Saturday, September 24, 2005

Fruitcake for life

Like the old joke about how there’s only one fruitcake in all the world, dear old Dave apparently believes that there is only one “Steve” in all the world.


Steve Hays chimes in on Phil's blog (completely missing the entirely-humorous nature of my post, of course, which I find hysterically funny):

Steve said...

r reeves said, "I think he [Dave Armstrong] needs a prize of some sort."

Didn't Phil once say something about the "native narcissism" that so rampantly pervades the blogosphere? Can't remember Phil's exact words. But for someone to be so preoccupied as to throw an ad infinitum hissy fit over something as trivial as one's own blogging output might call for a "Best Native Narcissist" award.


I hate to rain on his fruitcake, but there is actually more than one Steve who has been known to post a comment on Bro. Phil’s blog, and I’m not the Steve in question.

But so that dear old Dave won’t go home empty-handed, I hereby confer upon him the honorary fruitcake award as the consolation prize--and since I honestly can’t think of anyone more deserving, I’ll make this the honorary lifetime fruitcake award.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Between Iraq and a hard blogspot

For going on three years now I’ve been defending the Iraq war. This is a somewhat ironic role to be cast in since, truth be told, I’ve never been a big fan of the Iraq war.

For the most part, I’ve defended the policy against the various objections of whacko on the left, as well as a few whackos on the right.

The objections are generally broader than the Iraq conflict per se. The critics object to the whole strategy of casting this in martial terms. The critics are mostly opposed to the military, opposed to counterterrorism and counterintelligence.

They view the US as the enemy, and the jihadis as victims. They think that jihadis should be treated like American citizens accused of shoplifting, and according the full panoply of civil rights, consistent international law and the Warren Court. Everything should be channeled through the EU and the UN and the World Court.

This mentality must be resisted at every turn. It will either get us all killed or reduced to a state of dhimmitude.

But that is detachable from the Iraq war. I never thought it was necessary to come down strongly on one side or another. For this is one of those ethical dilemmas, so common in life, in which one must make a momentous decision based on insufficient evidence. The law of unintended consequences has jurisdiction over action and inaction alike. You cannot know in advance of the fact if it was the prudent thing to do. You can only know after the fact, at which point it is, of course, too late if you made a miscalculation.

But that’s just part of assuming the responsibilities of adulthood. You have to make do with the best information you had at the time.

I never thought that asking if Bush made the right decision was the right question to ask. For me, the question was whether Bush made a reasonable decision. And I think he did.

Of course, that was then and this is now. Unfortunately, the political climate is so poisonous and polarized and partisan that it’s impossible to have a grown-up discussion with a card-carrying Bush-hater.

Based on the information he had, it was reasonable of Bush to view Iraq as a potential threat to our national security, and to take preemptive measures to neutralize that threat.

It was also not unreasonable, once we were on the ground, having toppled the old regime, to try putting the pieces back together in a political configuration more favorable to our national self-interest.

I always viewed the neocon vision as unduly optimistic and misguided by failing to take into account the power of religion and ethnicity. But if it failed, it failed, not by being irrational, but by being overly rational.

To some extent, Christianity has spoiled us to expect a certain degree of rationality from others. But the deep-seated paranoia and tempermentalism that exists in the Muslim world reminds us that rationality is not a common grace denominator.

One can speculate on all the mistakes we made. I’m not sure what mistakes we made, and whether doing things differently would have made a difference.

For one thing, life is like a game of chess. Once you get into the game and make some moves and lose some pieces, you don’t get a change to replace and reposition and start all over again if you decide you don’t like the way things are going.

And, of course, you’re not free to make any move you please, because you’re moves are constrained by the opposing player’s countermoves.

So often in life we don’t get the luxury of knowing whether there ever was a right way of doing things. We don’t get to undo what we did and try out a number of different problem-solving strategies.

Life is not a test-drive. For better or worse, you learn as you go.

I’d also add that the insurgency has been so intense and so sustained that it’s hard to see what we could have done differently that would have made a big difference.

The basic problem is and has always been that there is no popular counterinsurgency to check the insurgency.

If we fail in Iraq, it isn’t because our troops failed us. Our troops have performed magnificently, and you have only to compare their performance with the underperformance of the locals to see the weak link at that end.

Likewise, you have only to compare the courageous idealism of our troops with the whiny pampered liberals to see, once again, the weak link at our end.

I basically gave up on the Iraq war back in March 31, of 2004 when four of our civilian contractors were murdered by a cheering mob.

This wasn’t just a band of jihadis or former Republican guards. The townsfolk were cheering them on as well.

At that point I concluded that Iraq wasn’t worth it, the Iraqis weren’t worth it, that we were viewed as the enemy by the very people we were there to help.

That, admittedly, was a snap judgment, but subsequent events have done nothing to revise my estimate. The situation has never stabilized.

That is because we had a divided mission. Our troops have had to fight with one arm tied behind their back because we wanted to treat the Iraqis as our friends instead of our enemies, and so we didn’t resort to the ruthless tactics employed in WWII.

We have the military might to crush the “insurgency” like a bug. But we’d have to kill a lot of civilians.

I understand the rationale for this. And I respect the rationale. Iraq didn’t attack us. This was a preemptive war against a hypothetical threat. So we didn’t feel the moral authority to be as iron-fisted as we would otherwise be.

It was a policy born of hope and nursed on faith—trusting that the Iraqis would view us the way we were viewing them, that they would reciprocate our initiative and resolve.

But there’s a reason the Iraqis didn’t overthrow Saddam all by themselves. There was a lack of political will. They were risk-adverse. And this has carried over into the aftermath.

And it presents Pres. Bush with a painful calculation. The only way of knowing for sure that something is a lost cause is if you give it your all. The downside to that strategy is that if you lose, you lose everything.

The alternative is to cut your losses. The downside to that strategy is that you will never know, had you given it a little more time and effort, if you would have succeeded.

Is it better to lose more troops and win, or lose fewer troops and lose? If you cut your losses, then your losses are a dead loss. They died in vain.

If you hang on a little longer, you may succeed, and even if that comes at a greater cost to life and limb, the losses are not a dead loss. They did not die in vain. The strategic objective was achieved.

I don’t know that there’s any correct answer to that dilemma.

For clarity of analysis, I’m putting this all a bit too abstractly. Even if the Iraq war was a tactical error, it was not an utter waste of blood and treasure.

i) For even though we paid a high price, we made the enemy pay an even higher price as well. It was costly on both sides. And that has a deterrent effect. Can you afford to mess with the US?

ii) To the extent that Iraq is a microcosm of the Mideast, if the Iraqis fumble their chance at freedom, then we learn an important lesson about the nature of our enemy. We learn just what we can expect from the Muslim world, as well as the rest of the world.

iii) Many supporters and opponents alike view civil war as the worst case scenario, but if Iraq degenerates into civil war after we leave, then it’s no threat to us because the Muslims will be too busy killing their next-door neighbor to kill us from afar.

Finally, I’ll support the war as long as the troops support the war. If the troops turn against it, then I’ll turn against it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A free Iraq

A bit dated, but it give you an inside look at how we’re viewed by the folks we're trying to help.


