Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bleeding-heart universalism

I am interested in the question of whether one can speak in any meaningful way of God loving a person whom God has reprobated.

The issue that interests me would be met in this way: take any conception of love that can be found in Scripture, and explain how it is make sense to say that God loves person X, given the fact that person X was reprobated before the foundation of the world.

Of course, perhaps Calvinists can't answer that question affirmatively. If so, can they just say so? Even if Calvinists can say that God doesn't love everyone, could they say so?

Several issues:

i) I recently answered that very question in response to Jason Pratt. And that got started on Reppert’s very own blog.

So, why, in the context of a post on Triablogue, does he act as if no one at Triablogue has ever answered that question before?

ii) I’d add though, that his question is a trick question. It’s not as if the Scriptural conception of love is the only issue. The Scriptural conception of love can’t be separated from the Scriptural conception of justice.

iii) And it’s a trick question in another respect. It’s not as if Reppert’s objection is limited to the Reformed doctrine of reprobation. No, Reppert objects to the principle of retributive justice as a basis for everlasting punishment.

Even if we denied reprobation, he would have another objection right behind that. For him, it’s not just a question of whether God loves a person he has reprobated, but whether God loves a person he has damned.

iv) Moreover, it’s not as if Scripture conceives of love in merely indiscriminate terms. If the Good Shepherd loves his flock of sheep, that doesn’t mean he also loves the pack of wolves.

v) Furthermore, it isn’t possible to be equally loving to all sinners. Loving one sinner can come at the expense of loving another sinner.

Take the case of Lawrence Singleton and Mary Vincent. What would be the loving thing for a judge to do? Would it be more loving for a judge to commit Singleton to a mental facility to rehabilitate him, if possible? Would remedial justice be the loving remedy?

Well, remedial punishment might be more loving for Singleton. That might be more loving for his mother. Remedial punishment would be more loving than retributive punishment in their case.

Would that also be more loving for Vincent? If she were in court that day, when the loving judge handed down this loving sentence, would that show love for her situation?

In a moment, I’m going to reproduce some of the graphic details of Singelton’s criminal career. If Reppert were speaking to Vicent face-to-face, what would he say to her, exactly? I want to hear how he goes about explaining to her why it’s better to treat Singleton as lovingly as possible rather than subject him to retributive punishment alone.

Singleton got a way with things because bleeding-heart lawmakers couldn’t bring themselves to mete out harsh punishment. Cuz that would be way too unloving, ya know.

And he also got away with things because he had so many loving friends. Unfortunately, his friends were not as loving where his victims were concerned.

Nothing is crueler than misplaced compassion.

On a cloudy Wednesday, Feb. 19, now 69-year-old Lawrence Singleton began his day by installing a drainpipe alongside his newly renovated home in the Orient Park neighborhood of east Tampa, Fla. He'd transformed the abandoned barracks his brother Herb bought him into a showplace. His yard was perfectly preened. He fastidiously wiped his cat's paw prints off neighbors' cars. "Bill," as Singleton called himself these days, brought steaks to neighbors and happily watched their kids play with Kala, his Rottweiler puppy. Down at the Brandon Crossroads Bowl, where Singleton was a regular in the Monday afternoon league, his fellow Golden Agers found him "a friendly guy," a good bowler, who'd stop by the snack bar for a midday beer.
Some of his bowling buddies heard he had a past -- a rape in California. "Bill" insisted he'd been "framed." Singleton seemed no more ominous than any other aging native son who returns to spend his last years at home and at peace.

No one in Florida -- not his family or friends, not the state correctional officials, not the psychiatrists at the mental hospital where he was briefly confined, not the sheriff who took a complaint from a relative worried over comments Singleton made about a neighbor girl, and certainly not Roxanne Hayes, the 31-year-old prostitute and mother of three who agreed to come to his immaculate home on that Wednesday afternoon -- no one understood Singleton's capacity for violence. In fact, only one person seemed truly to comprehend the savage rage Lawrence Singleton could inflict on another human being, and that was his first victim, Mary Bell Vincent.

Singleton picked up Mary Vincent in his blue van on Sept. 29, 1978, as the teenager was hitchhiking from Berkeley to Los Angeles. She'd come from home in Las Vegas to visit an uncle and was setting out on her own to see California. Singleton told her he had a daughter, Debra, just her age and offered to drive her to Interstate 5, the fastest route south.

Instead, he kept driving east, toward Modesto. When Vincent realized something was wrong, she would later testify, she became "scared and mad" and found a pointed surveyor's stick beside the passenger seat. She picked it up and demanded he drive her back to the freeway. "I'm sorry," Singleton said. "I'm just an honest man who made an honest mistake." He turned his van around.

Soon he said he had to relieve himself and could not wait to find a gas station. Stopping in desolate Del Puerto Canyon, he got out of the van. Vincent got out, too. As she bent over to tie her tennis shoe, Singleton hit her. He tied her hands, tore open her white blouse and pulled her hair, forcing her mouth onto his penis. "You better suck hard, you bitch," Vincent remembers he said. He raped her there, then threw her back into the van and drove deeper into the canyon. It was almost dark when he pulled over again and repeatedly raped and sodomized her. "It hurt a lot," she said. She begged him over and over again to set her free. He made her drink alcohol from a plastic jug and she passed out.

When she came to, he was cutting the ropes off of her hands and she thought he was letting her go. Then, she looked up and saw an ax coming down as he held out her left arm. "You want to be free?" he said. "You'll be free." He chopped off her left arm below the elbow in three strokes of the ax. Vincent was screaming, fighting to pull away, blood was spurting everywhere. He held her down, grabbed her right arm and chopped it off in two strokes. Then he threw the girl over a railing into a culvert, saying, "OK, now you're free."

Mary Vincent walked out of Del Puerto Canyon alive. Two vacationers found her wandering nude, in shock, holding up her arms "so the muscles and blood wouldn't fall out," she said. They wrapped her in towels and drove to an airport to call an ambulance. The first thing Vincent said was, "He raped me."

Singleton couldn't convince the California jury of his story, but years later he would find a more sympathetic audience in the good people of Orient Park. Singleton had settled in Florida after serving only eight years of his 14-year sentence. (The national uproar that followed his release was key to bringing about today's stiffer penalties for violent sex offenders.) Despite his infamy, Singleton's Florida neighbors came around to believing "Bill" was set up in that California rape. They bought his "other Larry" scenario, finding it just as hard as his neighbors on Flannery Road in San Pablo to believe a guy as nice and ordinary as Larry Singleton could commit crimes as cruel as those inflicted on Mary Vincent.

Then came the Wednesday evening two weeks ago, when a house painter returned to Singleton's home, unannounced, about dinner time and found Bill in his living room viciously beating a nude woman. The painter, who later told the media Singleton was "in another dimension," ran. By the time the painter called 911, Larry Singleton stood over Roxanne Hayes with a boning knife. He stabbed her a dozen times, once through her heart. Blood spurted over the new carpeting and matching blue-green sofa his brother had bought for him from Rooms to Go. Roxanne Hayes, who'd tried to turn a quick trick on her way to the store to buy groceries for her kids' dinner, lay dead, the newest victim of Singleton's overwhelming rage against women.

When the Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy arrived, Singleton answered the door smeared with blood. He told the officer he'd cut himself chopping vegetables. Then the phone rang. As Singleton went into the house to answer it, the deputy peeked around the door and saw Hayes' nude, bloody body on the living room floor.

"They framed me the first time, but this time I did it," Singleton confessed as he was led away. However, by the time he was appointed a public defender, he had changed his story. He will plead not guilty at his coming arraignment.

Roxanne Hayes had worked from the same park bench every day while her children, Akiena, 11, Clifton, 7, and Malachi, 3, were in school and day care. "She was straight up about what she did," Tampa policeman Scott Bruce told the St. Petersburg Times. "She was on the street for her kids."

Bruce said it was unusual for a professional such as Hayes to agree to go to the home of a john. But another local prostitute suggested, "You don't think a 70-year-old man is going to stab you to death."

This was the same feeling expressed by the Tacoma, Wash., police when Mary Vincent complained of threatening phone calls after Singleton's release from San Quentin in 1987. "'Oh, it's your imagination, he's too old to do anything,' they told us," says Vincent's companion, Bob Clayton, who describes himself as her bodyguard. Clayton believes Singleton stalked Vincent after he was paroled. Vincent has always feared he would come back.

Ad hominem arguments

At July 24, 2009 8:35 PM , Victor Reppert said...

“Yes, if, as the Triabloggers have done, you shift the focus from the subject matter to the person who holds a position.”

False dichotomy. We do both. And there’s an order in which we do it. We prefer to focus on subject matter. If, however, having tried to focus on subject matter, we find that our opponent refuses to argue in good faith, then we point out his dereliction.

Sometimes we’re blessed with reasonable opponents–in which case it’s never necessary to take it to the next level.

“However, it's another instance of the ad hominem fallacy if I believe in a theology of love and fail to be as loving as I ought to be.The kind of ‘calling out’ of sinners and false teachers is fine, so long as you are writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I don't know of anyone writing today who can claim that on behalf of their own writings.”

But Reppert just characterized the ad hominem argument as a fallacy. And he will repeat that characterization (see below). If it’s inherently fallacious to deploy an ad hominem argument, then how would the act of writing under inspiration validate that fallacy? What is he say, exactly? That the Bible contains inspired fallacies? That it’s legitimate for inspired writers to argue fallaciously, but illegitimate for uninspired writers to argue fallaciously?

