Saturday, August 08, 2009

Arminian motives

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

I have no more reason to doubt a Calvinist's account of why he is a Calvinists as I am to doubt an Arminian's account of why he is an Arminian.

But there's a bit of a disparity here, isn't there? I haven't met an Arminian yet who is willing to give up his libertarian assumptions when he comes to the Bible. But if you ask him to show where Scripture teaches libertarian free will, he can't. He just takes it as implicit. Or he points to places where people make choices, as if this proves a libertarian action theory. So Arminians, by their own admission, are Arminian not because of what Scripture says, but in fact because of their philosophical commitments.

Calvinists, on the other hand, are typically the opposite. Indeed, most Calvinists I know are strongly sympathetic to libertarian theories of the will, and treat them as intuitively obvious. It is only because Scripture openly and obviously contradicts such theories that these people are Calvinists at all. One merely needs to point to God's use of Pharaoh in Exodus—hardening his heart so that he would sin, while still holding him accountable for that sin—to see that libertarian action theory is false and unbiblical. So Calvinists, in contrast to Arminians, are Calvinists because of what Scripture says, despite any philosophical commitments they have.

Frankly, I find your deigning to believe that Calvinist are really arriving at their position by studying the Scriptures both ironic and hypocritical.

August 06, 2009 8:38 PM

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Hi Gordon. It doesn't matter if this is an exception or not—the case against libertarianism, and for compatibilism, is still proved. Arminians say that we can't be held morally accountable for actions we didn't libertarianly choose. But Scripture gives us an example where Pharaoh is held accountable for actions he didn't libertarianly choose. So, even if this isn't normative, the objection against a compatibilist view of the will still collapses—as does any argument for a libertarian action theory which relies on maintaining moral accountability. That's what's at issue here; viz, "Given our understanding of who is responsible for what, an understanding we consider to be the fact of the matter, the Calvinistic God turns out to be as bad as the devil."

Given the example of Pharaoh, the Arminian case is just unsustainable. Or, if the Arminian thinks it is sustainable,then by his own standards God is as bad as the devil in his dealings with Pharaoh. Does that just make God occasionally evil under the Arminian view? Is this okay? I mean, what does it take for Arminians to realize that the reason they think God is the devil is because they are judging him according to the devil's standards?

August 06, 2009 9:37 PM

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

mattghg, obviously I haven't put the question to every Arminian I've met. But the ones to whom I have put the question made it clear that their commitment to libertarian freedom was the overriding factor behind their rejection of the doctrines you mention. In other words, a priori Scripture can't teach those doctrines, because that would be unjust on libertarian assumptions—therefore, it does not teach them. "Whatever it says, it can't teach that!"

I have also met Arminians who are so committed to libertarian freedom that, when pressed by the logic of their position, they admit they'd be willing give up doctrines like God's knowledge of counterfactual free choices rather than their commitment to libertarian freedom. (For the logic, see, eg here.) This is why I argue that open theism is merely consistent Arminianism.

August 07, 2009 3:44 AM

D Bnonn Tennant

Hey James; good post. There are some other, similar problems which arise from Arminian’s views, relating to the grounds of God’s knowledge. Arminian has previously stated that “God’s foreknowledge of free human acts is contingent on what the free human actors will actually do.” I agree that this view is logically necessary given Arminianism’s other philosophical commitments—but if it’s actually true, then the following problems seem to present themselves:

1. God’s aseity, simplicity, immutability, and necessity are undermined. Re aseity, if parts of God’s knowledge are causally contingent on human actions, such that this knowledge obtains only if the actions themselves obtain, then there is a sense in which God is causally dependent on his creation. Re simplicity, if parts of God’s knowledge are contingent on human actions, while other parts are not, then God is divisible. I’m not sure what the Arminian position is on God’s simplicity (or whether there is a standard view), but it seems to me to be a very important doctrine. Re immutability, if God gains knowledge when contingent events obtain, he is not immutable. And similarly for necessity. Perhaps it is possible to redefine these doctrines to fit into an Arminian scheme, but it doesn’t seem possible to do so without producing irreparable flaws into the core ontology of the Godhead.

2. One wonders what knowledge is, and how it is produced, under Arminian’s view. It appears to be something independent of God, which he, like us, obtains in certain circumstances. But this seems to raise enormous problems of ontology (I’m sure Greg Welty would throw up a little in his mouth at the mere thought). Put mildly, it appears to contradict strikingly with the meaning of logos that John has in mind in the first verse of his gospel.

3. Furthermore, if God’s foreknowledge of free human acts is causally contingent on what the free human actors actually do, then it follows necessarily that God has no knowledge of things which free human actors do not do. If God’s knowledge of free acts obtains only in the event that the free acts themselves obtain, then hypothetical free acts, which don’t obtain, will commensurately not cause any knowledge in God. So Arminian appears to be committed to a view in which God has no knowledge of counterfactual free acts. How, then, does Jesus know that Tyre and Sidon would have repented in sackcloth and ashes in Matthew 11:21?

4. God’s inability, under Arminian’s view, to know counterfactual free acts also raises further problems. Since God’s knowledge of all free human acts only obtains causally consequent to the acts themselves obtaining (although temporarily prior, since God is timeless), it stands that he had no knowledge of any free acts causally prior to the creation of the universe. Since God’s action in creating the universe is a prior causal condition of human free acts, and human free acts are a prior causal condition of God’s knowledge of them, it follows that God did not know any human free acts prior to his creation of the universe. Therefore, he did not (and could not have) surveyed all the possible worlds with all the possible free human acts, and chosen to instantiate a particular one. Rather, he must have merely surveyed all the possible initial conditions for the world, up until the first free human act, and then instantiated the one that he wanted. Only once he had done this would he have gained any knowledge at all of free human acts—by which stage, it would be too late.

5. This in turn produces obvious absurdities. For instance, God is limited to a purely reactive attitude toward history. Exodus and Romans tell us that God raised Pharaoh up for the express purpose of revealing his power in him. Yet how could this be possible under the Arminian view? What counter-factual reality did God foresee where Pharaoh was obstinate? Evidently it was not the reality in which he was king, since Scripture says that God raises up Pharaoh to be king as a response to his foreknowledge of Pharaoh’s obstinacy. But then, Pharaoh must have been obstinate in some other reality. What reality is that?

6. Moreover, given that this counter-factual reality was not the reality in which Pharaoh was king, how did God know that Pharaoh would act in the same way in the actual reality? Since, by definition, free will entails the real ability to do otherwise, is it not the case that Pharaoh was just as likely to not be obstinate (or, at least, that it was not impossible?) In fact, isn’t it the case that God would have to foreknow the actual reality, in which Pharaoh is king, in order to raise him up as king at all?

7. This unfortunately leads on to entail that God is “stuck” with regard to time. Even though he is mutable, and can learn, under the view Arminian has espoused, he is unable to respond to events which involve free acts which have not yet occurred in time. Once he knows of a free will event, it has already happened. Although his knowledge may flow back in time from our point of view, such that he can know what will happen before it does because he exists at all times (including a time prior to the free will choice), he cannot actually act to change that event—even in a passive sense, by altering natural events. By the time a free act is known by God, it is already fixed in history. God is merely an observer. He cannot actually influence history at all—unless, that is, he acts like a time-traveler and goes “back in time” and changes things to see what will happen later on! Ultimately, all manner of time paradoxes would seem to be entailed in such a view, along with any number of realities that actually happened (they were not merely counter-factual) but then were “undone” by God in the past. But this view seems to have more in common with my last NaNoWriMo project than with the God of the Bible. What Arminian would agree that God spends his time changing things in the past to try to find the best possible outcome for the universe?

8. Lastly, I wonder if any of this even saves free will in the end anyway. Even if God foreknows events causally consequent to their occurring, it remains that he does foreknow them—his knowledge is chronologically prior. This seems to commit Arminianism to some variant on the B theory of time. But the B theory of time is patently incompatible with libertarian free will. If there is no logical distinction between past and future for God, and both are set and cannot be changed, then it seems that libertarianism fails to obtain pretty much automatically. A choice I make in two minutes must happen one way, and not the other. But if it must happen one way, and not the other, then I have no actual ability to choose the opposite of what I will. Unless one is willing to give up the principle of alternate possibility (and most libertarians aren’t), it would appear that despite putting their philosophy, and their theology proper, through the mangler and reducing God to a time-traveler, Arminians still cannot salvage free will.

Friday, August 07, 2009

A Reminder

Occasionally, it is worthwhile to be reminded of who the enemy that the US is fighting against in Iraq really is. This article gives some details as to what happened to a six-year-old boy who was kidnapped by Al Qaeda because his father was a policeman:
"They beat me with a shovel, they pulled my teeth out with pliers, they would go like this and pull it," said Khidir, now 8, demonstrating with his hands. "And they would make me work on the farm gathering carrots."

