Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Parachurch ministry

1. Are parachurch ministries biblically warranted? To begin with, what are parachurch ministries? Examples include apologetic/countercult organizations, publishing, campus ministry, athletic outreach, evangelistic organizations, Christian media, hospital chaplains, educational institutions, and Bible translators. We might include Christian blogging. 

2. Sola scriptura doesn't mean we need direct biblical authorization for everything we do. We don't need a special right to do what's right. We have a standing right to do the right thing. If I see a kid drowning, I don't need to text-message my elders for permission to rescue him. I don't need to thumb through the Bible for a specific command. 

3. We need to examine the unspoken assumptions that underlie this question. Is parachurch ministry supposed to be answerable to "the church". That raises a number of subsidiary questions. What authority do elders have over laymen? 

Unlike highly regulated religions such as Islam, Second Temple Judaism, and Hassidic Judaism, the responsibilities and activities of evangelical laymen are largely unregulated. If you're a Muslim or Hassidic Jew, there's a social blueprint that regiments your daily life in prying, excruciating detail. That, in turn, gives the clergy tremendous authority over laymen because the clergy are the experts on halakha or sharia, and laymen must consult the clergy to know what's commanded or forbidden. Their interpretations are binding. And they adjudicate ethical and religious disputes. To some extent, traditional Catholicism was fairly regulated.

By contrast, evangelical elders don't have anything like the same authority over laymen because there is no evangelical counterpart to halakha or sharia–although Puritans like Baxter and Ames produced textbooks on Protestant casuistry. In general, the ethical issues confronting the average evangelical laymen boil down to a few basic categories: deception, abortion, premarital sex, divorce and remarriage, military service, civil disobedience, capital punishment, end-of-life care, contraception, homosexuality. There's not as much occasion for laymen to consult their pastor. Moreover, there are books on evangelical ethics which laymen can read for themselves. 

Evangelical laymen don't submit a daily itinerary to the pastor for his prior approval. They don't generally seek the advice, much less the consent, of the pastor or elders, in making most of their decisions. In fact, they don't think that's anyone's business but their own. 

4. Assuming that a parachurch ministry should be subject to ecclesiastical oversight, what's the unit of supervision? The local church? Presbytery? Denomination? Interdenominational coalition? 

Take Bible translators. No denomination, much less a local church, has a monopoly on Christian linguists. Moreover, Bible translation committees are deliberately interdenominational to avoid sectarian versions. 

5. Some critics of parachurch ministry complain that it usurps the role of the church. But that reflects an envious attitude. Christians shouldn't be keeping score. Is my side winning? A competitive spirit is out of place. If someone is doing God's work, we should be thankful rather than resentful. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Is Jesus a copycat?

An apologetic shortcut

A popular atheist trope is to act as though Christians must run through a long list of pagan gods and disprove them one-by-one. 

i) To begin with, it isn't always necessary to directly disprove something in order to disprove it. It's unnecessary to send probes to Mercury or Pluto to disprove the existence of carbon-based lifeforms on those planets. Rather, that can be demonstrated indirectly by the fact that those planets lack the conditions necessary for carbon-based lifeforms to survive.

ii) It isn't necessary to individually disprove every pagan deity. If Christianity is demonstrably true, due to an abundance of evidence, then that indirectly falsifies every alternative position that contradicts Christianity. And pagan alternatives don't remotely have the same amount of evidence.

From Atheist to Christian at Yale

I confess

Confessions, in the 17th century, were not seen as candy-store-like documents from which a person could take some from one, some from the other, and still some from another, and formulate their own theology in isolation from a historical church tradition. That way of thinking is relatively innovative from the perspective of ecclesiastical history. Surely, fringe individuals have existed at all times throughout church history, but the scope and fervor of their subjective choosiness has never been so explosive until now. 

Is one allowed to take any exception and still be considered confessional? Are we really not confessional if we fail to believe the Pope is the antichrist, as some confessional documents have stated (including the 1689)? Admittedly, the answer to this question is not always easy, and there are many dear brothers who would consider themselves confessional while at the same time not holding to every jot and tittle of any one document (though, I would disagree with their approach).

i) I have no a problem with creeds and confessions. That's a legitimate and even necessary expression of the church's teaching mandate. 

ii) That said, is there something intrinsically wrong with creedal eclecticism? Is the objective fidelity to a creed or fidelity to revelation? 

iii) Is there any presumption that lengthy creedal statements like the WCF and LBCF will be inerrant? If anything, is there not a presumption that any inspired human document of sufficient size is likely to make mistakes? The longer the document, the greater opportunities for error.  

