Saturday, April 26, 2008

Answer to Reppert's "Question for Calvinists"

Victor Reppert has a question for Calvinists. I'll do my best to answer. But, since this discussion has been public, I'll still make comments on much of what Victor says for the benefit of readers. The by-product of our discussion is that our Calvinist readers can generalize from it and apply it to other discussions. Also, many of Victor’s arguments, assumptions, and questions are those that atheists ask. So, though Victor is no atheist, this discussion has apologetic value far beyond the specifics of our debate. So Victor and I aren't the only ones involved. In what follows, I will answer his question, but this whole post should be read in order to get at that answer. (Reppert appears in red.)

I should also point out that Steve Hays made many good points in his post below..

All the Calvinists in this discussion have told me that they are not theological voluntarists.
This goes for virtually all Calvinists in general. When you call us voluntarists you simply hinder discussion.

I take it that theological voluntarism is the view that something is Good because God does it or commands it, and in this instance a being is entitled to the appelation "God" in virtue of His superior power.
I don't know . . ., is Reppert arguing against Calvinism, or any theist who holds to a Divine Command Theory of ethics? Seems most of his arguments might apply to, not just to his view of Calvinism, but many Arminian Christians as well. Exactly what Victor is arguing, and who he is arguing it against, isn’t altogether clear anymore.

But if you are not a voluntarist, it could certainly turn out that Omnipotent One is not good, and not worthy of worship. Although you believe that the Omnipotent Being is worthy of worship, the great Cosmic Nightmare might turn out to be true, and it could turn out that the Being in charge of everuthing just isn't good.
I don't get my idea of God from my philosophical speculations.

This claim cuts both ways. Since Reppert is not a voluntarist, then “it could certainly turn out that Omnipotent One is not good, and not worthy of worship.” Since this being is the Omnipotent One, he could be planting false intuitions in Reppert’s mind. So, “[a]lthough you believe that the Omnipotent Being is worthy of worship, the great Cosmic Nightmare might turn out to be true, and it could turn out that the Being in charge of everything just isn't good.”

One question I might now ask is in virtue of what is the "God" of Scripture, as understood by Calvinists, thought of as good, if not His power. What characteristics does the Omnipotent One have that we should worship him.
i) Good in the sense of moral goodness or perfections? Some philosophers like to make these distinctions. Reppert told us he is handling this issue as a philosopher, not a theologian. If so, then he’s not clear here.

ii) In Reppert’s favorite haunt, the god of the philosophers, a being is worthy of worship if he is the greatest conceivable being. But as most philosophers of religion point out, this is almost meaningless given the various religious traditions we find, and the various intuitions we have. Is impassibility a perfection? Some say yes, some say no. How about necessity? Mormons wouldn’t agree. Does God's omnipotence mean he can, say, do the logically impossible? Aquinas said no, Descartes yes. Does God's omniscience include knowledge of the future? Again, some yes, some no. Does God's goodness mean he cannot willingly permit some to go to hell for their sinful actions? Some yes, others no. In Christianity, we go to revelation to figure this out.

iii) In Christian theology, we take God's goodness to be shown as his benevolence, lovingkindness, graciousness, mercifulness, faithfulness, longsuffering, compassion, those are some starters.

iv) Apropos (iii), of course these undefined terms don't do much, especially for those who want a god of the philosophers:

"It should be recognized that in setting for God's attributes we cannot possibly ignore the religious and theological tradition within which any given theology operates. If, for instance, we were to offer the Jewish religious community a conception of God radically at variance with that which is found in the Hebrew Bible and in Jewish tradition, that conception would not be warmly received. [...] As we have noted, intuitions about perfection may vary and a philosopher of religion who is seeking to apply that notion would do well to pay attention to the conception of God that actual religious communities have found best to represent perfection and worshipfulness" (Reasons & Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, eds. Peterson, Hasker, Reichenbach, and Basinger, Oxford, 2003, pp. 61-62).

Of course Scripture says that Omnipotent One is good. But, of course, if Scripture is the word of the Omnipotent One, that is precisely what we should expect. It's just the Almighty's spin machine. The Almighty says He is good, and Clinton said he was telling the truth. What else is new? We need some characteristics of the Omnipotent One that provide us with grounds that we are not dealing with an Omnipotent Fiend.
Reppert is compartmentalizing things. That's his shell game. If we're talking about all of Scripture, not just one verse that says, "God is good" in isolation from the rest, then when you read all of Scripture you cannot believe that this being is the Omnipotent Fiend OF.

I take all of what Scripture has to say on a matter. To call the God of the Bible the OF is simply to speak in a foreign language. I have no idea what a good God would look like if the God of the Bible wasn't a good God but, rather, an OF. We've moved far beyond our ken, into a unconceptualizable conceptual scheme, I'd say.

So, if all the things the Bible credited, ascribed, or attributed to God were true, then he wouldn't be an OF. Given that I’m allowed to pull from my entire revelation, which is perfectly acceptable, then I’d need some pretty strong reasons from Reppert (or anyone) to the affect that that kind of being is an Omnipotent Fiend. Just say I’d need more than “What if” stories.

Now, is Reppert going to come back and say, "How do you know for certain (epistemic certainty), that you are not being deceived?" Then he faces those same objections to his reading of Scripture and his moral intuitions. But other than this desperate move, what reason to I have to doubt God's word? There's a distinction between radical doubt and reasonable doubt.

Given, further, that if Christian theism is true, then Scripture is God's testimony to man. The testimony of the word of another. He has made man capable of understanding his word. Made me in his image. Indeed, we function properly when we take the word of our maker on his say-so (similar to how children function properly by believing their parents). Not only that, he has given the Christian his Spirit to aid in the understanding of this testimony. Add to this that we employ that part of our cognitive faculty aimed at producing true beliefs based on testimony when we read Scripture, there's not much of an argument against the warrant of my belief in what God reveals to me in his word.

"Now, let's suppose that a thorough study of Scripture reveals to me that Calvinism is in fact true, that is, the being in charge of the universe is indeed a Calvinistic God who has predestined some to eternal life and some to everlasting punishment. The Omnipotent One does exist, and God is a reprobator. At first, as I discover this, I ask myself if I might be mistaken in thinking that this reprobating deity would not be good. However, depressingly for me, my intuitions don't budge. It seems true all right that the Omnipotent One has predestined some to heaven and some to hell, but I find that I can't worship Him."
i) This is odd. If you believe Calvinism is true, then you believe God exists, and if you believe God exists, you believe that he is the greatest conceivable being, and if he is that, then he is, by definition, worthy of worship. Calvinism also maintains that God is good. So, if you do believe that this is true, then you believe God is good. If you do believe that, you don't need convincing that he is good.

ii) If you believed Calvinism were true you would believe that God is justly punishing criminals. Those who have committed a capital offense. So, to not want to worship a being who justly punishes those who deserve suffering strikes me as an irrational stance to take.

iii) Belief in Calvinism as true is more than belief in reprobation. There are a whole host of other beliefs that are included in your granting Calvinism as the case. One of those is a correct view of reprobation and the decree, which you seem not to have (I wonder if Reppert could write a blog post arguing for the Calvinist position on all of these matters? If so, would Calvinists recognize their position in his post? If he cannot, can he at least admit he hasn’t studied those who he is attempting to refute? If he hasn’t, isn’t the scholarly course of action to study the position out before subjecting it to public critique; even ridicule at times?)

iv) Perhaps you mean all of this as an objection from an atheist? So, you’re not speaking of yourself, then. This matters since answers can be person relative. I would address a professing Christian different that an atheist.

v) What about C.S. Lewis’ spot on point in Mere Christianity:

Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys' philosophies--these over simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either.
Seems like Lewis points out that our intuitions aren’t golden. Seems like Lewis points out that Christianity isn’t necessarily “what you’d expect.”

iv) Or, one might point to Del Ratzsch’s remark in response to Richard Dawkin’s “intuitions” in Ratzsch’s article: The Demise of Religion: Greatly Exaggerated Reports from the Science/Religion Wars (Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion, eds. Peterson & Vanarragon, 2004, p.78):

In any case, if we do form such expectations, and if we observe aspects of the word which clash with those expectations, the problem may lie in our expectations. It is worth noting that nearly every scientific revolution has involved reality itself violating our previous best scientific explanations concerning the natural. Our human expectations concerning the supernatural may be far off the mark [too].
Moving on...

I remain convinced that the creature can say to the creator "Why hast thou made me thus." As John Stuart Mill puts it:

I will call no being good who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures; and if such a creature can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.
I think this is odd. Take Mill's Maxim:

[MM] I will call no being good who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures.

Does Mill/Reppert think any and all God-talk is univocal? It seems that instead of picking on Calvinism, he's forced to indict major theistic traditions across the board. If he does, take these counters:

[MM1] I will call no being thinking who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures.

Does God think just like humans now? Discursively? Reasons through a chain of inference?

How about:

[MM2] I will call no being strong who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures.