What followed was even more horrific, an ordeal that would last for two years in captivity. Khidir and his father spoke to CNN recently, more than half a year after his rescue by Iraqi police.

"This is where they hammered a nail into my leg and then they pulled it out," he says, lifting up his pant leg to show a tiny wound.

He says his captors also pulled out each of his tiny fingernails, broke both his arms, and beat him repeatedly on the side of the head with a shovel. He still suffers chronic headaches. He remembers them laughing as they inflicted the pain.

"He didn't recognize his mother or his grandmother," Abdul Qader says. "But then he saw me in uniform and ran to me. I went flying toward him to hug him. People said be careful; both his arms are broken. So I held him from his waist, and he hugged me, kissed me, smelled me, and then broke into a smile."
In case anyone is wondering, this is what torture looks like. Completely different from Gitmo.

The Best Source For The Papias Fragments

Stephen Carlson recently linked to a new online edition of Papias fragments. The new collection of fragments was put together by Tom Schmidt and some other individuals he mentions on the page just linked. It's the best collection I've seen yet. He includes some material that he doesn't believe has ever been published in English before, and he includes some translations of his own and corrections of previous translations. There's a lot of significant material there.

When I linked to an older collection of Papias fragments in the past, I noted that every source who comments on Papias' relationship with John either states or suggests that he had met the apostle. I think the same is true with this latest collection of fragments, which is the most complete one I've seen. The modern dispute over Papias' relationship with John is often framed as if we have to judge between two sources, Irenaeus and Eusebius of Caeserea, often with the suggestion that Eusebius is the more reliable of the two. Not only is the suggestion that Eusebius is the more reliable source on this matter dubious, but it's often not mentioned that other sources commented on the issue as well and supported Irenaeus' position. Eusebius himself was inconsistent on the issue. He affirms Irenaeus' view in another passage. Thus, every source to comment on the issue suggests that Papias met John, and one source is inconsistent on the matter. And the reasons Eusebius gives for doubting Papias' close relationship with John are dubious, for reasons I've mentioned before. There's no good reason to doubt that Papias met John.

The Papias fragments, as well as Tom Schmidt's comments on them, also contain some other significant information, such as Papias' affirmation of the authenticity of the book of Revelation and a report by some sources that Papias was the secretary who wrote the fourth gospel at John's dictation. I recommend reading all of the fragments and the commentary on them.

We may find a copy of Papias' work someday. It was still extant in the Middle Ages, but was eventually lost.

Speak of the devil

Victor Reppert left a long comment on my blog, and also posted the same comment over at his blog. Before responding, it’s important to remember the context. The latest round got started when (on July 22) Reppert chose to plug a provocative and unprovoked attack on Calvinism in general and Triablogue in particular by Billy Birch. And Reppert taunted us to respond: “This is a nice piece, by William Watson Birch. Calvin's Bulldogs will no doubt differ with this assessment, however.”

Reppert is entitled to plug whoever he likes. By the same token, I’m entitled to respond.

Perhaps his latest post represents his belated attempt to put out a fire on which he used an accelerant. Fine. But let’s just keep in mind how this all got started.

I think some of the angry responses on the part of Calvinists to Arminians has to do with the moral objection to Calvinism that Arminians often use, which sometimes is expressed by the claim that the Calvinistic God is as bad or worse than the devil.

Working from their own understanding of moral responsibility, it is easy to see why Arminians can end up saying "Your God is the devil." The Wesleys did that, and it cost them their friendship with Whitefield. Put thus, the objection puts the Calvinist's back up, and things tend to get acrimonious from there.

i) This is incorrectly framed. The issue has nothing to do with getting angry or getting one’s back up.

It’s not as if I take this personally. I’m not offended when people attack God. God can take care of himself. He doesn’t need me to defend him. Those who attack the God of Scripture are answerable to the God of Scripture. And that’s a very sobering prospect.

I respond for the benefit of others. Militant Arminians like Birch are doing what political consultants typically do. Redefine your opponent before he can define himself. Defame his character. Use that, in turn, to defame his position (guilt-by-association). Define how or what he’s allowed to say in his own defense.

It’s a preemptive strike. An effort to discredit a position by discrediting its proponents, and thereby prejudice the reader against it.

When opponents of Calvinism try to poison the well of Calvinism, I have a right to pour antitoxin into the well to counteract their tactics. I'm keeping the Reformed well drinkable for thirsty souls.

Militant Arminians like Birch are trying their best (or worst) to prevent Calvinism from getting a fair hearing. The purpose of my response is to set the record straight. That’s all.

I don’t have to convince anyone. That’s not my duty. But it is my duty to make a case for what I, as a Christian, believe.

ii) As far as emotion goes, some Arminians are so overtly hostile to Calvin, Calvinism, and Calvinists that their animosity disables any critical detachment or notion of fair play. And that’s ironic, since Arminianism is all about fair play. But the sheer animus that some Arminians exhibit towards all things Calvinistic issues in some strikingly paradoxical fits of Arminian chauvinism.

Maybe the Arminian should say "Given our understanding of who is responsible for what, an understanding we consider to be the fact of the matter, the Calvinistic God turns out to be as bad as the devil." I think that is not quite the same as saying "Your God is the devil."

i) This isn’t a question of whether Arminians should be more tactful. Birch was misrepresenting Reformed theology. And he was also resorting to hypocritical tactics to prevent Calvinism from getting a fair hearing.

ii) At the same time, I think it’s a good thing when the issue comes to a head. A good thing when Arminians candidly state what they really think of Calvinism. When they take their own position to its logical extreme. Polarization can be beneficial. It promotes intellectual clarity. It presents the theological options for what they really are. No fudging.

iii) As I’ve explained on more than one occasion, the reason I quote Arminians who say the God of Calvinism is diabolical, and those who worship such a God share the evil character of the God they worship, is to expose Arminian duplicity. On the one hand, you have some Arminians who wax sanctimonious about how we should never be disrespectful in the way we address a professing believer. On the other hand, the very same Arminians characterize their Reformed opponents in the most degrading terms they can possibly muster.

It’s important to document that backstabbing, Janus-faced behavior.

This is tricky and something I should probably address. I take it Calvinists say that the actions of Satan are predestined before the foundation of the world by God.


That being the case, if you buy into the kind of incompatibilist theory of moral responsibility that an Arminian typically does (responsibility is traceable to the originating cause), then God is responsible for everything the devil does. Given this picture of things (and an Arminian might agree with Kant that compatibilism is a "wretched subterfuge").

That’s misleading. Arminians tend to use “responsibility” as a synonym for culpability. But it’s not.

Responsibility is a precondition for culpability, but a responsible agent can be blameless and praiseworthy in his actual conduct.

If we say that Mary and John are responsible parents, that’s a compliment. If we said Mary and John are irresponsible parents, that would be critical.

Likewise, if I say, “Please hire my son. He’s very responsible for his age,” that’s a commendation, not a condemnation.

In Calvinism, God is ultimately responsible for whatever the devil does. However, this doesn’t mean that God is solely responsible. And it doesn’t mean that God is blameworthy.

Incidentally, would we really prefer a God who is not responsible for what the devil is up to? Would we rather have fallen angels on the loose–like a rabid dog that prowls the playground?

Now Calvinists think that intermediate causal agents are responsible for their actions, and, at the same time, God does have a good reason for predestining Satan to perform all the evil actions he performs, including those actions which cause people to sin their way into hell. So, God is in the clear, and Satan is not.


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Theological Conservationism

A Primer for Bossmanham.

Our friend BSmnhm, takes issue with the notion that some Calvinists believe Arminianism to lead to liberalism. By way of reply, he cites groups like the PCUSA and Robert Schuller, as if the existence of these proves that Calvinism leads to it too, or, more properly, "Neener, neener!"

This misses the it seems we'll have to do some explaining for our friend. When representatives of Calvinism, like Philip Ryken state that the road to liberalism frequently leads through Arminianism, they do so from the perspective that Calvinism is a conserving force in theology, not a liberalizing force.

Indeed, one can cite example after example of historical instances in which Arminianism has led directly to theological drift and outright apostasy. The Socinians and Arminians were quick friends centuries ago. The Free Will Baptists nearly died out because of that union, and, if not for the New Connexion would have done so. After Francis Turretin passed on, Amyraldianism and then Arminianism arose in Geneva, and a generation later, Geneva was apostate. Today, we have Open Theists and Universalists.

Ah, says, Bossmanham, what about theological drift in the PCUSA? What about it? Does the PCUSA adhere to the Westminster Standards? No. The liberals had to leave those behind, and with it Calvinism qua Calvinism. Ah, but what about the Neo-Orthodox, aren't they liberals, and didn't they arise, as with Barth, out of Calvinism? Yes on both counts...but what this neglects is this: Neo-Orthodoxy is not a response to evangelical orthodoxy, rather it is a move within the liberal movement back toward orthodoxy...a conserving force, which proves the point, where Protestant theology moves in a more conservative direction, it tends toward more Calvinistic underpinnings. Where it moves in a more Arminian direction, it has a more liberalizing tendency.

