Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pornography and other innocent pastimes


Nevertheless, even revealing clothes are not necessarily donned for the purpose of attracting men. A low-necked top might be cooler than a high-necked one (given that women don't tend to have the option of removing our shirts entirely!), worn because it's breastfeeding-friendly, or simply because the woman likes the look of it.

But my basic problem with Steve's diatribe is that it assumes he has the right to comment on what women who are not his wife are wearing, as if he knows their reason for dressing…

I do not dress to attract men. I dress in clothes I think look nice; occasionally clothes my husband finds attractive; frequently clothes I find cool and comfy; always clothes which are in my budget and available in my city; and quite often, clothes chosen for a reason no more man-snaring than "this is the one top my baby hasn't thrown up on today". Therefore, if a man like Steve uses the 'women dress to attract men' theory to provide an excuse to criticise my clothing and the success or failure of the sexual allure thereof, he is being sexist--in other words, he is using a sex-based stereotype to treat me disrespectfully.

No, I don't imagine that women wear stilettos for comfort; why does it then follow that the only possible reason they could wear them is to attract men? Maybe the misguided pant suit woman wore stilettos because they were the only shoes she owned which matched the pant suit colour-wise.

So the question is, how can you tell when a woman is 'displaying' herself for your benefit (and is therefore, in your view, fair game for criticism) and when she is just dressing in a way she likes, and therefore should be left alone? You can't. Some outfits certainly seem sexier or more sensational than others; but as I said in my last post, you can't necessarily judge motive from that…

1. Assumption that Britney Spears has dressed to please him
2. Assumption that he therefore has the right to grade her sexually.

From Steve's other comments, it is clear Steve forms a snap judgment on more than a woman's appearance if she is dressed 'a certain way'--he also judges her motives for dressing (to attract men).

Peter, you are not understanding what I am saying. I have admitted that Steve is referring to a specific subset of women, but he himself has provided no criteria for determining who those women are. How does he know which women are dressing in order to attract men? He doesn't; he can't, save by getting inside their minds; but he assumes to know the motives of women who dress 'a certain way' and treats them accordingly.

Well, I have to admit that Sarah Tennant finally convinced me of the error of my ways. Let’s take the case of Britney Spears, whom she so ably defends. Take, for instance, this cover from Rolling Stone magazine.

Now then, in my inexcusably sexist way I always assumed that Britney posed for the cover to be snare male viewers. I also assumed the real motive of the editors in putting that shot of Britney on the cover was to lure more men buy the magazine.

But I now realize that these were grossly sexist assumptions on my part. Britney could have had all sorts of purely Platonic reasons for pulling her blouse back to reveal that push-up bra. After all, even revealing clothes are not necessarily donned for the purpose of attracting men. Maybe she wore that outfit cuz it’s so cool and comfy. Or maybe she wore that outfit cuz it's breastfeeding-friendly. Or maybe she wore that outfit cuz it’s the one and only bra the poor thing owed at the time.

Here I’ve been guilty of using the “Britney dressed to attract men" theory to provide an excuse to criticise her provocative clothing and the success or failure of the sexual allure thereof. I was being male chauvinist pig—in other words, I was using a sex-based stereotype to treat Britney disrespectfully.

Thankfully, we have Evangelical women like Sarah Tennant who are prepared to stick up for Britney and defend the crystalline purity of her motives.

And, unfortunately, she’s not the only woman I’ve wronged in that respect. Here I imagined that a Playmate like Anna Nicole Smith was posing nude to attract male viewers. How sexist could I be? The real reason she made a living by removing all her clothing in front of a cameraman may just as well have been because it was such a hot day outside and the air conditioner was broken.

As for the presence of the cameraman—that was sheer coincidence. He was really a passport photographer who took a wrong turn and accidentally wound up at the Playboy Mansion. Can happen to anyone.

Come to think of it, I’ve also wronged Hugh Hefner, Larry Flynt, and Bob Guccioni over the years. Here I imputed a combination of prurient motives and crass financial intentions to their commercial labors. Until now, I was blind to the live possibility of their nobly humanitarian and socially redeeming intentions. After all, I can’t get inside their minds, now can I?

And I finally see that I’ve also been misjudging all the male consumers of soft porn and hard porn. Here I presumptuously inferred that the average man would buy that issue of Rolling Stone for salacious reasons. But Sarah Tennant has opened my eyes to the rich range of possibilities. A man might buy that issue because he found the color of the satin background simply irresistible. Or perhaps it was the cute teletubby in her arms. Or maybe he was curious about the make of telephone she was holding in her hands. Or perchance he was dying to read the wonderful articles inside.

After all, isn’t that the real reason that men used to read Playboy magazine? Not for the pictures. Not for the naked women. That was such a nuisance. No, they bought Playboy magazine for all those erudite, mind-expanding essays. The pictures were just a distraction.

So, now that I’ve had more time to think about it, I finally realize that there’s nothing wrong with pornography. There are so many perfectly innocent reasons why men might either make pornography or consume pornography. Who am I to judge? I don’t necessarily know their true motives. How could I? I don’t have access to what they’re thinking.

Same thing with pedophiles. For all these years I’ve been imputing the worse possible motives to child molesters. Shame on me! Time to bring in Sarah Tennant as counsel for the defense!

Thanks, Sarah, for bringing such moral clarity to the controversial issue of commercial erotica. Where would the church be without women of your moral discernment? Women like you and Misty Irons and Christie Hefner are truly making the world a better place.

All Means All, Except When It Doesn't

Arminians continue to make the kind of claims like we see in the meta here:


Tyler J said:


Refuting Arminianism is quite simple actually. After all, Arminians fail to distinguish between the revealed truth (what the Bible says) and the secret truth (disclosed only to those enlightened by the doctrines of grace). Whenever the Arminian claims that Jesus died for all (revealed truth), point out that it actually means "all of the elect" (secret truth).


And I stumbled across the typical emotional rant here:


Herman: Well, that song was quite obviously written by an Arminian

Calvin: Why do you say that?

Herman: Well, the song says that Jesus loves “all” the little children of the “world”. That is what Arminians believe, that Christ died for all and loves the world in such a way that He truly desires all to believe in Christ and be saved.

Calvin: Oh, well you have just misunderstood the context of the song.

Herman: What do you mean?

Calvin: Well, the context plainly demonstrates that “all” doesn’t mean “every child without exception.”

Herman: It doesn’t?


First off, even unregenerate unbelievers aren't so stupid as to think that all always mean all. Philosopher of language William Lycan, speaking on restricted quantification, writes that, "What logicians call the domains over which quantifiers range need not be universal, but are often particular cases roughly presupposed in context" (Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction, p.24).

And it's obvious that many people believe that you can say "whole world" and it not mean "every single person whoever." For example, leftists at the 1968 Democrat National Convention in Chicago chanted, "The whole world is watching." It is fairly obvious that if asked, they would say that, "Of course, they didn't mean 'every single person whoever.'"

But Arminians continue to say things like, "Calvinists deny the plain meaning of the Bible because they don't think all means all or whole world means whole world."

But, it is so obvious that even the Bible doesn't always mean all when it says all, or whole world when it say world.

Just look at a few verses:

1 Kings 10:24 The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.

Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.

Romans 16:19 Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.

Colossians 1:23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

All, world, everyone, every, etc., obviously doesn't have universal existential import, Obviously. Period.

If I need to make it plainly obvious, here's an example:

[1] The gospel has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.

[2] Sammy the 1st century South American sea slug is a creature under heaven.

[3] Therefore, the gospel was proclaimed to Sammy the South American sea slug.

So, it is clear that erudite atheists, pot smoking hippies, and even the Bible, consciously use universal language without giving them universal existential import.

I need to say it again. It is OBVIOUS that the Bible, in many, many, many places uses "all" and "whole world" and "everyone" while not meaning all and whole world and everyone. Again:

I John 5:19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

But John did not mean born again believers. People freed from the control and power of sinful dominion.

I said obvious:

Revelation 22:5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

[1] Jesus makes all things new.

[2] My dog's poop, my 15 month old son’s boogers, and Satan are things.

[3] Therefore, Jesus makes my dog's poop, my 15 month old son’s boogers, and Satan, new.

So, I am honestly perplexed by those Arminians who constantly and haughtily say things like, "Oh, you need to go read the Reformed theologians because they'll tell you that all doesn't always mean all, even when it says all."

If Arminians think the above verses really mean all, then all I can say (actually, I could say more; I have to make this qualification for our Arminian readers) is that they've made themselves irrelevant. They are disqualified from rational discussion.

If they agree with me about the above verses, then either they are hypocrites or they need to do some major PR work to show just what the heck they mean why they arrogantly act as if we Calvinists deny the plain reading of Scripture.

I'm sorry, but enough's enough.

An Underlying Reason Why Porn is Wrong

Since Steve's recent post on porn addiction has generated so many responses, I thought it might be useful to print the following excerpt from a novel I'm currently polishing up entitled The 13th Prime. Needless to say, since I'm still editing it, it's subject to much change and all that. However, the point of the passage should be clear without my having to enlighten anyone as to the plot or any of that :-)


“Let’s take an example. Pornography. Porn is something that even a lot of people in the church struggle with. I’ve heard statistics that say as many as two thirds of pastors surf internet porn at their home. That’s a lot of people, and you have to wonder why they do it.”

