Monday, September 21, 2020

The Perennial Jewish Corroboration Of Christianity

What's below are some comments from Augustine on Jewish corroboration of Christianity. Notice that he was writing about 1600 years ago and that his comments are applicable to every century of the church's history. We're sometimes told that people didn't have much evidence for Christianity during most of church history, as if people had little evidence for the religion between the earliest years of the history of the church and the modern era. Supposedly, recent developments in fields like archeology and historical scholarship have brought about a major change. Those who lived in the medieval era, for example, allegedly didn't have much evidence to go by. It's true that they had significantly less evidence than we have, but they had more than is often suggested. Augustine is addressing a significant line of evidence for Christianity that's existed throughout church history:

"Indeed, it is a great confirmation of our faith that such important testimony is borne by enemies. The believing Gentiles cannot suppose these testimonies to Christ to be recent forgeries; for they find them in books held sacred for so many ages by those who crucified Christ, and still regarded with the highest veneration by those who every day blaspheme Christ. If the prophecies of Christ were the production of the preachers of Christ, we might suspect their genuineness. But now the preacher expounds the text of the blasphemer. In this way the Most High God orders the blindness of the ungodly for the profit of the saint, in His righteous government bringing good out of evil, that those who by their own choice live wickedly may be, in His just judgment, made the instruments of His will. So, lest those that were to preach Christ to the world should be thought to have forged the prophecies which speak of Christ as to be born, to work miracles, to suffer unjustly, to die, to rise again, to ascend to heaven, to publish the gospel of eternal life among all nations, the unbelief of the Jews has been made of signal benefit to us; so that those who do not receive in their heart for their own good these truths, carry, in their hands for our benefit the writings in which these truths are contained. And the unbelief of the Jews increases rather than lessens the authority of the books, for this blindness is itself foretold. They testify to the truth by their not understanding it. By not understanding the books which predict that they would not understand, they prove these books to be true." (Reply To Faustus The Manichaean, 16:21)

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Non-Christian Fulfillment And Corroboration Of Christian Prophecies

I've been discussing different approaches we can take toward arguing for Christianity from prophecy. I want to expand on an approach that was mentioned in the post just linked. We can focus on prophecies fulfilled or corroborated by non-Christians. For example:

- Jesus' Bethlehem birthplace (Micah 5:2).
- His close association with Galilee (Isaiah 9:1).
- The arrival during the time of the Roman empire of a kingdom of God that would gradually grow over time (Daniel 2:34-35).
- The initial Jewish rejection of Jesus (Isaiah 49:7, 53:1-8, Zechariah 12:10).
- The scourging by the Romans (Isaiah 50:6).
- The crucifixion by the Romans (Psalm 22, Daniel 9:26, Isaiah 53:4-9).
- The empty tomb (Isaiah 53:9-11).
- The resurrection appearance to James (Isaiah 53:10-11).
- The resurrection appearance to Saul of Tarsus (Isaiah 53:10-11).
- The Romans' destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (Daniel 9:26).
- Jesus' popularity among the Gentiles (Isaiah 9:1, 42:6, 49:6, Daniel 2:35).
- His popularity among Gentile rulers (Isaiah 49:7, 52:15).
- Ongoing Jewish rejection (Zechariah 12:10, Romans 11:25-32).
- The prominence of Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:2-3).

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

How To Argue For Prophecy Fulfillment

In a post last year, I outlined how I think we should address issues of prophecy fulfillment by starting with the common ground we have with skeptics. Begin with fulfillments that are accepted by both sides. You could also grant much of what critics say about a prophecy for the sake of argument, such as that the passage isn't Messianic in its original context, but argue that Jesus' alignment with the passage in a typological or secondary manner is evidentially significant. And much of Jesus' alignment with the relevant passages comes from facts widely accepted even among non-Christians. I cited Isaiah's Servant Songs as an example of a good place to start. What I want to do here is discuss another approach that can be taken within the same framework.

Instead of using passages, like the Servant Songs, organize your material around topics. That allows you to appeal to material from more than one passage or series of passages. It's also easier in some ways for people to understand and remember the material involved if you take a topical approach. Here are some examples of the topics that could be used:

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Errors Of People Finding Errors In Scripture

Often, some of the best material in a book is found in its notes. Martin Hengel has a great line in a note in a book he wrote about the gospel of Mark. He's addressing modern critics who are overly dismissive of the author of the gospel of Mark because of alleged errors he made on matters like geography and Jewish customs:

"As many and as few mistakes are made in the Gospels as in monographs on the New Testament." (Studies In The Gospel Of Mark [Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003], n 51 on p. 148)

In the same note, he gives an example of a fellow New Testament scholar, apparently, who made a geographical error similar to the ones that are supposed to be in Mark:

"When I visited my distinguished colleague A. Kuschke (to whom I had dedicated the above article on his seventieth birthday) in Kusterdingen, south-east of Tübingen, we were able to admire Pfrondorf to the north, beyond the Neckar. A colleague who had lived for many years in Tübingen asked me, 'Is that beyond Wankheim?' 'No,' I had to tell him, 'it's in the opposite direction.'"

The house my mother is currently living in is the one where I spent most of my childhood. I lived there for a double-digit number of years, and I frequently go back there to visit. I can't name some of the streets closest to the house. There are many aspects of the topography, names of certain neighbors, etc. that I wouldn't be able to provide if asked. But critics often expect Mark to have a much higher level of knowledge about regions of Israel, like Galilee, where we have no reason to think he ever lived. As Hengel comments elsewhere in his book, "His 'deficient knowledge' of the geography of Galilee, which contemporary exegetes like to criticize, in fact simply shows up the [latter's] historical incomprehension: without a map it would be difficult even for a man of antiquity like Mark to establish his bearings in a strange area a good seventy miles from his home city" (46).

Hengel wasn't a conservative, and he wasn't an inerrantist, but he often agreed with conservatives and inerrantists on significant issues. And what he says above about the gospels is also relevant to criticisms that are often brought against the church fathers and other ancient sources. The evidence supports the inerrancy of scripture, and the supposed errors in Mark are often not seen as errors even by people who aren't inerrantists. But the points Hengel makes above should be kept in mind. Since inerrantists often argue for inerrancy by appealing to the general trustworthiness of the relevant documents, without yet appealing to their inerrancy, Hengel's points are relevant accordingly even for those wanting to persuade people to accept the inerrancy of scripture.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Greatness Of The Gospel

How we view the gospel affects our relationship with God, our relationships with other people, our priorities, our objectives, the sense of urgency we have, and many other aspects of life. It should be a foundational motivating factor every day of our lives. It's important that we have a high view of the gospel and think about it often, deeply, and in a multifaceted way. Here are some examples of authors down through the centuries commenting on certain portions of the gospel:

Faith Alone
He Gives Himself
The Incarnation
Gethsemane
Put On Trial
The Cross
The Tomb
The Resurrection
The Defeat Of Satan
Imputed Righteousness
The Benefits Of The Gospel

"An idea has long possessed the public mind, that a religious man can scarcely be a wise man. It has been the custom to talk of infidels, atheists, and deists, as men of deep thought and comprehensive intellect; and to tremble for the Christian controversialist, as if he must surely fall by the hand of his enemy. But this is purely a mistake; for the gospel is the sum of wisdom; an epitome of knowledge; a treasure-house of truth; and a revelation of mysterious secrets. In it we see how justice and mercy may be married; here we behold inexorable law entirely satisfied, and sovereign love bearing away the sinner in triumph. Our meditation upon it enlarges the mind; and as it opens to our soul in successive flashes of glory, we stand astonished at the profound wisdom manifest in it. Ah, dear friends! if ye seek wisdom, ye shall see it displayed in all its greatness; not in the balancing of the clouds, nor the firmness of earth's foundations; not in the measured march of the armies of the sky, nor in the perpetual motions of the waves of the sea; not in vegetation with all its fairy forms of beauty; nor in the animal with its marvellous tissue of nerve, and vein, and sinew: nor even in man, that last and loftiest work of the Creator. But turn aside and see this great sight!—an incarnate God upon the cross; a substitute atoning for mortal guilt; a sacrifice satisfying the vengeance of Heaven, and delivering the rebellious sinner. Here is essential wisdom; enthroned, crowned, glorified. Admire, ye men of earth, if ye be not blind; and ye who glory in your learning bend your heads in reverence, and own that all your skill could not have devised a gospel at once so just to God, so safe to man." (Charles Spurgeon, The C.H. Spurgeon Collection [Albany, Oregon: AGES Software, 1998], The Park Street Pulpit, Vol. 1, pp. 113-14)

Thursday, September 10, 2020

What Christians and atheists both get wrong about Intelligent Design

I recently had a conversation with a friend who brought up Intelligent Design (ID), and it reminded me of something I’ve mentioned several years ago. Given how much time has passed, I thought it was worth reiterating it now. And that is the strange fact that both atheists and Christians, especially Young Earth Creationists (YEC), both fall into the same error in thinking that ID requires the existence of God.  Atheists use this claim to argue that ID should not be taught in schools.  Christians tend to use ID as an apologetic to defend Creationism against Darwinism.

