Saturday, December 19, 2015
i) I'm going to comment on the issue of whether Muslims and Christians believe in or worship the same God. This is occasioned by the current controversy at Wheaton. I doubt that either Phillip Ryken or Larcyia Hawkins could offer a philosophically solid defense of their respective positions, so my interest is not to minutely analyze the specifics of this particular situation. Rather, I'm just using it to illustrate some general and perennial principles.
ii) Regardless of whether the administration formulated a philosophically satisfying argument, Ryken's instincts were right. I think he did the right thing. And it's possible to do the right thing even if you can't give a good reason for what you did. Giving a reason is different than having a reason.
iii) Believing in a God is different than knowing God. A person can believe in a nonexistent God. Indeed, that's what the Bible says about pagan idolaters.
It's possible to have a natural knowledge of the true God (e.g. Rom 1). However, especially in organized religion, the God one worships or believes in is the theological construct of their faith-tradition. In some cases it's continuous with the natural knowledge of God, but goes well beyond that (i.e. Christianity). In other cases, it subverts the natural knowledge of God (i.e. idolatry, heresy).
v) Likewise, believing in God is different than worshiping God. Worship involves a particular attitude towards God. Reverence, praise, thanksgiving, and devotion. A paradigm case is Satan, who believes in God, but his attitude is the antithesis of worshipful.
v) There are competing theories of reference. Philosophy being what it is, there's no consensus on the right theory of reference. So any position you take will be subject to challenge. The philosophers I've seen defending Hawkins operate with a theory of linguistic reference (e.g. Frege, Kripke) whereas my starting point is a theory of mental representation or propositional attitudes.
vi) We don't believe in God directly. Rather, the immediate referent is our concept of God: what we think God is like. True or false worship is inextricably bound up with true and false ideas of God.
Theologically, that's how Scripture distinguishes between idolatry and true worship. A pagan worships a figment of his own imagination.
I also think that's true on philosophical and psychological grounds:
The Representational Theory of Mind (RTM) (which goes back at least to Aristotle) takes as its starting point commonsense mental states, such as thoughts, beliefs, desires, perceptions and imagings. Such states are said to have “intentionality” — they are about or refer to things, and may be evaluated with respect to properties like consistency, truth, appropriateness and accuracy.
A propositional attitude is the mental state of having some attitude, stance, take, or opinion about a proposition or about the potential state of affairs in which that proposition is true.
A representational approach to belief, according to which central cases of belief involve someone's having in her head or mind a representation with the same propositional content as the belief.
vii) I think there's often an equivocation regarding the object of knowledge. The object of knowledge could be a mental representation or what it purports (or intends) to represent. Are we comparing beliefs about God with other beliefs about God, or comparing beliefs about God with God himself?
A belief about God is not God. A belief about God is a human mental state. So we need some way to draw that distinction. Perhaps we could distinguish between the proximate referent and the remote referent (analogous to the proximal stimulus and distal distal stimulus). The question is whether a particular belief about God corresponds to God. Is God like or unlike my concept of God?
I'd view the referent of "God" or "Allah" as, in the first instance, a mental representation. Beliefs about God. The question, then, is how representational that concept or propositional attitude actually is. If beliefs mediate the referent, then different beliefs have distinguishable referents.
And a mental representation can misrepresent the object or intended referent. If Muslims and Christians have different mental representations of God, or different propositional attitudes about God, then they don't believe in the same God–if reference is fixed by means of mental content.
viii) I've seen philosophers defend Hawkins by appeal to Frege's distinction between sense and reference. Take the stock example: the Morning Star and the Evening Star mean different things, but share the same referent.
However, that's the case because both designations are based on the same object (Venus), and both are accurate descriptions of the same object, seen at different times under different viewing conditions. Both descriptors correspond to the intended referent. Both are truly about that object.
If, however, that was not the case, then these wouldn't be coreferential. So we need to distinguish between the intended referent and whether that actually maps onto the object.
Take mistaken identity. If I see a picture of Marlene Dietrich and say that's Rita Hayworth, does it refer to Hayworth? Even if Hayworth is the intended referent, that's not a picture of Hayworth. Even if Muhammad intends for Allah to map onto Yahweh, that doesn't make it so.
ix) Concepts of God range along a continuum. At one end you had have pagans and heretics. At the other end, theologically astute Christians. And you have borderline cases. I don't think "same" and "different" are adequate to capture degrees of similarity and dissimilarity. It's too dichotomous.
We need to use more qualified language. It's rather like counterfactual identity, where you take the nearest possible world as a frame of reference.
With respect to Christians, it comes down to divine condescension. God accepts our sometimes inadequate, inaccurate beliefs about him as if they pick out God. Depending on a person's orthodoxy or theological sophistication, some, many, or most beliefs do map onto God. Ultimately, it's up to God, in his providence, how well any person's theological beliefs track God.
Certainly God's self-revelation in Scripture has given us a reliable basis for true, referential beliefs regarding God. But misinterpretation will produce erroneous beliefs.
x) Some defenders of Hawkins compare the relationship between Christianity and Islam with the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. There are, however, problems with that comparison:
a) "Judaism" is ambiguous. Judaism isn't any one thing. Does that refer to OT theism, or to the varieties of modern Judaism?
Bruce Walkte once said in class that because he's an OT professor, people ask him about Judaism, and he tells them that he's not an expert on Judaism because that's a different religion.
b) It's anachronistic to make OT theism the standard of comparison. You can't just turn back the clock on progressive revelation.
c) There's a difference between not believing in Trinitarian/Incarnational theology prior to the Incarnation, or the explicit revelation of the Trinity, and rejecting later stages of revelation and redemption.
d) Of the various religions, Christianity has the most in common with Judaism. But that cuts both ways. If you say that means Christians and Jews believe in or worship the same God, then where does that leave a religion that has less in common with Christianity? Unless you're a religious pluralist (e.g. John Hick), at some point along the spectrum you must draw a line and say they don't believe in or worship the same God.
For instance, does the Jesus of traditional Mormon theology pick out the same Jesus as the NT? No. The Mormon Jesus is a different kind of being with a completely different backstory.