Is that our idea of God? A cosmic muscle man lifting bar bells?

How about:

[MM3] I will call no being knowing who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures.

But if we take a traditional tripartite (whether “justified” or “warranted”) analysis of knowledge, then belief would have to be included. What do you do with Alston’s paper, “Does God Have Beliefs?” (see Alston, Divine Nature and Human Language: Essays in Philosophical Theology, Cornell, 1989, ch. 9). His paper rejects the principle behind Mill’s Maxim. Is Alston irrational, or epistemically blameworthy for doing so?

In Miracles, Lewis observed,

And if we say that we are rejecting the old images in order to do more justice to the moral attributes of God, we must against be careful of what we are really meaning. When we wish to learn of the love and goodness of God by analogy . . .we turn of course to the parables of Christ. But when we try to conceive of reality as it may be in itself, we must beware lest we interpret ‘moral attributes’ in terms of mere conscientiousness or abstract benevolence.
Certainly, though God is good, and if we knew all the facts we would certainly say that all the Calvinist says God has done is good (and not just by his mere volition, but really good), we understand Mill’s Maxim to be a bit simplistic. When speaking of the metaphysics of goodness as it relates to God and his infinite plan, then we’ve stepped into a different territory. “In The biblical world-view, there is no metaphysical gap as great as that between divine creator of all and any of his creation” (Thomas Morris, Our Idea of God: An Introduction to Philosophical Theology, Regent, 1991, p. 25). In our discussion Reppert has either ignored or minimized this vital notion in Christian theology--that of the Creator/creature distinction. God is not just like a perfect version of us!

Given the fact that I have now agreed that Calvinism has the facts right, how do you now persuade me that this is right. Yes, I am headed for a showdown with the Almighty in which I stick my finger in the Almighty's face and tell him that I won't worship him since I can't see him as good.
i) Again, how I might persuade you might vary with respect to your position on these matters.

ii) Also, proof is not persuasion. It is very hard to persuade someone who is dead set on holding on to his intuition. As Reppert should well know, almost anyone can dig in his heels and deny the force of arguments. Is Reppert asking for some knock down argument that all rational men would have to assent to? But does he even have anything like that?

iii) These questions could be asked by two types of people. Call them the Christian Reppert CR and the Non-Christian Reppert NCR. Let me address CR first (key to understanding CR is that CR has granted that the Bible indeed teaches Calvinism):

a) God saved you from your sins when he didn't have to. Sent his son to die for you. I would say that is all you need to know. If you accepted the Calvinist view of sin, the horror of your condition before a holy God, then that God would save even one sinner is strong proof of his goodness.

b) Appealing to your belief that the Bible is inerrant. If you are convinced the Bible teaches T, but your moral intuition says ~T, then the rational course of action is ~~T.

c) By pointing out a contradiction within your set of beliefs. For example, as a Christian who admits (per your story) that the Bible teaches Calvinism, and also that the Bible says that God is good, that he will always do right, that he has done good things for his people throughout all of history, then this Christian must believe that his moral intuitions are in error. If he is rational he must do this because by believing, say, that the Bible’s teaching that “God is good” is true, then if you also believed that God was not good, and you had properly functioning cognitive faculties, then you couldn’t hold that set of beliefs once it was pointed out to you. Now, you might choose to drop your belief that the Bible teaches the truth. That would be another conversation.

d) I would also make sure you understood what Calvinism was, since you are taking it as a unit. I doubt the problem would even arise if you understood all of what Calvinists are saying. That’s why there’s many, many Calvinists. We have all heard your kind of objections. Yet we aren’t fleeing from the churches. (It’s not even clear that Dr. Reppert understands the Calvinist position when he speaks of the decree. The decree isn’t an efficient cause. It doesn’t cause anything, in fact. The decree is the plan, the plan is worked out in history, under the rubric of providence. Furthermore, the fall was willingly permitted. I’ve explained much of this before and I’m not confident that Reppert even knows what he’s objecting against.)

e) I will ask you to trust God. He asks us to do this in his word. Indeed, one can say this is part of the essence of the Christian life. We live the life of faith, not sight. Christians trust in their heavenly father. To not trust God is a mark of the atheist. It is what Adam and Eve did in the garden. Thus, the refusal to trust God shows that the problem of evil, at heart, isn’t evidence of non-belief, it is the very expression of that non-belief.

iv) Let’s now look at the question from NCR’s point of view. I take it that your question, “how do you now persuade me that this is right?”, means “how do we persuade you that it is right for God to do things you don’t see as good.” Well:

a) We’ve been over this before. I would offer my theodicy. I did this for you and have not received any response showing how I can’t deal with the problem of evil.

b) Another would be: God punishes evil doers; he's just. I would say that it is just a truism that any being who does not punish the guilty, if he can and is in that position, is not a good being. So, a consequence of NCR’s argument is that he wants a God who doesn't punish the guilty.

c) I might point out that you have no objective moral standard by which to raise the problem of evil argument. If you say that the problem is an internal objection, then I get to use all my resources in answering you. That is, you are just objecting against Doctrine D1 and D2. D1 and D2 appear problematic, until you bring in D3 and D4, that is.

v) CR or NCR, at this point, might re-appeal to his WCP. But, if so, I will simply point to my (as of yet) unanswered response to his WCP argument.

If my reading of Scripture leads me to call into question whether or not God is good, it seems question-begging to say that, of course, God in Scripture says He is good. Of course Scripture says God is good, it's God's word.
i) Again, much of this turns on who is asking the question, CR or NCR.

ii) It is not illegitimate to point to Scripture’s own statements if you ask as CR. I assume CR has granted that the Bible is God’s word. Thus it is not question-begging to appeal to one of the very premises someone holds in order to get them to be consistent.

iii) The doctrine of Scripture’s self-attestation receives massive support from all Christians, spanning denominational boundaries.

iv) If you ask as CR, then since you grant that the Bible teaches Calvinism, and you’d grant that the Bible teaches that God is good, but you say God is not good, then you must say that the Bible is false. At this point I’d say you have bigger problems to deal with. Since you grant that the Bible teaches Calvinism, and it is obvious that the Bible declares that God is good (as you yourself admit), then are you even a Christian any more? Can a Christian believe that their God is not good?

v) If you ask as NCR, then of course I won’t come over and beat you over the head with my Bible. In this case I would deal with you differently (see points a-c directly above for answers to NCR).

I am consistently told that I shouldn't lift my moral intuitions up above the Word of God. This works so long as I remain convinced that God is good. Dispelling doubts about God's goodness by appealing to Scripture seems blatantly question-begging.
i) You’ve been answered according to your profession of faith.

ii) You’ve been shown that you ask people to accept things inconsistent with their moral intuitions. I offered the example of the tribe of people who thought treachery was one of the greatest moral virtues. These people thought Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was the climax of the Gospels. Missionaries had to break their moral intuitions. There is also a long-standing tradition within atheology that takes any version of the atonement to be a story of a great immorality. The very heart of our system goes against fallen, prideful man’s moral intuitions.

iii) It is dishonest to minimize all of the various arguments I have given you as simply “saying you cannot appeal to moral intuition.” I even appeal to certain “moral intuitions” that directly countered your claims, showing that you hold theological beliefs that go against your own moral intuitions (e.g., a being who could stop evil, permitting it. If S can stop some act of evil E through no loss of his own, then S should stop E.). I also took your intuitions head on and provided a theodicy whereby your intuitions couldn’t serve to demonstrate that God was not good. So, it’s disingenuous to keep asserting that God is not good. You offered a defeater. I defeated that defeater through an undercutting defeater, as well as a defeater-deflector. Ball's not still in my court.

iv) As far as question begging, let's recall the claim from Reason & Religious Belief I cited above, "It should be recognized that in setting for God's attributes we cannot possibly ignore the religious and theological tradition within which any given theology operates." Let's remember those things Alvin Plantinga told us in his Advice for Christian Philosophers. J.P. Moreland and W. L. Craig even recognize the acceptability for the Christian to go to revelation to answer questions (cf. Foundations for a Christian Worldview). So your objection isn't clear to me, at all.

So my question is this: if we assume that predestination is true, on what basis do we believe that the Predestinator is a good being? If we pose the question that way, it looks as if appeals to Scripture are going to beg the question. You wouldn't dare appeal to my intuitions, now would we? You can't appeal to sheer power, without becoming a voluntarist, which you say you aren't. So how do you appeal to me in this situation. You tell me.
i) I already pointed out the contradictory nature of this argument for the believer.

ii) I would offer and expect a rebuttal to my theodicy rather than continuing to assert, in the face of a theodicy that God is not good.

iii) If you’re going to dig your heels in the sand and, as you said, “stick your fingers in your ears,” then there’s not much I can say to someone like that. What could anyone say to someone like that in any field of inquiry? I would simply ask the readers to see who they believe has presented the stronger case. It isn’t that philosophically impressive to ignore all the arguments and just continue to assert your opening statement.

iv) I can reverse your arguments: So my question is this: if we assume that Universalism is true, on what basis do we believe that the Universalizer is a just being? If we pose the question that way, it looks as if appeals to Scripture are going to beg the question. You wouldn't dare appeal to my intuitions, now would we? You can't appeal to sheer Love, without negating justice, which you say you aren't. So how do you appeal to me in this situation. You tell me.