The problem is that when we see what ID claims, it’s nowhere near requiring a deity.  Put simply, ID states that the evidence we have for evolution does not make any sense if we hold to random processes causing it all.  Rather, the evidence that we see indicates that the way that organisms exist now makes sense only if they were designed to be specific ways.  That is, evolution only makes sense if it is teleological, not random.  (Teleological just means that it has an end or a goal in mind, something which Darwin specifically rejected.)

Now the temptation is that the intelligent designer of ID must be God, but that’s not actually what ID is saying.  ID is only saying that the evidence of what we see indicates that life on Earth has been designed by some form of intelligence.  Given that ID does not require a YEC view of time, this means that it is perfectly consistent with ID to limit the claims of ID strictly to something along the lines of, “The evolution of life on Earth over the past 4.5 billion years came about from an intelligent designer intending a specific outcome.”

Such a designer need not be any more intelligent than human beings already are.  In theory, if we wanted to do so, we could set up labs on Mars and grow some microscopic organisms, guiding their evolution in the lab by selecting certain breeds of organisms over others (the same as people already do for dogs and other animals), genetically modifying those that don’t have the required genetic sequences already in place to form new organisms, and we could release those organisms into the Martian wilderness.  We wouldn’t even really need a few billion years to tinker around with the life forms we’ve introduced there.  If we were to build up a sufficiently advanced life form that was able to be self-aware, and it surveyed its historical settings, looking at fossils left behind and so forth, our intelligent design of those life forms would look indistinguishable from how life forms came about on Earth, in this scenario.

Really, the only thing that is keeping humans from doing this right now is the fact that it takes a lot of time and money to get to Mars, and this isn’t something that very many people would want to spend those resources on.  But it’s easy to imagine an alien race very similar to human beings who might wish to tinker around on some planet.  They discover Earth and set up their labs on Earth, terraforming the planet and guiding the evolution of life until one day humans are on the planet.  Those aliens do not need to have any divine characteristics at all.  In fact, they could even by slightly stupider (on average) than human beings are, and still have a statistical chance of having enough smart aliens to pull off such a scenario.

And since ID is limited solely to the evolution of life on Earth, the fact that the evolution of life on Earth makes more sense from a teleological perspective than from a random perspective does not even imply the existence of God for the rest of the universe, because the aliens who created us may have come about from completely different methods.  Our evolution appears guided.  Perhaps if we saw the evidence of this hypothetical race’s origins, a completely different theory might be proposed that would not require God.

That is why ID is neither proof of the existence of God, nor should it be disbarred from being taught in schools.  It is also why Christian theists need to have better arguments against atheism (and the good news is, we do!).  Sure, ID can disprove Darwinism, but that doesn’t prove God when someone even slightly less intelligent than we are could replicate the results we see on Earth.  So while ID isn’t bad by any means, especially since it does help show how ludicrous Darwinism is, Christians need to be very wary about relying on ID as an apologetic silver bullet against materialistic Darwinists.

More Evidence Of The Evangelical Lack Of Urgency

I discussed the subject of urgency in a recent thread. It wasn't just about Evangelicals, but the lack of urgency among Evangelicals in particular came up. I cited a lot of evidence relevant to issues of urgency, such as polling data, but that can be supplemented by other evidence that's not as extensive as something like a poll.

I've done a lot of work in apologetics over the years, so I have more familiarity with that field than others. I've often written about the negligence of Evangelicals in apologetic contexts (and theological contexts, moral contexts, etc.), including a lack of appropriate urgency. See here regarding same-sex marriage. And here regarding Christmas issues. Here regarding the paranormal. Those are just a few of many examples that could be cited.

Something that people often do in a context like this is cite the work of William Lane Craig, James White, Michael Brown, and other individuals who are doing a lot of good in apologetics and other fields, as if the work of such individuals suggests that Evangelicals in general are doing well. It does no such thing. Rather, Evangelicals are overly dependent on a tiny minority of individuals who are expected to carry an inordinately large burden.

What are you doing? What specific plans do you have in place to accomplish significant things, in apologetics and elsewhere? How often do you speak up? How often do you do little or nothing more than sit back and wait for other people to do the work?

"Strange were it that the physician, or the shoemaker, or the weaver, in short all artists, should be able each to contend correctly for his own art, but that one calling himself Christian should not be able to give a reason for his own faith; yet those things if overlooked bring only loss to men's property, these if neglected destroy our very souls. Yet such is our wretched disposition, that we give all our care to the former, and the things which are necessary, and which are the groundwork of our salvation, as though of little worth, we despise. That it is which prevents the heathen from quickly deriding his own error. For when they, though established in a lie, use every means to conceal the shamefulness of their opinions, while we, the servants of the truth, cannot even open our mouths, how can they help condemning the great weakness of our doctrine? how can they help suspecting our religion to be fraud and folly? how shall they not blaspheme Christ as a deceiver, and a cheat, who used the folly of the many to further his fraud? And we are to blame for this blasphemy, because we will not be wakeful in arguments for godliness, but deem these things superfluous, and care only for the things of earth." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On John, 17:3-4)

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Dying Well As A Christian

One of the many things to be grateful to God for in the life of Steve Hays is how well his life ended. I've written about how he was active in doing apologetics and other important work until the end and how well his life concluded in other ways. As his obituary said, "What he lived by, he died by."

A few years ago, I wrote about some similar themes in the life of T.S. Mooney. You can read those posts here and here.

All of us should periodically review our lives and ask how well we're preparing for death.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

The Missing Urgency

Scripture says a lot about the urgency we should have in religious contexts. Our culture doesn't. Most likely, your closest relatives, friends, and acquaintances don't either.

They're too occupied with the "worries and riches and pleasures of this life" (Luke 8:14). The need for urgency is still there (Nehemiah 6:3, Psalm 39:4, 90:12, Hosea 5:15, Matthew 9:37-38, 24:42, Luke 12:20-21, John 4:35-38, 12:35, Romans 13:11-14, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, 2 Corinthians 6:1-2, Ephesians 5:16, Colossians 4:5, Hebrews 10:25, James 4:13-15, Revelation 2:16, 3:11, etc.).

"You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed." (Matthew 25:26)

Friday, September 04, 2020

Craig and Rasmussen on divine aseity and abstract objects

Some might be interested in the following discussion between William Lane Craig and Josh Rasmussen on divine aseity and abstract objects. I haven't watched it yet, and I doubt I'd entirely agree with either Craig or Rasmussen on the topics at hand, but I post it because it might be a thought-provoking discussion on subjects important in philosophical theology.

Asians coming to America to benefit from slavery?

Pastor Jim responds to another Asian-American pastor who made the highly tendentious claim:

What many Asian Americans fail to realize is that our success is largely built on the backs of African Americans themselves. After all, if African American slavery did not exist, the United States may not have been such a desirable country to immigrate to. It was through the enslavement of African Americans that American prosperity was built in the first place.

As an aside, it's interesting there has been an Asian presence in the US since at least the antebellum period. Mainly in California, but some arrived and settled in Hawaii in the early 1800s, though of course this was well before Hawaii became a US state. Many early Asian immigrants were contract workers on plantations and manual labor for railroads.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Michael Haykin

"A Biographical Sketch of Michael A.G. Haykin"

Jiang interviews Poythress

"Vern Poythress on the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, and Revelation with Chinese Subtitles"

"Former Psychopath Dr. David Wood Shares His Astounding Transformation Into Christian Apologist"

Just my own summary:

1. David Wood goes into some depth about his testimony or conversion with Eric Metaxas. It starts at approximately 32:30 with Wood meeting another inmate named Randy who was a Christian. Wood saw Randy always sitting in his bunk reading his Bible. Randy wouldn't do anything the other inmates were doing.

2. One day Wood told Randy he was only reading the Bible because Randy was born in the US. If Randy had been born in China, then he'd be Buddhist. If India, Hindu. If Saudi Arabia, Muslim. Wood also told Randy "people like you believe whatever you're told to believe". Wood had the same idea of Christianity that he had of objective morality - that it's just a false belief that people are told by others, which they accept, because they don't know how to think for themselves. I guess Wood's idea is that Randy is a sheep. Like everyone else. Except for Wood himself.

