Saturday, October 27, 2007

Jesus - Lord Over the Unclean, Part 1

The good people in the Sunday evening service @ Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in my community have been studying the Gospel of Mark. Brother Ben Milner, a TE there, has been leading them. This past Sunday, he commented that "People always ask about the pigs," and that he wasn't really sure why the demons went into the swine. I've even heard men dispute the authenticity of this account, castigating Jesus for destroying the livlihood of the herdsmen, as if this constitutes an ethical objection to the Gospel. Indeed, if anything, it makes those today who say this sort of thing agree with the herdsmen, not Jesus. What does say about their own character?

This prompted me to study over this passage myself, and I communicated them to Ben in writing. He found these observations useful, so I thought I would post them here too, in hopes others will as well. Also, should anyone from RPC drop by - Welcome!

Let's begin with the text:

Mark 5

The Gerasene Demoniac
1They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes.

2When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him,

3and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain;

4because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him.

5Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones.

6Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him;

7and shouting with a loud voice, he said, "What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!"

8For He had been saying to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!"

9And He was asking him, "What is your name?" And he said to Him, "My name is Legion; for we are many."

10And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country.

11Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain.

12The demons implored Him, saying, "Send us into the swine so that we may enter them."

13Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.

14Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened.

15They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the "legion"; and they became frightened.

16Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine.

17And they began to implore Him to leave their region.

18As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him.

19And He did not let him, but He said to him, "Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you."

20And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

I think the key to answering the question about the swine lies in 5:2. He is said to have an "unclean spirit."
1. I'd say that the traditional reference to this pericope (The Gerasene Demoniac) is a bit off base. I've always heard this name for this text, and I've always heard sermons that focus on the demons. I think this is a bit too narrow a focus. While true, it is part of a larger theme that Mark is discussing here. I would call it "Jesus, Lord Over the Unclean," since it has broader implications.
2. Note that this pericope's setting is outside the covenant community, ergo in an "unclean" region. The tombs, as you noted, were viewed, so to speak, as an unclean place. So, here, we have Jesus in an unclean region, around unclean people, in an extremely unclean place (tombs with a herd of swine nearby), and who "immediately" comes the Lord - the most unclean person there, for he is possessed the most unclean thing imaginable - a horde of demons.
3. Of course, in the narrative, they realize that Jesus is about to make the man "clean." Thus, they implore him to go where? Into the swine - the nearest, most "unclean" thing in proximity. I would say that this is the best reason for imploring to enter the swine that the text offers. It's a broadly "sacramental" sign - that is, the literal swine signify the unclean dwelling places that the demons require.
4. The herdsmen are tending swine. These are, of course, not Jewish men. They were, in the eyes of the Jews, "unclean." It seems to me that there's a parallel here between the herdsmen and the demons. The demons were certainly toying with the demoniac and dehumanizing him, but they were also "tending swine" themselves, using the demoniac as a representative to terrorize the people in the process. They are by no means benevolent "herdsmen." They were, as it were, the local governing representatives of the kingdom of Satan. Their name as you noted, is the same as that for a Roman legion, so they signify the spiritual equivalent of a Roman legion tasked with a Roman occupation. The man is their chosen instrument of domination, like Herod, the Idumean, in Israel and his Roman counterpart were viewed in the eyes of the Jews. Jesus comes and announces by demonstration that this authority and this occupation was at an end.
5. The herdsmen report that their livelihood has been destroyed when the swine runs over the cliff. I don't think it's at all straining the sense of the passage to draw a parallel to the demons here as well. Once they run the swine over the cliff, they have nowhere to go. So, what do you think they did? I think the implication is that they ran to "their countrymen" and told them that their livelihood had just been "destroyed." What has happened to the man has, from their perspective, destroyed their livelihood, and Jesus leaves him behind, foreshadowing that this was only the beginning.
6. The point of this pericope is therefore to demonstrate the incursion of the Kingdom into the unclean - literally beyond the borders of Israel itself into the Gentile world, and spiritually to signal the beginning of the end of the rule of the powers of hell over the (Gentile) world in particular.
It's a common OT theme that to leave the covenant community's borders was to place yourself in peril, cf., for example, the opening of Ruth. Also, to be carried into exile was to be placed under the yoke of Gentile powers, and they, of course, were viewed as under the power and authority of their gods. Upon return to the land, these Gentiles still ruled over them, anticipating of course, the coming of the Messiah, but on another level, signifying that even in their Restoration, the covenant community was still under the thumb of these pagans, and thus we have the award situation of the people of God ruled on earth by pagans, who in turn served foreign gods. By the time we get to the end of the Old Covenant epoch and the coming of Christ to institute the New, we see that this "rule" has had an effect - the people are in a state of general apostasy. The "rule" of the forces of darkness has made serious incursions into the covenant community itself. The remnant is threatened. The true King comes to drive out these forces by bringing His rule to bear Himself.
There is some "peril" here too. I've always paid close attention the way the Evangelists structure their pericopes. That is to say, there's a reason, I think, that this one is placed after the calming of the storm. They face a storm as they pass over the Sea of Galilee. They are leaving the relative safety of the covenant community's land for a strange, foreboding place. The people had for centuries believed that to leave the land itself was AWOR. Jesus willfully undertakes this journey. The 12 are terrified by the storm, but Jesus calms it. It is no real peril for Him at all.
So Israel had been a battleground for quite some time, but here, we have Jesus beginning a "holy war" (to borrow an OT concept) outside the orders of Israel. Note the contrast with the OT: The Israelites didn't wage war for personal aggrandizement. In the case of holy war, they were forbidden to take any booty. That's how King Saul got into trouble (1 Sam 15).In the case of conventional war, they were allowed to take booty, but conventional wars were defensive rather than offensive. They were not wars of conquest. Jesus is, by leaving the borders of the covenant land @ that time, declaring that the covenant of grace is about to emerge from the confines of Israel in a way that it had not until then ever really done. He is placing Himself in peril, but there is, really no peril at all. The peril is now reversed. All of this, of course, foreshadows the events of Acts (to the present day) and the demoniac is left behind having been made clean to proclaim the Gospel as a representative. Jesus is now beginning a war of conquest, as it were, beyond the borders of Israel. As we know, one of the effects of the Gospel in the NT narrative is to exorcise the land - of sin, demons, disease, death, etc. This, of course, has eschatological, as well as soteriological considerations.
7. So at the conclusion, we have the demoniac, who had been possessed and used to "tend swine" by demons, once out of his mind and able to break the chains of men with the strength of "Legion" left behind to "tend" this land with the strength of "One," the One who truly possesses what we might figuratively call the strength of many. Unlike the demons, who were there to govern the land and keep them perpetual disarray and fear, he is now there to proclaim the Gospel. He is "tending swine" not in a negative sense, as the demons were doing, but positively, to guard them and proclaim the Gospel to them until the time that Jesus ministry was complete and the Gospel reached outside Israel en masse. He wishes to cross back to the other side with Jesus, but the Lord tells him to stay behind, but the point of the previous pericope (and the one in which the reader now stands) is not simply to show that Jesus is Lord over the elements, but His authority (and covenant presence, to borrow from Dr. Frame) extends well beyond the land of Israel. The man is by no means alone - and he rightly connects "Jesus" to "Lord," signifying this truth as we leave this account.
The Kingdom, here, is moving outside of Israel and the distinctions (literal and figurative) - as between the food laws and their figurative use by the Jews extending to unclean people, eg. nonJews is being broken down, as the two peoples are made into one in Christ. As we will see, of course, later on in chapter 7, we see the food laws appear again as does the clean/unclean distinction.

I'm not advocating a theology of "territorial spirits," ala Pentecostal theology - I do after all subscribe to a fairly standard Reformed (Baptist) systematic and biblical theology. Rather, these are images drawn from the OT / Jewish tradition that appear in the narrative, that I think lend to the understanding of the overall drift of the pericope. The "unclean" motif itself will appear several times in Mark from this point on (the woman with the issue of blood, the declaration concerning foods, for example).

Ring Shout


In the middle of the sermon, Pastor Davenport came down with laryngitis. At that point, the choir director cut ahead to the communion service.

For many parishioners, this was an improvement. They didn’t like long sermons anyway. They only came for communion.

Not only did they dislike long sermons, but they had a particular distaste for the tone and content of Pastor Davenport’s sermons. After all, these were Episcopalians.

But Davenport was more like a Baptist preacher. Long sermons on sin and atonement. Preaching through books of the Bible—including books of the Old Testament, no less! Was the Old Testament actually a part of the canon?

They much preferred his bland, avuncular predecessor. How ever did the search committee make such an egregious blunder?

Pastor Davenport had only been there for about a year, and yet the church, which had been dying, was growing. He was into “outreach” and door-to-door evangelism. Organized a Bible Club at the West Ashley high school. Was a part-time chaplain at the Citadel.

As a result, the small, stately Colonial church of Old St. Andrew’s was beginning to swell with growing pains. Newcomers with callused hands were invading the sanctuary. The established families no longer felt at home.

Things where coming to a head when Davenport lost his voice. He was preaching on the devil. Possession. The occult. Can you believe it? I mean, it was embarrassing to modern ears—like a throwback to Cotton Mather.

But that’s when his voice cut out. Six weeks ago. He’d been speechless ever since. He’d seen a specialist, but the laryngologist couldn’t detect any physical cause.

However, his son, Dominic, had a suspicion. Indeed, after his dad lost his voice, Dominic had to read his sermons aloud in church. Pastor Davenport used to write out his sermons anyway.


As soon as the family moved in, Dominic tried to befriend some of his age-mates at church. There was a troika of young men his own age, consisting of Brad Osborne, Philip Proctor, and Dustin Seabrook. They were altar-boys at St. Andrews. They also went to West Ashley high school, where Dominic was a transfer student.