In fairness, 17C creeds have more shakedown time than primitive creeds. They distill centuries of theological reflection. In that respect a long later creed might be more accurate than a brief primitive creed.

Nevertheless, creeds and confessions are consensus documents. It comes down to which side has the most votes. That's a very fallible process. So we can't reasonably treat creeds as unquestionably true. Indeed, that isn't even possible since different creeds represent divergent theological traditions. Hence, you have to evaluate creeds on a case-by-case basis. 

iv) Moreover, some creeds are predetermined to be radically wrong. Given the theological agenda of the framers, the Racovian catechism is inevitably heretical. Tridentine theology is another example. So creeds can't be the ultimate benchmark. 

Defer to your husband

13 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

3 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (1 Pet 2:13-25-3:1-7). 

1. 1 Pet 3:1-6 is a complementation prooftext. Unlike some Pauline prooftexts (1 Cor 11:8-9; 1 Tim 2:13), 1 Pet 3:1-6 doesn't ground uxorial deference in the natural order, so I think it's a weaker complementarian prooftext than the Pauline examples–although it's certainly consistent with complementarianism. Eph 5:22-33 is another one of the stronger complementarian texts, grounded in a Christological analogy.

2. Because this is paired with Peter's discussion of slavery, some egalitarians use this as a wedge tactic: if complementarianism is the norm, so is slavery. In 1 Pet 2-3, they rise and fall together. 

3. That's an interesting argument, but the issue is more complex. To begin with, biblical regulations don't necessarily indicate approval. Biblical codes of conduct aren't utopian. Biblical codes of conduct are sometimes pragmatic, given the vicissitudes of life in a fallen world. It's important to consider the underlying rationale for biblical regulations. 

4. Imagine how dangerous it would be to a slave to be insolent to his master. Imagine how dangerous it would be to a 1C wife to be insolent to her husband. At a minimum, this is prudential guidance. 

5. Although Peter counsels wives to be deferential to their husbands, that's only half the story. It has a subtext. The implied context is Christian wives married to pagan husbands. Presumably, both were heathen at the time of marriage, but the wife is now a convert to Christianity. But as one commentator notes:

Peter's advice to women married to [pagan] husbands "should be understood against the social background in which a wife was expect to accept the customs and religious rites of her husband…In society's eyes these women were already highly insubordinate just by virtue of their Christian commitment. J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (Thomas Nelson 1988), 157. 

So Christian wives are expected to be both submissive and independent. They are bucking the system by refusing to accede to their husband's religion. So it's not just about assuming a subordinate role. For the backdrop is assuming an insubordinate role. Those are balanced. 

6. In addition, Karen Jobes says Greco-Roman wives were not supposed to have any friends outside her husband's social circle, but as a Christian she will develop friendships within the Christian community. K. Jobes, 1 Peter (Baker 2005), 203. So there's a maverick element to the role of a Christian wife. In a mixed marriage, her duties include uxorial independence as well as uxorial deference. 

7. Peter's counsel includes the duties of a husband as well as a wife. His should be an understanding husband who honors his wife. 

What does Peter mean when he says the wife is the weaker vessel? Since he doesn't explain his terminology, we can only speculate:

i) Presumably it includes the fact that women in general are physically weaker than men.

ii) In addition, Jobes quotes Aristotle and Xenophon who say women are not as psychologically hardy as men. They are less aggressive than men (Aristotle, Xenophon). In addition, a man's mind and body have greater stamina to endure heat and cold, outdoor tasks, journeys, and military campaigns (Xenophon).

In the ancient world, full of bandits, burglars, rustlers, wild animals, feral dogs, and warfare, men are wired to protect and provide for women, not just physically, but by virtue of their natural psychological makeup. And that has modern counterparts. 

iii) Jobes thinks it may also refer to lower social status. Ibid. 209. 

