Saturday, September 24, 2022

Upcoming Enfield Documentaries

There are two I know of that are on the way, and one of them should be out next month on Paramount Plus. See the section titled "Paranormal" here. The series is about more than the Enfield case, but Enfield is one of the cases they'll be covering. Judging by the photographs on the first page linked above, it looks like Rosalind Morris, Graham Morris, and Richard Grosse (Maurice's son) participated. A producer was in contact with David Robertson as well, but I don't know how much he'll feature in the program.

MetFilm seems to be close to finishing their Enfield documentary. The last I heard, it should be a three-part series. In an interview last month (at 17:06 on the page just linked), Melvyn Willin of the Society for Psychical Research said the documentary should be out within a few months.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

What should we make of Jesus' resurrection appearances to biased believers?

About five minutes into one of his recent programs, Greg Koukl responded to the objection that it's suspicious that the risen Jesus only appeared to people who already believed in him. Koukl made a lot of good points in response to the objection, but I want to expand on some of the issues involved.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

A Head Of Brass And Hands Of Gold

"If Christ had been some delicate person, if our glorious Head had been reposing upon the soft pillow of ease, then might we, who are the members of his Church, have expected to go through this world with joy and comfort; but if he must be bathed in his own blood, if the thorns must pierce his temples, if his lips must be parched, and if his mouth must be dried up like a furnace, shall we escape suffering and agony? Is Christ to have a head of brass and hands of gold?" (Charles Spurgeon, The C.H. Spurgeon Collection [Albany, Oregon: AGES Software, 1998], Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 47, p. 114)

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Focusing Too Much On The Patristic And Medieval Eras

One of the most popular criticisms of Protestantism, and one that seems to go a long way in convincing people, is the allegation that various Protestant beliefs were absent or not popular enough during the patristic and medieval eras. We're told that justification through baptism was widely accepted during that timeframe, for example, or we're even told that it was universally believed. Or look at how popular it was to pray to the saints and angels. Look at all of the agreement on such issues among the apostolic churches. And so on.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Aimless, Meandering Christian

Because of fallen human nature, the nature of the culture in which we live, and other factors involved, it's important to frequently remind people what work needs done in religious contexts: missions, evangelism, apologetics, theology, philosophy, the sciences, the paranormal, Bible translation, etc. I've often cited the example of patristics. There's a steady stream of patristic documents being published in English for the first time, and many that have already been published for a long time haven't been studied or discussed much. Evangelicals can repeatedly come across patristic issues in various contexts - claims about the canon of scripture, claims about the authorship of the gospels, etc. - yet have little or no concern about researching those subjects or disseminating whatever valuable information they come across. Similarly, I've often discussed the need for Christians to do more work on the paranormal. And many other examples could be cited, some of which I've discussed in the past. What parents, pastors, friends, and other people in positions of influence - all of us - should be doing is reminding people from time to time what work needs done. Mention parts of the world where missionaries need to go, languages into which the Bible still needs to be translated, philosophical issues that need studied further, Biblical passages whose historicity needs studied and discussed further, and so on. And model the sort of work that needs done by doing it yourself and talking to other people about the work you're doing.

I often hear people, including professing Christians, commenting on how "bored" they are or expect to be in retirement, how they "can't find anything to do". They'll even go back to working a job that doesn't have much significance or retire later than usual. And the people who are finding things to do are typically doing things that don't have much value. It's commonplace to hear people talk about how concerned they are about the state of the culture and the world, then, five minutes later, refer to how they're going to spend the rest of the day watching movies, gardening, etc. They rarely or never refer to anything they're doing in contexts like the ones I've referred to in the paragraph above, and what they do refer to doing in such contexts tends to be of a lower rather than higher nature.

You ought to have specific objectives in mind to advance the kingdom of God in substantial ways. Aim for accomplishments "worthy of the calling with which you have been called" (Ephesians 4:1) and run hard after them.

"Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim" (1 Corinthians 9:24-26)

"In a corruption of sound doctrine so extreme, in a pollution of the sacraments so nefarious, in a condition of the Church so deplorable, those who maintain that we ought not to have felt so strongly, would have been satisfied with nothing less than a perfidious tolerance, by which we should have betrayed the worship of God, the glory of Christ, the salvation of men, the entire administration of the sacraments, and the government of the Church. There is something specious in the name of moderation, and tolerance is a quality which has a fair appearance, and seems worthy of praise; but the rule which we must observe at all hazards is, never to endure patiently that the sacred name of God should be assailed with impious blasphemy — that his eternal truth should be suppressed by the devil’s lies — that Christ should be insulted, his holy mysteries polluted, unhappy souls cruelly murdered, and the Church left to writhe in extremity under the effect of a deadly wound. This would be not meekness, but indifference about things to which all others ought to be postponed." (John Calvin)

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Justification Through Faith Alone In The Second Century