There was some mysterious affinity which all three boys shared in common. Brad and Philip were pretty tight. Indeed, they were cousins. Their forebears had a long history of intermarriage to keep the major assets in the family. Still, they seemed to have a connection that went deeper than DNA.

Dustin was often seen in their company as well, but it was fairly one-sided. Dustin seemed to avoid them whenever possible. They would accost him, but he never sought them out.

Or course, Dominic also took a healthy in girls, but as an outlier he had to befriend the boys before he could befriend the girls, since he didn’t know which girls were already off the market.

He also noticed that students at West Ashley High seemed to take their cue from Brad and Philip. They had a strange hold over the other students, which made them natural leaders.

Students asked them for favors. But they feared them, too.

Later on, he heard a story about a new student who got into an altercation with Brad. The new student was about to strike him when he started to scream. He said he was burning up. Burning alive. Burning in hell. He ran, screaming from the schoolyard, and drowned himself in a pond to cool off. The authorities fished him out of the pond a few hours later.

So breaking into the troika was a ticket to wider acceptance. Instant acceptance. Dominic didn’t have to work his way up. He could start at the top. Or so he hoped.

But Brad and Philip formed a tight circle. A closed circle. They were outwardly sociable. They showed him around.

Yet they were holding something back. When they took him to lunch, or took him to the beach, the conversation seemed to move on more than one level. The words were like code words, which meant one thing to him, and another thing to them.

And they knew things about him before he spoke. Little things would slip out in the course of conversation. Things he never told anyone.

As he got to know them better, insofar as they let him get to know them, he began to pick up on other quirks. Brad was rather sickly. His illnesses were unpredictable, and evaded diagnosis. Were they psychosomatic? Hard to tell.

During one of his frequent illness, Dominic paid him a visit at Middleton, where he lived with his parents. Middleton was one of the grand old plantations along the Ashley river—back when Indigo was a cash crop.

Dominic noticed an odd, upside down statue in Brad’s bedroom. “What’s this?” he asked.

“Just an old statue of St. Expédit,” Brad answered. “It’s an heirloom from the West Indies. Been in the family for generations now.”

For his part, Philip was accident-prone. Indeed, it was a tad hazardous to be around Philip since you might end up as collateral damage from one of his many mishaps.

He had a fetish dangling from his review mirror. Said it was there to ward off evil spirits. But it seemed to be more of a magnet than a repellent.

As for Dustin, even in hot, humid weather, he almost always wore long-sleeve shirts. The only exception was when he was at the beach, or alone with Brad and Philip.

Dustin had a cabin on Folly Beach. One time, when they all went surfing, Dominic noticed some scars on Dustin’s wrists.


“I’m going to invite Dominic to the ring shout,” Brad said.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Philip said. “Is it safe to lay our cards on the table?”

“It’s worth the risk,” Brad said. “This is a chance to turn him. Once he’s on our side, we can use him against his dad.”

“But what if we can’t turn him? What if he exposes us?” Philip said.

“We have other ways of dealing with him,” Brad said.


In few days later, near about midnight, Brad rapped on Dominic’s bedroom window and said he was planning to take Dominic somewhere. He didn’t say where. It would be a surprise.

It turned out to be Magnolia cemetery. There was a flickering light as they approached.

There were some other kids gathered there, from the church or the high school. They were speaking to each other in some sort of patois that Dominic could only partly make out, with his smattering of schoolboy French. They were mulling around a circle with a cross inside.

“Want to join us?” Brad asked.

“No thanks, I’ll just stand here and watch,” Dominic said, warily.

Some of the kids began clapping, chanting, or drumming while the group moved in a counterclockwise motion. Their fluid figures, backlit by the campfire, cast ominous shadows.

Suddenly, one of the dancers began to twitch, tremble, and convulse. Then he stiffened. Then he began to speak in a low, raspy voice. The speaker identified himself as Baron-Samedi. He proceeding to utter a number of dire-sounding oracles.

Dominic found the spectacle both unnerving and revolting. He went back to the car and waited for Brad to return. In the distance he could hear the noise die down and the see the light extinguished.

Brad came back, visibly irritated, but biting his tongue. They drove back in dead silence until Brad spoke up. “I take it that you didn’t enjoy the ring shout,” Brad said.

“I’m a Christian,” Dominic said. “And not just because my Dad’s a pastor. It’s real to me. What I saw back there was a throwback to something diabolical.”

Brad grimaced, but held is peace.


After Brad dropped Dominic off at his house, he drove over to Drayton Hall, where Philip lived. It was a Colonial mansion, downriver from Middleton.

“Think Dominic will tell his dad what he saw tonight?” Philip asked.

“I doubt it,” Brad answered. “His dad wouldn’t approve of his being out at this hour. And he would be sneaking around if he was trying to please the old man.”

“You mean we can still turn him?” Philip asked.

“After tonight I don’t think that’s in the cards,” Brad answered.


After his father was literally dumbstruck, Dominic thought back on the ring shout and all the other uncanny things he’d seen and heard. But what could he do?

Dustin was the weak link in the chain. Indeed, he was the opposite of Brad and Philip. They were outwardly approachable, but inwardly unapproachable. Their friendliness was a pose. They kept you close to keep you at bay.

They manipulated people. Used friendship to monitor and control others. Ironically, they got close to you to shield themselves from intrusive contact regulating the level of contact. They befriended you on their terms. They defined the boundaries.

Dustin, by contrast, was outwardly unapproachable, but inwardly approachable. He wanted friends and needed friends. He could be a genuine friend in return. His concern for others was real rather than feigned.

Yet he was guarded. Distant. Was he hiding something? Was he afraid of Philip and Brad?

If he could get some time alone with Dustin, he might be able to milk him for information. Yet it was hard to catch him alone. It’s as if Brad and Philip were also worried about Dustin, and kept him under surveillance.

Dominic staked out the beach cabin from a concealed location, and waited for the other two to leave. Dominic knocked on the door. Dustin seemed surprised and a bit apprehensive. He looked around to see if Brad and Philip were anywhere in sight before he let him in.

Dominic talked about his Dad’s situation. Dustin was sympathetic. He wanted to help, but something was restraining him.

“What are you afraid of?” Dominic asked. “Is it Brad and Philip”?

Dustin nodded.

Reaching for an explanation, Dominic asked, “Are you afraid they’ll put a hex on you, like they did with my Dad?”

It was a shot in the dark. Dominic didn’t know if that was the answer. But it’s something he’d been mulling over.

Dustin nodded.

“I don’t know what you have to lose,” Dominic said. “No offense, but you’re pretty miserable. If you’re this unhappy with the way things are, then you might as well try to change the situation. Anything would be an improvement.”

“No,” said Dustin. “Things could be even worse.”

“You’ve already said enough that you might as well tell me the whole story,” Dominic said. “You can trust me.”

And it’s true that Dustin trusted Dominic. They trusted each other. Dustin was a trapped animal, waiting for someone to spring the cage.

“It’s witchcraft,” Dustin said.

“What do you mean?” Dominic asked.

“All three of us come from founding families,” Dustin answered. “We’re Barbadians. Our English ancestors colonized Barbados before they settled in Charleston.”

“What about it,” Dominic asked.

“Some of our forefathers rediscovered the Old Religion when they were living in the West Indies. They picked up witchcraft from the slaves,” Dustin said.

“You mean you dabble in the occult?” Dominic asked?

“Brad and Philip are into that sort of thing, but I try to avoid it. Still, it’s like a family curse. You don’t ask for it. It’s willed on you by birth,” Dustin answered.

“But Brad and Philip seem to enjoy it,” Dominic said.

“Because it empowers them. But there’s a tradeoff. You pay for it in other ways,” Dustin said.

“Would you rather be normal?” Dominic asked.

“I wish to God I were!” Dustin exclaimed.

“Well, if it’s witchcraft, then God can deliver you,” Dominic said.

“God hates me! I’m like the devil’s spawn,” Dustin replied. “My ancestors made this bloody pact with the dark side.”

“But you believe the Bible, don’t you?” Dominic asked.

“Naturally! I’m not some clueless liberal,” Dustin answered. “How could I believe in the devil, and not believe in God? I know from experience who’s who and what’s what. But I’m on the wrong side of that battle.”

“But you don’t need to be,” Dominic said. “You and I can pray right now for your deliverance.”

“Is that all?” Dustin asked.

“You’ve also got to break your ties with Brad and Philip. And destroy any charms, idols, amulets, or talismans,” Dominic answered.

“I don’t keep that sort of thing around the house. Brad and Philip are into that sort of thing, not me,” Dustin said.

“So what have you go to lose?” Dominic asked.

“They will retaliate,” Dustin answered.

“What can they do? Stick pins in voodoo dolls?” Dominic asked.

“That only happens in the movies. But you’ve seen and heard what they can do,” Dustin answered.

“But if you renounce the devil and turn to Christ, that will break the circle and break the spell.” Dominic said. “They depend on you—like an electrical current. Cut the circuit, and the current dies.”

“I never thought of that,” Dustin said.

So Dominic prayed with him and for him. Dustin felt as though a shadow had dissipated. A storm cloud that shadowed him all his life. And now, for the first time in his life, he felt as if he was stepping out into the sunshine.


When Dominic returned home, he overheard his Dad talking to his Mom. Much to the consternation of the old-time parishioners, Pastor Davenport returned to the pulpit that Sunday.

A week later, Brad and Philip died in a freak accident. Philip was driving Brad to Folly Beach when lightening struck an oak tree, which split in half and came crashing down on their car—killing them instantly.