“The Triabloggers think that the goal of discussion is not simply to defend their beliefs, but to call out the sins of others which they think underlie those contrary beliefs.”

No, that’s an overstatement.

i) To begin with, Reppert is indulging in guilt-by-association. Not all Triabloggers employ the same methods. It’s ironic that Reppert resorts to guilt by association, which is, itself, an ad hominem argument, to denounce our fallacious use of ad hominem arguments.

ii) In addition, I, for one, don’t regard the goal of discussion as invariably including a moral evaluation of the opponent. Rather, I only go “ad hominem” under one of two conditions:

a) If my opponent refuses to argue in good faith. In that case, I’ll point out his dereliction.

b) If my opponent is defending an immoral position.

When, for example, Reppert lays the groundwork for abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia, then that moves the discussion into a field which goes beyond what is merely correct or incorrect to what is either moral or immoral.

And, by the same token, it’s immoral to maintain and defend immoral beliefs. When dealing with an opponent who is a professing believer, the moral dimension of the debate cannot be ignored. There are boundaries to Christian ethics. Christian identity carries with it certain doctrinal and ethical standards. These apply to beliefs as well as behaviors.

“I think the office of an apologist and the office of a prophet are different from one another and shouldn't be mixed. If we are to engage people in philosophical dialogue, I think principles like the principle of charity, the avoidance of straw man arguments, and most importantly the avoidance of the ad hominem fallacy are musts.”

How does the second sentence qualify the first? Is it Reppert’s contention that if you’re a prophet, then that authorizes you to use straw man arguments and ad hominem fallacies?

If he’s not imputing logical fallacies to Bible writers, then his analogy falls apart.

“The fact that some people in Scripture were given the office of speaking words of judgment to others doesn't change the requirement of ‘gentleness and respect’ that is enjoined upon all who will ‘give an account of the hope that is in them’."

There are several problems with that argument:

i) Reppert is attributing a general rationale to the judgmental statements of Bible writers which the Bible writers to not, themselves, generally proffer. Reppert would need to run through various examples of Biblical ad hominem and show, exegetically, that the inspired writer or speaker justified his use of ad hominem by appealing to his status as a prophet.

ii) On the face of it, there are many cases in which that’s not a plausible rationale. For one thing, Bible writers often condemn people by membership in a particular class, like Pharisees and Baal-worshipers. So the condemnation is not based on some inspired insight into the motivation of this or that individual. Rather, there’s a presumption that if you belong to a particular class, then you are personally condemnable. These are categorical condemnations. If you belong to that category, then you’re condemnable.

iii) And the actual rationale which Bible writers frequently offer has reference to public criteria. To the conduct and/or teaching of the individuals, or the conduct and/or beliefs of the group with which they’re affiliated. It’s not predicated on an ability to read hearts and minds. Rather, it’s predicted on naturally and objectively verifiable conditions.

iv) Moreover, this isn’t limited to the private judgment of the Bible writer. Oftentimes the Bible writer is calling on his audience to exercise the same value judgment. For example, he may be warning his audience to beware of false teachers. Therefore, it’s incumbent on his audience to exercise the same moral and theological discrimination. The Bible calls on Christians to cultivate moral and theological discernment, and apply that discernment to unbiblical beliefs and practices–as well as those who hold them or act accordingly.

By the same token, it’s incumbent on Christians to analogize from illustrative examples to comparable cases. Analogize from one specific case to a comparable case.

“What the Triabloggers consider to be justified based on the practice of Jesus and the writers of Scripture, I consider to be examples of the ad hominem fallacy in the context of theological discussion. I don't consider it to be of great interest to use whatever the other side says in order to win debating points.”

i) The question of whether Biblical discourse sets a standard for Christian discourse is a topic of interest to me, even if it’s of no interested to Reppert.

Moreover, Reppert keeps using the term “fallacy.” But this fails to distinguish between tu quoque arguments and ad personam arguments.

ii) I never use ad personam arguments to disprove a position. Rather, I use ad personam arguments when:

a) My opponent refuses to argue in good faith.

b) My opponent is promoting an immoral policy.

I’d add that (b) is especially germane when my opponent is a professing believer.

iii) Regarding tu quoque arguments, this is, as Peter Geach points out, a perfectly legitimate counterargument within its intended scope. And Geach was a professional logician. Cf. Reason & Argument, 26-27.

Retribution or remediation?


Further, there is a difference between retribution on the one hand and satisfaction with retribution on the other. We may inflict retribution on a criminal but hope that the retribution also helps in the production of repentance.

You agree that repentance in response to retribution is better than retribution alone, yet you don't think it would be better for God to guarantee that this will be the response to retribution? Why??? If X would be a better result, and God has it in his power to produce X, and God is good, shouldn't we be getting X?

Reppert is building on what he takes to be a point of common ground, but he’s mistaken. His appeal actually draws attention to a fundamental difference in theological method between the two of us.

i) Reppert begins with the premise of universalism: it’s better if everyone were saved. Hence, retribution which motivates repentance is better than retribution alone.

Reppert then makes another adjustments in his theology to realign it with that premise.

ii) That is not how I operate. One way I operate is to reason back from the outcome to the premise. If everyone will not be saved, then it’s not better that everyone be saved. If it were better for everyone to be saved, then God would save everyone. Since he doesn’t, the outcome falsifies the premise.

God controls the outcome. Given the state of the outcome, you can use the actual outcome to ascertain which hypothetical outcome is better.

iii) Also, from what I can tell, the Bible treats retributive punishment as an end in itself, not merely a means to an end. Retribution is an intrinsic value, not merely an instrumental value.

iv) I’d add that this is part of a larger framework. Biblical doctrines like original sin, justification, vicarious atonement, and eschatological judgment are all embedded within a forensic framework.

That is why, if you reject a retributive theory of punishment in favor of a remedial theory of punishment, then that also pushes you to repudiate related doctrines like penal substitution.

v) It’s deceptive for Reppert to speak of retribution which leads to repentance. On that view, retribution has no value in itself. He’s offering a remedial justification for retribution. Retribution is only justifiable if it has a function value in facilitating repentance. So what he’s done is to substitute remedial punishment for retributive punishment while retaining the retributive terminology.

vi) Because Reppert can never bring himself to accept retribution on its own merits, he finds the retributive basis of everlasting punishment counterintuitive. It doesn’t serve any purpose over and above retribution.

Since, however, I don’t share his intuition, I don’t feel the tension that he does.

And even if I did, I wouldn’t rewrite my theology, like a cult leader, to make it square with my finite intuitions.

One reason I don’t do that is that, if you reject the guidance of divine revelation on the nature of the afterlife, then you’re truly at sea, without a map or compass.

It’s futile to reject revelation, then construct your own theory of the afterlife–for there’s no reason to think you what you’re talking about at that point.

At best, you’d resign yourself to utter agnosticism about the nature of the afterlife, assuming there is an afterlife.

Pierce on Blomberg's Calminianism

Jeremy Pierce critiques Craig Blomberg's "Calminianism".

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sons of Belial and brothers in Christ

“In defense of this they might point out that John Wesley's famous sermon Free Grace is loaded with emotional charges and polemical salvoes.”

Case in point: “Such blasphemy this, as one would think might make the ears of a Christian to tingle! But there is yet more behind; for just as it honours the Son, so doth this doctrine honour the Father. It destroys all his attributes at once: It overturns both his justice, mercy, and truth; yea, it represents the most holy God as worse than the devil, as both more false, more cruel, and more unjust.”

Incidentally, Wesley isn’t the only one who says this. Roger Olsen also said, “The God of Calvinism scares me; I'm not sure how to distinguish him from the devil.”

Moving along:

“There is a difference, however. Wesley reserves his harsh language for Calvinism, not for Calvinists.
The Triabloggers attack persons as well as doctrines.”

i) Of course, that’s a phony distinction. If you say the God of Calvinism is diabolical, then you are also saying something about a Calvinist. If the God we worship is diabolical, then we are devil-worshipers. The object of worship says something about the subject of worship. If we worship the devil, then that makes us devil-worshipers.

Likewise, when Wesley says that Calvinism is blasphemous, that makes Calvinists blasphemers.

ii) Moreover, some Arminians don’t leave it to the reader to draw the inference for himself. Just to make sure the reader didn’t miss the connection, they spell it out. You become what you worship. If you worship Molech or Satan or worse (!), then you become Satanic. You take on the character of the thing you worship. Like father, like son.

Reppert plugged a critic of Calvinism (Birch) who goes out of his way to make that connection. Robert, an anti-Calvinist troll, also makes that connection explicitly. You are what you worship.

(And, in fact, that’s a sound Biblical principle.)

“Why is there so much anger in the debate about Calvinism? One is the passion-inducing nature of the controversy.”

i) I notice that Report, Birch and others are prone to making assumptions about what motivates the Calvinist. However, I, for one, have never faulted an anti-Calvinist for using “offensive” or “hurtful” language. I have never said, “How dare you say that about a Calvinist like me!”

Instead, I quote their anti-Calvinist invective to illustrate their two-faced behavior. On the one hand, they cast themselves as Mr. Nice Guy. They cite chapter and verse about how we’re supposed to be kind and gentle in our speech.

Then, in the same breath, they say Calvinism is diabolical. And if you can’t take a hint, they add that you are what you worship.