In the excerpt from the Epistle To Diognetus below, notice the reference to "faith, to which alone", followed by the concluding references to "trust" and "faith", with no reference to baptism and other works. The first mention of faith is immediately followed by some comments on the kindness of God and the gracious benefits given to us in his Son, and the section of the document that follows (9) is highly soteriological, all of which indicate that justifying faith is being referred to. The author refers to having faith in God later in the Christian life as well and discusses good works and expects them to follow from faith, but the focus here is on faith, even including the qualifier "alone", and the substitutionary nature of Jesus' work. The reference to faith alone in such a soteriological context makes the most sense as a reference to justifying faith. At the opening of the document, the author refers to how Diognetus wants to know "what God they [Christians] trust in, and what form of religion they observe, so as all to look down upon the world itself, and despise death, while they neither esteem those to be gods that are reckoned such by the Greeks, nor hold to the superstition of the Jews; and what is the affection which they cherish among themselves; and why, in fine, this new kind or practice [of piety] has only now entered into the world" (1). So, it's evident that faith (trust) is being distinguished from the actions that result from faith, and other terms are being used to refer to works, such as "observe" and "practice". So, we shouldn't think that the references to faith in sections 8-10 of the document are including works within them. Even if we only had the usual meanings of words to go by, it would be unlikely that a reference to faith includes works. It's doubly unlikely when the document in question so clearly distinguishes between faith and works. Section 10 refers to love resulting in our imitation of God's kindness, saying, "if you love Him, you will be an imitator of His kindness". That which is in the heart leads to outward actions. The author seems to have in mind an inner response to God that's distinguished from the outer actions that follow, with the inner faith justifying. As Michael Bird and Kirsten Mackerras write, salvation in the Epistle To Diognetus is "by faith alone (8.6; 9.6; 10.1)" (in Michael Bird and Scott Harrower, edd., The Cambridge Companion To The Apostolic Fathers [New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021], 323). In section 9, we're told that our works are excluded. The substitutionary nature of Christ's work is discussed, even with a reference to the "sweet exchange", the paralleling of Jesus' taking our sin with our taking his righteousness, and a reference to our sins' being covered by Jesus' righteousness, which is reminiscent of the dunghill analogy attributed to Martin Luther:

Thursday, September 08, 2022

The Two-Way Street Of Religious Discussions

"Whenever a Christian converses with a non-Christian about the truth of the faith, every request of the non-Christian for the proof of Christianity should be met with an equally serious request for proof for the non-Christian's philosophy of life. Otherwise we get the false impression that the Christian worldview is tentative and uncertain, while the more secular worldviews are secure and sure, standing above the need to give a philosophical and historical accounting of themselves. But that is not the case. Many people who demand that Christians produce proof of our claims do not make the same demand upon themselves....If the Christian must produce proof, so must others." (John Piper, Desiring God [Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Books, 1996], 273-74)

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

The Miracle Of John The Baptist's Existence

To add to my last post, consider the example of John the Baptist. He apparently didn't perform healings, exorcisms, or other such miracles during his public ministry. But his existence was a miracle. He shouldn't have been conceived. And there were other miracles surrounding his childhood. Since most of what we're told about John's background comes from Luke, see here regarding Luke's general credibility, here regarding an important line of evidence for his material on John the Baptist's childhood in particular, and here and here for examples of other early sources corroborating Luke. John's popularity probably was partly a result of those aspects of his background. Even where healings, fulfilled prophecy, and other forms of evidence aren't closely, directly, or explicitly involved, they're often involved in a more distant, indirect, or implicit way. Much of the apologetic nature of the Bible and the events it records is overlooked or underestimated, because people aren't thinking about the issues enough or aren't being honest about them.

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Apologetics In Action

There are many Biblical passages that explicitly refer to the importance of apologetics and closely related concepts. See the examples discussed here. But there's also a lot of implicit reference to the importance of apologetics in scripture. Think of the evidential significance of the miracles performed by the prophets in the Old Testament era, the evidential significance of Jesus' prophecy fulfillments, the apologetic use made of the healings, exorcisms, and other miracles performed by Jesus and the apostles, and so on. As I've mentioned before, the Bible is structured around a framework of apologetics. The early Christians often referred to the two Testaments of scripture as "the prophets and the apostles" (e.g., The Muratorian Canon; Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, 1:1; cf. 2 Peter 3:2). Josephus and other ancient Jewish sources refer to how the closing of the Old Testament canon was brought about by the cessation of the prophets and prophecy. Evidential concepts like fulfilled prophecy and eyewitness testimony (apostles had to be eyewitnesses of the risen Christ) formed the parameters of scripture.

Because so much of the Biblical support for apologetics is of that less explicit nature, people often underestimate the value of apologetics. It's misleading to measure how much we should be involved in apologetic work on the basis of something like how often we come across explicit references to apologetics in scripture. Jesus and the apostles largely argued by means of healings, fulfilling prophecy in the presence of their audience, and performing other miracles. The less we're involved in such activities, the more we need to make up for that absence by means of argumentation and the citation of evidence. Much of what Jesus, the apostles, and other Biblical figures did in apologetics was of a nonverbal nature, but has to take on a verbal form where that nonverbal one isn't present.