Rick shrugged, hoping his perceived indifference wouldn’t give away his discomfort at how close this topic was to his recent infidelity. “I don’t know. I guess there’s something about the sex appeal.”

“Certainly that’s the hook,” Killen agreed. “But that’s not really the point of pornography. You see, porn has nothing to do with nudity or even sex when you boil it all down.”

Rick burst out laughing. “How can you possibly say that?”

“Because these are married men who look at porn. They download pictures of naked women when they have a wife whom they have seen naked too. They watch videos of anonymous strangers having intercourse, and yet they have a wife whom they’ve slept with too. If it was just the nudity and just the sex they wouldn’t need the porn. There’s something else there.”

“I’ve never thought of that,” Rick said and he sat back. “But what would it be if there’s something else? Just a drive for variety?”

“Perhaps,” Killen said. “But I think it’s more than that. I think that the reason pornography is so addictive is because it is something that men know on an instinctual level is wrong.”

“But how—”

William raised his hand. “Just hear me out for a minute. People who are addicted to porn generally start with softcore porn. They look at beautiful women in skimpy clothes and then graduate to revealing more and more skin. Soon, though, that doesn’t satisfy them. They need something more, because it doesn’t…it doesn’t shock them anymore. And so they look at hardcore pornography, and for a while that gives them the thrill they need. But soon, that wears off and they begin to look for something else to fill that need, that desire inside.

“And so they turn to something else that will shock them more. They look at bondage pictures. They look at sadomasochistic videos. They watch bestiality. And soon that becomes common place too, and so they move on to more and more. They start to watch simulated rape videos. They start to download crime scene photos that show people hacked to pieces. They start to get copies of executions. They watch all these things and soon simply watching isn’t enough. They have to get into the action themselves.

“So they follow a woman home one night and they rape and beat her. But that’s not enough of a thrill so they molest her daughter too. And then they force her to call her husband from a payphone and explain in all the gory details what happened to them while he stands there by the car with a gun pressed to her head. And while they still talk on the phone, he kills your four-year-old daughter and then your wife.”

Rick’s face had gone ashen. “You’re talking about something that really happened.”

Killen stood still for a moment just staring at his wedding band. It was a story he had almost told Rachel Fitzsimmons when she asked why he still wore it, but he couldn’t. Now he knew he had no choice.

“I moved here to get away from all that and I’ve only found it again in another place. When that man murdered Caroline, he killed a part of me that could never come back. And what he did, that seed of evil is within every single one of us. And for the most part, we nurture it. We hide it in the secrets of our life and we try not to let the beast get too out of hand. We fear the consequences of it, you know.

“But when surveys find that most men would rape a woman if they knew they could get away with it, you have to wonder about how well contained that beast is. You have to wonder how long God’s going to hold you from falling into the pit of hell.”

Killen ran his hand over his eye. “You see,” he said, fighting back emotion. “There was no reason for that man to rape and kill my wife. He was married. He had three children of his own. And yet he did it anyway. He did it because he wanted to do something evil. He wanted to let the beast out of its cage, and he did it.

“My daughter was four years old, Rick. Four. No child has sex appeal. The only reason that man raped her was because he knew it would inflict pain. The only reason he forced Caroline to call me and tell me what he had done to her is because he knew it would inflict pain. He wasn’t looking for a sexual release, he was looking to commit evil, pure evil.”

Rick could say nothing so Killen continued. “I know that’s a shocking example. It happened twelve years, five months, and six days ago. My daughter, if she were alive today, would be your son’s age. But she never made it past her fourth birthday because a man committed an act for the sole sake of doing something wrong.

“But you know what, Rick? That man wasn’t so different from you or me. I’ve had a lot of years to reflect on it. For a time, I hated God and I wanted to do everything I could to destroy Him. I wanted to make Him hurt for what He allowed—no, for what He did to me. And I did things too. I did things because I knew God didn’t want me to do them.”

“You didn’t kill anyone, did you?” Rick asked.

“Of course not,” Killen responded. “But that seed was in me. If God hadn’t…I guess the only word I can use is restrain—if God hadn’t restrained me, I would have. I’m sure of it. Because doing those things, even when you know they’re wrong—maybe especially when you know they’re wrong—they provide their own sick pleasure, the pleasure that can only come from thumbing your nose at what’s proper. Have you ever wondered why so many movies depict the cute innocent girl as a slut? It’s because we want to tear down that beautiful, innocent creation simply because it would be evil to do so. Each of us, Rick, each of us has that inside of us.”

Rick shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “I’m not sure,” he said, but at the same time he knew it was true. Why had Alice seemed so appealing to him? Wasn’t it because she had that same look of naivety, that innocence? Wasn’t part of the thrill because he had already been married?

No, that couldn’t be the case. He couldn’t allow it to be the case. “No, I don’t buy it.”

“Rick, people can try to justify all number of things. Abuse, infidelity—”

“I said I don’t buy it!” Rick shouted. “Those things aren’t really evil! They can’t be.”

Killen sat back. “Even if we pretend that it isn’t intrinsically evil for a man to rape my wife and daughter—”

“I didn’t mean them,” Rick protested. “I meant th-the, you know, the infidelity and stuff.”

“Fine. Even if we pretend that it isn’t intrinsically evil for a man to have an affair with a woman, it cannot be denied that the man in most cases still thinks that it is wrong for him to engage in such behavior. Tell me, what does it say about a man who will do something that he thinks is wrong?

Rick swallowed. “I don’t know.”

“Would a good person do something he knew was wrong? It doesn’t matter whether it actually is wrong or not. If a man knows something is wrong, and he does it anyway, is that man a good man or an evil man?”

“I guess he’s an evil man.”

“And that’s why we are all evil,” Killen said. “Because we have all done things we knew were wrong. For no other reason that because they were wrong.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Dilemma For VanTillians?

Below is the beginning of an argument still in the test stage:


It's fair to say that a key component to traditional Van Tillian presuppositionalism (of which I still number myself, though in an attenuated way) is the universal knowledge of God thesis (UKT). UKT is taken (mainly) from Romans 1. It can be stated thus:

(UKT) All men have knowledge of God.

But UKT, as it stands, is vague. Almost all sides could agree with UKT as stated, though they would also disagree with each other as to what UKT means. Consulting some standard commentaries bear this out. For example, Barrett, Cranfield, Fitzmyer, and Zeisler are representative of those who claim Paul is only claiming that this knowledge is attainable by men, not that all men have it, or that it is "in" them. Others, like Moo, Schreiner, Witherington, and probably Murray (because I interpret him recognizing his Van Tillianism, though he could fit in the latter category), say this is a knowledge all men have. Others, like Barnett, Morris, and Wright, are vague (thanks to Steve Hays for rounding up all the relevant comments from these commentators for me). Involved here is that there is some textual ambiguity in the Greek. The knowledge could either be taken to be manifest to them or in them. Both sides have a pedigree and it’s not obvious which reading is correct. Add to this that they do not specify what they mean by 'knowledge,' and whether they consider it in its post-Gettier condition or not. Nor do they specify what they mean by "all." Given the fact that many are Reformed, it's not obvious that "all" means all for them! Other views that weigh in are those like the Westminster Confession of Faith. But the statement on natural revelation is vague. It's not clear they meant to argue for an ability or a possession of knowledge. And, if they left it open, it's not clear what is meant by 'knowledge.' The positions are diverse among the Reformers, and the Reformed Scholastics (as Muller's PRRD makes clear, also cf. Sudduth's forthcoming book on natural theology). Not only that, but when interpreting Paul in Romans 1, we should beware of mapping the precisions of modern epistemology onto Paul's language in Romans 1.

As for how some Van Tillians have understood Romans 1, the knowledge of God has been considered in more detail. For example, Greg Bahnsen tries to be more philosophically precise than the theologians. This knowledge is actual knowledge, not just a disposition to know (cf. Bahnsen, VT: R&A, p.222). This actual knowledge is the basis on which men will be held accountable before God (ibid, p.438, 181). It is a "foundational apologetic insight" (ibid, 179). This position is what is used to defeat the reductio that Van Til's position implied that unbelievers don't know anything (ibid, 181, 174 n.74, 208 n.100). Their knowledge of God accounts for the fact that they know a great many things about creation, often times more things than believers. This knowledge is understood as justified true belief (ibid, p.181). Bahnsen and other Van Tillians also view the "all" here as all. That would mean infants and the severely mentally handicapped. So, this knowledge is actual knowledge all men have. So we can add to UKT an Actualist component (as parsed out in the previous sentence), thus:

(UKTA) For any human being S, S has actual knowledge of God

For our purposes, we can bracket out infants and the severely mentally handicapped from UTKA. Though I believe it presents a thorny and strong problem to the UKTA thesis, the present concern isn't to hit actualists with this specific problem. Bracketing out the above groups, I propose a more precise definition is to follow David Reiter's position as expressed in his Faith & Philosophy article on the subject at hand, (Reiter, Calvin's "Sense of Divinity" And Externalist Knowledge of God (F&P, 15, #3, 1998).