Make men masculine again

"In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful." - C.S. Lewis.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Betting on a dark horse

There are different approaches to Christian apologetics. One approach is evidential. I don't mean in the brand name sense of evidential apologetics. I just mean in the generic sense of stressing the evidence for Christianity in contrast to the evidence against atheism or other religious options. And that's a that's a very important approach. There's much more direct and indirect evidence for Christianity than the average Christian (much less the average atheist) is aware of.

But suppose we turned that around. Suppose for argument's sake that Christianity appeared to be false while atheism appeared to be true. Suppose the apparent evidence for atheism was overwhelming. In that case, would it not be irrational to continue to preach, pray, go to church, sing hymns, read the Bible, and so on?

Consider an analogy: Suppose the odds are 30-1 that if I bet on Secretariat, I will win. The more money I put on Secretariat, the larger my winnings. Would it not be irrational for me to bet on a dark horse rather than a proven winner? 

All things being equal, that would be irrational. If it's just a comparison between the odds of Secretariat winning in contrast to a dark horse, I'd be crazy not to bet on Secretariat.

But here's a wrinkle. The owner of the race track loses money if I bet on Secretariat. The payout isn't cost effective for the owner of the race track. So he abducts my kid brother and threatens to cut his toes off if I bet on Secretariat. If, on the other hand, I bet on a losing horse, he will release my brother unharmed. 

Is it still crazy for me to bet on a dark horse? If I'm really pissed off at my kid brother, that might be a dilemma. But seriously, I'd put my money on the long shot because the basis comparison isn't the odds of me losing but the odds of my kid brother losing his toes. Let's shift to a real life example:

I had a disease I had never heard of before: myelodysplasia. Its origin is unknown. If I did nothing, I was astonished to learn, my chances were zero. I’d be dead in six months...There was only one known means of treatment that might generate a cure: a bone-marrow transplant...Even with the perfect compatibility, my overall chances of a cure were something like 30 percent. That’s like playing Russian Roulette with four cartridges instead of one in the cylinder. But it was by far the best chance that I had, and I had faced longer odds in the past...One after another, I popped 72 of these pills. It was a lethal amount. If I was not to have a bone-marrow transplant soon after, this immune-suppression therapy by itself would have killed me. It was like taking a fatal dose of arsenic or cyanide, hoping that the right antidote would be supplied in time. Carl Sagan, “In the Valley of the Shadow,” Parade Magazine (March 10 1996).

Sagan bet on the dark horse. On the one hand, if he let nature take its course, he'd be dead in six months. Even even if he underwent aggressive cancer therapy, he might die from immunosuppressant drugs, and the bone marrow transplant only had a 30% chance of success. Not to mention the excruciating pain of the medical procedures.

Was it not irrational for Sagan to gamble on the long shot? Was it not irrational for him to undergo what was in all probability a futile course of treatment? But of course, that wasn't the basis of Sagan's comparison. Sagan wasn't making an abstract comparison between the chances of cancer treatment succeeding or failing. Rather, he was making an existential comparison between life and oblivion. He didn't believe in life beyond the grave. For him, this life is all you get. For Sagan, the existential criterion overrode the evidential criterion. 

By the same token, the choice between Christianity and atheism isn't a disinterested choice between different alternatives. For these have drastically different consequences, if true. Even if atheism was the odds-on favorite, it would still be irrational–supremely irrational–to be personally invested in that alternative. Sometimes it's foolish to bet on a winning horse. You're better off if you bet on a dark horse. If there's a slight chance that the underdog will win, there are situations in which the long shot is far the shrewder bet. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Modal collapse

I'm going to comment on a post by Joshua Sommer:

. . . if God is identical with his essence, then God cannot know or do anything different from what he knows and does. He can have no contingent knowledge or action, for everything about him is essential to him. But in that case all modal distinctions collapse and everything becomes necessary. Since God knows that p is logically equivalent to p is true, the necessity of the former entails the necessity of the latter. J. P. Moreland & William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2003), 525.

Stanley interview

Jonathan Merritt recently interviewed Andy Stanley:

Stanley's an intellectual lightweight, but he's influential, which is why it's important to evaluate his statements.