Carla said:

I love your blog, Ali. I wonder, how much are you still troubled by corruption and bribes. Can you get things done without the old system still with its tentacles holding on??


Thanks for your kind words. This question was asked by another reader by mail. I think corruption is a huge problem all over Iraq. One example is what a colleague of mine who works in Ammara told me lately. His hospital is getting renewed by a company that works with the British army. After my friend and his colleagues became tired of waiting for the rebuilding to finish, as it's taken three months till now, they went to the hospital director and asked him how long it was going to take before they can go back to real work instead of sitting their in the ruins doing almost nothing. The director told them that it's going to take a long time because the hospital is going to be renewed and after it's done it would be leveled with the ground to be build again! They told him that he must be kidding and he said he wasn't. They asked him why would he approve of something like that and he said it wasn't his call and that it's the city council that decided that. The city council of that small town (it's called "Ali Al Garbi") is controlled by Sadirists by the way.

It appears that the city council made a contract with the British army to renew the hospital then they made another contract with another party to totally re-build the hospital! It's a perfect way to hide whatever theft they're doing in the renewal process since it's going to be leveled down! It's crazy but that's how it is and my friends feel helpless, as to whom they can complain when these people control everything!? The press isn't strong enough to produce any effect yet.

I want to stress though that the corruption is not new in Iraq at all. It was even much worse before the war, but people just couldn't talk about it. I think the reports that said Iraq has the most corrupt government in the world are very inaccurate. Iraq has probably the most corrupt elected government. In the neighboring dictatorship as well as in Saddam's times it's totally different. *Everything* is owned by the dictator and his thugs and that's worse than any corruption alone yet there was a huge corruption in government offices at Saddam's times. It was just uncovered because of the fear and because Iraq was a totally closed state. Now everyone in the world can know at least some of what's happening down here and that's the only difference and corruption is still less than what it was.

Since the war I never found myself forced to bribe anyone. I had to wait for 7 months to get my salary but no one forced me to pay anything and I was determined not to do so even if it was going to solve the problem fast. In the end I got paid and it was very frustrating but it felt good that got something solved without bribing anyone. Before the war, I like everyone else, we had to bribe someone to get any problem solved when it comes to the government-related problems. I mean you could *never* get anything working without that. Now it's much better although it's still bad compared to other democratic countries. I never had to bribe anyone in any checkpoint since the war, and that was also a problem before the war. Most of those checkpoints (before the war) were places where security guards, policemen or military intelligence use to rob people for very silly reasons. They didn't have a problem with finding an excuse and people had to pay or face a horrible fate.

2nd Lieutenant Jarred Fishman said:

I am now back from US Air Force training where I became an officer. My question is: what is the attitude towards the ING and the IP and the Special Forces? Do the public support them? are they effective at all? Do Iraqis know that the American populace supports them and wants them to be free and have good and peaceful lives? Stay safe!!


Thanks for your kindness and congratulations on your graduation!
The ING and the IP are generally supported by She'at and Kurds and resented by Sunnis, that's generally. I believe they're getting more effective but still some of them are very rude and behave just like Saddam's thugs at times and it gives a really bad image that affects all the ING in the minds of people who already don't trust them and even in the eyes of those who do support them. As I was typing here in an Internet cafe' a patrol of ING was passing the road in front of us a few minutes ago. One of the soldiers fired his AK47 in the air for absolutely no reason, and this happens a lot. I looked at the soldier and he was actually laughing!! It's all because of the unlimited authority they're given to combat terrorists. I think that the major parties are using terrorism as just an excuse sometimes to further strengthen their grip on power. I still have faith that Iraqis won't let that happen again and I have seen many good signs of that.

I think many Iraqis know that Americans support them but not most and there's still a lot that Iraqis don't know. I feel lucky because I have this blog and because I can read English as it has shown me things I could never have known through our media. I never imagined Americans support and care about Iraqis this much before I started blogging. I thought they did but not this much and I feel I know Americans much more now and love them much more as well. More Iraqis need to see what I and other luckier Iraqis have and are seeing.


Natural evil


Christianity is the only belief-system that has any answers to the problem of evil. Hence, we blow a great opportunity when we fumble the question.

i) Islam denies original sin. Hence, it has no explanation for the universality of sin.

ii) Hinduism refers evil to reincarnation. This explanation has its own internal difficulties. It begs the question of how the cycle got started in the first place. And if we don’t remember our past lives, then how can we learn from our mistakes and do better the next time around.

Hinduism and Buddhism also tend to treat the sensible world as illusory or delusive. But this only pushes the question back a step, for you must then account for the illusion.

iii) Buddhism counsels radical detachment in the face of evil and suffering. This treats the symptom by dehumanizing the subject. We became numb in the face of evil.

iv) Secularism blames moral evil on our predatory ancestry. But predators don’t regularly kill members of their own species. And if this analysis were correct, then evil would be insoluble since it is programmed into our genes.

There is also the Marxist diagnosis, which, even if otherwise accurate, only pushes the problem back a step by failing to explain why the haves oppress the have-nots in the first place.


i) Traditionally, theodicy distinguishes between moral and natural evil. The freewill defense, even if otherwise valid, is logically accessory to moral evil rather than natural evil.

ii) One attempt to extend the freewill defense to natural evil is to attribute natural evil to consequences of the fall. This makes sense with respect to disease and certain forms of death (by aging, illness, and crime).

iii) It makes less sense with respect to natural disasters. In general, hurricanes, tornadoes, tidal waves, volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, and wildfires are not intrinsically evil. They are either side-effects of something else, or function as a natural safety-value for releasing and equalizing the build-up internal pressures or thermal invariances in the natural world.

It some cases it’s just a difference of degree—water is good, too much water, or too little, is bad.

Is fire good or bad? It all depends.

What makes a natural disaster an evil is not its intrinsic character, but its relation to human life and livelihood.

iv) Attributing a natural disaster to the sin of Adam or the agency of Satan is a rather ad hoc explanation.

a) A robust doctrine of original sin is incompatible with the freewill defense. Those who affirm freewill deny that original sin is that debilitating.

b) Scripture does not attribute natural disaster to the devil. That would turn the devil into some sort of storm-god of the kind worshipped by idolaters.

Moreover, it only pushes the problem back a step. If the devil lies behind a natural disaster, who lies behind the devil? Is God not in control of the devil?

c) Another possible move is to attribute natural disaster to divine judgment. This strategy has the merit of some Scriptural precedent. However, collective guilt is ill-suited to the freewill defense.

v) I have no reason to assume that a natural disaster could not occur in an unfallen world. What would not occur are human fatalities as a result of natural disaster.

God would warn us, or shield us. Or perhaps we’d be so technologically advanced that we could regulate nature and divert a hurricane away from a population center.


For some reason, there are ministers who feel that any dumb answer will do so long as it is long on warm-fuzzies.

But this simply won’t do. The laity are not a bunch of five-year-olds. Many laymen have advanced degrees in intellectually demanding fields of study. This habit of talking down to the laity is a sorry excuse for pastoral ministry.