It's like comparing Santa Claus to St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas is a historical figure; Santa Claus is a fictional character. Although Santa Claus draws some inspiration from traditions about St. Nicholas, Santa Claus has a different (imaginary) prehistory. Santa Clause and St. Nicholas aren't coreferential.
xi) I'd say Allah is a fictive construct. A fictional character in a fictional book. I'd classify the Koran as historical fiction. That genre can combine factual elements with imaginary incidents and imaginary characters.
By contrast, Yahweh/Jesus/the Trinity is real. Assuming that's the case, in what respect do Christians and Muslims believe in the same God? Put another way, how is that different than comparing Jesus to Krishna or Yahweh to Zeus?
When the specific contention is whether Muslims and Christians believe in the same God, or worship the same God, I don't see how we can avoid the criterion of mental content or mental representations, given that framework.
Of course, a Muslim would accuse me of begging the question, but I'm not debating a Muslim. At the moment we have an intramural debate between professing Christians (especially evangelicals) who take the truth of Christianity for granted. And if some of them are religious pluralists, then that's a different debate.
I don't hesitate to use Christianity as the standard of comparison. If this was a debate between a Christian and a Muslim, then I'd have to argue for that presupposition. But I don't shoulder that burden of proof in this particular discussion.
xii) Francis Beckwith has defended Hawkins:
Beckwith is more consistent inasmuch as Vatican II, codifying Karl Rahner, said:
841 The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."330 [LG 16; cf. NA 3.]
But that doesn't follow on non-Catholic assumptions.
Keep in mind that Rome wasn't always so ecumenical. Pope Urban II mobilized the First Crusade, Pope Innocent III mobilized the Reconquista, while Pope Pius V mobilized the Battle of Lepanto.
First, what does it mean for two terms to refer to the same thing? Take, for example, the names “Muhammed Ali” and “Cassius Clay.” Although they are different terms, they refer to the same thing, for each has identical properties. Whatever is true of Ali is true of Clay and vice versa. (By the way, you can do the same with “Robert Zimmerman” and “Bob Dylan,” or “Norma Jean Baker” and “Marilyn Monroe”).
So the fact that Christians may call God “Yahweh” and Muslims call God “Allah” makes no difference if both “Gods” have identical properties.
That's a red herring. It's certainly true that Arab Christians can use "Allah" to designate the Christian Deity.
On the other hand, "Allah" has different connotations when used by a Muslim or an English speaker. It would be inappropriate to use "Allah" for the Christian God in English discourse.
In fact, what is known as classical theism was embraced by the greatest thinkers of the Abrahamic religions: St. Thomas Aquinas (Christian), Moses Maimonides (Jewish), and Avicenna (Muslim). Because, according to the classical theist, there can only in principle be one God, Christians, Jews, and Muslims who embrace classical theism must be worshipping the same God. It simply cannot be otherwise.
i) Islam is not an Abrahamic religion. That's Muslim propaganda.
ii) I doubt Maimonides thought Muslims, Jews, and Christians believe in the same God. And even if he did, it's even more doubtful to suppose he thought they worship the same God.
On the one hand, he viewed Christians as heretics. Idolaters. On the other hand, while he preferred Islam's unitarian monotheism to Christianity's Trinitarian, Incarnational theology, he preferred Christianity's reverence for the OT to Islam, which replaces the OT (and the NT) with the Koran.
Moreover, it wouldn't surprise me if Maimonides was pulling his punches with respect to Islam. After all, his employer was the Sultan. So he may well have said less than he privately thought.
But doesn’t Christianity affirm that God is a Trinity while Muslims deny it? Wouldn’t this mean that they indeed worship different “Gods”? Not necessarily. Consider this example. Imagine that Fred believes that the evidence is convincing that Thomas Jefferson (TJ) sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings (SH), and thus Fred believes that TJ has the property of “being a father to several of SHs children.” On the other hand, suppose Bob does not find the evidence convincing and thus believes that TJ does not have the property of “being a father to several of SHs children.”
Would it follow from this that Fred and Bob do not believe that the Third President of the United States was the same man? Of course not. In the same way, Abraham and Moses did not believe that God is a Trinity, but St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Billy Graham do. Does that mean that Augustine, Aquinas, and Graham do not worship the same God as Abraham and Moses? Again, of course not. The fact that one may have incomplete knowledge or hold a false belief about another person – whether human or divine – does not mean that someone who has better or truer knowledge about that person is not thinking about the same person.
a) An obvious problem with that illustration is its failure to distinguish intrinsic properties from extrinsic properties. Jefferson would still be Jefferson without his kids; by contrast, the Father would not (and could not) exist apart from the Son.
b) In addition, Beckwith is effectively imputing to Hawkins an understanding that there's no reason to think she shares. Does she really have a sophisticated theory of reference?Beckwith is arguing on her behalf by making a case for her claim that I seriously doubt she'd be able to make on her own. So we need to distinguish between whether the claim is defensible and her own motivations.
xiii) Gene Green said "Dr. Hawkins and others want to follow the example of Jesus, who went to those who were discriminated against," he said. "He ate with people whom others rejected. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors, and the Muslims are our neighbors."
a) In the USA, discrimination against Muslims is statistically negligible,
b) The greatest danger to Muslims is other Muslims.
xiv) Hawkins said she'd don the hijab "to stand in religious solidarity with Muslims."
That's a cheap, morally confused gesture. Whenever Muslims commit some atrocity on American soil, which occurs with increasing frequency, you always had people who rush to the defense of…Muslims. Their reflexive reaction is to express solidarity with Muslims, even though Muslims were the perpetrators. That's always their first impulse.
What about showing solidarity with the Jewish and Christian victims of Islam? Heck, what about showing solidarity with Muslim women by undergoing a clitorectomy? Obviously she won't do that because that would really cost her something.
Sure, she can take a stance against the mythical persecution of Muslims in the USA, but it's morally blind to show solidarity with Muslims rather than victims of Muslim social mores. There's no consistency to her position. It's just radical chic posturing.
Friday, December 18, 2015
Prof. James Anderson recommends a debate or discussion (or two) between Dr. James White and Imam Muhammad Musri: "A Model Christian-Muslim Discussion".