Well, isn’t that the worst possible thing you could ever say about a professing believer? That he’s a blasphemer? A devil-worshiper? A closet Satanist?

Now, if the charge is true–fine. But don’t pretend that this represents civil discourse

iii) Last, but not least–there’s far more to this issue than mere rhetoric. There’s an actual policy in place. Some anti-Calvinists are on search and destroy mission.

From what I’ve heard and read, there are quarters of the SBC in which we see a systematic effort to purge the denomination of Calvinists. To oust them. Sabotage their careers.

So, on the one hand, we’re treated to this flower-power verbiage about love and brotherhood. But behind-the-scenes we witness the theological equivalent of ethnic cleansing.

Hence, it’s not as if this is merely the case of how some Arminians talk about Calvinists, but how they actively discriminate against Calvinists–all the while spouting sanctimonious rhetoric about Christian charity.

The pride of life

Walter Cronkite was laid to rest yesterday. It’s one of those “passing of an era” events. He as a throwback to a time when the nightly news had a far larger market share. When most Americans got their national and international news from one of three networks.

In one respect, that was a source of national unity. We were all experiencing the same event through the same filter.

In another respect, there’s an obvious danger when your knowledge of the world is funneled through one or two news outlets. When you have no real choice.

Cronkite began to anchor the evening news before the culture wars became so prominent and divisive. Before the liberal bias became so undisguised.

Nowadays, reporters are out to change the world rather than report what they see. They report on what should be, not on what is–or was.

Cronkite had the natural stage presence of a fine character actor. And that, really, was his only distinction.

He’s a striking example of man with much knowledge and little wisdom. A man who lived a long time without ever learning what it meant to be alive.

I actually grew up on Huntley-Brinkley. It as only after Chet Huntley retired that we switched to Cronkite.

Over the years I’ve seen many anchormen come and go. Anchormen are forgettable because the news is forgettable. Unlike movie stars and athletes and pop vocalists, whom their fans still want to hear or see long after they’re gone, no one is going to wade through day after day of old news broadcasts.

When an anchorman retires or dies, he’s quickly forgotten. Chet Huntley. David Brinkley. John Chancelor. Frank McGee. Frank Reynolds. Roger Mudd. Harry Reasoner. Peter Jennings. Howard K. Smith. Jessica Savitch. Dan Rather. Charles Kuralt.

The same interchangeable eulogy is delivered in each case. Just insert a different name.

They are praised for legacy they left. The difference they made.

But who are we kidding? TV viewers discard anchormen they way they discard yesterday’s newspaper.

It’s a good example of how trite and trival are the honors which the world bestows on its own. One moment you’re famous. Hot property. The world follows you around. Hangs on your every idle word. The next moment you’re an epitaph in a weedy graveyard.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn 2:15-17).

Nice, polite infanticide

“I would have to admit that I might treat a defender of infanticide who avoids the ad hominem better than a Calvinist who shifts from talking about my positions to talking about me.”

This strikes me as fairly common attitude, both inside and outside the church. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’re courteous. And what you do should never reflect on who you are.

I expect that’s one reason George Tiller was a member in good standard of a mainline church. And that’s also why Peter Singer has been so successful in promoting abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.

Once we reduce ethics to etiquette, then as long as the prison guard who shoves a Jewish kid into the oven is polite to the inmates, that’s the main thing. There’s no cause to speak ill of the guard or question his character.

As long as you use a gentle tone of voice while you insert the needle into the skull of the late-term baby, then what more can we ask of you?

At the same time, I can’t help noticing that those who tout universal love are consistently intolerant of opponents they don't like. They wax eloquent about loving everyone, but they only love the lovable. They only love their own kind.

Lord Hunk-Ra

Victor Reppert did a post entitled “Arminianism and tough love”:

“There are three central claims that have to be emphasized. First, God's love will not be satisfied with man's sinful condition and it is that very love that will get in our faces so long as we rebel.”

That’s not Arminianism. That’s universalism, or at the very least postmortem salvation.

“Read The Problem of Pain by Lewis and ask yourself if the God protrayed there is…”

But why should we be getting our theology from Lewis? Lewis was not a prophet or apostle.

Lewis can sometimes be a useful apologist for Christianity, but he is not the source of Christian theology. Christianity is either a revealed religion or it’s not. If so, then you have to go to the source (Scripture). If not, then Lewis doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

“Second, you can't have love unless the one who loves prefers reformation to continued punishment, and aims that punishment at the reformation of transformation of persons. If all I want for some person is for them to be punished, I don't love that person.”

Actually, I agree with that statement.

“It's just that, if it were up to God, God would bring it about that the person repent.”

Why should we believe that statement? What think that is what God is like? What is Reppert’s source of information?

The Bible has quite a lot to say about retributive punishment, both in terms of historical judgments and eschatological judgments.

In order for Reppert to jettison retributive punishment in favor of remedial judgment, he must summarily discount major portions of the Biblical witness to the nature of divine justice. And he must also rewrite the atonement since the Biblical doctrine of the atonement is framed in terms of penal substitution. In Scripture, there’s a forensic framework to redemption and punishment alike.

If, however, the Bible is not a reliable source of information regarding the nature of God or the nature of the afterlife, then what is Reppert’s alternative source of information?

The problem with Reppert’s theology is that he’s like a cult leader who simply makes things up as he goes along based on whatever he wants to believe. It’s a syncretistic and idiosyncratic belief-system with the same credibility as Ramtha, Emanuel Swedenborg, Joseph Smith, Bhagwan Rajneesh, Claude Vorilhon, and Sun Myung Moon.

Yet Reppert is pinning his immortal hopes on this optimistic mishmash of open theism, universalism, make-believe, and wishful thinking.

“Third, God's love is directed toward all persons. If ‘God loves the world’ doesn't mean God loves every person, it means God loves every lost person. The reduction of ‘all’ or ‘the world’ to the elect seems simply contrary to intent of Scripture.”

And where do other passages of Scripture fit into his belief-system, such as:

“Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2).

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Mt 25:41,46).

“This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thes 1:5-9).

"If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name" (Rev 14:9-11).


Every once in a while, I have to make a few observations. They're not necessarily observations that no one else has made, but they're the kind of observations no one talks about.

Like how our Arminian brethren have discovered the word "irenic" and like to put it in as many comments as they can post, most often in the accusatory sense to make their use of the term irenic rather ironic. Thus: "The disagreement is surprisingly civil and irenic (which proves that both Peter and Paul know how to disagree with each other without resorting to childish rhetorical tactics as are so often employed by them against non-Calvinists)." (I may have edited that slightly there at the end.) And: "I hope Peter finds this post irenic, as I have tried to be. If he decides to respond I hope he can refrain from the normal, sinful Triablogue behavior of calling names, insulting intelligence, and using abbreviated bad words."

I suppose I could point out the unnecessary comma after the word "normal" in the last quote above, but woe to me if I would be accused of insulting someone's lack of intelligence! After all, the most important thing in my life is to look good in front of irenic Arminians. Because really, who wouldn't want their behavior as the standard of righteousness? (Yes, that sentence has an intentionally ambiguous "their" in there, because that's how I roll.)

Be that as it may, I'm sick of the term irenic. So I offer an exchange. From now on, whenever an Arminian talks about how irenic Arminians are, I'm going to talk about how anfractuous their arguments are. Further, because I care and wish to show the utmost respect for my Arminians, I will no longer engage them as I have up to this point, but will instead view them as intellectual equals, viz.:

Birch's billingsgate vituperation was manifest via the attendant extract: "[I]t should not at all be assumed that any of the five Calvinists who contribute to blogging on Triablogue are born again Christians…" With no pretense proffered in a homogeneous riposte, one must admit it disquieting that this is beheld as a nonpareil rejoinder, though we must receive that the quip is notably breviloquent. Notwithstanding such ephemerality, the postulation merely traduces Triabloggers while proffering no theological remuneration. Consequently, Birch's ejaculation is sub judice inasmuch as Birch himself indites his own injunction. Subsequently, no antiphon is obligatory for it is oft affirmed that the one who would impute malignance in others endows veniality himself.

Thankfully, there is no need for further dialogue with such irenic fellows.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Magician Politics

Thomas Sowell on Obamacare.

The Arminian fruit tree

Victor Reppert points his readers to an Arminian tirade:

I suppose the reason for pointing them in this direction is that Birch says what Reppert is thinking, but doesn’t have the cohones to say himself.

“At times, one must wonder why so many Calvinists are so very angry.”

At times, one must wonder why Birch imputes attitudes to thousands of men and women he’s never met. Thousands of men and women who’ve never written a word about their attitudes.

“The psychological affects of Calvinism are not so easily ascertained.”

Which doesn’t prevent Birch from playing Freud.

“According to John Piper, typically, certain types of people are prone to accepting Calvinism. ‘What types of people are these?’ you ask. These, according to Piper, are the intellectual types (quite a misnomer, given that there are many intellectual non-Calvinists).”

If that’s a misnomer, then he doesn’t think that Piper has accurately identified the types of people who are prone to accept Calvinism. In that case, why is Birch quoting Piper to establish Birch’s psychological profile of Calvinists?

“And these types of people produce negative and mean-spirited attitudes, some of whom, he admits, may not be born again (which I have stated previously as well).”

Really? Does Piper say, as a universal truth, that Calvinists produce negative and mean-spirited attitudes? If that were Piper’s actual position, would Piper still be a Calvinist? Clearly, Birth is misrepresenting Piper’s position.