For that matter, unbelievers aren’t stupid either. And when they hear stupid answers, they feel justified in the contempt for the faith.


It’s revealing that when an Osteen or Warren or Campolo publicly misrepresents the Christian faith, you have folks who rush to their defense and put words in their mouth.

Now, one could make allowance for flubbing the answer if they were out of character. But when someone has a track-record of sloppy theology, why give him the benefit of the doubt?

And, more to the point, why is the priority to defend human falsehood rather than divine truth?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

That girl's gotta mind of her own!

The Calvinist Gadfly has rendered a service to the church by reproducing part of an interview with Rick Warren in the wake of Katrina:


Warren: Right. Well, first thing we need to understand that not everything that happens in this world is God’s will. I have a will, you have a will, we have a free will… And so, we have a lot of things that go bad… But what God wants to do is he wants to comfort us. Somebody asked me when I was actually on the floor of the, the, the Houston Astrodome talking to people and praying with people, said, where is God in all of this? And I’ll tell you where God is, he’s in thousands of lives of people who love him and follow him, and they are the hands and feet of God…


So, as Warren would have it, not only do human beings have freewill, but hurricanes have freewill as well. Presumbly he’d also extend his logic to other natural disasters, such as floods, wildfires, earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, tidal waves and so on.

BTW, have you ever noticed that those who espouse freewill believe that everyone has freewill except for God? We can do whatever we want, but God can't to whatever he wants, even though, unlike us, whatever God wants is for the good.

Now, I don’t suppose that Pastor Warren really is a devout animist, so why would he make such a nonsensical comment?

i) Like a lot of Christians, his theology is a softheaded muddle—especially when it comes to the problem of evil. And this is not an easy issue to deal with.

Still, the existence of evil is a central plank in Christian theology. You have the fall. You have a personal devil. The crucifixion is at one and the same time the greatest good and the greatest evil in human history.

So this is really not an issue we can sidestep.

ii) A lot of folks, including ministers, somehow feel that in the face of tragedy, it’s okay to spout sentimental nonsense.

You saw this with the death of the Pope. You had Catholic spokesmen, some of them quite high-placed, assuring their international TV audience that John-Paul II was now with God.

But according to Catholic dogma, they have no right to say that. According to Catholic dogma, barring private revelation, no one knows if he’s heaven-bound this side of the grave, and even if he were, he would ordinarily have to go through Purgatory to reach heaven.

Yet you had Catholic spokesmen simply lying through their teeth. Why would they do this?

Because it sounded nicer than the truth. They didn’t wish to offend. They didn’t wish to hurt anyone’s feelings or make the faithful upset.

Again, this is understandable at a certain level. It isn’t easy to say the right thing the right way in the face of personal tragedy.

Another example is when a high-profile pastor goes on national TV, but can’t bring himself to attach the word “hell” to those who died outside of Christ.

Again, he does really imagine that this question might not come up? Shouldn’t he have his theology worked out by now? Shouldn’t he have a well-rehearsed answer to a question like that?

After all, this is not a side issue. If you don’t believe that faith in Christ is a life-and-death, make-or-break issue, what are you doing in the ministry, anyway?

Mind you, I’m not talking about liberals. I’m talking about self-styled evangelicals who get sweaty and tongue-tied when they have to answer this question in public, before a potentially hostile audience.

Again, I’m not saying that this is easy. It’s not supposed to be easy.

But, you know, that’s part of the job. If a pastor isn’t prepared to do that, he isn’t fit for the pastorate.

And why did Rick Warren go on national TV without having a better answer to offer? Why did he think he was asked to come on the show if not to answer a theological question like that?

I guess he felt that he could bluff his way through with pious nonsense as long as the facial expression and tone of voice was right.

iii) The proper answer is to say that God willed Katrina for some greater good known only to himself.

This principle isn’t hard to illustrate. Does a surgeon intend to amputate a limb? I certainly hope so. I wouldn’t vest very much confidence in a surgeon who went around hacking off arms and legs without intending to do so. “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to remove your foot. It just happened!”

But, of course, that’s no t the whole story. He amputates a limb, not because he likes to mutilate a patient, but to save the patient from a horrible death by gangrene.

Sometimes, too, the amputee is a better man for the experience. He doesn’t take life for granted.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Flim-flam man


I have seen some Baptist responses on the web, and they are sadly lacking in any kind of depth or substance. In particular, I am struck by the fact that Baptists of their ilk seem utterly incapable of thinking in biblical terms with respect to promises given to the people of God. They cannot distinguish between being the recipient of a promise, and actually receiving the true benefit(s) of the promise. They have no meaningful category for understanding apostasy as the rejection of blessings actually possessed, and so must always think of apostasy in terms of revealing that one never did possess the blessings of the promise, because the promise was not directed at them to begin with. This of course requires Baptist preachers and Baptist seminarians (who seem to be the masters of sound bites) to do exegetical gymnastics with Holy Writ, because they cannot accept God’s word at face value.


i) For the record, I’m not a Baptist. I’m noncommittal on infant baptism, indifferent to fine-points of polity, and theonomic whereas the average Baptist is not.

I spend a lot of time defending Reformed Baptists because I spend a lot of time defending Reformed theology. Attacking Reformed Baptists is generally just a ruse to attack Calvinism under the guise of attacking Baptists. It gives Enloe, Owen, and Johnson cover to smuggle in their hypersacramentalism and hypercovenantalism.

They use Reformed Baptists as a stalking horse. This is obvious because they also target Presbyterians who disagree with them.

If Reformed Baptist bloggers are in the forefront of those defending the doctrines of grace, that is to their credit, not their discredit.

I’d add that “Reformed” Catholics and other Federal Vision heretics confirm the worst suspicions of Reformed Baptists about Presbyterian theology as an unstable theological compromise. Far from making a case for Calvin and the Westminster Divines, guys like Paul Owen are poster-boys for syncretism as they go a-whoring after Rome, Moroni, and the Judaizers.

ii) Dr. Owen continues to equivocate over the identity of “the people of God.”

iii) Far from exegetical gymnastics and an unwillingness to accept God’s word at face value, the reason that I and other Calvinists refuse to drive a wedge between the recipient of the promise and the receipt of the promise is that we do not interpolate distinctions into the text which are not present in the text.

Not every promise is conditional in the sense of being uncertain. Some promises are assurances.

Dr. Owen reduces every promise to an uncertain offer. But our God doesn’t merely promise to save the elect on condition that they persevere. God also promises to preserve the elect.

In Calvinism, it isn’t merely that our salvation is contingent on our own fidelity; rather, our salvation is contingent on God’s fidelity. The elect are faithful to God because God is faithful to the elect by keeping the elect faithful to him.

The promises are contingent on faith, but they are also contingent on grace, and faith is contingent on grace. Yes, the promises are conditional, but grace is unconditional, and it is God’s grace to the elect which ensures the satisfaction of the conditions. If you don’t have that, you don’t have Calvinism.

iv) Actually, we do have a meaningful category of apostasy. Take Dr. Owen. He’s an excellent candidate for an apostate to the doctrines of grace. Let us hope he is not an apostate to the grace of the doctrines.

v) Again, to say that from our point of view the apostate never did possess the blessings of the promise is just another one of Owen’s fatal equivocations. Promise of what blessing?