If I "stick my fingers in my ear," and dig my heels into the sand, and cling to my intuitions about justice, what can Reppert do?

Reppert's strategy is a recipe for unfruitful, stale-mate discussions across the board.

And, if his strategy with me works, have I just provided a knock-down argument against Universalism? If not, neither has he against my position.

At the end of the day, does Reppert really want to make the strong claim that "Calvinism can't answer the problem of evil" when all he's doing is "sticking his fingers in his ears" and "digging his heals in the sand" and "holding fast to his intuitions"? Does he want to say this especially in light of the fact that I've offered an unanswered theodicy? I've offered unanswerd defeaters for his posts on Romans. I've offered unanswered defeaters for his strongest intuitional argument viz., the WCP.

v) I would point out that you should have a problem with Christianity in general, not just Calvinism. The Bible, the Christian’s book, reports all sorts of “horrible evils” that were perpetrated on behalf of God’s commands in the Old Testament (and the God of the New Isn’t any better, they say!). Have you read Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens? At what price your “attractive” Christianity? Is your gospel an “offense?” How do you speak to them and their intuitions? Take out your scissors and have them read the ARV (Authorized Reppert Version) Bible?

I’ll leave you with Lewis who pointed out in Miracles that the God of the Bible is an uncomfortable fellow:

Men are reluctant to pass over from the notion of an abstract and negative deity to the living God. I do not wonder. Here lies the deepest tap-root of Pantheism and the objection to traditional imagery. It was not hated, at bottom, because it pictured Him as man but because it pictured Him as king, or even as warrior. The Pantheist’s God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. There is no danger that at any time heaven and earth should flee away from His glance. If He were the truth, then we could really say that all the Christian images of kingship were a historical accident of which our religion ought to be cleansed. It is with a shock that we discover them to be indispensable. You have had a shock like that before, in connection with smaller matters--when the line pulls at your hand, when something breathes beside you in the darkness. So here; the schlock comes at the precise moment when the thrill of life is communicated to us along the clue we have been following. It is always chocking to meet life when we thought we were alone. ‘Look out!’ we cry, ‘it’s alive’. And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back--I would have done so myself if I could--and proceed no further with Christianity. And ‘impersonal God’--well and Good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads--better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap--best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband--that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘Man’s search for God!’) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant for it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us? …One may be in for anything.
God is good. He has a good reason for all he does. He is not what we dreamt up, though. His plan is far too complex for us to sit in judgment upon him. The Christian, at the end of the day, trusts in God. Our speculations about what God is like, what he must and must not do, are fine in the halls of the ivory tower. But with the real God, the God of Christianity, he has come to us and given us a revelation. He has knocked us off our comfortable rocking horse. His revealtion has borne out that he does things contrary to what we would expect. Abraham didn't expect god to command him to kill the son of promise. The Jews expected a Messiah who would conquer the Romans with military power. The disciples didn't expect their teacher to die on a cross like a common criminal. The kingdom is here now, but it is not here yet. We are free, but we are slaves. Jesus is king, but he is servant. Jesus is shepherd, but he is lamb. Indeed, there is quite the inductive case that God's ways fly in the face of our human expectations of what God will, or must, do. His ways are too excellent for us. He's the one who uses what Lewis called, "A deeper magic."

this is my Father's world whoa let me ne'er forget
that though the wrong
seems so strong
He is the ruler yet

-- O.C. Supertones

The fight for Middle Earth

I’m reposing something I originally said over at Green Baggins in response to an orc that invaded the Shire.

Scott Jorgenson said,

“But it is unconvincing at least as far as a physically-global flood is concerned, because there would be ruins everywhere.”

i) As I’ve said twice now, I’m noncommittal on the physical extent of the flood due to difficulties in correlating geographical markers in the text with our contemporary preconceptions. It would be anachronistic to take a modern map of the world and superimpose that on Gen 6-8—in a one-to-one correspondence—since I doubt that Moses or his audience was using satellite cartography. This doesn’t mean that Moses had an inaccurate notion of the world. But we can’t begin with our sense of scale, and then presume that an ancient author is using geographical markers to denote equivalent distances.

ii) Whether there would be ruins everywhere makes extratextual assumptions about the extent of prediluvian human dispersion as well as the durability of building materials.

When I interpret Scripture, I use the grammatico-historical method. That means the studious avoidance of extraneous, anachronistic interpolations into the text.

“The only distinctive physical reminder near the Mesopotamians would be the ark itself.”

Which would be an outstanding memorial.

“Migrating people groups would encounter reminders everywhere in the devastation of the earth, as would those who remained near the ark.”

i) That assumes a global flood, which may or may not be the correct interpretation.

ii) It also makes gratuitous assumptions about the flood mechanism. The degree of devastation, as well as the rate of renewal, would depend on the flood mechanism.

This is all highly speculative. Different models will yield different results.

iii) I also don’t assume that a global flood would be uniform in its effects. That would vary with the natural terrain.

“To apply your example, Americans to this day retain great affinity with English culture.”

No, that’s your example—not mine. You’ve substituted English immigrants for French immigrants.

“Because when the English migrated to America they culturally interacted relatively little with the Native Americans they found here (considering them sub-human).”

That’s one reason. Another reason is that English culture was (for a long time) the dominant culture in the U.S.

“Much as the French would like to think otherwise, they have been influenced substantially by the rest of the continent.”

A process vastly accelerated in the case of French immigrants to the U.S.

“And I would be careful how much the argument is pressed, as scholars date the earliest written Mesopotamian accounts (Atrahasis) earlier than even traditional dates for the Pentateuch.”

The Pentateuch is inspired.

“Yes, theories have been subducted in science, paradigms have changed, but always in directions which build upon and incorporate the data that previous scientific ideas explained.”

That’s simplistic. Larry Laudan, for one, is less sanguine.

You’re also equivocating. For example, Newtonian physics is still useful for computational purposes. However, Newtonian physics is underwritten by views of time and space which are fundamentally at odds with Einstein.

“Now I know that many here will simply chalk this up to the corrupting effects of sin.”

I have’t used that argument, although many secular scientists are quite public and militant about their agenda.

“Utterly unfalsifiable, it could just as well be used by Mormons (and it is) to counter scientific proof against their ideas of American pre-history.”

Mormonism is falsifiable on many different fronts. We know a good deal about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. We know a good deal about 19C American history. Not to mention the many contradictions between the Mormon canon and the canon of Scripture—even though Mormonism pays lipservice to the authority of Scripture.

“I am an engineer. I cannot seal my worlds apart from one another like you suggest.”

I don’t know what this is alluding to. I don’t think that Kurt Wise or John Byl (to take two examples) is out of touch with nature.

Likewise, when I refer to temporal metrical conventionalism, that’s a scientifically respectable position which has enjoyed the intellectual patronage of many distinguished scientific minds.

“I know no technical person (engineering, science, medicine, etc) who can. I beg you to reconsider your dismissal of the fruitfulness of critical/scientific method for ascertaining things about the physical world, including its history. Everything surrounding you right now — your computer, your clothing, the materials constituting your furniture and the building you occupy, the food in your stomach, and the antibiotics in your blood the last time you were sick — they are all proof of this fruitfulness.”

i) This is philosophically naïve. Successful theories can be false. For a theory to succeed, all you need is a reliable correlation between the distal stimulus, the proximal stimulus, and the percept—along with a theory that accurately captures that correlation.

This, however, doesn’t mean the theory is true—any more than my mental representation must be isometric with the distal stimulus.

For example, I can use a keypad to successful withdraw money from an ATM, yet the appearance of the keypad tells me nothing about the money inside. The money is several steps removed from the keypad by physical, electronic, cryptographic, and mechanical processes which intervene to implement my command.

ii) Indeed, a scientific analysis of sensory perception accentuates the distance between appearance and reality. What I perceive is not the extramental object, but encoded information.

Theological grifters

Now is a good time to take stock of the latest skirmish in the perennial “battle for the Bible,” with special reference to Peter Enns and his defenders.

1. One charge is that conservative Christians are ducking the tough questions. What’s ironic about this allegation is that it’s wrong on both counts. First of all, when I read a book like I&I, my immediate impression is one of deja vu.

You know the adage that something is so old it’s new. There’s a tendency on the part of many students to assume that if something is new to them, it’s new. And unscrupulous professors will exploit that reaction.

But there’s nothing new about comparative semitics. E. J. Young, the founding OT professor at Westminster was a master of comparative semitics. A number of the faculty at Old Princeton, like Allis, Wilson, and Davis were trained in comparative semitics.