Double-dealing Arminians

According to one definition, a double standard is a set of principles that applies differently and usually more rigorously to one group of people or circumstances than another.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with treating different groups differently in case there are relevant differences which justify inequitable treatment. The problem is when standards are applied inequitably in the absence of relevant differential factors.

From a Christian standpoint, why should we care? For two basic reasons.

i) A double standard is an ethical lapse. A form of hypocrisy. Christians should avoid misconduct.

Since we're all sinners, we're all hypocritical to some degree. But habitual, impenitent duplicity in a professing Christian is a spiritually perilous condition.

ii) A double standard may also betray a lack of sincerity on the party of the individual who is guilty of applying the double standard. If he applies one standard to one group, and another standard to another group, then although he’s using two different standards, it’s quite possible that he only believes in one of them.

It’s useful to smoke out his true commitments. Is he sincere, or is he merely grandstanding?

Single double standards

In my experience, there are two different ways in which some Arminians are guilty of double standards:

i) An Arminian who has one standard for himself, and another standard for his Reformed opponent.

ii) An Arminian who has one standard for his Arminian comrades, and other standard for his/their Arminian opponents.

Double double standards

An Arminian who is guilty of a single, double standard is concomitantly guilty of a double double standard.

Not only is an Arminian committing a generic logical and ethical lapse, but he is also committing a specific theological and ethical lapse.

That’s due to the egalitarian structure of Arminian theology. God’s indiscriminate love.

And that, in turn, generates an ethical obligation to treat everyone equitably. An ethical obligation which is distinctive to Arminian ethics.

When, therefore, An Arminian is guilty of a single double standard, that carries with it a corollary culpability for a double double standard since he has not only violated generic moral and logical norms, but also violated moral and theological norms which are specific to his particular belief-system. So his favoritism compounds the ethical and logical lapse. An aggravated case of hypocrisy.

The typical Calvinist

"At times, one must wonder why so many Calvinists are so very angry. The psychological affects of Calvinism are not so easily ascertained. 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); 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). It is interesting: the gospel of Jesus Christ does not attract such types of people. I digress."

According to this statement, the typical person who is attracted to Calvinism is a different type of person than the typical person who is attracted to the Gospel. So, according to this Birch's statement, Calvinists typically find the Gospel unattractive. Hence, the typical Calvinist is unsaved. Hellbound. Damned.

Moving along:

"Did I write that Piper stated as a universal truth that all Calvinists produce negative and mean-spirited attitudes? No, that is what Hays read into my words."

He made a categorial statement about a whole class of individuals. A type of individual.

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that he isn't speaking of all Calvinists. He is, however, speaking of the typical Calvinist.

So, according to him, the typical Calvinist is mean-spirited. What is worse, the typical Calvinist doesn't find the gospel attractive. Hence, the typical Calvinist is not a true Christian.

I realize that many opponents bitterly resent it when I take them at their word and hold them to their words. But I hardly think that's unfair.

Of course, Birch is welcome to retract that characterization. He could admit that he expressed himself carelessly.

But let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that he didn't intend to say the typical Calvinist is damned. Where does that leave the rest of his argument?

Remember that he had a psychological theory for why the the typical Calvinist is mean-spirited and underhanded:

"I think that this matter penetrates much deeper psychologically than what Piper or most Calvinists are willing to admit. The reason why many Calvinists act in an un-Christlike manner has little to do with the feeling of being misled by Arminian theology. Like Father, like son. Ungodly Calvinists are merely imitating the concept of God that they have embraced...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!"

So is this theory typical or atypical of Calvinists? If it's typical, then Calvinists are typically damned. But if it's atypical, then his psychological theory has precious little explanatory power. It would describe anomalous behavior rather than typical behavior. Is it like Father/like son, or not?

"Everything's Bigger in Texas, Including the Idiots"

“We're still dealing with organized ignorance in high places here in Texas.”

Exhibit A:

“Welcome to the Humanists of Houston (HOH) website. Our organization has been the premier Humanist group in Houston for thirty years.”


Arminian duplicity

Is it ever appropriate to apply Biblical condemnations or judgmental language to your theological opponents? A number of Arminians feign indignation at this practice.

If a Calvinist does that, they exclaim, How dare you presume to emulate the linguistic practices of Scripture! Who do you think you are, exactly? A prophet? Apostle? Jesus? Only an inspired speaker is entitled to do that!

Indeed, some of them take this a step further. If you do this, then that calls your salvation into question. It fails to manifest the fruits of the Spirit.

Okay, let’s put this to the test. Here is what what prominent Arminian epologist said about Calvinists:

“When it comes to light that a teaching is clearly contradicted by biblical fact, its proponents will often try desperately to find some way to make the facts fit their doctrine, stretching the limits of believability and sanity. Others try instead to simply cloud the facts or cast doubt upon the clear meaning of the words of scripture, effectively nullifying what the word of God is saying so they won't be forced to deal with the facts therein. Chief among the earthly enemies of Christ were the Pharisees, who held their traditions and the teachings of the elders higher than the word of God. Often they would employ parts of doctrine they had themselves added to God's words to nullify or 'get around' the clear commands of God, such as honoring and caring for one's parents. Christ said to them concerning their doctrinal errors: "Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition." (Matthew 15:6). Thus, if a doctrine requires that certain commands of God or the clear statements made in scripture be made meaningless or 'explained away' in whole or in part, it is a sure bet that such doctrine is in serious error.”

Notice that Thibodaux is taking the very words of Christ himself, which–by Thibodaux’s own admission–were originally addressed to the Pharisees, whom Thibodaux goes out of the way to remind us were among the “chief enemies of Christ,” and then applying that condemnation directly to Calvinists.

Question for Arminians: is this proper or improper? Will Arminians wax indignant at Thibodaux’s behavior here? Or will they play favorites? Will they either pass over this in diplomatic silence or indulge in special pleading?

In my experience, not only do Arminians exhibit a persistent double standard, but they exhibit a persistent double-double standard. On the one hand, their theology is predicated on equal treatment for all. God loves everyone, so we should do the same.

On the other hand, they are strikingly inequitable in the way the treat their Arminian comrades in contrast to their Reformed opponents. Egalitarian theory, double-faced praxis.

"Arminianism and the Paper Trail of Prophesied Prayers"

James Anderson has written a fine response.

Cross-textual harmonization

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that Hays presumes to advise on hermeneutics, when he plummets head-first into a flub that no one year seminary student is bound to committ. He proof-texts Acts to contravene the didactic Pauline teachings on sound speech. Hays therefore assumes scripture is incoherent, and is content to leave it at that without cross-text harmonization. It is a 101 elementary point of fact that the nature of historical narrative (i.e., Acts) is descriptive not prescriptive.

If the gospel is encapsulated in the brief phrase, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31 TNIV), then I see no other alternative than to admit that infant baptism (as described by the Reformers) is an affront to the central tenets of the gospel. Again, Schreiner explains:

"For some believers today the connection of baptism to conversion seems odd, for they associate conversion with belief, making a profession of faith, or even going forward at an evangelistic event. Baptism is separated from conversion because many were baptized long before or after their conversion. But in the NT era it was unheard of to separate baptism from faith in Christ for such a long period. Baptism occurred either immediately after or very soon after people believed. The short interval between faith and baptism is evident from numerous examples in the book of Acts (Acts 2:41; 8:12-13; 8:38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5). It follows, then, that when Paul connects death to sin with baptism, death to sin takes place at conversion, for baptism as an initiatory event occurs at the threshold of one's new life. Paul appeals to baptism because it dramatically represents the washing away of one's sins and the new life to which believers are called."4

i) Notice that Billy Birch, in his approving citation of Schreiner, as well as his own citation of Acts, doesn't hesitate to use the historical narrative Acts as prescriptive rather than merely descriptive. He uses Acts to establish the theory and practice of credobaptism. I guess that Billy committed a flub which no first-year seminarian would commit.

ii) And keep in mind that there's also such a thing as narrative theology. We can't draw a hard and fast line between descriptive and prescription communication.

iii) I'd add that his disjunction between Pauline discourse in Acts and Pauline teaching in the Pauline epistles is futile since we also have examples of harsh Pauline discourse in the Pauline epistles. So, he can't draw a bright line between the historical genre and the epistolary genre in that respect.

Anonymous said...

"Moreover, even if Paul uses harsh language in a context of historicality, his speech is a product of God's omnicausality, thus it is itself inspired."

Yes, inspired discourse. And why should inspired discourse never be a model for Christian discourse? Should uninspired discourse be the model for Christian discourse?

If Hays thinks that he is well qualified to appertain such contextualization, let him tell us how he too attains the property of the divine self-representation that changes his flesh-induced bombasts into one of divine approval, in a passage that is historically and culturally conditioned.

i) To begin with, don't we need to be careful about blanket dismissals regarding the culturebound nature of Biblical statements? Isn't that what liberals always say about the Bible? Don't we need to stake out a considerably more qualified position?