The promise, say, of eternal life? Is Owen’s position that the apostate was, at one time, a genuine recipient of this promise—that he really did possess eternal life, then lost it? Or that he was regenerate, only to become unregenerate? Does he view saving grace as an on-again/off-again affair? Now you have it, now you don’t?

That’s not Calvinism. That’s classic Arminian theology.

I’m not using “Arminian” as a derogatory term, here. Just as accurate description of his own position.


They do not understand that both under the Old Covenant, and the New Covenant, the community to whom God’s promises are sealed (originally in circumcision, now in baptism) is not identical to the number of the elect. God actually makes promises to people, and gives benefits to people, who fail to receive the benefit in a true and lasting manner due to apostasy. This is why Matthew 13:41 says that some reprobates will be gathered “out of” Christ’s kingdom in the final judgment. To be gathered “out of” a kingdom, you of course have to have first entered “into” the kingdom. So some reprobates do enter the kingdom of heaven for a season.


One of Dr. Owen’s tactics or confusions for both is his penchant for category-hopping. He uses a word like the “kingdom” as if this were synonymous with a soteric category in dogmatic nomenclature.


It is quite humorous to watch would-be-Reformed interpreters try to keep a straight face while they explain to you that “continuing in” God’s kindness does not presuppose that one has actually yet entered “into” that kindness. If you do not continue in God’s kindness, you never were “in” to start with. So somehow, people are being warned that they will be judged for failing to continue in a state they never got into in the first place? How can a person who has never entered a given state fail to continue in a state they never even entered? This is the sort of balderdash that is created by people who like to cite the Bible but who fail to think in biblical categories.


This is yet another example of Dr. Owen’s category-hopping.

In Rom 11:21-22, Paul is not talking, in the first instance, about individuals, but classes: the Jews as a class and the Gentiles as a class.

And the kindness which God has shown is the kindness of the gospel. At one time, the saving knowledge of God was pretty much limited to the Jews. Now it has been extended to the Gentiles.

This is not the same thing as being in a state of grace, only to fall from grace and lose your salvation. That is not the benefit in view.

Remember that before writing his letter to the Romans, Paul had already tangled with two churches which were on the brink of apostasy—the Galatians and the Corinthians. So the danger of Gentiles who, having been evangelized, forsook the gospel, was a genuine danger. And in church history, we have examples of dying denominations and national apostasy.


With regard to the Johannine texts, a few more comments of a general nature will fill out the picture:

1. Because Baptists do not think in biblical terms about the covenant, they fail to see how Jesus’ allusion to Jeremiah 31:34 in 6:45 enlightens the full scope of 6:37. Some prefer to see here a reference to Isaiah 54:13, but it makes no difference. In either case, it is clear that the entire nation of Israel is being spoken of. And the entire nation of Israel, in both its OT and NT forms, includes elect and reprobate within its number. In either case, it is a reference to every member of the visible Church. The “least of them to the greatest” (Jer. 31:34) is equivalent to the house of Israel (v. 33), and “all your sons” (Isa. 54:13) means ALL the sons of Israel. Therefore, the “drawing” of John 6:44 cannot be limited to the elect, but includes all who are brought by the Spirit into the visible Church through profession of faith (or baptism in the case of their children). Therefore, those whom the Father gives to the Son (6:37) cannot be limited to those who are predestined to glory.


I already replied to this appeal. To quote myself:


Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the reference is to prophecy of Jeremiah, observe how Dr. Owen ignores what the prophecy promises, and confines himself to whom it is addressed.

But doesn’t the prophecy promise a new heart and the remission of sin (vv33-34)? And is this applicable to elect and reprobate alike? Are the hell-bound forgiven? Do the hell-bound receive a new heart?


i) Dr. Owen is simply repeating himself. The fact that he has no answer to my reply goes to show that his appeal is indefensible.

ii) But let’s make an additional point: how do we handle the universalizing language of Scripture? In traditional Reformed hermeneutics, one does not assume that general expressions have reference to everyone without exception. This is not owing only to the Reformed commitment to election and special redemption. Rather, it’s also due to the fact that soteriological passages which contain universal quantifiers (“every,” “all”) do not distinguish between universal atonement and universal salvation.

That being so, Calvinism is of the view that we ought to operate with a consistent and unified hermeneutic. If we don’t take these verses to teach universal salvation, then we shouldn’t take them to teach universal atonement, for that would intrude an arbitrary distinction when no such distinction is present in the text.

iii) The function of universal quantifiers is to designate a class of individuals. Take the phrase about “the least to the greatest.”

Under the OT, there was a religious class which was a class apart from the laity. For you had a dynastic priesthood as well as a prophetic office.

Under the NT, those distinctions are abolished. That’s the point of Jer 31:34. Dr. Owen is the one incapable of thinking in Biblical categories.


Actually, we do not need to be in the dark on this matter, for John 17:12 tells us of at least one of those whom the Father gave to the Son, who did fall away and was lost: “not one of them perished, except the son of perdition.” So one of “them” did perish. Who is the “them” of verse 12? By “them” Jesus is referring to those whom he kept and guarded. Yet in order to fulfill Scripture, Jesus stopped guarding and keeping Judas, and allowed him to fall. And who are these persons, one of whom was Judas, whom Jesus was keeping and guarding? According to verse 6, they are those whom the Father gave to the Son.

But does verse 6 not say that they have kept his word? Certainly–yet with one exception–Judas, according to verse 12. Jesus stopped keeping Judas, and Judas stopped keeping his word. There is no way to get around verse 12, by claiming that Judas is not one of those given to the Son by the Father, whom Jesus was keeping and guarding. The language is clear. If I say, “Not one of my dogs is a Shih Tzu, except Muffin,” I am obviously not denying that Muffin is one of my dogs. So when Jesus says that not one of those given to him by the Father perished except Judas, it is ludicrous to claim that this means Judas was not one of those given to Jesus by the Father.


This is the classic Arminian interpretation of Jn 17:12. It also disregards both text and context. As Carson explains:


The only exception is Judas Iscariot, and this exception is merely apparent, since Jesus repeatedly indicates not only his awareness of the traitor’s schemes, but that his choice of him was antedated by his awareness of what would take place (6:64,70; 13:10-11,18,21-22). Verse 12b makes something of the same point. It establishes that Jesus has been utterly faithful to the task assigned him, viz., to keep and protect those that the Father has given him (cf. Notes on 6:37-38). Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, in this context, therefore excluded Judas Iscariot, for otherwise one would have to conclude that Jesus failed in the responsibility that had been assigned him…Judas Iscariot’s exceptional status is established by two features:

i) He is called the son of perdition…Probably Jn 17:12 portrays Judas Iscariot as a horrible precursor belonging to the same genus as the eschatological “son of perdition,” just as in 1 Jn 2:18,22; 4:3.

ii) The reference to the fulfillment of Scripture also assures the reader that the defection of Judas is foreseen by Scripture, and therefore no evidence of a failure on Jesus’ part.

The Gospel According to John (IVP 1991), 563-564.