Here's a collection of resources. I post one every year, on the day after Thanksgiving. I decided to post on the subject again today, for those who didn't see the earlier post when it originally went up. I don't know how many people are offline just after Thanksgiving or miss these posts for some other reason. But these last several days before Christmas tend to be the time when Christmas apologetic issues are most prominent in the culture.
Thursday, December 17, 2015
Eisenhower reputedly said "God help this country when someone sits in this chair who doesn't know the military as well as I do."
Many conservatives are excited by the brilliance of Ted Cruz. Before he dropped out, Jindal was his only competition on the IQ scale.
If the nomination comes down to Cruz or Rubio, both men are quality candidates. Much better than in previous election cycles.
However, brilliance is overrated. Obviously, there are some professions where that's a big plus, like math and science. But even in that case, the tortoise sometimes outperforms the hare. Linus Pauling was a genius; James Watson was a plodder. But it was Watson, not Pauling, who discovered the Double Helix.
In politics, Newt Gingrich is a brilliant man, but a failed leader as Speaker of the House.
Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy were supersmart, but they gave poor advice on how to prosecute a war.
Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Rubin, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney are very bright guys, but they don't know how to win wars–or when to cut their losses.
They have the wrong kind of intelligence and/or the wrong kind of experience. Too abstract. A large part of winning wars is knowing which wars to avoid. Avoid getting into wars you can't win.
Brilliance can be a snare if it makes you overconfident in what you can achieve. Especially in foreign policy, there are many variables beyond the control of any president. Brilliance isn't the first thing I look for in a presidential candidate.
After 50 years with the same employer, Alan Dershowitz is nearing retirement. By his count, he's had 10,000 students, and they include some of the leaders of the world, although not one who, despite becoming editor of the law review, was denied access to his enrollment. Dershowitz told me recently he will always remember fondly using the Socratic method in criminal law classes, where, in any given 90-minute lecture, he'd call on about 40 students out of 150 assembled.
"No answer is right," he said. "I'd go from student to student. I knew my students very well and knew what their positions essentially would be so I knew who to call on to get a good, provocative discussion going."
Judging from those whom he's instructed over the years, he had a wealth of choices. Recently, I asked him for a sound bite on some of the better known.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas): "Off-the-charts brilliant. And you know, liberals make the terrible mistake, including some of my friends and colleagues, of thinking that all conservatives are dumb. And I think one of the reasons that conservatives have been beating liberals in the courts and in public debates is because we underestimate them. Never underestimate Ted Cruz. He is off-the-charts brilliant. I don't agree with his politics."
62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard (Mt 27:62-66).
This is discounted by "skeptics" due to its patently apologetic thrust. But a basic problem with that reaction is that the anecdote is inherently plausible. If Jesus predicted that he was going rise from the dead, both Pilate and the Jewish establishment would be motivated to nip that legend in the bud. Surely they didn't need an aggressive new religious sect, headquartered in Jerusalem, to contend with.
Moreover, even if you lack prior belief in Jesus, there's nothing implausible about messianic claimants forecasting their return from the dead. To my knowledge, that's not uncommon. Making good on the prediction is the tough part. To take a modern example, some devotees are still waiting for Rebbe Manachem Schneerson to rise from the grave. So there's no reason to doubt that Jesus made that prediction.
One of the perceived challenges for Christians is how to account for the seemingly abrupt transition from OT monotheism to NT Trinitarianism. How could NT writers go so easily from one to another? I think that problem is fairly artificial, because it overstates the difference.
i) To begin with, the OT has the Spirit of God in addition to Yahweh. But surely Jews understood the Spirit of God to be divine. Not a creature.
At the same time, spirits are personal agents in the world of the Bible, viz. angels, demons, ghosts. So, by the same token, it would be natural for Jews to understand the Spirit of God as a personal agent.
In that respect, OT Judaism was already binitarian rather than unitarian. Jews may not have mentally sorted out exactly how Yahweh and the Spirit of God were interrelated, but it's not as if there's a chasm to leap across as we move from OT theism to NT theism.
ii) Moreover, the basic reason the NT is more explicit about the Trinity is that it tells the story of the Father sending the Son into the world to redeem sinners. And that, in turn, is followed by the Father (or the Son) sending the Spirit into the world to take up where Jesus left off. Since that operation hadn't happened in OT times, there was no need to spell it out. The OT mentions different elements of that scenario, but doesn't put it all together.
The NT pulls back the curtain to reveal what was going on behind-the scenes. And that's necessary to explain the significance of Christ's mission.
iii) The other element you have is the divine messiah. And it wasn't much of an adjustment for NT writers to believe in a divine messiah.
Christian apologists refer to certain prooftexts like Isa 9:6, and that's a valid appeal. However, too much emphasis on Isa 9:6 can be misleading, as if it's rare for the OT to anticipate a divine messiah.
But that overlooks a common OT motif. In the OT generally, there's the oft-repeated story of a coming prince. He is the crown prince. The heir apparent. The royal son of his regal father.
There are many versions of this story in the OT. And all of them imply a divine messiah. In the story, the king stands for God. Hence, the prince stands for God's son.
A son succeeds his father because he is most like his father. No one else is more like, or even as much like, a man than his son.
But in this story, the king is divine–which makes the son divine. There's a necessary and essential parity between the nature of the reigning monarch, and the nature of the heir who takes his place, or reigns alongside him.
According to Keith Parsons:
What is also needed is a new and compelling narrative, one that can compete with and defeat the narrative of ISIS and other hateful ideologies…What kind of idealistic message is needed? Well, obviously it must be Islamic. Only Islam can defeat Islamist fanaticism. - See more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2015/12/16/message-to-moderate-muslims/#sthash.JGmu7OCK.dpuf
So a militant atheist like Parsons thinks only Islam can defeat Islamist fanaticism. That's an ironic concession from an atheist. By his own admission, atheism can't defeat jihadism, Only a better version of Islam can.
And Parsons is half right: it takes a powerful religion to defeat a powerful religion. That's because religion has a fundamental appeal that atheism does not. You can't beat something with nothing.
And that means only Christianity can defeat Islam. A superior religious ideology. Better ideas. And, especially, grace.