Halloween And Reformation Day

Today's Los Angeles Times has an article on Reformation Day. Most Protestant churches, even most Evangelical churches, probably won't give the subject as much attention as a liberal non-Christian publication like the Los Angeles Times does. Similarly, we'll probably see many liberal media outlets criticizing the historicity of the infancy narratives in the coming weeks, while most churches (and others who should be involved) have less to say on the issue.

The Los Angeles Times article has some problems, but it does mention many of the benefits of the Reformation, and it's a positive article overall. We even get a couple of lines about justification that are relatively good:

"At the heart of the Reformation is the doctrine of justification by faith -- meaning people are saved by God's grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, not by good deeds, Feldmeth said. Luther said works are important, but they are a natural outgrowth of salvation -- not crucial to earning it."

Later in the article, though:

"As for the red so visible on Reformation Sunday, it is steeped in symbolism. 'Red is, of course, the color of the Holy Spirit and of divine power, as at Pentecost, but it also is the color of martyrdom and may be understood to honor the martyrs who died in the terrible religious struggles that followed the turn from Rome,' explained Marshall, whose husband, father, sister and daughter are Lutheran pastors. 'In our day, we may honor both the Protestant and Roman Catholic saints who lost their lives for their faith.'"

I don't see a reason to honor Roman Catholic martyrs in the sense of publicly celebrating them. I can understand hoping for the best, hoping that those martyrs were saved in spite of their errors. Or I can understand acknowledging that injustice was involved in some cases or recognizing some virtue or another that a Roman Catholic martyr may have had. But the same could be said about other holidays or historical events that are often commemorated. There are two sides to every story. A British soldier during the Revolutionary War may have been a good husband or may have died unjustly. Maybe one of the Roman soldiers who carried out the beating and execution of Jesus Christ was good at providing for his children or was faithful to his friends. Do we usually mention such things at a time like the Fourth of July or the Easter season? Would you make the effort to mention that we can honor British or Roman soldiers if you were interviewed by the Los Angeles Times?

Try running searches under terms like "Reformation" and "Halloween" at Google News or with other news search engines. Contrast the results.

Friday, October 26, 2007

When North goes South

Gary North is unhappy with American foreign policy—not to mention American domestic policy.

“Contrary to the media, most American fundamentalists are not opposed to the legalization of abortion. Few of them have ever picketed an abortion clinic. The only way to persuade a majority of fundamentalists to picket an abortion clinic would be to spread a rumor that after each abortion, the abortionist gives a glass of beer to the woman to calm her nerves.”

Is there any point to this statement besides a gratuitous and demonstrably erroneous putdown of Christian fundamentalists?

“The fact is, this voter base is committed to imposing lethal force on Iraq until the counter-insurgency ceases to fight. Yet they know this will never happen. Their view of Islam tells them it will never happen.”

Is that what this voter base is committed to? Couldn’t the voter base be committed to a more modest proposition? Bringing the insurgency down to a manageable level, so that it can be turned over to the Iraqi army?

Not every insurgent is a jihadist. There isn’t necessarily an inexhaustible supply of jihadis. And the fact that militant Islam is committed to global jihad doesn’t mean that militant Islam can’t be defeated in a particular country. It isn’t necessarily going to stake all of its fortunes to one particular front.

“The two groups reinforce each other. The neocons provide the position papers. The fundamentalists provide the votes.”

That’s quotable, but it’s another gratuitous putdown. To my knowledge, “neocon” is a synonym for Jewish hawks or old Scoop Jackson Democrats. Liberal cold warriors, if you will.

Certainly they’ve contributed to the formulation and defense of the current war effort. Yet it’s simplistic to suggest that all of the intellectual firepower for the war effort is coming from the neocons. But Gary North has to oversimplify to make facts fit his preconceived theory.

“He [Ron Paul] is opposed by all neocons and most fundamentalists. Why? Because he opposes committing American money or American troops to saving Israel.”

Are we committing American troops to save Israel? In what sense?

“He believes that countries should defend themselves. Countries are not like unborn infants. They can speak and act on their own behalf. They can establish defenses. He thinks there is no legitimate reason for people in one country to go to war to defend people in another country unless, as in the case of Belgium in 1914, another country is being invaded because it provides a convenient pathway for troops marching toward the first country.”

Well, that’s also simplistic. Some countries lack the military might to defend themselves against a superior power. That’s why smaller countries either band together to form a military alliance, or align themselves with a superior power to act as a check on another, more hostile, superior power.

And a superior power sometimes enters into a military alliance with a client state to extend its sphere of influence.

“He is opposed to treaties that commit the United States to military action on behalf of other countries.”

I’m not unsympathetic to this position. Entangling alliances can be dangerous as well as one-sided.

At the same time, one country doesn’t form a military alliance with another country as a favor to the other country. Rather, it does so because it has a national interest in that alliance.

“He is opposed to the United Nations Organization.”

Fine. We should withdraw from the UN, sell the property, and deport the UN diplomats to Brussels or the Haag—where they should feel right at home.

“Ron Paul understands and honors a fundamental biblical principle that fundamentalists say they believe but really don't: without a legally binding joint covenant based on a common confession, an individual has no lawful authority to use violence against another person.”

I don’t know what this is supposed to mean. I mustn’t shoot a houseburglar who breaks into my home in the dead of night unless there is a “legally binding joint covenant based on a common confession” in place? I mustn’t forcibly defend myself against a mugger unless there is a “legally binding joint covenant based on a common confession” in place?

“Conclusion: if I have not agreed in principle to live under a common political covenant with you, then your battles are not mine, and my battles are not yours. The Bible is clear on this point:

‘He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears’ (Proverbs 26:17).”

But that begs the question of whether we have a national interest in some of these conflicts.

“During the Vietnam war, there was an anti-war poster with this verse on it, which featured a photo of President Johnson lifting up his beagle by its ears.”

That’s a bad illustration, since we did have a national interest in the containment policy.

“The same principle applies to nations. Ask a fundamentalist if he believes in the United Nations Organization, and he will probably say no. Why? Because he instinctively recognizes that the UN is based on a common covenant among nations even though they hold different views of God, man, law, sanctions, and time. There is no confessional basis for such a governmental organization.”

Is that the instinctive reason that a fundamentalist opposes the UN? I can think of many other possible reasons: the UN is anti-Semitic. The UN is anti-American. The UN is corrupt. The UN empowers dangerous regimes. The UN is promoting a radical social agenda.

“Prior to 1991, the fundamentalist had in mind the Soviet Union and its satellite nations. Today, he has in mind Islamic nations. His instincts are correct. They rest on this biblical judicial principle:

‘Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods’ (Exodus 23:32).”

Well, obviously we shouldn’t make a covenant with false gods. However, the theocratic state of Israel had the promise of divine protection as long as she was faithful to the Mosaic Covenant. God has not made the same promise to the United States. Therefore, Exod 23:32 cannot be transferred willy-nilly from the ancient state of Israel to the United States.

“The fundamentalist assures us that the United States has a moral, legal, and therefore covenantal obligation to use American tax money to pay the government of the State of Israel.”

I’m generally opposed to foreign aid, so this example is worth debating. However, North acts as if we don’t get anything in return for our support of Israel. For a somewhat dated, but useful counterbalance:

“So, we see this extraordinary alliance between secular neoconservatives and fundamentalists. It has led the United States into two wars with Iraq. It may lead this nation into a war with Iran.”

Is Bush 41 a fundamentalist or neocon? No. Is Bush 43 a fundamentalist or neocon? Who were the fundamentalists or neocons on the war cabinet of either administration? Cheney? No. Rummy? No. Rice? No. Powell? No. Gates? No.

Here’s a useful overview, by an insider, on the history of neoconservatism:

And what does this have to do with the notion of entangling alliances? Did we invade Iraq to fulfill a treaty obligation? If we bomb Iran, will that be to fulfill a treaty obligation?

“The swing voters within the voter base of the Republican Party promote a foreign policy of killing Muslims, including hundreds of thousands of civilians, whenever these Muslims are perceived as a potential military threat against the State of Israel.”

We invaded Iraq to save Israel? If we bomb Iran, is that to save Israel? Does Gary North think the Rothschids are behind American foreign policy? Is he getting his information from the Protocols of Zion?

Why is he so soft on the jihadis and so hard on the Jews? He sounds like a certified—or should I say, certifiable?—Jew-hater.

Traditionally, Calvinism has been characterized by its philosemitic theology—in admirable contrast to Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Luther. Let us hope that Gary North doesn’t succeed in tarnishing a noble legacy.

“Beginning on September 11, 2001, pre-war, pro-war pundits asked: ‘Why do they hate us?’ They no longer need to ask.”

So the jihadis didn’t hate us before the Iraq war? Why all those escalating attacks on American assets leading up to and including 9/11?

I don’t pretend to keep up with all of his articles. But of those I have read, I can’t help noticing the Chicken-Little tone of his output. He keeps predicting the imminent collapse of the firmament. Has Gary North become a pessimillennialist in his old age?

The Ever Changing Story

Generalissimo (In)Fidel Armstrong's Polit Bureau writes today:

the only one of the four challenged even considering it, far as I can tell; Gene Bridges is comparing me to the dictators of North Korea and Iran LOL

1. Notice the subtle change? Yesterday it was (emphasis mine):
I have offered my opponents 90 minutes of time to examine me, to my 60 for asking them questions. White and Swan turned that down. S&S and Bridges and Cory T. appear to have also. TF is still pondering.
Yesterday I was informed by His Majesty that I and two others had turned it down, and that before I actually refused. Now, we have some sort self-flagellatory compromise between having refused and consideration. Dave is in no position to know anything about whether or not anybody is considering his offer. Rather, he begins from the posture that if we don't respond immediately we have turned it down, and let's not forget where he left his challenge here - in a thread requesting prayer for rain. Here's a challenge for Dave: Stop with the self-flagellation and self-absorption and maybe you'll be taken more seriously.