Carson’s interpretation is seconded by Craig Keener in his commentary on John, cf. 2:1058-1059.


2. It may be helpful to make a few more comments about John 15:1-6. When Jesus identifies himself as the “true vine” in 15:1-2, he is identifying himself as the true Israel (Psalm 80; Isa. 5:1-7). When believers are incorporated into him they can said to be “in the vine” and so members of the new Israel. But there are different kinds of branches in the vine. There are fruitful branches, and branches without fruit. Any branch which lacks fruit is cut off and thrown into the fire (15:6). Now it makes no sense whatsoever to say that the failure to bear fruit proves that you were never actually “in” the vine. Any person who has seen a vine knows that it can have both kinds of branches. Not bearing fruit does not prove that you are not a branch, it proves that you are a branch in the vine which has died (and so does not bear fruit). This is the whole basis of Jesus’ warning–make sure that you do not become a dead branch which fails to produce fruit. If you do, you will be destroyed. Those who fail to “abide” in the vine will not produce fruit (15:4), and will be burned in the fire. Failing to abide in the vine leads to loss of life, which leads to failure to produce fruit, which leads to eternal destruction.


I already replied to this appeal. To quote myself:


Let us remember that this is a metaphor. One cannot simply equate being in the Vine with being in “the covenant,” or equate the branches with “the church.” For those categories are not present in Jn 15. The question is what the metaphor stands for.


i) Once again, Dr. Owen is simply repeating himself. The fact that he has no answer to my reply goes to show that his appeal is indefensible.

Jn 15 is picture-language. Naturally the branch is “in” the vine. That relation is necessitated by the nature of the metaphor. That’s part of a coherent image. Having chosen a certain metaphor, that commits you to a certain depiction, viz. “pruning” unproductive branches.

ii) But let’s make an additional point: one of Dr. Owen’s methodological errors is to interpret the literal usage of Jn 6 and 10 in light of the figurative usage of Jn 15. This is a pretty basic blunder. A sound rule of thumb is to interpret the figurative in light of the literal, not vice versa. The figurative is merely illustrative of the literal.

Continuing with Dr. Owen:


Because Baptists (and those many Presbyterians who think like Baptists) do not understand what the Bible teaches about the covenant, passages like this make no sense to them. They think that this all means that people who only pretend to be in the vine will not be able to produce fruit, and so will be destroyed. But verse 2 says, “Every branch in me” (the true Israel), not “Every branch claiming to be in me.” Anyways, how on earth can a branch which is not in the vine, fail to “abide in” the vine? The command to “abide in” the vine presupposes that one really is “in” the vine, otherwise people are being warned to stay in a state which they have never entered in the first place (which is balderdash)! This contorted explanation also ignores the fact that this warning is addressed to the disciples who are “already clean” (v. 3). It is those who are already clean who are being warned to abide in the vine to avoid destruction, not merely pretenders who “claim” they are already clean.


No, actually the “contorted balderdash” is issuing straight from Dr. Owen’s fuzz-brained befuddlement as he confounds the figurative relations depicted in the parable with the literal relations for which they stand.

No intelligent Calvinist takes this to mean that real “people” only pretend to be in the “vine.” The point of correspondence is not between people and the vine. Since Dr. Owen is too simple-minded to diagram the proper relation, we’ll have to spell it out for him:

(A1) branch is to (B1) vine


(A2) believer (whether nominal or genuine) is to (B2) Christ.

And if you wish to unpack the literal nature of the relation, you’ll have to turn to literal passages which describe true believers and apostates in relation to Christ.

If Dr. Owen is really that thick, then it would behoove him to be less condescending in his characterization of Reformed Baptists so that he doesn’t have as far to fall when the pins are knocked out from under him. As it stands, he has neither the intellectual output to justify his airs of superiority or the self-effacing grace that excuses a multitude of blunders.

Moving along:


3. With regard to John 10:26, I argued that the “sheep” most naturally refers to the entire visible Church (or alternatively, those to whom it will be granted to enter the Church; see v. 16), the new Israel which is founded in Jesus. And since some of the members of the visible church do fall away, it is necessary to understand 10:28 as a promise with conditions.


I leveled a 9-point objection to that interpretation. To quote myself once more:


i) There is a contrast, in Jn 10, between the sheep and the goats (v26). So Jesus is using the term to designate a particular group, as over against those who “do not believe because they don’t belong to the flock.”

ii) The Good Shepherd discourse was addressed to the OT covenant community. It is targeting Jewish unbelievers (vv1,10,22-42) in contrast to Messianic Jews (vv1-21). So it does not apply to the covenant community as a whole. To the contrary, ethnic Jews who don’t follow Jesus are excluded from the flock. Indeed, his very discourse provokes a division within the audience (vv19-21).

iii) A mark of the sheep is that they follow the Good Shepherd (vv3-6,27). They are graced with spiritual discernment. This sets them apart from nominal believers.

iv) There is a reciprocal relation between the sheep who know the shepherd and the shepherd who knows his sheep (vv14,27). This does not exist in the case of the reprobate.

v) The Good Shepherd calls his sheep by name (v3). This is not corporate election.

vi) The Good Shepherd dies for the flock (vv11,15). Dr. Owen’s interpretation entails a denial of special redemption. As he would have it, Christ dies for the sheep and the goats alike.

vii) The Good Shepherd grants eternal life to the sheep (vv10,28). The Good Shepherd does not grant eternal life to the reprobate.

viii) The Father and the Son preserve the sheep from apostasy (vv28-29). This is not true of the reprobate.

ix) Did St. Peter shepherd the whole church of God? Did the entire church terminate once Peter was martyred in the seventh decade of the 1C?

In view of the parallels between 20:21-23 and 21:16-17, is it not sounder to see in this commission an evangelistic outreach to the future church (16:8-11; 20:21)? The missionary niche would not be the visible church, per se, but those given by the Father to the Son (chap. 17).


Dr. Owen doesn’t rebut a single point I made. If he could, he would. Clearly he’s maxed out and grasping at straws. Unable to answer, he changes the subject:


It is clear that passages such as Psalm 80:1; Isaiah 53:6; Zechariah 10-13; and Ezekiel 34 are especially pertinent.


The fact that various OT passages, including Ezk 34, figure in Jn 10 is news to no one. The key question, though, is not how the imagery functions in Ezk 34, but how it functions in Jn 10.

In a hermeneutical monstrosity, he even has sheep morphing into goats:


It is only at the last day that there will be two entirely distinct categories of sheep and goats (Matt. 25:31ff.).


Here he’s mixing metaphors and mixing gospels, as though Mt 25 were continuous with Jn 15. This is incredibly maladroit exegesis—if exegesis is the word.

i) More pertinent to Matthew and John alike is the contrast between sheep and goats in Ezk 34:17. As Allen observes: “Infighting and competition among the flock, which in ancient times contained both sheep and goats…Here ‘the rams and male goats, &c.” L. Allen, Ezekiel 20-48 (Word 1990), 162; as well as Block: “Yahweh will judge between the rams and the buck or male goats. While the collective terms refer to flocks of both sheep and/or goats, &c.” D. Block, the Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 25-48 (Eerdmans 1998), 292.