After all, the Pauline epistles are occasional writings. Prompted by a particular sitz-im-leben. Should we also dismiss "didactic Pauline teachings" as culturebound?

ii) In addition, NT writers use commendatory language as well as condemnatory language. If we're never permitted to emulate the condemnatory language of Scripture, then we're never permitted to emulate the commendatory language of Scripture. Neither praise nor blame.

Unnatural naturalism

One of the ironies of naturalism is the unnatural way in which naturalists relate to nature. Let’s take a few examples involving animal rights. It’s striking to see the way in which a naturalist rises to the defense of animals.

I don’t know how many nature shows I’ve seen in which the host lectures the audience on how we shouldn’t blame a predator for acting like a predator.

One of the problems is with the gratuitous and condescending assumption that we need to be told that. That unless a naturalist delivered this admonition, we’d be too stupid to realize on our own that it’s only natural for a predator to act like a predator.

On the other hand, having assured us that animals, being amoral, are blameless, we are then treated to naturalists who confer legal rights on animals because animals have moral status. Indeed, some animal rights activists want to confer equal rights or special rights on animals. More rights than a human baby.

So which is it? Are animals innocent because they are amoral? Or is it that animals are entitled to legal rights given their moral status?

We also told that our basic emotional makeup is rooted in the primitive brain, which we share with other animals. But in that event, why wouldn’t a naturalist render value-judgments about animal emotions in the same way he’s prepared to render value-judgments about human emotions?

Here’s another way in which they feel the need to stick up for animals: I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a naturalist say, after a shark attack, that the shark “mistook” the surfer or sailor or swimmer for a seal or some other prey species. The shark was confused by surfboard or sailboat.

Now, for all I know, that may be true. But I don’t see how the naturalist is in a position to speak for the shark. How can a naturalist get inside the mind of a shark and tell me its true motives?

Put another way, why wouldn’t a shark eat a human being that strayed into its domain?

Yet the host is quick to assure us that sharks are “misunderstood.” They talk about sharks the way bleeding-heart liberals talk about juvenile delinquents.

I’ve also heard the same thing about killer whales. They pose no threat to human beings.

Maybe not. I’m not a marine biologist. Still, a killer whale is an alpha predator. It kills sharks, elephant seals, and sea lions. It will kill a swimming polar bear. Is there some presumption that a human swimmer or diver is off-limits? Why would that be?

Likewise, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it say that there’s no documented case of a wolf pack killing a human being.

Well, I have to problems with that claim:

i) Just in terms of antecedent probabilities, is there some presumption that a wolf pack wouldn’t kill a human being? I’ve seen many programs show hungry wolf packs in winter hunting an elk or moose. Food is scarce in winter. Wolves are desperate for food. Surely an unarmed human being would be a lot easier to take down than a bull moose.

ii) Another obvious question is, under what circumstances would we expect a fatal attack to be reported? It can only be reported if there are witnesses. If there’s a solitary victim, the evidence winds in the stomach of the wolves and scavengers. If, on the other hand, there are witnesses, then the attack is less likely to be fatal since there are other men to come to the aid of the potential victim and fend off the attack.

For example, if you have two or three hunters, I wouldn’t expect them to report a fatal attack for the obvious reason that armed men moving in groups are far less likely to be the victims of fatal wolf attacks.

In the same vein, I don’t know how many times I’ve been told that there are no documented cases of an alligator killing a human being.

But, once again, a successful attack would mostly dispose of the evidence. It’s one-stop shopping: kill the victim, eat the victim.

And a successful attack would most likely take place on lone individuals, where there’s no one else around to come to the victim’s rescue.

Likewise, why wouldn’t an alligator kill and consume a human being? If the gator is big enough, what would deter it from doing so? Alligators are not all that finicky, are they?

In addition, whether or not there are documented cases of alligators killing human beings, there’s no doubt that Nile crocodiles and salt-water crocodiles are notorious man-eaters. If a crocodile, why not an alligator?

Not all alligators are big enough to pose a threat to a man, but some are. And we know that some alligators attack dogs. If a dog, why not a man?

Why do we so often encounter this knee-jerk defense of natural predators?

Let’s take another example. I recently heard a report about Burmese pythons in the Everglades. There’s a man who captures them. They recently caught a 17-foot python.

Yet he assured the TV reporter that a 17-foot python isn’t dangerous to a human being. That’s because, he said, we’re not their natural prey. We’re too big to consume.

Well, that’s a stupid non sequitur. It’s true that a python can’t swallow a full-grown man. But that hardly means a huge python cannot or will not kill a full-grown man.

In fact I’ve seen nature shows which highlight that danger. I once saw a nature show in which a zookeeper was nearly killed by a python. He only survived the attack because his assistant came to his aid. And even then it was very difficult to prevent the python from killing him.

I saw another show in which a wildlife photographer went all the way to Borneo to snap some pictures of a giant python. He succeeded in finding one. It chased him. Lunged at him. Barely missed.

Had he been alone, had the python gotten a hold of him, that’s the last anyone would have heard of him.

And, of course, the focus of the the current effort is to capture Burmese pythons, then take them to a place where they can be “humanely euthanized.” You mustn’t shoot one on the spot. That would be “inhumane.” Instead, a human being must assume the risk of trying to catch it.

And, indeed, the major objection to Burmese pythons in Florida is not the threat they pose to human beings. No, it’s the threat they pose to other wildlife. That’s the stated concern. They ruin the native habitat. Which may well be true. But notice the priorities.

I also don’t know how many times I’ve been told that venomous snakes will leave you alone as long as you leave them alone. And I expect that’s often the case. In many situations, avoidance is the best policy. However, some species are quite aggressive. The black mamba is an obvious example. Some cobras seem to be quite aggressive. Same thing with the Tiger snake–or so I’ve read.

Moreover, a snake doesn’t have to be aggressive to be dangerous. I don’t think the Krait is very aggressive, but it kills a lot of people every year.

In the past, the US has been spared some of the venomous snakes that plague other parts of the world. But because they’re imported here and released into the wild, it’s only a matter of time before we combine all the most venomous of Africa, Asia, and Australia!

In their defense, we’re told that snakes are necessary to keep the rodent population under control. And there’s no doubt that this is a natural function of snakes–not that a naturalist is entitled to invoke teleological explanations.

But even in that respect, cold-blooded predators eat less often than warm-blooded predators. So as far as rodent-control is concerned, warm-blooded predators are more efficient. Indeed, we even bred a dog to do that (the Rat Terrier).

We also witness this unnatural outlook on nature in the way we deal with vicious dogs. In the past, if a vicious dog were prowling the neighborhood, a neighbor would shoot it. Most neighbors had hunting rifles.

But nowadays you’re supposed to call animal control. And when it arrives, animal control is not supposed to shoot the vicious dog. No, it’s supposed to take the dog alive–even if the dog will be euthanized a few days later.

Since dogs are faster than dog-catchers, this is a very time-consuming and labor-intensive exercise. But more to the point, it’s dangerous to catch a dangerous dog. Hazardous to get that close to a vicious dog. But in terms of our enlightened priorities, it’s better to endanger a man than endanger a dog.

Same thing if a bear invades the neighborhood. You mustn’t shoot the bear. Oh no. You must tranquilize it, move it miles away, and hope it doesn’t return.

If the bear kills a man, the bear will be destroyed. But the bear must kill a human being before a human being is allowed to kill the bear.

Of course, this is irrational even from the standpoint of naturalism. For one thing, the survival of the species is hardly dependent on the survival of one or two specimens.

Moreover, why should we care more about other species than we do about our own? It’s not as if other species return the favor.

Furthermore, our sun will go supernova one of these days. And long before then the earth will be uninhabitable. In the great scheme of things, why should a naturalist even care what happens to an endangered species when every species is doomed to inexorable extinction?

For that matter, why this desperate effort to save the life of an animal which will take the life of another animal? And the predator itself is bound to die sooner or later.

In fact, naturalists frequently spend their time trying to save wild animals from natural hazards. Save marine animals that wash ashore. Save crocodiles from drought conditions. Save nature from itself.

It’s dangerous to lowball the danger of dangerous animals. So why do so many nature shows indulge in this reckless propaganda?

Well, at one level, they’d rather protect predators from human beings than protect us from the predators. They’re afraid that if we fear them, we’ll kill them. So they downplay the dangers.

Yet that, of itself, requires an explanation. Part of it is simple perversity. A rejection of the Christian worldview. Rejecting the view of man as the vice-regent of the natural world.

Not only does a naturalist repudiate the Biblical doctrine of creation, but also the doctrine of the fall. We live in a dangerous world. To some extent a hostile world. And there’s a reason for that.

You and I are exiles. Living in exile. Adam and Eve were banished from the safety and security of the garden.

