Saturday, July 16, 2005

Freedom & time-travel

I’ve been asked to comment on Peter van Inwagen’s objection to theological determinism. This is, of course, bound up with his case for libertarian freedom. If LFW is true, then theological determinism is false.

I’ll confine myself to three comments:

i) Van Inwagen’s argument has evolved over the years. In fact, he’s come to the point at which he regards the arguments for determinism and indeterminism as equiprobable, or—if you prefer--equi-improbable, in the sense that both can’t be right, although both can both be wrong, and he is, in his own words, “absolutely clueless,” as to where the truth lies, and, indeed, regards the dilemma as “evidently impossible of solution.”

ii) This raises the question of what, if anything, would count as evidence for LFW even if LFW were true. There are three logical alternatives:

a) Hard determinism: We are not free to do otherwise even if we wanted to do otherwise.

b) Soft determinism: We are free to do otherwise if we want to do otherwise—although we are not free to want to do otherwise.

c) Indeterminism: We are free to want to do otherwise.

The Westminster Confession implicitly opts for (b). Cf. WCF 3.1; 4:2.

An example of hard determinism would be Frankfurt-cases. A Frankfurt-case is a thought-experiment in which the subject, unbeknownst to himself, has a failsafe device implanted in his brain which would prevent him from making a certain choice.

Frankfurt-cases are generally deployed to show that LFW is not a necessary condition of moral responsibility. But aside from their relevance to the ethical issues raised in the debate between compatibilism and incompatibilism, they are also relevant to the epistemic question of what would count as evidence for LFW, were it true.

The problem which Frankfurt-cases pose for libertarians is that the subject of the experiment believes himself to be free, even though he isn’t. There is nothing in his experience to falsify his belief that he is other than free, even though his belief is false.

On this view, not only is hard determinism compatible with moral responsibility, it is also compatible with the illusion LFW.

It is not my purpose to make a case for hard determinism. Rather, I’m arguing from the greater to the lesser. If the indeterminist can’t even disprove hard determinism, he can scarcely disprove soft determinism.

The problem is that an agent is in no position to know, from the inside out, whether his actions are determined by an external source.

As such, this question can only be resolved by revelation rather than reason.

iii) Finally, I’d like to raise another objection to LFW. Since we’ve all grown up on SF, we’re all familiar with the paradoxes of time-travel. And this is one reason to believe that time travel and retrocausation are impossible.

In a typical case, a scientist goes back in time and accidentally kills his father before is father has a chance to father him. But to change the future in that respect would remove a necessary condition for the experiment in the first place, since the son would not exist in the future to go back in time and accidentally kill his own father.

Now, I submit that if LFW were true, it would raise this conundrum to a global level. The typical form of the paradox assumes that a time traveler must intervene in the past to change the past in order to change the future.

But, if LFW were true, no such intervention would be needed to change the future. It would be inessential to alter the past in order to alter the future.

Rather, all you’d need to do, to alter the future, would be to exactly replicate the past. For the leading principle of LFW is that an agent is free to do otherwise under the very same circumstances.

And this, I submit, carries a further implication. If LFW were true, and you kept replicating the past, then, of necessity, the same agent would do otherwise in the same situation. If he really could do otherwise, and you keep giving him enough chances to do otherwise, he would do otherwise—sooner or later.

But if enough past agents were to do otherwise, the future would be so different that the experiment could not be performed in the first place.

Hence, I conclude that LFW is incoherent on the same grounds as retrocausation.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Seeing red

Jonathan Prejean, of Crimson Catholic fame, has penned a brief reaction piece something I wrote in response to Enloe:

<< This post wasn't really pointed in my direction, but I think it gets right to the heart of most interreligious difficulties among the main Christian denominations. >>


<< Personally, I doubt it, and that's not a particular criticism of Scripture but of any attempt to reconstruct an ancient document. You can make a good run at it, but the degree of certainty one might have about the meaning is less than absolute, and there is likely going to be a massive amount of disagreement about how probable any particular person's conclusions are with regard to several important issues of interpretation. I think generally you can make pretty good guesses about meaning, but in lots of particular instances, you're probably going to have to throw up your hands and say "we just don't know for sure." It appears to me that the Magisterial Reformers recognized that and evaluated dubious cases (such as paedobaptism, rebaptism, and heretical interpretations) according to tradition, which they considered binding (even if not infallible) in areas where the Scriptural witness was unclear. >>

Prejean raises some fundamental issues here which are well worth raising:

i) I agree with him that in many individual instances, all we can offer is an educated guess--although some guesses are better than others.

ii) In this respect a Catholic commentator like Brown or Fitzmyer is in the same boat as a Protestant commentator like Bruce or Bauckham or Cranfield.

iii) Having said that, historical distance cuts in more than one direction:

a) A modern scholar will understand less about any particular book of the Bible than the original audience for that particular book.

b) But by that same token, historical distance also applies at an intracanonical level. The audience for Genesis is not the same as the audience for Daniel, which is not the same as the audience for John.

c) As a consequence, it is possible for a modern scholar to understand more about the Bible generally than the original audience did. For example, an Egyptologist or Assyriologist has a better handle on some OT books than Josephus did.

iv) Due to the level of doctrinal redundancy built into the Bible, there is a high degree of certainty attaching to the broad theology of Scripture which is fairly independent of the low degree of certainty attaching to certain verses in particular.

v) Apropos (iv), one of those widely-attested doctrines is the special providence of God.

As such, we don’t need to be equally sure about everything as long as we’re sure that God is sure of everything, and will secure his purposes for his covenant community.

vi) I reject the principle that tradition should function as a makeweight in dubious cases. If, to use some of Prejean’s examples, a preponderance of the evidence fails favor either inside in disputes over baptism, then our level of confidence ought not rate any higher than evidence warrants. We should frankly and honestly admit that dubious cases are just that—dubious.

We can live with an element of doubt on many things as long as everything isn’t doubtful. For uncertainty is, itself, a relative concept--relative to something which is more certain.

And, in that event, matters of policy and practice ought to be left to individual conscience and freedom of dissent, although like-minded individuals are at liberty to form religious associations which do come down on one side or the other.

<< False dichotomy. There's no necessary relationship between whether the Bible means ONLY what it was meant to mean for the implied reader and the target audience and whether human language is an adequate vehicle for divine revelation. The standard Christian account of revelation for centuries was that it was written by God for the Church collectively, not simply a fixed message between an author and a receiver at the time. The literal sense was always considered true, of course, but not limiting. The Bible was clearly written to be understood, but understood by whom and when is an entirely different question. >>

Several more issues to sort out:

i) It’s true, as Prejean points out, that my questions are not deducible from one another by strict implication. Keep in mind, though, that they were never intended to be that tight-knit. I was not attempting to offer a systematic presentation of my own position, but pegging my questions to Enloe’s position. To that extent, I was allowing him to frame the questions.

ii) To say that the Bible was written for the church is ambiguous. The Bible was written for the benefit of the church at large, but the various books of the Bible were addressed to men and women living at the time the books were written. They were, in a sense, writing for posterity, but they were not writing to posterity, as if the writers foresaw our individual topical circumstances. Rather, their words were directed to their contemporaries.

As far as posterity is concerned, we can only rightly know what the Bible means for us by knowing what it meant to them, in terms of what the author meant it to mean, consistent with the cultural preunderstanding of the day. Inspired intent and objective implication are never at loggerheads.

In the providence of God, old words are applicable to the future. History repeats itself. Nature and passion never change.

iii) To reiterate a distinction I’ve drawn elsewhere, there is a difference between intent and implication. For example, a statement may contain incidental information which has nothing do with the main point. The speaker includes the background details in his statement because they supply the setting for how he knows what he does or what exigent circumstance occasioned the statement in question. So the statement may include information about the time of day, or the weather, or who he was with.

Such asides and parentheticals can come in handy when we try to reconstruct the historical context in which the statement was originally situated.

Or, to take another example, the Mosaic code consists both of general norms (the Decalogue) and case law. Now, from the case law it’s possible to infer general norms, and it is also possible to apply the general norms to special cases not illustrated or envisioned in the Mosaic code.

Notice, though, that these implications do not export more from the text than they can find in the text.

iv) To draw another distinction: the Bible is full of divine promises. In many instances, the recipient is told what God will do, but not how or when he will do it.

At a metaphysical level, both the ends and the means are assured. And at an epistemic level, the end is assured, but not the means. That is to say, the recipient can be certain of the fulfillment, but he cannot be certain of the historical contingencies by which the promises will be facilitated and fulfilled. Indeed, he may be totally in the dark on that logistical question.

So there is a core of epistemic uncertainty surrounded by a shell of epistemic and ontological certainty.

<< If you're interested in the God-inspired meaning, both (at least according to the traditional account). If you neglect either, you cut off part of the intended meaning. If you adopt either extreme, it's hard to see how you haven't strayed into some kind of Christological error regarding how the divine and creation intersect. The former idea particularly seems to view the divine and human qualities of Scripture as separate, which is analogous to either Nestorianism or Arianism/Adoptionism (if it's simply God's use of human instruments). The latter view is analogous to Docetism, neglecting the historical reality of the Scripture. >>

I regard this Christological comparison as committing a two-way level-confusion:

i) It commits a top-down level-confusion. There are analogies between inspiration and Incarnation. But the two are not directly related. Rather, they are indirectly related to each other by being directly related to a higher-level abstraction. Each one is, as Prejean rightly points out, a special case of the way in which the divine can interface with the human.

But by that same token, Christology cannot supply the framework for Bibliology inasmuch as Incarnation/inspiration relation is not a set/subset relation.

To see this you need only turn it around. Would it make any more sense to treat inspiration as the framework for Incarnation? No.

ii) It commits a bottom-up fallacy. Christology is a theological construct. So is Bibliology. The one is not inferred from the other. That would be another level-confusion. Rather, each doctrine is inferred from the relevant exegetical evidence.

Now, once each theological construct is complete, having been derived from its own data-base, it is then possible to move to the next level and compare the two, and relate the two, on a logical and systematic plane of analysis and synthesis.

And comparing like doctrines may generate additional supporting arguments. But one doctrine doesn’t furnish the interpretive grid through which another is strained and filtered.

<< If we knew for a fact that Dante knew the end from the beginning and providentially ordered things so that the significance of part of his writing would be realized centuries later, then sure, we might interpret him in light of Hubble and Einstein. That's the difference between the author being God and the author being Dante. :-) >>

The fact that Scripture is inspired can and does mean that it is able to anticipate inferences and eventualities not consciously or unconsciously foreseen by the human author.

However, any given text of Scripture still contains a finite amount of information. My extrabiblical inference cannot validly export more from the text than the text implies.

Now, the context of fulfillment can supplement the original context inasmuch as the fulfillment will supply the missing information—the who, what, and when. But that’s a case of progressive revelation, bearing witness to the historical futurition of promise.

<< That defines the objective content of Scripture, but not what is received from Scripture (the subjective Christian belief that ought to be taken from it at a given time). In other words, asking the question "What would a first century Christian have taken this to mean?" doesn't exhaust the possible meaning that God intended. Exegesis gives the former, but only the witness of the Church through the ages gives the latter. >>

To some extent I’ve already dealt with this in the above-drawn distinctions.

There is a sense in which the life of the church tells you something about God’s overarching purpose in the revelation of Scripture. However, Scripture remains the criterion, not the church, for you would need to know which church is the true church to know which church truly exemplifies God’s purpose for the church. And, from a Protestant perspective, no one church, even among the truer churches, ideally exemplifies that correspondence.

Once again I’d like to thank Prejean for a civil and beneficial exchange.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Why did we go to war?

Many members of the general public seem to be of the opinion that the only reason we went to war against Iraq was WMD. This impression is fostered by what they read and hear in the elite media.

But in the age of the Internet, there is no reason to rely on second or third-hand sources for their information on so momentous a question.

The legal causus belli for the war in Iraq is given in the Congressional war resolution. This is about as official as you can get. And you can get it right off the Web. No need for anchormen or reporters or op-ed writers. You can go straight to the horse’s mouth.

And, if you do so, you will find, not one reason for war, but no fewer than twenty-five reasons for war. Judge for yourself.


[1] Whereas in 1990 in response to Iraq's war of aggression against and illegal occupation of Kuwait, the United States forged a coalition of nations to liberate Kuwait and its people in order to defend the national security of the United States and enforce United Nations Security Council resolutions relating to Iraq;

[2] Whereas after the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, Iraq entered into a United Nations sponsored cease-fire agreement pursuant to which Iraq unequivocally agreed, among other things, to eliminate its nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs and the means to deliver and develop them, and to end its support for international terrorism;

[3] Whereas the efforts of international weapons inspectors, United States intelligence agencies, and Iraqi defectors led to the discovery that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical weapons and a large scale biological weapons program, and that Iraq had an advanced nuclear weapons development program that was much closer to producing a nuclear weapon than intelligence reporting had previously indicated;

[4] Whereas Iraq, in direct and flagrant violation of the cease-fire, attempted to thwart the efforts of weapons inspectors to identify and destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction stockpiles and development capabilities, which finally resulted in the withdrawal of inspectors from Iraq on October 31, 1998;

[5] Whereas in 1998 Congress concluded that Iraq's continuing weapons of mass destruction programs threatened vital United States interests and international peace and security, declared Iraq to be in "material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations" and urged the President "to take appropriate action, in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws of the United States, to bring Iraq into compliance with its international obligations" (Public Law 105-235);

[6] Whereas Iraq both poses a continuing threat to the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region and remains in material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations by, among other things, continuing to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability, actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability, and supporting and harboring terrorist organizations;

[7] Whereas Iraq persists in violating resolutions of the United Nations Security Council by continuing to engage in brutal repression of its civilian population thereby threatening international peace and security in the region, by refusing to release, repatriate, or account for non-Iraqi citizens wrongfully detained by Iraq, including an American serviceman, and by failing to return property wrongfully seized by Iraq from Kuwait;

[8] Whereas the current Iraqi regime has demonstrated its capability and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction against other nations and its own people;

[9] Whereas the current Iraqi regime has demonstrated its continuing hostility toward, and willingness to attack, the United States, including by attempting in 1993 to assassinate former President Bush and by firing on many thousands of occasions on United States and Coalition Armed Forces engaged in enforcing the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council;

[10] Whereas members of al Qaida, an organization bearing responsibility for attacks on the United States, its citizens, and interests, including the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, are known to be in Iraq;

[11] Whereas Iraq continues to aid and harbor other international terrorist organizations, including organizations that threaten the lives and safety of American citizens;

[12] Whereas the attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001 underscored the gravity of the threat posed by the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by international terrorist organizations;

[13] Whereas Iraq's demonstrated capability and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction, the risk that the current Iraqi regime will either employ those weapons to launch a surprise attack against the United States or its Armed Forces or provide them to international terrorists who would do so, and the extreme magnitude of harm that would result to the United States and its citizens from such an attack, combine to justify action by the United States to defend itself;

[15] Whereas United Nations Security Council Resolution 678 authorizes the use of all necessary means to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 660 and subsequent relevant resolutions and to compel Iraq to cease certain activities that threaten international peace and security, including the development of weapons of mass destruction and refusal or obstruction of United Nations weapons inspections in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, repression of its civilian population in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 688, and threatening its neighbors or United Nations operations in Iraq in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 949;

[16] Whereas Congress in the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution (Public Law 102-1) has authorized the President "to use United States Armed Forces pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 678 (1990) in order to achieve implementation of Security Council Resolutions 660, 661, 662, 664, 665, 666, 667, 669, 670, 674, and 677";

[17] Whereas in December 1991, Congress expressed its sense that it "supports the use of all necessary means to achieve the goals of United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 as being consistent with the Authorization of Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution (Public Law 102-1)," that Iraq's repression of its civilian population violates United Nations Security Council Resolution 688 and "constitutes a continuing threat to the peace, security, and stability of the Persian Gulf region," and that Congress, "supports the use of all necessary means to achieve the goals of United Nations Security Council Resolution 688";

[18] Whereas the Iraq Liberation Act (Public Law 105-338) expressed the sense of Congress that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime;

[19] Whereas on September 12, 2002, President Bush committed the United States to "work with the United Nations Security Council to meet our common challenge" posed by Iraq and to "work for the necessary resolutions," while also making clear that "the Security Council resolutions will be enforced, and the just demands of peace and security will be met, or action will be unavoidable";

[21] Whereas the United States is determined to prosecute the war on terrorism and Iraq's ongoing support for international terrorist groups combined with its development of weapons of mass destruction in direct violation of its obligations under the 1991 cease-fire and other United Nations Security Council resolutions make clear that it is in the national security interests of the United States and in furtherance of the war on terrorism that all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions be enforced, including through the use of force if necessary;

[22] Whereas Congress has taken steps to pursue vigorously the war on terrorism through the provision of authorities and funding requested by the President to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 or harbored such persons or organizations;

[23] Whereas the President and Congress are determined to continue to take all appropriate actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such persons or organizations;

[24] Whereas the President has authority under the Constitution to take action in order to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States, as Congress recognized in the joint resolution on Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40); and

[25] Whereas it is in the national security of the United States to restore international peace and security to the Persian Gulf region.

Why I'm not a Cramptonian

Vincent Cheung has posted a fluffy article on his blog--or should I say an article on his fluffy blog?--by Gary Crampton entitled “Why I am Not A Van Tilian.”

I’ll content myself with a few comments on what he’s said:

<< Where is it that Van Til has gone astray? Using Robbins’ book as a guide, I will begin with Van Til’s view of presuppositional apologetics. >>

Why is he using Robbins’ book as a guide? Can’t he read or think for himself? Is reliance on a hostile, Cliff Notes version of Van Til his idea of scholarship?

<< Presuppositionalism, by definition, excludes the use of proofs for the existence of God. >>

It does? Is presuppositionalism now a brand name? Presuppositionalism™?

I’m not going to fight over a word. Whether we call Van Tilian apologetics presuppositional apologetics or transcendental theism matters not to me. But it’s not as if the Clarkians had some prior claim on the term.

<< Presuppositionalism, by definition, excludes the use of proofs for the existence of God. Not so, however, with Dr. Van Til. >>

Indeed, Van Til did believe in theistic proofs. Leave it to a hostile Clarkian correct the popular misconception that Van Tilian apologetics is fideistic.

However, as I recall, Gordon Clark also had his own theistic proof, which took the form of an alethic proof for the existence of God. According to Clark, truth had all the attributes of God. And since truth is undeniable, on pain of self-refutation, God must exist.

So, by Crampton’s standard, Clark was not a bona fide presuppositionalist.

<< Dr. Van Til demurs. He writes:

We do assert that God, that is, the whole Godhead, is one person…. We must maintain that God is numerically one, He is one person…. We speak of God as a person; yet we speak also of three persons in the Godhead…. God is a one-conscious being, and yet he is also a tri-conscious being…. [T]he work ascribed to any of the persons is the work of one absolute person…. We do assert that God, that is, the whole Godhead, is one person…. [W]e must therefore hold that God’s being presents an absolute numerical identity. And even within the ontological Trinity we must maintain that God is numerically one. He is one person (18-19). >>

Clarkians never tire of exhuming the moldering bones of this old canard. And it’s true that, in this one instance, Van Til’s formulation had a modalistic cast to it. Since modalism is a heresy, modalistic formulations, whether intentional or not, should be studiously eschewed.

Not only is this formulation unorthodox, it is also contrary to Van Til’s fundamental commitment to the equal ultimacy of the one and the many, grounded in the ontological Trinity. So this is an odd lapse on Van Til’s part.

But while we’re on the subject of modalism, consider Clark’s modalistic version of the Trinity:


Therefore, since God is Truth, we shall define person…as a composite of truths…theologians will complain that this reduces the Trinity to one person…This objection is based on a blindness toward certain definite Scriptural information…I am referring to the complex of truths that form the Three Persons. Though they are equally omniscient, they do not all know the same truths. Neither the complex of truths we call the Father nor those we call the Spirit, has the proposition, “I was incarnated.” …The Father cannot say, “I walked from Jerusalem to Jericho.

G. Clark, The Incarnation (The Trinity Foundation 1988), 54-55.


Notice how, according to this framework, the individuating principle which differentiates one person of the Godhead from another consists in existential propositions concerning the economic Trinity. And that conduces straight to modalism. On such a view, the Trinitarian relations are contingent rather than necessary.

Now, it’s harder to salvage Clark’s orthodoxy than Van Til’s. For, as I’ve said, the equal ultimacy of the one and the many is quite fundamental to Van Til’s philosophy.

By contrast, Clark’s propositional definition of personhood as the principle of individuation and personal identity is fundamental to his philosophy. But that is the very thing which generates his modalistic model of the Trinity, whereas Van Til’s one-time formulation is an aberration, at odds with his essential oft-stated outlook.

<< Lamentably, this peculiar teaching has spread. John Frame, a disciple of Van Til and professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, also says that “Scripture…does refer to God as one person.” >>

Two problems here:

To begin with, Crampton’s charge is trading on ambiguities of reference. Take a comparison:

Suppose I’m a bank-teller. Suppose I’m subpoenaed to be a witness at the trial of a bank robber. The lawyer points at the defendant and asks me if I’ve ever seen him? I answer in the negative. He then proceeds to impeach my credibility by showing the jury a shot of the defendant taken by a security camera. The photo shows me handing money over to a masked man.

So, was I committing perjury when I denied having seen the bank robber? Obviously the answer turns on ambiguities of reference. I saw a person who was a bank robber. And the person I saw was the defendant. But I didn’t see his face. And I didn’t know at the time that the defendant was the bank robber.

Let us be clear on what Frame is doing here. Frame is being true to the usage of Scripture. It is a demonstrable fact that Scripture usually refers to God as a singular grammatical object. And, at the same time, it describes God as a personal agent--by ascribing personal attributes and deliberate deeds to God. As a rule, Scripture doesn’t differentiate between the persons of the Godhead when picks out God as the referent. That’s especially true in the OT.

So there is nothing the least bit heretical about Frame describing and affirming the way in which the Bible itself ordinarily refers to God.

The doctrine of the Trinity is not based on the conventionalities of linguistic reference. Rather, the doctrine of the Trinity is a theological construct. It takes the raw data of Scripture, then analyzes and synthesizes that data at a higher level of abstraction. That’s the methodology of systematic theology.

Now, if Crampton is really that incompetent in his grasp of theological method and theories of reference, then he has no business writing about theology in the first place.

Second, if he were really interested in knowing what Frame believes about the Trinity, he would read Frame’s book on The Doctrine of God (P&R 2002). So either Crampton is too lazy to read Frame’s major and mature statement on the doctrine in question, or else he has read it, but not finding what he was looking for, chose to deceive the reader. Either he’s an indolent ignoramus or an oily prevaricator. Take your pick. It matters not to me.

If that comes across as harsh, that’s how it was intended to come across. Anyone who poses as a Christian rationalist assumes the burden of acting with a modicum of intellectual responsibility.

I realize that Crampton's article originally came out before the publication of Frame's book, but since it has gone on to life as a web document, there's no excuse for Crampton not to update it.

<< Dr. Van Til is well known for his assertion that the Bible is full of logical paradoxes, apparent contradictions, or antinomies. >>

True. And in The Doctrine of God, on p512, Frame breaks ranks with Van Til on this very issue.

Again, either Crampton read it or he didn’t. If he didn’t, he’s culpably ignorant--since it’s he has elementary duty to acquaint himself with Frame’s position if he’s planning to attack it. And if he did read it, then why doesn’t he point out to the reader the difference between Frame and Van Til at this juncture?

<< It is true that in some places Van Til implies that logic is not created. But in other places he says the opposite, that is, that logic is created. >>

Once again, Crampton is retailing in equivocations.

The word “logic” doesn’t mean “the way God thinks.” Here are some standard definitions of logic from the OED:

“The branch of philosophy that treats of the forms of thinking in general, and more especially of inference and of scientific method.

“Logic may be more briefly defined as the science of reasoning.”

“A system or a particular exposition of logic; a treatise on logic. Also, the science or art of reasoning as applied to some particular department of knowledge or investigation.”

“Logical argumentation; a mode of argumentation viewed as good or bad according to its conformity or want of conformity to logical principles. Also, logical pertinence or propriety.”

Crampton is confounding standard usage with an ontological theory of logic, as if the meaning of the word and the metaphysics of the concept were interchangeable.

Again, if Crampton is really that fuzz brained, he has no right presenting himself as a rationalist. For the least we should expect from a rationalistic is rational clarity.

<< Thankfully, they are not correct. As Clark has pointed out time and again in his writings, the laws of logic are the way God thinks, and he has given us a rational revelation by which to live. In fact, Clark states, Jesus calls himself the Logos (word from which we get “logic”) of God in John 1. He is Logic incarnate, and if we are to think in a manner that pleases God, we must think as Christ does: logically. >>

Three blunders:

i) Observe the childish, etymological fallacy--as if you can read the import of the English derivative back into the Greek word. Does Crampton also suppose that we should render dunamis as dynamite wherever it occurs in the LXX and Greek NT?

ii) Crampton must be a unitarian since, in the above quote, he refers to God as though he were one person. Shouldn’t he refer to God as “they” rather than “he”?

iii) The Johannine logos is an LXX loanword which has its conceptual background in the OT “word of the Lord.” Doesn’t Crampton know that? And if he’s really that ignorant of Biblical usage, then…but you know by now how the rest goes.

<< The difficulty is that Van Til gave us no test by which we might distinguish between a real and an apparent contradiction. >>

True. And what test did Clark give us? Or Robbins? Or Crampton?

What makes an apparent contradiction apparently contradictory is that it looks just like the real thing, right? So there is no general criterion to distinguish the one from the other.

This doesn’t mean that we can never tell the difference. But it isn’t based on some universal rule-of-thumb.

<< The root of the problem here is Van Til’s belief that all human knowledge is (and can only be) analogical to God’s knowledge. >>

How’s that a problem? God’s knowledge is the exemplar of human knowledge. Sounds just right to me.

<< Writes Van Til: “Our knowledge is analogical and therefore must be paradoxical” >>

I agree that this would be a problem, were it so. But the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise. So I part ways with Van Til with respect to the conclusion.

<< Clark, of course, is not denying that there is a difference in degree between God’s knowledge and our knowledge — that is, God always knows more than man does. >>

Only a difference of degree? God merely knows more? I can only guess that Crampton is piggybacking on Clark’s denial of infinite divine knowledge. Cf. The Incarnation, p62. As I’ve explained once before, this is based on his pre-Cantorian concept of the infinite.

So Clark’s solution is to substitute the finitude of God for the incomprehensibility of God. It’s for reasons like this that I don’t believe that either side had the better of the Clark Controversy.

<< That is, there must be a univocal point where truth in the mind of man coincides with truth in the mind of God. >>

This is an assertion, not an argument. Taken to its logical extreme, there must be one mind, not two. Indeed, that’s what Clark’s rationalism leads him to. He dissolves the subject/object duality in a wash of pantheistic idealism.

Crampton is assuming, without benefit of argument, that analogy without a point of identity reduces to equivocation. But this is an armchair theory of knowledge.

Human knowledge is often approximate. For example, we can often take things in at a glance without engaging in any sort of direct comparisons. I perceive that one side of the auditorium has more people seated than the other side. I don’t do this by a painstaking process of elimination, counting empty seats in a one-to-one correspondence.

Likewise, a chess-player with good sight-of-the-board can size up the game without thinking through every move. He relies on intuition.

I agree that if God knows A to be true, and I know A to be true, then we both know A to be true. But “univocity” is a linguistic term. And semantics is not the model of all knowledge.

<< “Scripture,” says Frame, “does not demand absolute precision of us, a precision impossible for creatures…. Indeed, Scripture recognizes that for sake of communication, vagueness is often preferable to precision.” >>

Crampton doesn’t like the sound of this statement. But just because you don’t like the consequences of a position in no way invalidates the position.

There is a measure of vagueness in the spoken and written word. For one thing, we have far more objects than words to name them. Hence, words function as abstract universals to capture concrete particulars. But the fit is approximate, precisely because the words are more general than the objects they take.

Moreover, the relation between word and object is an arbitrary social convention. There is no internal relation between word and object. Furthermore, definition is a circular exercise.

Yet we’re still able to communicate. And that’s because we don’t have to start from scratch, in stepwise fashion. God has equipped us with an innate capacity for classification. And he’s filled the world with natural kinds. In addition, we don’t learn things atomistically, as discrete particulars. Rather, we register relations and sets tout ensemble.

So the whole is already given in experience, through the holistic act of perception—as sensation and preconception unite. The Augustinian paradoxes of learning are fallacious because they assume a stepwise process from scratch.

<< Apparently the Van Tilians have forgotten the Reformed doctrine of the clarity of Scripture. The Westminster Confession of Faith expresses it this way: “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them” (1:7). >>

How is this inconsistent with Frame’s position? To the contrary, what the Confession has to say about the perspicuity of Scripture is carefully caveated.

In a footnote, Crampton also refers the reader to a critique of Frame’s position by Karlberg. But he doesn’t refer the reader to Frame’s reply, reprinted in appendices B and C of The Doctrine of God. How do we account for Campton’s omission? Is this due to ignorance or mendacity? Neither excuse does him much credit.

Who is Karlberg, anyway? Answer: Karlberg is a slavish little Klinean. And that’s his beef with Frame. Frame has made use of Kline, but Frame is not a lockstep Klinean, and for Karlberg, any deviation from his Master’s voice is unforgivable.

It is ironic that Frame’s orthodoxy would be measured by Kline and Kline’s doglike disciples when Frame’s view of church/state relations is far more faithful to the Westminster Divines than Kline’s desacralized theory of common grace.

Remember Lee Irons? He comes in for favorable mention in the archives of the Trinity Foundation.

Remember the heresy trial of Lee Irons? He got into hot water when his wife posted an essay defending same-sex civil marriage on the church website. Yet this was simply a logical and consistent application of Kline’s contra-confessional theory of common grace to the public square.

Irons was eventually defrocked on account of his antinomian theology, which is the lineal descendent of Kline. Irons’ canon lawyer was T. D. Gordon--a man who denies sola Scriptura and upholds the new perspective on Paul. Is this the sort of company that the Trinity Foundation is keeping these days?


Here are some good resources on CVT:

Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic (P&R 1998)

John Frame, Cornelius Van Til (P&R 1995)

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Yet another last ditch-effort by Enloe to salvage his position, in the process of which he digs an ever-deeper hole for himself:

<< Convinced for some very odd--and typically extremely self-serving reasons like "We are conservative" or "We are really regenerate, unlike those guys" or "Our exegesis is tradition free. >>

This is the sort of trademark caricature that we’ve come to expect from Enloe.

The question is not whether we do exegesis in a traditional vacuum. The question, rather, is whether, in the comparative study of various theological traditions, we can become self-aware of our own cultural assumptions, and thereby put some critical distance between Scripture and social conditioning so that Scripture is in a position to correct our social conditioning.

<< Even if it could be argued, say, that most Evangelicals are foundationalists it does not in any way follow that foundationalism possesses some kind of absolutely privileged intellectual status. >>

To judge by McGrew’s assessment of Enloe, and Enloe’s failure and refusal to respond at the same level, one must conclude that Enloe has simply picked up some slogans and catchphrases without any real understanding of what they mean.

<< The critic particularly in question in this entry, for instance, has the rather odd belief that the 1982 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is some kind of indisputable baseline for all legitimate Evangelical thinking about the issue of biblical inerrancy. He has claimed in the past that I "owe the Christian community an explanation" merely for posting a link to someone else's article which questioned some of the working assumptions of the 1982 Statement. Enloe owes the Christian world an explanation for pointing out that Evangelical diversity is not restricted to what one sub-group within it thinks. What a bizarre thing to say. One wonders from what clogged up intellectual wells this person has been drinking--and why he hasn't ranged out farther to find other wells which are perhaps tapped into deeper and richer streams of thought than his own. >>

This is another deliberate distortion of our exchange. But allow me to begin on a note of agreement.

As a matter of fact, commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture has become the minority position within Christendom. If you study contemporary Catholic scholarship, from the top down, it is obvious that post-Vatican II Catholicism has given up on the inerrancy of Scripture.

Liberal Bible criticism has also made inroads into the Orthodox Church. And the Anglican Communion is notoriously latitudinarian in the permissible views of Scripture.

The Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican are, in that order, the first, second, and third biggest “Christian” bodies in all of Christendom.

By contrast, those who have a formal commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture come down to a handful of conservative Evangelical denominations among the Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and fundamentalists.

So, yes, Svendsen and White and I, among others, are definitely in the minority on this one. I would, though, just note in passing that if OT history is any guide (remember the Exodus generation? Remember the Babylonian exile?), to be in the majority is not the safest place to be, spiritually speaking.

Beyond that, the problem is that Enloe doesn’t tell us what his own thinking is on inerrancy. If he doesn’t want to use the Chicago Statement as his benchmark, because it’s oh-so provincial, then why in the world doesn’t he come clean and tell us where he himself has drawn the baseline?

All he ever does is to tell us “that” he continues to believe in inerrancy, without ever telling us “what” that belief amounts to, especially after he himself has telegraphed his dissatisfaction with the Chicago Statement.

Okay, so what is his own position? What is his alternative?

Why would a Christian be reluctant to publicly say what he believes about the Bible? Isn’t that part of our Christian witness? Should we not be more that willing to volunteer our views? Should we not, indeed, be prepared to take the initiative in the defense of Scripture against its many detractors?

I have a theory, and if I’m wrong, the way for Enloe to prove me wrong is to come out into the open on this.

My theory is that Enloe’s postmodern epistemology is in tension with the possibility of propositional revelation and/or successful epistemic access to the propositions of Scripture.

And this, in turn, puts his epistemology in tension with inerrancy, since inerrancy is a property of propositions—of true propositions.

And the reason that Enloe is so evasive on this point is twofold:

i) He is acutely aware of the fact that a refusal to affirm the inerrancy of Scripture would totally discredit his research program and further marginalize him in the eyes of the Evangelical community.

ii) His conceptual scheme is still in a fluid, transitional state, so he is simply unable, at this point, to see his way through to an acceptable answer.

<< And so we come to my sed contra: It is not "anti-intellectual" or out of bounds to criticize Evangelicals in general, or sub-sects of Evangelicalism. This is such a silly charge that I can't imagine how to even begin refuting it--or why I should even bother trying. Who died and made a certain extremely narrow conception of Evangelicalism the standard of truth for all ages, past, present, and future? The correct answer is "Nobody." >>

Yet more of his trademark caricature. Notice the transparent ploy. You repackage the real issue in the most general and simplistic terms possible, as if this were a legal question of whether one ever has the right to criticize Evangelical tradition.

No, by anti-intellectualism I mean the following:

i) Don’t offer an honest and accurate description of the opposing position. Instead, go out of your way to present a parody.

ii) Don’t back up your sweeping assertions with specific, concrete examples.

iii) Don’t back up your sweeping assertions with reasoned arguments and counterarguments.

iv) Flaunt your intellectual superiority without presenting any detailed argumentation which would justify your intellectual affectations.

v) When your bluff is called, resort to more bluffery. Don’t respond with reason and evidence—because you don’t have any. Don’t offer a point-by-point rebuttal—because you can’t.

vi) Play up the value of academic credentials for your own experts while you dismiss the value of academic credentials for the opposing side.

vii) Always to shift the discussion from what is true to the abstract right to criticize, regardless of whether your criticism is true or false.

<< In the final analysis, this is all about the Christian status of Roman Catholicism and the alleged superiority of Modernity-soaked concepts of what it means to be "Reformed." >>

No, in the final analysis, this is all about epistemic access to Scripture. Is the Bible knowable? Is divine self-disclosure possible? Was the Bible written to be understood? Is human language an adequate vehicle for divine revelation?

The conflict with Rome is contingent on how we answer these preliminary questions, which boil down to the basic question of whether the Bible is epistemically accessible, and if so, is the best port of entry the original port of entry?

Enloe is the one insisting on a radical subject/object dichotomy—not Svendsen, or I.

<< I have for several months been occasionally speaking about their approach to biblical exegesis in terms of calling it "grammatical technology." What I mean by this is simply a type of approach to texts that acts as if having an advanced understanding of the mechanics of a language implies a superior ability to find truth. So for instance, having obtained an advanced seminary-level understanding of the inner workings of Greek syntax seemingly automatically translates to superior understanding of the Scriptures, because it (allegedly) has the function of fully exposing "traditions" and allowing one to bypass them and get "just" at the "plain meaning" of Scripture.

Now I may be a dilettante, but I don't feel too bad about saying that this is a very silly view of the exegetical task--and one I hope is not actually being taught in Evangelical seminaries. It exhibits no sophistication whatsoever about such important questions as (1) the nature of language in relation to acquiring truth, (2) the nature of truth in relation to cogitation, (3) whether we are forced to do all our truth-seeking within a grid controlled by a radical subject / object split, or whether there is any other kind of epistemological option open to us, and (4) whether meaning is reducible to syntax and grammar and semantics.

Now I am no philosopher of language, and I have no credentials in the world of academic philosophy which should cause anyone to think I am really something special. Nevertheless, in my not totally-uninformed perspective, the view of the exegetical task which I am criticizing fundamentally reduces biblical exegesis to the "product" of an "assembly line"--that is, it is a distinctly Modern enterprise which partakes of the distinctly Modern obsession with mechanisms that are created to control the external world.

So, in light of my labelling of this sub-sect of Evangelicalism's exegetical theory as "grammatical technology," and in light of their repeated insistence that I cannot possibly know what I'm talking about because I don't have Advanced Academic Degrees like they do, I present for consideration this link to the well-respected Reformed theologian-exegete Vern Poythress's essay Truth and Meaning: Fullness Versus Reductionistic Semantics in Biblical Interpretation.

I should note in passing that while Enloe is certainly a dilettante, Poythress certainly is not. The mere fact that Enloe has been saying things as a dilettante that Poythress (and many others) have been saying as scholars would seem to entail that whatever flaws exist in Enloe's presentations because of Enloe's lack of the type of sophisticated presentation that one learns to present in advanced academic programs do not necessarily affect the cogency of the actual views which Enloe is dilettante-ishly trying to talk about. In other words, Enloe may be a dilettante, but that doesn't mean he's just making things up. >>

The problem with all this is that, true to form, Enloe spends all his time setting the table, but he never sits down to eat. He gives us a recipe instead of a meal.

Dropping the metaphors, Enloe has done absolutely nothing to demonstrate that what he means by “grammatical technology” is the same thing that Poythress is talking about and, even more to the point, that Svendsen is guilty of what Poythress is talking about.

What we have, instead, is Enloe’s habit of gleaning talismanic words and phrases from piecemeal reading, without any effort at a rigorous correlation between the meaning of the original framework and its application to any particular case.

One of Enloe’s basic problems is that he’s into historical theology rather than exegetical theology. Because he has not done any systematic reading in the exegetical literature, he isn’t able to document his claims. That’s why he can never come up with any concrete examples, no matter how often he’s challenged to back up his claims with the appropriate evidence.

He can treat Svendsen as an anomaly because he hasn’t done enough reading to know that Svendsen is not an anomaly. He can indulge in these fact-free generalities and baseless assertions because he is not, in fact, grounded in the relevant literature.

What we see in Enloe an illustration of hardened prejudice. He has made the premature decision that historical theology is the royal road to his destination, whatever that is, and has written off exegetical theology without having scouted out that path.

It is a pity to see someone so intellectually stunted at such an early age. Let us hope that this is just a phase which he will eventually outgrow. But he sure hasn’t left himself much space to turn around.

Finally, a couple of ethical observations are in order:

i) If you read his most recent comments about Dr. White, posted over at, you will witness volcanic rage and loathing.

Tim really needs to take a break from blogging. When it gets to this level of character assassination, something has gone seriously awry.

ii) Apropos (i), I’m reminded of something Jay Adams once wrote about how group therapy is a euphemism for group slander.

Unfortunately, Tim’s generation grew up with the culture of the afternoon talk show, where it’s publicly okay to trash your parents.

What is lost in this is the Christian virtue of loyalty to a friend or mentor (Prov 27:10).

Unless he happens to think that Svendsen is some sort of heretical cult-leader, which is absurd, there is no excuse to betray a former mentor.

Now, if you come to believe that your theological mentor is seriously wrong about something, there are two ethical ways of dealing with this:

i) You can recuse yourself. Leave it to someone else to carry the torch.

To take an example--suppose my dad is a democrat, and I become a Republican. That wouldn’t give me the right to publicly trash my own father. Where he’s concern, I should keep my mouth shut in public. I owe him that much. That’s a simply matter of honoring a mentor by not dishonoring him, even if you come to disagree with him. Simple, elementary loyalty requires no less.

ii) You can find someone else who holds to the same erroneous view as your mentor—assuming it is erroneous—and direct your criticisms at the third-party’s position. That way, you are still able to say what you think is wrong with the position without wronging your mentor. You can put some distance between your position and your mentor’s position without distancing yourself from him personally or attempting to destroy his intellectual reputation.

The politics of personal destruction is bad enough when directed against a stranger, much less a mentor.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Pedantic Protestant

After a shorter than anticipated return home to the Golden State, the Pedantic Protestant is back in biz, and at the top of his considerable form. Check out the latest material:

Theology au latte

Over at Coffee Conversations, both Kevin Johnson and Tim Enloe have taken exception to my comments.

As usual, Johnson’s remarks combine faux-innocence with the intellectual substance of cotton candy. This is pity because Johnson has proven himself capable, on exceptional occasion, of marshalling an argument. For example, he recently presented a perfectly intelligent explanation of why he would not consider converting to Catholicism. But that was a rare moment of lucidity. Would that he applied himself more often.

By contrast, Enloe offers a reply which, while hardly adequate, does deserve an honest answer:

<< For Mr. Hays’s information, I *have* read some Poythress, at least, and I *do* recognize the sophistication of his exegetical theory. In fact I applaud it and wish more Internet exegetes would exhibit such sophistication in their handling of Scripture. At least in controversy with us, guys like Svendsen and White certainly haven’t exhibited that kind of sophistication.

I’ve also studied in a formal class context (surprise to the Ivory Tower Academics!) various portions of such works as Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, and I *do* recognize that there is a lot to be said (sometimes) for understanding the inner workings of Greek. As well, I read a variety of scholarship on epistemological and historical issues, not just things produced by one school, so I don’t quite understand what Hays’s problem is with the fact that I chose to write a summary blog entry about an article by Rodney Clapp. >>

I chose the examples I did because Carson, Thiselton, and Poythress have written on both the theoretical and applied sides of exegetical theology. On the one hand, they have shown themselves to be quite conversant with contemporary hermeneutical theories, in response to which they’ve formed a highly self-reflective understanding of what they’re doing and why.

On the other hand, they have also done exegesis, in commentaries and monographs. Hence, it is possible for us to compare their theory with their practice.

And this brings me to my primary comparison. For it is possible to compare their exegetical style, informed as it is, by all these hermeneutical sensitivities, with Svendsen’s style of exegesis.

So, to answer Enloe’s question with a question, what is the fundamental difference between the way in which Svendsen does exegesis and the way that these other three do exegesis? What’s the basic difference between the way that Svendsen exegetes a passage of Scripture and Poythress exegetes a passage from Revelation, or Thiselton from 1 Corinthians, or Carson from Matthew, or John, or 2 Corinthians, or Philippians?

I don’t see any difference in methodology. Sometimes Svendsen is more popular, at other times more technical—but the same could be said of Carson or Poythress.

I would like, just for once, to see Enloe get beyond the vague, McCarthyite innuendo and lay out some specific, and I do mean specific—examples involving a direct comparison and contrast between Svendsen’s exegetical style and one or more of the three.

Is Enloe able to do this? Has he already done it? If he has never done it before, or if he is either unable or unwilling to do so now, then what, exactly, furnishes the concrete, inductive data on which he bases his invidious impression of Svendsen?

And if, in fact, he cannot document, by direct comparative study, how Svendsen’s approach to Scripture is essentially different from the tools which these other scholars bring to bear, then he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about, never did, and has no right to keep demeaning Svendsen’s methods and assumptions.

And I use Svendsen as an example, not merely because Enloe continues to hold up Svendsen as an example—an example of all that is bad—but because Svendsen is quite representative of mainstream exegetical theology.

For that matter, there is no difference, excepting his presuppositional commitment to inerrancy, between the way he exegetes Scripture and a Catholic commentator like Ray Brown or Joe Fitzmyer does it. For that matter, N. T. Wright reaches into the very same toolbox as Eric Svendsen. Their divergence is not over the grammatico-historical method.

What is at issue, then, is the elementary and elemental question of whether or not the Bible is an open book. This was foundational to the Protestant Reformation. Can we, by acquainting ourselves with as much as has survived of the civilizations in which God revealed the Bible, enjoy, to that degree, the same access to the meaning of Scripture as the original audience enjoyed?

Put another way, wasn’t the Bible written to be understood? Doesn’t it mean whatever it was meant to mean for the implied reader and the target audience? Or does he deny the adequacy of human language as a vehicle of divine revelation?

What supplies the interpretive grid? Original intent, synchronic with the historical audience and authorship or Scripture? Or post-biblical tradition, diachronic with church history?

To take a comparison, when we interpret Dante, do we limit ourselves to Dante’s past and present, to Dante’s 14C Florence and Dante’s education and Dante’s literary allusions, or do we interpret him in light of Hubble and Einstein?

Surely the question answers itself. We interpret Dante by what comes before, not what comes after. And the same historical threshold applies to Scripture, for Scripture is the record of historical revelation with a historical point of origin in the 2nd millennium BC and chronological cut-off in the 1C AD.

Can Cheung change a flat tire?

Can Vincent Cheung change a flat tire? One would hope that a Scripturalist epistemology is up to a simple job like that.

Mind you: for us benighted empiricist types, the chief challenge to changing a flat tire lies in… changing a flat tire--that's all.

But for Cheung, that begs the question entirely. For before we can change a flat tire, we must know what a flat tire is, and before we can know what a flat tire is, we must be able to define what a flat tire is.

Anything short of that is, at best, unjustified belief. And if my belief in flat tiredness or tired flatness is unjustified, then I clearly lack the moral warrant to change it.

So, before Mr. Cheung can change his flat tire, he must first discharge his epistemic duties by properly defining his terms.

A benighted empiricist would look them up in Webster’s. But, of course, Webster’s is uninspired and therefore fallible. And, according to Cheung, nothing short of infallibilism will do as a necessary condition of true knowledge.

So where should he go? To Scripture, of course! He is, after all, a Scripturalist. And a Scripturalist is someone for whom all knowledge is confined to what is expressly set down in Scripture or else deducible therefrom by necessary consequence. So the Bible must be his dictionary.

For purposes of this question, let us posit that Mr. Cheung keeps a Bible and a concordance in his car.

At a minimum, this leaves him with a noun and an adjective to define. Yes, I know--there is also the matter of a tire-iron, but one thing at a time.

Running his finger down the concordance…wait a minute! Come to think of it, a concordance is also uninspired and fallible and…

However, we don’t want to let poor Mr. Cheung freeze to death in the wind and rain, so let’s pass on that for the time being.

Okay, then, running his finger down the concordance, there doesn’t seem to be any entry for flat tires. Perhaps that’s not entirely surprising given that Scripture was written centuries before the invention of inflatable rubber tires.

So it would seem that Mr. Cheung must shift to an argument from analogy. Let’s see then. Among those excluded from the priesthood is a man “that hath a flat nose” (Lev 21:18).

So, a flat tire and a flat nose must have something in common to receive a common adjective. By simple process of analysis, we only need to isolate their shared area of identity.

Only there’s one little snag. Leviticus fails to define what a “nose” is.

Again, an empiricist would simply look in the mirror or else perform a series of nasal inductions. But, of course, Cheung would regard that as hopelessly fallacious—if not downright deviltry in its impious and wanton appeal to our autonomous sensory organs.

No problem, though. For all we need to do is look up “nose” in the concordance.

Here’s one description: “Thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon” (Cant 7:4).

So a nose is like a tower. Well, that’s progress…or is it? What’s a tower like?

According to the next chapter, “My breasts are like a tower” (Cant 8:10).

But what’s a breast like? Since Cheung is reputed to be a man, he can’t very speak from personal experience—and experience would not qualify as real knowledge anyway.

Hold on! Cheung is also reputed to be a married man. In that case, he just might be expected to have some first-hand knowledge of one or both items. Oh, I forgot. That sort direct appeal would be way too empirical.

Well, instead of the adjective, suppose we go back and start with the noun: “In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments…and their round tires like the moon” (Isa 3:18).

Round tires! Now we're finally getting somewhere…except for one more thing. It describes a tire, but it doesn’t define a tire. Still, it compares a tire to the moon.

Uh-oh. What’s the moon like?

Sigh! Yet another delay. But it’s only temporary, right? How about the following: “If I beheld….the moon walking in brightness” (Job 31:26).

Does that help? Not really. In what sense can the moon be said to be walking? What does that mean, exactly?

“Walking.” Hmm. At this rate, Cheung will be walking home, won’t he? Hope he brought an umbrella along.

“Umbrella”? Is that in the concordance…

Objectivism & original sin

Don Watkins, a sycophant of Ayn Rand, has written an attack on original sin:

<< Perhaps Christianity’s most vicious notion is that man is sinful by nature, burdened by Original Sin, and destined to continually fail to live up to the percepts of morality. There are various versions of this idea promulgated by Christians, some worse than others. Yet even the most plausible and seemingly benign account of this doctrine is, at root, virulently opposed to reason, morality, and man’s life here on earth. >>

This takes the form of a consequentialist objection. Original sin can’t be true because, if it were true, certain unacceptable consequences would follow.

Now, a consequentialist objection is unsound unless it satisfies either of two conditions:

i) It undermines our general truth-conditions

ii) The consequence is unacceptable to both sides of the debate.

Thus far, Watkins has failed to satisfy either condition. Although he has asserted that original sin is opposed to reason, he has offered no argument to that effect.

BTW, to say that something is opposed to reason could mean either of two things:

i) If true, it is opposed to reason at a global level, ruling out the very possibility of reason;

ii) If true, it is opposed to reason at a local level, placing various restrictions on the range of reason.

(i) is self-refuting, but (ii) is not. For example, head trauma may impair reason, but that is hardly an argument against the possibility of head trauma.

There is a further twofold ambiguity:

Something can be opposed to reason (i) either in the sense that the proposition itself is unreasonable, (ii) or else that it predicates unreason of another or others.

Again, (i) is self-refuting, but (ii) is not. It is not inherently unreasonable to say or argue that reason is limited.

And although original sin has consequences that are unacceptable to Watkins, it doesn’t follow that said consequences are unacceptable to his Christian opponent.

Suppose we raise a consequentialist objection to evolution:

<< Perhaps evolution’s most vicious notion is that man is violent by nature, burdened by his predatory nature, and destined to continually fail to live up to the precepts of morality. There are various versions of this idea promulgated by Darwinians, some worse than others. Yet even the most plausible and seemingly benign account of this doctrine is, at root, virulently opposed to reason, morality, and man’s life here on earth. >>

In fact, a number of Christians have argued that Darwinism logically leads to social Darwinism, which is virulently opposed to social morality.

They have also argued that evolutionary epistemology is self-refuting.

Indeed, these arguments are well worth considering. Yet I’d be surprised if Watkins applies the same standard to evolution that he imposes on original sin.

<< So man has a tendency to act sinfully? Two concepts there are important, “tendency” and “sinfully.” To begin with the first, what does it mean to say that man has a tendency to act sinfully? We must discount any definition that plainly denies free will. Morality presupposes free will, it presupposes that man’s actions aren’t determined by any outside force, but are an irreducible consequence of his volitional choice. >>

This simply begs the question in favor of incompatibilism without any examination of the arguments for compatibilism.

It is anti-intellectual of Watkins to discount the opposing position without benefit of argument. It is also self-defeating, for in that event he has failed to exclude the opposing position.

Notice, also, the vicious or regressive character of his description. Man’s actions are a consequence of volitional choice. But given freewill and freedom of opportunity, why does he choose A over B? Watkins has done nothing to explain the act of choosing itself. What supplies the differential factor that selects A over B when presented with two or more alternatives?

<< Furthermore, we must discount the claim that because most men act “sinfully,” each man has a tendency to act sinfully. To embrace such a non sequitur is to embrace the racist’s claim that we can judge a member of a race by the actions of other members of his race. >>

This is a straw man argument. Original sin is universal. Every human agent above the age of discretion is guilty of actual sin, and every human being regardless of age has an inborn tendency to commit actual sin.

In addition, one would suppose, from the standpoint of secular ethics, that the issue of racial equality or inequality is an open question, subject to empirical investigation and inductive confirmation or falsification.

Indeed, if we take Watkins’ operating premise (libertarian freewill) as our starting point, then if freedom of opportunity fails to yield freedom of outcome, isn’t the racist justified in his belief that his race is superior if, under the same circumstances, his race consistently outperforms the other?

It isn’t at all clear to me how Watkins, given his philosophical commitments, is in any position to rule out a doctrine of racial supremacy.

<< That leaves us with only one tenable definition of “tendency.” From “an attitude of mind especially one that favors one alternative over others.” A tendency in this view refers to one’s values. One has a tendency to act in the pursuit of one’s values. This is undoubtedly true. What the Christian maintains, then, is that people – by nature – value sinful acts (or the objects of sinful acts). >>

Going to is hardly the best way to define a theological term. In addition, the word “tendency” was supplied, not by a theologian, but by Ayn Rand, in her polemical novel.

I don’t necessarily object to the use of the word. But a critique of original sin ought to begin with some representative definition in Christian theology, and not a novel by an atheist. Here, for example, is a classic definition:

<< The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consisteth in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually; which is commonly called original sin, and from which do proceed all actual transgressions (WLC 25). >>

If Walkins wants to mount a serious attack on original sin, he needs to deploy his arguments against a definition such as this. Needless to say, Ayn Rand is not an accredited spokesman for Christian theology.

<< In the first place, this view denies volition in the realm of values; after all, if we aren’t free to choose our values, in what sense can we be said to have free will? Only in the sense that we are free to choose to act in service of other ends, that is, things we don’t value. And this is precisely the point. >>

True, we are not free to choose our values. We are only free to choose according to our values. How does the conclusion disprove the premise?

<< The Christian ethics is a variation of the altruist ethics. “The basic principle of altruism,” writes Ayn Rand, “is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest duty, virtue and value” (PWNI 61). According to Christianity, God takes the place of “others,” although according to many Christians, serving God consists of serving others. >>

Observe, once again, that Watkins doesn’t quote from any Christian creed or theologian of note, such as Augustine, or Aquinas, or Calvin.

Here’s a classic definition of Christian ethics:
<< The chief end of many is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever (WSC 1). >>

This is not a variation of altruist ethics. Rather, it’s a variation of teleological ethics.

It is true that altruism is an element in Christian ethics, but not in the sense of self-abnegation. To live for God is not a self-destructive act, but, quite the contrary, in one’s best self-interest; for it is God who made us, so that in living for God we are functioning as we were designed to function, in a purposeful and optimal existence.

A fish is free in its natural element. A fish may also be free to jump out of the stream. But a fish out of water is less free. It is free only to expire.

A land animal is free in its natural element. It may also be free to swim out to sea. But it so doing, it is free only to drown.

<< In fact, when Christians maintain that man is sinful by nature, what they often mean is that man is selfish by nature. But the relevant point here is that the Christian ethics holds something other than one’s own life as the goal of morality. (This does not mean that the Christian ethics is opposed to life on principle, only that it doesn’t uphold life on principle; which is appropriate for a philosophy that defines itself by sacrifice, the sacrifice of the moral to the immoral, as represented by Christ’s crucifixion.) >>

This, again, is an overstatement or half-truth riding on a false antithesis. There is nothing wrong with enlightened self-interest. Seeking heaven and avoiding hell is a very prudent course of action, all things considered.

Sacrifice for its own sake is no part of Christian ethics. Self-sacrifice is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. And God has coordinated the means and ends such that doing the right thing is not opposed to our long-term self-interest.

<< On the Objectivist view, morality is a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions in order to enable him to secure his own life. Because life is conditional, because it requires a specific course of action in order to be maintained, man needs to know what is good for him and what is bad for him. Morality provides man with this knowledge. Morality is thus a tool of selfishness – it defines for man the principles of human survival. To adhere to a moral code, in this view, is not a self-sacrificial duty, but a selfish necessity. >>

Where does morality come from in the first place? And why is survival suc a good thing?

<< It is only when morality deviates from the requirements of man’s life that man must choose between his interests and his moral code, between life and ethics, between the practical and the moral. Only on the altruist morality will man have a tendency to act “sinfully,” that is, against his moral code – he has to…because the only alternative is suicide.

In the Christian view, then, our free will consists of this choice: to act morally or to act practically. But if man’s “sinfulness” consists of acting to sustain his life, then the problem is not with man, but with his moral code. >>

It is no part of Christian ethics to set morality and practicality in opposition to each other. God’s law is adapted to human nature, for God is the author of our nature, as well as the author of the law. Nothing is more impractical than to live in violation of God’s law for man.

<< Even so, there is a further issue. Even if one accepts the premise that the purpose of morality is to enable man to achieve his selfish values, to secure his own interests, most men do not act morally. Most men act short-range, indulging in their desires, living range of the moment, drowning themselves in the “pleasures” of the present moment. Men are not selfish in the Objectivist sense, the Christian might say, but they are naturally drawn to hedonistic self-indulgence. So even on the Objectivist view, do not men have a tendency to act immorally? To act against the good?

It might appear so. After all, according to Objectivism, the good demands integrity, honesty, and many other virtues routinely sacrificed by men. Does this not prove that, even measured according to a rational code of ethics, men have a tendency to act immorally? >>

Seems to me that the average unbeliever is being far more logical than the Objectivist. The average unbeliever knows that life is short, and the prime of life is even shorter, so why not indulge yourself when it will do you the most good? If you’re going to end up in a nursing home anyway, why not live for instant gratification while you can? Why deny yourself and plan for the future when the future is so uncertain, and when you can only reap the rewards by the time you’re past your prime?

<< What the Christian argument maintains is that because morality requires mental effort, man’s tendency will always be to act immorally, to avoid mental effort, to drift in the fog of irrationality and immorality. >>

Is that what the Christian argument maintains? Unbelievers often apply themselves with great diligence—especially in their opposition to revealed truth. They work hard to justify their immorality. They work hard to rationalize their irrationality.

<< As with all values, whether or not men prefer mental drift to mental focus is a matter of choice, a choice of man’s values. The rational man values focus, not drift. He desires clarity, not confusion. He thus views the effort of focus, not as a source of pain, but of pleasure. >>

Yes, and living for the moment in a riot of hedonistic excess, is one such choice—and a starkly rational choice given a secular outlook on life. It makes the best of a raw deal.

<< It is the Christian who views the unfocused mind as desirable, because it is the Christian who views mental effort as intrinsically painful. Why? Because of the Christian’s desire for an effortless existence.

The Christian ideal, represented in the tale of the Garden of Eden, is one where man’s existence is guaranteed to him – where no effort is required in order to achieve his values – where mental drift is sufficient to attain his values – where morality makes no demands and requires no effort. >>

To begin with, life on earth is far from Edenic. We live in a fallen world in which we are cursed to labor by the sweat of our brow.

The idea that morality is, or ought to be, demanding and effortful is part of a soul-building theodicy. And even on that view, effort would only be a means to an end, not an end in itself. Once the process of character formation has succeeded, there is no need to continue the process.

But if, a la Eden, it is possible to achieve one’s values without effort, then there is no intrinsic virtue in exerting ourselves to that end. So how is this an objection to an Edenic mode of existence, even if that were in the cards?

At the same time, there may be a trade-off between a lesser and a greater good. For there may be certain values which only a redeemed creature can enjoy. And he must be fallen before he can be redeemed.

Watkins also equivocates between pain and mental effort, as if these were interchangeable concepts, which clearly they are not.

For example, it takes a lot of mental concentration to play a good game of chess, yet chess is just that—a recreational mind-game. Mental effort can be a pleasure. A mathematician will invent a problem in order to solve it.

The superficial nobility of insisting that morality ought to be effortful and demanding loses its heroic halo when you remember that Objectivism is on the same moral plane as social Darwinism and lifeboat ethics.

<< To say that man has a tendency toward sinfulness, then, is to say that man’s life requires that he pursue and create the values that will sustain his life. In other words, the facts that give rise to man’s need for morality make him immoral. Man’s sin is that he needs morality. >>

Create values? And by what prior criterion does he judge a creative value to be valuable? Clearly he already has some ulterior standard that supplies the selection criteria. Where does that come from?

<< Man is by nature neither good nor evil – he is volitional and has the capacity for both. To achieve the good, man must choose to think. >>

This is sheer assertion. How can he achieve the good unless there is a good to be known and to guide his efforts towards the good? How does he make the good his goal unless he already knows what the goal ought to look like? What is directing his efforts towards the good if not a preconception of goodness? So is this an attainment or a prerequisite of attainment? An end or a means?

<< This is why the view that man is sinful is so vicious, because it is applied equally to the moral hero and the moral reprobate. To George Washington and Jerry Springer. To Ayn Rand and Joseph Stalin. >>

With all due respect, this is a perfectly inane statement, on Christian and secularist grounds alike.

On Christian grounds there are degrees of evil, as well as divergent destinies.

On secular grounds, Stalin shares the same fate as all his victims. They go, one and all, to a common oblivion.

So, given a choice, which would an atheist rather be—Stalin, living at ease with his every whim attended to; or one of his victims, rotting away in a Siberian labor camp?

Monday, July 11, 2005


There is an ongoing fight between Communio Sanctorum and Real Clear Theology. Tim Enloe has chosen to illustrate the Oedipal complex by trying to slay a former mentor. But there are larger issues at stake.

This is in some respects a replay of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. The key question is what supplies the interpretive framework of Scripture: tradition or original intent? Church history or ancient history?

Do we interpret the Bible by a context future to Scripture—by tradition and church history? Or do we interpret the Bible by a context contemporaneous with Scripture?

Do we interpret the OT with a view to ANE history? Do we interpret the NT with a view to both the OT and Hellenistic history?

Which past and present supplies the framework? The past and present of Scripture? Or the past and present of the interpreter—subsequent to the terminus of Scripture?

That is one key question. Another key question which is tacked onto this is the modernist/postmodernist controversy.

As a historical convention, modern philosophy dates from Descartes. And Descartes is the favorite whipping boy of postmodernism.

But let me put in a few good words for Descartes and modernism. To begin with, Descartes was trying to become epistemically self-conscious, to become aware of his social conditioning, and subject his social conditioning to rational scrutiny.

Now, we may criticize his efforts in various respects. But surely there was something worthwhile in his aim. Should we not take stock our hereditary beliefs? Should we not ask ourselves if what we believe is merely a historical accident of our chronology and geography?

Is there not a point at which tradition can smother and suffocate intellectual inquiry? The danger is that the way we answer a question depends on how the question is posed. And the first person to pose the question tends to cast the die. The problem is not only with the traditional answers, but with the traditional questions—with the way the questions are framed, which tends to prejudge the answer.

Another thing to be said in favor of Descartes is that he was the founder of analytical geometry. Just as Leibniz was the cofounder of Calculus and a pioneer of symbolic logic. Just as Newton made signal contributions to astronomy, optics, physics, and mathematics.

Indeed, we can go down the line here. Modernist epistemology has a very impressive portfolio of intellectual achievements in technology, medical science, computer science, horticulture, &c.

Now, this is one reason that folks like me don’t take postmodernism very seriously. Like the birds of the air, that sow not, nor reap; or the lilies of the valley, which toil not, nor spin; the pomos have nothing to show for their words except more words. Did Derrida invent fractal geometry or discover the double helix? Is he even a decent chess player?

By what metric do we judge the intellectual achievements of postmodernism? In what way can it be shown to have advanced our intellectual mastery of the natural world? And, if not intellectual mastery, at least our practical mastery of the natural world?

One other thing I’d say before moving on. It’s not as if NT scholars don’t know their way around postmodernist hermeneutics. If Enloe had every bothered to read Thiselton or Carson or Poythress, to name a few, he would see that they operate with a very sophisticated and self-conscious hermeneutic.

And yet, when all is said and done, this has not had a revolutionary effect on the interpretation of Scripture, for sound methodology must adapt itself to the nature of its subject-matter. Historical revelation has a historical context proper to its own time and place. The interpretive tools and rules of evidence must vary accordingly.

Moving on, Tim Enloe chose to take an article by Rodney Clapp as his latest launching pad. Eric Svendsen contacted his friend, Timothy McGrew, for a professional evaluation. Then Kevin Johnson responded with the following comments:

These criticisms of Tim Enloe regarding recent comments he made at Communio Sanctorum are filled with the sort of academic hubris that ought to be unwelcome in any circle. >>

Even if that were true, couldn’t the very same thing be said of the pomos?

<< I know smarter folks (as opposed to mere lettered academics) can see through this sort of thing. I just think it’s a shame that Tim’s exceptionally bright and appropriate take on the matter in question (foundationalism, etc) is neither read graciously or charitably by men who call themselves our opponents. >>

Notice that Kevin substitutes ad hominem invective for a reasoned response. If Kevin had a reasoned response to offer, he’d offer it. It is just because he had no rational rebuttal to offer, much less a constructive alternative, that he resorts to demagoguery.

<< Communio Sanctorum is not intended to be an academic journal where men wax eloquent about the technical details of this or that piece of information valuable only to men who spend their entire lives out to pasture chewing on such irrelevancies. To the extent that you find language or ideas on our site acceptable to the various reigning academies of the day it will be the exception and not the norm. There is a time and a place for higher education but it certainly shouldn’t be used to tear down our brothers and the academy has deceived itself all too long to think that it is merely the accurate detailing of information that is important for us to consider. It is a limited view caused by a limited ecclesiology–doubtless hampered by a limited epistemology. >>

Now Kevin is trying to make a virtue of desperate necessity by suggesting that he and his cohorts could answer Dr. McGrew at his own level, but are constrained by the popular format of Communio Sanctorum.

You know, it would be a simple matter to arrange a formal online debate.

He then, streaming with crocodile tears, deplores the way in which his opponents are “tearing down our brothers” in the faith. You mean, like the way in which Enloe compares the Baptist members of his own denomination to medieval heretics?

<< Communio Sanctorum is a website that purports to be a serious theological and communal effort at examining our contribution to Reformational catholicity and what that entails. Part of that effort is most certainly about being charitable both to those who are our brothers and those who are not. >>

See the double-tongued reply? After the false modesty of the paragraph about how Communio Sanctorum is not an academic journal and all that, Kevin immediately reasserts the intellectual pretensions of his “Reformed Catholic” cohorts. The problem here, as always, is that there is nothing to justify their affectations to intellectual superiority. They say they hold all the aces, but all they ever show us are deuces.