Assuming, therefore, that Ezk 34 supplies the controlling metaphor for Jn 10, the implicit contrast would lie between a flock of sheep and a flock of he-goats.

ii) Still more to the point, this is, again, figurative language, and if you want to nail down the precise nature of the contrast, you must to turn to the literal descriptors in my 9-point rebuttal.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Atlas Shrugged

Last July I responded to a little essay by a Randian attacking original sin:

I see that another Randian has now commented on two remarks I made in the course of my response.

Don Watkins originally said:


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.


To which I replied:


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


This has provoked the following comments by a guy named Travis Benning:


Triablogue - “And why is survival suc[h] a good thing?”

If one values life, then it is a ‘good thing.’ I can’t believe this is still a question, but here we go…

Some people just do not grasp the concept that Reason is Man’s basic means of survival. Reason is our conceptual faculty; because Man functions on the conceptual level, not the perceptual level like animals. It is the faculty by which we integrate and organize all the data that we take in from our senses; because reality exists outside of our senses, wishes, whims, and prayers. It exists, not in some metaphysically wrinkled zoned, but here, now, capable of being experienced with the senses.

To claim otherwise is to deny the Law of Identity, that A is A, and to relegate one’s mind into a useless blob of gray matter between one’s ears.


i) Since Benning has a knack for missing the obvious, I’ll have to spell it out for him. The purpose of the question was not to question the value of survival from my own point of view. Rather, I was responding to a claim by Don Watkins. What, from his Randian standpoint, is the value of survival?

ii) Benning’s reply is scarcely coherent. He says that “Reason is Man’s basic means of survival…because Man functions on the conceptual level, not the perceptual level like animals.”

How this contrast is intended to prove his point is far from evident. After all, animals survive quite nicely at a merely perceptual rather than conceptual level. For example, cockroaches get along in the world quite handily without the benefit of a reasonable soul or higher cortical functions. So why does Benning assume that reason confers a survival advantage?

BTW, is there some reason that Benning capitalizes “Reason” as though it were a German noun or the name of a Deity?

iii) In fact, it might just as well be argued that reason is a threat to human survival. Lower animals lack the intelligence to design weapons of mass destruction.

iv) Finally, Benning misses the more fundamental point. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that reason is man’s basic survival tool.

If I had asked how it is that man is able to survive, reference to reason might be a relevant answer. But remember, I didn’t pose a how-question, but a why-question. And what I posed was not factual question, but an ethical question: why is survival a good thing?

To cite the law of identity or claim that reason confers a survival advantage on the human species goes absolutely no distance towards answering the question I asked of the Randian.

Moving along:


Triablogue - “Where does morality come from in the first place?”

From our Reasoning mind perhaps? From the facts of reality that dictate what Man must do in order to survive, thrive, and be happy perhaps? That is, of course, if one thinks that life is something worth having and keeping. If one does not value life, then why would one wish to continue having it? As a sense of duty as Kant would profess? I think not. As a sacrificial gift to be given to others that demand it of you on behalf of the ‘greater good’? I think not. As a commandment, not to be decided by oneself or questioned ever out of a sense of fear by some ‘other’ that is all things except something with identity? Again, the answer is no.

Steve, when I hear of people that think believe as you do, I get concerned. You use the internet, an achievement of great technological and political value. Both of those realms require Reason. We all know that Reason applied to any field of any kind produces value; when applied towards the goal of one’s rational self-interest and Man’s happiness. Attempt to eat, to survive, without any use of Reason. Stop thinking and see if that fills your belly. You know it will not, but why then in the realm of morality is Reason given a back seat and told to shut up when having to compete with Tea leaf reading and Revealed Truth?

Why in this area is it pushed aside as a necessary evil, a pawn to be used only to propagate one’s views? The mind is impotent you say? Then stop using the products of the mind to spread your words. Stop using the internet to damn the internet, stop using the microphone at the pulpit to damn Man’s mind, stop using technology to damn technology; the product of the rational mind. The sheer idiocy of such actions astounds me. And to claim that it is not the mind that creates these objects and tools that aid human life and increase Man’s happiness here on Earth; that it is from some ‘other’ existence that we cannot identify, is just plain retardation.

Steve, I challenge you to read, understand, and refute on a purely logical and rational level any part of Ayn Rand’s philosophy: Objectivism. Provide proof of your refutation(s), and not delve into the deep-end of emotionalism or subjectivism but stay within the confines of this reality on this planet.


i) Does morality issue from the mind? Remember, again, that my question was directed at a Randian. How does he justify morality, given his outlook?

ii) Is secular ethics even feasible? A number of atheistic philosophers like Kai Nielsen and J. L. Mackie have admitted that secularism cannot ground moral absolutes.

iii) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that mere reason, apart from God, is the source of morality, reasonable men have proposed divergent value systems, so how does reason alone privilege one value system over another?

iv) In what sense is survival a dictate of reason? I assume that Benning is a Darwinian, so he must believe that various species, including subspecies of early man, have become extinct.

v) To speak of happiness as an ethical end begs the question of whether happiness is a good.

vi) Moreover, it sidesteps the question of whether any and every form of happiness is a good. What if persecuting Randians makes me happy?

vii) Benning then tumbles down a rabbit trail about how I allegedly say that reason is impotent. But he doesn’t quote me to that effect.

I’m all for reason when reason is put to the purpose for which it was made. But I also acknowledge that fallen reason can be applied to evil ends.

viii) His objection seems to be to the concept of revealed truth and some “other” existence.

But, of course, many men of the highest intellectual attainments have been religious to one degree or another, viz. Anselm, Aquinas, Augustine, Bach, Berkeley, Cantor, Dante, Edwards, Eliot, Euler, Gödel, Handel, Kepler, Leibniz, Milton, Newton, Owen, Pascal, Plantinga, Plotinus, Racine, &c.

ix) Why should I “stay within the confines of this reality on this planet”? This is odd advice coming from a guy who cites the law of identity. Is the law of identity an empirical object? Is its jurisdiction limited to terra firma?

And what, for that matter, of reason itself? Is reason an empirical object? Can you perceive the faculty of reason the way you perceive a sound or scent or color?

Both reason and logic are excellent candidates for subsisting in a “metaphysically wrinkled zone.”

x) As to his challenge, the burden is not on me to make Benning’s argument for him. If he thinks that Rand is the greatest thing since the electric light-bulb, then let him deploy his own Randian arguments. I can’t very well refute an argument he never made. For a man who exalts the primacy of reason, Benning is a sorry illustration of his own thesis.

It Takes One to Know One

It Takes One to Know One - Liberalism as Atheism

Written by R. Albert Mohler Jr.

"It takes one to know one," quipped historian Eugene Genovese, then an atheist and Marxist. He was referring to liberal Protestant theologians, whom he believed to be closet atheists. As Genovese observed, "When I read much Protestant theology and religious history today, I have the warm feeling that I am in the company of fellow nonbelievers."