The flipside of naturalism is “bonding” with the natural world. Since a naturalist deems himself to be a product of nature, he also deems himself as just another cog in the ecosystem. On that view, he doesn’t have a right to value his life more highly than animal life.

Back in the bad old days, when people moved into an area, they would eliminate the natural predators–since these posed a threat to both the human inhabitants and their livestock. But environmentalists disapprove of that practice.

Of course, they can afford to since environmentalists are generally urbanites who live in areas where the natural predators were eliminated before they moved in. They get their food from a grocery store, where food was shipped in from other states. If they were farmers and ranchers, they’d sing a different tune.

Not only is the naturalist at war with Christianity, he’s also at war with nature. He lacks a stable worldview. Yet he imposes his views on the rest of us, thereby imperiling the rest of us in the process.

"Animal Rights"

"Animal Rights" by Roger Scruton.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Distinguishing ad hominem arguments

Here's a discriminating discussion:

A debater commits the Ad Hominem Fallacy when he introduces irrelevant personal premisses about his opponent. Such red herrings may successfully distract the opponent or the audience from the topic of the debate.

Ad Hominem is the most familiar of informal fallacies, and—with the possible exception of Undistributed Middle—the most familiar logical fallacy of them all. It is also one of the most used and abused of fallacies, and both justified and unjustified accusations of Ad Hominem abound in any debate.

The phrase "ad hominem argument" is sometimes used to refer to a very different type of argument, namely, one that uses premisses accepted by the opposition to argue for a position. In other words, if you are trying to convince someone of something, using premisses that the person accepts—whether or not you believe them yourself. This is not necessarily a fallacious argument, and is often rhetorically effective.

For instance, ad hominem is one of the most frequently misidentified fallacies, probably because it is one of the best known ones. Many people seem to think that any personal criticism, attack, or insult counts as an ad hominem fallacy. Moreover, in some contexts the phrase "ad hominem" may refer to an ethical lapse, rather than a logical mistake, as it may be a violation of debate etiquette to engage in personalities. So, in addition to ignorance, there is also the possibility of equivocation on the meaning of "ad hominem".

For instance, the charge of "ad hominem" is often raised during American political campaigns, but is seldom logically warranted. We vote for, elect, and are governed by politicians, not platforms; in fact, political platforms are primarily symbolic and seldom enacted. So, personal criticisms are logically relevant to deciding who to vote for. Of course, such criticisms may be logically relevant but factually mistaken, or wrong in some other non-logical way.


Abusive: An Abusive Ad Hominem occurs when an attack on the character or other irrelevant personal qualities of the opposition—such as appearance—is offered as evidence against her position. Such attacks are often effective distractions ("red herrings"), because the opponent feels it necessary to defend herself, thus being distracted from the topic of the debate.

Circumstantial: A Circumstantial Ad Hominem is one in which some irrelevant personal circumstance surrounding the opponent is offered as evidence against the opponent's position. This fallacy is often introduced by phrases such as: "Of course, that's what you'd expect him to say." The fallacy claims that the only reason why he argues as he does is because of personal circumstances, such as standing to gain from the argument's acceptance.

This form of the fallacy needs to be distinguished from criticisms directed at testimony, which are not fallacious, since pointing out that someone stands to gain from testifying a certain way would tend to cast doubt upon that testimony. For instance, when a celebrity endorses a product, it is usually in return for money, which lowers the evidentiary value of such an endorsement—often to nothing! In contrast, the fact that an arguer may gain in some way from an argument's acceptance does not affect the evidentiary value of the argument, for arguments can and do stand or fall on their own merits.

Euthyphro Examined

In the comments on my Abortion and Reppert post, Jayman asked me a question regarding the grounding of morality which I would like to expand on here. I had originally stated in response to him:

I already alluded to this earlier when I said that human rights aren't arbitrary because they're rooted in Theism. That still applies. I'm a Divine Command Theorist, so what makes something moral or immoral is the command of God (which is formulated by His nature). But if you are a secularist, then I see no reason at all why you should believe in any morality whatsoever, let alone human rights.
Jayman responded:
I'm a Christian but do not subscribe to the notion that something is good SOLELY because God says it is good. Such a view of ethics seems to make good and evil nothing more than the arbitrary decision of God. But perhaps your cryptic remark about God's nature means you have something else in mind.
To clarify my “cryptic remark” as well as to show what kind of Divine Command Theorist I am, I would like to offer the following discussion on the Euthyphro dilemma. This was summed up on the Moral Philosophy site as follows (all italics in the original):

The most common argument against divine command theory is the Euthyphro dilemma. The argument gets its name from Plato’s Euthyphro dialogue, which contains the inspiration for it. The Euthyphro dilemma is introduced with the question Does God command the good because it is good, or is it good because it is commanded by God? Each of the two possibilities identified in this question are widely agreed to present intractable problems for divine command theory.

Suppose that the divine command theorist takes the first horn of the dilemma, asserting that God commands the good because it is good. If God commands the good because it is good, then he bases his decision what to command on what is already morally good. Moral goodness, then, must exist before God issues any commands, otherwise he wouldn’t command anything. If moral goodness exists before God issues any commands, though, then moral goodness is independent of God’s commands; God’s commands aren’t the source of morality, but merely a source of information about morality. Morality itself is not based in divine commands.

Suppose, then, that the divine commands theorist takes the second horn of the dilemma, asserting that the good is good because it is commanded by God. On this view, nothing is good until God commands it. This, though, raises a problem too: if nothing is good until God commands it, then what God commands is completely morally arbitrary; God has no moral reason for commanding as he does; morally speaking, he could just as well have commanded anything else. This problem is exacerbated when we consider that God, being omnipotent, could have commanded anything at all. He could, for example, have commanded polygamy, slavery, and the killing of the over-50s. If divine command theory is true, then had he done so then these things would be morally good. That doesn’t seem right, though; even if God had commanded these things they would still be morally bad. Divine command theory, then, must be false.
The flaw of this argument is telegraphed by the wishy-washy ending of the "second horn." While the first horn of the dilemma is matter-of-fact, the second horn must resort to “That doesn’t seem right” language. Obviously, the second horn of the problem is the weak point of the argument.

And we can see why when we consider any standard. If we say something must be the standard, then we must define what that standard is. For instance, we say that light at the wavelength of 620-750 nm and a frequency of 400-484 THz is “red.” The label “red” is not what is important, for it is called different things in different languages (e.g., rojo in Spanish); therefore, let us say that we have defined light that is at 620-750 nm and a frequency of 400-484 THz as X.

Suppose that we create a sensor that requires light to be X in order for a machine to work properly. Do the limits of how X is defined matter then? They very much do. If I build a machine expecting X to be a wavelength of 620-750 nm and someone sends a wavelength of 600 nm, my machine ought to do nothing. If it does do something, then clearly there is a malfunction of the sensor.

Is that arbitrary? It depends on how you look at it. Sure it’s possible to create the sensor to operate at different wavelengths than the one chosen; but once one is chosen, then the sensor must have that wavelength in order for the machine to properly work. One could argue that which wavelength is chosen is arbitrary, but it is a necessary function of the machine working that some wavelength be chosen.

However, further suppose that I am pleased with the color red and I want the machine to work when there is red light; so I design the sensor with that in mind. Is the fact that the machine runs on the color red arbitrary, or is it instead a reflection of my nature and my desires?

While we could in theory expect sensors to work at different colors, in actuality they never will because I like red that much. Is red therefore arbitrary? No, because I am who I am and that’s the way that I wanted it, and therefore red becomes necessary because of my nature.

In a similar way, we have morality. People ought to behave in a certain manner. But where did that standard come from? God’s commands, which are a reflection of His nature.

See, ultimately God is the standard of what is good. There is nothing higher than God that we could point to and say, “God, in order to be good, must be/do that.” He is, by definition, the highest possible good. Therefore, anything He does is by definition good.

Now one could argue, as the Moral Philosophy site did, that that means that God could command slavery, genocide, holocausts or any number of such things. However, God could not have done so, for then God would have a different nature then the one He has. A different God could have commanded those things and been morally good in doing so; this God (Who happens to be the real God) cannot do so.

And note that it is precisely because God is Who He is that it “doesn’t seem” like an alternate morality would be just.

For further takes on the dilemma, you can look at the following too:

And a global search of T-blog for all references:

Therefore, I must conclude: News of Divine Command Theory's demise has been vastly overstated.

Tolle corpus Satani

To: Field operatives
From: Belial
Re: Contingency plans

According to infernal intelligence reports, some Arminian epologists have blown the cover our field operatives. As a result, we have to move up the schedule for Damien’s coronation. In preparation, we also need to infiltrate their strongholds and disrupt their base of operations.

I’ve dispatched Delilah from Bogia 1, Circle 8, to seduce Dave Hunt. She assures me that Hunt will by reciting the Westminster Shorter Catechism in his sleep by the end of the month.