3. However, Randy was the first Christian to put up a fight against Wood and argue back against Wood. Randy challenged Wood. The most "annoying" thing for Wood was that Randy would constantly question everything Wood himself believed: "Where did you get your idea then?" And Wood couldn't respond to Randy. Other than with silence.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

"Is David Wood's mockery Christ-like?"

1. David Wood defends his satire of Muhammad and Islam (it looks like this was filmed before Wood's most recent "mockery" which involved the "desecration" of the Quran):

The above is an excerpt, but the complete video is here:

2. I left my own comments regarding Wood's latest "mockery" in Peter's previous post.

JIP and WCF

Paul Helm on J.I. Packer and the Westminster Confession of Faith. (There seem to be more than a few spelling and punctuation errors.)

Answering some questions on the theological foundations of modern science

"Answering Some Questions on the Theological Foundations of Modern Science" (James Anderson).

Chris Bolt's book is based on his doctoral dissertation "The World in His Hands: A Christian Account of Scientific Law and Its Antithetical Competitors" which is currently available to download for free via SBTS.

James Gibson

James Gibson, a Reformed Christian and former graduate student in philosophy, has a couple of interesting papers on his website.

Memento mori

Christina Shenvi recounts her husband Neil Shenvi's seizure, which led to the discovery of his brain tumor, which led to surgery, which led to timely reflection:

"Is daddy going to die?" My 10-year-old son looks up at me. Tears well up in his eyes. He looks anxiously back and forth from me to my husband. He's the spit and image of his dad, with dark brown hair, tan, quarter-Indian skin, and hazel eyes. We've just broken the news that the brain tumor, which has lain dormant for 8 years, is starting to grow again. The younger three kids look to their big brother and to us for their cues.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

A Tribute To John Burcombe


(This post will make some references to Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's Enfield tapes. I'll use "MG" to refer to tapes from Grosse's collection, and "GP" will refer to those from Playfair's. So, MG63B is Grosse's tape 63B, and GP40A is tape 40A in Playfair's collection.)

When the Hodgson family first realized that something paranormal was occurring in their home, they headed for the Burcombes' house. It was only after they noticed the lights on at the Nottinghams' house next door that they decided to go there instead. Though none of the Burcombes were present at the Hodgsons' house on the opening night of the case, the first people the Hodgsons thought to go to for help were John Burcombe and his family. They would often be a source of refuge for the Hodgsons as the poltergeist developed.

John Burcombe was the brother of Peggy Hodgson, and he had a reputation similar to his sister's:

Monday, August 31, 2020

Respecting the Unrespectable

My previous post about David Wood eating a portion of the Quran brought up some good discussion in the comments, and I wanted to bring out some of the key points here since I know there are some people who don’t read comments, and because this will help focus comments made on this post.  Thus far, the main Biblical passage being used against Wood’s tactics has been 1 Peter 3:15, with the focus being on the word “respect.”  So let’s examine the verse.

The first thing that should be noted is that 1 Peter 3:15 isn’t even a complete sentence.  It’s a portion of a sentence that, in the ESV, begins in the middle of verse 14 and goes to the end of verse 16.  The immediate context of the passage is Peter’s argument that if we are to suffer we should suffer for doing good, not for doing evil.  In establishing that context, Peter first asks: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” (1 Peter 3:13).  I have to take this as a rhetorical question since Peter knew Jesus suffered harm for being zealous for what is good, and he had suffered plenty at the hands of evil men.  That is why in the next verse he says, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed” (1 Peter 3:14a).  So Peter basically begins by showing that it is less likely for us to suffer if we are doing good than if we are doing evil, but if we do suffer for doing good then we are blessed.

It is in this context that he then says, “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:14b-16).  We will look at this sentence in more detail shortly below, but to confirm the context, immediately after this Peter writes: “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:17).

So the context of the passage is the same throughout.  The sentence we are interested in is sandwiched between two statements about being persecuted for doing good.  Thus, 1 Peter 3:15, far from being a text telling you how you should approach every apologetic encounter, is actually focused on what a Christian should do when he is being persecuted.  In addition to the context being related to persecution, the exact wording of the text is saying only that we should always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  This verse is not prescribing the way that you introduce the Gospel to another person, nor is it telling you how you should behave in your day to day life. It is telling you how to behave when someone asks you for the reason why you have hope, in the context of persecution.  And that makes sense, since without persecution, most people wouldn’t be curious as to why you have hope.  Hope in the face of persecution, on the other hand, is powerful.

Does this mean that we cannot expand from the immediate context and apply this to other contexts?  No, but it does mean that if you wish to apply this to other contexts then the onus is on you to provide a reason why the verse would apply to other arenas that it does not talk about in its own context.  In other words, 1 Peter 3:15 only says that we are to answer questioners—questioners who, in context, are persecuting us—with “gentleness and respect”.  The verse itself does not say that we are to treat every single person we come into contact with gentleness and respect—that needs to be argued for, not assumed.

Since people tend to miss things on controversial topics, let me be clear. I am not saying that this verse doesn’t apply to other contexts—I’m saying that if you wish to show that it applies to other contexts, you need to supply a reasonable argument making that case.  Simply saying, “1 Peter 3:15!” isn’t an argument.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Dark Side of Political Philosophy, and How it Led to the Growth and Development of Today’s “Political Left” Movement

(Updated August 30, 2020): On the topic of why I think that the Roman Catholic Church is a problem with respect to the “wokism” situation we see today, it is not simply that I think things like “the Mass”, the priesthood, the saints, had anything (or much) to do with it. Roman Catholicism is NOT just its religious trappings. It is not just its history. It is not just “the evils that it has done in history”. It is also a thought system of its own. It has adopted “philosophies” over time. It is in fact a collection of these things. More, as well, it was a “cause” against certain “effects” reacted. Today we see some “effects” in the form of the so-called “academic subject” called “intersectionalism” that reacts against “White European Males”. There is so much more.

In this article, originally dated February 2019, I began to make the philosophical connection.


I’ve been asked many times, “why do you think it’s the intellectuals who convert to Roman Catholicism, while many of those who don’t approach the topic from a so-called intellectual viewpoint tend in large measure to convert the other way, from Roman Catholicism to evangelicalism?”

It seems to me that the “intellectuals” (or those who would think of themselves in that way) are more philosophically savvy, and they tend toward logical and ordered systems such as Aristotelianism (and derivatively, Thomism). That is a definite draw.

However, I think that is wrong-headed in several important ways. To take just one example, in his “Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction”, Edward Feser outlines Kant’s “naturalist” assumptions and decides simply to ignore all of Kant (and what followed). He says (and I’ve added paragraph breaks to enhance readability):

Saturday, August 29, 2020

I See the Need for a Clearly Articulated Christian Worldview

Jason Engwer and I have been having some discussions in the comment threads from some of my recent blog posts about an idea, a hypothesis that I have been proposing, which involves a link between what the Roman Catholic Church of the past, and what “wokism” is and is doing in the present. He believes that it is not a good idea, not a good hypothesis, and I know that I have not provided a complete argument for it.

As I mentioned in the comments, I had been hoping to get some feedback with the intention that I would be able to work out my thoughts more fully. Jason would prefer that I not use Triablogue for that particular kind of thing, and of course I will defer to his wishes.

But I am interested in having a discussion.

As someone who is a conservative, Reformed, evangelical Christian, I am alarmed by recent trends in politics and culture, and I imagine that some of you are as well. Francis Schaeffer’s excellent question comes to mind: “how then should we live?” What role should Christians play in all of this? I have frequently in my life been a keen observer of politics. Other times, not so much, depending on what’s going on in my own life. I would imagine that’s true for most of you as well. I seem to be watching more closely these days.

As a writer, I am hugely aware that “words have meanings”. It should be evident to all that definitions are fluctuating almost by the day. Words and concepts such as “racism”, “anti-racism”, “justice”, “social justice”, even “liberal” and “conservative” get thrown about, and often, people today are using the same words, but using different definitions in their minds, and consequently while it looks as if they are having a conversation, in real life, they are talking at cross-purposes, and not having a genuine conversation at all.

The pure speed of conversation, through “social media” such as Twitter and Facebook enable us to see events, form opinions, and to dive into “discussions”, without even knowing the full details of a thing.

These are times, I believe, when people’s thoughts and concepts are in flux, and as a result, people are changing their ways of thinking. Some popular examples include someone like the former comedian Dave Rubin, who is a “gay” “married” “classical liberal” “atheist”, who recently has, through various discussions, found himself to be more apt to “believe there is a God” and to have a generally more conservative outlook in life.