Genovese's comment rang prophetic when Gerd Ludemann, a prominent German theologian, declared a few years ago, "I no longer describe myself as a Christian." A professor of New Testament and director of the Institute of Early Christian Studies at Gottingen University in Germany, Ludemann has provoked the faithful and denied essential Christian doctrines for many years.

With amazing directness, Ludemann has denied the resurrection of Jesus, the virgin birth, and eventually the totality of the Gospel. Claiming to practice theology as a "scientific discipline," Ludemann (who taught for several years at the Vanderbilt Divinity School) has sought to debunk or discredit the Bible as an authoritative source for Christian theology.

In his influential book Heretics (1995), Ludemann sought to demonstrate that the heretics were right all along, and that the Christian church had conjured a supernatural Jesus to further its own cause. In What Really Happened to Jesus (1995) he argued, "We can no longer take the statements about the resurrection of Jesus literally." Lest anyone miss his point, Ludemann continued, "So let us say quite specifically: the tomb of Jesus was not empty but full, and his body did not disappear, but rotted away."

Nevertheless, Ludemann argued that Christianity could be rescued from its naive supernaturalism by focusing on the moral teachings of Jesus. Later, Ludemann gave an interview to the German magazine Evangelische Kommentare in which he stated that the Bible's portrayal of Jesus is a "fairy-tale world which we cannot enter."

In that same interview he denied the sinlessness of Jesus, explaining that, if Jesus was truly human, "we must grant that he was neither sinless or without error." The church, he argued, must give up its faith in the "risen Lord" and settle for Jesus as a mere human being, but one from whom much can be learned.

In later writings, Ludemann argued that Jesus was conceived as the product of a rape, and stated clearly that he could no longer "take my stand on the Apostles' Creed" or any other historic confession of faith. He continued, however, to teach as an official member of the theology faculty – a post which requires the certification of the Lutheran church in Germany.

Gerd Ludemann's theological search-and-destroy mission eventually ran him down a blind alley. As he told the Swiss Protestant news agency Reformierter Pressedienst, he has come to a new realization. "A Christian is someone who prays to Christ and believes in what is promised by Christian doctrine. So I asked myself: 'Do I pray to Jesus? Do I pray to the God of the Bible?' And I don't do that. Quite the reverse."

Having come face to face with his unbelief, Ludemann has now turned his guns on church bureaucrats and liberal theologians. Many church officials, Ludemann claims, no longer believe in the creeds, but simply "interpret" the words into meaninglessness. Liberal theologians, he asserts, try to reformulate Christian doctrine into something they can believe, and still claim to be Christians. He now describes liberal theology as "contemptible."

Looking back on the whole project of liberal theology, Professor Ludemann offered an amazing reflection: "I don't think Christians know what they mean when they proclaim Jesus as Lord of the world. That is a massive claim. If you took that seriously, you would probably have to be a fundamentalist. If you can't be a fundamentalist, then you should give up Christianity for the sake of honesty."

Professor Gerd Ludemann reveals much about the true state of modern liberal theology. One core doctrine after another has fallen by liberal denial – all in the name of salvaging the faith in the modern age. The game is now reaching its end stage. Having denied virtually every essential doctrine, the liberals are holding an empty bag. As Ludemann suggests, they should give up their claim on Christianity for the sake of honesty.

Professor Ludemann is now a formidable foe of liberal theology, but he is also one of its victims. He said that he plans to pick up his teaching career from a "post-Christian" perspective, now that he knows "what I am and what I am not." Should his liberal colleagues attempt to remove him from the theology faculty as a "post-Christian," Ludemann may respond with Genovese's quip: "It takes one to know one."

A cesspool full of barbed wire

George Orwell
Notes on the Way

Reading Mr. Malcolm Muggeridge's brilliant and depressing book, The Thirties, I thought of a rather cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate, and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him. It is the same with modern man. The thing that has been cut away is his soul, and there was a period — twenty years, perhaps — during which he did not notice it.

It was absolutely necessary that the soul should be cut away. Religious belief, in the form in which we had known it, had to be abandoned. By the nineteenth century it was already in essence a lie, a semi-conscious device for keeping the rich rich and the poor poor. The poor were to be contented with their poverty, because it would all be made up to them in the world beyond the grave, usually pictured as something mid-way between Kew gardens and a jeweler’s shop. Ten thousand a year for me, two pounds a week for you, but we are all the children of God. And through the whole fabric of capitalist society there ran a similar lie, which it was absolutely necessary to rip out.

Consequently there was a long period during which nearly every thinking man was in some sense a rebel, and usually a quite irresponsible rebel. Literature was largely the literature of revolt or of disintegration. Gibbon, Voltaire, Rousseau, Shelley, Byron, Dickens, Stendhal, Samuel Butler, Ibsen, Zola, Flaubert, Shaw, Joyce — in one way or another they are all of them destroyers, wreckers, saboteurs. For two hundred years we had sawed and sawed and sawed at the branch we were sitting on. And in the end, much more suddenly than anyone had foreseen, our efforts were rewarded, and down we came. But unfortunately there had been a little mistake. The thing at the bottom was not a bed of roses after all, it was a cesspool full of barbed wire.

It is as though in the space of ten years we had slid back into the Stone Age. Human types supposedly extinct for centuries, the dancing dervish, the robber chieftain, the Grand Inquisitor, have suddenly reappeared, not as inmates of lunatic asylums, but as the masters of the world. Mechanization and a collective economy seemingly aren't enough. By themselves they lead merely to the nightmare we are now enduring: endless war and endless underfeeding for the sake of war, slave populations toiling behind barbed wire, women dragged shrieking to the block, cork-lined cellars where the executioner blows your brains out from behind. So it appears that amputation of the soul isn't just a simple surgical job, like having your appendix out. The wound has a tendency to go septic.

The gist of Mr. Muggeridge's book is contained in two texts from Ecclesiastes: ‘Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity’ and ‘Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man’. It is a viewpoint that has gained a lot of ground lately, among people who would have laughed at it only a few years ago. We are living in a nightmare precisely because we have tried to set up an earthly paradise. We have believed in ‘progress’. Trusted to human leadership, rendered unto Caesar the things that are God's — that approximately is the line of thought.

Unfortunately Mr. Muggeridge shows no sign of believing in God himself. Or at least he seems to take it for granted that this belief is vanishing from the human mind. There is not much doubt that he is right there, and if one assumes that no sanction can ever be effective except the supernatural one, it is clear what follows. There is no wisdom except in the fear of God; but nobody fears God; there fore there is no wisdom. Man's history reduces itself to the rise and fall of material civilizations, one Tower of Babel after another. In that case we can be pretty certain what is ahead of us. Wars and yet more wars, revolutions and counter-revolutions, Hitlers and super-Hitlers — and so downwards into abysses which are horrible to contemplate, though I rather suspect Mr. Muggeridge of enjoying the prospect.

It must be about thirty years since Mr. Hilaire Belloc, in his book The Servile Sate, foretold with astonishing accuracy the things that are happening now.

