On the other hand, history (to say nothing of the Holy Scripture) has not demonstrated that incrementalism is anything close to a good strategy for reforming a society.  Most significant societal reformations have occurred through the actions and example of a small uncompromising minority, not a large segment of the population that decided that evil was best eradicated a century at a time through compromise after compromise.

Here's an example of Biblically sanctioned "compromise": And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment (Mk 10:5).

If, on the other hand, he were in a position to dictate deportation policy for the nation of Hungary as a whole, he would definitely be at fault if he could have enacted a policy that would have saved all Jews but instead chose to let the vast majority be deported to Germany and almost certain death.

And, by parity of argument, prolife legislators are in no position to save all babies. They don't have the votes or voters to pull that off. Not for now. 

I personally find it amusing that our critics like to hone in on the fact that there is a company within the AHA movement that manufactures and sells resources to abolitionists at large. If making shirts is such an abominable activity…

Martellus resorts to hyperbole. The point is not that such doodads are "abominable." The point, rather, is that hawking trinkets is no substitute for meaningful action. It's just a decoy that deflects attention away from the absence of results. By contrast, prolife organizations do have practical strategies that change the status quo. 

And yet, over the last three years, AHA gear has been invaluable for both raising awareness of abortion across the country (and across the world), as well as for reigniting the abolitionist movement in America.  The culture is being seeded with the ideology of abolition, and contrary to the aspersions of our critics, it has already borne much fruit. 

Notice the studied duplicity of AHA rhetoric. On the one hand they set the bar very high. On the other hand, they slide under the bar. The measure of progress isn't consciousness-raising, but the abolition of abortion. By their own oft-repeated sloganeering, that's the only "fruit" that counts. The total abolition of abortion. AHA confuses leaves with fruit. Thus far, AHA is a leafy, but fruitless tree. Lots of leaves, no fruit. 

Claiming to "seed" the culture is hooey unless and until the seed blossoms into the total abolition of abortion. That's how AHA defines success–in contrast to the half-measures of the prolife movement. I'm simply holding AHA to their own metric. 

AHA plays this bait-n-switch, where they stake out a "uncompromising" rhetorical stand, but then substitute movement "growth" or "seeding" the culture for concrete results. Don't be taken in by their shell-game. 

And we have no reason to believe that it will not continue to bear even more fruit in the future.  We are not surprised in the least by the growth the abolitionist movement has experienced, as that is part of our strategy, and AHA gear, far from being a silly side attraction, is an essential part of that.

The growth of a movement driven by social media unremarkable–as well as worthless unless is yields concrete results. And not just any results will do. AHA disdains results which fall short of total abolition. By their own admission, it's all or nothing. Very well–that's exactly how I judge them. 

In the second accusation, Hays is essentially accusing us of bearing false testimony against others.  

True. 

But if Hays does actually have solid, objective evidence that we are bearing false witness against pro-lifers, he should present it.

I did. In fact, he quoted part of it: "we are in effect telling the culture that, as long as certain conditions are met, it is OK to go ahead and murder your child."

I, for one, would be greatly interested to see it.

To the contrary, he's far too much the partisan insider to recognize what's staring him in the face.  

The first accusation ("groupthink") is quite laughable, given the widespread disagreement (and often vigorous discussion) that exists between abolitionists on numerous topics.  If "AHA" really did have a "groupthink quality," one would expect to see abolitionists marching in lock step with one another, trying to avoid disagreement like the plague.  Of course, if Steve Hays actually took time to honestly investigate the abolitionist movement, he would see how ludicrous his accusation is.

Notice the schizophrenia of abolitionists like Martellus. On the one hand he constantly accuses critics of misrepresenting what AHA really stands for. On the other hand, he touts diversity within the movement. Once again, he's too close to his own movement to register the incoherence.

I remember back a few years ago back when these supposed "in-house narratives" were being formed.  There was no small amount of disagreement and discussion among abolitionists about our specific stance towards the pro-life movement.  Even today, there is still disagreement and discussion on these topics, especially among those who are new to the movement.  The reason that we more or less have unity on these kinds of positions is because we have taken the time to discuss them at length, and come up with good reasons for what we believe.  

Sounds an awful lot like an…organization

Well, it is certainly fortuitous for us, then, that we never claimed that HR36 mandates abortion!  What we actually said (and what Hays quoted us as saying), was that HR36 fails to meet God's moral standard of law regarding murder - namely, that all murder is unlawful, without exception.

Here's what I quoted:

It is very simple. God told us not to murder. “Thou shall not murder.” He didn’t say that you could murder, as long as you counseled the mother about breast cancer. He never said that you could murder, as long as you have your parents' consent. He said “Thou shall not murder.” That’s it.

Since HR36 is the target, the insinuation is that HR36 commends or commands murder. 

What we have said is that it is immoral for legislators to put forward and contend for legislation that abandons 99% of the victims to destruction...

AHA constantly resorts to this devious rhetoric. You can't "abandon" victims whom you were never in a position to save in the first place. 

…all the while posturing as if such an act was a great "step forward" in the fight against abortion.  

Saving babies is a step forward. Refusing to save babies when you could do so is a step backward. 

Steve Hays apparently likes to make much ado about how short-sighted "AHA" is, how confused "AHA" is, and how wrong and irrational "AHA" is.  But in reality, it is much ado about nothing.  

I agree with Martellus that AHA is much ado about nothing. And that's the problem. 

We are abolitionists, and we refuse to compromise with abortion.  We believe that to do so is not only a violation of divine mandate, but also ineffective for actually achieving abolition.  And as such, we will continue on, regardless of how many strawman versions of our ideology are constructed, or how many false accusations are leveled against us.  We are united under our King, and He is faithful.  And by His grace, we will not rest until abortion is abolished.

Boastful words to camouflage the lack of concrete results.