I use the UKTA acronym, though it is absent from Reiter's terminology. He used SD, as in, "sensus divinitatis." In discussing Calvin's UKTA Reiter pauses to take notice of an objection to his initial parsing of UKTA:

[1] For any human being S, S knows that God exists.

The objection is that perhaps Calvin only means "mature or adult humans."

Reiter notes Calvin's claim that the sensus divinitatis "is not a doctrine that must first be learned in school, but one of which each of us masters from his mother's womb and which nature itself permits no one to forget, although many strive with every nerve to that end."

But Reiter finds it appropriate, "nevertheless", to qualify [1] for the following reasons:

i) Even if Calvin means to assert a knowledge of God at birth or some stage prior, it doesn't follow that he means to assert that human beings possess this knowledge earlier.

ii) Apropos (i), consider a conceptus C. If C is a human, and Reiter believes it is, then [1] implies that C possess propositional knowledge.

iii) Apropos (ii), we do not know that a human conceptus even has the capacity to have propositional knowledge. It can’t see, why think it knows?

So (i) --> (iii) make it reasonable for Reiter to amend [1]:

[1*] For any sane human being, if S has any propositional knowledge at time t, then S knows at t that God exist.

If we let the term 'cognizer' mean 'human being who has some propositional knowledge,' then [1*] is equivalent to the claim that all cognizers know that God exists. And so this allows that some humans, perhaps due to being at an early stage of development, are not yet cognizers.

Reiter adds one more qualification to UKTA to account for the mentally damaged.

[UKTA*] For any sane human being (cognizer) S, if S has propositional knowledge at t, then S knows at t that God exists.

So, for our purposes, UKTA* is the actualist position we'll attribute to Van Tillians. It allows infants and mentally handicapped to have this knowledge if they are sane cognizers. But if one wants to quibble about that, it also can be read as disqualifying them. It allows us to bracket off the question about whether we can justifiably claim that infants and the like have actual knowledge, cashed out in post-Gettier analysis, that God exists. It is also not the purpose here to look at views of the UKT that understand the term 'knowledge' to mean something other than justified or warranted true belief. These other views are fully compatible with natural theology, and are not sufficient for a robust Van Tillianism. Bahnsen, Frame, Oliphant, and Van Til all take the knowledge unbelievers have to either be justified true belief, or warranted true belief (Oliphint is representative of the latter locution).

The Dilemma

Having adequately set up the position I'm bringing out the worry against, I'll now set forth the dilemma:

[1] The two positions to take on justification or warrant are, broadly, either internalist or externalist.

[2] If one is an internalist about justification or warrant, then one sets the bar of knowledge too high such that not all men could have knowledge of God because not all men have access to the adequacy of the justifying grounds of the belief under question.

[3] If one is an externalist about justification or warrant, then the "no conscious believed defeater" constraint means that not all men have knowledge of God because some believe that belief in God is defeated for them, and one cannot know what they believe to be defeated.

[4] Therefore, either one sets the bar of knowledge too high such that all men do not know that God exists, or the no conscious believed defeater constraint is such that all men do not know that God exists.

[5] Therefore, not all men know that God exist.

If [5] is true, then that presents a major problem for Van Tillians who used the muscle behind UKTA* to remove a lot of objections, and move their own position. A couple immediate problems are that the basis for all men’s guilt is now removed, and the rejoinder to the reductio about some unbelievers knowing nothing is back in play. Obviously other problems lurk in the shadows.

Possible Responses

1. I think [2] is fairly obvious, as it is even admitted by internalists. I also do not see them overcoming Bergmann's worries for internalism. Therefore, [3] is the premise to attack. Namely, the no conscious believed defeater (NCBD) constraint.

2. NCBD has strong intuitive appeal. Michael Sudduth spells out the NCBD condition this way in his IEP entry on epistemic defeaters:

On Bergmann’s view, a person S has a defeater for his belief that p just if he consciously takes his belief that p to be defeated, and a person S takes his belief that p to be defeated just if S takes the belief that p to be epistemically inappropriate. For the latter, S must simply take himself to have good reasons for denying p or good reasons for doubting that the grounds of his belief that p are trustworthy, truth-indicative, or reliable. It isn’t necessary that the person have what are actually good reasons for the negative epistemic evaluation of his beliefs. It is only necessary (and sufficient) that the person take himself to have such reasons, and Bergmann places no restriction on what kinds of considerations might play this role for the subject. So on Bergmann’s view the no mental state defeater condition (as requirement for knowledge) is really a no believed defeater condition (Bergmann, 2006, p. 163). (emphasis original)
Indeed, some may say that it is irrational to reject belief in God. And so it is. The evidence is plain and obvious. It would be irrational to deny the nose on your face, and so the same with God. Even more so. Or, so sez me. But the NCBD constraint doesn't fail if it is an irrational belief doing the defeating. As Sudduth says, "My belief that I have hands is unjustified if I believe (however irrationally) that I’m a brain in a vat, even if it’s more reasonable as a policy of belief revision to give up the belief that is less rational or less warranted" (ibid).

One possible rejoinder to the NCBD constraint is to claim that one doesn't really believe his defeater, or he knows it is false, based on self-deception. The former seems problematic as even Bahnsen allowed for real belief (but, some like Audi, take it that one only avows the alleged defeater; he only says he believes it) in the non-existence of God. The latter is more promising. How could a belief that you know is false defeat a belief that you know is true? But, there are multiple models of self-deception. It's not clear which one, if any, is correct (cf. Perspectives on Self-Deception, eds. McLaughlin and Rorty, California, 1988). Also, this view is dependant upon a UKTA* reading of Romans 1, it's not clear that that reading is correct or that this response doesn't beg the question against one's interlocutors. Moreover, the self-deception arguments are highly dependent on external causal stories (e.g., motivations), but the NCBD objection is highly subjective. All that matters is that one believe that p is defeated for him. The self-deception arguments seems to only be relevant if we move away from the more subjective accounts, then. But this seems hard to do (cf. Bergmann, Sudduth).

3. The last argument is that it seems hard to see how NCBD holds in cases like this:

(*) S believes that he doesn't exist because S is convinced by (the late) Unger's arguments, therefore S doesn't know that S exists.

It seems hard to see how (*) could be true. How could we fail to know a thing like that? But (*) seems disanalogous to cases like belief in God. It's not clear that belief in God is epistemically certain like belief in your existence is. What would the argument that it is look like? (Strong modal) TAG? But TAG, as I understand it, is something like the Osama Bin Laden of apologetic arguments. It's been bombarded with rockets and is hiding out in the caves, licking its wounds.


You will note that this is only a dilemma for VanTillians by subimplication. Really, it is a dilemma for any who hold to a UKTA* thesis, whether classical, evidential, cumulative case, or any variety of presuppositionalism. Given the high level of importance traditional Van Tillians have placed on a UKTA* reading of Romans 1, though, if the above argument is cogent (the form is valid and the premises appear to be true) then traditional Van Tillianism seems to have some worries that affect what these Van Tillians have claimed is a key component to the viability of their project. It may need some serious remodeling to keep the ship afloat, then. At least that's the tentative conclusion of this exploratory post. The good news is that I don’t think UKTA* is essential for an “attenuated” Van Tillianism. Many key, and important, insights remain in tact.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Some thoughts on the resurrection and the life.

The Resurrection and the Life

It's amazing what a funeral and some hours on a plane will lead to.

Some Interviews With J.P. Holding

J.P. Holding was recently interviewed by Craig Johnson on a couple of apologetic issues. You can watch the interviews here. The first interview is about alleged Christian borrowing from paganism. The second is about Bill Maher's Religulous.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Satan Claus"

For the record, I don’t have any basic problems with Christmas or various customs associated with Christmas. That said, it is striking to see the confluence between literary traditions of Satan and literary traditions of Santa Claus:

“The Devil is associated with certain places and certain times of day. His direction is north, the domain of darkness and penal cold. Lapland is a favorite place of his, and there he drives reindeer,” J. Burton, Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages (Cornell 1986), 69.

“The connections between the Devil and Santa Claus (Sinter Claes, Saint Nicholas) are pronounced. In addition to his association with the north and reindeer, the Devil can wear red fur; he is covered with soot and goes down chimneys in the guise of Black Jack or the Black Man; he carries a large sack into which he pops sins or sinners (including naughty children); he carries a stick or cane to thrash the guilty (the origin of the candy cane); he flies through the air with the help of animals; food and wine are left out for him as a bribe. The Devil’s nickname (!) of Old Nick derives directly from St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was often associated with fertility cults, hence with fruits, nuts, and fruitcake, which are characteristic of his gifts,” ibid. 71n17.

I suppose the moral of the story is that, if you’ve been naughty rather than nice, you should keep your chimney damper firmly shut on Christmas Eve.

Bid Time Return


“I’d give anything to do it over again,” Adrian Leverkuhn said to himself, as he cleared out his desk.

At 50, Leverkuhn had achieved all his major goals in life. Married his high school sweetheart. Fathered two sons. Become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

And yet...