Even if some Muslims found atheism persuasive, that only cuts Islam at the root, without planting something better in its place.
Of course, that doesn't negate the need for a military defense.
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Here's Ben Shapiro's report card on the latest GOP presidential debate:
Shapiro is usually a good read. However, I don't quite agree with his grading criteria. Mind you, he doesn't really explain what his criteria are. It's basically assumed.
There are different kinds of debate. Take a formal debate. Both sides agree on the question to be debated. The wording is important, because that determines the burden of proof.
In a debate like that, which side won or lost is based, not on which side was right or wrong, but which side did a better job of discharging their respective burden of proof. Which debater was more logical. Marshalled prima facie evidence for his position. Answered objections.
Suppose you had a debate between an atheist and a Christian. In principle, the atheist could win even though he's dead wrong, because winning and losing isn't about truth and falsehood, but how well you meet the burden of proof.
Take another kind of debate: oral arguments before the Supreme Court. The Solicitor General defends the position of the administration while a state attorney general defends state law. Now, they may privately disagree with their client. They may use arguments they don't believe. They're not representing their own position, but the client's position. They argue on behalf of the client. You grade their performance by how well or badly they field questions from the bench.
In principle, and often in practice, they may be completely insincere. They don't necessarily–or even typically–believe what they say.
Now compare that to presidential debates. That's more like a job interview. Competing applicants for the same job. What you should listen for is not so much who did the best job in the debate, but who'd do the best job as president. The criteria are very different.
In a presidential debate, unlike a formal debate (see above), having the right position on the issues is very important. And unlike lawyers who can argue both sides of a case, in a presidential debate, the candidate's sincerity is very important. Does he intend to keep his campaign promises?
It doesn't matters which contender is the best debater, but which contender would make the best candidate, and/or the best president.
For instance, Adlai Stevenson was a much better public speaker than Ike. Stevenson wrote great speeches. But I daresay Ike was a much better peacetime president than Stevenson would have been. Our enemies feared Ike. He wasn't the kind of guy they dared to put to the test.
Reagan was over the hill when he ran against Carter. More so when he ran against Mondale. On the merits, he lost his debates with Carter and Mondale. They were sharper. Better informed. Yet he had a much better vision for American domestic and foreign policy than they did.
By the same token, Reagan was bad a press conferences while Bill Clinton excelled at press conferences. Yet Reagan was a fine president while Clinton was a dreadful president.
For all his manifest limitations, Bush 43 was a better president, especially on domestic policy, then Al Gore or John Kerry would have been. That's despite the fact that Kerry, for one, bested Bush in their debates.
It's funny how many supporters think Trump is a tough guy because he talks tough. But Trump is a creme puff. He was born into a creme puff existence. He's led a creme puff existence all his life.
His penthouse suite looks like the interior of Versailles. There's an elevator from his bedroom to his boardroom. If he leaves Trump Tower, he takes a helicopter, or a limousine to a private jet, which flies him to a casino. The closest he ever got to the outback was a golf course.
He leads a satin sheet life. If he ever had to sleep on cotton sheets, he'd bleed to death.
Nicky Cruz is way tougher than Trump. Tom Skinner was tougher than Trump. Heck, Ronda Rousey is tougher than Trump. Voting for Trump is like electing a chocolate eclair to be Commander-in-Chief.
Trump talks about bombing ISIS to smithereens. At the risk of showing my age, I heard that kind of rhetoric during the Vietnam War. LBJ, Bob McNamara, and Gen. Westmoreland were going to win that war by bombing the Viet Kong to smithereens.
This is a sequel to my previous post:
Is there any evidence for the existence of shapeshifters? Does Scripture speak to that issue? This is of some potential relevance to Christian missionaries who minister to people-groups where traditional witchcraft is prevalent.
i) There are OT passages which suggest angels can materialize. Assume physical form.
ii) Ps 91:5 might allude to the night hag. However, the passage is poetic.
iii) Isa 13:21 & 34:14 may allude to desert wraiths, night hags, and goat-demons. However, the language could be mythopoetic.
iv) The OT bears witness a pagan cult of goat-demons (Lev 17:7; cf. 2 Kgs 23:8; 2 Chron 11:15). And that may lie in the background for the aforesaid passages in Isaiah.
That, however, doesn't testify to their existence, but to a type of idolatry.
v) Mt 12:43 refers to desert demons, although that may be picturesque rather than literal.
So I'd say all these passages are neutral on the question of whether shapeshifters exist.
vi) Finally, you have the identity of Azazel in Lev 16. It's difficult to determine what that refers to. On one interpretation, Azazel is a desert demon. And it would be tempting for Israelites in the Sinai to placate a desert demon with an offering. The obvious problem with that explanation is that Lev 17:7 explicitly forbids that very practice.
A variation of that interpretation is not that the scapegoat an offering to Azazel. Rather, because the nature of the scapegoat is to be sent away, it will enter the domain of Azazel. That's a side-effect of the offering, rather than the intention of the offering. An incidental consequence. But the passage is admittedly obscure.
In sum, I'd say the Scriptural evidence is inconclusive. It allows for the possible existence of shapeshifters, but doesn't attest their existence.
Certainly many things are possible on a Biblical worldview that are impossible on a naturalistic worldview. Of course, what's possible and what's actual are two different things.
What about extrabiblical evidence for shapeshifters? The most reputable evidence I've run across is from psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, describing two of his patients, whom he exorcised:
I still did not know precisely when and why Beccah had become possessed. I knew that around age six she had developed an abnormal attraction to a book of woodcuts that told one version of the pact with the devil story. M. Scott Peck, Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist’s Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption (Free Press 2005), 214-15.
The extraordinary amount of restraint required was one of the less remarkable features of the exorcism. The most remarkable was the change in the appearance of Beccah’s face and body. Except during break times and a few other occasions when Satan would seemingly be replaced by Beccah, she did not appear to be a human being at all. To everyone present, her entire face became like that of a snake. I would have expected it to be the usual kind of poisonous snake with a triangular head, but that was not the case. The head and face of this snake were remarkably round. The only exception to this roundness was its nostrils, which had a distinct snub-nosed look. Most remarkable of all were the eyes. They had become hooded, ibid. 173.
During another appointment, again for but a minute, Beccah’s face appeared to be that of a very dry, thick-skinned, lizardlike creature—possibly an iguana. Definitely a reptile but nothing like a snake. ibid. 225.
On a related note, I'm reminded of Michael Sudduth's experience:
My two years in Windsor, Connecticut deepened my long-standing and recently re-wakened interest in survival. Within a couple of days of moving into the early Federal-style home built by Eliakim Mather Olcott in 1817, my wife and I (and dog) began to experience a combination of prototypical haunting and poltergeist phenomena. Although we critically investigated the various phenomena as they occurred, we were unable to trace the phenomena to natural causes. Given the fairly astonishing nature of some of the phenomena, my curiosity about our experiences peaked and I began research into the history of the home and the experiences of its former residents. This led to what has been a ten-year long investigation, including interviews with former residents, visitors to the home, and acquaintances of residents as far back as the 1930s. My inquiry turned up testimony from several prior occupants to experiencing phenomena identical, even in detail, to the phenomena my wife and I experienced. What I found equally fascinating, though, was the fact that occupants of the home prior to 1969, including long-term residents, claimed not to have experienced anything unusual. 1969 was the year resident Walter Callahan Sr. committed suicide in the home. In this way, the pattern of experiences surrounding the home fit a more widespread pattern in which ostensibly place-centered paranormal phenomena are associated with a suicide or other tragic event at the location.
Likewise, I read a book a while back about an Eskimo community that relocated to ancient burial grounds, where witchdoctors were interred. According to the anthropologist who wrote the book, based on her extensive contact, that gave rise to hauntings. Cf. Edith Turner, The Hands Feel It.
Finally, a friend shared some anecdotes from Reddit. Whether or not we find these credible depends on how we evaluate testimonial evidence in general:
My grandmother on my mothers side has always been very superstitious, for lack of better word, she's not religious, but she does believe in a lot of paranormal stuff.
Her mother was full blooded Navajo and her father was Irish. Either way, she'd never been anywhere East of Montana and she grew up in Nevada.
One year, when I was in grade school, we went to visit her, most of the visit was pretty uneventful, typical boring old people stuff, except she always kept her curtains drawn shut and would always peek out the window and when someone asked what she was doing, she would simply reply " Yenaldlooshi is watching me"
This went on for nearly the entire visit until a few days before we were due to leave, My grandma and my (then) baby brother (he's 19 now lol) were in the front yard that evening, planting flowers when all of a sudden, my grandmother starts shouting "Insert little brothers name here get away from that creature! It's not safe!" of course, being in Nevada, we all assumed that my brother had found a scorpion or a rattle snake, so we all run outside, to see my Grandmother clutching my little brother and shaking in terror against the side of the house, standing out in the yard, was a large, black, great-Dane sized dog, it was staring at my grandmother with an intensity I'd never seen before. It looked up at us, gave a little huff and bounded off, I don't remember if it moved unusually fast or not, but do remember it had really deep yellow eyes.
When my mother asked my grandmother what had happened, she kept repeating " The Yenaldlooshi has found me". She moved a couple weeks after that.
Anybody that has been on the Navajo reservation has either probably heard of some creepy things or have experienced pretty creepy things. Namely skinwalkers. I have only seen one. Here is my story. I come from a small town in northern Arizona that's sandwiched between the Paiute reservation to the north and the U.S.'s largest Navajo reservation to the south. My high school being so small (a 1A high school that has, on average, 80 students enrolled every year.) always had to travel south about 5-10 hours one way to play another high school in any sport. This means that we traveled A LOT on the Navajo rez. And we also usually stayed at hotels when we would head out to play and come home in the morning but this trip was a little bit different. I remember the basketball coach saying that the school didn't have enough money to put up the teams in a hotel that trip so we were going to be on the road for a total of about 12 hours. I was the only male senior to play basketball that season. We had just got done playing our game and headed home on our bus "Big Blue." We were headed out and it wasn't long, about 2 hours of driving, before we had entered the rez. By this time, everyone was asleep with it being about 2 in the morning. When we had crossed the rez's border I noticed the bus driver had sped up and was now going about 85 mph. I thought this was a little weird because he never exceeded the speed limit, at least not in my high school career. For some reason, I couldn't fall asleep like the rest of my teammates, and I just sat at the back of the bus staring out across the desolate desert landscape that was lit up by the full moon. As I looked out, I could see a figure running towards the bus at an angle of pursuit...and keeping up with the bus at 85 mph. As the figure got closer I saw that it was a humanoid form. As a matter of fact it looked exactly like a human, only that the face was painted half black and half white with glowing eyes. Glowing eyes like a rabbit's eyes reflecting light from a spotlight. I immediately thought, "Holy crap! It's a skinwalker!!" The skinwalker ran up to the edge of the road and just kept up pace with the bus hurdling sage brush and rocks while staring at me. After I made eye contact with the thing, I COULD NOT look away. It was as if something was holding my head and eyes in place. The skinwalker just smiled at me this inhuman smile that went ear-to-ear, showing crooked, yellow, pointed teeth. I felt like I was going to throw up and I was panicking through the whole ordeal. The skinwalker started to crumple down on to all fours, still keeping up with the bus. I could see his bones crack and reform, hair started appearing all over the skinwalker's body and in about 3 seconds was now a coyote and it ran off back into the desert out of view. As soon as it was gone, I ran to the onboard bathroom and puked a mixture of food and blood. I didn't want to tell anyone for fear they would think I was crazy. I confided in my Navajo friend. She told me that I needed to see the chief, who also happened to be a friend of mine, and get a blessing. I saw him the next school day in the parking lot. He just came up to me and mumbled something in Navajo while waving a feathered scepter-like thing, turned around, got in his truck and drove away. To this day, I haven't seen another skinwalker. It might be due to the fact I moved away from that town and rez, and, if I do have to go south, I go around...WAY around.