The Enuma elish and the Epic of Gilgamesh were published in the 19C. Isaac Newton’s Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended was published in 1728. Josephus and the church fathers were aware of a Babylonian flood tradition via Berossus. The church fathers also had to contend with attacks on Scripture by pagans like Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian the Apostate.

There were also scientific challenges to the faith. John Philoponus had to rebut
Aristotelian physics. We tend to forget about this because the science is long forgotten. But today’s scientific objections may be just as obsolete a century from now.

2.Moreover, men like Paul Seely and Peter Enns don’t solve any problems. Rather, they identify certain problems, then capitulate. They take the easy way out.

If they identify an error in Scripture, they attribute that to the “humanity” of Scripture or divine accommodation. But that’s no solution. Rather, that’s an intellectual shortcut.

3.Furthermore, it’s deeply deceptive to suggest that Christians used to believe in Biblical inerrancy because they didn’t know any better, but with mounting evidence to the contrary, we need to revise our traditional dogma.

The truth is just the opposite: thanks to Biblical archaeology, we have far more corroborative evidence for the Bible than earlier Christians enjoyed.

4. Men like Paul Seely and Peter Enns fail to appreciate a Christian’s basic duty to believe whatever God tells him. Not to mention the duty of a seminary professor to defend the word of God.

Someone might object that this begs the question. But remember that this is a debate between professing believers. A debate within the church. Faith in Scripture is a Christian essential. We’re not begging the question as long as this is cast in terms of an intramural debate between fellow Christians.

If, in fact, one side admits that we can no longer take that for granted, then the discussion has shifted to a debate between believers and unbelievers.

Mind you, unbelievers must beg some questions of their own when they attack the Bible.

5.When I speak of Christian duty, I don’t mean to suggest that a Christian perceives the Bible in the same vein as James Barr (to take one example), but act out to act as if those problems don’t exist.

If a Christian sees the same problems, the same way, then his hermeneutical approach is fundamentally flawed.

6.Apropos (5), the number of problems we find in a text depends, to a great extent, on whether we read it with a sympathetic or unsympathetic eye. If you are hostile to the text, if you approach the text searching for errors, then you’ll probably find what you’re looking for.

But that’s largely generated by the reader, not the writing. By a willfully sceptical and antagonistic interpretation of the text.

And this can feed on itself. Men like Seely and Enns don’t find certain parts of Scripture credible. They don’t think these statements are true. They can’t bring themselves to believe it.

Yet they still want to be Christians. So they feel the need to justify their disbelief. In order to justify their disbelief, they must make a case for the errancy of Scripture. They must go out of their way to find errors in Scripture. When given a choice between a sympathetic or unsympathetic reading, they must opt for the least sympathetic reading to prove their point.

I’m not saying that every document is entitled to a sympathetic ear. When we read Mein Kampf or The Protocols of Zion, there’s every reason to read that document in the worst possible light. But that’s a limiting case.

So they pursue a two-step strategy: First, inflict as much damage as they can on the traditional position to make room for their own. Second, introduce their own position as way to solve the problem they created.

It’s like a business partnership between an arsonist and fire insurance salesman. The arsonist drums up business for the insurance salesman. He then gets kickbacks for his support services. Paul Seely and Peter Enns are theological grifters.

I don’t mean they’re insincere. But by convincing themselves that Scripture is errant, they now have a vested interest to protect. Ironically, they have a stake in Scriptural errancy. That’s a paradoxical position for a professing believer to back himself into. But it happens.

It’s morbidly fascinating to see how determined they are to find something wrong with Scripture. Something they can’t believe in. It’s as if their life depended on it.

Their theory of inspiration isn’t regulated by the self-witness of Scripture. Rather, it’s regulated by the sliding scale of what they’re prepared to believe—or disbelieve, as they case may be. They adjust Scripture to their faith, rather than adjusting their faith to Scripture. The rule of faith becomes a sliderule.

And they want to make recruits. That contributes to their sense of self-justification.

It’s like watching a castaway bore a hole in the bottom of his lifeboat. If it doesn’t leak, he’ll make it leak. As the sharks are circling, he’s busy drilling a hole in the lifeboat. He then invites everyone to hop into his sinking lifeboat. Thanks, but no thanks!

There’s a fundamental difference between asking questions because you want an answer which will enable you to better understand and trust the Scriptures—a difference between that and questioning the Bible because you want a reason to disbelieve the Scriptures.

The word of life is a very precious thing. Hundreds of millions of men and women have lived and died without the word of life to guide them here-below or guide them into the hereafter. They lived and died in darkness, and they passed into outer darkness. They lived like animals—looking ahead, but never above. They never knew what hit them. Sleepwalking through life, to wake up in hell.

The word of life is a priceless gift, to be treasured and cherished. Without this map we are doomed to wander in circles until we drop and die and gather flies.

7.Finally, I’m going to repost some remarks I made in answer to a supporter of Enns. He initiated a discussion, but he apparently broke it off. So I’ll rescue my remarks from the combox and post them here.



“Or, do you mean 'narrative compression' in a way that you still hold that inerrancy requires, historically, both Jesus and the crowd answered the question during this interaction---and Mark and Matthew each chose to write about only one of them answering the question?”

I don’t think an ancient reader expected a historian to reproduce verbatim everything that was said, by whom and to whom. I think an ancient reader understood that a historian will frequently speak in his own voice even when he’s speaking on behalf of others.

A narrator often assumes that role. And in the gospels, that role can operate at more than one level. There is the writer of the gospel, who is the narrator for his own audience. And he, in turn, will sometimes relay what other speakers said to their audience.

In telling a parable (Mt 21; Mk 12), Jesus assumes the role of a narrator. He’s a storyteller. As such, he’s a spokesman for other parties. An ancient reader would understand that convention. And Matthew is a narrator of the other narrators whom his narrative includes.

His representation would only be erroneous if he claimed to be quoting someone verbatim, or if the point he was making was to identify who said what when and where.

“It appears as though you adopt a fairly standard position on this, Matthew altered his source (Mark) for theological reasons.”

That oversimplifies my explanation. I’m not driving a wedge between theology and historicity. It’s not as if Mark has a low Christology while Mathew has a high Christology, and Matthew is trying to promote the Christ of faith at the expense of the Jesus of history.

There are no isolated facts. Taking a fact out of context can be just as misleading as an outright falsehood.

That’s what slick lawyers do. Ask the witness a skewed question, then arbitrarily limit how much information the witness is allowed to furnish.

The answer may be narrowly correct, but because the answer was taken out of context, it might as well be a lie.

The gospels writers knew more than their audience. In addition, the gospel writers also had to be selective in what they said. They couldn’t write down everything they knew. It’s therefore incumbent on the gospel writers to contextualize certain events or statements.

That isn’t a departure from factuality. Rather, that’s presenting a fact in its proper context, so that a reader, who wasn’t there to see and hear the “uncut version,” won't form a misimpression of what a speaker meant. That’s why Mark translates Jewish terms for his Roman audience. That’s why John punctuates his gospel with editorial asides. That’s why Luke may substitute a dynamic equivalent which is more intelligible to his Gentile audience.

It would be inaccurate to report raw, isolated facts—for the words and events weren’t discrete words and events, but meaningful words and events—the significance of which lies in their continuity with other words and events.

Historical reality is a continuum. But a historian can’t reproduce the entire continuum. He must excerpt the continuum. And, when he does so, he needs to supply enough context so that his excerpt ought not foster a false impression. He needs to give his reader the sense of the sense data.

“Or, does this mean that you see everything recorded between Mark and Matthew as having been said and that Matthew chose to relay different parts of that historical exchange than Mark.”

Depends on what you mean by “having been said.” I don’t think gospel writers make up statements whole cloth. But they summarize and paraphrase.

I’m not a positivist. I’m not Harold Lindsell—although I respect his exposé.

As to Stonehouse and E.J. Young, this isn’t necessarily a different theory of what inerrancy allows or disallows. Rather, the difference may simply be due to the fact that Stonehouse was a NT scholar who specialized in the Synoptic Gospels while Young was an OT scholar commenting on a passage in the NT.

I’d add that I’m not really interested in casting this debate in terms of Reformed tradition. Because the faculty at WTS are sworn to uphold the WCF, disciplinary action will be framed in those terms.

But I’m not interested in exegeting the WCF or debating the hermeneutical continuities and discontinuities in the history of WTS. That’s a necessary discussion for purposes of disciplinary action at WTS. For it’s a contractual question. Is Enns in breach of contract, by violating a condition of employment?

I don’t have to adjudicate that essentially legal issue. And I don’t care about tradition for tradition’s sake, even if it’s Reformed tradition. The correct formulation of inerrancy doesn’t turn on that institutional dispute.



“I am suspicious that you bring up these points simply to guard inerrancy.”

If you suspect my motives, then I’m the wrong person to ask about my motives.

“You can use your understanding of how ancient authors worked to make it just about impossible to find an error.”