Having put career ahead of family, he now had neither. His wife divorced him 16 years ago, tired of being in a marriage with an absentee, workaholic husband. And she took the kids with her in a bitter custody fight. His grown sons were alienated from their absentee, workaholic father.

And due to a stagnant profit margin, the board just fired him a few hours ago.

Mind you, he would be leaving with a very nice severance package, but that wasn’t the point. Not having to work 18 hour days 6 or 7 days a week suddenly reminded him of what an empty shell his life had been.

What was it all for, really? Competition for its own sake. Trying to impress his long-dead father.

Seeing his own aging reflection in the glass of whisky reminded him of all the years gone by. His wasted, irrevocable youth.

“I’d give anything...” he repeated to himself when he was startled by a flash of light and puff of smoke. Out of the smoke stepped a gentleman sporting a cape and a Vandyke.

“Well I’ll be damned!” Adrian exclaimed, under his breath.

“At your service,” said the gentleman, walking towards him, with a slight limp.

“What are you doing here?” said Adrian.

“I have a business proposition,” said the gentleman.

“What’s that?” said Adrian.

“You said you’d give anything to live your life all over again. I can arrange that,” he answered.

“What are your terms?” Adrian asked.

“Oh, the usual. But it’s not as if you’ve got anything to lose. Your life is in shambles, and you were hardly the pious type. So why not make it official?”


Adrian awoke the next morning, and rushed to the bathroom mirror. He was expecting to be young again. But instead seeing a teenager in the mirror, it was the same 50-year-old face, the same 50 year-old-body.

And, come to think of it, it was the same bedroom he’d slept in last week, last month, last year. Here he was hoping to wake up in his old bedroom. The one he had as a kid.

But nothing had changed. Not that he could see.

Adrian was furious. He’d been taken! Double-crossed!

He began shouting. Demanding that the gentleman in the cape and the Vandyke show himself.

Suddenly there was a flash of light and puff of smoke. This time a black mastiff appeared.

“You wanted to see me?” said the dog.

“You lied to me!” Adrian screamed, at the top of his lungs.

“Well, that wouldn’t be out of character,” said the dog.

“I should have known better than to trust you,” Adrian continued. “After all, you are Evil Incarnate.”

“No,” said the dog. “That would be the Antichrist. I’m Evil Disincarnate!”

“What does it matter, for heaven’s sake!” said Adrian.

“Watch your language!” the dog said sternly. “Besides, I always keep my word. You’ll see. Just be patient.”

And with that the black mastiff disappeared in a flash of light and puff of smoke.


Adrian went to the front door to fetch the morning paper. He didn’t notice the date until he began reading the news. It was fairly familiar, like he’d seen it all before. He glanced up at the date.

“That’s odd,” he said to himself. “That’s the day before I was fired.”

Adrian dressed for work, with a heavy sense of deja vu.

After a week of this, the pattern was unmistakable. He was, indeed, doing it all over again. The gentleman was true to his word. But with a catch.

Adrian just assumed that he would be sent back into the past, so that he could start over again. Instead, Adrian was regressing in time a day at a time. Moving backward rather than forward.

“I should have known better than to take anything for granted when dealing with the Father of Lies! Now I’m sorry I didn’t specify my intentions in the contract. Too late!”

Still, although it wasn’t what he was hoping for, it was not a total loss. He had some fond memories. It would be pleasant to relive the good old days.

And, of course, there’s so much he’d forgotten over the years. Much of that was routine. Boring. Forgotten because forgettable.

But there was also some buried treasure in the past. Things you take for granted when you’re young. When you have no sense of lost opportunities. Little, unrepeatable things that are precious in hindsight.


But living life backwards proved to be a frustrating experience. He wanted to go back in time so that he could change his future. And, for all he knew, he was changing his future. Maybe changing it for the better.

But he never got to experience tomorrow. He could only experience one day at a time. And when that day was over, he’d regress to the day before yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.

So even if he tried to do something different than he remembered having done before, and even if he was having an affect on tomorrow by what he did today, he could never know it or enjoy it.

Then he was seized by another thought. Since he was emerging into the present from the day after, rather than the day before, maybe “today” wasn’t the same day. If he did something today to change tomorrow, and he came from tomorrow, then the “tomorrow” he came from wasn’t the same tomorrow anymore—in which case “today” wasn’t the same today anymore. How many “todays” had he been living?

Living one day at a time, before he shifted back to the day before yesterday, was rather confining—as he was soon to learn.

You could only go as far as you could drive in one day. For as soon as the new day began, you were back where you started the day before yesterday.

Taking a plane was impractical. For one thing, you couldn’t buy your tickets in advance. Or book reservations. Or plan ahead. By the time you got to the airport, and waited in line, and flown to your destination, there was no time left over to enjoy yourself.

You couldn’t make a new girlfriend, for any girl you befriended today would be a stranger the day before. You couldn’t buy a dog. It wouldn’t be your dog the “next” day, since the “next” day would be the day before you bought the dog.

You could only relate to old friends. Of course, they had their own plans. Unlike you, they could plan ahead. And sometimes their plans didn’t include you. Sometimes you could make them change their plans, to spend a few hours, or maybe a whole day, in your company. But sometimes they couldn’t fit you into their schedule.

Adrian was sorry that he never kept a diary. If he had a diary, it would be easier for him to maximize his time. He could consult his diary, see what he had done that day, then make better use of his time.

But all he had to gone by was his patchy recollection of the past. Reliving a day was a rather unnerving experience. One day was often much like another. So it was hard to remember what had happened. He half-remembered what was going to happen.

In some ways it would have been easier to either remember everything or remember nothing. But to remember some things that were about to happen, but not others, felt like moving in and out of yourself. Watching yourself over your shoulder, when you remembered what you were going to do next. “I did this, then I did that, then I did...”

And yet, remembering what you did interfered with what you did. You no longer just did it. Instead, you thought about having done it before you did it. So you ended up doing things a little differently. A note of hesitation. You lagged behind yourself.

And, of course, you weren’t always sure if you remembered correctly. “Am I repeating myself? Is this what I did before? Or am I confusing this something similar I did another time?”

It was a very schizophrenic experience. Like living two lives in tandem. Not quite separate, but not quite parallel. With memory and anticipation slightly out of sync. When memory is anticipation, and vice versa, you being to lose your bearings.

Speaking of anticipation, his fond memories were not as fond when he went back in time. He’d been looking forward to his past. But looking backward wasn’t the same thing as looking forward, even if you were reliving the past.

Living through them the first time was a discovery. He didn’t know what to expect. When it would begin. When it would end. That was a large part of what made it a pleasant experience. A pleasant surprise. A novel experience.

But now there was no suspense. He knew what was going to happen. He knew how long it would last. Like watching a clock the whole time. Knowing it would end. Knowing when it would end.

As time regressed, technology regressed. Adrian had forgotten how technology speeded up the pace of life.

And there was a time when Adrian would have savored the slower pace of life. But time was the one thing in short supply. He had to pack everything into a single day before today became the day before yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.

Life was continuous, but it felt discontinuous. Nothing that happened to you today had any effect on yesterday. In a sense, each day became a self-contained lifetime.


It was nice to leave that middle-aged body behind. To feel like 30 again. Then 25. Then 20.

Being in junior high and high school again had a certain charm. Every normal boy felt nostalgic about his coming-of-age. For three years, every day was a high school reunion for Adrian—in his upside down, hourglass existence.

At least when he attended high school. Going back in time, he also found it incredibly boring to sit in class. To hear the same old geography lesson. The same old geometry lesson.

When he originally went to school, he was an average student. Now he was brilliant, not because he was any smarter, but because he was a 50 year old inside the body of a 16 year old. Not to mention a 50 year old from the future.

But what good did it do him? He could ace every test, but that was just today’s achievement. Yesterday was another day. And yesterday was just around the corner. The way forward was right behind him.

So he played hooky a lot. Cut class. Went off campus to kill time or fool around. But there was only so much he could do. He was underage. A minor. Couldn’t do grow-up stuff. Just kid’s stuff.

Nothing he did made any difference. At least not to him. If he wanted to, he could murder someone with impunity. Murder him in broad daylight. Surround by witnesses. There would be no consequences, since any consequences lay in the future. A day away. A year away.

It might make a difference to the murder victim, but not to Adrian.

And it was irritating to live at home—under your parents’ roof. To be a grown man inside a teenage body, being told what to do by your mother and father.

So he ran away from home. Everyday. And every morning he woke up at home.


Kindergarten wasn’t his idea of a good time. Crayons. Plastic dinosaurs. Building blocks. The alphabet. A rocking house. Drooling playmates.

Not how a 50 year old wants to spend the day.

And he couldn’t run away from home anymore. He’d get a spanking.

Do you know how humiliating it is for grown man on the inside to be paddled on the outside by his mom?


Lying in a crib wasn’t his idea of a good time. Couldn’t his mom at least mix a little whisky into the baby formula?

He could do without the stuffed animals. Or baby rattles. Or nursery wallpaper. It didn’t occur to his mom that little Adrian might prefer a pin-up.