Thursday, September 01, 2022

The Cleverness Of The Enfield Poltergeist

I've often discussed apparent differences between the entity behind the poltergeist and the individuals sometimes alleged to have faked it or produced it through their psychic abilities. See my article on the poltergeist voice, for example, which provides many examples of paranormal knowledge exhibited by the voice, its being ignorant of information the Hodgson children were aware of, etc. One of the categories I referred to there was knowledge the voice had that was above that of the children. I want to expand on what I said there, but with regard to the poltergeist in general rather than only the voice, and I want to focus on a particular form of knowledge it exhibited. It sometimes seemed more clever than you'd expect the Hodgson children to be.

By its nature, that sort of characteristic is going to provide weaker evidence than what we have for the poltergeist's authenticity and identity in other contexts. A child, or an adolescent in particular, could be unusually clever. As I've mentioned before, the magician Milbourne Christopher explained the Enfield case as a hoax perpetrated by the Hodgson girls and referred to Janet as "very, very clever". (The Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 9, No. 2, Winter 1984-85, "A Final Interview With Milbourne Christopher", 161) But we don't begin with a default assumption that a person is so unusually clever, we have evidence I've discussed before that Janet and Margaret weren't so clever (e.g., what we know about their academic records, how poorly they faked phenomena on the occasions when they're known to have done so, the lack of such cleverness reflected in their later lives), and cleverness falls well short of explaining everything that needs to be explained. Furthermore, the argument from cleverness doesn't have to give us certainty or even a high degree of probability in order to have some significance. If the cleverness of the entity behind the poltergeist seems better explained by some entity other than the ones alleged to have faked the case or alleged to have produced genuine phenomena through paranormal abilities they had, that better explanation doesn't have to be better by a large margin. It just has to be better. A larger margin would be preferable, but a preference isn't a necessity.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The Importance Of Rome's Testimony About Luke's Authorship

My last post mentioned some corroboration of Lukan authorship of the third gospel from sources predating Irenaeus (Marcion and his earliest followers, Justin Martyr, a Roman source Irenaeus cited). People often claim that Irenaeus provides the earliest attribution of the third gospel to Luke, but these sources move the earliest attribution and some partial corroboration of it prior to when Irenaeus wrote.

And notice how all three of these pre-Irenaean sources are connected to Rome. Marcion was in Rome, Justin Martyr spent some time there, and Irenaeus' source seems to be Roman.

Paul traveled to Rome multiple times, spent a long time there, and died in that city. The author of Luke and Acts claimed to be a close companion of Paul and frequently discusses him and refers to traveling with him, including going with Paul to Rome around the time when the third gospel was published (Acts 28:14). Given the nature of the events leading up to and following Acts 28:14 and the recording of a large amount of detail in the author's recounting of the events, there's a good chance that the author used his time in Rome to do a lot of his work composing Acts. That would have provided some opportunities for the author (and Paul and whoever else) to have had discussions with the Roman Christians about the writing of the gospel and its sequel. Even if his work on Luke/Acts while in Rome was of a lesser nature, such as just taking some notes, that sort of situation would also have some significance here. If Colossians and Philemon were written from Rome, Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 24 place Luke there, and 2 Timothy 4:11 has Luke in Rome again later on. The references to Mark with Luke in Roman contexts (Colossians 4:10, Philemon 24, 2 Timothy 4:11) add to the likelihood that issues involving Luke's gospel would have been discussed.

This puts critics of the traditional gospel authorship attributions in a bad position. How likely is it that there would be so many early literary references to Mark and Luke in Rome (more than what I've cited above), including references to their being in the city for so long and in such significant contexts, if they hadn't been there? And if they were there, how likely are the Roman Christians to have been as ignorant as skeptical hypotheses require them to have been regarding Mark and Luke's relationships with the gospels attributed to them? The Roman church was in a good position to have reliable information on the authorship of the third gospel (and its genre, historicity, etc.). So, not only do we have testimony on the authorship of that gospel predating the testimony of Irenaeus, but we even have it from such significant sources.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Best And Earliest Evidence For Gospel Authorship

I can't be exhaustive here. These are just some examples, and more can be found in our archives. (See my collection of links to posts on Matthew's authorship here, for instance.) But I want to gather a lot of this information into one post that addresses all of the gospels. Some of the posts I'll be linking below discuss multiple topics, so you may have to search for the relevant material within the post that's linked.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Asking To Be Heard By God When You Don't Hear Yourself

"But what carelessness it is, to be distracted and carried away by foolish and profane thoughts when you are praying to the Lord, as if there were anything which you should rather be thinking of than that you are speaking with God! How can you ask to be heard of God, when you yourself do not hear yourself? Do you wish that God should remember you when you ask, if you yourself do not remember yourself? This is absolutely to take no precaution against the enemy; this is, when you pray to God, to offend the majesty of God by the carelessness of your prayer; this is to be watchful with your eyes, and to be asleep with your heart" (Cyprian, Treatise 4, On The Lord's Prayer, 31)