1. Introducing the program, Merritt acted like the Enlightenment brought reason and logic into the discussion, as if Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Boethius, Maimonides, and medieval scholastics never existed. He also acted as though the historical criticism of Scripture was a 19C invention, which ignores pagan critics (e.g. Porphyry) and Muslim critics (e.g. Ibn-Hazm). Maybe he really is that uninformed. 

2. Is Stanley unaware of the fact that Merritt is a homosexual activist? Is Stanley unaware of the fact that Merritt is using Stanley's concessions, evasions, and obfuscations as a wedge tactic to mainstream homosexuality in the church and the general culture? 

There's nothing wrong with pastors talking to homosexuals, or homosexual journalists and activists, but you need to be cognizant of their agenda and not allow them to control the dialogue. Apparently, Stanley is such a babe-in-the-woods that it never occurs to him that he's a tool for Merritt's social agenda. 

3. Stanley says there was no "the Bible" before the 4C. That's straight out of Dan Brown's playbook.  

4. He chronically alternates between the Mosaic covenant and the OT in general, as if those are equivalent. 

5. He says 

If I didn't believe in the virgin birth, do you think I'd tell anyone? That's a career-ending move.

So by his own admission, he has no credibility when he assures us that he really does believe in the inerrancy of Scripture.  

6. He says 

The only reason any of us take any of the stories in the OT seriously is because Jesus did. If there had been no NT, no Jesus, you and I wouldn't believe [Adam and Eve and the flood]. We'd put that in the category of ancient myth. 

i) It's true that for Christians, our belief in the NT contributes to our belief in the OT. But Stanley disregards the fact that Christianity must be validated by the OT. 

ii) There are independent reports of the flood in Mesopotamian traditions. Likewise, there's archeological corroboration for many things in the OT. Why does Stanley ignore that evidence? 

7. He says:

Then they have to wrestle to the ground when Jesus referenced many of these things, was he referencing these things as something that happened in history, or was he referencing them like [the apocryphal story" of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree. Why we watch fictitious movies. We cry even though it never happened, but we walk away inspired. 

Then a person has to decide, what did he mean? And I'm comfortable letting the conversation go from there. They should have the same view of the OT that Jesus did. But then the challenge is to discover how did Jesus view his own scriptures. I'd never press anyone that if you can't accept all of as historically true then you can't really be a Christian. I think that's a little bit absurd. 

So he just leaves those two options hanging out there. Are they historical reports or apocryphal tales? Flip a coin. 

It doesn't occur to him that he has a pastoral responsibility to explain and defend how Jesus viewed the OT. Not just leave it open-ended, but take a stand and give supporting arguments. 

Perhaps that's because, in reality, he's skeptical, but he doesn't want to put his cards on the table, face up, so he constantly plays coy. 

8. He says

The base of faith Is not about a text. Christianity did not begin because somewhat read something but because someone saw something. The text is secondary to the event. Unlike other religious systems we have an event-based faith. 

He makes a big deal about relative chronology, but as far as that goes, when did Christianity begin? He acts as though Christianity began with the Resurrection. But is that the starting-point? Or did it begin with the Incarnation? What about the public ministry of Jesus? The ministry of Jesus consisted of words and deeds. Not just events. And not events first, then words later. Rather, the ministry of Christ constantly alternates between things he says and things he does. On the one hand he performs miracles and exorcisms. On the other hand, he makes speeches, has conversations.

He predicts his own resurrection. So his words precede the event. 

From the get-go, the Christian faith was as much about what observers heard as what they saw (Acts 4:20). Equally word-centered and event-centered. 

9. He says

Over time it's become a text-based faith. Whole theological systems built around either one of those camps. 

That's because we lack direct access to the events. We weren't there. Our only point of entry is mediated by historical records. So we can't turn the clock back and put ourselves in the position of eyewitnesses to the public ministry of Christ. 

10. He says

Who is Jesus is answered for us by what Matthew said, Mark said, Luke said, John said, what Peter said, what James said, what Paul said. Seven 1C witnesses. 

True, but that's text-based. And if you're going to appeal to the NT witness, you have to defend the historicity of the sources. 

Lectures on Revelation


Friday, August 10, 2018

Good truths and true goods

There's a cliche that's often spouted by Christian apologists: follow the evidence wherever it leads. 

Up to a point that's wise advice although it can suffer from a naive positivism. 