I’ve ordered James White to Lynchburg, where he’ll be doing a body-swap with Ergun Caner.

John Piper has been reassigned to Fort Worth–where he’ll use his black magic to transform Paige Patterson into a cactus.

I’ve dispatched a pack of hellhounds to Wilmore to wolf down Ben Witherington.

For the time being, we’ll leave Roger Olson intact. As you know, his black cat (“Salem”) is one of our best informants.

I’ve assigned a flock of ravens to shadow Jerry Vines.

Albert Mohler is adding an effigy of Norman Geisler to his collection of voodoo dolls.

Further information will be released on a need-to-know basis.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

How to bork a Calvinist

There’s a concerted effort on the part of militant Arminians to bork Calvinists. “To bork" means to concoct a defamatory narrative about your opponent–either an individual opponent or whole movement. You then keep repeating the narrative until it begins to “stick” in popular perception.

To my knowledge, borking Calvinists goes all the way back to John and Charles Wesley. Here’s the borkian narrative of Calvinism in a nutshell:

Calvinists are mean. Meaner than other Christians–especially Arminians.

Calvinists aren’t bad because they’re mean. No, Calvinists are mean because they’re bad.

They’re bad because they’re demon seed. You see, Calvinists are devil-worshipers. They worship a diabolical God, and you mutate into what you worship. Like father, like son.

They act mean cuz they worship a mean ol’ God. Not mean is as mean does, but vice versa. Satanic–that’s what they are! Indeed, worse than Satan!

We frequently speak in figurative terms about “demonizing” an opponent, but when it comes to borking Calvinists, Militant Arminians view Calvinists as literally demonic, because they view Calvinism as literally demonic.

Unless you push back, borking one’s opponent is a very effective tactic.

Manichaean Arminians

In theory, Arminians affirm unlimited atonement while they disaffirm reprobation. They also claim that God is no respecter of persons. Rather, God loves the “world,” which they define as every human being.

But as it turns out, Arminian nomenclature has an esoteric sense. In practice, Arminians are really Manicheans. They divvy up the “world “into a binary caste-system consisting of elect Arminians and reprobate devil-worshipers.

(N.B. A devil-worshipper is a synonym for Calvinist.)

Devil-worshipers (aka Calvinists) are devilish because they worship a devilish God, and you are what you worship.

Complementing their Manichaean eschatology is a Manichaean code of conduct. There’s one code of conduct for elect Arminians, and another code of conduct for reprobate devil-worshipers (otherwise known as Calvinists).

Elect Arminians love all and only their own kind–which is to say, fellow Arminians. God died for elect Arminians, not for Reformed Satanists.

You don’t have to be loving in the way treat demon seed since they’re just a bunch of hell-bound reprobates. The Sermon on the Mount only kicks in case you’re dealing with the children of light (i.e. Arminians), and not if you’re dealing with the children of darkness (i.e. Calvinists).

However, under no circumstances should this be construed as hypocritical. We naturally have different standards for the children of God and the spawn of Satan. Different paternity, different caste, different standards.

New players, old playbook

If there is a God who will damn his children forever, I would rather go to hell than to go to heaven and keep the society of such an infamous tyrant. I make my choice now. I despise that doctrine. It has covered the cheeks of this world with tears. It has polluted the hearts of children, and poisoned the imaginations of men.... What right have you, sir, Mr. clergyman, you, minister of the gospel to stand at the portals of the tomb, at the vestibule of eternity, and fill the future with horror and with fear? I do not believe this doctrine, neither do you. If you did, you could not sleep one moment. Any man who believes it, and has within his breast a decent, throbbing heart, will go insane. A man who believes that doctrine and does not go insane has the heart of a snake and the conscience of a hyena.

–Robert Green Ingersoll

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

–Richard Dawkins

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?"

–John Wesley

Calvinists and Evangelism

While I often joke and use satire as a rhetorical device against Arminians, one charge that Arminians make that I do take umbrage with is the claim that Calvinists are not interested in evangelism. This has been seen in the comments features of several blogs recently, such as Walter’s claim on Reppert’s blog that “I read somewhere that a Calvinist would rather cross the country to debate their theological system than cross the street to witness to someone” or Johnny Dialetic’s claim on Birch’s blog “We all know it [Calvinism] dampens evangelism and chills churches.”

The reason I take umbrage is because not only do I know more Calvinists than Arminians who are missionaries, but I know I evangelize to atheists far more than these “fine” Arminian representatives do.

In point of fact, my personal blog keeps statistics on the posts that I do. Since most of my main blog articles are cross posted on Triablogue as well (I only keep personal stuff on just my personal blog), a glimpse over them will show a fairly accurate representation of the spread of posts that I write and who the audience is.

Thus, I’ve written a total of 30 articles on Arminianism and 35 on Calvinism (and there are some posts that are archived under both, of course). In contrast, I’ve got 157 on Atheism, including 84 on presuppositionalism alone. There are another 144 on science, 45 on math, and 52 on evolution, but these don’t all fit as apologetics against Atheism. Still, 157 articles on Atheism is more than 5x the number of articles I’ve written about Arminians.

For someone who would rather cross the country to debate Calvinism than witness to someone across the street, I sure engage a lot of atheists.

So I could simply ask, how many atheists have our Arminian detractors engaged? How many people have they witnessed to, those who say that Calvinists are not interested in evangelism? And what are the odds that someone who’s writing a blog called “Classical Arminianism: A FORMER CALVINIST'S CENSURE AGAINST CALVINISM AND PROMOTION OF 5-POINT ARMINIANISM” is going to dedicate five times the volume of posts against Calvinists to posts against atheism? Or even Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, or New Agers?

The Missing Ingredient

With all this talk of us Calvinists not being kind and loving enough when speaking to Arminians, I thought I would check the recipe book to see if there was something we're missing here. After all, maybe we're just missing something important. Well, since Reppert, Birch, and of course, our most model citizen of late BSmanham surely have the corner on theological discourse and Christian love, I asked around, and, after doing some digging I found their secret ingredient:

There we go. Apparently, we here at Triablogue missed the last few shipments of product from Amsterdam. I've placed a bulk order through the "usual channels" and I am assured that soon we'll have enough ecstasy to go around by the end of the week. Until then, we'll just let the Arminians play with their pretty glowsticks and pacifiers over in the corner.

Love, love, love, that's all we need.

Post Script: I also called the designer, and when our shipment arrives, the furry wall will be installed too.

Just Because Arminians Will Take This Seriously...

Inasmuch as it has become apparent that style trumps substance in the eyes of the world Arminians who hate us with such passion, I offer evidence that the cold-blooded Triabloggers could, if need be, surrender substance for the sake of style. Thus I extend my hand toward all who were ever offended by anything I ever said by showing you this picture again:

Yes, you evil, hypocritical pseudo-Christian scum bags who have nothing better to do than denigrate Triabloggers—I love you. How much do I love you? Imagine someone who loves you as much as I do. I love you more than that, you spiteful rash-prone troglodytes.

True, it is mainly because I am such a better Christian than you that I can love someone as lowly as you are and keep this discussion so irenic; surely, all must be impressed with my awesome display of Christ’s infinite love. For, as a Calvinist, I would not be above burning you at the stake for the simple reason that you are a heretic causing harm to God’s people, but instead I find myself full of warm fuzzy feelings and cannot but admit that I love obnoxious fools who kick against the goads. Almost against my will do I love thee.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that not every single Arminian is a backstabbing strumpet posing her wares on the side of the road like the wild donkeys of old; some are high class debutants fully capable of earning a livable wage plying their trade. But they are admittedly few and far between—a natural psychological response to those who would succumb to the doctrines of Arminius is a lack of temperance in such urges.

Despite all that, nary a day goes by when I do not wake and thank God He has enabled me to love such as these. For truly, I do not think I would know how to act in public were it not for their constant barrage of meaningless ad hominem disguised as a concern that others not be offended. It is astonishing how far out of the way people will travel in order to ensure they’ve been slighted by the most trivial comment. Indeed, it is obvious they have no need for a savior; their indignation at perceived slight is so righteous it merits salvation for them!

However, none of them has ever posted an I-love-you bear like I have. My love is manifestly evident to all whereas all they can do is claim to love others. This is the most loving post they’ve ever read, and a real Christian would hang his head in shame that he didn’t think of it first.

P.S. I love you, Arminians.

The Calvinazis

“The problem I have with Triablogue is that not only anti-Calvinists like myself, but defenders of Orthodoxy, and Catholicism, and people who differ with them politically are treated in the same way.”

Actually, there’s no one way that we treat people. It depends on how the opponent acts. If he uses reasonable arguments to defend his position, he’s treated as a reasonable opponent. If he uses unreasonable arguments to defend his position, he’s treated as an unreasonable opponent.