The independent YouTube journalist Tim Pool, too, whom I watch, cut his teeth, so to speak, by “live streaming” news reports from the “Occupy Wall Street” protests from some years ago. Now he is watching closely as rioting is pretty much a constant thing in some Democrat-run cities, and though he considers himself a “social liberal”, in his commentaries, he currently despises the Democrats for allowing things, and he has placed himself firmly in the Trump column for this upcoming election.

Given that this is a time of flux, I believe that the times are ripe for, and needful of, a clearly articulated Christian worldview to make its way onto the public stage.


We can all see what the phenomenon that I am calling “wokism” is and is doing. It is having a profound effect on the national discussions, including everything from the rioting in cities, the role of police and police departments, the role of individuals (generally, a conservative viewpoint) vs the role of “aggrieved groups” (generally, a leftist viewpoint).

One reason for this may be found in academia. It is said (and many of you will be aware of this narrative) that anti-war protesters of the political left went into academia because of the draft deferrals that could be gained by following that path. They found movement there to be kind of “free and easy”, and over a few decades, new “fields of study” emerged, some legitimate, some not (in a parasitic kind of way) – “race studies”, “women’s studies”, “gender studies” – and concepts such as “intersectionality” and “anti-racism” have emerged. New methods, too, emerged. In the meanwhile, those in charge of some of these “studies” have found the concept of “Tenure” to be their ally, in the effort to spread these new lines of thought. Whole new moralities, and in fact, moralities pursued with religious fervor, seem to have taken root and bloomed to fruition before our eyes.

(For anyone who is interested, Roger Kimball is a constant and excellent observer of such things, and has documented the process in his work, “Tenured Radicals”.)

The subject matter is confused and confusing. Even the church is being caught up in things. When George Floyd was killed, I became involved in discussions with church members, and my pastor became involved. My church is located in a city area, where there are multiple college campuses, and inner-city churches nearby. The concept of “anti-racism” came to the forefront. The concept basically says, “if you’re not an anti-racist, you are a racist”. This of course involves definitions that have been changed, without us having been involved in the effort to change those definitions.

I found myself on the opposite side of the discussion from some church members who wanted to support the #BlackLivesMatter” movement. Of course as we have seen, that organization is owned and run and funded and staffed by self-described Marxists, and I just can’t see myself supporting anything that is Marxist.

That’s all for now. More later, Lord willing. Let me know if you have any comments or questions.

Friday, August 28, 2020

How Dare You!

I know I'm more than a week late to the party, but this might be one of the most important videos online now, and not just because I found out about it due to Nameless Apologist taking offense at yet another thing that Manly Men do.  I encourage you to watch the entire video to get the full context of David Wood's actions here, but it is a bit long.  If you don't have time to watch the whole thing, you should at least familiarize yourself with the immediate context starting around the 1:40:00 mark.  But for the portion everyone is interested in, begin around 1:49:00.

That's right, David Wood...oh wait, I almost forgot. DOCTOR David Wood--who went to an actually accredited university (as opposed to an "unaccredited online university")--ate a page he tore out of the Quran!

To be fair, he spat it out after chewing for quite some time so he didn't actually eat it.  

But now Doctor Wood is being attacked by the girlie men who are afraid the feels of those who wish to murder ex-Muslims, to violate their wives, and to do unspeakable things to their children might be pained by seeing the satanic verses that inspired them to engage in such depravity gnawed on.  Especially since Allah couldn't even be bothered to cut the good Dr. Wood's aorta in retaliation.

Yes, that's right. Nameless Apologist is once again upset, not by the depravity that the demonic book drives people to commit, but by the fact that Dr. Wood did not show respect toward that evil book.  Consistency is only virtuous when you're actually hitting the target though.

How dare Dr. Wood not show at least the same respect that King Josiah showed to the Asherah poles in 2 Kings 23:14!  How dare Dr. Wood not show the same reverence that King Hezekiah showed the pagan altars in 2 Chronicles 31:1!  I mean, Nameless Apologist does not wish for us to use the example of Elijah and how he treated the prophets of Baal--he was quite adamant on this point since, he boldly declares, our hearts are black and wicked and we're not prophets. So let Josiah and Hezekiah be our examples then! They were also not prophets, and their hearts were just as "black" as ours are, having been redeemed.

But but but 1 Peter 3:15 says respect!

Yeah, and "respect" must mean what Nameless Apologist declares it to mean and it must be applied 100% in all circumstances no matter what.  Yes.  But...how much respect did Paul show Peter in Galatians 2:11-14, opposing him to his face in a shame-based society?  

You're not the apostle Paul!

Okay, but clearly you can still see that respecting a person doesn't mean respecting their idols. Right? When someone views an evil text as sacred, it is not respecting them to give RESPECT to those evil scriptures!

But they'll eat the Bible in retaliation!

So?

You know, I realized something. David Wood is a hero. Girlie men are sobbing about it.

I think 2020 is getting back to normal.

The Political Papacy and its related Cancel Culture

The papacy has a long history of political illegitimacy, based on forgeries.

In the eighth century, Constantine was known primarily through the account of him in the legend of Pope Sylvester. In this he was incorrectly portrayed as an emperor who had persecuted Christianity until struck down with leprosy. On rejecting the suggestion of his pagan priests that he bathe in the blood of sacrificed babies, he had a vision of Saints Peter and Paul telling him to find Bishop Sylvester, who cured, healed and baptized him. Onto this core narrative was grafted the [false] claim that when Constantine subsequently decided to leave for the East, out of gratitude he entrusted Pope Sylvester with a set of imperial regalia, including a crown, and with the authority for himself and his successors to appoint an emperor in the West should circumstances ever require it. (Collins, Roger. Keepers of the Keys of Heaven: A History of the Papacy (p. 148). Basic Books. Kindle Edition).

The “Donation of Constantine”, cited above, and an ancillary “Constitution of Constantine” of course were forgeries, a fact that was not known until the late 1400s, but the documents were “probably not written until the ninth century” and “the ideas behind it were older and may have developed in the papal court”. “Their widespread acceptance enabled Leo to make Charles [Charlemagne] emperor on papal authority” (Collins, p. 150).

The nexus of politics and “the Church” was never so great as it was during the medieval years. According to Collins, “virtually every other Western emperor before the sixteenth century wanted papal coronation to legitimize his authority” (Collins, p. 150).

Many of you will have heard of the document Unam Sanctam , promulgated inn 1302, which concludes with the famous statement, “we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff”.

This is not a religious sentiment. It is a statement written to a King of France, and the reasoning is political:

For with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgement if it has not been good. Thus is accomplished the prophecy of Jeremias concerning the Church and the ecclesiastical power: ‘Behold to-day I have placed you over nations, and over kingdoms’ and the rest. Therefore, if the terrestrial power err, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a minor spiritual power err, it will be judged by a superior spiritual power; but if the highest power of all err, it can be judged only by God, and not by man, according to the testimony of the Apostle: ‘The spiritual man judgeth of all things and he himself is judged by no man’ [1 Cor 2:15]. This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven’ etc., [Mt 16:19].

This form of political papacy had its own “cancel culture”. It is outlined by William of Ockham in his “A Short Discourse on the Tyrannical Government”. The longer title is known as:

William of Ockham

A Short Discourse on the Tyrannical Government
Over Things Divine and Human,
But Especially Over the Empire
And Those Subject to the Empire
Usurped by Some Who are
Called Highest Pontiff

In a prologue, he affirms that he is aware of “the faith handed down by Christ and the Apostles” (p. 4). Further:

If I do unwittingly say anything contrary to it, I am ready to be corrected by anyone at all who can show me the truth; an as well I will by my own inquiry and by asking others at the appropriate time and place, with careful attention seek the truth (p. 4).

So Ockham, a Franciscan, an honest man, was committed to his idea of “Church” and Christian doctrine.

But he rejects the view that the papacy has secular authority. In Book 1, Chapter 1, sets out an argument that he disbelieves, and works to disprove, but one that is extant throughout “the Church”, that one may dare not question the pope’s political power.

Since I am about to investigate many matters concerning the power of the pope, I have decided, because of the error of some who fear papal power more than God’s, to inquire first whether thorough examination of the nature and extent of the pope’s power is permissible and without danger of just accusation. There are some – too ready to please men, by whose will they can now be raised, now lowered – who dare assert that no one is permitted to inquire about the pope’s power by disputation (p. 5).

Yes, there have been worldly leaders who have been more than happy to kill or imprison individuals who spoke out against themselves and their governments.

But this is, in what we know as “Christendom”, the original “Cancel Culture”.

They rely on this, that according to the canon and civil laws no one is permitted “to dispute about the ruler’s jurisdiction”; therefore, a fortiori, it is not permissible to dispute about the power of the supreme pontiff, lest one commit the crime of sacrilege.