And he could really do without the Huggies. He knew perfectly well how to go to the bathroom all by himself. But, of course, his parents just assumed he was a normal, ordinary baby.


If you thought a baby crib was restrictive, imagine how he felt floating in amniotic solution. It was dark. Nothing to see. He might as well have been blind. He could hear a heartbeat nearby.

Like solitary confinement in a windowless room. Or more like being strapped to a table.


Last thing he remembered was swimming or wriggling upstream in some sort of warm fluid, in a dark space—like a canal—as he headed towards...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Arminianism in Diapers

At Arminianism Today the question of the eternal state of infants was pondered. I'll briefly correct the understanding of the "standard Calvinist answer," and then offer some brief critical remarks of the two Arminian positions offered.

1. "However, the standard Calvinist answer is that Jesus died only for the elect so therefore not all babies born are the elect so some do not go to heaven when they die."

The "standard Calvinist answer" is non-committal. It is true that the standard answer is that Jesus died only for the elect. It would follow from this that the standard Calvinist view would be that Jesus died only for those infants who die in infancy that are elect. It is a qualitative stance, period. What is not entailed, or inferred by, this claim is the quantitative position on how many infants who die in infancy are elect. The "standard answer" is consistent with 1 or 1,000,000 (or however many infants die in infancy). You will find some Calvinists who believe that all infants that die in infancy are elect, and some who believe that not all are. Both views are entirely consistent with the standard Calvinist answer. It is dishonest to pretend that there are disparate views by Calvinists on this matter as concerns quality. Those who believe that all infants who die in infancy are elect are not holding to the Arminian position, as the author falsely claims, for they hold that those infants were elected. Indeed, there is only one Calvinist answer - elect infants that die go to heaven.

2. "The standard Arminian answer is that all children go to heaven by virtue of the cross of Christ and the mercy of God given in Christ. Arminians further appeal to the unlimited atonement of Jesus Christ as basis for infants being in God's presence. While Calvinist insist that Jesus died for only the elect, Arminians insist that the atonement was for all. What keeps sinful man from enjoying this salvation from sin and its power? Unbelief, and since babies can not either believe or have unbelief, they simply can not be condemned."

It appears that this view states that Jesus died for all and secured their salvation. Every single person comes into this world saved, then it is "up to them" whether they "lose" this salvation by rejecting Jesus' death for them. Thus no person is born condemned. Not born sinners in need of a savior. Later, if they don't believe, then they lose this salvation. Then, later, if they believe again, they get it back again.

So, even the native in the jungle is born saved. He never hears of Jesus, why does he go to hell, then? The answer is given:

2. a. "Romans 1:18-32 clearly shows that God has revealed Himself to all men through both creation and their conscience but men reject the truth for lies. But babies are not even capable of doing so neither are those who are severely handicapped. Where would the justice of God be in condemning children who have yet the mental ability to even know they are alive let alone sinful?"

But, it is one of the most agreed upon truths of the Christian faith that natural revelation does not reveal salvific truths. It reveals, simply, that God exists and that we are guilty. So the native in the jungle is born saved, and doesn't believe because he has never heard of Jesus death on the cross for him. How can he be held responsible for not believing in a Jesus he never heard about?

At any rate, this Arminian view posits that we are born saved and that we can lose this salvation. Needless to say, the idea that all men whoever are born saved is completely foreign from Scripture. In fact, the opposite seems the case. For example, Ephesians 2 doesn't claim that "once we were alive, then dead in sins, then alive again." It doesn't say that we were all first children of grace, then children of wrath, then children of grace again."

3. However, is it possible that infants are born not guilty for Adam's sin but they are born "saved" standing in original grace given to Adam and restored through Christ, the second Adam? While Adam's sin most certainly brought physical death (and thus why some infants die), does this also mean that Adam also brought spiritual death to infants as well? In fact, if Romans 5:12 establishes the reality of total depravity in all then Romans 5:15 must also signal that all now have original grace in all as well. Romans 5:14 seems to hint at infants when it says, "Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come" (NASB).

i) But position two also logically implies that all are born saved. It does so because if any person whoever dies in infancy, then they go to heaven because Christ died for them, then this means that all men whoever are born saved. So it's hard to see how this position is different that point two.

ii) I am unclear as to how Romans 5:14 hints at supporting this Arminian interpretation? The passage doesn't say that that the "those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam," did not sin at all. Indeed, it implies the opposite, or so it seems. Moo claims that those who did not sin "after" is an important Pauline category meaning "copy" or "likeness" in a "sense which is not identical to, but resembles in some important way, that with which it is concerned" (333, n.84).

iii) Paul is probably talking about people who lived between Adam and Moses, they didn't have special revelation from God in the form of commands (so Schreiner, p.279).

iv) Paul is establishing more than physical death, as v. 16 shows (condemnation, legal categories).

v) If all infants are not spiritually dead, then they are spiritually alive. So, we are spiritually alive, then dead, then alive.

vi) If infants are born in original grace, how is this not Pelagian?

vii) If they are not born guilty, why did Christ have to die for them? He didn't. Hence, since Jesus never died for the millions of babies that die in infancy, then this is millions of people never died for, and so it looks like "all" doesn't mean "all."

Friday, December 26, 2008

The prayer of faith

Craig Blomberg writes about "the prayer of faith" (James 5:13-18).

Fake, but accurate

Darrell Bock looks at the recent Newsweek piece on gay marriage in three posts: here (1); here (2); and here (3).

Lo, how a rose e'er blooming

Frederica von Stade sings this classic German Christmas carol:

Lo, how a rose e'er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung.
Of Jesse's lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow'ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When halfspent was the night.

Isaiah 'twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind,
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind;
To show God's love aright,
She bore to us a Savior,
When halfspent was the night.

O Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispel with glorious splendour
The darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God,
From Sin and death now save us,
And share our every load.

By their fruits shall you know them

A resource for survivors of abuse in the orthodox churches.

The Sanctitron®

In answer to a question I received:

Christian teachers are always going on about how to defeat lust it's not going to happen through sheer willpower, but it'll have to be through the power of the Holy Spirit. But this is supremely confusing for everyone I've talked to on the subject. What exactly does it look like to be relying on the Spirit rather than on our own power? What does the one relying on the Spirit look like compared to the one attempting to defeat sin on his own power? Both would need to physically and actively do things to avoid and defeat sin -- so it is simply a matter of cognitive awareness of either that makes the difference? That is, if I am cognitively understanding my need to defeat sin as something I have to do with my power or if I am cognitively understanding that God is doing the work through me -- is that what makes the difference?

I doubt most Christian preachers and teachers who talk this way really know what they mean by it. I doubt they’ve thought it through.

1.In many cases, I suspect they say it because it’s a nice, pious sounding thing to say. But they make it seem as if the difference between someone who relies on the Holy Spirit and someone who doesn’t is that as long as we say we rely on the Holy Spirit, then we rely on the Holy Spirit. Telling ourselves or reminding ourselves that we rely on the Holy Spirit is what makes us rely on the Holy Spirit.

But from a theological perspective, if you’re a real Christian, then the Holy Spirit is already at work in your life. It’s not a light switch that you have to consciously turn back on every morning when you get out of bed.

Even if you’re a backslider, the Holy Spirit is still active in your life—to effect a spiritual restoration.

2.In other cases, it may involve a kind of quietism. I don’t do anything; the Holy Spirit does it for me. Indeed, if I try to do it myself, then I’m getting in the way of the Holy Spirit.

Again, though, this fails to appreciate how God is at work in our actions. It’s not as though I must be in abeyance for God to be active, or God must be in abeyance for me to be active. God can be active in my activities

3.Now lots of folks are deeply involved in a ritualistic form of works-righteousness. If you follow a set of spiritual exercises, like the Rosary or the Rule of St. Benedict, then that will make you holy.

There is something fundamentally autosoteric about that approach. It treats salvation or sanctification as a technique. Become a spiritual technician. Use the right words in the right order. Perform certain actions in a certain sequence.

Not surprisingly, this is a pan-religious phenomenon that transcends any particular religion. Catholic monks and Buddhist monks use different words and actions, but the underlying technology is the same. The same mechanistic and manipulative approach to sanctity or piety. Feed your vices into the Sanctitron® and watch them come out virtues.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christ Jesus Came Into The World To Save Sinners

"The whole of Christ’s life was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha, where he was crucified, even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for to his tenderness then the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as the cross at last. His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and the morning of one and the same day. From the crèche to the cross is an inseparable line. Christmas only points forward to Good Friday and Easter. It can have no meaning apart from that, where the Son of God displayed his glory by his death." (John Donne, cited in Nancy Guthrie, ed., Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008], pp. 20-21)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christ & Culture Revisted Review: Reviewd

Jason Stellman complained that I picked on a "joke" post of his and not his more substantive material. I take it that he places his review of D.A. Carson's recent book Christ & Culture in the latter category.

Stellman’s review1 of Carson’s book2 begins with the obligatory summary of the book’s structure, a brief (very brief!) tour of part of the ground covered in the book, the usual, obligatory lauding of the author on some points (e.g., “I wholeheartedly agree with Carson here,” or “Carson is right to point out,” or “I applaud” etc.,), and the obligatory “critique.” There’s not too much to comment on the overview aspects of the review (though I could quibble with some things even here), so I’ll just look at Stellman’s “obligatory critique” of Carson.