I was about 15-16 years old and walking home from a friends place at about 2-3 O'clock in the morning with the friend I was living with at the time. My mate was pushing a BMX and we were just talking and laughing as we walked home. All of a sudden we saw what looked like 2 very large Greyhounds jump over a set of mailboxes at some flats (apartments) and landed in the middle of the road. The mailboxes appeared to be about 1.5 meters tall and about 5-6 meters from the road.
At the moment I thought it was a little strange but kept watching them. What I witnessed was something I will never forget in my life. The 2 "Greyhounds" as they ran down the road appeared to both stand up on their hind legs and morph into a much bigger much beefier being of which I can only describe to be looking like a "Yowie" which I guess is the equivalent to a Sasquatch to our friends from American and other countries. These "Yowies" both ran around a corner about 200 meters in the direction we came and we both sat there dumbfounded. A few seconds later we heard what sounded like a small female child scream in terror. Keeping in mind it was around 3am in the morning and there were no children out. We both looked at each other in horror without saying a word I jumped on the handle bars on the bike and he peddled that bike non stop all the way home about 2 kilometers away.
Larry Hurtado, commenting on Peter M. Head, “‘Witnesses between You and Us’: The Role of Letter-Carriers in 1 Clement, in Studies on the Text of the New Testament and Early Christianity: Essays in Honor of Michael W. Holmes on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, eds. Daniel M. Gurtner, Juan Hernandez and Paul Foster (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 477-93:
I’ve argued elsewhere that it was the presence of the Roman “honor” system that gave the Roman church its own sense of importance. Details like this help us to flesh that out – not only in terms of “who” was in the church, but “what” they were doing, and “why” they were doing it.
See also: Background on the ancient Roman church.
After reviewing major matters widely accepted about the letter among scholars, Head focuses on the named individuals who were apparently sent with this letter from the Roman church to the Corinthian church: Claudius Ephebus, Valerius Bito, and Fortunatus (1 Clem. 65:1). He argues (cogently to my mind) that they are not simply letter-carriers, but important emissaries of the Roman church, who likely had a role in amplifying further the concerns of those who sent them, and may have been intended to have a role also in the resolution of the problem in the Corinthian church.
With previous scholars, Head notes also that the names of these individuals suggest that Claudius Ephebus and Valerius Bito were likely freedmen of the imperial household. Their names reflect the family name of Claudius (emperor, 41-54 AD) and his wife Messalina (from the family of Valerius). Such individuals would have had “a prominent social position” (492), illustrating the early inroads Christianity was beginning to make in somewhat higher levels of Roman society.
I’ve argued elsewhere that it was the presence of the Roman “honor” system that gave the Roman church its own sense of importance. Details like this help us to flesh that out – not only in terms of “who” was in the church, but “what” they were doing, and “why” they were doing it.
See also: Background on the ancient Roman church.
Here's an important review of a fairly recent book on the OT canon:
By the end of the first century, he [Lim] concludes, there is a rabbinical canon of the Pharisees, which is not closed until sometime between 150–250 c.e..
Building on a theory first proposed by John Collins about two decades ago, Lim argues that the canon represents a political triumph of the main sect within Judaism that survived the tumultuous post-70 c.e. years within Palestine. The Pharisaic party represented the majority of Jewish survivors from the Roman holocaust and as a result their collection of authoritative texts became the canon. Other collections of authoritative literature simply perished since the sects or groups associated with them did not survive. The resulting canon was that of the victors.
This raises several issues:
i) We need to distinguish between the date at which that collection became the standard canon for the Pharisees, and the date at which that collection became the standard canon for Jews in general. Even if we grant that the Pharisaic canon only became the official canon of rabbinical Judaism in the 2-3C AD, that canon antedates 70 AD. The Pharisaic canon preexists its dominance. Its origins go back to an earlier time. So the date of the Pharisaic canon is much older than the date at which it became dominant–even on Lim's construction.
ii) According to Lim, the Pharisaic canon became the official canon by default. It was the last man standing after the dust settled (as it were). The rival canons of rival Jewish sects perished when the sects that sponsored them perished.
Whether you think that's a problem depends, in part, on whether you think the canon is just a sociological phenomenon or historical accident. In other words, if methodological atheism is your frame of reference, then which canon won or lost is the luck of the draw. The victorious canon has no intrinsic authority in contrast to rival collections. It isn't special, isn't more deserving, then rival canons that perished.
If, on the other hand, you believe in divine providence, then might be God was using the historical process to winnow the wheat from the chaff.
iii) There's some ambiguity in referring to other collections that perished. If they weren't preserved, then how do we know that they differed from the Pharisaic canon? How do you determine the content of a collection that didn't survive?
iv) There's nothing necessarily suspect or unsettling about the existence of rival canons. For instance, in church history you have heretical groups that produce their own canon (e.g. Gnostics, Mormons, Swedenborgians, Christian Science). They may not reject the received canon outright. Rather, their sectarian literature supplies a filter that reinterprets the received canon.
That's no reason to doubt the legitimacy of the received canon, or the illegitimacy of competing canons. Rather, that's to be expected. There's a perennial tug of war between truth and error, orthodoxy and heresy.
Moreover, the only reason that this Pharisaic canon remains open is because there remained a question about the authority of certain books. But there have always remained questions about canonical books and this need not imply an open canon.
That point is often overlooked in discussions of canonicity. The fact that ever book in the received canon aren't equally well attested doesn't mean the canon is open. The closure of the canon creates a boundary between books inside the canon and books outside the canon. But that doesn't mean all books inside the canon enjoy the same level of evidence or theological significance. The canon can have "border" states. Yet documents outside the canon may have even weaker claims than the weakest claimants inside the canon.
This evidence confirms the essential thesis, but it needs to be emphasized that from the various collections there was no unilinear progress from the many collections to the one canon. “Rather, there were the many collections and then there was the majority canon. Once sectarianism disappeared, so did the variety of collections” (p. 186).
In other words, you don't have a general evolution towards official collections. Rather, certain collections are already in place early on. It's just a question of which collection or whose collection. As OT books were being composed, you'd have a growing canon. Collections of collections, as a later collection incorporated the former collection, but updated that collection to include newer books. But once all the "OT" books were written, that process would naturally come to a halt.