Keep in mind that Birch plans to earn a doctorate in historical theology. In that event, it would behoove him to accurately represent the viewpoint of others. How can he be a church historian if he misrepresents the position of others?

“It is interesting: the gospel of Jesus Christ does not attract such types of people. I digress.”

By that logic, no Calvinist is a Christian. Is that Birch’s actual position? If those who are attracted to the gospel are other than those who are attracted to Calvinism, then all Calvinists are damned. Is that what Birch is trying to say?

“Piper, in typical, zealous-for-Calvinism fashion…”

Notice the pejorative characterization of Piper. But isn’t Mr. Birch zealous-for-Arminianism? The tone of his piece, along with the sweeping classifications, seems pretty zealous to me.

“When I abandoned Calvinism and was enlightened to the biblical truth of Classical Arminianism (to use Piper's own words concerning Calvinism), instead of arrogantly demanding that Calvinists see theology through an Arminian lens, calling theological dissenters heretics, and instead of trying to convert everyone to an Arminian understanding of theology…”

Birch isn’t trying to convert everyone he can to Arminian theology? Then why is he an Arminian epologist? And why does he have a blogroll of fellow Arminian epologists? Sure looks like he’s bent on converting everyone he can to his Arminian outlook.

Put another way, let’s assume for the sake of argument that he’s not trying to convert everyone to his viewpoint. What would he do differently than he’s doing right now?

“However, in late spring of 1999, I could no longer accept Calvinism's presuppositions because I no longer thought that they were supported by Scripture.”

So he used to be a Calvinist. That might explain why he’s so hostile to Calvinism. He writes about Calvinists and Calvinism as if he felt betrayed by his former faith.

“Did I become angry because I missed the truth of Classical Arminianism? No. Was I bitter because I was misled by Calvinist preachers and teachers? No.”

Aren’t self-serving autobiographical disclaimers of this sort a dime a dozen? If he were a bitter, angry Arminian, do you think he’d admit it?

“But did I treat Calvinists with disdain? No.”

Yes, that’s exactly what he’s doing in this post.

“Did I consider them to be sub-Christian? No.”

Yes, he does. He even says so.

“And though I have no respect for Calvinism as a system, I still continued to treat Calvinists as my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus (assuming that they have truly placed their faith in him alone).”

He does? That’s not what he said just a few sentences before. Remember what he said about the types of people who are drawn to Calvinism rather than the gospel?

“I think that this matter penetrates much deeper psychologically than what Piper or most Calvinists are willing to admit.”

Yes, we need to take special measures to shield our thoughts from his telepathic scanner.

“The reason why many Calvinists act in an un-Christlike manner has little to do with the feeling of being misled by Arminian theology.”

What would acting in an un-Christlike manner be like, exactly? Is Mt 23 acting in an un-Christlike manner?

“Like Father, like son. Ungodly Calvinists are merely imitating the concept of God that they have embraced.”

That’s actually quite flattering, although it exaggerates our state of sanctification. Would that we were that far along!

However, since he makes that connection, let’s quote some Wesleyan invective. Let’s see how John and Charles Wesley characterize their Reformed opponents:

[Charles Wesley]

Oh Horrible Decree
Worthy of whence it came!
Forgive their hellish blasphemy
Who charge it on the Lamb.

The righteous God consigned
Them over to their doom,
And sent the Saviour of mankind
To damn them from the womb;

To damn for falling short
Of what they could not do
For not believing the report
Of that which was not true.


God, ever merciful and just
With newborn babes did Tophet fill;
Down into endless torments thrust;
Merely to show His sovereign will.

This is that ‘Horrible Decree!’
This that wisdom from beneath!
God (O detect the blasphemy)
Hath pleasure in the sinner’s death.

[John Wesley]

Such blasphemy this, as one would think might make the ears of a Christian to tingle! But there is yet more behind; for just as it honours the Son, so doth this doctrine honour the Father. It destroys all his attributes at once: It overturns both his justice, mercy, and truth; yea, it represents the most holy God as worse than the devil, as both more false, more cruel, and more unjust.

This is the blasphemy clearly contained in the horrible decree of predestination! And here I fix my foot. On this I join issue with every assertor of it. You represent God as worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, more unjust. But you say you will prove it by scripture. Hold! What will you prove by Scripture? That God is worse than the devil? It cannot be. Whatever that Scripture proves, it never proved this; whatever its true meaning be. This cannot be its true meaning. Do you ask, "What is its true meaning then?" If I say, " I know not," you have gained nothing; for there are many scriptures the true sense whereof neither you nor I shall know till death is swallowed up in victory. But this I know, better it were to say it had no sense, than to say it had such a sense as this. It cannot mean, whatever it mean besides, that the God of truth is a liar. Let it mean what it will, it cannot mean that the Judge of all the world is unjust. No scripture can mean that God is not love, or that his mercy is not over all his works; that is, whatever it prove beside, no scripture can prove predestination.

Hearest thou not that God is the devouring lion, the destroyer of souls, the murderer of men? Moloch caused only children to pass though the fire: and that fire was soon quenched; or, the corruptible body being consumed, its torment was at an end; but God, thou are told, by his eternal decree, fixed before they had done good or evil, causes, not only children of a span long, but the parents also, to pass through the fire of hell, the 'fire which never shall be quenched; and the body which is cast thereinto, being now incorruptible and immortal, will be ever consuming and never consumed, but 'the smoke of their torment,' because it is God's good pleasure, 'ascendeth up for ever and ever.' "

Sing, O hell, and rejoice, ye that are under the earth! For God, even the mighty God, hath spoken, and devoted to death thousands of souls, form the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof! Here, O death, is they sting! They shall not, cannot escape; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. Here, O grave is thy victory. Nations yet unborn, or ever they have done good or evil are doomed never to see the light of life, but thou shalt gnaw upon them for ever and ever! Let all those morning stars sing together, who fell with Lucifer, son of the morning! Let all the sons of hell shout for joy! For the decree is past, and who shall disannul it?"

Does Wesleyan invective manifest the fruits of the Spirit, as Birch defines it? I guess that, as a matter of fact, it should not at all be assumed that either John or Charles Wesley was a born again Christian ipso facto.

“In a nutshell, Calvinists read a verse in Scripture such as Romans 9:15 and conclude that God is communicating that he will have mercy on a few and refuse aid to the majority of humanity, merely because he decreed it.”

It’s revealing that Birch identifies himself as a former Calvinist, yet his grasp of Calvinism is so flawed. It’s all the more striking when you consider his ambitions to earn a doctorate in historical theology. How can he be a church historian if his mastery of historical theology is so woefully deficient?

i) To begin with, Calvinism has no official position on the relative percentages of the elect and the reprobate.

ii) Moreover, the notion that “few are saved” is a dominical statement.

iii) Finally, Calvinism does not take the position that God withholds mercy on some or many “merely because he decreed it.”

Rather, Calvinism takes the position that God withholds mercy on some or many to demonstrate the gratuity of grace. No one deserves it. He could justly damn one and all.

Birth needs to decide whether he’d rather be a church historian or a demagogue. He can’t be both.

He then spends two paragraphs taking issue with the Reformed interpretation of Exod 33:19 and Rom 9:14-15. Of course, this is only convincing to those who are already convinced. It’s not as if Reformed scholars like Beale, Currid, Piper, and Schreiner (to name a few) haven’t offered in-depth exegesis which defends the Reformed interpretation and counters Arminian objections.

“Unconvinced of this truth, the Calvinist constructs a worldview of God that is deficient, and he or she then begins to imitate that erroneous view of God. And because God treats human beings in such an underhanded manner (so they think), then so can they!”

What’s funny about this is that in the name of Arminian charity, Birch puts forward a deliberately uncharitable interpretation of Reformed motives. Because we think God deals people in such an “underhanded manner,” that authorizes us to do so as well.

Of course, this begs the question in two respects: (i) it attributes underhanded methods to Calvinists, and (ii) it links that misconduct to the underhanded methods which Calvinism allegedly attributes to God.

His allegation has another intriguing consequence. Even if the discourse of a Calvinist were impeccable by Birch’s standards, he would still fault the Calvinist because his impeccable discourse was out of keeping with his deficient theology. Hence, for Birch, if Reformed discourse is “un-Christlike” by his standards, then the Calvinist is blameworthy–but if Reformed discourse is “Christlike” by his standards, then the Calvinist is still blameworthy since his Christian discourse is at odds with his “un-Christlike” theology. So whatever tone a Calvinist adopts, Birch will still find fault.

“It is curious whether or not they understand that calling themselves Christian should not immunize them from judgmental language where appropriate as well.”

What evidence is there that we don’t understand that? He can quote anything we said to the contrary?

“As a matter of fact, it should not at all be assumed that any of the five Calvinists who contribute to blogging on Triablogue are born again Christians ipso facto.”

Once again, I never said otherwise.

“Their rhetoric cuts both ways. One may conclude that a professing Christian is truly born again when the fruit of the Spirit is manifested in his or her life. Paul writes: "But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!" (Gal. 5:22 NLT).

Yes, the rhetoric cuts both ways. And by that same token, Birch had better avoid cutting himself on his own serrated rhetoric.

“And while the Triabloguers believe that they have scriptural warrant for treating other professing believers with whom they disagree with invective, the Bible teaches otherwise.”