Stellman hits on one of Carson’s comments about Stellman’s old WSCAL prof, Darryl Hart. Carson deems approaches to “Christ and culture” like those of Hart, “minimalist.” Stellman sums up Carson and then offers his critique. I’ll quote him at length to provide all the necessary context and to ensure proper representation of Stellman’s critique:

Carson argues that if all these authors were doing were offering a warning against utopianism, then all would be well. But such pessimism "fail[s] to see the temporally good things we can do to improve and even transform social structures" (217-18, emphasis original). Listing examples such as abolishing slavery, curing disease, and reducing sex traffic, Carson maintains that "in these and countless other ways cultural change is possible. More importantly, doing good to the part of our responsibility as God's redeemed people in this time of tension between the 'already' and the 'not yet.'"

While I would concur that "it is unwise to speak of 'redeeming culture'" (217), I find Carson's antidote to minimalism too, well, maximalist. The assumption seems to be that the "we" who desire to accomplish such obviously welcome goals as ending slavery and curing disease must be "we Christians." What Carson overlooks is the fact that history is filled with examples of sinners who disliked cancer, as well as with saints who defended slavery. In other words, one does not need to affirm Chalcedonian Christology in order to work toward the curing of disease, nor have all who affirmed that Christology wanted slavery to end. This idea-that believers have a monopoly on morality, that cultural clean-up is a kingdom responsibility, and that Scripture furnishes the saints with a clear idea of what godly society would look like-seems to ignore both the fact that the Bible's authority is limited to those loci it actually addresses clearly and that all people share the imago Dei, as well a common basis for morality provided by the works of God's law written on our hearts. In a word, pagans are often more horizontally good and the pious horizontally bad than we usually care to admit.
It is my opinion that Stellman just falls back on the all-too-common two kingdom caricaturing of their opponents, hits us with some two kingdom buzzwords, attacks non-existent positions (or, if they’re existent, they’re held by ignorant-but-well-meaning Christians), and generally fumbles the book review football. Here’s how:

1. I’m unsure it’s proper to say Carson is offering an “antidote” to minimalism. As anyone who has read the book will be aware, Carson leaves a lot of room open for relationships between Christ and culture. As Carson repeatedly makes clear, some relationships may work in some kinds of cultures while those same ones will not work in other cultures. Carson would not recommend any one response to culture in any and all cultures.

2. Apropos (1), even Stellman recognizes that Carson isn’t settling on any solid “antidotes” or “approaches” to Christ and culture. Says Stellman, “Still, I wish that, when all was said and done, he had landed upon more terra firma rather than leaving the reader with his feet planted in midair.”

3. The “we” is the same “we” Hart mentions. The question is about how Christians should act in various cultural settings. I find nothing objectionable about this. It’s the same “we” sophisticated two kingdom advocate David VanDrunen talks about. So VanDrunen:

We know that a nation with increasing numbers of cocaine-addicts, abortions, thefts, child-abuse cases, illiterates, etc., etc., will not retain desirable levels of peace and prosperity for long. Therefore we do have an obligation to do things which will, if not eliminate such things, at least substantially reduce their rate of occurrence. The peace and prosperity of our society, not to mention our personal peace and prosperity, depend on it. And the political sphere certainly is one of the institutions of culture which will make its indelible stamp on the peace and prosperity of the society. Christians therefore should have an interest in the political process when their form of government allows it, as ours does. To turn our backs on politics would mean to turn our backs in part to the command of God to seek the peace and prosperity of our nation. We may debate amongst ourselves which political positions to promote and how much emphasis should be given to the political process, but the interest and involvement in politics which we see among the "religious right" is in itself a good thing. (source, emphasis mine)
4. Stellman then takes us on an epic adventure of non sequiturs.

a) Nowhere does Carson even remotely imply that it is “only we” who engage in some structure transforming activities.

b) In fact, he implies the contrary. As anyone who’s read the book knows, Carson engages in some lengthy and detailed analysis of just what “culture” means. Carson’s working definition of culture is, following Geertz. “an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions, expressed in symbolic form by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about life and attitudes towards life” (Carson, 85). Carson claims, repeatedly, that there will be more or less agreement between cultures at various times and places, given various phenomena. So, “the locus of a particular culture is variable and may overlap with other cultures…” (ibid). At various places Carson “underscore[s] the fact that [various cultures] may embrace many shared cultural values” (Carson, 119). And again, “… we manage to form ‘co-belligerencies’ on some strategic issues” (Carson, 196).

c) Stellman claims that Carson “overlooks” the fact that some non-Christians have done good while some “Christians” have had better moments. But Carson says the opposite in many places. One example might be: “Of course, in the richness of God’s common grace, there are governors who genuinely have a servant’s heart, governors who are not unduly corrupted by power. Sadly, there are ecclesiastical leaders who take their cue as to what leadership is from the surrounding world, who sell their souls for pomp, flattery, and lust for ever-increasing manipulative control” (Carson, 168). And one of Carson’s main points, “the non-negotiables” of biblical theology, directly contradict this claim. Carson admits in many places that the biblical theological category of the fall entails that Christians manage to distort even the best things (e.g., p.74, also cf. pp. 45-49).

d) So, to claim that Carson even remotely implies that one needs to “affirm Chalcedonian Christology in order to” do “horizontal goods” is so far from a charitable reading of Carson that only the desire to get off one’s “talking points” can account for this massively distorted missive. Indeed, Stellmen speaks of the idea “that believers have a monopoly on morality,” yet doesn’t tell us who’s idea this is. Surely he’s not claiming that Carson believes this! But then who?

“Before entering the discussion about moral reality, I must make a couple things quite clear. First, I am not discussing the idea that one must believe in God in order to be a moral person. (Ganssle, Thinking About God, p.86).

"The question here is not: 'Must we believe in God in order to live moral lives?' I am not claiming that we must" (Craig, God?: A Debate between a Christian and an Atheist, p.18).

“In fact, I claimed that there is a sense in which the atheist most certainly can be moral (the minimalist sense agreed to by both sides). In fact, in this sense, many atheists may be more moral than Christians.” (Paul Manata! See here)

These are just some quotes on hand at the moment. I have seen theists of the most “evangelical, “right wing” variety, claim that atheists can be just as moral, if not more so, than Christians (only in the sense of civic goodness). Now, it is true that I once heard an old grandma claim that all non-Christians were moral monsters. Is that who Stellman is attacking?

e) Stellman gives the impression that Carson is claiming that “Scripture furnishes the saints with a clear idea of what godly society would look like.” But Carson doesn’t give that impression, not at all. “Initially more impressive is the insistence by some writers that Romans 13 does not so much tell believers how to govern well as how to be governed. In the flow of Paul’s argument, that insight is fundamentally right" ( Carson, 161, emphasis mine).

f) Apropos (e), if Stellman wishes to scale back his claim and say that Carson gives the impression that Scripture tells us some things about what a godly society looks like, clear or unclear, then he would be correct. So Carson again, “Nevertheless, in making his argument, Paul tells us at least a little of what he thinks good government looks like” (ibid, emphasis mine). But if Stellman moves the goal post to this weaker claim, or says that’s what he originally intended, he doesn’t let the reader know that Carson defends this claim in a few places, most directly on pages 161-173.

g) Stellman then makes the ridiculous claim that Carson “seems to ignore both the fact that the Bible's authority is limited to those loci it actually addresses clearly and that all people share the imago Dei, as well a common basis for morality provided by the works of God's law written on our hearts.” I have a few points in response:

i) Of course a scholar of Carson’s stature doesn’t ignore the imago dei or the law written on the heart. So, again (!), Carson: “…all human beings have been made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26), … and this image is “the dignity of human beings” (Carson, p.57, 136, also see pp. 45-47, 49, 56-58, 87, 120, 136, 138, 193, 207). Of course Carson doesn’t discuss what “grounds” ethical norms, nor does he need to! For Christ & Culture isn’t a book on metaethics.

ii) It is also nothing but stacking the deck in your favor when you demand that people can only appeal to what the Bible “clearly” addresses. Is that “clearly addressed” in the Bible? And, often what is “clearly addressed” is in the eye of the beholder.

iii) The Bible’s authority pertains to what the confession says: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (WCF 1.6). Is Stellman meaning to say that we should keep the insights of Scripture out of our ethical decision making processes? If so, that is a very radical position. Even staunch two kingdom advocate David VanDrunen wouldn’t say that. So VanDrunen,

Making Bioethics Decisions
Before turning to a specific bioethics issue, it is helpful first to consider some general guidelines. When confronting difficult bioethics decisions, Christians initially must strive to identify relevant theological truths. Though Scripture does not speak specifically about contemporary bioethics, its teaching does have important implications for it. (source)
One of VanDrunen’s relevant theological truths is that the Bible teaches some form of anthropological dualism. But is this clear? I certainly think so, but your Christian constitutionalist will not agree (so Corcoran, Merricks, etc). Moreover, all the best scientists agree that “we have no more need” to posit a soul. That’s an outdated picture of the world. And men like Stellman are well-known for their attacks on “fundies” who hold to an “out dated” young earth creationism. Yet they suddenly get all backwoods and toothless when it comes to a “soul.”