The reviewer then makes a number of other worthwhile observations:
If Scripture itself is used to help determine the authority of biblical books, why not at least consider some other evidence within the text itself, e.g., that Chronicles begins with Adam, who initiates Genesis, and ends with a quotation at the beginning of Nehemiah, thus comprehending the entire canon in summary form. Moreover, many scholars now recognize the extent of canon-conscious editing of the biblical text, in which superscriptions have been added to books stressing divine authority, and also editorial additions which organize collections of books.
I am left with some other misgivings about the book. First, Lim claims that there is no evidence for a temple library or archive, which would have contained a collection of canonical books. But there is no question that sacred space in the Hebrew Bible itself was a location for sacred texts. Lim's description of the scroll during Josiah's time as a book of reform and not a canonical book is questionable (pp. 32–33). Would a book of reform cause the king to rip his clothes in grief? The fact that this book was used to institute widespread reform in Judah shows its authority. Moreover, the fact that “canonical books” were not popular or were abandoned or lost may say something more about the people at the time than the books. On the other hand, in times of spiritual renewal, I find it difficult to accept that a religion which revered the holy words of God would not have had a special place for the creation, preservation, and transmission of divinely inspired documents in its holiest sanctuary. The books which later made up the Hebrew Bible itself cry out for such an explanation. Where else would there be the necessary infrastructure for their production and their preservation? In this regard, a recent important work by Tim Stone notes the coincidence of lists of canonical books after the destruction of the temple. There was no need for listing them before since enumeration and order were assumed.
Second, what might be said about the evidence of biblical manuscripts from Qumran? The majority of them are proto-MT manuscripts. How does one explain this? Where does this tradition come from which reflects the text type of the majority canon—the canon of the winners? Emmanuel Tov has argued in the past that such a text type probably derives from scribal circles associated with the temple, and this of course implies canon. This makes a lot of sense. Lim questions why a rabbinic tradition which mentions the authoritative function of standard Torah scrolls in the temple for establishing readings for the Torah might infer canonization. He concludes that “in establishing a standardized text, they were not fixing the extent of the scriptural collection” (p. 34). But this is to confuse the effect with the cause. Why would temple scribes be concerned with text-critical matters for these books? Probably because there already was a scriptural collection. Moreover, what about pre-first century c.e. Greek manuscripts which have been corrected to the MT? Does this not reflect the importance of a particular text type, which itself implies canon?
Finally, it is worth observing that in early Christian conflicts with Judaism there is never any debate about the extent and the content of the canon, only its meaning. In my judgment this is telling.
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed will appeal to many people. Fischer is an enjoyable writer with a knack for metaphor and honest candor. And I suspect many will find in his honest reflections permission to admit their own doubts and questions with Calvinism.
At the same time, I suspect this book will frustrate many more people because of what they take to be unfair and ultimately unsustainable critiques of Calvinist theology. And I have some sympathy with those frustrated readers. While Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed is barely more than one hundred pages, its brevity and loosely narratival structure cannot excuse it from presenting arguments that do not hold up under scrutiny.
To note just one problem, I am unpersuaded that Fischer’s appeals to libertarian freedom and transworld depravity are adequate to exonerate God from ordaining “the godforsaknness of the reprobate”. I’ll put it this way: In world 1, my daughter freely chooses Christ and is thereby elect. In world 2, my daughter freely rejects Christ and is thereby reprobate. How can I possibly understand the love of God if he elects to actualize world 2 rather than world 1? This question may be answerable, but it shows that Arminians don’t have things nearly as easy as the reader if this book might think.
This IS a familiar story, for many who have similarly embraced Calvinism at one point and then rejected it for similar reasons. But as you charge, there is a sense of being stuck with the same problems when you end up a Molinistic Arminian. Let me just toss out there that it seems to me that some version of open theism is the next logical step along the familiar trajectory...
Randal Rauser Mod
That's one direction one can go. But it isn't much good where providence and evil are concerned. God need not have meticulous foreknowledge to prevent every evil: meticulous knowledge of the present (combined with divine lightning-fast reflexes) would surely be sufficient to stop most, if not all, evils. And yet, the open theist God still allowed the Final Solution to unfold over several years.
This is a sequel to my previous post:
Let's use high school stereotypes to cross-contextualize the parable.
On the one hand, there's the quarterback. Most popular kid in school. Big, buff, strong, tall, hunky and handsome. Looks like a Greek statue that stepped off the pedestal. Drives a sports car. Girls stand in line for the chance to date him. He's banking on a football scholarship to get into college. No shortage of offers. After that the NFL. Product endorsements. Sports commentator.
On the other hand, there's the geek. Smartest kid in school. Has a free ride to MIT (even though he will drop out halfway through college to start the newest Fortune 500 company at age 20).
But he's overweight. Wears glasses. Bad hair. Hopeless at sports. Hopeless around girls.
The QB makes fun of the geek in the locker room. Whenever the QB and the geek approach the same door at the same same time, the QB pushes him aside and goes in first. When the geek is standing in line, the QB cuts right in front of him, just to show who's boss. Big dog puts little dog in his place.
One day the school counselor has a message for the QB: his G.P.A. is below what's needed to receive that coveted scholarship. He's failing in math, science, computer science.
The QB needs help. Fast! Somebody to tutor him. Get his grades up. And guess who he turns to?
It's very demeaning for the QB to have to ask the geek for a favor. He never imagined that he'd find himself in that position.
For his part, the geek has a choice: he could refuse. Payback. This is his chance to make the QB suffer for all the indignities he made the geek endure.
But instead, the geek decides to be a friend to the desperate, chastened QB. As a result, the QB comes to respect the geek. Protect the geek.
During summer break, the QB takes the geek with him to the gym. Shows him how to get in shape. They go jogging together. The QB teaches him karate, to give him more self-confidence. Gives him some grooming tips. Pays for contacts.
When Fall quarter starts, the geek is transformed. Girls swoon in the hallway when he walks by. And just hanging out with the QB instantly elevates his social status in the high school pecking order.
Or, if you prefer a love story to a buddy flick, the geek could be the ugly duckling schoolgirl whom the QB unexpectedly falls head over heels for (much to the consternation of his former girlfriend, the head cheerleader) after they spend so much time together as she gets him up to speed on math, science, and computer science.