Does the Bible teach otherwise? Here’s what one scholar has to say:

“We can recognize in Jude’s rhetorical strategy the use of techniques common to vituperatio, the ‘rhetoric of slander’ (Johnson 1989: 420), which was the counterpoint to laudatio, the praise of noble character and deeds. As du Toit (1994: 403) observes, ‘Vilifying your opponent, like praising your addressees, has through the centuries been a useful persuasive weapon from the arsenal of a skilled speaker or writer.’ Vituperatio was a recognized skill that was even taught to students or rhetoric,” G. Green, Jude & 2 Peter (Baker 2008), 20-21).

“Jude’s rhetorical strategy is clearly formative as well. He wants the readers to continue in Christian virtue and avoid the vice of the heretics. He does not intend to persuade the heretics. In vituperatio, a person would employ well-known topoi in the denunciation of others…These themes were so well used that they even became part of the syllabus of rhetoric. Jewish rhetoric likewise employed vilification for similar ends…the categories used in Jewish rhetoric were quite similar to the gentile counterparts, even among Palestinian Jews (Johnson 1989:434-41),” ibid. 21.

“In light of ancient techniques of vilification, how should we read Jude’s denunciation of his opponents? Analyzing Jude along with 2 Peter in the light of speech act theory, du Toit (1994: 403) states, ‘For many a long day the performative dimension of language has been neglected in favor of the propositional. This is also true for NT studies. We have too long neglected the fact that in one way or another each of these writings seeks to persuade its readers/audience in a certain direction. To ask what a NT text is doing is at least as important as asking what it is saying.” He concludes, “Ideological literature works with contrasts; it does not seek the neutral middle-field. It creates heroes and villains’,” ibid. 21-22.

“So while the standard denunciations were employed in vituperatio, they could become specific when directed at a particular case. This is precisely what happens in Jude…Jude employs these conventional charges in ways specific to the situation his readers faced,” ibid. 22.

Moving along:

“Paul writes: ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption’ (Eph. 4:29-30 TNIV). So much for Triablogue's invective theory.”

Paul also says, "You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10), as well as, "God is going to smite you, you whitewashed wall!” (Acts 23:3). So much for Birch’s non-invective theory.

“Paul continues: ‘Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you’ (Eph. 4:31-32 TNIV).
Paul further instructs: ‘Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful’ (2 Tim. 2:23-24 TNIV). And concerning unbelievers, Paul writes: ‘Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will" (2 Tim. 2:25-26 TNIV).”

So where does that leave the Pauline invective? Would Birch now say that, as a matter of fact, it should not at all be assumed that Paul is a born again Christian ipso facto? If, as Birch defines it, invective is antithetical to the fruits of the Spirit, does he thereby define the Apostle Paul as a hypocrite?

Or does he think that NT discourse represents a double standard–like cult members who have remain celibate while the cult leader can sleep with a different woman every night. Is that his position?

“The reason why theology matters so much is because much is at stake. How we view God affects how we think and act. I believe that Calvinists are in serious theological error. Their view of God is, in my opinion, deficient and dangerous. Not only does Calvinism retain the potential to fallaciously attribute the work of Satan to the divine, determinative will of God…”

So he thinks that Calvinists are committing the unpardonable sin? Is that his idea of charitable discourse?

“If you have been duped by the likes of John Owen, that God hates the alleged non-elect, you have bought into a lie. God does not love and hate by decree. Nothing could be farther from the truth. My heart is tender towards those who have been hoodwinked by the repercussion of Calvinism.”

So Reformed believers have been “duped” and “hoodwinked” by Calvinism. No doubt that’s another example of charitable discourse, right?

“Most versions of Calvinism where God's character is concerned are so reprehensible that it is likely to incite the baser parts of one's humanity.”

If this is his notion of charitable discourse, I’d rather not be within earshot when he resorts to uncharitable discourse.


I was looking through Hubbard’s new commentary on Joshua (in the NIV Application Commentaries series). In addition to being a seasoned and well-trained OT scholar, Hubbard brings an added advantage to his commentary: he’s a retired naval chaplain.

This reminds me of how often, at a personal level, a commentator is out of touch with the world he exegetes. Mind you, the world of the Bible is in some respects a lost world. A bygone era. So, to that extent, a commentator has to disconnect from his own world to reconnect with the world of Scripture. When you step out the front door, it’s not as if you’re stepping right back into the ancient Near East or the Greco-Roman empire.

At the same time, there are enduring continuities as well as discontinuities between our world and the world of the Bible. Hubbard is writing about warfare. And Hubbard himself has seen it firsthand. Moreover, as a navy chaplain, he’s had to give soldiers moral and spiritual counsel on combat. He’s not been at liberty to duck the tough questions.

Many professing believers are offended by a book like Joshua. To them, it’s embarrassing that a book like this is part of the canon. They affect pious disapproval for what they find.

And there’s a grain to truth to their reaction. The world of Joshua is a truly appalling world. But, of course, to attack the book itself is a classic case of blaming the messenger.

To be sure, there’s more to Joshua than historical reportage. There is also a stated policy. Inspired policy, no less. And many professing believers are offended at the stated policy.

But of course, Joshua has a stated policy for dealing with belligerents. After all, the Israelites had to have a realistic way of dealing with belligerents. Because they had to live in that world, they had to survive in that world. As a practical necessity, they were forced to take countermeasures. As Hubbard points out:

“The peoples of Canaan initiated hostilities against Israel, not the other way around (Josh 9:1-2; 10:1-5; 11:1-5; cf. 2:2-3). Israel’s northern and southern campaigns (Josh 10-11) were in response to those hostile initiatives, not preemptive strikes. Even though the peoples knew the power of God (according to Rahab and the Gibeonites), they choose to stand against him. This fact should caution us against viewing the peoples of ancient Canaan simply as victims of some sort of injustice” (44).

In time of peace, it’s easy to disdain a militaristic history book. From the comfort of our peacetime lifestyle, it’s easy to wag our finger at a militaristic history book. We’re above that sort of thing. We’ve put that behind us once and for all. Or so we imagine.

But in time of war, a book like Joshua suddenly becomes far more relevant–and eerily familiar. In wartime we find ourselves having to confront the same ugly and unavoidable realities. What do you do when you can’t afford to lose?

It isn’t as easy to be judgmental when our own foes are just as ruthless as the enemies of ancient Israel. We, too, have to defend ourselves against implacable foes. There are no pretty solutions.

We’d often benefit from having a soldier’s perspective on OT warfare. Having a soldier write about soldiers. Someone who’s seen action write about OT warfare.

Joshua is written from the viewpoint of a field commander. We need to assume the same viewpoint to evaluate the action.

Tail-chasing atheism

I mentioned earlier that I’ve been compiling a running commentary on Jon Curry’s replies to Jason Engwer. It looks like that side of the debate has died down, so I’ll post my little commentary.

"Let's use your earthquake example. Suppose an earthquake had never been observed. Scientific books never mentioned such a thing or imagined that they happen. You had no reliable eyewitness testimony that one had occurred."

"No reliable witnesses" begs the question.

"We know of billions of living things that have died and not come back to life."

Irrelevant. This is not about ants and eels and trilobites. There is no presumption that if God brought Jesus back from the dead, he’d also bring a trilobite back from the dead. Curry disregards the stated rationale for the Resurrection.

Of course, this may reflect the Biblical illiteracy which precipitated his defection in the first place. A basic failure to appreciate the theological context of the Resurrection.

"We know of no humans that were dead for 3 days that came back to life, whether naturally or supernaturally."

Begs the question. All his "argument" ever amounts to is: "Naturalism is true. We know naturalism is true because all the evidence supports naturalism. Therefore, any evidence for the supernatural can be dismissed without further ado."

It's a tight little vicious circle.

"The point is good evidence is needed for unusual claims and extraordinary evidence is needed for extraordinary claims."

I've addressed that facile objection on several different occasions. For example:

"Documents written decades after the fact by devoted, superstitious followers."

Begs the question in several respects. Were they written “decades” after the fact? Were the written by “superstitious” followers?

If someone is a “devoted follower,” does that automatically render his testimony suspect? What if someone is a devoted follower of Darwin?

“It should be obvious that the accuracy of the biblical reporting is the very thing in dispute. You can't assume your conclusion.”

That allegation cuts both ways. He can't automatically take the Bible off the table, for his own conclusion is also disputable. Yes, the accuracy of the Bible is in dispute, but the inaccuracy of the Bible is also in dispute. Both positions are disputable. Therefore, it's not as if a Christian has a unilateral burden of proof to discharge.

“…eyewitness testimony, which is notoriously unreliable…The primary evidence we have, even if we grant all of your assumptions about authorship and dating, is really just about the worst sort of evidence you could ask for. Documents written decades after the fact by devoted, superstitious followers.”

Curry, like many apostates, has given us a deconversion testimony:

Should we treat his firsthand account of his own apostasy as reliable or unreliable? He's hardly an impartial, disinterested witness.

If he thinks we should automatically discount the testimony of NT writers because they were devoted believers, should we automatically discount his own testimony because he's an unbeliever? If they have an ax to grind, so does he.

I'd add that his brother also has a deconversion testimony:

Should we apply the same skepticism to his brother's deconversion testimony that he applies to NT writers? If they have a bias, so does his brother. If they were writing to persuade others, so is his brother.

“The principle here is not complicated. We judge the veracity of a claim in light of our current experience.”

We do? Do cosmologists and paleontologists judge the veracity of a claim in light of our current experience?