2. Yes, I agree, comparisons to the dictators of Korea and Iran may have been a bit much - they are far too relevant in current affairs, so I've chosen another one for you that's a bit more appropriate in that regard. Better?

3. And Barney Fife, Dave, and Barney Fife.

The big lollipop in the sky

Victor Reppert recently drew attention to a series by Tom Talbott. It begins here:

I comment on what I deem to be his major arguments:

“A generalization about religious belief to which there are, I believe, few exceptions is this: The more confident one is in one's religious beliefs, the more willing one is to subject those beliefs to careful scrutiny; the less confident one is in them--the more one unconsciously fears that they cannot withstand such scrutiny--the more eager one is to find a device that would appear to protect them from careful scrutiny. And, more often than not, such a protective device will include an assault upon human reason.”

i) Talbott says, “The more confident one is in one's religious beliefs, the more willing one is to subject those beliefs to careful scrutiny.”

How does the conclusion follow from the premise? The unspoken assumption seems to be that religious beliefs are objects of opinion rather than objects of knowledge; hence, they are subject to potential falsification on closer examination.

Certainly there are theological traditions that cast religious faith in such terms. But if that is Talbott’s operating assumption, then he needs to argue the point rather than taking it for granted.

For suppose we can actually know certain religious propositions to be true? To that extent our religious beliefs would not be falsifiable.

ii) It’s true that fideism can be a protective device. However, Talbott is indulging in a bit of well-poisoning. He is imputing fideistic motives to his opponents in order to discredit them in advance of any argument they may have to offer. The insinuation is that we can safely discount their arguments since their arguments are just a protective device to conceal and shield their intellectual insecurity.

But this betrays a level of insecurity in his own position. Why would he feel the need to resort to this tactic if he could make his case without the ad hominem projections?

iii) In addition, (i)-(ii) are at odds with his bedrock appeal to intuition. For why wouldn’t we apply his criterion to our moral intuitions? “The more confident one is in one's intuitive beliefs, the more willing one is to subject those intuitive beliefs to careful scrutiny.”

If he refuses to subject his moral intuitions to the same scrutiny, then this is a tacit admission that he harbors unconscious fears that they cannot withstand such scrutiny Hence, he is eager to find a device that would appear to protect them from careful scrutiny. And, more often than not, such a protective device will include an assault upon the unquestioning faith of Bible-believing Christians.


“A false prophet is someone who speaks falsely in the name of God, and here I shall be concerned with a particular kind of false prophet: one who, more often than not, comes in the name of orthodoxy. The false prophets I have in mind are those who use the Bible (or some other sacred text) as a weapon of fear, or as part of an assault upon reason and good sense…We find it easy today, perhaps, to appreciate the specious character of at least some of these appeals. But we can also imagine how easily such appeals might confuse a simple peasant farmer who believes fervently that he must bow before the Scriptures. There is perhaps no better way to confuse him and to persuade him to ignore his own conscience than to spout Scripture at him. For if God says something, he will reason, then it must be true, however morally repugnant or logically absurd it may appear to us as fallible human beings.”

Is Talbott suggesting that the conscience of a “simple peasant farmer” should be immune to scrutiny? Isn’t it possible for a “simple peasant farmer” to believe things or do things that Talbott finds morally repugnant? For example, vegans think that farming is immoral, due to its speciesistic use of livestock. I’m not saying that Talbott is a vegan. But I use that as an example.

And, of course, a “simple peasant farmer” might view many of the beliefs of the average college prof. as morally repugnant. So isn’t Talbott in danger of bleeding to death from self-inflicted wounds by wielding a double-bladed sword?


“In his effort to harmonize and systematize various passages in the Bible, John Calvin drew the inference that, according to the Bible as a whole, God restricts his love and mercy to a chosen few; indeed, even before the foundation of the world, God had already predestined some persons to eternal perdition. Calvin calls this the doctrine of reprobation; and though his critics have always insisted that such a doctrine is inconsistent with God's love and justice, they have not always been up to the task of challenging his exegesis. That is particularly true of the Christian laity, who sometimes find themselves in a position similar to that of our peasant woman above: Lacking both the background and the learning to challenge Calvin's exegetical arguments, they nonetheless find his interpretations deeply disturbing; though not scholars, in other words, they can still recognize an injustice when they hear it. So how does Calvin reply to these earnest Christians who would dare to raise a question about divine justice?”

Of course, this objection is hardly limited to Calvinism. Many folks are also offended by hell, heteronormative ethics, penal substitution, the execution of the Canaanites, and so on and so forth.

At one level, Talbott is giving people an excuse to reject whatever they dislike in Scripture. Indeed, giving them license to repudiate the Christian faith—except in terms of a la carte Christianity. Pick and choose what you want to believe.


“From these assumptions it follows that God could will anything whatsoever, and whatever he wills would be righteous or just. It also follows, as Calvin himself acknowledges in the passages quoted above, that nothing in God's nature precludes his acting from genuine hatred for--that is, a desire ultimately to harm--some created persons. And from all of this it likewise follows that God could justly predestine some persons to eternal torment.”

“The only problem is that his assumptions also undermine the Christian faith entirely, because they undermine the very possibility of trust in God. If God can ‘justly’ do anything whatsoever, including predestine some to eternal perdition, then he can also ‘justly’ engage in cruelty for its own sake, "justly" command that we torture babies or that we produce as much misery in the world as we can, and ‘justly’ punish acts of love and kindness. So why should we even care whether God is just or righteous if his righteousness excludes nothing at all? And on what grounds can we trust him? If, as Calvin claims, there is no answer to the question, ‘Why does God act from one set of motives (e.g. love) rather than from another (e.g., hatred or deceitfulness),’ then nothing in God's nature precludes him from lying or breaking promises or deceiving all Christians regarding the conditions of salvation. For all we know, therefore, perhaps God has deceived all Christians regarding the conditions of salvation in order that he might display the true nature of his righteousness.

This raises several issues:

i) Talbott is claiming that Calvin is a theological voluntarist. I believe that this identification is incorrect. Talbott should read “The Power Dialectic” in Paul Helm’s book on Calvin’s Ideas (Oxford 2004), chapter 11.

And this would be a serious mistake on Talbott’s part since it’s a crucial element in his argument against Calvinism.

ii) But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Calvin was a theological voluntarist. If so, then Calvin was wrong in that respect.

But this is a statement of historical theology. It is no reason for me to abandon Reformed theology if I subscribe to Reformed theology for exegetical reasons. Reformed theology is not conterminous with Calvin. It ultimately comes down to the Scriptural basis for Calvinism.


“So long as we can believe that it is God's very nature to love and that his love will eventually triumph, we can leave the rest to mystery. But if we cannot believe this--if we believe instead that it is entirely possible (and just as probable as not in the ultimate scheme of things) that God hates us--then we shall find ourselves in the same tortured position as those Calvinists who agonize over their own election, looking pitifully for signs of it in their own good works. For unless we can be confident that it is God's nature to love everyone, we can never have a well-grounded confidence that he in fact loves us.”

i) Needless to say, this objection isn’t limited to Calvinism. Rather, it’s applicable to any theological tradition short of universalism. So I don’t know why Talbott singles out Calvinism. Does he think Calvinism is easier to demagogue? Does he think that Calvinism presents the most logically consistent alternative to universalism?

ii)” Unless we can be confident that it is God's nature to love everyone, we can never have a well-grounded confidence that he in fact loves us.”

But how does the conclusion follow from the premise? For example, must I believe that my wife loves every other man to believe that she also loves me? Frankly, I don’t think that would make for a very stable marriage.


“Now I think it appropriate, at this point, to raise some rather basic questions. For suppose that Calvin's interpretation of the texts upon which he rests his doctrine of reprobation were exegetically correct. Would that not merely prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that these texts are something less than an infallible revelation from God? I fully appreciate how scandalous some contemporary Calvinists are apt to find such a suggestion. But why should anyone accept the authority of the Bible, or of some text within it, regardless of what the text teaches? Why should I accept the authority of Jesus or Paul, for example, regardless of what they say? If I exhibit such slavish devotion as that, then I ultimately demean the very authority I am seeking to honor; I say in effect that I would believe the Bible even if it were filled with bald faced lies.”

i) But this is an artificial dilemma. Of course you can dream up hypothetical defeaters to undermine our faith in Scripture. If the Bible were filled with bald-faced lies, it wouldn’t be the Bible.

ii) And why would Talbott resort to this hypothetical unless he knew that the Calvinist had the better of the exegetical argument?


“Many who accept the Bible as a religious authority do so because, as they see it, they have found within it something worthy of human belief; something that inspires the soul and elevates the mind; something that, though it may shatter their preconceptions on occasion, always does so in the lofty way Jesus does when he teaches that we must love our enemies as well as our friends (see Matthew 5:44). If Christians are entitled to regard a text as authoritative for such reasons as these, do they not also have a responsibility to question a text whose teaching seems morally repugnant or unworthy of human belief? Such questioning need not, of course, imply an outright rejection of the text in question. But it will rest upon an implicit disjuction: Either we have misunderstood the text in question, or its teaching is not an infallible revelation from God.”
i) Why would I accept the Bible as a religious authority because it contains something worthy of belief? There are many books which may contain something worthy of belief. I don’t elevate them to the status of a religious authority on that account, do I?

ii) In addition, what’s the connection between worthiness and truth? Many unworthy things are true. Is Talbott claiming that there can be no such thing as an unworthy truth?