Because the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) is often misused in political discourse, I'll make a few exegetical observations.
The parable employs a reflection symmetry (i.e. left/right reversal), where the application of the story is the mirror image of the story. The immediate context involves the question of how members of the ingroup (e.g. Jews) should treat members of the outgroup.
The historic setting involves a conversation between Jesus and a Jewish questioner. Of course, the audience for Luke's Gospel is Christian, so the parable has wider implications.
We'd expect Jesus to tell the story of a Jew showing neighborly love to an outsider. That would be a straightforward answer to the question.
Instead, Jesus flips it around by telling the story of an outsider showing neighborly love to a Jew. (I assume the default identity of the victim is a Jew.)
Why does Jesus do that? It's one thing for a Samaritan to need the assistance of a Jew, quite another thing for a Jew to need the assistance of a Samaritan. To receive help at the hands of a Samaritan would be humiliating. Something a Jew would normally avoid. But in his extremity, he has no choice. Since his countrymen refuse to come to his rescue, he must settle for the Samaritan.
The application is in reverse of the story. Although the immediate point of the story is to illustrate how religious insiders (Jews, Christians) should treat religious outcasts (Samaritans, pagans), the story itself depicts a religious outcast caring for a religious insider.
So when we attempt to apply the parable, we need to distinguish between analogues inside the story and analogues outside the story. Who stands for what inside the story in contrast to who stands for what outside the story. Because the structure is a reflection symmetry, you can't directly analogize from the story to the application. That's not how they match up.
Here's one modern-day parallel. Suppose you have a white supremacist who normally avoids minority doctors. But he has a child who becomes deathly ill. The child requires medical intervention. But the only available physician at the ER is a minority (e.g. Black, Asian, East Indian).
Ordinarily, the white supremacist would turn down assistance from a minority. But because the stakes are so high in this situation, he relents. On the one hand, the physician condescends to treat a patient whose father despises him. On the other hand, the father swallows his pride to accept assistance from someone who's "beneath" him. Now he finds himself in the subordinate position.
The general point of the story is that true neighbor love obligates us to help someone in need regardless of customary markers that distinguish members of the ingroup (your own group) from members of the outgroup. But Jesus makes an additional point by skewering Jewish pride–which, of course, has many non-Jewish analogues.
This is a radical ethic, because traditionally, many humans don't care about what happens to members of the outgroup.
At the same time, we can't make the parable prove things it wasn't intended to prove. In the parable, the victim is not a terrorist. The muggers are the terrorists.
The parable concerns our prima facie social obligations. In the parable itself, you don't have competing obligations. It's not a parable about how to treat muggers, but how to treat the victim of muggers.
It doesn't address the question of what the Samaritan should do if he arrived on the scene at an earlier point when the crime was in progress. That might well demand a different kind of intervention.
In the parable, the victim's life was in danger because he was injured and incapacitated. But, of course, you can have a situation in which a potential victim is in danger, unless someone forcibly intervenes to protect him or her. Yet the parable is silent on that scenario. It doesn't address that question one way or the other.
"For the words of the Scriptures are our spiritual weapons; but if we know not how to fit those weapons and to arm our scholars rightly, they keep indeed their proper power, but cannot help those who receive them. For let us suppose there to be a strong corselet, and helm, and shield, and spear; and let one take this armor and put the corselet upon his feet, the helmet over his eyes instead of on his head, let him not put the shield before his breast, but perversely tie it to his legs: will he be able to gain any advantage from the armor? will he not rather be harmed? It is plain to any one that he will. Yet not on account of the weakness of the weapons, but on account of the unskillfulness of the man who knows not how to use them well. So with the Scriptures, if we confound their order; they will even so retain their proper force, yet will do us no good. Although I am always telling you this both in private and in public, I effect nothing, but see you all your time nailed to the things of this life, and not so much as dreaming of spiritual matters. Therefore our lives are careless, and we who strive for truth have but little power, and are become a laughing stock to Greeks and Jews and Heretics. Had ye been careless in other matters, and exhibited in this place the same indifference as elsewhere, not even so could your doings have been defended; but now in matters of this life, every one of you, artisan and politician alike, is keener than a sword, while in necessary and spiritual things we are duller than any; making by-work business, and not deeming that which we ought to have esteemed more pressing than any business, to be by-work even." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On John, 30:2)
A personal anecdote by John Piper:
Or under this definition of the gift of prophecy it was probably the gift of prophecy last Sunday when I pointed to downtown Minneapolis and said (apart from what was in my notes), “A Bible study on the 36th floor of the IDS Tower with well-to-do business men is not mercy ministry, but it is crucial and valuable and necessary.” A woman came up to me after that service with joy in her face saying that she was visiting this morning and just that week had had a meeting with well-to-do businessmen on the 36th floor of the IDS tower about a ministry possibility and she came hoping for encouragement in the venture. She took it as an encouragement from the Lord.
Monday, December 14, 2015
Did I. H. Marshall go to heaven when he died? Before SEA accuses me of damning Arminians and dispatches the flying monkeys to arrest me, that's not where my question is headed.
Rather, how would Jerry Walls and his fan club answer that question? Would Walls and his fanboys say Marshall is cooling his heels in purgatory for the next few decades? How much remedial punishment must Marshall undergo before he's presentable to the saints in heaven?
Perhaps we now need an Arminian Tetzel to expedite Marshall's purgation. Having rehabilitated purgatory, is Walls working on a theology of indulgences to fast-track the process?
“I have come to believe that, while the case is not an unproblematic certainty, there is … evidence from the Gospels, Acts, and especially Paul’s letters that indicate that Paul may well have met Jesus during their common time together in Palestine, so that, when Paul encountered the risen Jesus on the way to Damascus, he recognized the person and voice and knew who was calling him… I have also come to believe that the encounter or encounters with Jesus that Paul had before the Damascus road experience had a positive formative influence upon Paul and his thinking… I believe and will argue that the influence was significant enough so that when Paul embarked upon his own Christian missionary and teaching ventures, there was a much stronger line of continuity between the teaching of Jesus and that of Paul than many, especially highly critical, scholars wish to admit.”