Since we have no current experience of dinosaurs, dinosaurs never existed!

“Nobody is saying that things that haven't happened before won't happen. This is not about what can and can't happen. This is about what it is rational to believe has happened.”

How does he justify induction? Any inductive justification of induction would be circular.

“If you had no prior evidence of earthquakes, yes, you might not believe your own eyes. That's not irrational.”

Of course it’s irrational. Moreover, if you can’t believe an event the first time you see it, then every recurrence event is equivalent the “unbelievable” first-time occurrence. To see it a second time would be like seeing it for the first time, since you automatically discount the first time you saw it.

“The point is God hasn't ever done this before as far as we know.”

But he just said it’s rational to discount the first occurrence. Yet his appeal to precedence is self-refuting if you can never credit the first occurrence. You can’t have a second, third, fourth occurrence (&c.) apart from a first occurrence,

“I'm skeptical, and I demand exceptional evidence.”

“Exceptional” as it what? Cumulative evidence? But he can only have cumulative evidence if he can credit the first occurrence. Otherwise, he can never get started.

“Never once has a miraculous claim been proven true, whereas it's been proven false thousands of times.”

He’s pulling these claims out of thin air.

"And I'll put Eddie Tabash's question he posed to WL Craig to you. If a person claimed they flew around a couple of planets in an intergalactic spacecraft this morning you wouldn't believe them.”

This comparison makes the typical mistake of treating a miracle as if it’s synonymous with any weird, pointless event you can dream up. Indeed, the examples are chosen for their silliness.

But Biblical miracles aren’t bizarre, pointless events.

“In those cases the likelihood that the evidence would be produced even if the event didn't occur goes up, and therefore my confidence that the ground had actually moved goes down. On the other hand if I'm totally sober and in my right mind, then the likelihood that the evidence would be produced if the ground didn't move is very low, and therefore I conclude that the ground did move.”

These are clichés in sifting testimonial evidence. Proponents of the Resurrection already take such factors into account.

“If religious people typically produce this type of evidence even when the claim is false…”

Do they typically produce this type of evidence? Is there such a thing as a typical religious person? Don’t religious people range along a continuum similar to the continuum of irreligious people?

Take ufology. Ufology is a secular phenomenon. If irreligious people typically produce this type of evidence even when the claim is false, then the testimony of unbelievers can’t be trusted. Therefore, we can safely disregard the deconversion testimonies of all apostates.

“So what is the likelihood of seeing the evidence we have for the resurrection given that the resurrection is false? We've seen devoted followers report similar false things before.”

Again, you could pose the same question with reference to secular reporters, like ufologists. Therefore, are the firsthand reports of secular observers automatically suspect?

“We've seen gullible and superstitious people report similar false things before.”

Of course, that’s true by definition. If you define the witnesses as “gullible and superstitious,” then it’s more likely that their testimony will be unreliable. That’s a tautology.

But you could say the same thing about secularists who report alien abductions, &c. Does this mean secular eyewitnesses are automatically suspect?

“We see it today. We've seen this type of claim in a religious context before.”

Of course, that objection cuts both ways. He’s assuming, sans argument, that all modern miracles are bogus. But suppose what we actually see today is a combination of plausibly reported miracles as well as implausibly reported miracles?

In that event, there’d be no presumption that a reported miracle is bogus. Rather, we’d have to judge the claims on a case-by-case basis.

“But God doesn't normally raise people from the dead.”

Which is completely irrelevant to the credibility of the Resurrection, since the Resurrection was never presented as a normal event. That’s not a presupposition of the Resurrection. Just the opposite.

If we’re even going to frame miracles in terms of their probabilities, then the probability of an event (miraculous or otherwise) depends on the kind of event we’re dealing with.

“In fact we have no examples of God ever raising anyone from the dead.”

i) That depends, in part, on how he defines a resurrection. Does he include Lazarus? The saints in Mt 27:52-53?

ii) And, of course, even if we had multiple reports of God raising people from the dead, Curry would dismiss them out of hand as the claims of “gullible, superstitious” believers.

ii) Likewise, if he regards the first occurrence of an event as unbelievable, then the second or third occurrence will be equally unbelievable. For if you automatically discount the first occurrence as unbelievable, then it’s impossible to develop cumulative evidence for any event or type of event. You can never build a case.

iv) Moreover, we’d expect some miracles to be one-time events, for some miracles are specific to specific circumstances. Take Aaron’s rod turning into a serpent. That miracle is keyed to ancient Egyptian theology. It’s a direct challenge to ancient Egyptian ophiolatry, and the cult of Pharaoh.

We wouldn’t expect a miracle like that to either have precedents or subsequent parallels. We wouldn’t expect all miracles to be repeated, for some miracles are particular to the particulars of that time and place.

"The conditions described in the NT lead us to conclude that these are devoted followers that happen to be superstitious and gullible people."

He repeats that assertion ad nauseum without ever offering a supporting argument. I suspect the reason he doesn't argue for his assertion is that, if he tried to, it would expose the circularity of his objection. I'm sure his real objection boils down to this:

We can't believe NT reports of miracles because the NT reporters were gullible and superstitious. And we know the NT reporters were gullible and superstitious because they report miracles.

"Take as an example Matthew's correction of Mark 2:25. In Mark Jesus misidentifies who the high priest was at a particular time (Abiathar) so at Matthew 12:3 Matthew has a new memory of Jesus words and the error is corrected."

Three problems with this statement:

i) He makes no effort to interact with contrary interpretations, such as Blomberg's discussion in the 2nd ed. of his Historical Reliability of the Gospels (244-46).

ii) An "improvement" is not the same thing as a "correction." It may be the case that, on some occasions, Mark makes an ambiguously worded statement which Matthew or Luke reword to avoid the ambiguity. That's a clarification, not a correction.

To some extent, ambiguity depends on the audience. What is clear to one reader may be unclear to another for lack of background information. What is clear to a Jewish reader may be unclear to a gentile audience, or vice versa.

iii) Even if, for the sake of argument, Mark made a mistake, factual errors are no evidence of superstition or gullibility. Does Curry think an atheist never makes factual mistakes?

Jeremy Pierce on Molinism


Monday 20 July, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

The problem with Middle Knowledge is that it doesn’t really get you a middle view. It gets you Calvinism. Middle knowledge doesn’t work to explain how God knows what free beings will do unless there are truths about what free beings will do in certain situations. That automatically rules out open theism, of course, but I think it leaves libertarian accounts of freedom with serious problems. For a Wesleyan/Arminian view to work, freedom better be libertarian. But if God knows what free beings will do in any situation, then there’s a fact of what those beings will do in those situations.

Philosophers call such facts “counterfactuals of freedom” because they’re truths about what we would freely do given a different set of preconditions. What would generate such facts? What would make it true that I do something different if I had different preconditions applying to me before I act? You lose the preconditions causing me to do something, but you’re left with no explanation of the fact that I would do such-and-such if faced with the alternative case. Somehow such facts exist, but nothing makes them true, because if something made them true then my actions would be caused by what makes them true.

In short, there are truths about what I would do in any situation, and there is absolutely no explanation for why there are such truths unless the compatibilist view of freedom is correct, in which case there’s no objection to Calvinism, because Calvinists insist on a compatibilist view of freedom, and that’s what’s so objectionable to Wesleyans/Arminians.


Wednesday 22 July, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

No, I’m definitely not defining Middle Knowledge as a variety of Calvinism. I’m arguing that the view has no foundation unless Calvinism is true. Molinists are definitely not Calvinists. This isn’t an argument that they are but an argument that the view doesn’t make sense unless Calvinists are right about the one issue where Molinists depart from Calvinism. So they reject Calvinism but then take on a view that doesn’t make sense unless Calvinism is true.

The question is how it is that God knows these facts about what free beings would do in certain situations. If God knows the facts, then there must be such facts. So if I would freely have rejected God’s offer of salvation if I had been raised by a particular atheist pair of parents instead of my Christian parents, then there must be some set of facts that explains why it’s true that I would have done so in that scenario. Molinists have to say there’s no explanation of why I would freely have done so, but nevertheless there’s still a fact. There’s nothing that makes it true that I would have chosen otherwise, but it’s still true that I would have chosen otherwise.

I can’t make sense of the view unless there are facts about the world in such a situation that explain my choice in that alternative possibility. But once you grant that, you better be a compatibilist if you think we’re free, and once you do that it’s not God’s middle knowledge that accounts for our freedom. It’s compatibilist freedom that does, and then the middle knowledge is just a side-effect. So I don’t think middle knowledge is a solution to explaining how God can know the future if Calvinism is false.

Is God Active In The World Today?

Brian Auten of Apologetics 315 recently linked to a good interview with Gary Habermas on the topic "Is God Active In The World Today?". Habermas has been working on a book on that subject.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Calvinism, fatalism, and self-fulfilling prophecies

Craig Blomberg recently cited Gen 50:20 to justify his Calminian theology. I commented on his appeal. I limited my comments to what was most germane to the immediate issue at hand. However, this text raises a number of larger issues which are worth exploring in their own right.

i) If a reader came to this text, in the context of the Joseph cycle as a whole, without any theological presuppositions one way or the other it would be natural for him to treat this verse as a prooftext for fatalism.

Now, it’s typical for opponents of Calvinism to brand Calvinism as fatalistic. Reformed theologians typically reject that charge by drawing attention to basic differences between Calvinism and fatalism.