5. For these reasons, I find Stellman’s review underwhelming. I find it as symptomatic of more fundamental problems. For example, expending all your energies on ignorant-but-well-meaning Christians will have a negative effect when you decide to “play with the big boys,” like Carson. I find many internet two kingdom proponents want to move as quick as they can to use two kingdom buzz words and pejoratives whereby they can pontificate about all the evils resulting from abandoning two kingdom theology. The basic case for two kingdom theology, as I understand it, is fairly sound. But it seems as if proponents aren’t satisfied with this basic case and are seeking more “outrageous” attempts to prove its merits. If so, they have fallen into the trappings their opponents like Osteen have fallen into. Proving two kingdoms by sensationalistic and, frankly, dishonest tactics, is not what two kingdoms needs right now. I propose a more sober minded approach to the Christian public. A more scholarly approach. If not, then they have no one to complain to but themselves when the majority of Christians (rightly or wrongly) reject their teachings because it is delivered with, in my honest opinion, a bit of a haughty kind of presumptuous spirit.

1 Jason J. Stellman, “Christ & Culture Revisited" by D. A. Carson, in "Beyond Nostalgia: The Risk of Orthodoxy" Sept./Oct. Vol. 17 No. 5 2008 Pages 50-51

2 D.A. Carson, Christ & Culture Revisited, Eerdmans, 2008.

"True love waits"

“All of us in the CICCU [Cambridge Intercollegiate Christian Union], I think, accepted the fact that a Christian should not have sex before marriage. With all the colleges being single-sex and only two of them being for women, there was not the pressure of continual contact experienced in modern universities. Most of us hoped to be happily married and were content to wait till marriage had come into sight as a practical possibility before forming alliances with girlfriends. The women of the two colleges had recently formed their own Christian union and they brought their friends to the CICCU evangelistic sermon where they sat is rows reserved for them, but there was virtually no mixing up of men and women. Incredible though it may sound today, this was to us one way of ‘seeking first the kingdom of God.” And God wonderfully added the blessing of happy marriages to nearly all of us. Some sixty of us went down from Cambridge in 1934 and we kept in touch with each other by six-monthly duplicated letters thereafter and, in spite of prudish upbringings and lack of sexual knowledge, not a single one of our first marriages went wrong,” J. Wenham, Facing Hell: An Autobiography 1913-1996 (Paternoster Press 1998), 54.

Porn addiction

I. Porn Addiction

Recently I’ve been asked about how Christians should deal with porn addiction. Since this is an issue of general interest and importance to the Christian community, I’ll do a post on the subject.

I don’t claim to be an expert on how to deal with the problem. I’m just offering my advice for what it’s worth. Commenters are welcome to improve on what I’ve said. However, I’m not interested in remarks by commenters who simply take offense at my even attempting a frank discussion of the issue. And I’m also not interested in commenters who can’t bring themselves to have a grown-up discussion of grown-up problems. Comments like that will be summarily deleted.

In preparing to write this, I Googled some Christian websites to see what they have to say on the subject. One or two of them said some of the things I’d say, but a number of them were less than generous about dispensing free advice. Instead, they want to sell their services.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Some porn addicts may need professional counseling. However, I also suspect that, in some cases, professional counseling, like so much psychotherapy, is an expensive, open-ended commitment which can drag on for months or years without solving the problem. It’s just someone to talk to while the meter is running.

This post is not addressed to professing believers who don’t think there’s anything wrong with pornography. There’s probably nothing I can say that would persuade them to the contrary, so I won’t even try. Instead, this post is addressed to Christians who recognize the problem, and want some guidance on how to deal with it.

This post is written from a male perspective because I have a firsthand knowledge of male psychology.

It’s well-known that porn addiction has become a problem in the church. That’s hardly surprising. In the age of DVDs and the Internet, it’s easier than ever to anonymously indulge in pornographic lust.

Is this a scandalous situation for the church? Yes and no. It’s scandalous in the sense that pornography is contrary to Christian ethics. However, Christian men are sinners, too. Christian men are wired the same way as other men. So this phenomenon doesn’t come as a shocking development—especially when many Christian men developed their addiction before they came to Christ.

Someone might object that it’s scandalous because Christians are held to a higher standard. Actually, we’re not. God holds everyone to the same moral standard. It’s just that Christians acknowledge the standard.

Someone might also object that it’s scandalous because it’s hypocritical. That’s true, but from God’s perspective, a hypocritical sinner is no worse than a shameless sinner. Suppose you’re a porn addict who doesn’t pretend to be a Christian. Well, that may absolve you of hypocrisy, but that doesn’t absolve you of sin.

So there’s no reason for the church to engage in ritual self-flagellation about the scandal of porn addiction in the church. Rather, the church has a special mission to address this sin, since the role of the church is to address sin generally.

Christians have the same problems as everyone else. The difference is that we have spiritual resources that unbelievers do not.

II. Secret Sins

One thing that makes porn addiction difficult for Christians to cope with is that, as a practical matter, it tends to be a very private sin since there’s a debilitating stigma that attaches to porn addiction. Take a pastor who’s addicted to porn. Who’s he supposed to turn to? If he tells his wife, she may divorce him. If he confesses his sin to his congregation or his ecclesiastical peers or superiors, he may lose his job.

So it poses a dilemma. It’s not a sin that we can easily conquer all by ourselves, but it doesn’t feel safe to share our problem with others. Especially those in authority, since the authority figures are the very people in a position to sanction us if we confess our secret sin. Kind of like turning yourself into the authorities. This isolation exacerbates the sense of being trapped in your addiction, with now way out. I’ll deal with this dilemma in section IV.

III. Wrong Turns

What are some misguided ways to deal with porn addiction?

1. Monasticism

Traditionally, one way to deal with various temptations, whether sexual or otherwise, was through the suppression of pleasure. Deny your desires.

While there’s a grain of truth to this, which I’ll come to later, as a general program this is counterproductive. When you deny your natural desires, including perfectly legitimate pleasures, you fuel temptation. You pour gasoline on temptation.

2. Quietism

A more recent way of dealing with temptation, which is popular in charismatic circles, is to expect a quick fix. If you just pray to God to take away your sinful desire, or receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, or have a faith-healer cast out the demon of lust, then you will be cured.

Like monasticism, this is also counterproductive. It sets up a false expectation. And many men have left the faith because they tried the Pentecostal shortcuts, and the “solutions” didn’t solve the problem. So they became disillusioned.

BTW, I’m not commenting on charismatic theology in general, or its more respectable and responsible exponents (e.g. Craig Keener, Gordon Fee).

Rather, I’m talking about the pop version of charismatic theology peddled by Televangelists.

IV. Coping With Porn Addiction

So how should a Christian who struggles with porn addiction try to wean himself of that obsessive-compulsive disorder?

1. Never Despair!

Some professing believers give up the fight because they see so little progress. I’m not talking about porn addiction in particular. Just generally, there are professing believers who become so discouraged in their battle with some temptation or another that they eventually leave the faith altogether.

Here I’d introduce my cardinal rule: never despair, never give up!

Why do I say that? Because despair is futile, and futility is futile.

If you stay in the game, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

If you throw in the towel, you have nothing to gain and everything to lose.

If you turn your back on the Christian faith and die in unbelief, you will go to hell. So what good did that do you?

No matter how often you face a spiritual setback, the alternative to perseverance is guaranteed to be a losing proposition.

So even if it feels like one step forward and two steps back, that’s far better than taking the expressway to hell. The only way you’re sure to fail is to drop out of the race before the finish line.

2. Moderation

i) We sometimes create artificial problems for ourselves by imposing artificial standards or unrealistic expectations on ourselves. It’s futile to overcome a natural desire. You can channel a natural desire, but you can’t suppress it.

ii) In men, the visual sense is a dominant feature of sexual attraction and arousal. There are some practical reasons for this. Round hips and breast development signal sexual maturity in a woman. That’s why men find these features appealing. It’s a way of distinguishing a potential mate from a prepubescent girl. We want men to be able to draw that distinction!

To some extent it also distinguishes a woman in her childbearing years from a woman who is past her childbearing years. That, too, is practical.

iii) At an imaginative level, the visual sense also has a tactical component. What it would feel like to run your hand down those smooth, soft contours.

iv) There are other features that men find physically appealing in women that are not as easy to explain on a purely functional basis, viz. a certain complexion, or eye color, or hair texture, or full lips, or high cheekbones, or long, shapely legs, or dulcet voice.

Here the appeal is purely aesthetic, albeit distinctively feminine, and figures in the more generally mysterious question of why we find anything beautiful. Why we find certain colors and symmetries appealing. To some extent there is no ultimate explanation for this. It’s just the way we were made.

v) But it also goes to the fact that a woman is more than woman. A woman is an ideal. A woman represents the Church. And God has programmed men idealize women because a woman is emblematic of something even greater than herself. Woman as metaphor.