Is it your objective of find an error in Scripture?

“But, will you use consistently apply your understandings of ancient genres and writing-conventions to all of the Bible, even the parts that do not seem to have issues in them?”

If my motive is to safeguard inerrancy, then how would my understanding of ancient literary genres and literary conventions be threatened by parts of Scripture that don’t even pose an apparent challenge to inerrancy?

“Also, if you read EJ Young and then Ned Stonehouse on the issue in question carefully, they do very much seem to come with differing understandings of what inerrancy does or does not allow.”

i) I’m not especially interested in that frame of reference. I think it’s introduced into the discussion, in large part, because it goes to the tactical and intramural debate over whether Enns is a true heir to Machen and Old Princeton, &c.

While that’s a natural frame of reference in the current debate over the future direction of the seminary, it’s too parochial to interest me. Tradition is not my frame of reference.

ii) I do think it’s quite possible that Stonehouse was a more sensitive exegete than Young. Young was a tremendous scholar, but not the most insightful interpreter.

“You seem to assume that the Bible being God’s Word means inerrancy.”

I think that’s a valid inference. The identity of the Bible with the Word of God implicates the inerrancy of Scripture inasmuch as whatever God says is truthful and trustworthy.

However, that’s not the only argument for inerrancy. There’s the self-witness of Scripture, and its bearing on the truthfulness of Scripture.

“If it is possible to explain or to understand parts of the Bible in ways that line up with a nuanced inerrancy point of view, by definition such an explanation is to be preferred to an understanding that does not so understand said part of the Bible.”

That’s correct, but that definition also flows from the self-understanding of Scripture.

“But I do not think that the Bible being God’s word means that it must be inerrant in the more traditional sense.”

I haven’t seen you define what you mean by inerrancy in the “traditional” sense—although you may have done so elsewhere.

“The point at issue is if the Bible being God’s Word means that it is inerrant in the traditional sense or if the Bible being God’s Word means it might look different.”

You’re assuming that if Scripture is inerrant, it would look inerrant. I don’t share that assumption. It’s quite possible for Scripture to appear errant even though it’s inerrant.

An author leaves many things unsaid. He takes for granted a shared understanding between himself and his audience. The audience is expected to fill in the gaps based on common knowledge.

But what was common knowledge to the original audience isn’t common knowledge to a modern reader. So some things may appear errant to a modern reader that wouldn’t appear errant to the original reader, with his background knowledge.

“This makes inerrancy a hermeneutical guide for you.”

That objection cuts both ways. If a commenter thinks the Bible is inerrant, but the Bible is really errant, then that will skew his interpretation at certain points.

If, however, a commentator thinks the Bible is errant, but the Bible is really inerrant, then that, too, will skew his interpretation at certain points.

So your errantist grid creates its own hermeneutical circle.

“Since I do not think the Bible being God’s Word means it must be inerrant in the traditional sense, then I find the hermeneutical principle associated with it unhelpful. It automatically orients our approach to Scripture with a set of assumptions and questions that, from my point of view, are extra-textual and un-Scriptural.”

Once again, that cuts both ways. It’s not just a conservative thing. You’ll remember Bultmann’s admonition that there’s no such thing as exegesis shorn of presuppositions.

I approach the Bible as a Christian. To be a Christian is to have certain theological commitments, not least of which involve a Christian view of Scripture.

I don’t regard that precommitment as an intellectual vice. It would only be a vice if the Christian faith is false.

“If one assumes that all the propositional teachings of Scripture must cohere in a logically systematic way or that no texts can be understood in a way that makes them not harmonizable, then one defines ahead of time what the Bible is allowed to say.”

i) If that’s what you mean by a hermeneutical guide, then you’re characterization of my position is mistaken. I don’t assume that one text must be harmonizable with another.

We only have access to the end-product of the process. We don’t know what a Bible writer brought *to* the process. We know what he left in, but not what he left out.

Since we lack independent access to the totality, we lack a larger frame of reference for harmonizing one text with a parallel text. Although we can make an educated guess, there may well be occasions when we can’t abstract a common sequence from text A and text B, then drop the unique elements of text A and text B into the empty slots.

The narratives of Scripture weren’t put together to be taken apart. It’s not as though the narrator left empty spaces waiting to be penciled in by a modern literary critic.

So there may well be occasions when, in principle as well as practice, we can’t harmonize two texts with each other. In that sense, I don’t bring a harmonistic agenda to the interpretation of scripture.

ii) However, I do believe that, in principle, it is possible two harmonize two parallels texts with the underlying event which they narrate. At that level, harmonization must be possible if the text is a truthful representation of the event.

iii) Mind you, this doesn’t mean that a Bible writer is like a court stenographer who transcribes everything a speaker said, or a security camera that registers everything that fell within the viewfinder.

For example, a Bible writer, in reporting a later event, will sometimes use literary allusions in his description which trigger associations with an earlier event, reported in Scripture. He will do that to draw attention to historical parallels.

iv) When, however, you deny that Biblical propositions always cohere in a logically systematic way, that’s a a euphemistic way of saying they contradict each other.

v) As to not allowing the Bible to speak for itself, this objection is self-delusive. Generally, modern readers deny inerrancy because they are approaching the sacred text with a modernistic set of assumptions. For example, if they think that scripture is errant because it contradicts science, that value-judgment is extra-textual. It mirrors the cultural conditioning of a modern, Western reader.

So they are not hearing the text with the ears of the original author and his target audience. It doesn’t speak to them (the modern audience) the way it was intended to be heard.

It’s not as if a Bible writer prefaces his “thus saith the Lord” with a disclaimer to the effect that what he is saying may not be true. A Bible writer intends to speak the truth.

If, in your judgment, he spoke falsely, then your judgment runs counter to his self-understanding. You’re the one who is not allowing him to speak truthfully. He meant one thing, but you construe his meaning to be at variance with the facts. That’s the way it looks to you, but that’s not the way looks to him.

Therefore, you are unconsciously superimposing an appearance on Scripture which is not how Scripture appears to itself.

“Again, if a traditional conception of inerrancy is un-Scriptural, then this hermeneutical position inhibits our reading of the Bible.”

No, what inhibits our reading of Scripture is if we’re unable to identify with the viewpoint of Scripture.

“In many ways your ‘more nuanced’ approach (see your comment on how you are not like Harold Lindsel) functions to make it more difficult to challenge your views on inerrancy.”

You betray a schizophrenic attitude towards Lindsell and Young. On the one hand, you fault them for their stilted view of Scripture. On the other hand, you fault me for my more “nuanced” view of Scripture.

So you seem to think that the “traditional” theory of inspiration is, in fact, the correct theory. The problem is that it’s been applied to the wrong book.

If the Bible were inerrant, then it would “behave” the way the “traditional” theory predicts. Since it doesn’t behave that way, the traditional theory is still (hypothetically) correct, but misapplied, since the Bible is actually errant—which is why there is a mismatch between theory and praxis.

“On the one hand this allows you to explain away possible ‘errors’ in the Bible.”

Once again, you see the problem in the same way that Lindsell and Young saw it. Where you differ is not in how you perceive the problem, but in how you perceive the solution. Right theory, wrong book.

I have a different solution because I don’t see a problem where you do. I don’t expect the Bible to “behave” the way you do if it were inerrant.

“So, even in view of your more nuanced takes on how ancient authors worked and their freedom to shape their accounts, you still come with certain assumptions about how the Bible is allowed to behave and thus what it is allowed to say—assumptions that go beyond general historical-hermeneutics methodologies.”

No, grammatico-historical exegesis makes allowance for the self-understanding of a document. The methodology is neutral on the claims of the document.

To interpret Dante, you must identify with his viewpoint—even if you disagree with his viewpoint. You must interpret Dante in light of Thomism, Aristotelian physics, and Ptolemaic astronomy—even though you don’t share that outlook.

That’s what we mean by critical sympathy. You’re confounding hermeneutics with doxastics.

Where Scripture is concerned, the primary difference emerges at the tail-end of the exegetical process: do we believe what we exegete? For a Christian, the answer ought to be yes. That goes beyond critical sympathy.

“For example, any type of serious theological diversity seems to be unacceptable to you. But, what if Luke’s take on Jesus’ death diverges sharply from Mark’s, even to the point of Luke consciously writing his Gospel in such a way that it stands against Mark’s view?”

i) It’s euphemistic for you to cling to plenary inspiration (“I fully believe that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, through and through”) if you’re also going to say that Luke presents his theological interpretation as a self-conscious competitor and corrective to Mark’s theological interpretation.

ii) At the same time, when you say this you’re taking every bit as much interest in how two texts relate to each other as an evangelical harmonist. You’re not leaving these texts in splendid isolation. To broaden the point, a redaction critic is just as interested in how the synoptic gospels are interrelated as an evangelical harmonist. Indeed, that’s why a guy like Craig Blomberg finds redaction criticism useful in harmonizing the gospels.

iii) Finally, let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that your view of Scripture is correct. Where does that leave us? What’s so great about a true interpretation of a false statement?

Suppose that Peter Enns and E. J. Young are both fans of Babylon 5. Young believes that Straczynski is inerrant. His commitment to inerrancy becomes a hermeneutical guide. In his effort to harmonize the story arcs, he flattens out the narrative depth and diversity of the story arcs. He defines ahead of time what Straczynski is allowed to say.

By contrast, Enns doesn’t bring a harmonistic agenda to Babylon 5. He makes no effort to harmonize the story arcs in a logically systematic way. As a result, his reading of Babylon 5 captures the depth and diversity of the story arcs.

The problem, though, is that even if Enns’ interpretation is more accurate, it’s an accurate interpretation of a fictitious narrative.

I lose interest in John’s theological interpretation of the Cross if his narrative is fictitious. Unless his interpretation of the event corresponds to a real event in time and space, why should I care what he thought? Likewise, Luke’s interpretation can’t be opposed to Mark’s interpretation and both be equally true—although both could be equally false.

Keep in mind that we’re now discussing the central event in the Christian faith. If we don’t even have a true and trustworthy account of what Jesus accomplished on the Cross, then we can forget about Genesis or Chronicles.

There was a lot of theological diversity in Babylon 5. But I really don’t care about the theological significance of Foundationism, because it’s a fictitious religion.


The authors of the book "UnChristian" tell us that Christianity has an "image problem." In some respects this guy is right; meaning, we do need to care for the poor, the needy, and spend less time fooling with politics, etc. But that's not what I'm concerned about because everybody who believes the word of God agrees with that (cf. John 18:36; Galatians 2:10; James 1:27).

The authors state on page 11 of "UnChristian", "Our research shows that many of those outside of Christianity, especially younger adults, have little trust in the Christian faith, and esteem for the lifestyle of Christ followers is quickly fading for outsiders. They admit their emotional and intellectual barriers go up when they are around Christians, and they reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians."

What comes out in the video interview below starting at 1:00 is that most non-Christian young people are ashamed of the behavior of Christians today because "9/10 see us an antihomosexual . . . 87% judgmental, 85 % hypocritical, and 75% of Christians are too involved in politics . . . essentially what they're saying to us is that Christianity is no longer like Jesus intended." At 2:20 Mr. Lyons says, "We need to realize that Christ followers are called to love, to be the most compassionate, service-oriented people, contributing to the common good of culture and to society, and we've gotten a little bit away from that over the last few decades and it's time to get back to that."

At 2:30 the reporter then takes a quote from the book written by one contributor Andy Stanley that said, "churches should not focus solely on converting people" to which Mr. Lyons responded, "In the research this was one of the problems, Christians are known for proselytizing, for trying to get people saved, to get another notch in their belt, and what they said to us was, 'Look, we feel like another product in some ways, that, that people are just motived to convert us over to their way of thinking, but they care very little for us, they don't listen to us, they're not concerned about our real needs, our real challenges, and if Christians would just be normal people, and be friends, and be accepting, and loving, and connect with people in that way, maybe there would be a better chance of us listening to them." To which the reporter says, "That's powerful, just numbers driven on that?"

You can watch the rest of the video to hear a little more of the same, but I have three observations I'd like to make regarding some of the statements above:

1. No Godlover denies that Christians are to be people of compassion and service, but our prime directive is to preach the gospel to Godhaters as the ultimate manifestation of that compassion. What could be more compassionate and loving than warning hell-bound people to flee from God's coming wrath by finding rest in Jesus Christ? Christ commanded the apostles, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20

2. This book contains questionable contributors with questionable agendas. For example, take Brian McLaren. Consider
what McLaren has said here in regards to homosexuality:

"Frankly, many of us don't know what we should think about homosexuality. . . . Perhaps we need a five-year moratorium on making pronouncements. In the meantime, we'll practice prayerful Christian dialogue, listening respectfully, disagreeing agreeably. When decisions need to be made, they'll be admittedly provisional. We'll keep our ears attuned to scholars in biblical studies, theology, ethics, psychology, genetics, sociology, and related fields. Then in five years, if we have clarity, we'll speak; if not, we'll set another five years for ongoing reflection. After all, many important issues in church history took centuries to figure out. Maybe this moratorium would help us resist the "winds of doctrine" blowing furiously from the left and right, so we can patiently wait for the wind of the Spirit to set our course."

The above statement is just plain dangerous. It says without reservation that the Bible cannot speak to our present situation authoritatively and finally (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Even one of his supposed friends, the neo-Reformed Pastor Mark Driscoll thankfully labeled him a heretic at the the Southeastern Baptist Convergence Conference here and documented that McLaren endorsed a book written by John Dominic Crossan that denies the historicity of the birth narratives of Jesus (see here, then scroll down to read McLaren's endorsement of a book written by a man who is essentially a deist). Why are we asking a heretic to inform us what we need to do to improve Christianity's image before the world? The fact is, true Christianity will always be hated by the world and thus will always have what these authors call "an image problem". John said it succinctly, "Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you" (1st John 3:13) and Jesus said in John 15:19 "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you." We have an image problem because the world hates us and the world hates us because the world hates our Christ.

3. Let's take on a few statements from the book and video. Page 11 says, ". . . they [young people] reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians." What in the world does this really mean? If it means that wacko professing pseudo-Christians that are hateful, rude, and downright obscene and vulgar in their denunciation of sinful activities, like the group from "Westboro Baptist Church" (which is actually a cult), then no wonder they feel rejected.

the problem is this: Bible-believing Christians are loving and compassionate people, and despite all their faults and foibles, they want more than anything else to see God glorified through the spiritual saving of people from His own impending wrath. This means that they refuse to participate in and associate with the things that sinners do because they love Jesus (1 Peter 1:16). Things like abortion on demand (baby murder), homosexuality, and gay marriage are just the tip of the iceberg. These societal manifestations of sin are just outward symptoms of a greater problem: spiritual death brought about by rejection of the gospel (Ephesians 2:1-5).

So, when you wonder why Bible-believing Christians don't want to be "accepting" and "tolerant" of your "lifestyle choices" (i.e., abortion on demand, sodomy, fornication, lying, thievery) even though they are more than happy to exert great energy to lovingly tell you that God hates your sin and is going to throw you into Hell if you don't repent and place your faith in Christ, yet you continue to mock us and mock our God, so don't be surprised if you feel "rejected". You feel rejected not because there isn't a loving Christian around to tell you the good news, but because when you do and have heard that good news it convicts you and you then can't own up to the fuzzy sense of right and wrong that God has placed in your heart (Romans 2:14-15 - the law of conscience). You feel rejected because you know deep down inside that you will be rejected by God because you don't even meet the standard He's placed in your own conscience, and instead of repenting, you lash out in anger and complaint against God and His people with your laundry list of excuses for not repenting and believing. Yet you still blame Bible-believing Christians for rejecting you when you are the problem. It's really that simple. Look sinner, if you continue to reject the gospel, kick us in the teeth, create websites to foment your anger against God, don't complain if you feel rejected. You are rejected . . . by God (Hebrews 12:17). Your sins have made a separation between you and God and your hatred for God bleeds over into your hatred for God's people (Isaiah 59:2). Be warned, God's people won't hang around you too much if you're constantly hacking away at their Jesus. We'll do the best we can as prudence dictates, but we won't continue to cast our pearls before swine, as Jesus Himself commanded, but we'll leave you and go find someone who might carefully consider what we are saying. We only have a short time because we actually believe we only get one life on this earth, contrary to what Deepak Chopra says (Matthew 7:6;
Luke 6:27; Ephesians 5:15-16; Hebrews 9:27). Nevertheless, if you're around a true believer long enough, we will come after you with the gospel and eventually God is either going to save you or you're going to reject the gospel and eventually us and then blame us for your rejection of Jesus because we actually were caring and compassionate enough with you to offend you with the only message that can actually save you (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18). The video says @ 2:30,

"'Look, we feel like another product in some ways, that, that people are just motived to convert us over to their way of thinking, but they care very little for us, they don't listen to us, they're not concerned about our real needs, our real challenges, and if Christians would just be normal people, and be friends, and be accepting, and loving, and connect with people in that way, maybe there would be a better chance of us listening to them."

You feel like a "product" because that is what you are to the market-driven "churches". You are an opportunity for them to expand their market base. These religious institutions are merely the result of a "man-centered" approach to religion, a corporation-like mentality that desires to expand the sheer numbers of people in the congregation by attracting "seekers" through offering certain "products" that can increase the market-share of the religious institution. You might also feel like a product of evangelism in many other churches because of the false gospel of "decisionism", a pragmatic approach to religion which teaches that people become Christians if they are emotionally manipulated into making a "decision" for Christ during an altar call, or through some other unbiblical means.

As to our caring for you and being concerned about your real needs and challenges, here is the problem: if you are not a Christian, then you have no clue as to what your greatest need is because you are spiritually dead. This is why you need to hear it from a Bible-believing Christian who does understand. Your greatest need is not education, it is not a new job, it is not to become a better person, and it is not to become a better father, husband, or employee. Your greatest need is salvation from God's eternal wrath through Jesus Christ. In a thousand years it is not going to matter how great a father, husband, employee, societal reformer, or boyfriend you were. What is going to matter for today and eternity is whether or not Jesus Christ knew you intimately. All other things grow strangely dim when you are faced with that fact. I close this article with a message from Him who has eyes like a flame of fire and feet like polished bronze:

"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 "For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. 15 "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 "You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 "So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 "So then, you will know them by their fruits. 21 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' 23 "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'" Matthew 7:13-23

Friday, April 25, 2008

WTS on the Enns affair

From here:
The attached PDF provides some of the documents in the theological discussion brought forth by the book Inspiration and Incarnation.

The following items are included in the pdf document:

* Statement from the Chairman of the Board
* Preface to the Historical and Theological Field Committee
* Historical and Theological Fied Committee Report (HTFC)
* Preface to the Hermeneutics Field Committee's Reply
* Hermeneutics Field Committee's Reply to the HTFC (HFC)
* Edgar-Kelly Motion
* Minority Report
* "'The Infallible Rule of Interpretation of Scripture': The Hermeneutical Crisis and the Westminster Standards"

"Is Our Pain God's Problem?"

Patrick Chan has pointed me to a debate between Bart Ehrman and Tom Wright:

I don't think that Wright has a very good explanation for the problem of evil. Indeed, he doesn't pretend to. But he does make some other useful observations along the way. Here are my favorites:

First, picking up that point about thinking and feeling, I do think the rhetorical impact both of your book and of your brief opening statement is to make a powerful appeal to the emotions, perhaps particularly to the emotions of western persons such as ourselves who are insulated, geographically and culturally, from so many of the world’s horrors. You spend a good deal of time in the book, and even in your brief posting, detailing some of these horrors, as though to remind readers of what (surely?) all intelligent people know already. (I wouldn’t have been able to rattle off the actual statistics, but none of the phenomena came as a surprise.)

There are of course multiple miseries in the world, and for many (most?) of them it’s impossible to say, ‘There, look, some good came out of it.’ I think we both react in the same way against that suggestion...But I’m not sure what logical or moral (as opposed to rhetorical) force you add to your case by describing in such detail the horrors of the world.

In a sense, you simply bring us back to where western Europe found itself after the Lisbon earthquake on All Saints Day 1755. Up to then some had said, ‘Look at the world, think about it, and you’ll see that God exists and that Christianity is true.’ The earthquake was a wake-up call to casual western religion, and precipitated the whole Enlightenment revolution, first towards a detached Deism and then into agnosticism or atheism. Have you done anything other than recapitulate that moment? And, if you haven’t, I guess I want to ask: were you not aware, earlier, of the scale of evil in the world – the Holocaust, the dying babies, the inexplicable ‘natural’ disasters, and so on? You’re not implying, are you, that people (like me, for instance) who still hold to Christian faith are somehow failing to notice these horrors, or to reflect soberly and deeply on them? And if, as you say, your book (and your blog posting) do not actually constitute an argument against Christian faith (‘If you reflect on these issues you’ll see that the Christian claim is incredible’), might it not seem that the shift in your own position which you have described is a shift which came about, not because of logical argument, but because of other (unspecified) factors, with the problem of suffering providing a kind of intellectual backdrop to a journey whose main energy was supplied from elsewhere?

I am very much alive to the importance of the emotions within the whole debate, and don’t at all want to reduce it to cold logic; but if one is making an argument, then multiplying examples of the problem doesn’t actually add to the force of that argument.

This was why (your first point, my second) I was wondering about the force that is added to the case your book is making (or – a sudden thought – was your book not after all ‘making a case,’ but rather ‘expressing an emotion’?) by spending, say, twenty pages describing the Holocaust in detail rather than summarizing it in one or two. I’m still trying to get a handle on the relation between the rhetorical strategy of your book (rubbing your readers’ noses in great detail about the horrors of the world) and the actual substance of the case you’re making. I am not at all saying that numbers don’t matter or wanting to reduce things to cold logic . . .

For the early Christians, God’s new world – the world where God’s writ runs – had already begun, and they were living in it by the power of the Spirit. Things did change. The early Christians did make a difference. (See Rodney Stark’s remarkable book on The Rise of Christianity.) Yes, of course, earthquakes and tsunamis still happen. The NT writers knew that as well as we did, and they went on saying that Jesus was already Lord, not simply that he would become that one day.

But it leads me to my final question – to press a point I made in our radio interview: Why, granted your view of the world, should we bother? Why not ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die,’ and thank our lucky stars that we can do so? The other side of the coin of ‘the problem of evil’ is, after all, ‘the problem of good’: if there is no God, no good and wise creator, why is there an impulse to justice and mercy so deep within us? Why is there beauty, love, laughter, friendship, joy? How do you then tell the difference between Ecclesiastes and Sartre? The Bible of course has some answers to those questions.

Enslaved to passion

In his recent diatribe against Calvinism, Victor Reppert has done a wonderful job of illustrating the Humean adage that “reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.”

It becomes increasingly clear that, at least where theology is concerned, Reppert uses his philosophical acumen to justify positions which he arrived at on purely emotional grounds.

“Where does Romans mention anyone’s eternal destiny? Where? Even where individuals are mentioned (Jacob and Esau, and Pharoah) they are elected for historic roles, not for heaven or hell.”

Manata has already pointed Reppert to Douglas Moo’s discussion of Pauline judgment.

Beyond that, I’d make a different, if complementary, point. Reppert seems to think that Paul was a universalist. But universalism is a soteriological thesis. Yet if Reppert is going to reject a soteriological reading of Romans, then he can’t very well quote Rom 5:18 or 11:32 to prove universal salvation.

“It’s just that I am more certain that it is wrong to inflict pain on little children for your own amusement than I am that the “world” in John 3: 16 refers to the elect and not to all persons.”

Who says that Jn 3:16 refers to the elect? I understand this verse in a qualitative rather than quantitative sense. As Andrew Lincoln explains in his recent commentary on John:

“Some argue that the term ‘world’ here simply has neutral connotations—the created human world. But the characteristic use of ‘the world’ (ho kosmos) elsewhere in the narrative is with negative overtones—the world in its alienation from and hostility to its creator’s purposes. It makes better sense in a soteriological context to see the latter notion as in view. God loves that which has become hostile to God. The force is not, then, that the world is so vast that it takes a great deal of love to embrace it, but rather that the world has become so alienated from God that it takes an exceedingly great kind of love to love it at all” (154).

“Calvinism attributes to God actions which in any parallel human context would be considered wrong by anyone.”

i) I can’t help noticing that Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens say exactly the same thing about Yahweh. The OT attributes to Yahweh actions which in any parallel human context would be considered wrong by anyone. And they don’t think the NT is any improvement.

ii) I don’t know which actions Reppert is referring to. Lately he’s been attacking Calvinism because it subscribes to the traditional doctrine of hell. But damnation is hardly a Reformed distinctive.

If that’s what he has in mind, then it’s not merely Calvinism which attributes this action to God. Traditional Catholicism, Lutheranism, Evangelical Arminianism, Evangelical Anglicanism, and so on and so forth, all adhere to the doctrine of eternal punishment.

iii) Or is he referring to reprobation? Is his objection to damnation—or predamnation? But I’ve never seen the moral relevance of the distinction. As William Cunningham noted long ago, “whatever God does in time he resolved from eternity to do.”

iv) I freely admit that Calvinism has some harsh edges. But so does Scripture. Calvinism isn’t any harsher than many parts of the Bible—parts of the Bible which, for that very reason, infidels have always seized up to pummel the Christian faith.

v) For that matter, Calvinism isn’t any harsher than the world we live in. That’s one of the things I admire about Calvinism. One of the things that attracts me to Calvinism. Its realism. Calvinism is realistic in the same way that Scripture is realistic.

Calvinism is theology for grownups, while Arminianism or universalism is theology for preschoolers. Calvinism is hated for its frank, unyielding honesty.

vi) I take it that Reppert is a universalist. He also appeals to intuition as his deal breaker.

Fine. Let’s apply intuition to universalism. If you were a universalist, and you were God, is this the sort of world that you would design? Would you expect a divine universalist to engineer the sort of world we live in?

Does universalism entail the massive savagery and wonton cruelty we observe? Does universalism entail the extreme disparities of indulgence and deprivation that we observe? Couldn’t a divine universalist save everyone at a lower cost to life and limb?

When I look out the window, the world I see looks far more like a world designed by a Calvinist than a universalist.

Of course, universalism tries to justify the wretchedness of life here-below by the compensatory payoff of the life to come. I don’t know. Is that intuitively compelling? It’s rather like offering a victim of gang-rape a lollipop to make it all better.

More to the point, the universalist wouldn’t need to invoke this eschatological compensation in the first place if life here below wasn’t so horrendous. So how does the eschatological compensation justify the status quo? That sidesteps the question of why things are so bad in this life that only universal salvation can make up for all the pain and suffering in the here and now.

A wretched world might justify a better world to come, but how does a better world to come justify a wretched world? Why is the universalist entitled to take evil for granted?

Universalism can’t help itself to the freewill defense, for there’s a deterministic quality to universalism. How can the outcome be open-ended if everyone ends up in the same place?

vii) As a matter of fact, God does enjoy certain prerogatives which human beings do not—just as parents enjoy certain prerogatives which little children do not.

This doesn’t mean that God is free to do anything whatsoever, but it’s not as if we have to choose from either total continuity or total discontinuity between divine and human virtue.

vii) Reppert’s assertion begs the question. Indeed, his logic is reversible. As a practical matter, I don’t have the prerogative, as a human being, to damn anyone. But if damnation is just, then I don’t see that it would be intrinsically wrong for a human being to damn the wicked. If the wicked merit everlasting punishment, then, in principle, it would not be wrong for a human judge to damn them to hell. I don’t see where the parallel breaks down.

“We are not entitled to use the term ‘God’ unless the being in question is good in some sense that is continuous with the use of the term ‘good’ as it is used in ordinary language.”

That’s an assertion, not an argument. And it’s pretty obvious that “good” is both person-variable and culturally variable. Does “good” retain the same meaning in Upper Manhattan that it does for the Nebraska Amish?

“The supreme good, according to Calvinism, is God’s glory. I still don’t know what that means. It looks to me like this theory of the good is just a blank check to justify whatever you think God has done. If God had chosen to save everyone or damn everyone, we would say it was for His glory if we wanted to. So the theory doesn’t explain anything, since it could be used to explain everything.”

This isn’t a *theory*. It’s Biblical teaching. It’s not like a scientific hypothesis.

“There’s no uncertainty about predestination so long as you focus on certain passages. If you focus on others, you come out an Arminian or a universalist. In Romans is says whoever believes and confesses is saved, in Philippians it says that eventually every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. Put those two verses together and you get a case for universalism. Of course you can read these passages in the light of the doctrine of everlasting punishment, but can’t you equally read passages about hell in the light of the doctrine of universal salvation?”

Let’s take a concrete example, shall we?

“From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD” (Isa 66:23).

Sounds like a prooftext for universal salvation. What does the very next verse have to say?

“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh."

Clearly, “all flesh” in v24 is less than fully inclusive. Hence, “all flesh” in v23 is less than fully inclusive. But if you took v23 isolation, you would misconstrue the scope of intended referent. Cf. B. Childs, Isaiah (WJK 2001), 542.

“’Eternal’ on this system of exegesis means age-long rather than absolutely eternal.”

One of the problems with that semantic move is that it results, not in universal salvation, but universal annihilation. If “eternal” merely means age-long rather than everlasting, then the “eternal” life of the redeemed will eventually come to an end.

“What does it mean to say that God is good? Is it just a way of saying ‘God is bigger than you are, and can beat you up forever if you don’t obey him?’ If that’s what it means, then the term just doesn’t mean anything.”

This is not a serious attempt to accurately represent the doctrine of everlasting punishment. Reppert acts like a little child who makes a scene at the checkout stand because his Mom won’t buy him all those candy bars.

In Biblical ethics, God’s goodness is largely defined by his judicial role in the Final Judgment. Exacting retributive justice on the wicked is a paradigmatic example of divine goodness. And I’d add that this dovetails with my own moral intuitions.

“Are things right just because the most powerful being in the universe has commanded it. I can imagine an Omnipotent Fiend. If theological voluntarism is true, there cannot, by definition, be an Omnipotent Fiend.”

Like Calvin, Owen, and others, I reject theological voluntarism. At the same time, this is an issue with many moral and theological subtleties:

“We can, and do, bend and grow our conception of goodness in the light of Scripture. But what do we do when we encounter a reading of Scripture that breaks our ordinary moral conceptions, rather than just bend it?”

i) Several issues. Reppert keeps appealing to intuition, but intuition can mean different things:

a) A synonym for tacit knowledge.

b) A euphemism for emotion, often in the form of willful sentimentality.

c) A product of social conditioning.

d) A snap judgment.

ii) There are certain things in Scripture that make me wince. But that’s because the Bible is realistic. Many things in real life make me wince. If you live in a fallen world, that goes with the terrain.

iii) There are certain things in Scripture that have challenged my mral preconceptions. But, on further reflection, I find them wise and reasonable.

“Or we might ask, what makes Scripture Scripture? Remember, there are lots of candidates out there. The Qu’ran, the Book of Mormon, the Hebrew Scriptures without the NT, the Bhagavad-Gita.”

That’s specious.

i) The Koran and the Book of Mormon are the product of Christian heresies. Not a genuine alternative, but a patent counterfeit.

ii) Hinduism, which is pantheistic, can’t even underwrite a doctrine of divine revelation, for that presupposes a personal agent.

iii) The question is whether the OT is fulfilled in the NT. And the God of the NT isn’t at odds with the God of the OT.

“A connections with my own conceptions of good what makes the Christian God and Scripture valid for me.”

This is a euphemistic way of admitting that Reppert’s faith is nothing more than a designer religion—made to order according to his personal specifications. By definition, his theology corresponds, not to reality, but to his prejudice and predilection. That’s how Scripture defines idolatry. Imaginary gods.

“It is the apparent teaching of passages in Deuteronomy and Proverbs that the righteous will prosper on earth and the wicked will suffer on earth. Are those passages lies?”

Notice that Reppert’s grasp of Biblical hermeneutics is no better than a hillbilly. But at least the hillbilly is trying to be faithful to the message—as he understands it.

“One question I might now ask is in virtue of what is the "God" of Scripture, as understood by Calvinists, thought of as good, if not His power.”

His wisdom, mercy, grace, justice, and fidelity—for starters.

“What characteristics does the Omnipotent One have that we should worship him. Of course Scripture says that Omnipotent One is good. But, of course, if Scripture is the word of the Omnipotent One, that is precisely what we should expect. It's just the Almighty's spin machine. The Almighty says He is good, and Clinton said he was telling the truth. What else is new? We need some characteristics of the Omnipotent One that provide us with grounds that we are not dealing with an Omnipotent Fiend.”

If Reppert is going to resort to this tactic, then it cuts both ways. The Cartesian demon could be feeding him false moral intuitions. Reppert’s preconception of goodness is the product of Cartesian demonic brainwashing. He was conditioned to think that universalism is better than Calvinism. And he can’t shake his programming.

“Now, let's suppose that a thorough study of Scripture reveals to me that Calvinism is in fact true, that is, the being in charge of the universe is indeed a Calvinistic God who has predestined some to eternal life and some to everlasting punishment. The Omnipotent One does exist, and God is a reprobator. At first, as I discover this, I ask myself if I might be mistaken in thinking that this reprobating deity would not be good. However, depressingly for me, my intuitions don't budge. It seems true all right that the Omnipotent One has predestined some to heaven and some to hell, but I find that I can't worship Him.”

If you find that you can’t worship him, then that’s a mark of reprobation.

“As John Stuart Mill puts it: ‘I will call no being good who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures; and if such a creature can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go’.”

That clench-fisted defiance illustrates to perfection the essential justice of hell.

“Given the fact that I have now agreed that Calvinism has the facts right, how do you now persuade me that this is right.”

That’s not my job. As a matter of fact, Calvinism often has this clarifying effect. Calvinism eschews the facile evasions of Arminian theology. It wipes the dusty window clean so that you can see the alternatives with stark clarity of mind.

“I am consistently told that I shouldn't lift my moral intuitions up above the Word of God. This works so long as I remain convinced that God is good. Dispelling doubts about God's goodness by appealing to Scripture seems blatantly question-begging.So my question is this: if we assume that predestination is true, on what basis do we believe that the Predestinator is a good being? If we pose the question that way, it looks as if appeals to Scripture are going to beg the question..”

i) Any debate over conflicting intuitions may well be headed for stalemate. We can try to a challenge a man’s intuition by appealing to another intuition that he also shares. Show him that he is neglecting some counterexamples. That his intuitive appeal has oversimplified the issue. By pushing one intuition to a logical extreme, that puts it at odds with another one of his intuitions. But if he sticks to his guns, there’s nothing more to say.

Suppose I got into a debate with Josef Mengele over bioethics. Would there be enough common ground to break the impasse? I seriously doubt it.

ii) It also depends on whether someone finds the Bible believable or not. We can give him reasons to believe it. But we can’t make it believable to him. If, at the end of the day, he finds a Biblical doctrine incredible, despite our explanations, then there’s nothing more we can do or ought to do. I don’t have the power to change his mind, and it’s not incumbent on me to convince him otherwise. He’s not answerable to me, and I’m not answerable to him.