“Lest some Christians should consider such questioning impious, I would also point out that certain texts in the New Testament itself seem to endorse this very kind of questioning. In I John 4:1 we read: ‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.’ The injunction here seems to apply far beyond the immediate context in which it appears; it seems to apply to every spirit, every supposed prophet, every sacred text, and even to the letter of I John itself.”

Really? He thinks that 1 Jn 4:1 is self-referential? Well, that creates an interesting conundrum. Either 1 Jn 4:1 is true or false. If the injunction is false, then it isn’t true that we should test every spirit. The force of the injunction depends on its implicit self-exemption from the plethora of false prophets.

And, indeed, John is obviously calling on his audience to use what he’s written in 1 John as a yardstick to measure other religious claims and claimants, in case they come up short. But if his own yardstick fails to measure up, then you can’t measure one unreliable yardstick by another unreliable yardstick.


“Must we not test all of these things, with whatever reason is available to us, to see whether they really are from God?”

But Scripture makes divine reason available to use.


“False prophets and demonic spirits will always, I want to suggest, reveal their true character in the end; they will do so, as many recent cult leaders have illustrated, by asking that we set aside our own better judgment and submit to an untested authority of some kind.”

This is true, but it also begs the question. What makes our own better judgment better? After all, how do cult members get drawn into a cult in the first place? Clearly their faculty for critical judgment wasn’t all that reliable to begin with.


“The question I have asked is this: Do we not have every right, perhaps even a solemn obligation, to follow our own reasoning and better judgment--that is, the best judgment we are capable of--as we test the spirits and the claims of various prophets?”

Well, yes and no. The statement is tendentious. Yes, you should follow your better judgment if you have a better judgment to follow. But what makes your judgment better or worse? Talbott keeps begging the question.


“Do we not have a solemn obligation to reject any doctrine that appears, the more carefully we examine it, morally repugnant to us? If we should happen to make a mistake and reject a true doctrine thereby, God can always reveal to us a perspective from which the doctrine will no longer appear morally repugnant. But if we try to accept a doctrine even though it deeply offends our moral sense, we then run the risk of jading our conscience and closing our hearts to the Spirit of God. And if we do that--if we close our hearts to the Spirit of God within--we are not likely, I should think, to find our cure in some external source, whether it be the Bible or any other set of religious documents.”

Several issues here:

i) I, for one, don’t find Calvinism morally repugnant.

ii) To a great extent, moral repugnance is person-variable. To some extent it’s socially conditioned. To some extent it’s conditioned by individual experience. And to some extent it’s innate.

There are doctors who abort babies in good conscience. There are doctors who euthanize patients in good conscience. There are soldiers who rape war captives in good conscience. You could go down the list.

Conscience is very adaptable. It has a way of accommodating our favorite sin.

iii) The Spirit of God is a Biblical category. Once you reject the Bible, you forfeit the right to invoke the Holy Spirit.

iv) The underlying assumption in Talbott’s appeal to our “solemn obligation” is that while we may believe the Bible to be true, we cannot know it to be true. Therefore, if we find something offensive in Scripture, then this goes to show, “beyond a shadow of a doubt,” that the Bible is not the word of God.

And this is logical if the only reason you believe the Bible is because it contains something “worthy” of belief. For Talbott, all truths are pretty truths. There are no ugly truths. If it’s offensive, it can’t possibly be true.

v) It’s as though his mom and dad locked him in his bedroom when he was growing up. A bedroom full of stuffed animals. Teddy bears and bunny rabbits. Soft and furry and smooth to the touch.

But how much reason has Talbott ever applied to universalism? On the face of it, this doesn’t look like a world in which God loves everyone, and wants the best for everyone. The world I see when I switch on the evening news appears to be decidedly Calvinistic. A world with a very inequitable distribution of blessing and bane.


“It all boils down, I believe, to what kind of God we believe in. If we truly believe in the infinite love and wisdom of our Creator, even as our peasant woman above did, then we will be as invulnerable to the deceptions of the false prophets as she was. We will no longer fear, for example, that our Creator might permit an honest mistake in theology to jeopardize our future. We will simply proceed in the confidence that he knows us from the inside out far better than we know ourselves; that he will appreciate the ambiguities, the confusions, and the perplexities we face far better than we do; and that he will understand the historical and cultural factors that shape our beliefs far better than any historian does. Such a Creator--loving, intimate, and wise--would know how to work with us in infinitely complex ways, how to shatter our illusions and transform our thinking when necessary, and how best to reveal himself to us in the end.”

I agree with Talbott that it all boils down to the kind of God we believe in. But I would also distinguish between knowing God and believing in God.

To all appearances, Talbott’s God is a make-believe God. A girly-girl God. Not the Lord of Saboath, but little Lord Fauntleroy? Too goody-goody to be true.

Has it ever occurred to him that universalism is synonymous with wishful thinking? Made to order to suit his specifications? Like wallpaper for a nursery.

On the Origin of Deciduous Trees by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Cottonwoods in the Struggle For Leaves

As I walked a beagle to lunch today, I had an epiphany. It begins with the fact that it is Fall, and as a result trees are everywhere shedding their leaves. These leaves quite often fall on the sidewalk.

Now let me ask you a question. As you are walking down a clean, empty sidewalk and you happen to notice a single leaf fall onto the sidewalk ahead of you, do you:

A) Examine the leaf in wonder as you walk past it?
B) Ignore the leaf completely?


C) Curse the weather & seasons for conspiring to litter?

The answer is, of course, none of the above. Because what you do (at least if you’re male) is you step on the leaf! Don’t try to deny this guys, you know it’s true. If a leaf falls on the sidewalk five feet in front of you, without even thinking about it, you manage to shift your stride ever so slightly so that your foot will come down exactly on the leaf and you’ll hear that satisfying CRUNCH. (By the way, surveys have demonstrated this: a full 93% of men admit to going out of their way to crunch leaves. Interestingly enough, the study also found that 7% of men lie about whether they go out of their way to step on leaves.)

Anyway, I happened to notice today en route to lunch that there was a section of sidewalk that was about 2/3s empty, but 1/3 covered by leaves. This is due to the wind that had blown the leaves into a leaf-drift on the left-hand side of the sidewalk. So, 1/3 of the sidewalk was covered with leaves and 2/3s was clear.

Naturally, the vast majority of people were walking on the 1/3 side covered in leaves, and only stepped out of the leaves in order to pass others. Statistically, this validates my point that people enjoy crunching leaves.

At first, I didn’t make the connection, but now that I’ve had some time to think about it I realize that this actually proves Darwinism correct. You see, I live in Colorado Springs, and I’ve seen pictures of the Springs back in the 1870s when it was founded. There are no trees anywhere. It’s prairie all over the place. Even pictures going up into the mountains (Ute Pass) show no trees on the hills.

Now, there are trees everywhere. Why are the trees here now? Because they were planted. But people could have planted any number of different kinds of trees. We have blue spruce, pine, and other trees littering the mountainsides all over Colorado. So why is it that the vast majority of trees that were planted in the city are deciduous trees?

Because people like to crunch leaves in the Fall. It’s that simple. Nature has selected for deciduous trees so that humans (at least male humans) are able to crunch leaves during Fall. This gives pleasure to the humans, and ensures that they will plant new deciduous trees when old ones die. The result of this symbiotic relationship causes selection pressures to choose for deciduous trees. The result is that in just over 100 years since the founding of Colorado Springs, we have gone from prairie having no trees to twelve billion leaves in my backyard that I have to clear out.

Need we any more proof that Darwinism is true than this simple observation?

Talbott versus Proverbs 3:5

Apparently Vic Reppert wasn't satisfied with "those in the Reformed tradition" pointing out that Talbott's b-rated parody was a straw man attack. Allegedly the straw man loses his strawiness when "those in the reformed tradition" chew on the straw in the field of broader context. "I'm sure those in the Reformed tradition understand the importance of context in interpreting sacred texts," says Reppert. It is said that the debacle now known as "the Nivlac cataract" must be piloted by a skipper salty enough to avoid the downward plunge by navigating his course by following the light of context.

So, I guess we have to look at Talbott's opening salvo in order to consign his straw man to the flames. This must be done because the parable's "proper argumentative role is to be seen in the context of the larger paper" ... "a longer piece entitled 'On False Prophets and the Abuse of Revelation.'" So let's look at "On False Prophets and the Abuse of Revelation:"


"A generalization about religious belief to which there are, I believe, few exceptions is this: The more confident one is in one's religious beliefs, the more willing one is to subject those beliefs to careful scrutiny; the less confident one is in them--the more one unconsciously fears that they cannot withstand such scrutiny--the more eager one is to find a device that would appear to protect them from careful scrutiny. And, more often than not, such a protective device will include an assault upon human reason."


This is a vague and ambiguous claim. First, what is meant by being "confident ... in one's religious beliefs..."? Does that mean that you take those religious beliefs R to be true? Does it mean that you have a high degree assurance that R is probably true? Does it mean that you are certain of R - either psychologically or epistemically? Does it mean that you strongly believe R?

Next, what does it mean to "subject them to careful scrutiny?" Does that mean that you always do so? That you did so once, but no longer need to? That you treat R with skepticism? That you stand over R as the authority of its epistemic status? That you are always on the look out that R fits with the rest of your stock of R; R1 - Rn. That if you ever think R is false you cease to hold it? That R is always capable of being revised? That you actively try to prove them false?

And, what does being "more confident" and thus "more willing" to "subject R to scrutiny" mean? Is there such a thing as being over confident? Can we be too willing to subject R to scrutiny? What if subjecting some R to scrutiny (whatever that means) was sinful? Would this be the wisest thing to do?