For now, though, let’s discuss Gen 50:20 on its own terms. Let’s place it in context, and compare it to some other scriptural or extrascriptural passages.

ii) Before we proceed any further we need to define our terms. “Fatalism” is a rather ambiguous term. It can mean at least one of two different things:

a) No matter what you do, or refrain from doing, you end up fulfilling your fate. Nothing you do or don’t do makes any difference to the outcome. All pathways lead to the same destination.

b) But there’s a different form of “fatalism,” called the self-fulfilling prophecy. In this case, you fulfill your fate by trying to avoid your fate. In that sense, there’s only one pathway to that destination, yet it’s unavoidable and ironic. Ironic because you fulfill your fate by trying to do the opposite. Going in the opposite direction. And it’s inevitable in the sense that some men inevitably react a certain way which, in turn, triggers the very outcome they disdain.

iii) There is another ambiguity which we need to clarify. We tend to think of fatalistic scenarios in which the ill-fated individual is either futilely striving to escape his fate, or sadly resigned to his sorry fate. He’d escape if only he could.

Here he’s consciously fated against his will. The unwilling victim of his misfortune because he’s doomed to end badly. And that seems unfair.

However, a self-fulfilling prophecy need not be an oracle of doom. It can result in deliverance from harm.

Let’s take some paradigm cases of “fatalism.”

The Joseph Cycle

5Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. 6He said to them, "Hear this dream that I have dreamed: 7Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf." 8His brothers said to him, "Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?" So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
9Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, "Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me." 10But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, "What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?" 11And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

25Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26Then Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers listened to him. 28Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.

4So Joseph said to his brothers, "Come near to me, please." And they came near. And he said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.'

1So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. 2And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, "Jacob, Jacob." And he said, "Here am I." 3Then he said, "I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. 4I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes."

20As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones."


1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." 3When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 "'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.'"
7Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him."

13Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." 14And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called my son."

16Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
18 "A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more."


After Solon’s departure, the weight of divine anger descended on Croesus, in all likelihood for thinking that he was the happiest man in the world. Soon afterwards, while he was asleep, he had a dream which accurately foretold the calamities that were going to happen to his son. Croesus had two sons…The dream was about Atys, and its message was that he would die from a wound caused by an iron spearhead. When Croesus woke up, he reflected on the dream and it made him afraid. First, he found a wife for his son, and second, although Atys had regularly commanded the Lydian army, Croesus stopped sending him anywhere on that kind of business. He also had all javelins, spears, and similar weapons of war removed from the men’s quarters and piled up in the bedrooms, in case any of them fell from where it hung onto his son.

While he was busy with his son’s wedding, a man [Adrastus] arrived in Sardis who was oppressed by misfortune…So Adrastus lived in Croesus’ house. While he was there a huge monster of a boar arrived on Mount Olympus in Mysia and kept coming down from his mountain base and ruining the Mysian’s fields….In the end a Mysian delegation came to Croesus to tell him about it…’Could you send us your son with some of your elite young fighting men, and dogs too, so that we can drive the beast from the land.’

Faced with this request, Croesus remembered his dream and replied as follows: ‘No, I won’t let my son go to you, so you had better forget about him…But I will send you some of my elite troops, and you can have the whole pack of my hunting dogs…’

That was good enough for the Mysians, but then Croesus’ son, who had heard the Mysians’ request, came in to see his father…’Please, either let me go on the hunt or persuade me that this course of action is better for me.’

‘Son,’ Croesus answered, ‘I’m certainly not doing this because I’ve noticed a cowardly streak in you…But an apparition came to me in a dream while I was asleep and told me that you didn’t have long to live, and that an iron spearhead was going to cause your death…I’m taking these precautions in case there’s a way for me to hide you away while I am alive.’

‘What a dream!’ the young man said. ‘I don’t blame you for tying to protect me. But there’s something you don’t understand about the dream, something you haven’t noticed, and it’s only fair to let me explain it to you. You say the dream told you that an iron spearhead was going to cause my death. But does a boar have hands? Where is its iron spearhead for you to worry about? If the apparition had told you that a tusk or something like that was going to cause my death, then of course you should have taken these precautions. But in fact it was a spear. So since it’s not men we’re going up against, please let me go.’

‘All right, son,’ Croesus replied, ‘I give in. Your explanation of the dream does make a king of sense. I’ll change my mind and let you go on the hunt.’

Some time later they set out, along with the elite young fighting men and dogs. Once they had reached Olympus, they started searching the mountain for the beast. They found it, stood in a circle around it, and began to throw their spears at it. This was the point at which…Adrastus threw his spear at the boar, missed it, and hit Croesus’ son.


Well, then! Oedipus, my king! Forget everything and listen to me. No mortal knows the will of the gods. Let me show you proof of this. Once, an oracle came to Laius –I’m not saying from Apollo directly, but from his servants- that it was his Fate to die by the hand of his son – his and my son! However, word has it that Laius was killed by strangers, thieves, at a three-way cross road.

As for the boy, three days after he was born, the king has his ankles pinned and gave him to someone to take him to some forest where no human ever went. And so, neither the child was allowed by Apollo to kill his father, nor did Laius suffer murder in the hands of his own son.

That was god’s real intention, not what some seer said would happen. If the god wants something done he’ll tell us himself.

Since I’ve come so far into the depths of fear, Jocasta, I won’t keep you in the dark. I’ll tell you everything. Who else could I possibly disclose such Fate?

My father was the Corinthian Polybus, my mother, the Dorian Meropi. There, in Corinth, I was loved by all, until one day when something odd happened. Odd and not worthy of the attention I gave it at the time.

A drunk, during a banquet said that I was not my father’s son, that I was a false son, an adopted son. I held my temper that day but the next I asked my parents and they, too, were highly insulted by what that drunk said.

I loved those two. Still, some thought at the back of my head was eating at me, at my very soul. One day then I went secretly to Apollo’s shrine and asked him about it but the god gave me no answer to any of the questions I’d ask him but… he’d tell me all sorts of other horrible, dreadful prophesies, prophesies like, one day I’d become my mother’s husband, or that I’d spawn a generation hated by mankind, or that I’d murder my father! At that I let the stars guide my path and left Corinth behind me. I walked away from there so that I wouldn’t give the slightest chance for these awful prophesies to come true.
I walked and walked until I came upon that forked road where you’ve told me Laius was murdered.

Let me tell you the truth, wife. As I got to that spot, I came across a herald and a man on a horse-drawn carriage. Both, man and herald came and tried to push me roughly out of the way. I got so angry that, in the fight, I hit the driver of the carriage. The old man saw this and as I walked past the carriage he picked up the double goad and hit me over the head with it. Let me tell you, wife, for that little act, he paid double. I lifted my own staff and hit him back. He rolled to the ground from the carriage, flat on his back. Then, as I fought on, I killed all the rest of them.

But if this stranger now has some light to shine upon that incident –

Oh, wife! Who would be more unfortunate than me? More hated? By man and by gods?

Neither a stranger nor a citizen could let me into his home nor even speak with me but send me on my cursed way. And it was I who announced this course upon me, no one else.
These hands! With these very hands I gripped at the man whose wife I hold now. Am I not then an evil man? Am I not a vile sacrilege? If I must leave, I will neither be able to see my family nor go back to my own country, Corinth. Or else, the prophesy says, if I go back to Corinth, I shall marry my mother and kill Polybus, my father, the man loved me and gave me life and raised me. Would it not be true if someone said of me that a cruel god is pursuing me?

I felt pity for the child, my Lord. I thought, well, he’d be taken to another land, one far away from his father’s and so he’d be free of that oracle. No problems that I could see. Unfortunately though, my Lord, it looks like that was a bad decision, saving the child, I mean, because, well, because if that child is you, then, by Zeus, I fear gravely for you, too… my Lord.

O, how gruesomely clear it has all unravelled! O light! Let me enjoy you for one last time. One last time from the time I was born, for I was born from the wrong parents, I was bonded with the wrong people and I’ve killed those I should have never killed.

i) As we can see, all these examples share a common motif: an unwelcome prophecy or prophetic dream. Some of the participants try to foil the prophecy. Yet their efforts to foil the prophecy are the very means by which the oracle comes true.

The stories from Herodotus and Sophocles are examples of what I think most folks would classify as paradigm-cases of fatalism. Yet the stories involving Joseph and Herod are clearly in the same vein. Some obstreperous parties set into motion of chain of events resulting in the fateful denouement. So, in that respect, there is a fatalistic strain to some Biblical events.

ii) Does this represent God’s general modus operandi? No. For example, Joseph is not resistant to the prophetic dream–only his brothers.

iii) What we may say about the Biblical examples is that God occasionally uses fatalistic methods to make a point: even defiant sinners cannot defy his will. And to make that point, God orchestrates some actions and events so that a sinner’s defiance of his will is the very means by which his will is accomplished. He turns their seditious intentions against them–to serve his own purposes. Even their insubordination is subordinated to his will. They obey him by disobeying him. Hence, rebellion is futile.

iv) At the same time, it’s also striking that, in the case of the Joseph cycle, his brothers are ultimately the beneficiaries of fatalism. As it turns out, the prophetic dream was an oracle of salvation rather than an oracle of doom. Benevolent fatalism. Likewise, Herod’s loss is our gain.

v) Another reason for God’s occasional use of fatalistic methods is the delicious propriety of such methods when dealing with wicked schemers. Who can fail to appreciate the poetic justice of a wicked schemer whose wicked schemes result in sealing his own fate?