Problem is, Christian philosophers and apologists often discuss the true in separation from the good. They argue that we should believe Christianity because it's true, and they discuss how God is the exemplar good and source of finite goods. But this tends to be compartmentalized. 

If, however, the true and the good don't converge, then why should anyone care about truth? If the truth isn't good, why should we pursue whatever the cost? You might pursue the truth, but once your pursuit convinces you that it doesn't lead you to the good, what's the point? If life is a cosmic tragedy where there's no happy ending for anyone, why should I follow it over the cliff? Even if I can't avoid it, that's hardly a noble goal. 

Don't get me wrong: the truth can be bad in sense that, say, cancer is bad in itself (although it can be a source of good). I mean bad in an ultimate, unredeemable sense of cosmic nihilism. There's no reason anyone should have a commitment to that. 

I'm not suggesting that truth is dispensable. There are churchgoers who don't think Christianity is true. They think it's a myth, but a good myth. It gives structure and direction to their lives. They don't have anything better to replace it with, so they continue singing traditional hymns and reciting a traditional liturgy. 

On the one hand there are atheists who separate the true from the good, pursuing truth for truth's sake, even if that diverges from the good. Even if there's no good to be found.

On the other hand, there are churchgoers who separate the good from the true, pursuing good for goodness sake, even if that diverges from the truth. Even if there's no truth to be found. 

We need to oppose both those extremes. The true and the good must coincide for either to be of ultimate value. If the good isn't true, then the good is illusory. If the true isn't good, then it has no claims on us. 

The Prime Directive

I was asked to comment on the Prime Directive. As someone who watched TOS when it premiered, as well as watching a number of spinoffs, that question has a certain nostalgia. I doubt any deep thought went into whatever TV producer concocted the Prime Directive. I assume it was one of those on the fly decisions. But despite its philosophically undistinguished origins, the Prime Directive is an interesting, provocative concept. 

The Prime Directive is a blanket ban on interference with the internal development of less advanced alien cultures and societies. However, that proved to be dramatically suffocating, so it was routinely flouted by screenwriters, although sometimes a ST episode centered on the controversial nature of the directive. Let's begin by considering some defenses and real-world counterparts to the Prime Directive:

The Overlooked Science of Genealogical Ancestry

Although he's a theistic evolutionist, he concedes the scientific possibility of a first human breeding pair by special creation.

Are Christian Scholars Apologists?


Could ANYTHING convince you God exists?


Bet you can't eat just one!

Watch first episode free:


But is it like potato chips where you can't eat just one?

Sitting Orthoducks

This is a sequel to my previous post:

Perry is responding to James White. I have my own way of framing issues. 

And this is true for for evangelical and Reformed bodies as well. Given the absence of any manifestation of the world as a good creation of God in the space employed for worship, the conclusion one can often draw from a spatial void is that God is everywhere in general but nowhere in particular. This is, needless to say problematic for a paradigm that turns on God not only creating the world, but acting in and through history. This is just to say that if you’re view of worship is primarily about getting the right ideas into the heads of people, something is probably wrong and might just resemble incipient Gnosticism.

i) I disagree with the Puritans on the role of Christian art. I like traditional church architecture (Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic). However, I never confound religious art with the presence of God. Art is a human creation. 

ii) I don't think God is literally anywhere. But he manifests himself, the way a painter is present in his artwork. I don't think God is more present in a sanctuary. In many cases, he's less present in a sanctuary. From a NT perspective, Christians are sanctuaries. 

and you speak of the soul as imprisoned in the material body

That goes back to Plato. It has no counterpart in Reformed theology.

…individuals at Pulpit and Pen, who are apparently bereft of any tact and grace…

That's an understatement. 

The old boy network

Perry Robinson has a final "substantive" (in his words) post on the Hank Hanegraaff scandal:

Topically, it's basically two posts in one, linked by the Dividing Line episode. Perry's view of parachurch ministries forms a kind of segue. A lot of his is about philosophy and theology, some of which I agree with and some of which I don't. Then there's the ethical indictment, which may be the ultimate target. I'm going to discuss the ethical indictment in this post, then the philosophical/theological issues in a separate post. 

I've quoted some representative samples. But Perry's post has additional supporting material. If you wish to see all his documentation, you need to read the original post.