Lastly, what is meant by "human reason?" Does it mean beliefs that are delivered by "the deliverances of reason?" Means-end rationality? The faculty that distinguishes us from other animals, viz., Aristotle? What we find acceptable? What we like or dislike? Who is "we?" Proper-function rationality? And, how do these people "assault" it? What are their arguments? Are they good ones? Was Kierkegaard "unconfident" in his "religious beliefs?" Did he seek to "protect them" by "faith?" How about Tertullian? Was he unconfident? How does Talbott know?

Leaving terminological questions aside, let's ask about how Talbott came to this generalization. Is his opening claim merely a veiled ad hominem argument that seeks to discredit those who hold a more austere view (or even any positive view) on the authority of Scripture than does Talbott? If one does not subject R to scrutiny (whatever Talbott means by that!) in the way Talbott approves, has he automatically prejudiced someone against them because they "lack confidence" in their religious beliefs? They are softies. Intellectual cowards.

Has the above been empirically verified? What is the sample used to draw the generalization? How many people who are "less confident" in their religious beliefs has Talbott studied? How does he know that, say, John Calvin was "less confident" in his "religious beliefs?" Has he read the psychologists report from Calvin's day? Since he's attacking Calvinists, many who reason similar to how Calvin did in his institutes, how many does he personally know? Is he basing his belief off what Bill and Jim once said, the two Calvinist students he had at one time? Or is this what he thinks of, say, Paul Helm or John Frame? James White or Roger Nicole? James Anderson or Greg Welty?

Next, is the above a "religious belief? Does Talbott subject it to scrutiny? Or, is he saying that this generalization applies equally across the board? How about to one's mathematical beliefs, say, 2+2=4? Should one "subject that to scrutiny?" How about one's moral beliefs? Does Talbott suggest that we should "subject to scrutiny" our belief that molesting little children for the fun of it is immoral to "scrutiny?" If so, should we take Talbott seriously? If not, why the bias? How does "human reason" feel about such prejudices?

Moving on....


"Now I have no desire to glorify human reason. Some of the most careless thinkers I have known, and even some of the most irrational, have worshiped at the shrine of human reason. We have no choice, however, but to employ the faculties we have when we "test the spirits to see whether they are of God"; indeed, only by reasoning carefully can we exhibit the limits of reason itself. That is also why an all-out assault upon human reason inevitably undermines and defeats itself: If we cannot trust our reasoning powers at all, then neither can we trust that reasoning which supposedly exhibits the limits of reason itself."


What does it mean to "employ the faculties we have when we test the spirits to se whether they are of God?" Is this an unquestionable prescription? But 1 John 4:1 is a religious belief. Does Talbott subject 1 John 4:1 to scrutiny? How does he do so? Perhaps we shouldn't test the spirits to see if they are from God? This seems like a recipe for disaster! Can you imagine. A man says the true and all-knowing creator God has told him to kill his parents, and bathe in their blood. If we shoulnd't, or couldn't, "test the spirits," then what religious, and moral (say he believes only theism can justify moral prescriptions), argument could we give him? But on Talbott's terms, we should subject this belief to scrutiny. Does Talbott do so on a regular basis?

Also, which Calvinist disagree with this? Indeed, even in the section Talbott quotes from Calvin's institutes (Bk. III, Ch. XXIII, Sec. 2) where he tries to derive his claim that Calvin undermines "human reason," Calvin argued for his position before, and then for roughly 40 pages after, Talbott's quote mining assault. It should also be noted that Calvin never undermined "human reason." Talbott even allows for "limits of our reason." Calvin simply points out one such limit. Certainly if Calvin is right, when finite reason clashes with infinite, infallible wisdom, the former loses. That's something like a truism. If you think you're right, and someone who knows everything tells you that you're wrong, guess who wins? In fact, it would seem that the rational thing to do would be to bend the knee and admit that you're wrong when faced with that epistemic situation.

Furthermore, what if we take revelation as something like knowledge from testimony? Should we treat all such knowledge "with scrutiny?" This principle might get us into trouble. Thus Thomas Reid: "I believed by instinct whatever my parents and tutors told me, long before I had the idea of a lie, or a thought of the possibility of their deceiving me. Afterwards, upon reflection, I found that they had acted like fair and honest people, who wished me well. I found that, if I had not believed what they told me, before I could give a reason for my belief, I had to this day been little better than a changeling."

If the speaker, in this case Jehovah, is justified or warranted in His beliefs -- and surely on the Christian story God has maximal, supreme, super warrant or justification, or, fill in the appropriate terminology -- and if the Christian takes the say-so of God as a source for his/her beliefs, then isn't the Christian entitled to "know" these things?

On this theory, if one starts out trusting God, as indeed s/he should, then one never undermines the credibility of the testifier. In debates about knowledge by testimony, one can say that if the testifier has been shown to be unreliable, then that might issue a defeater for a belief you have obtained by his testimony. But, if the honesty was never called in to question in the first place, taking his word, especially about, say, the color of his mother's hair, would be quite natural. And, if his mother's hair was blonde, and that's what he told you, then you knew it. (At this point Plantinga would admit warrant, but he would say that you would have more warrant if you verified what was testified to you. I think that fine as far as it goes, but in our case, surely the word of an omniscient being who cannot lie carries more weight than my "checking up on" the testimony. My own verification would seem to be ranked lower on list of epistemic authorities in a situation like this.) And, wouldn't knowledge gained in this kind of way -- the testimony of God -- constitute a belief that had such warrant that if you remained in the natural state of faith, i.e., trusting the word of God, taking things on His say-so, it would be a defeater-deflector for challenges to the above types of beliefs? That is, a person does not have an automatic defeater for his/her belief that God exists since the warrant of the belief that is the subject of attempted defeat is such that it deflects the defeater.

Which Calvinists have "launched an all-out-assault on human reason" in the sense Talbott means it? The self-refuting sense? Just because someone says that, "we also deny that we are competent judges to pronounce judgment in this cause according to our own understanding," that does not mean that he has waged an all-out-assault on human reason! To deny that human reason (and I'm granting Talbott's mischaracterization of Calvin) is not competent in one or two areas is hardly to wage an "all-out" war on human reason. Talbott is grossly overstating his case. I find one generalization that almost never fails. When you run across someone who must overstate his case, he's arguing from a weak position. One could say that he overstates his case because he hopes no one will want to defend the other side because he has made it look so bad. But this "find a device that would appear to protect them from careful scrutiny." I know of no Calvinist that taught that we "cannot trust our reasoning powers at all."


"When religious people emphasize the limits of human reason, moreover, they sometimes draw the wrong moral. They may begin with some true observations about the finite character of our human minds, the historically conditioned character of much of our reasoning, the lofty and mysterious character of God, or perhaps even the corrupting power of moral evil or sin. But instead of concluding, as they should, that a loving God, who understands our limitations better than we do, would never require more of human reason than it can deliver, they draw a very different moral: namely, that we must set aside our critical faculties altogether and blindly accept some proposition which, according to the best judgment we can muster at the time, seems unworthy of human belief or perhaps even morally repugnant."


This is not an attack on Calvinists, it's an attack on all those who believe that the Bible is God's word to man. Talbott's claim flatly contradicts Scripture. For just one example I cite Abraham:

Hebrews 11:

11 By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

Here "human reason" would disbelieve that Abrham and Sarah could become parents. Talbott says that God would "NEVER require more of human reason than it can deliver." In this situation, "human reason" would laugh at God. But perhaps Talbott would reply, "but it is not logically impossible that they could have had a baby." But if this is his out, then he must drop his charges against Calvin and Calvin's exegesis. Surely Talbott doesn't think he can show that Calvinism is logically impossible, can he? If so, would he subject this to scrutiny? He would scrutinize the logically impossible? So, according to Talbott, God never told this to Abraham. Thus both Moses and the author of Hebrews is wrong.

Heb. 11

17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18even though God had said to him, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." 19 Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.

Surely "human understanding" thinks the above is "immoral." Indeed, many atheists argue this exact point. Now, first we have God telling Abraham to do what "human understanding" would consider immoral - kill your own child. Second, "human reason" would not believe in a resurrection from the dead. That's why there's so many atheists and physicalists out there. It seems preposterous to them to believe this. So, what of Talbott's claims? If he is correct, then the Bible is false here. So, since he makes a claim about what God would and wouldn't do, where does he get this information? Did God tell him? Where? If not, where does he get off telling us what God is or isn't like? Who is he to say? Is he a prophet?

This gets so tangled. Why does Talbott believe in a god? Many would argue that "human reason" cannot believe such a thing. Why does theism seem "worthy of human belief?" And, if theism, why something like Christian theism? What does he think of the apostle Pauls' statements about "human understanding?": Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" [...] “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness.” Does Talbott deny that we should listen to the wisdom literature:

Proverbs 3:5
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;

It thus appears that Christianity teaches exactly the opposite of Talbottism! What he says God would not do, we read God doing! Thus without a revelation, he purports to tell us what God would and would not do. But to me this doesn't seem acceptable to "human understanding." If I reason analogously, it would be wrong for me to simply make up - even with good arguments - the internal beliefs and desires of others, especially if he never told them to me and I could not see him! Thus Talbott is irrational on his own terms. "Human understanding" is against him. "Human understanding" doesn't let us make up what other people - especially invisible ones - believe. God didn’t tell Talbott what he would and wouldn't do, and so Talbott doesn't know what he would or wouldn't do. For all Talbott knows, god is the greatest immoral being ever. After all, look at all the evil in the world. What, perhaps he'll reason that his god is impotent to stop it? Michael Martin and others will let theists who have a revelation off the hook with the logical problem of evil because they hold to extended theism. Talbott doesn't get that pass. He's ignorant. he simply makes up the most palpable concept of god, and then sells it to the philosophers.