“Even if Calvinism is true, isn't it at least possible that people who differ with them theological or politically are merely erring believers who still love Christ, as opposed to enemies of the Gospel.”

i) One of the problems with that ecumenical outlook is that it isn’t shared by Catholics and Orthodox. Trent classifies Protestants as enemies of the Gospel. Likewise, the Orthodox church takes a very dim view of Protestant theology, and frequently discriminates against Protestant missionaries.

Reppert is superimposing his broad churchmanship on churches which oppose his broad churchmanship.

ii) In addition, some political positions are hostile to the Gospel.

iii) One of the problems, not only with Reppert, but other critics, is a myopic focus on a subset of opponents. At one level, that’s understandable since Reppert himself has been in the crosshairs. Indeed, he’s frequently put himself in the crosshairs.

However, there are some rather obvious examples in which Triablogue is a good deal more tolerant that he and other critics suggest. Take four examples:

i) You don’t have to be a Calvinist to be a team member of Triablogue.

ii) Our blogroll includes many sites which are not run by Calvinists.

iii) I conducted and edited (with James Anderson) a series of interviews with various Evangelical scholars. A number of these scholars are not Calvinists.

iv) I recently responded to Craig Blomberg’s “Calminian” post. Yet I didn’t treat Blomberg as an enemy of the faith. And I often plug his books.

“I don't always maintain a proper tone myself, but my blog is known as a place where we try to provide open and fair discussion. People taking numerous positions will tell me they disagree with me but they enjoy the dialogue.”

On this very thread, here’s a sample of the tone of “open dialogue”:

At August 03, 2009 5:17 PM , Walter said...
“I must say that this ‘blustering Dawkinsian’ would much rather dialog with a Christian like Victor or Uncle e, than to try to hold a polite conversation with a Calvinazi that pours vitriol on anyone who does not accept his precious Augustinian theology…Maybe their bitterness is a reflection of their belief in a mafia boss God who only saves a few selct people through some divine lottery that we despicable humans are not privy to.”

Now, perhaps Reppert would excuse this on the grounds that he’s trying to provide an open forum for dialogue. But in that case he’s prepared to lower the tone for freedom of expression, even if that degenerates into the sort of invective (“Calvinazi,” “mafia boss”) which he allegedly deplores. If so, he can’t have it both ways.

BTW, “Calvinazi” seems to be a popular epithet among some anti-Calvinists:

“Out of this theological camp have come ‘Calvinazis,’ (not a term original with me, but I'm not sure of the original source, so I dont' know who to credit. Whoever coined the term had a great sense of humor!) who make it their life's mission to transform any and every potential disciple into a TULIP-lover. Their legacy is seen in lethargic or non-existent evangelism, theological ‘hair-splitting,’ and churches torn asunder by needless doctrinal controversy.”

“Dr. Vines' message screams for a response from denominational leaders who never hesitate to issue warnings to Southern Baptist Calvinists whom they label ‘Calvinazis’ and charge with being more willing to fly across the country to debate Calvinism than to cross the street to witness to a lost person.”

I think we should keep “Calvinazi” in mind when some anti-Calvinists profess to deplore the tone of Reformed discourse.

In the same vein, let’s move on to a new post by an Arminian epologist:

“Rebutting a person's statements is one thing; misrepresenting that person is quite another. My post was a meager and amateur attempt at exploring the reasons behind why many Calvinists, especially on the Internet, are mean-spirited individuals.”

In the first sentence he accuses me of misrepresenting his post. But in the second sentence he admits that his post was a “meager and “amateur” attempt to express himself.

It’s not entirely clear to me how I could misrepresent a meager and amateur attempt by my opponent to express himself. Isn’t Birch admitting that he expressed himself poorly? In that event, he can’t very well blame me for misrepresenting him if he failed to properly express himself.

“This fact is no secret. Even Calvinists have noted that what I am suggesting is true; so much so that John Piper himself was asked to comment on why he thinks this is the case. I also have Calvinist friends on campus at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary which agree with me: many Calvinists are, simply put, unChristlike in their demeanor.”

Even if we concede that allegation for the sake of argument, Arminian epologists are no exception. Indeed, Birch is no exception.

Dan, over at Arminian Chronicles, is the only Arminian epologist I’ve encountered who makes a good faith effort to be different. Other Arminian epologists employ all the same tactics that they are quick to fault in their opponents.

“I was merely quoting Piper.”

No, he wasn’t merely quoting Piper. Rather, he was building on Piper’s statement. Birch made that a presupposition of his own allegation. Yet, at the very same time, Birch took issue with Piper’s statement. So Birch is trying to have it both ways.

“Did I write that Piper stated as a universal truth that all Calvinists produce negative and mean-spirited attitudes? No, that is what Hays read into my words. Theologically, we call that eisegesis.”

To the contrary, when Birch talks about “types of people,” that’s a categorical statement. A set of individuals who belong to the same reference class.

“Having read Piper's own words, what, then, do we make of Steve Hays' allegations towards me? Have I, as he insisted, misrepresented Piper's position?”

Yet, Birch has misrepresented Piper’s statement–on two grounds. He disagrees with Piper’s characterization of Calvinists as intellectual types, yet continues to build on Piper’s statement as if he agrees with it. And he also uses it in a way that Piper would reject.

“However, he did allude earlier to something which, again, I did not explicitly state.”

Needless to say, you don’t have to explicitly state something to imply something. Drawing out the logical implications of a statement is a perfectly valid procedure.

It forces the opponent to either owe up to the implications of his statement or withdraw his statement.

“Even after admitting that mean-spirited Arminians exist, somehow I have alluded that all Calvinists are not saved.”

Let’s go back to Birch’s opening paragraph:

“At times, one must wonder why so many Calvinists are so very angry. The psychological affects of Calvinism are not so easily ascertained. 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); 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). It is interesting: the gospel of Jesus Christ does not attract such types of people. I digress.”

Follow the logic. According to Birch, the types of people who are attracted to Calvinism stand in contrast to the types of people who are attracted to the Gospel.

“Let me be crystal clear, so that no one will be able to misunderstand my position. Any individual who has placed his or her faith in Jesus Christ for salvation and continues to trust in him has thus been born again and is saved. This includes Calvinists, Arminians, Pentecostals, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists, Wesleyans, Church of Christ, non-denominational, the homeless, the churchless, the clotheless, etc.”

So why did he single out Calvinists in the first place? Either he’s speaking hypothetically (and counterfactually), in which case his inclusive language is deceptive–or else he isn’t differentiating between Calvinists and other Christians–in which case his opening paragraph is a gross overstatement. So which is it?

BTW, didn’t he previously say that Calvinism potentially attributes the work of Satan to God? Does this mean that Calvinists potentially commit the unpardonable sin?

“Does Calvinism preach the gospel? Yes, it most certainly does.”

Well, it’s nice to hear him say that. And how does that square with earlier statements like “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, making him the author of sin and evil…” and “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”?

Moving along:

“Do not be fooled, friends. When I suggest that some (not all) Calvinists behave in an unbecoming manner, many of them (e.g. Triabloguers) take that as a compliment, because they are convinced that God acts in that manner as well. So, when I suggested, 'Like Father, like son. Ungodly Calvinists are merely imitating the concept of God that they have embraced,' Hays' response was, 'That's actually quite flattering, although it exaggerates our state of sanctification. Would that we were that far along!' That is a sad commentary.”

This is very choice coming from someone who accused me of misrepresenting his position. Did I agree with his pejorative characterization of Calvinism? No. I explicitly rejected his characterization.

What I agreed to rather, is that it’s a good thing if Calvinists emulate the character of the God they worship.

“I cannot and will not excuse either John or Charles Wesley for their invective against Calvinists. How could I?”

Notice that Birch is evading the issue. The question at issue is whether, by Birch’s standards, John and Charles Wesley were born-again Christians.

“I do wish, however, that Hays would have made the effort to quote from Arminius himself, since I am not a Wesleyan, nor do I often quote from the Wesley's. His search would have proven unfruitful, however. This blog was designed to offer readers primary writings of James Arminius.”

That’s another dodge. John and Charles Wesley are major representatives of Arminian theology. Indeed, I daresay they are far more influential in the propagation of Arminian theology than Arminius ever was.

So the question, once again, is whether Birch is prepare to measure John and Charles Wesley by the same yardstick he uses on Calvinists. Right now he’s ducking the issue.

Is he an Arminian chauvinist? Does he have one standard for his own kind and another standard for his Reformed opponents? Don’t Arminians believe in equal treatment for all? Surely Arminians like Birch aren’t respecters of persons, are they?

“If my grasp of Calvinism is so ‘woefully deficient,’ then one must chalk that up to the inadequate teachings of Calvin himself, not to mention A. W. Pink, R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and John Murray, since it was from these men that I learned Calvinism.”

i) To begin with, that’s a non sequitur. It’s quite possible to incompetently read competent exponents of a given position. You can be a deficient reader of a proficient author.

ii) In addition, it’s striking to see how many popularizers are on his list. Notice whom he didn’t study: Bavinck, Beale, Carson, Cunningham, Frame, Helm, Nicole, Owen, Schreiner, Turretin, Vos, and Warfield–to name a few.