At one level, there’s a ridiculous quality to a lot of love poetry. The sonnets of Shakespeare and Donne. It’s so out of proportion to the actual object. But there’s a reason for that. A theological reason. A reason that God has encoded in the male psyche. Subliminal theology.

I assume that’s why we traditionally dress the bride as if she’s a queen. For, theologically speaking, every woman is a queen—as a token of the Church she represents. The Bride of Christ.

Evolutionary psychology is unable to explain this. Only Christian theology can explain it.

vi) This isn’t limited to women. There’s a symbolic dimension to the natural world in general. That’s why the Bible uses so many natural objects to illustrate spiritual truths.

vii) Should a teenage boy enjoy looking at Jeri Ryan in a cat suit? This strikes me as a fairly innocent pleasure. The boy is forming a feminine ideal. That’s a necessary stage in his maturation.

The problem occurs when a man is unable to reconcile his ideal with reality. The ideal should prepare him for marriage. But he needs to distinguish woman qua woman from woman qua metaphor.

A woman points to something beyond herself. But you don’t marry the metaphor, you marry the woman. You need to value the woman qua woman.

To take a comparison I‘ve used before, human fathers symbolize God. That’s why dad is a godlike figure to a young son. But a son needs to outgrow that aspect of filial devotion. If he can’t transfer that aspect of filial devotion from his father to God, he will remain in a state of arrested development.

Of course, a married man can still appreciate the beauty of a beautiful woman. But he needs to keep that in check—unless it’s his own spouse.

viii) When counseling young men, we need to avoid alarmist rhetoric. It’s like those old cautionary shows about Reefer Madness and “this is your brain on drugs.”

It’s true that if a teenage boy dabbles in pornography, he may end up being the next Ted Bundy. But that’s extremely rare. Most boys who dabble in pornography don’t become the next Ted Bundy. It’s fine to mention that danger, but if we overemphasize the worse-case scenario, we lose credibility.

We need to make our case by using more modestly prudential arguments. Pornography can do a lot of harm short of turning you into a serial killer. For one thing, it brutalizes woman involved in the sex trade. For another, it nurses an unobtainable and often twisted ideal which an ordinary woman cannot fulfill and should not fulfill.

Pinup girls are unobtainable women, and even if they were obtainable, many of them are so vain and jaded that they would make terrible wives.

ix) Having said that, I’d hasten to add that the danger of romanticizing the opposite sex cuts both ways. There are men who have reason to be dissatisfied with their marriage. For there are women who hold men to impossible standards. And there are women who don’t know what it means to be a woman. Their own preconceptions of masculinity and femininity are drawn from the pop culture. From all that’s decadent and depraved. There’s a need for renewal on both sides of the coin.

x) On a related issue, I can’t help noticing that a many women invest a lot of money in their appearance (e.g. clothes, hairdo, make-up, jewelry), yet have no idea of what’s attractive to a man. I’m not talking about woman who don’t care about their appearance. I’m talking about women who are very conscious of their appearance, who want to be physically attractive to the opposite sex, but it doesn’t occur to them to consult the opposite sex about what is attractive to the opposite sex.

Instead, they simply imitate other women, imitate modern movie stars and TV stars and pop vocalists and anorexic fashion models in teenybopper magazines or Abercrombie & Fitch catalogues.

It’s really rather odd, when you think about it. They want to attract a man, but they don’t ask what a man finds attractive. They simply dress according to the latest fashion statement. And keep in mind that many fashion designers are queer, so they lack any real appreciation for the feminine form. Instead, they prefer androgynous young women who look like adolescent boys.

For the moment I’m not saying if a woman should dress to attract a man. That’s up to her. Rather, I’m making the point if that you are going to go to all that time and expense, it wouldn’t hurt to find out what kind of make-up and hairdo and attire the average man likes in a woman. To take one example, you’ll never see a poster of a scrawny, bony girl inside a boy’s locker.

If you want an example of what normal men find physically appealing in women, look at some of the movie stars from the 30s and 40s.

To take another example, I notice that some women wear high-heels with a pants suit. But wearing a pair of pants defeats the purpose of wearing high-heels. If you’re going to don a pair of stilettos, wear a skirt. That’s the point.

A lot of contemporary young women also don’t seem to realize that, in many cases, less is more and more is less. Unless you have a figure like Cher or J-Lo or Marlene Dietrich or Sophia Loren, maximum exposure is not all that appealing. And even beautiful women appreciate the value of good tailoring to improve on Mother Nature.

Once again, I’m not suggesting that a woman should be a clotheshorse, like Alexis in Dynasty. And we also live in a time when too many women dress too provocatively. There’s a happy mean between dressing like an Amish milkmaid and dressing like a streetwalker.

xi) On a related note, some women try hard to look pretty when they’re dating, but let themselves go after marriage. In that event, it’s not surprising if this makes a husband more observant of the competition.

Of course, that cuts both ways. One can also see out of shape men married to shapely women. And one can also see couples in which neither spouse is concerned with how he or she looks. That’s fine, because it’s by mutual agreement.

In general, though, it wouldn’t hurt most couples to resemble the individual at the altar—when they tied the knot. You don’t have to look like Tyra Banks. Just look like the woman he married, and vice versa. A husband and wife shouldn’t forget how to be a bride and groom. What they woke up to on their honeymoon.

We should try to be whatever our spouse saw in us at the outset. That’s why our spouse chose to marry us. What drew the one to the other. That, of course, goes beyond appearances, but if appearance was a factor, it should not be neglected or taken for granted.

3. Starvation

If you have an addiction, you need to starve it rather than feed it. That should be obvious. And that’s the grain of truth in monasticism.

Of course, it isn’t sufficient to starve your addiction. There’s no one thing that will sanctify your desires. We need to do several things at once.

4. Substitute Pleasures

i) Beyond starving an addiction, we need to change our diet. Substitute licit pleasures for illicit pleasures. By itself, starvation makes you hungrier, not less so. So you need something to fill that empty stomach.

Do something sexy with your spouse, like take up pair skating or Latin ballroom dancing. Not only is that good exercise, but it’s very romantic. Generates a lot of heat—in more ways than one!

ii) I think that one reason some marriages fail is that couples often put a lot more effort into attracting a mate than keeping a mate. Once they’ve tied the knot, they feel as if they now have their spouse safely in their corner. So it’s easy to become complacent and neglectful.

I think it would be a good idea for more couples to keep dating after they’re married. To keep doing the things they did with each other when they were trying to attract a mate. (This has reference to Christian dating, where premarital sex is not an option.)

iii) On a more general note, if you’re unhappy, you’re more susceptible to temptation. The temptation may be symptomatic of a general unease. Dissatisfaction about your life in general. Itchy and restless.

Not that we can expect to be happy all the time. Life has its dry spells.

iv) A sense of humor is also a great preservative in a relationship. If you don’t have one, work on it.

5. Accountability Relationships

i) As many 12-step programs have discovered, knowing someone who shares your struggle can make it easier for you to resist temptation. If you’re a porn addict who’s trying to kick the habit, it’s helpful to have a few others friends who are trying to kick the habit, too—friends you can turn to at any time, day or night, if the urge becomes overwhelming. Friends you can call anytime. Friends you can see anytime. Go over to their house.

Because you’re both in the same boat, there’s less danger that they will betray your confidence. If their secret is safe with you, then your secret is safe with them.

There is one potential downside to this. If your friend goes off the wagon, he may try to drag you down with him. So sometimes you may need to keep your distance.

ii) This also goes to a general issue: our society fosters the silly notion that your spouse can supply all of your emotional needs. That’s romantic nonsense.

It’s important to maintain some other relationships, with parents, siblings, and old friends. Temptation is more likely to strike when we’re alone or lonely.

6. Besetting Sins

To struggle with sin is a good thing, not a bad thing. It’s a sign of life. Spiritual vitality.

I once read a writer say that what makes a man a saint is not his virtues, but his vices. What he meant is that what makes a man a saint is how he copes with his weaknesses.

7. Means of Grace

By the means of grace I mean things like the Bible, Christian fellowship, prayer, Christian music, and other suchlike.

Some readers may wonder why it took me so long to get around to the spiritual stuff. That’s because a lot of Christian writers jump right into the spiritual stuff. They begin and end with that, to the neglect of other considerations.

But we need to remember that this is God’s world. God’s handiwork. It’s not as if natural goods are unspiritual.

As we struggle with sin, it’s useful to read about the struggles of those who’ve gone before us. To read about the heroes of the faith in the OT. To read Christian biographies.

It’s also edifying to read the Psalms, with their emotional candor, turmoil, and deliverance. Two good devotional commentaries on select Psalms are:

Alex Motyer, Treasures of the King: Psalms from the Life of David

O. Palmer Robertson, Psalms in Congregational Celebration

8. Diary

If I were a younger man, I’d try to keep a diary. The providence of God is often a subtle, evolving thing. The emerging pattern can only be discerned in retrospect. If more Christians kept diaries, which they reviewed from time to time, I suspect that more Christians would be more aware of God’s oblique guidance in their lives. Of how he blessed them by providing various opportunities and delivering them in various ways.