This is the very same phenomenon that is seen with the Twitter mobs and the Leftist mobs – “we have decided upon what is political orthodoxy – whether it be speech about race or gender or the environment or whatever”.

Ockham was excommunicated (which excludes him from the sacraments and therefore from salvation) and exiled. He died “unreconciled”.

“You are not even permitted to inquire about our standard orthodoxy on this”.

Comments, questions?

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Medievalism as “Source”

Just by way of clarification, I wanted to illustrate what I was thinking when I said that “Roman Catholicism is the source of damage in our culture today”. I did not intend to say that it was the Roman Catholic religion that is causing all of the problems.

My intention was to talk about the “history of ideas”, and in that sense, in the illustration nearby, you can see that in the flow and history of ideas, especially in talking about western Europe, that there was a very long time when Roman Catholicism was the only game in town.
On 4 September 476, one hundred years after the Goths crossed the Danube, the last Roman emperor in the west, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed, and it was the descendants of those Gothic refugees who provided the military core of one of the main successor states to the Empire: the Visigothic kingdom. … (Heather, Peter. The Fall of the Roman Empire (p. xi). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.)
The papacy after that point held to a “two-swords” theory of power and authority. In 494 AD, not long after the city of Rome was sacked, “Pope Gelasius” wrote to the then-emperor Anastasius “on the superiority of the spiritual over temporal power”:
There are two powers, august Emperor, by which this world is chiefly ruled, namely, the sacred authority of the priests and the royal power. Of these that of the priests is the more weighty, since they have to render an account for even the kings of men in the divine judgment.

You are also aware, dear son, that while you are permitted honorably to rule over human kind, yet in things divine you bow your head humbly before the leaders of the clergy and await from their hands the means of your salvation.

In the reception and proper disposition of the heavenly mysteries you recognize that you should be subordinate rather than superior to the religious order, and that in these matters you depend on their judgment rather than wish to force them to follow your will.
This pronouncement set the tone for political order in western Europe for the next 1000 years.
And so, when I say that Roman Catholicism was THE source for all of our cultural and political difficulties today, it is this event that I had in mind.

* * *
Just to give you a brief outline of the political history of Europe from that point, the pope, “Pope Leo”, crowned Charlemagne as emperor of the Holy Roman empire in 800 AD. By 1054, the eastern and western churches officially split (after much bickering prior), effectively severing the western from the eastern empire as well. The “high middle ages” represent almost a total “reconstruction” of the old Roman empire. Peter Heather cites a letter of Peter Damian, who was one of the Cardinals in the inner circle of the Roman hierarchy in the eleventh century:
Now the Roman Church, the see of the apostles, should imitate the ancient court of the Romans. Just as of old the earthly Senate strove to subdue the whole multitude of the peoples to the Roman Empire, so now the ministers of the apostolic see, the spiritual senators of the Church Universal, should make it their sole business by their laws to subdue the human race to God, the true emperor. (Heather, Peter. The Restoration of Rome (p. 388). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.)

This was a period of period of great accomplishment. Local church and monastic “schools” came together over time, eventually leading to the founding of the great universities of Bologna, Paris, and Oxford. New religious orders such as the Dominicans (teachers) and Franciscans (“friars minor”) formed and also developed “schools of thought”. Writers such as Anselm of Canterbury, Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, and others worked greatly to synthesize what was known of Christian doctrine.

That period also offered many troubles. Thomas Aquinas wrote a long work, “Error of the Greeks”, which gave reasons that the eastern churches should submit to the papacy – it had to be retracted later, because its arguments were found to be heavily reliant on forged documents that were rampant during the prior centuries.

The “great schism” also developed during that time, when political infighting led to a time when there were two and even three “popes” in place. English kings realized that their land-owning allies would not necessarily fight every war without having some say-so, leading to the development of a bi-cameral parliament.

William of Ockham dared to write about “papal tyranny”. Marsellius of Padua wrote a treatise that led to the idea that government involvement of the citizenry that would provide for the best political systems.

* * *
During that 1000 year period, however, there was really only the one source of political power, and its “source” was the papacy. All political and religious thought was either an affirmation of or rejection of the thinking and institutions that were in place at the time.

With this kind of history in mind, it is hard for me to imagine that I “overreact” to Roman Catholicism, by the way. There is such a thing as specialization. Nobody ever said that Stephen Hawking (for example) spent too much of his life studying physics.

It seems to me that most people don’t pay enough attention to it, and in that way, they are missing a lot. The damage is not a surface kind of damage. It lies deeper, in the underlying thinking of things.

That kind of phenomenon is still in place today, although to a much lesser degree. It is the kind of thing I have in mind as I write this.

So, back to First Things. THEY SAY: “Culture is the root of politics, and religion is the root of culture.” For a 1000 year period of time, the papacy was at the root of religion AND politics. Perhaps there is some of that they would want you to stop thinking about. At the time of the Reformation, John Calvin was absolutely right to say that the papacy was the institution through which “satan has polluted every good thing that God has appointed for our salvation.” I did not think it would be controversial on a Reformed blog to repeat such a thing.

The historical papacy has polluted much else, too, and the effects are still with us today, either in the form of affirmations of, or rejections of, papal thinking and teaching.

I say all of this as background for some of the things I hope to discuss going forward. Perhaps I should have outlined it better before I got started. As I said in an earlier comment, I do appreciate your feedback and even your objections. If I’m going to be writing about this topic moving forward (as I hope to do), it is true that “iron sharpens iron”, and you all are helping me to better focus my thoughts.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Facts Don't Care About Your Religious Feelings

Ben Shapiro's line, "Facts don't care about your feelings.", is popular among political conservatives. And it should be. It's a good line. At the time I'm writing this, the tweet just linked has close to 400000 likes. The line and variants of it are often repeated, featured in memes, etc.

But it's remarkable how many conservatives have far less concern about facts and reason in religious contexts. If you follow religious discussions at political web sites, on political talk radio, on political television programs, and so forth, you notice that there isn't much interest in religion and that the few religious discussions that do occur tend to be of a shallow nature intellectually. There's often not much depth in their political discussions either. The people who go to these web sites, listen to these radio shows, etc. largely want somebody else, like Shapiro, to do the intellectual work for them. But at least there's more interest shown in intellectual matters and more intellectual work done by laymen in political contexts than in religious ones. And they don't just know more about politics than religion. They also seem to know a lot more about sports, humor, movies, music, and other subjects than they do about religious matters.

Political conservatives are better than the average American in a lot of ways. (See the sources linked here for some of the relevant documentation.) Most Americans don't care much about intellectual issues in religious or political contexts. But if political conservatives are going to be so (rightly) critical of the emotionalism of the political left, and they're going to keep showing so much interest in sentiments like the one expressed in Shapiro's popular line, they ought to be making far more of an effort to be consistent about it. The sentiment Shapiro is expressing matters more in religion than it does in politics, but people act as though the opposite is true.

Monday, August 24, 2020

White European Males

Someone in the comments of my previous article, “Roman Catholicism is the source of damage in our culture today”, suggested that I was “sounding like the Westboro kooks who think they're the only 20 people who are pure enough to be saved”.

I assure you that I am not intending to sound this way. I’m not going to be like Martin Luther, throwing ink wells at the devil in his room, and nor am I going to go into screeds about “know nothings”.

Instead I am taking seriously some of the things that the Roman Catholic Church officially says, the way they have positioned themselves “in the world”. I’m looking at their history, and political philosophy and I am trying to understand how this country, a mere 30 years after the fall of communism in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, can have so many agitators working to implement socialism today.

It’s “white European males” who find themselves at the bottom of all the “intersectionality” charts these days – It is “white European males” who are said by those on “the left” to be responsible for most of the evils in the world. I look at Roman Catholicism, which undoubtedly, for hundreds of years, was the primary intellectual environment for “white European males”, and I’m saying to myself, “I wonder if there’s a connection”.

With all of this in mind, I am an enthusiastic Trump voter who believes that the left/right divide has aligned itself on the person of Donald Trump, precisely because Trump is not an ideological person. He calls himself a “counter-puncher”, and it is purely an act of Providence, I am sure, that the United States finds itself today with a “political left” that is almost wholly united in its zeal against Trump.

So the “conservativism” that we see in Trump is almost purely a response by him to “counter-punch” against “the political left”, which at a political level includes virtually all Democrats, some “NeverTrump” Republicans, and some high-minded Christians who will never vote for someone who is less pure in his personal life than, say, John Piper. And which, at a cultural level, includes the news media, most colleges and universities, lots and lots of younger people who are just caught up in “the spirit of the age” (which is largely embodied by “wokism”).

In 2016, I had many conversations with fellow Triablogue writers, to the effect that Trump wasn’t conservative, that he would show his liberal side. And he has done so with his recent pronouncement that he is the most “gay-friendly” president in history – a thing that makes me cringe, but I try to understand it in context.

With that said, I still think voting for Trump is the best way to address the most immediate problems that we face today, particularly in the US. While it’s a big world, and there are many “enemies” (including Islam, Communist China, biological warfare, nefarious former KGB agents, and even mere apathy) I think “wokism” (which I am using as a catch-all phrase to include its intellectual parent, Marxism, and its like-minded relatives that we know as “Critical theory”, “Cultural Marxism”, Critical Race Theory”, “intersectionality”, “anti-Racism” “cancel culture”, and things like that), is the greatest threat to our country today.

And again I say this from the perspective of a Christian, “in the world but not of the world”, looking at what I can do, in the Romans 13 sense, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities”, in a land in which “we the people” are tasked with something like “self-government” through institutions that have been set up to function in a realm where concepts of “Republic” and “democracy” are in the forefront.

I’m not going to claim I have all the answers here. I have a lot of questions. I’ve haven’t written much lately, but I’ve been reading a lot, and I want to share what I’m learning.

We live in a culture where “white European males” are the ones who have come out at the bottom of the intersectionality charts. They and their paternalism are seen to be the greatest evils that the world is facing today.

There’s a saying, I don’t know if it’s true, that “a definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again, and expecting different results”. If that’s the case, it doesn’t seem to me that we want to move back in the direction of Roman Catholicism, and in fact, while we want to look for Christian solutions, we certainly don’t want, moving forward, to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Roman Catholicism is the source of damage in our culture today

I have spent a lot of time watching our culture. Sometimes it seems as if Roman Catholics, such as Robert George of Princeton (in our day) or Michael Novak (from days gone by) have been our allies in “culture wars”. 

While some of their thinking may be sound, their underlying view of reality is damaged by their Roman Catholicism. Their Roman Catholicism is the very problem, not part of the solution. 

Go to the First Things website and the header on their pop-up request for donations says:

“Culture is the root of politics, and religion is the root of culture.” – Richard John Neuhaus

Our culture has been tearing itself apart, led philosophically by a form of Kantianism that enables human beings to “construct” their own realities, and at a more visceral level by the concept of Marxism as it manifests itself in what is essentially “a new religion”: “Wokism”. 

 “Wokism” (or simply “leftism”) brings with it a raft of new “moralities”, including “Cultural Marxism”, “Critical Theory”, “Critical Race Theory”, “anti-racism”, “Intersectionality”, the search for “equality”, whatever you want to call them. 

They are all names for “things you gotta do if you want to be saved” in the eyes of this world. It is a religion as much as any other set of beliefs is a religion.

If it’s true that “religion is the root of culture” (and I believe it is), then we need to take the idea that Roman Catholicism is the source of the damages a step further. 

John Calvin said in Institutes 4.1.1 the papacy was the institution through which “satan has polluted every good thing that God has appointed for our salvation.” 

Looking around at our world today, no truer statement has ever been uttered. Neuhaus was, and First Things is, a channel of satan into our culture, because it supports the papacy, and by extension, Roman Catholicism

We must never forget this, and Christianity must from this moment forward work to eliminate the concept of papacy as “a good thing”. 

Roman Catholicism likes to use Genesis 3:15 as some sort of proof or prophecy for its Marian dogmas:

The Lord God said to the serpent ... He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

But rather, what an apt metaphor it is for the way that “the papacy” has hobbled Christianity since its “development” in the fourth and fifth centuries. 

It is said that slaves were “hobbled” by cutting the Achilles tendon, and preventing them from running away. 

It is the concept of “the papacy” that has hobbled Christianity, and its ability to affect “culture” in a Godly way, since the days before it "historically developed" (Klaus Schatz, "Papal Primacy", p. 36). 

Think about it. Your comments? 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Bodily Marian Relics And The Assumption Of Mary

In his decree dogmatizing the assumption of Mary, Pope Pius XII commented, "Finally, since the Church has never looked for the bodily relics of the Blessed Virgin nor proposed them for the veneration of the people, we have a proof on the order of a sensible experience." The alleged lack of interest in and lack of claims of possession of bodily relics of Mary has been made much of by Roman Catholics as evidence for Mary's assumption. As I've mentioned before, though, the lack of interest in bodily relics of Mary and lack of claims of possessing them can easily be explained without recourse to a bodily assumption (a lack of interest in relics in general among some of the relevant sources, a lack of interest in Marian relics in particular without believing that she had been assumed, agnosticism about whether such relics existed, etc.). And, as I documented in the post linked above and in another one here, the lack of discussion of Marian bodily relics is accompanied by evidence of a widespread absence of belief in her assumption.

But more should be said about the alleged lack of discussion of bodily relics. In 1957, the Roman Catholic scholar Walter Burghardt published an article on Mary's death in patristic sources. You can read it here. There's a lot of significant information in the article, but what I want to highlight here is a few references to sources of the patristic era who seem to have denied the Roman Catholic view of what happened to Mary's body.

On page 65 in Burghardt's article (going by the original page numbering), he cites Severian of Gabala's comments on how Mary was called blessed when she was living in the flesh. The most natural way to interpret his comments seems to be that he didn't think Mary was in the flesh any longer.

Burghardt also cites a passage in Pseudo-Antoninus Placentinus in which Mary is referred to as being "taken up out of the body" (92), an apparent reference to her death. It's unlikely that he'd refer to Mary's experience surrounding death that way, without any accompanying reference to a bodily assumption, if he believed in an assumption.

On page 94, Burghardt cites Adamnan referring to how nobody knows where Mary's body was taken, and he refers to how her body is awaiting resurrection. Contrast that to Pope Pius XII's decree, in which the Pope claims to know where Mary's body is and cites Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 15:54 as having already been fulfilled in Mary.

On the same page, Burghardt cites some comments in Bede that are similar to Adamnan's.

Burghardt goes on to cite an account of some government officials going to the Council of Chalcedon in the fifth century and asking to have Mary's remains relocated to Constantinople (94-95). They're then told that there are no remains, since she was assumed to heaven. But notice that the account, however unhistorical it is, allows for such significant ignorance of Mary's assumption and people seeking her relics as late as the fifth century.

Michael O'Carroll, a Roman Catholic scholar who specialized in the history of Marian beliefs, refers to some of the same material Burghardt cites and similar material in other sources. He refers, for example, to how Paschasius Radbert believed in an assumption "of the soul only" (Theotokos [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1988], 278). O'Carroll refers to how Paschasius' influence "arrested development of thought on the Assumption for two-and-a-half centuries" (57). See the same page for a discussion of other sources by whom "doubt was expressed" about the assumption.

Notice that there's no need for people to have expressed interest in parts of Mary's body, such as a finger or legbone, in order to have expressed interest in her body as a whole and to have been agnostic about or denied the Catholic view of what happened to her body. It's misleading to frame these issues in terms of seeking or claiming to have a portion of Mary's body, since references to her body as a whole can likewise be inconsistent with the Catholic view of what happened to her.

Once belief in an assumption had become popular enough, it was in the interest of those involved in promoting relics to use ones ambiguous enough to accommodate both views without much difficulty, the view that Mary was assumed and the view that she wasn't. We see widespread claims about having something like a portion of her hair or clothing.

In his article, Burghardt explains why it's likely that there was widespread belief in Mary's death in the earliest centuries of Christianity (in contrast to the notion that she was assumed to heaven without dying or some such thing). If you combine that evidence with the evidence addressed in my articles linked earlier (here and here) to the effect that there was a widespread lack of belief in an assumption of Mary in the earliest centuries, it seems that the earliest view was that Mary died and wasn't assumed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Degrees Of Reward And Contentment In Heaven

"But who can conceive, not to say describe, what degrees of honor and glory shall be awarded [in heaven] to the various degrees of merit? Yet it cannot be doubted that there shall be degrees. And in that blessed city there shall be this great blessing, that no inferior shall envy any superior, as now the archangels are not envied by the angels, because no one will wish to be what he has not received, though bound in strictest concord with him who has received; as in the body the finger does not seek to be the eye, though both members are harmoniously included in the complete structure of the body. And thus, along with his gift, greater or less, each shall receive this further gift of contentment to desire no more than he has." (Augustine, The City Of God, 22:30)

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Principles For Evaluating Development Of Doctrine

The subject of doctrinal development often comes up in discussions with Roman Catholics, but it's relevant to other contexts as well. We've written a lot about it over the years, and you can find many relevant posts in our archives. I want to outline several of the principles we should keep in mind as we think about the topic:

- Different individuals and groups make different claims about the beliefs under consideration, and they bear different burdens of proof accordingly. Catholics can't try to have the benefits of making higher claims about the alleged history of their doctrines without also paying the cost of bearing a higher burden of proof. The two go together. See the second-to-last paragraph of the post here regarding what Roman Catholicism has claimed about the history of the assumption of Mary or the opening paragraphs here regarding the papacy, for example.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Early Ignorance Of The Assumption Of Mary

Today is the Feast of the Assumption, commemorating Mary's alleged bodily assumption to heaven. There's a significant line of evidence that's seldom discussed that suggests the early Christians had no concept of an assumption of Mary. Many early patristic sources cite Enoch, Elijah, and Paul as examples of people who didn't die, were translated to heaven, etc., yet they never say any such thing about Mary or include her as an example (e.g., Clement of Rome, First Clement, 9; Tertullian, A Treatise On The Soul, 50; Tertullian, On The Resurrection Of The Flesh, 58; Tertullian, Against Marcion, 5:12; Origen, in Thomas Scheck, trans., Origen: Commentary On The Epistle To The Romans, Books 1-5 [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2001], 5:4:3, p. 340; Methodius, From The Discourse On The Resurrection, 3:2:14; Apostolic Constitutions, 5:7; Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 3:6; John Chrysostom, Homilies On John, 75; Jerome, To Pammachius Against John Of Jerusalem, 29, 32; Faustus, cited in Augustine, Reply To Faustus The Manichaean, 26:1; Augustine, On The Grace Of Christ, And On Original Sin, 2:27). Irenaeus, for instance, writes about the power of God to deliver people from death, and he cites Enoch, Elijah, and Paul (2 Corinthians 12:2) as illustrations of people who were "assumed" and "translated", but he says nothing of Mary (Against Heresies, 5:5). How likely is it that all of these sources, commenting in so many different contexts, would all refrain from mentioning Mary's assumption, even though they knew of it? They're sometimes describing Christian beliefs in general, not just their own, which makes their failure to mention Mary even more significant. If these early Christians held as high a view of Mary as Roman Catholicism does, or even close to so high a view, you'd expect them to cite her more than anybody else. Instead, they don't cite her at all.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Evidence For The Early Prominence Of The Gospels

I want to discuss some patristic evidence that corroborates and expands upon what I wrote earlier this week about the nature of the gospels and their role in early evangelism, missions, the planting of churches, etc. I'll start with a couple of passages in Justin Martyr that have some significance that's often overlooked.

In his Dialogue With Trypho, Justin is told by his Jewish opponent, "I am aware that your precepts in the so-called Gospel are so wonderful and so great, that I suspect no one can keep them; for I have carefully read them." (10) At that point in history, it was common for two or more gospels collectively to be referred to as "the gospel" (which is an indication of the earliness of Justin's Dialogue and the exchange with some Jewish opponents he recounts there). Trypho makes no such comment about other Christian sources, like the letters of Paul. And his comment above came after some remarks Justin made about Christianity in general, not the gospels or any other Christian writings in particular. It's significant that Trypho not only knew of the gospels and read them, but even took the initiative to mention them and didn't cite other early Christian literature in a comparable or greater way.

In his First Apology, Justin writes of Christian church services, "And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles [the gospels] or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things." (67) Again, notice that the gospels are singled out. And they're mentioned before the books of the Old Testament.

Similarly, Celsus and his Jewish source(s) interact with Christianity based largely on the gospels, much more than Paul's letters and other sources. As Robert Wilken wrote, "Pagan critics realized that the claims of the new movement [Christianity] rested upon a credible historical portrait of Jesus. Christian theologians in the early church, in contrast to medieval thinkers who began their investigations on the basis of what they received from authoritative tradition, were forced to defend the historical claims they made about the person of Jesus. What was said about Jesus could not be based solely on the memory of the Christian community or its own self-understanding." (The Christians As The Romans Saw Them [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984], 203) Notice how much, in these examples I'm citing and elsewhere, this Christian focus on the life of Jesus involved the gospels, not just claims about him or oral tradition, for example.

The order of the New Testament, starting with the gospels, is another illustration. That ordering of the books isn't a recent development. Discussions of the New Testament canon often give a lot of attention to the Muratorian Canon as the earliest canonical list we have, from the second century. It starts with the gospels.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Theology of Jonathan Edwards review

Alastair Roberts reviews the book The Theology of Jonathan Edwards by Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott:

There's also a transcript of the same video. Here's a brief excerpt:

I think there is a lot that can be done with a theology like Edwards’, that is creatively rooted within the tradition; that is rooted within the tradition but is moving out in ways that enable it to take on board insights from the natural sciences, insights from other contexts of the church, insights from empirical experience, and insights from foreign religions. And in these respects, there is something bracing and exciting about Edwards’ theology. He is not just a hidebound traditionalist, but nor is he someone who has abandoned all moorings and has no anchor left anymore, and is going off on the wild waves of the sea into who knows where. He is someone who has bearings and he is someone who has a clear anchor. And yet, he is someone who is able to explore areas that others cannot, because he has a different cast of theology.

A personal narrative of Jonathan Edwards

Personal Narrative

I had a variety of concerns and exercises about my soul from my childhood; but had two more remarkable seasons of awakening, before I met with that change, by which I was brought to those new dispositions, and that new sense of things, that I have since had. The first time was when I was a boy, some years before I went to college, at a time of remarkable awakening in my father's congregation. I was then very much affected for many months, and concerned about the things of religion, and my soul's salvation; and was abundant in duties. I used to pray five times a day in secret, and to spend much time in religious talk with other boys; and used to meet with them to pray together. I experienced I know not what kind of delight in religion. My mind was much engaged in it, and had much self-righteous pleasure; and it was my delight to abound in religious duties. I, with some of my schoolmates joined together, and built a booth in a swamp, in a very secret and retired place, for a place of prayer. And besides, I had particular secret places of my own in the woods, where I used to retire by myself; and used to be from time to time much affected. My affections seemed to be lively and easily moved, and I seemed to be in my element, when engaged in religious duties. And I am ready to think, many are deceived with such affections, and such a kind of delight, as I then had in religion, and mistake it for grace.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

"One way to tell the NT is true"

Stand to Reason has a brief clip on the historical reliability of the Gospel of Luke as well as the NT in general:

This in turn inspired some impromptu thoughts about the Bible:

1. However, though the Bible is historically reliable, it does not necessarily follow from this that the Bible is God's word. What's needed is something additional to move us from "the Bible is historically reliable" to "therefore the Bible is God's word".

2. Granted, if the Bible is even approximately true, this could be sufficient to prove Christian theism.

3. There are many reasonable arguments that may help move a person from historical reliability to God's word. Each argument isn't necessarily entirely persuasive on its own, though the cumulative effect of all these arguments could be greater than the sum of their parts. And different arguments may be more convincing to some people than to others.

I'm thinking of arguments such as:

Monday, August 10, 2020

Early Distribution Of The Gospels

When issues surrounding the origins of the gospels are discussed, some important sources are often neglected. Some examples are Quadratus and his colleagues, who are mentioned in section 3:37 of Eusebius' Church History. Here's a portion of the passage, as found in Jeremy Schott's recent translation of Eusebius' work:

For indeed, many of the disciples at that time [late first and early second centuries] had their souls struck by the Divine Logos with a deep desire for philosophy, and first fulfilled the salvific command to distribute their property to the needy, and then went out on journeys to perform the work of evangelists, aspiring to proclaim the report of faith to those everywhere who had not heard it and to provide the written text of the Divine Gospels. Once they had established foundations of the faith in foreign places they appointed shepherds and selected others along with them to help in the husbandry of those who had just been herded together. They then went again to other lands and peoples with the grace and cooperation of God, since many miraculous works of the Divine Spirit were still being done through them at that time, and as a result, upon only an initial hearing whole crowds right down to a man eagerly accepted piety toward the demiurge of the universe into their souls. (The History Of The Church: A New Translation [Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2019], 162-63)

This passage brings up a series of important issues related to the origins of the gospels. I want to highlight some of them.

In a recent post, I discussed some contexts in early church history in which two or more gospels needed to be distinguished from one another, which implies that the purported authors of the documents were being named at that time. You can read the post just linked for further details. Two contexts are often discussed in which there was such a need to distinguish among the gospels by naming their authors. We often hear about the use of gospels in church services and their use in libraries. But the passage from Eusebius quoted above illustrates another context in which there would have been such a need to distinguish among the gospels. Evangelists and others distributing copies of two or more of the gospels would need to be able to distinguish among them (to avoid giving people two copies of the same one, to make it easier for the people receiving the gospels to distinguish among them, etc.).