Like a little cheat who hides in the bushes a few yards from the finish line, then cuts in to claim the prize, Kevin manages to come in first because he never ran the race in the first place, leaving all the sweat and exertion and preliminary exercise to intellectual athletes like Dr. McGrew.

There is nothing wrong with being an autodidact. But that’s no excuse to despise the professional scholar.

<< If and when it ever becomes merely academic or it represents the sort of scathing critiques made famous by those all too impressed with the letters they find after their last name, I hope we don’t do anything but bring it down and let someone else take the battle forward. >>

Notice, once more, the hypocritical oscillation between anti-intellectualism and intellectual pride. The dilettante naturally hates the academic. It reminds me of the Maoist thugs who used to murder surgeons in the operating room.

Some words from Rich Bledsoe

“Why, by the way, did it take Arabs to do what people here should have done a long time ago?” Ward Churchill, August 10, 2003 in Seattle, Washington in reference to 9 / 11

The first world is now "sacrifice free". The result is that sacrifice is overtaken by repressed sacrifice. Open sacrifice is replaced by psychic masochism and sadism. It is summed up in Nietzsche’s notion of "ressentiment."

It is no mistake that for more than a 1000 years, the center of the Christian worship service was the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper.

Christianity was born into an environment of decaying civilization that was progressively attacked by tribal peoples from every direction. In the year 410, Alaric the Goth, sacked Rome, and civilization’s collapse into a “dark ages” began in earnest. St. Augustine died in 430 during the sacking of his own city, Hippo, by the Vandals. From that time forward, tribal and barbarian peoples increasingly overwhelmed the tattered remnants of the Roman Empire, and civilization in certain measurable ways did not recover to ancient standards until as late as the 18th and even 19th centuries. Gradually, the Church converted the tribes. Monks moved northward, and incrementally took into the Church’s bosom the Celts, the Picts, the Franks, the Saxons, the Vikings and many others. Any of us who are of European descent all have ancestors that are as tribal and as fierce as any North American Indian tribe. Our ancestors are as tribal as the Navajos, the Sioux, or the Apache.

While there are exceptions, the warpath is the pivotal reality for almost all tribes. Fierce and even total warfare is the vital principal, with federations and peace treaties being the exception. Warfare for tribal peoples is a form of victim and human sacrifice. It functions in the same way that blood sacrifice has functioned universally for the human race. The shedding of blood is necessary as atonement, and as the required vengeance price for past crimes committed against one's people. Victim sacrifice, in both warfare and in torture of those captured, temporarily satiates the blood thirst of those who practice it.

As Christianity triumphed in what became Europe, animal and human sacrifice gradually disappeared. All one has to do is travel to still unchristianized parts of the world in Asia or Africa, and one will discover that the practice of animal sacrifice, and even human sacrifice, are still ritually practiced in an astonishing number of places. Child sacrifice is still practiced in the villages of India, even though it is illegal, and there is agitation for the restoration of the suttee (the burning of widows) on the part of factions of radical Hindus in that same nation. All over Asia and Africa, animals are regularly sacrificed to the local animistic gods. We tend to think that the practice of sacrifice disappeared in the first world because we became enlightened. But in fact, the Enlightenment itself, and the exaltation of reason could never have happened had Christianity not cleared the way. The ground work for the disappearance of religious blood sacrifice was that Christianity taught that a final and adequate sacrifice had been offered that was “once for all” in the crucifixion of Christ (Hebrews 9:28, 1 Peter 3:18).

The church had to deal with and reconcile tribes that had from time immemorable hated one another and fought one another to the death in internecine warfare. Each tribe considered itself “the people” and regarded anyone outside of it to be subhuman. There was no common ground for any of them with any other. The monks taught that behind each of the tribal gods was the One Creator God. This was the first common ground for any tribe to live with any other. There was only one God, and he created all of the tribes. Then, this God in the second person of the Trinity, entered history Himself, and became the one final sacrifice for all of the tribes. This was the second ground of peace and of possible forward human progress.

We are accustomed to thinking of the veridical dimension of the Atonement, and this is certainly not wrong. Jesus died that we might have peace with God. He paid the price for our sins, and reconciled us to the Father. But now, it is necessary to re-emphasize the horizontal dimension of the Atonement. The death of Christ satisfied our mutual blood lust and has given us final grounds to stop seeking scapegoats and to give us grounds for peace and reconciliation with one another. The radical thought that must re-enter our minds is that peace cannot just happen as a result of wishing for it, or of being nice, or of being reasonable. Peace can only happen if blood thirst is satisfied.

If the 20th Century proved anything, it is that the human race has not ceased to be blood thirsty. A higher percentage of people died in the 20th century in warfare and political murder than any century that we know of in the last 2000 years. It is now abundantly clear that it is an illusion that we have become “reasonable” and “enlightened.” What we saw in the last century was the re-emergence of tribalism. Hitlerism was a self-conscious attempt to revive Teutonic tribalism. The terminology of “blood and soil” was a purposeful tribal allusion. All over post-colonial Africa, we have seen the tribes erupt in terrible and bloody ways. The recent film Hotel Rwanda chronicled quite accurately the tribal genocide of the Tutsi peoples by the Hutu tribe. In the Balkans after the collapse of Communism, murderous tribalism re-emerged. In all of these cases, the necessity of the shedding of the blood of other tribes as atonement for real and imagined crimes, sometimes from hundreds of years ago, began to happen. Ward Churchill is just one more tribalist calling for renewed genocide and mass murder to slake human blood thirst. He is an evil man. But it will not do just to wag our finger at him and condemn him. We must offer an alternative and an answer. I do not think anyone but those in the Church of Jesus Christ can offer one.

It is no mistake that for more than a 1000 years, the center of the Christian worship service was the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. The sermon became more central only after the Reformation, and then became completely dominant only in some Protestant groups. The Reformation was a city movement and almost all of its leaders were university professors. The world had been substantially civilized by that time, and open blood thirst was being suppressed and recognized as a sin against not just God and man, but also against civilization. But the centrality of the Lord's Supper was the only fitting, and only effective pivotal center for barbarian tribalists up to that time. To eat and drink the body and blood of Christ was the only solution for blood lust.

Once again, tribalism is returning. There are good reasons for this. Tribalism is an anodyne and an antonym to a global economy. A more standardized global economy is going to happen, and continue to happen whether we like it or not. And there are many good things about it. There is little to complain about with the availability of cheap and abundant consumer goods on a global scale. But we also cannot find our identity in Wal-Mart. As a result, there is a growing desire for a rediscovery of "roots," of ethnic origins, of small and intense communities that are tightly bound together. There is a growing desire to find oneself in tribal and neo-tribal groupings. But the tribes have to be Christianized as they were a thousand years ago. It must be tribalism minus the warpath. If it is not, we will continue to see global genocides of just the sort with which the 20th Century was filled. Every tribe must have the same God, and every tribe must drink of the same blood. They must all drink of the same blood of Christ. If they do not, then Mr. Ward Churchill's nightmares are all going to come true. There will be more Rwandas, there will be more "ethnic cleansings," there will be more Hitlers and more Mau Maus as there were in Kenya fifty years ago. There will be more 9 / 11s as Arab tribalism seethes. The church must enter again into the great reality of the sacraments, and we must once again understand that it is no fiction that it is through the sacrament of the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist, that we "plug into" the great reality of the broken body and the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Apart from Jesus, there is no sufficient sacrifice. Sacrifice apart from him suffices for only a little while. Any blood, animal or human, is only adequate for a short time. And then, like an addiction, there must be more. And following that, there must be even more. Each dosage is less adequate. Finally, a dosage of blood is required that exactly equals the dosage that will bring complete destruction. This is why the ancient world was always tempted by total war, and complete annihilation of the enemy. And that is why Europe as it was de-christianized finally required WW1 as a war of complete destruction, followed by WW2 with the Holocaust and genocide. A Holocaust was required by the German "tribal" leadership to give enough blood, and then even that wasn't enough. Europe approached the lethal dosage of violence for all involved. That was the price paid for forgetting the Cross of Christ.

Even when we don't see complete tribalism and all of its blood thirst, we do see the shadows of this in dysfunctionality all around us. At the heart of disfunctionality, is the search for a scapegoat. When things go amiss, and we are filled with anxiety, the drug of choice is blame. And while blame often functions at a less lethal level than full-blown tribalism, it is the shadow and seed of it. We deal with this all the time as pastors, and often feel the brunt of it.

The result of both tribalism and dysfunctionality is that everything goes in circles. No sacrifice, no blood, other than Jesus' blood, is sufficient or final. As a result, all of life outside of Christ involves an endless cycle of blame, attack, and blood letting. And it just goes around and around, and the circle gets tighter and tighter with ever increasing need for larger and larger dosages of blood and blame to satisfy. The end for any system involved in this is at the least stagnation, and at the worst death. Only the blood of Christ suffices, and at the Eucharist, we are renewed in its effectiveness as often as we partake in it. And there is no need for more blood. The Eucharist is "bloodless." It is a "plugging into" that which was once for all.

Baptism initiates us into the death and resurrection of Christ. The Lord's Supper repeatedly initiates us into His sufferings. We need both in our re-tribalizing world that worships death. The only answer to the worship of death, violence, and bloodshed, is the death, violence, and bloodshed experienced by the Son of God. Here it comes to an end. And here in the sacraments, we are brought into union with Him. Our sufferings become His sufferings, and His sufferings become our sufferings. It means that our sorrows become cosmically significant. It means that our hurts actually become His, and far from contributing to endless vicious circles, they contribute to renewed and endless life, to forward progress, to surprising new ways forward that were never thought of before. Instead of being involved in petty or large quarrels that never resolve anything, we participate in Christ's redemption of the world.

We must renew our commitment to the sacraments, and self-consciously understand what they mean and how they contribute in our time to the renewal of history.

Richard Bledsoe