Mr. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was a good caricature of the hedonistic Utopia, the kind of thing that seemed possible and even imminent before Hitler appeared, but it had no relation to the actual future. What we are moving towards at this moment is something more like the Spanish Inquisition, and probably far worse, thanks to the radio and the secret police. There is very little chance of escaping it unless we can reinstate the belief in human brotherhood without the need for a ‘next world’ to give it meaning. It is this that leads innocent people like the Dean of Canterbury to imagine that they have discovered true Christianity in Soviet Russia. No doubt they are only the dupes of propaganda, but what makes them so willing to be deceived is their knowledge that the Kingdom of Heaven has somehow got to be brought on to the surface of the earth. We have not to be the children of God, even though the God of the Prayer Book no longer exists...Religion is the sigh of the soul in a soulless world.

George Orwell: ‘Notes on the Way’
First published: Time and Tide. — GB, London. — March 30 and April 6, 1940.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The enemy within

Having launched a full frontal assault on the traditional Reformed reading of Jn 6, Paul Owen continues his assault with a follow-up attack on Jn 10.

Notice the emerging pattern. Reformed theology is no better than Reformed exegesis. Calvinism rises and falls on exegetical theology. I don’t mean that Calvinism has to get it right on every single verse. But Calvinism has a hermeneutical take on how to approach certain passages. There is more to Calvinism than Reformed theology. There is also a Reformed theological method which supplies the theology.

Reformed theological method is founded on taking certain blocks of Scripture like Exod 4, 7; Isa 40-48; Jn 6, 9-12, 17; Rom 1-11, Eph 1-2, and Gal 1-4 as a framing device. If you want to dismantle Reformed theology, the way to do it would be to dismantle this hermeneutical framework.

Now, the issue here is not whether someone has the right to critique Reformed theology. Calvinism is fair game. Let them take their best shot. We don’t expect to get a free pass.

But there are two especially insidious features in Dr. Owen attack: on the one hand, he’s pretending to be something he is not. On the other hand, he is redefining Calvinism to co-opt Calvinism for his own cause and evict those who subscribe to traditional Reformed theology and traditional Reformed theological method.

Dr. Owen has gone into business for himself. But he wants to retain the old trademark.

Critics like to make snide remarks about the “truly Reformed,” but there is such a thing as the truly Reformed, just as there is such a thing as truly Lutheran: WELS and LCMS are truly Lutheran, while the ELCA and the Lutheran World Federation are not.

To draw this distinction is not to take sides or render a value-judgment on who’s right and who’s wrong. But theological traditions, precisely because they’re traditions, have certain boundaries. An amil cannot be a fundamentalist. A theocrat cannot be an Anabaptist. A paedobaptist cannot be a Baptist.


1. Who are Christ’s sheep? Clearly, they are those who belong to his flock, the Church. The term “sheep” is not normally used in the Bible to describe a particular group of people who are secretly predestined to glory, but with respect to the entire people of God. When Jesus commissions Peter to be the shepherd of his sheep in John 21:16, 17, he is not telling him to shepherd only the elect, but the whole Church of God.


i) There is a contrast, in Jn 10, between the sheep and the goats (v26). So Jesus is using the term to designate a particular group, as over against those who “do not believe because they don’t belong to the flock.”

ii) The Good Shepherd discourse was addressed to the OT covenant community. It is targeting Jewish unbelievers (vv1,10,22-42) in contrast to Messianic Jews (vv1-21). So it does not apply to the covenant community as a whole. To the contrary, ethnic Jews who don’t follow Jesus are excluded from the flock. Indeed, his very discourse provokes a division within the audience (vv19-21).

iii) A mark of the sheep is that they follow the Good Shepherd (vv3-6,27). They are graced with spiritual discernment. This sets them apart from nominal believers.

iv) There is a reciprocal relation between the sheep who know the shepherd and the shepherd who knows his sheep (vv14,27). This does not exist in the case of the reprobate.

v) The Good Shepherd calls his sheep by name (v3). This is not corporate election.

vi) The Good Shepherd dies for the flock (vv11,15). Dr. Owen’s interpretation entails a denial of special redemption. As he would have it, Christ dies for the sheep and the goats alike.

vii) The Good Shepherd grants eternal life to the sheep (vv10,28). The Good Shepherd does not grant eternal life to the reprobate.

viii) The Father and the Son preserve the sheep from apostasy (vv28-29). This is not true of the reprobate.

ix) Did St. Peter shepherd the whole church of God? Did the entire church terminate once Peter was martyred in the seventh decade of the 1C?

In view of the parallels between 20:21-23 and 21:16-17, is it not sounder to see in this commission an evangelistic outreach to the future church (16:8-11; 20:21)? The missionary niche would not be the visible church, per se, but those given by the Father to the Son (chap. 17).


So Christ’s sheep are those to whom the grace is given to be brought to believe in Christ and enter the Church. This is precisely the point of verse 27. Others are outwardly called, but do not receive the special call of the Spirit which results in conversion. Only this latter group constitutes Christ’s sheep. So what Jesus is saying in verse 26 is that some do not believe, because they do not belong to that number to whom it is granted to enter the Church through faith in Christ. It is the same point as was made earlier in 6:44.


The group in v27 are not sheep, do not belong to the flock. Hence, the term in Jn 10 does not designate the visible church in toto.


2. But does this mean that none of Christ’s sheep can ever perish? Verse 28 certainly appears to say so, but only if one isolates this promise from the entirety of John’s gospel. If one reads verse 28 within the broader picture of Johannine soteriology, it becomes clear that: 1) some of those who come to be “in Christ” (15:2) later fall away and are destroyed (15:6); 2) some of those to whom it is granted by the Father (6:65) to believe in Christ (8:31) later fall away (6:70); and 3) some of those who are given to Christ by the Father later fall away (17:12). So the promise of John 10:28 is clearly a conditional promise, which assumes the perseverance of the saints (a perseverance which is not in fact given to all of Christ’s sheep, but only those secretly predestined to glory).


i) Dr. Owen is propping up one false interpretation with another by building on his false interpretation of Jn 15, which I’ve already dissected.

ii) The promise is conditional, but the assurance is not, for the point of vv28-29 is that to be a sheep is to be blessed with the grace of perseverance. That’s part of the package.


3. So does this amount to an agreement with Arminianism? By no means. For most modern Arminians, the grace which precedes faith is only a pre-regeneration, assisting grace, which any person can choose to reject, or cooperate with. In my view, it is the grace of initial regeneration which brings people to faith, though this faith may or may not be permanent. This grace is not universally given, but is only given: 1) to the secret number of the elect; and 2) to others who also belong to the open number of the elect, and to whom, in the providence of God, the grace is given to “taste” the benefits of Christ’s redemption for a season, though such benefits are in the secret council of God purchased for the eternal benefit of those who are secretly predestined to glory.


i) Pay close attention to what Dr. Owen is saying here. You can be regenerate and still be lost. This runs counter to the doctrines of grace.

ii) Contrary to Dr. Owen, you don’t need prevenient grace to be a nominal believer. That’s something the natural man can do in the flesh.

Let us take stock of where we stand. In order for Dr. Owen to expand and extend the promises to the visible church, he must deny classic Reformed prootexts for election, special redemption, and perseverance.

That’s the price you pay for the Federal Vision. At his spiritual inflation rate, everyone is a millionaire in Confederate currency.