Secondly, notice that Eusebius refers to this as a widespread practice. It wasn't just done by one or two individuals. And it wasn't just done in one or two places or a small geographical region.

Third, note that the gospels were being distributed somewhat rapidly and in contexts like conversion and the planting of churches. The gospels were being distributed by people who were traveling and had strong motivation to keep traveling further. Eusebius puts a lot of emphasis on how motivated they were, how widely they traveled, and how quickly they often were able to accomplish what they had set out to do (conversions "upon only an initial hearing"). They weren't just giving the gospels to people who had been faithful Christians for a long time, people a church hierarchy could in some relevant way control so as to make sure the gospels and information about them were only given to select individuals, etc. Inevitably, the people who received these gospels would have ranged across a spectrum: people who professed to be Christians, but weren't; people who were Christians, but gave the gospels to non-Christians to read; etc. In other words, this was a situation in which the gospels and information on them were being disseminated widely and without much control from a church hierarchy or some equivalent.

Fourth, the widespread agreement among later sources about matters like the dating, authorship, genre, and historicity of the gospels is all the more impressive in accordance with factors like the ones discussed above.

We don't have much reason I'm aware of to doubt the general historicity of what Eusebius is reporting. And we know he had documents from the relevant timeframe that we don't possess today, including an apology he attributes to a man named Quadratus (Church History, 4:3), regardless of whether he was the same Quadratus discussed above. And what Eusebius tells us meets the criterion of coherence. For example, what he reports helps make sense of why Papias was writing on issues surrounding the origins of the gospels around the time of Quadratus and was citing a man he refers to as "the elder", a first-century figure, discussing those subjects even earlier (Church History, 3:39). See my recent post cited above for more examples of early sources whose comments make more sense in light of what Eusebius tells us. See here regarding how widely the gospel of Matthew had already been disseminated during the relevant timeframe. And so on.

Even if we had some reason to doubt a significant portion of what Eusebius reported in the passage in question, the large majority of what I've said here stands. There would have been many evangelists and other relevant figures traveling in the late first and early second centuries who were doing the sort of work I've outlined above, as reflected in the gospels, Acts, Paul's letters, the Didache, etc. We know that some of the purposes for which the gospels were written were evangelism (John 20:31) and the instruction of Christians in the faith (Luke 1:1-4). (Notice the implications of the opening of Luke for other documents, like Mark, which is widely thought to be one of Luke's sources. Luke refers to the existence of "many" attempts at accounts like his, which makes more sense if there was widespread interest in such accounts rather than only a small amount of interest.) And sources other than Eusebius and Quadratus and his colleagues suggest that the gospels were being distributed widely early on. It's good to be able to fill in some blanks with historical names, like Quadratus, and historical reports, like what Eusebius relays. But even without such specifics, it would still be probable that things like what Eusebius reported were happening.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

2020 Strikes Again...

2020 has reached epic meme status in our culture, and it’s affecting not just our secular world but even Christianity itself.  So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me too much that after spending a portion of this evening laying some careful groundwork in evangelizing a friend, that after we were finished with our conversation I would discover that Jerry Falwell, Jr. has taken an indefinite leave of absence from Liberty University. 

That’s not too unusual.  People take leaves of absences all the time and—

Wait, this was actually demanded of him by the board of trustees?  Why would they…. Oh.

Ooooooh.

Falwell posted a picture on his Instagram—a picture that I cannot repost here.  It’s not overly graphic from the world’s standards.  It would barely get a PG rating. But there’s just something distasteful enough about it that I wish I hadn’t seen it.  To provide the bare minimum explanation needed, it involved Falwell with his pants unzipped and open to show his underpants while he is standing next to a woman—who is not his wife—similarly dressed with unzipped pants.

Set aside, for the moment, the strict rules that Liberty University has for their students.  This is something that Falwell decided to publish of his own accord on his own Instagram account, thinking that it would not raise eyebrows that he is taking such a suggestive picture with a woman who, again, is not his wife.  While all of us are sinners and I can easily foresee Christians falling into bad behaviors, I cannot understand how someone of Falwell’s experience with the media could have possibly thought for even a second that this was a good idea.  Someone would almost literally have to be drunk to think tha—

What’s that?  Oh, Falwell called into a radio station and “explained” what the picture was, saying that the woman was pregnant and couldn’t snap her pants, so “in good fun” he decided to join her.  And while providing this explanation, he was slurring his words and speaking with all the mannerisms of someone three sheets to the wind.

So 2020 strikes again.  And this leaves me with the realization that a bunch of the groundwork I just laid in presenting the gospel to a friend may have been obliterated by this news story coming out.  Because one thing I’m sure of is that it will get shared to all the skeptics out there.

Now obviously Christianity is not a religion that is predicated on perfect people never sinning.  I’ve had to go through this in the past with other failures of high profile Christians, and certainly we will all have to do so anew in the future.  For all I know, it might even involve me falling in some future calamity.  There but for the grace of God go I.

But even knowing that intellectually, and knowing that this does provide an opportunity for us to point to Christ as the necessary sinlessly perfect sacrifice, I cannot deny that there is a lot about this that is disheartening.  Not because it involves Liberty University or Jerry Falwell, neither topic of which has much relevance to my own beliefs and, in fact, whom I’ve had many disagreements with before.  But rather it’s the fact of knowing that once again we are going to have to put up with the flaming slings and arrows of people who will be launching this at us again, and a large part of me just wants to throw in the towel and be done with it.  Let the flames cleanse the Earth.

But then I remember my friend.  And the groundwork that has been built.  The hope that Christ will use it to bring another soul to Himself.  And yes, maybe our next conversation is going to be uncomfortable, annoying, aggravating, and completely frustrating because I’m going to have to go through all the reasons why Jerry Falwell isn’t Christianity.  But maybe my friend will be saved because of that conversation.  Only God knows what will happen, and there’s no reason for me to give up when only God knows.

Not even 2020 can disobey the will of God.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Soteriology As Evidence For The Gospels

A neglected line of evidence for the harmony and historicity of the gospels is their agreement on soteriological issues. I'll cite several examples.

They all approach salvation from a first-century Jewish perspective, as a matter of needing to be reconciled to the God of Israel because of our sin. In all four gospels, Jesus doesn't just lead people to God the Father, but also calls them to himself to an extent unprecedented among the prophets, priests, kings, and other earlier leaders and later church leaders: come to him, believe in him, follow him, he forgives sins, etc. Salvation is framed in terms of being Abraham's children in a spiritual rather than physical sense (Matthew 3:9, Luke 19:9, John 8:39). The redeemed are referred to as children in a broader sense as well, without the connection to Abraham, and as young children in particular (Matthew 18:3, Mark 10:14, Luke 11:13, John 13:33). Salvation involves entrance into the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:20, Mark 10:15, Luke 18:24, John 3:5). All of the gospels portray Jesus' crucifixion as salvific, as illustrated by the Last Supper and Jesus' comments in John 6, for example. There's a common theme of Jesus as the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (Matthew 26:31, Mark 14:27, Luke 15:4, John 10:11). All of the gospels agree on the freeness of salvation, in the sense that it's received through faith alone, as illustrated in my recent post on justification apart from baptism. All four gospels portray repentance as implied by faith, so that repentance will sometimes be mentioned alongside faith to emphasize it, whereas only one or the other will be mentioned on other occasions. They agree in having faith accompanied by regeneration and sanctification, so that saving faith is evidenced by improved behavior. Matthew 11:28-30 has Jesus offering rest and a yoke simultaneously. John 5:24 lays out justification through faith alone, then follows it with a reference to judgment according to works in 5:29. And the gospels agree about the general parameters of the connection between faith and works. Jesus demands perfection (Matthew 5:48, Mark 12:28-31, Luke 6:36, John 15:12), and there are comments about how "difficult", "impossible", etc. his demands are (Matthew 25:24-26, Mark 10:17-27, Luke 18:18-27, John 6:60), yet those demands are accompanied by his acceptance of individuals who fall well short of what he's demanding. Men like Peter and John are portrayed as redeemed individuals and different than the average person (having faith, associating closely with Jesus, etc.), but they still sin to a significant degree. There's also agreement that individuals like Judas were never saved to begin with. People often associate the thinking behind 1 John 2:19 with the fourth gospel, but some of the same concepts are found in Matthew 7:21-23.

To appreciate the importance of agreements like these, consider how easily the gospels could have disagreed, even disagreed radically, on these matters. Think of the wide variety of views of salvation of one sort or another found in Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, etc. To cite an example I discussed in another recent post, think about the role of baptism in the gospels. Given the tendency in Christian circles to make baptism more prominent in later centuries, it would have been easy for one or more of the gospels to have given baptism a much more prominent role if the gospels had been written later and were less historical.