Lastly, we should also ask about the moral point of view this person has which he can call God's actions "repugnant." If one was, say, a humanist, and thought that anything bad that happened to a human was "morally repugnant," I wouldn't put much stock in his "objection" against God. I have a different moral point of view. I have a different anthropology. So, just because someone finds something morally repugnant doesn't mean that they should reject what they find repugnant. It could just as well mean that they ought to look at their own moral standards! Should not these, too, be "subject to scrutiny?" Talbott is showing his biases. He has no problem dogmatically holding to views in an unquestionable manner. He doesn't think these beliefs - the ones by which we judge God - should be subject to scrutiny. If he does, then he would not have came to the conclusion he has as being the "right" conclusion. It should also be open that our reasoning in these cases, or moral intuitions in these cases, are the problem. Talbott should remain "open" to this claim: Jer. 17:9 "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" If that is true, perhaps the problems lie in our moral intuitions in some cases? Perhaps the mind of man has an agenda other than, contrary to Talbott's pretended neutrality, following the truth wherever it leads? At the very least, Talbott shouldn't have a religious belief about Jer. 17:9 that is not treated with scrutiny. Talbott's scrutiny argument, and his human reason argument, have both served to undermine him.


"In an effort to get us to accept such a proposition, they may also identify a humble submission to God with an uncritical submission to some tradition or some sacred text that either endorses, or appears to endorse, the proposition in question. But only a false prophet, I want to suggest, would ask us to accept some proposition, however true, despite the fact that it seems to us, for whatever reason, to be unworthy of human belief."


But without a "sacred text" there's scant few beliefs about God that Talbott can hold with warrant.

Also, this is odd. Not only is it vague to talk about something "unworthy of human belief," why is a prophet a false one if he tries to get us to accept a true proposition?

Lastly, this seems to be unworthy of human belief. Humans should believe what god tells them to. They should, "lean not on their own understanding." They should not "put the Lord thy God to the test." They shouldn't reason "hath God said?". And so for Talbott to push this concept, which is unworthy of human belief, makes him a false prophet. But he thinks it is worthy of human belief. Who says? What makes a proposition "worthy of human belief?" If we like it? If the majority agrees on it? But, not only that, it is not even that said proposition actually contradicts "human understanding," it only must seem to us to contradict it!


"A false prophet is someone who speaks falsely in the name of God, and here I shall be concerned with a particular kind of false prophet: one who, more often than not, comes in the name of orthodoxy."


Notice the contradiction. Above he said a false prophet may even speak truly in the name of God. Now he says they speak falsely.


"The false prophets I have in mind are those who use the Bible (or some other sacred text) as a weapon of fear, or as part of an assault upon reason and good sense."


Like writing papers to consign those who disagree with you as diffident in their beliefs? Like claiming that they are "false prophets?" Who wants to be that? Is Talbott trying to scare us into accepting his conclusion? Does he think committing the same errors he attributes to others is really something that should persuade the rational man?


"At one time or another, they have appealed to the Bible in defense of slavery, racism, the exploitation of women, the burning at the stake of young women (charged with witchcraft), the murder of heretics, and even protracted torture."


And it can equally be shown, if not more so, that those Talbott calls "false prophets" have used the Bible to argue against the above practices.

Also, many have appealed to "human reason" to justify all sorts of atrocities, much like the above.

Talbott isn't scoring any points here.

Lastly, since Talbott can't appeal to the Bible, where is he getting his ethic from?


"We find it easy today, perhaps, to appreciate the specious character of at least some of these appeals. But we can also imagine how easily such appeals might confuse a simple peasant farmer who believes fervently that he must bow before the Scriptures. There is perhaps no better way to confuse him and to persuade him to ignore his own conscience than to spout Scripture at him. "


But if he "believes" that, and since he is human, then is Talbott asking him to go against what "seems to him, for whatever reason, to be unworthy of human belief."

Also, not many respectable orthodox theologians that I know simply "spout Scripture." Calvin &c argued, exegeted, and applied the tests of Scripture to the men they spoke to.

Lastly, what of human reason? We find it easy today, perhaps, to appreciate the specious character of at least some of these appeals. But we can also imagine how easily such appeals might confuse a simple peasant farmer who believes fervently that he must bow before the bar of human reason. There is perhaps no better way to confuse him and to persuade him to ignore his own conscience than to spout logical fallacies and rules of inference at him. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If Talbott argues thus: But rules of inference necessarily lead us to truth," then he's (a) ignorant of the state of the debate within the philosophy of logic, and (b) the farmer reasons that God's word leads him to truth. In fact, since one can presuppose, or take as basic, the reliability of our cognitive faculties, what stops one from doing that with what he takes to be God's word? If one does that, why is he irrational for bowing before the one who speaks and cannot lie? Seems perfectly reasonable to me.


"For if God says something, he will reason, then it must be true, however morally repugnant or logically absurd it may appear to us as fallible human beings."


What problem does Talbott have with modus ponens? If God says X, then X is true, no matter what we may think. God says X. Therefore, X is true, no matter what we may think. It seems logically absurd to deny modus ponens.

Also, where are Talbott's arguments for the apparent logical absurdity of much of reformation doctrine? I'm not aware of accepting either morally repugnant or logically absurd beliefs. Perhaps Talbott means that my beliefs are morally repugnant to his view of morality. But since when am I boot strapped by Talbott's views on morality? In fact, I find his humanism and arrogant, flippant attitude towards the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, morally repugnant.

So, Dr. Reppert, I have looked at the broader context - as those in the reformed tradition are wont to do - and found Talbott's opening piece to be rather simplistic, vague, over generalized, misleading, and downright undercutting in many parts. Not only that, there was nothing in here which absolved Talbott of the charge of straw man burner. Where did he offer anything defending his construal of Calvinism as a system that says God predestines men to hell for amoral reasons? I could find none. It thus appears that you have not read our comments, but yet you call us on the carpet for not reading Talbott. Had you read our comments you would have known that mentioning Talbott's opening piece was actually irrelevant to our charge of straw man burner.

How An Arminian Robot Makes A Choice

Henry/Robert/Arminibot 3000 Serial Number 777666 is questioning Reformed doctrine once more. While it is obvious to anyone who has studied the issues that H/R/A has not, I thought it might be a beneficial exercise for those concerned if we took the robot motif up once again and pondered a thought experiment.

Is it possible to give a robot free will? To make, as it were, an android?

The question is important because it helps us to define how exactly a choice is made. Currently, computers can be programmed to make “choices” by assigning a weight-value to different options. From there, a risk/reward calculation can be made, and the computer can pick which option has the greatest potential for reward with the lowest amount of risk. This is ultimately how computers can play chess games. They analyze a multitude number of possible moves and rank the orders in terms of which one is statistically most likely to occur.

But obviously this “choice” isn’t a free choice. It relies upon a set of initial factors, such as the hardware used to create the computer. (If a chipset is flawed, the calculations will be flawed and the computer will make erroneous choices.) Further, the software has to be programmed such that the computer is able to assign a weight to various chess functions. A computer is not “born” knowing that pawn a5 is a horrible opening move. It has to be programmed in, and the various values of the board have to be programmed in. Further, the specific values of what levels of risk are acceptable must also be programmed in. These are not laws of nature. They are dependent upon the programmer.

Naturally, one can test the computer after that by simulating several games until the best moves are found. Further testing against human opponents can further hone the skills of the computer. Eventually, you have Deep Blue beating Garry Kasparov.

But this brings up an interesting problem for the libertarian, especially as defined by H/R/A. H/R/A believes that a choice cannot be free unless it is possible to choose a different option. But let us present a computer with two options for an opening move. Either the computer can pick pawn to e5, or it can pick pawn to a5. Given the programming in place, it is impossible for the computer to actually pick pawn to a5 because of how horrible that opening move is compared to the standard pawn to e5 approach.

Now ask Kasparov to make the same decision. Given Kasparov’s knowledge of chess, it is equally impossible for Kasparov to make the move pawn to a5 instead of pawn to e5. Yet we would not say that Kasparov is acting against his free will were he to always play pawn to e5 instead of pawn to a5. We would say he is making the smart move. He would be an idiot to make the other choice.

H/R/A might respond by saying that Kasparov could choose to behave stupidly, if that’s what Kasparov wanted to do, but Kasparov doesn’t want to act stupidly, so he will limit his selection to the smart move each time. This, however, changes H/R/A’s position! What first defined free will as the ability to do otherwise has become simply doing that which one wants to do.

But this secondary definition of free will is actually the very definition that Calvinists hold to. People always do that which they want to do, and the unregenerate always wants to disobey God. Under this definition of free will, Calvinists fully support free will. As such, moving to this explanation doesn’t help H/R/A at all. In fact, it forces an immediate checkmate against his viewpoint.

Before abandoning this illustration completely, let us take another thought experiment. I own Chessmaster 10, and the lowest AI opponent you can face is a chimpanzee that uses completely random moves. There is no attempt to weigh which move is better. The computer compiles a list of all possible legal moves and randomly chooses one of those moves.

Is this random choice any freer than the choice a computer makes by weighing a list? The answer to that question is a resounding no. Once again, the computer chooses based on hardware structures and software limitations. Computers are not really random—they have random seed generators that are strictly controlled. They mimic random events, but in reality they are not random at all. (Each time you reuse the same random seed generator, you get the same result. To avoid this as much as possible, most programs use the date and time functions for their random seed generation. Since it is basically impossible for a person to pick the exact same millisecond on a clock each time he runs a program--even if he resets the clock--it always appears to us as a random result.) So, even engaging in random “choices” is not really random for a computer. Suppose a computer randomly picks the move pawn to a5. This move is determined by the hardware features working together with the software features of the computer so that at the exact moment the program is run, it will always pick pawn to a5. There is never a time when it will not pick pawn to a5 under those circumstances.

But there is a way to get truly random data (assuming one doesn’t have access to the omniscient mind of God). You could hook the computer up to a piece of radioactive matter. Since radioactivity occurs at a completely random, totally impossible to predict, rate for individuals particles, you could create a computer to use those random results to make decisions about chess moves.

But is this any freer? Again, the answer is a resounding no! After all, there is no value in the radioactive decay that says, “If this particle goes now, choose option pawn to a5.” The ability to translate a truly random event into a choice is still based on the software to define what each selection must be. And we haven’t even addressed the elephant in the room: the fact that these random choices are still determined by radioactive decay!

Suppose, however, we were able to surmount those obstacles and create a computer that could make choices that were not based on its hardware or software. It could play a truly random game of chess.

Does anyone think the computer would win the chess game? Of course not. Does anyone think that a computer making choices without reference to a designers hardware specs or software instructions would make good choices? Of course not.

Why, then, do Arminians insist that people must be able to make choices without regard to our hardware (brains) or our software (our nature)? How is it possible for our choices to be good ones if we are able to ignore the hardware specs and the software limitations? How is it possible for us to make any decisions at all outside of the governing physical and spiritual specs that we have?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

For The Record

Kim Jong Armstrong has declared that I have turned down a debate with him. The reason I am writing this is to make the historical record as clear as possible, just in case the Roman Polit Bureau decides to craft a few whoppers (that's "porkies" for our UK friends) by omitting certain facts from the record.

I learned this today when I ran into this little comment over on Turretin Fan's blog:

I have offered my opponents 90 minutes of time to examine me, to my 60 for asking them questions. White and Swan turned that down. S&S and Bridges and Cory T. appear to have also. TF is still pondering.
So, let's get this straight, shall we, Dave assumed, without any interaction whatsoever from me one way or the other that I had turned down a debate with him.

Where was this challenge posted?

1. On Dave's blog.
2. In this thread.

I don't read, Kim Jong Armstrong's blog. Unlike him, I'm not so self-obsessed that I troll about the internet looking for references to my name so that I can find targets to test fire missiles. In fact, I rarely interact with Kim Jong Armstrong up in the great North, since my interests are more about Southern Baptists, at present in particular.

Note that the thread in which this was posted was a thread about...rain - not Catholicism - rain. Was there something about this thread that attracted nullifidians and Kim Jong Armstrong? Yeah, I know, that's just weird. Also, I don't read every comment stream of everything I write here; sometimes I follow it part way then move on and forget about it. Yeah, I know, weird. You see, I believe in the priesthood of all believers, since I am, after all Baptist, and that means I believe in letting others participate in a discussion on their own. Oh, and, for the record, no, we writers here do not receive messages that somebody has commented on something we've written. We have to fend for ourselves in that regard.

So, I learned about this "challenge" from Kim Jong Armstrong that I had "turned down" in a comment box on another blog; so I had to google for a debate challenge to me, which I then found to be on Kim Jong Armstrong's blog, and then come back here to find where, exactly, he had posted it. Apparently, Kim Jong Armstrong works with all the stealth of the North Korean nuclear program.

Reading the post, the debate is, itself, more about his feeling left out, mocked, etc. than it is about the truth of Scripture, theology, etc. No, the list of resolutions are, for the most part, all about Dave's ego.

By the way, you'd think that Saint and Sinner has enough on his hands too, since he's posting exegetical responses to Dave's book. As I said before, this seems like a diversionary tactic on Dave's part. Let S&S finish his work before that, or is Kim Jong Armstrong upset that the United Reformed Apologetics Security Council won't give him the attention he so desperately craves?

By the way, as you can see the central members are all in the center - clearly the balding guy is James White. (Yeah, Brother James, you know that's you, don't deny it!) Hays is at the head of the table ( I see the Cary Grant resemblance, don't you?) , Swan, Slick, Turk, and Svendsen are the others. I'm in the second circle all the way on the right. As you can see, my hand is not raised. That's me turning down the vote to recognize Kim Jong Armstrong's debate challenges, obviously.

Frankly, I think me debating Dave would be as profitable a use of my time as a US official debating Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His challenge, in my estimation, bears a striking resemblance to that very challenge.

So, just in case the Armstrong Polit Bureau decides to start with the triumphal cry that I have refused to debate Dave for self-serving reasons - for example that I fear to cross the demilitarized zone because I can't defend my position, here is the exact reply I left for him on TF's blog:
Dave, I don't keep up with your blog or comments that you hide in the comments of other blogs. I come by you when I stumble across you.

I have not received a proper request from you for a debate, so don't go running about telling people I have "refused" to debate you about anything. Notice that this is, what, all of one or two days, and already, according to you I've "refused."

In fact, let's put this in context, the only reason I am aware of your request now is that I saw it here.

It's announcement was not in an email to me (that would be too easy and logical, since my mail is public) but in a link to your blog that you posted one or two days ago, near the end of a comment thread on a prayer request for rain! Since it is presently raining here, I wasn't aware I needed to check it for debate challenges on Catholicism. Sorry,but that tactic earns you an automatic "No," since you lacked the integrity to simply email. You had your chance, and you blew it.

This reply is also here, and not on my blog to make that point. I've placed it where I found the challenge, and it's not in my email box.

Further, you are a chronic liar who says that we want monologues with you. As I recall, you are not banned from posting commentary in any article I have written on Catholicism on Tblog, and, since I've written on you recently, as I look around, I've seen my name show up once on your blog. Again, you had your chance then,and you blew it.

Oh - and since the infallibility of the Pope had not yet been made a de fide object of faith in Rome until the 19th century, what Steve and I have said stands, and, as usual, what you say doesn't begin to touch what we have stated. It suffers from anachronistic reading of texts.

If you would write something less than the long, incoherent, and rambling posts you write - posts that an English professor would grade "C" at best, I might be willing to do a blog debate. I prefer to respond to other articles or, in your case, to your shoddy, incompetent,and anachronistic exegetical work.

I don't use a chat function on my computer-not even for AOL - all chatrooms are blocked-, and I'm not a member of Paltalk, and don't intend to be. I don't even use a soundcard. I also have a real life in the real world, and that includes working as a freelance writer who will be chronically several conferences beginning in November. I also live with terminal illness. I'd rather not waste an over an hour of my already brief life on talking to you. It would be poor stewardship of my time.

I follow the same policy with you that Steve Hays follows, and since the greater luminaries of the debate world aren't debating you, why should I? You're the one that refuses to debate them in public, and then you have all the courage to issue a debate challenge to me near the end of a comment stream on praying for rain. I learned about it here, and then I had to Google that by first googling for a debate challenge from you to me, going to your blog, which I don't read already, and then finding the thread on my blog, not in a thread on the topic of Catholicism, but on a prayer request for rain. Why should I honor that, Dave?

And here's another reason Dave: Titus 3 says to reject the factious man. You are the epitome of that man. You've demonstrated that several times. Further, this isn't about the truth for you Dave, however defined, it's about stroking your own overbloated ego. Frankly, after observing your past behavior as well, such as particular artwork that gets posted from time to time, I'm not willing to debate with a person of such obviously low character either. You've also taken an oath to stop interacting with "anti-Catholics", and yet here you are wanting us to interact with you. I, for one, take the Law on making vows seriously, and I am not going to contribute to your sin before God in violating your word.

But here is something you can do Dave. You can renounce Rome and all her merits. You can cast yourself on Christ and Christ alone, and you can trust in Him and Him only for your eternal salvation.

Also, if one reads the comments @ TF's blog, there are already some problems with agreeing to the debate, and I didn't even have to reply to Dave for them to emerge. Dave is already equivocating. He's moved from "debate" to "informal talk" and he's already begging the question, by calling it an informal discussion "between Christians who seriously differ" - but his suggested topic is actually whether or not it is proper to call Roman Catholics "Christians." So it seems to me that if you accept on his terms at present, you'll have already stipulated to the outcome, since it is about the identity of "Christians." This is just like Brian Fleming's debate challenge. You can debate him - as long as you stipulate to his own conclusions.

Sure, we can stipulate that Catholics can be saved - as I pointed out, I already do that and I've stated those reasons so many times I've lost count, and I can also use a "historical" definition such that just about anybody is a Christian. I've distinguished many times between a saving profession of faith and a credible profession of faith and between types and levels of error. So has Steve Hays. I've even gone so far as to say that one can not believe in justification by faith alone and still be justified by faith. That's for God to decide, but all I have to go by is a credible profession of faith. Sola Fide is not an object of saving faith - Christ alone is, and the issue is whether or not the person is trusting in Christ alone and His sole and sufficient merit or Christ and merit coming from other sources. One of the problems with Rome is that it makes other items de fide such that saving faith is dogmatic faith. This really isn't too much different in principle than Sandemanianism in Protestant circles; there's just more to the content. Maybe that's why Dave crossed the Tiber. I'll cut more slack to the Catholic in the pew than one who constantly promulgates this error, but at some point, I have to draw the line. There is a long and distinguished literature on that subject. KJA could start by reading Francis Turretin or Witsius.

Oh, and one more thing, the reason that the comments here are turned off is quite simple:

1. I'm sure Mahmoud Armstrong, like his counterpart overseas, will have his own little rant on his own blog.

2. I derive a certain pleasure from that sort of thing, rather like Andy Taylor watching Barney Fife implode - you know to see that little vein on his neck pop out, mussed up hair and all.