A classic biblical instance of judicial fatalism is the case of Haman. He sets a trap for the Jews. Or so he thinks. Yet he unwittingly sets a trap for himself. As one commentator puts it:

“The whole book of Esther can readily be seen as one grand reversal…The narrator had no need to enlighten his audience about the origin of this reversal: with resonances of the Joseph and Exodus stories throughout the book, the activity of God will have been entirely plain. The great the number of ‘coincidences’ necessary for the salvation of the Jewish people, and the more implausible they seem, the more directly the role of God is pointed to. God, as a character of the story, becomes more conspicuous the more absent he is,” D. Clines, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (Eerdmans 1992), 269.

v) Esther also illustrates the sense in which the same outcome can be fatalistic for one participant, but not for another. In one respect, Haman is a willing participant–but only because he labors under the conceited illusion that he’s calling the shots. He’s like a miniature chess player sitting on God’s chessboard. The Jews are his pawns, but he is God’s pawn.

By contrast, Esther and Mordecai are not attempting to sabotage God’s plan. As pious Jews, they have implicit faith in God’s providence. So the reversal of fortunes is fateful for Haman, but not for Esther or Mordecai.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Scripture: The Evangelical View

"The sixty-six books of the Protestant canon are inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore inerrant" (PDF).

Divine Energies and Orthodox Soteriology

Peter Leithart's take.

Why I'm not a Calminian

I’m going to comment on a recent post by Craig Blomberg:

Blomberg is a fine NT scholar. He’s written a number of useful books on the historical Christ and the historicity of the NT.

“If either pure five-point Calvinism or its consistent repudiation in pure Arminianism were completely faithful to Scripture, it is doubtful that so many Bible-believing, godly evangelical Christians would have wound up on each side.”

There are quite a few problems with this statement:

1.Consider the force of social conditioning. If the only thing you’ve been exposed to during your formative years is one theological tradition, then that can be quite prejudicial to the alternatives. And, yes, this cuts different ways.

2.Many anti-Calvinists are quite explicit about why they reject Calvinism. They find it repellent. They have a visceral reaction to Calvinism.

3.Blomberg teaches at a confessional seminary: “Each year trustees, administration and faculty are required to affirm and sign Denver Seminary's doctrinal statement without mental reservation.”

Let’s take three examples:

“This body expresses itself in local assemblies whose members have been immersed upon a credible confession of faith and have associated themselves for worship, instruction, evangelism, and service. The ordinances of the local church are believers' baptism by immersion and the Lord's Supper.”

That’s standard Baptist theology. Yet surely Blomberg will grant that many godly, Bible-believing Christians have come down on different sides of this issue. So does he think this article of the doctrinal statement, which he signed, is not completely faithful to Scripture”?

Take another example: “We believe that each local church is self-governing in function and must be free from interference by any ecclesiastical or political authority. We also believe all men and women are directly responsible to God in matters of faith and life, and they should be free to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences.”

Once again, that’s standard Baptist theology. But isn’t this another issue over which godly, Bible-believing Christians have differed? So does he think this article of the doctrinal statement is not completely faithful to Scripture?

To take a final example, I believe that Craig is a historic premillenialist. Indeed, he recently edited a book defending that very position. Yet this is another issue over which godly, Bible-believing Christians differ. So does he think historic premillennialism is not completely faithful to Scripture?

4.Another reason that godly, Bible-believing Christians can disagree over the five-points of Calvinism is a lack of clear thinking. Indeed, Blomberg will be furnishing some examples.

“The former wants to preserve the Scriptural emphasis on divine sovereignty; the latter, on human freedom and responsibility. Both are right in what they want and correct to observe in Scripture the theme that they stress. Both also regularly create caricatures of what the other side believes. Straw men are always the easiest to knock down.”

Ironically, we could say that this is a caricature of Calvinism, as if Calvinism is only concerned with the sovereignty of God, to the detriment of human responsibility. So the way that Blomberg just framed the alternatives is itself a straw man.

“When one discovers a position that Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, two of the world’s leading evangelical philosophers, both endorse, even though the former is Calvinist and the latter is Arminian, it is worth taking a closer look. The position is often called middle knowledge.”

The fact that Plantinga subscribes to middle knowledge should already tip him off to the fact that Plantinga is not a Calvinist. Calvinism rejects Molinism. Moreover, Plantinga is the most philosophically astute proponent of the freewill defense. That’s a libertarian argument.

“Simply put, middle knowledge affirms, with classic Arminianism, that God’s predestining activity is based on his foreknowledge of what all humans would do in all possible situations that they could find themselves in.”

That wouldn’t be “foreknowledge.” Foreknowledge is knowledge of the future. Advance knowledge of what will happen–not what would happen.

“But it also observes that God’s omniscience is so great that it is not limited just to what all actually created being would do but to what all possibly created beings would do in all possible situations.”

Here Blomberg is confusing middle knowledge with counterfactual knowledge. They’re not interchangeable. While middle knowledge presupposes counterfactual knowledge, it’s not the case that counterfactual knowledge presupposes middle knowledge.

Calvinism has no problem affirming the fact that God has counterfactual knowledge. The Westminster Confession attributes counterfactual knowledge to God while, at the same time, rejecting middle knowledge (WFC 3:2).

In Reformed theism, God’s knowledge of hypotheticals is grounded in his knowledge of hypothetical decrees. God knows what human agents would do in all possible situations because he knows what would happen in case he decreed alternate scenarios.

“Because God creates only a finite number of persons between the beginning of the universe and Christ’s return, his sovereign choice is preserved, because he must choose to create some beings and not others. Thus, with classic Calvinism, his sovereign, elective freedom is preserved.”

In doesn’t preserve God’s sovereignty. Rather, it’s as God though must choose from a mail-order catalogue. In Molinism, God is confronted with a set of options. He can choose from these options, but the options are autonomous.

“There are countless passages throughout Scripture that, seemingly paradoxically, affirm at one and the same time God’s sovereignty and human freedom (with accountability).”

We need to draw a firm distinction between what the Bible teaches and the impression that makes on some readers. Does the Bible teach a paradoxical relation between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility? Is the (alleged) paradoxicality of that relation part of the Biblical teaching itself? Does Scripture assert that this relationship is paradoxical?

Or does it simply strike some readers as paradoxical? The fact that some readers can’t harmonize the two doesn’t mean that Scripture itself is affirming a paradox. This is not a Scriptural claim.

“Philippians 2:12-13 commands us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, but only because God is the one at work in us to do his good pleasure.”

How is that paradoxical? Doesn’t that present a cause and effect relation? God causes us to work out our salvation. Our activity is the result of God’s agency. A reaction to God’s action. What’s the least bit paradoxical about that?

“Isaiah 10:5-13 finds God using Assyria as an instrument to punishment faithless Israel but then promising to turn around and punish Assyria because of her evil motives in conquering God’s people.”

Blomberg finds that paradoxical, but does Isaiah find that paradoxical? Does Isaiah indicate that these two truths are in tension with each other? Does Isaiah say that we need to limit divine sovereignty to make room for human accountability?

Blomberg is a skilled, experienced exegete. As such, he surely recognizes the need to distinguish between the mind of the author and the mind of the reader. The fact that some reader may (or may not) find this paradoxical doesn’t mean Isaiah intended the reader to come away with that impression. Is that any part of what Isaiah is trying to convey in this passage? Did he mean this passage to be paradoxical? Or does it simply have that effect on certain readers, given their extraneous preconceptions?

For example, when a ufologist reads Ezk 1, he takes this to be a description of a flying saucer. He comes to the passage with those cultural categories and expectations. As a result, the ufologist is filtering the passage through an artificial grid.

“But perhaps the text that says it best of all is the first one in the canonical sequence, Genesis 50:20, quote above. Joseph has been reunited with his brothers, but now that their father is dead they fear that Joseph may at last exact vengeance on them. Joseph allays their fears by explaining that he understands that God had different, good purposes in mind with their action of selling him into slavery in Egypt, even though their purposes were evil. Two separate agents, two separate wills, at cross purposes with each other, neither described as logically or chronologically prior to the other. Neither is said to cause the other; they occur simultaneously.”

That interpretation cuts against the grain of the narrative arc. Gen 50:20 represents the long-range fulfillment of a prophet dream which took place at the onset of the cycle. Gen 50:20 completes the cycle.

Because his brothers resented the dream, they tried to thwart the prophetic outcome by selling their brother into slavery. The point of the intervening narrative is to underscore the providence of God. Their attempt to advert the outcome is, unwittingly, the very means by which the outcome is realized.

They intend one thing, God intends the opposite. Yet their actions are unintentionally instrumental in achieving the outcome which God intended all along.

As such, their will is subordinate to God’s will. Indeed, the very point of the narrative arc is to illustrate the sovereignty of God by showing he how fulfills the prophetic dream he gave to Joseph despite the subversive efforts of his siblings. Unbeknowst to them, that’s precisely the way in which God was going to fulfill his prophetic dream. And that’s the most dramatic way you could underscore the sovereignty of God. God declares the outcome in advance of the fact. God achieves his purpose in spite of human intransigence.

It’s like issuing a challenge. Announce the future. Implicitly dare an individual to prevent it from happening. Then bring it to pass by using his resistance as the unwitting means. His brothers bring it about by trying to hinder it.

Why does Blomberg think this is at odds with Calvinism?