“And since God has allegedly decreed to unconditionally save some and unconditionally reprobate the rest, since ‘few’ will find the narrow way to heaven, and ‘many’ will follow the broad path to hell, according to Jesus, then my statement concerning Calvinism's teachings are correct.”

Ironically, this is a perfect example of Birch’s woefully deficient grasp of Reformed theology. A number of Reformed theologians take the position that the majority of mankind will be saved. They arrive at that position by combining a postmillennial eschatology with a belief in the salvation of those who die in infancy (which in times of high infant morality adds up).

Consider Warfield’s classic essay on the subject: “Are they few that be saved?”

As a man who plans to be a church historian, specializing in the Calvinist/Arminian controversy, Birch ought to know that.

“This is a blatant contradiction. Or perhaps an outright lie. Everything has been decreed. Everything. In what manner, then, can my assessment of Calvinism be inadequate? If everything has been strictly decreed, then that includes the salvation of a few and the damnation of the majority (few and many are percentages). Hays appears to be intentionally dishonest here. Perhaps he does not appreciate the implications of the system which he has embraced. If that is the case, we will gladly receive him into the Classical Arminian fold, as long as he leaves his jeremiad (angry harangue) at the door.”

This is a good example of why Birch is temperamentally unsuited to be a church historian. He lacks critical detachment.

i) To begin with, his allegation about the chosen few is demonstrable false. (See above.)

ii) In addition, did I take issue with the notion that, according to Calvinism, everything is decreed? No. My objection was far more specific.

You can’t be a decent church historian if, like Birch, you’re temperamentally unable to accurately represent positions you personally disagree with. A church historian must be able to present a variety of opposing viewpoints in the course of church history. That requires a faculty for critical detachment and even critical sympathy which is conspicuously absent in Birch’s case.

In fact, in the next paragraph, after accusing me of outright lying and intentional dishonesty, Birch then admits that “more than likely” my objection was more specific.

“While Hays reserves every right to dissect any one of my posts with the most careful scrutiny, including pointing out my errors and inconsistencies, what he does not have the right to do is misrepresent my intent, or place aberrant ideas into my words, as if what he has concluded is what I intended to convey.”

Of course, my only access point to Birch’s intent is through the meager and amateurish way in which, by his own admission or subsequent disclaimer, he chose to convey his intent.

“Moreover, if I objectively state something concerning Calvinism but it happens to be a negative aspect of the system, I am called a hypocrite using ‘uncharitable discourse’.”

Of course, what he does is to cloak his intemperate language under the tendentious guise of an “objective” description–as if there’s anything objective about his characterization.

And if he wants to use that out, then a Calvinist could use the very same out. I wasn’t uncharitable. No, I was objectively stating something that just so happens to be a negative aspect of the Arminian system.

“They take the invective they find from New Testament authors used against heretics and find license to use invective against other believers, completely ignoring the audience of the invective in Scripture.”

To the contrary, I’ve discussed the original audience on several different occasions.

“They then suggest that just because one calls him- or herself a Christian does not make it so…”

And Birch takes the identical position–repeatedly.

“When it is suggested that just because the Triabloguers call themselves Christians does not make it so, the person is called uncharitable.”

Really? Compare this depiction with the actual response:

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

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

“[Birch] 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.”

[Hays] Once again, I never said otherwise.

Did I accuse Birch of being uncharitable in response to his statement? No. I accused him of failing to document his accusations. And notice that he has yet to do so.

“Hays, offering absolutely no commentary on my quoting Ephesians 4:29-30, quotes Acts 13:10 and 23:3 as proof-text for using invective against believers, completely ignoring context and audience. He then concludes: ‘So much for Birch's non-invective theory.’ I suppose that Acts 13:10 and 23:3 somehow trump Ephesians 4:29-30. Or is it that the audience and context are entirely different in Acts and Ephesians? The latter is the truth of the matter.”

i) To begin with, I didn’t comment on his prooftext because I don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time I address an opponent who raises stock objections that I’ve already dealt with in the past.

ii) In addition, Birch simply uses buzzwords like “audience” and “context” as a substitute for actually exegeting the passages in context, according to the original audience.

“I pointed out that not only does Calvinism retain the potential to fallaciously attribute the work of Satan to the divine, determinative will of God, but 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, thus giving rise to ungodly attitudes among many Calvinists. Hays, playing the martyr, responds: ‘No doubt that's another example of charitable discourse, right?’”

Was I “playing the martyr?” No. I was holding Birch to his own standards. It betrays a lack of maturity on his part when he gets all bent out of shape just because I expect him to be morally consistent.

“And yet, such expressed opinions are also meant to protect undecided Christians. For there are many persons who are "on the fence," so to speak, concerning Calvinism. These undecided individuals deserve to know the truth about the implications of Calvinsitic theology, for they will certainly not be told of these things by Calvinists.”

Of course, that’s how John and Charles Wesley would defend their invective regarding the blasphemous and diabolical character of Reformed theology.

Since Birch, along with some other Arminian epologists, likes to frame his attack on Calvinism in terms of how we lack the fruits of the Spirit, it’s worth pointing out that their constant resort to double standards is, itself, spiritually symptomatic. One mark of sanctification is a capacity for self-criticism and spiritual self-examination. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. Their moral blindness.

Yes, except for Dan, the Arminian critics whom I’ve encountered are chronically hypocritical. Total chauvinism when it comes to one of their own.

Doesn't that reflect rather poorly on their state of sanctification? Their own spiritual harvest? Fruit inspection is a two-way street. Their produce dept. is pretty wormy and rotten, if you ask me.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The cryonicists versus the eugenicists

Not only is humanism at war with Christianity, it’s also at war with itself. On the one hand, humanism brags about how medical science has extended the quality and duration of the human lifespan. We live longer and better. Not only do we live longer, but due to medical science, we are able to sustain a higher quality of life over a longer span. Indeed, there’s a life extension movement.

And that’s only natural. After all, a humanist thinks this life is all there is. More is better and better is more.

On the other hand, we have the eugenicists. They worry about the “Population Bomb.” About squandering scarce medical resources on the elderly. We also have environmentalists who think humanity is a threat to the biosphere. We even have antinatalists who think it’s immoral to have babies.

One set of humanists is trying to pull the plug while another set of humanists is pinning its hopes on suspended animation, mind uploading, &c. The cryonicists versus the eugenicists.

"What the New Atheists Don’t See"

"What the New Atheists Don't See" by Theodore Dalrymple. Dalrymple is a British medical doctor and atheist.

HT: Paul Manata.

Harmonizing Scripture

Christians try to harmonize apparent contradictions in Scripture given their presumption that Scripture is inerrant. To unbelievers, this is special pleading. Of course, unbelievers resist harmonization given their presumption that Scripture is errant. So the bias cuts both ways. If harmonizing Scripture is an exercise in special pleading, then, by the same token, refusal to harmonize Scripture is special pleading.

I’d add that harmonizing discrepant accounts is hardly confined to Scripture. It’s quite easy to come up with examples of apparent contradictions outside Scripture. In fact, these are ultimately harmonious, yet their consistency depends on some key piece of evidence. What is more, the key piece of evidence may not be self-evident. And, in many cases, it may not be available.

For example, I recently saw an episode of a nature show called River Monsters:

In this episode, a racehorse was attacked by some sort of aquatic creature. The culprit obviously had to be fairly formidable to pose a threat to an animal the size of a horse.

One theory is that a crocodile attacked the horse. A crocodile would be big enough to take on a horse. However, there were some problems with that explanation. Crocodiles didn’t frequent that part of the river. The bite marks didn’t match a crocodile bite. And an eyewitness said the creature appeared to be a shark.

So another candidate was the bull shark, since bull sharks can swim in fresh water, and have–indeed–been found far upriver in certain parts of the world.

However, there was a problem with that theory as well. The river had a dam downstream. A shark would be unable to ford a dam.

Suppose this is the only information we had. Suppose an eyewitness said he saw a shark attack the horse. Someone would then point out that this must be a mistaken since there was a dam downstream which posed an impenetrable barrier to a shark swimming further upstream.

This, would, in turn be cited as yet another example of how unreliable eyewitness evidence tends to be.

But that’s not the end of the story. As it turns out, the area was flooded several years earlier. The floodwaters crested above the dam, making it possible for bull sharks to ford the dam.

One of the locals was able to explain that to the host. So that threw suspicion back onto a bull shark as the culprit.

That explanation hadn’t occurred to the host. You’d have to be a local yokel to know that. It was part of the oral tradition of that particular region. Not something that’s necessarily written down for posterity.

Of course, nowadays there are local newspapers or news stations which keep records of such events. But in the past there might be no permanent record. The key piece of information would die with contemporaries.

Why We Love the Church

Newest arrival from Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck:

Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion