Saturday, August 15, 2009

As the possible world turns


“Steve, what I have a problem with is what God did before the foundation of the world, given Calvinism. He could have created us in such a way that we none of us ever did anything to deserve damnation, and he didn't.”

The appeal to counterfactual identity is equivocal. Who is the “we” in this scenario? It’s not the specific individuals who populate a fallen world.

For example, if Cain hadn’t murdered Abel, then Abel would have fathered children of his own. The family tree of humanity would have taken a very different turn.

Sinners only exist in a sinful world. Sinful kids of sinful parents. Had Adam never fallen, you and I wouldn’t be here. Other people would be here, but not you and me. In the possible world where Adam never fell, a different set of people take our place.

So God could have created other people like us who never did anything deserving of hell, but he couldn’t create us apart from the repercussions of the fall.

Hence, there are tradeoffs. A perfect world comes at our expense.

So your counterfactual wouldn’t save everyone in the world we know. In fact, it wouldn’t save a single one of them. Rather, it would consign all of them to oblivion. What your counterfactual amounts to is swapping out this world, and swapping in another world–with a nearly complete turnover in the populace.

Suppose your mother went to heaven when she died. Suppose your father went to hell when he died. Good for her but bad for him.

Is a world in which neither one makes it to heaven (because neither one even existed) better than a world in which one out of two goes to heaven? And better for whom? What’s better for one is worse for the other.

Take a less dramatic example. Suppose your son is born blind. Suppose Mephistopheles turns up on your boy’s 16th birthday and gives you a choice: you can either keep your son as is, or you can turn back the clock, thereby returning your son to oblivion (before he was born), and start from scratch with a different, sighted son.

How would you respond to Mephistopheles? Is your son replaceable? Would it be better to have a sighted son if that meant another boy taking his place? Would you send your blind child back to nothingness and start over with a different, sighted child in his stead?

“He could have chosen World A, in which no one is damned, but chose world B, in which people are damned.”

But if you think that’s a problem for Calvinism, then there’s a parallel problem for Arminianism. If human beings are free to do otherwise, then there’s a possible world in which Joe makes the right choice, and a possible world in which Joe makes wrong choice. God could have chosen world A, which selects for all and only Joe’s right choices, but he chose world B, where Joe does right some of the time, while doing wrong at other times.

Likewise, if libertarianism is true, then there’s a possible world in which Judas betrays Christ, and another possible world in which Judas is faithful to Christ. God could have chosen world A, in which Judas goes to heave–but chose world B, where Judas goes to hell.

“Even if Moo, Schreiner, and Piper were right about the exegesis of Romans, that would not give me any reason to suppose that a being who did that was worthy of worship, a being who gives his creatures a moral and not just a prudential reason for worshipping Him. It would not show that Yahweh has a justifying reason for actualizing world B, when world A could have been actualized. Yahweh could have created the world, inspired the Bible, and still not be worthy of worship.”

i) You keep parading this objection as if you’re daring me to call your bluff, or back down, or split the difference. But holding your breath until you turn blue has no effect on me. If you think that’s a reason to reject God, then go right ahead. That’s not my problem. Not my responsibility.

There are people who douse themselves with gasoline and light a match. That’s a terrible way to go, but it’s their life, not mine.

ii) In addition, you were the one who chose to raise some exegetical objections to Calvinism. But when I respond to you on your own terms, you turn around and say it doesn’t matter what the Scriptures teach. Well, in that case, why do you go through the motions of even discussing the Bible?

“I still think it absurd that someone who is enjoying the immediate presence of God needs people suffering eternal punishment to show them the graciousness of God's salvation.”

Well, Victor, part of what it means to enjoy God’s presence comes from knowing how you got there. You were evil. You don’t belong there. But God, in sheer mercy, saved you to enjoy his presence. A realization which is anchored in the fact that he left other equally undeserving men to perish in their sin.

Belial's consigliere


“So, if there are six people trapped in a mine, it is better that four be rescued than all six, because then the ones who were rescued can appreciate their rescue more knowing that there were two that didn't make it?”

The power of an illustration depends on what the example is chosen to illustrate, as well as the emotional connotations of a given illustration.

If, instead of trapped miners, you used SS officers who fled to Latin America after the fall of the Third Reich, then that illustration would not evoke the same sympathy.

Or say it was a case of 4 college students who gang-raped a coed, then murdered her to dispose of the evidence. For 30 years their crime goes undetected. For 30 years they make a good life for themselves–the life they denied to their victim. Until the case is reopened due to advances in forensic science.

In a fallen world, all of us are evil to some degree. As such, we’re fairly desensitized to evil. And, indeed, it’s in our self-interest to be pretty tolerant of evil. Finally, because we’re fellow human beings, it’s natural for us to empathize with our own kind.

“That's a serious question. It's called the argument from evil. It is the best argument for atheism out there, and numerous Christian philosophers have taken it with the utmost seriousness.”

And the argument from evil applies to your own solution, Victor. You solve the problem by saving everyone. By compensating for evil through a happy ending. But given your libertarian view of human freedom, why must there be evil in the first place, from which God delivers us? If human beings are free to do otherwise, then there’s a possible world which samples our good choices and a possible world which samples our bad choices. Why, according to you, didn’t God instantiate the world which samples our good choices rather than our bad choices?

Even if you invoke transworld depravity (an ad hoc arbitrary restriction on libertarian freedom), surely, if human agents are free in the libertarian sense, there is a possible world where fewer evil choices are made.

If the only possible world is a world in which human beings commit evil as often as they do in our world, then it’s hard to believe that we really have the freedom to do otherwise.

“Look, people in heaven are in fellowship with God. They know what fellowship with God is like. They know what it was like to lack that fellowship with God, since they experienced that before conversion. And they can tell the difference between the degree of fellowship with God they now experience and the more limited fellowship with God they experienced on earth. I mean, these are people who are seeing God face-to-face. What they once saw through a glass darkly, but now they know fully. These people need everlastingly suffering object lessons?”

Every time you attack reprobation, you tacitly admit that you don’t take evil seriously, or mercy seriously. You constantly whine about the fate of the damned as if they were undeserving victims. And mercy isn’t mercy if it’s obligatory.

“By the way, even on a Calvinist read of Rom. 9:22-23, this this doesn't emerge. What is supposed to show the riches of his glory to the objects of mercy is supposed to be God's bearing with great patience the vessels of wrath, not the punishment of the vessels of wrath.”

You disregard the purpose of God’s patience towards the vessels of wrath in Paul’s argument. Go back and read the material I posted by Piper, Schreiner, and Moo. Do the exegesis, Reppert.

But, of course, you have no incentive to work through the exegesis of Rom 9:22-23 since you don’t wish to be tied down to the results in case they turn out badly for your position.

“Look at what this is an attempt to justify. It is an attempt to justify the action on the part of God to commit millions of people to everlasting suffering of the worst kind, when a different choice on the part of God would have resulted in no such suffering at all.”

You’re moral priorities are skewed. Exacting justice on the wicked doesn’t require any special justification. To the contrary, the absence of judgment would be outrageous. Judging the wicked isn’t a miscarriage of justice, Victor. You’ve managed to reverse what is just and unjust. That, itself, is an evil thing to do, Victor.

“Nor can it be argued that God couldn't save everyone because that would be unjust, or that it would violate human freedom. And this is the justification we are given?”

i) Retributive justice is intrinsically good. An end it itself, not merely a means to an end. Even if it served no other purpose, justice is good in its own right.

ii) In Biblical eschatology, eternal retribution, in addition to being intrinsically good, also serves to underscore the true nature of mercy. By definition, mercy is gratuitous, not obligatory.

You know, Victor, you talk like a consigliere. You keep making excuses for the wicked. Do you belong to the law firm of Belial, Old Horny, & Associates?

Irenaeus And The Evidence For Gospel Authorship

I've been having a discussion with a skeptic who has repeated a common argument against the traditional authorship attributions of the four gospels (and, by implication, Acts). It seems that, for many skeptics, Irenaeus is the earliest extant source they're aware of who names an author of one or more of the gospels. They may be aware that Papias names Mark as the author of the second gospel, but think that Irenaeus is the first to give us evidence for John's authorship of the fourth gospel, for example. They suggest, then, that the attribution originated with Irenaeus or some other source around his time, and they suggest that Irenaeus or some other source responsible for the attribution was just speculating or didn't have much information to go by.

In 2007, I wrote a four-part series discussing some of the lesser-known evidence for the traditional gospel authorship attributions. I discuss some of the evidence for the widespread acceptance of those attributions around the time of Irenaeus, thus suggesting that the attributions originated earlier. And I discuss some of the evidence within Irenaeus that suggests his reliance on earlier sources. I also discuss some of the evidence for gospel authorship in pre-Irenaeus and non-Christian sources. You can read the series here, here, here, and here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Revolt in heaven

Thus ADAM made request, and RAPHAEL
After short pause assenting, thus began.

High matter thou injoinst me, O prime of men,
Sad task and hard, for how shall I relate
To human sense th' invisible exploits
Of warring Spirits; how without remorse
The ruin of so many glorious once
And perfect while they stood.

SATAN, so call him now, his former name
Is heard no more Heav'n; he of the first,
If not the first Arch-Angel, great in Power,
In favour and praeeminence, yet fraught
With envie against the eternal decree.
Deep malice thence conceiving & disdain,
Soon as midnight brought on the duskie houre
Friendliest to sleep and silence, he resolv'd
With all his Legions to dislodge, and leave
Unworshipt, unobey'd the Throne supream
Contemptuous, and his next subordinate
Awak'ning, thus to him in secret spake:

Such blasphemy this,
As one would think might make
The ears of an angel 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 a puppet master,
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.
Hearest thou not that God is the puppet-master,
The puller of strings?

Sing, O hell, and rejoice, ye that are under the earth!
For God, even the mighty God, hath spoken,
The decree is past, and who shall disannul it?

So spake the false Arch-Angel, and infus'd
Bad influence into th' unwarie brest
Of his Associate; hee together calls,
Or several one by one, the Regent Powers,
Under him Regent, tells, as he was taught,
That the most High commanding, now ere Night,
Now ere dim Night had disincumberd Heav'n,
The great Hierarchal Standard was to move;
Tells the suggested cause, and casts between
Ambiguous words and jealousies, to sound
Or taint integritie; but all obey'd
The wonted signal, and superior voice
Of thir great Potentate; for great indeed
His name, and high was his degree in Heav'n;
His count'nance, as the Morning Starr that guides
The starrie flock, allur'd them, and with lyes
Drew after him the third part of Heav'ns Host.

Thus farr his bold discourse without controule
Had audience, when among them MICHAEL,
Then whom none with more zeale ador'd
The Deitie, and divine commands obei'd,
Stood up, and in a flame of zeale severe
The current of his fury thus oppos'd:

O argument blasphemous, false and proud!
Words which no eare ever to hear in Heav'n
Expected, least of all from thee, ingrate
In place thy self so high above thy Peeres.
Canst thou with impious obloquie condemne
The just Decree of God, pronounc't and sworn,
Shalt thou give Law to God, shalt thou dispute
With him the points of libertie, who made
Thee what thou art, & formd the Pow'rs of Heav'n
Such as he pleasd, and circumscrib'd thir being?

Cease then this impious rage,
And tempt not these; but hast'n to appease
Th' incensed Father, and th' incensed Son,
While Pardon may be found in time besought.

So spake the fervent Angel, but his zeale
None seconded, as out of season judg'd,
Or singular and rash, whereat rejoic'd
Th' Apostat, and more haughty thus repli'd:

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.
I do not believe this doctrine,
Neither do you.

He said, and as the sound of waters deep
Hoarce murmur echo'd to his words applause
Through the infinite Host, nor less for that
The angelic MICHAEL fearless, though alone
Encompass'd round with foes, thus answerd bold:

O alienate from God, O spirit accurst,
Forsak'n of all good; I see thy fall
Determind, and thy hapless crew involv'd
In this perfidious fraud, contagion spred
Both of thy crime and punishment: henceforth
No more be troubl'd how to quit the yoke
Of Gods decree; for soon expect to feel
His Thunder on thy head, devouring fire.
Then who created thee lamenting learne,
When who can uncreate thee thou shalt know.

So spake the angel MICHAEL faithful found,
Among the faithless, faithful only hee;
Among innumerable false, unmov'd,
Unshak'n, unseduc'd, unterrifi'd
His Loyaltie he kept, his Love, his Zeale;
Nor number, nor example with him wrought
To swerve from truth, or change his constant mind
Though single.
From amidst them forth he passd,
Long way through hostile scorn, which he susteind
Superior, nor of violence fear'd aught;
And with retorted scorn his back he turn'd
On those proud Towrs to swift destruction doom'd.

Victor Reppert's show-n-tell


In short, the damnation of millions of souls is a means to an end that God could produce by, figuratively, snapping his finger. Or by showing everyone pictures of fictitious denizens of hell and saying that, of course, he could have done that to the blessed (who, given universalism, would now be everybody). I am inclined, paradoxically, to ask the Calvinist "What part of sovereign don't you understand?"


This is a non-sequitur. Christ doesn't have to implant false memories, he just has to tell the blessed the truth. As if they don't already know it, since they are, after all, the blessed.

Why would Christ have to deceive the blessed if he wanted to impress on them the graciousness of their salvation? He could do it with no deception, without out all those "object lessons" frying in hell to help them appreciate the grace of God. They're the blessed in heaven, for gosh sakes.


No extraordinary Cartesian explanation is required here. You have people who have received the Redemption of Christ. They are hanging on every word Christ has to say. They don't need object lessons writhing in the flames. It's not as if Christ has to say "You have been saved by my grace. But, in case you doubt me, look over to your left and see what happened to all those people to whom I did not bestow that grace. Now do you appreciate being here? It just isn't necessary.


Well, this gives me a whole new outlook on Christianity. Who needs real world events when we can have pictures? For gosh sakes, it isn’t necessary that God come to earth and be born to a Jewish girl. All we need is a Hallmark card with a fictitious crèche scene, fictitious baby, fictitious mom and dad, fictitious angels, fictitious animals, and fictitious wise men.

As long as the picture has a nice warm pastel glow, like a Vermeer painting, as long as the fictitious baby has a fictitious halo and a beatific smile, we can dispense with a real Incarnation.

A real Incarnation is kind of messy, now that I think about it. Not to mention a real Crucifixion. So let’s go Gnostic. Who needs real blood or real thorns–when a coloring book will do? Break out the crayons!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

God's Patience with the Vessels of Wrath

Two articles from Dr. Piper:

God's Patience with the Vessels of Wrath

"Fitted for Destruction"

Rom 9:22-23

“I said nothing about not using the grammatico-historical method. I just said I hoped we could avoid interpretations of Scripture that commit biblical authors to absurd statements. And I gave an argument for why such an explanation would be absurd.”

But Reppert doesn’t define “absurdity” by the viewpoint of the author. Rather, he defines “absurdity” by his own viewpoint. He’s substituting reader-response theory (a la Marxist/feminist/queer/postcolonial criticism) for the grammatico-historical method.

Reppert’s argument is not an exegetical argument, but an argument extraneous to the exegetical data.

“If any other possible interpretation of the passage can be offered on the basis of exegesis, then that explanation would have to be preferred to this one.”

Sound exegesis isn’t based on selecting any possible interpretation, but the best interpretation. And the best interpretation tries to honor the intent of the writer. Whether the reader agrees with the writer is irrelevant.

“Is there a consensus amongst competent exegetes on this passage? Thought not.”

Is there a consensus amongst competent exegetes in favor of universalism? Thought not.

“Now in fact, you really have to stretch the interpretation of the Romans passage you cite to get an actual teaching of this doctrine. After all, the passage begins with the phrase ‘What if,’ and is loaded with figurative language.”

Of course, it’s not as if Reppert attempts to exegete the passage. Let’s cite some examples of how two major commentators exegete the passage in context. I’m not going to manually transcribe pages of material which Reppert can read for himself–if he weren’t so lazy. But quote enough to give you the drift.

“Paul begins a conditional sentence in v22 (‘But if…’)…Most recently commentaries agree that vv22-23 are a protasis that does not have an explicit apodosis. Paul is inviting his readers to complete the thought from the context…as we may paraphrase, ‘what if God has acted in this way? Who will question God’s authority [cf. 21] to do so?’’ D. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans 1996), 604.

“In the case both of Pharaoh and of the vessels of wrath, God withholds his final judgment so that he can more spectacularly display his glory,” ibid. 605.

“In v22, then, Paul is reiterating the point that he made with respect to God’s dealings with Pharaoh in v17: God works with those who are not in positive relationship with him to display in greater degree his own nature and power. The Exodus background makes it clear how God’s raising up of Pharaoh’s contributed to the widespread publication of his power and name: Pharaoh’s obduracy required God to work miracle after miracle in order to secure his purpose,” ibid. 606.

“The purpose of God’s patience here would be to allow the rebellion of his creation to gain force and intensity so that his consequent victory is all the more glorious and also (and perhaps primarily) to give opportunity for him to bestow his mercy on those whom he has chosen for his own (v23),” ibid. 606.

“This contrast would be unfairly diminished, I think, if we were to assume that the vessels of wrath could have the same ultimate destiny as the vessels of mercy. We must remember at this point that God, in strict justice, could have executed his sentence of condemnation on the entire human race immediately after the Fall. It is only because of God’s great patience that he has waited to bring down his wrath on a rebellious world so that he can finish his wise and loving plan,” ibid. 606.

“The phrase ‘prepared for destruction’ would then refer to God’s act of reprobation whereby he destines the vessels of wrath to eternal destruction…the parallel with vv17-18 suggests strongly that the agent of ‘prepared’ is indeed God: Paul considers the ‘vessels on whom God’s wrath rests’ as prepared by God himself for eternal condemnation,” ibid. 607.

“The word apoleia, ‘destruction,’ is always used by Paul with reference to final condemnation…That the word connotes the eternal fate of the individual is especially clear from the contrasts with salvation in Phil 1:28; 1 Cor 1:18; and 2 Cor 2:15,” ibid. 607n96.

“As I have argued above, this verse [23] expresses a third, and climactic, purpose of God’s patient endurance of the vessels of wrath. God has withheld the final judgment that could rightfully fall on his rebellious creatures at any time not only because he wanted to display more gloriously his wrath and power (v22a) but also, and especially, because he wanted to ‘make known his glorious riches to vessels on whom his mercy rests, vessels whom God has prepared before hand for glory,” ibid. 608.

“’Prepared beforehand,’ then, refers to the same thing as the word ‘predestine’ in 8:29; a decision of God in eternity past to bestow his mercy on certain individuals whom he in his sovereign design has chosen,” ibid. 608.

“It is apropos to recall that the issue informing all of Rom 9-11 is salvation. The historical destiny of nations alone hardly answers the question that provoked the entire discussion: why many in Israel are unsaved,” T. Schreiner, Romans (Baker 1998), 517.

“VV22-23 build on that illustration [the potter] by informing the reader why God prepared some vessels for destruction and others for mercy…The burden of proof is one those who see a disjunction between the use of the term [vessel] in v21 and its use in vv22-23. In the latter instance the reference to eschatological judgment and glory are clear. The skeue orges [vessels of wrath] are destined ‘for destruction’…Both orge [wrath] and apoleia [destruction]…refer frequently to eschatological judgment in Paul…Moreover, the corollary skeue eleous [vessel of mercy] that are destined ‘for glory’ describes eternal life, for I have shown in Rom 9:14-18 that the eleos word group often refers to eschatological life and doxa does the same…Since skue orges [vessel of wrath] refers to eschatological judgment and skeue eleous [vessel of mercy] to eschatological glory, and since no evident adversative sense can be found between vv 21 and 22-23, it follows that the vessels of honor and dishonor most naturally denote the saved and the perishing respectively. The word time (honor) designates eternal life in 2:7,10, where it parallels the term doxa,” ibid. 518.

“The unstated apodosis is probably summarized well in the words, ‘he has the right to do this,’” ibid. 519.

“Thereby the reason God bore patiently with vessels of wrath is explicated…The implication is that it would have been just and righteous for him to destroy them immediately (cf. Rom 3:25-26)….Those with whom he is patient are skeue orges [vessels of wrath] heading for eschatological judgment in contrast to skeue eleous [vessels of mercy] in v23…Finally, the participial phrase in v22 explains why God bears patiently with those who will experience his wrath. He wants ‘to show forth his wrath and make known his power,’” ibid. 519-20.

“In Pharaoh’s case [v17] God demonstrated his patience by not destroying Pharaoh immediately, even though he resisted God’s command. By delaying his judgment on Pharaoh, however, God magnified his name and exhibited more forcefully the greatness of his salvation and the terror of his judgment…God defers his immediate judgment of vessels of wrath so that he can unveil the full extent of his power and wrath on those who continually resist his offer of repentance. The idea that God suspends an immediate retribution in order to impose severer judgment later is attested elsewhere in Jewish literature,” ibid. 521.

“The word, then, denotes a preparation by God (divine passive) for destruction rather than a self-preparation…One cannot by exegetical means rescue God from willing the fate of the vessels of wrath. This too was part of his plan, and thus double predestination cannot be averted,” ibid. 521-22.

“The sunning element in this verse [23] is its relation to v22, where God’s intention in making vessels of wrath and tolerating them was so that he could manifest his powerful wrath in the day of judgment. Now v 23 informs us that the display of wrath has a larger purpose. When the vessels of mercy perceive the fearsome wrath of God upon the disobedient and reflect on the fact that they deserve the same, then they appreciate in a deeper way the riches of God’s glory and the grace lavished upon them. The mercy of God is set forth in clarity against the backdrop of wrath. Thereby God displays the full range of his attributes: both his powerful wrath and the sunshine of his mercy. The mercy of God would not be impressed on the consciousness of human beings apart from the exercise of God’s wrath,” ibid. 523.

Calvinism or Cartesian Demonism?

Steve: You just don't get it. You just don't get it. What I presented was an *argument* against the claim that the argument from appreciation explains why God reprobates some people. A reductio ad absurdum as it were. I elaborated the argument in a comment in response to Bnonn, but let we spell it out here.

1) If Calvinism is true, then God can, by his sovereign will, determine whether there will be reprobates or whether universalism is true. (I don't have to believe that this is sovereignly up to God, but you do).

2) God has selected that there be millions of reprobates.

3) You say Scripture teaches that this choice of a reprobate world is explained by the fact that in a reprobate world the blessed in heaven will appreciate the graciousness of their salvation to a greater extent than in a non-reprobate world.

My claim is that this would not be an explanation. The blessed in heaven have received God's gift of salvation through Christ. They are as open to God's teaching as they can be. God can produce in them all the appreciation he wants to of the graciousness of their salvation without damning anybody. God can show movies of fictitious persons in hell if he wants to, but even that doesn't seem necessary. God, after all, is supposed to be absolutely sovereign. So it stands to reason that God could use a little of that sovereignty to produce whatever appreciation the blessed he might need, even if universalism is true. It is absurd, therefore, to suppose that this "explanation" explains anything. We might, paradoxically, ask the Calvinist "What part of sovereign don't you understand?"

i) Showing us movies of fictitious characters in hell? Been there, done that. Ever seen a Hollywood movie with computer-animated characters in a computer-animated hell? I have. More than one.

The chief effect this has on me, the viewer, is to evaluate the quality of the CGI.

ii) There’s a name for Reppert’s alternative: the Cartesian demon. Yes, an omnipotent being can create delusive experiences.

But, according to the Bible, God forms our beliefs and attitudes through real world experience. In contact with icky matter. Sex and food and all that yucky stuff.

iii) One problem with Reppert’s Cartesian demonism is that once you let that being out of the bottle, it’s wreaks havoc, not merely on Calvinism, but on every alternative position short of solipsism. We could easy mount a Cartesian argument from evil.

For example, if God is benevolent, why would he stick us with real wives and real kids when we could have simulated wives and kids–just like the Doctor’s holographic family in VOY?

Consider all the problems with a real wife. A real wife has a mind of her own. That’s a source of friction. Life would be so much easier if I had a designer wife like Charlene in VOY. Made to order according to my specifications.

Another advantage of a simulated wife is that I can make her look just like that like poster of Rita Hayworth. And my simulated wife will never develop crow’s feet or cellulite.

Same thing with the kidos. No more teenage rebellion. Or temper tantrums. I’d have perfect kids, like Jeffrey and Belle in VOY. My kids would be multitalented, helpful around the house, and uniformly polite.

My perfect kids would also have perfect boyfriends and girlfriends.

Since an omnipotent God could make all this happen with a snap of his fingers, then this world is not the best of all possible worlds–in which case God does not exist. A God who is both benevolent and omnipotent would create the best possible world. And, as Reppert points out, the best possible world is either a virtual world or a world with implanted memories. But since the real world isn’t the best possible world, as Reppert defines it, God does not exist.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The fallacy of futility-care theory

There are many things I could talk about in the raging debate over what is euphemistically called “health care reform,” but for now I wish to focus on one issue. And that is “end-of-life” care. This, in turn, is bound up with “futility-care theory.”

The argument, in a nutshell, is that, at best, there’s no point pouring medical resources into a lost cause. Moreover, since medical resources are finite, we’re depriving others who’d benefit from such care.

In application to end-of-life care, so the argument goes, we devote inordinate medical resources to patients in the final year of life. It would be more responsible to divert those resources to other patients with a better chance of survival, improvement, or cure.

There’s a certain moral and logical appeal to this argument, is there not? If you have one donated liver, and two patients with liver disease, they can’t both have the same liver. So shouldn’t you give the liver to the patient with better prospects for recovery?

Now, I don’t deny that it’s sometimes necessary to make those life-and-death decisions. However, I would like to point out that there’s a fallacy running through a lot of this debate.

How do you know that medical care is futile or not? Is that a prospective judgment or a retrospective judgment? If despite your best efforts, the patient dies, then your efforts were futile. But, of course, that’s something you only find out after the fact.

Same thing with “end-of-life” care. How do you know that a patient is in the final year of life? Well, if he dies, then, by definition, he died in the final year of his life. But do you know in advance of the fact that this year will be the final year of his life?

Consider all of the patients who are wheeled into the ER with life-threatening injuries. The staff pours all their medical resources into saving their lives. In some cases they succeed, and in other cases they fail. In hindsight, they wasted finite medical resources on some patients who turned out to be a lost cause. But that’s with the benefit of hindsight.

To examine this from the opposite end of the spectrum, consider the patients whose lives they saved by throwing all their medical resources at the patient. Patients who would have died absent their heroic efforts to save them.

So the whole question of futile-care theory or end-of-life care is coasting on a tautology. The only patients who are counted are the patients who die. The patients who recover are never counted.

Yet, were it not for the same resources devoted to both sets of patients, the rate of mortality would be far higher. Those not presently counted–because they were cured (as a result of medical treatment)–would suddenly become an actuarial statistic.

So the underlying tautology cannot justify the rationing of care, for the rationing of care involves a prospective judgment (on whether or not the patient is not a lost cause), whereas the futility of care which is used to justify the rationing of care involves a retrospective judgment.

Christianity or Renderosity?

Victor Reppert said...

You are telling me that a God who sovereignly created the world, had the world go precisely according to the plan he set before the foundation of the world, down to the falling of the smallest leaf (and yes, Mike Darus, you can have Calvinism without this, but Bnonn and Steve are theological determinists), that this God can't produce the necessary appreciation any other way. In short, the damnation of millions of souls is a means to an end that God could produce by, figuratively, snapping his finger. Or by showing everyone pictures of fictitious denizens of hell and saying that, of course, he could have done that to the blessed (who, given universalism, would now be everybody). I am inclined, paradoxically, to ask the Calvinist "What part of sovereign don't you understand?"

Well, Victor, if you don’t think reality should impose any constraint on theology, then I suppose you could go either of two routes:

1.Christianity in The Matrix

Heaven, hell, the birth of Christ, baptism of Christ, miracle at Cana, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Parousia, and all that swell stuff represent cosmic computer animation. It’s all one big CGI community–like Renderosity.

2.Christianity in the Dark City

Heaven, hell, the birth of Christ, baptism of Christ, miracle at Cana, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Parousia, and all that swell stuff represent false implanted memories. The big loony bin in the sky–or wherever.

Snatched from the flames

“VR: I hope that we can avoid interpreting the Bible as saying something that absurd.”

So, according to Reppert, we don’t actually need to exegete the Bible. To employ the grammatico-historical method.

Instead, our interpretation is dictated by what we think is absurd or not.

Notice that Reppert isn’t asking whether a given interpretation is absurd to the author. He isn’t asking if this interpretation is absurd from Paul’s point of view.

No. For Reppert, all that counts is what is absurd or not to a reader. Absurd from Reppert’s viewpoint.

How is it possible to even have a rational dialogue with someone who has such a childish outlook on hermeneutics?

If that’s his standard, then how is his interpretation of Scripture any better than Mary Baker Eddy’s? Or Sun Myung Moon’s?

“Are we being told that Almighty God, in dealing with those who have voluntarily submitted their wills to Him, has to have damned souls in existence so that the blessed can appreciate the graciousness of their salvation?”

Why not? To take a mundane example, you have somebody who takes life for granted. One day he’s running late to catch a plane. Because he’s late, he misses his flight. Then, as he’s walking back to the parking garage, he sees the plane burst into flames in mid-air.

In light of this narrow escape, he reevaluates his life. He suddenly comes to appreciate the preciousness of every day on earth.

“If such a claim were biblical, it would be a case against inerrancy.”

When you reject the inerrancy of Scripture, it’s not as if that move merely undercuts Calvinism. It also undercuts any theological tradition which claims to derive its theology from divine revelation.

Absent divine revelation, what basis is there for Reppert to believe in a loving God? What basis is there for Reppert to believe in universalism?

"You were like a firebrand snatched from the flames" (Amos 4:11).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Arminian Omertà

Below is a letter I sent last week. Not surprisingly, I haven't received a reply.

Does anyone notice an emerging pattern here? Arminians preach love and brotherhood. And they denounce Reformed theology for its exclusivism. Yet in practice, notice how many Arminians observe the blue code of silence. Arminians have an in-group mentality. They are loyal to their own.

I'm afraid too many Arminians have a Mafia honor code without the fine cuisine or beautiful women.



Thanks Mr. Hays for drawing my attention to the excellent article by Billy Birch and vindicating his analysis.

Billy, you have a bright future ahead of you, and are already way out in front of your peers. Just beware that your first class work will draw lots of criticism from those who fear you.

8/04/2009 12:09 PM

Hi Rev. Leonard,

That's a striking endorsement. Since you're both an ordained minister as well as a doctoral candidate at Cambridge, I don't think it's asking to much if you clarify your endorsement. Let's take the following claim by Birch:

“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.”

Do you think that analysis represents first class historical analysis?

I myself can think of some rather obvious historical objections to that analysis.

1. A number of Calvinists believe in the universal salvation of those who die in infancy. For example, I believe that's the position of Hodge, Warfield, and Webb. Given high rates in infant mortality, both in the past, and at present in 3rd world countries, that's a very sizable chunk of humanity.

2. Likewise, many Calvinists are postmillennialists. While they think Christianity has been a minority position in the past, they also think Christianity will be the majority position in the future. Thus they think that, overall, the majority of human beings will be saved.

3. You also have Calvinists who subscribe to both (1) & (2).

4. To give a concrete example, take Warfield's classic monograph: "Are they few that be saved?"

If you like, I can also contact some church historians to see if they confirm my historical assessment.

Now, unless you take issue with these historical data-points, is it still your considered opinion that Birch's statement is an accurate depiction of Reformed historical theology?

I trust that your answer will be dictated by historical evidence rather than partisan sympathies.

Steve Hays

The Arminian two-step

Here’s another example of Arminian ethics in action:

“Mr. Hays and I debated once some time back, during which time I uncovered evidence (linked below) which suggested that members of his blog had been 'sockpuppeting' (putting up posts while dishonestly posing as other people). I questioned them about the matter repeatedly, but never got a direct answer as we continued our debate…”

i) He never got a direct answer from me because it’s a dumb question. If you suspect someone of being dishonest, why would you ask him if he’s honest or not? Since you wouldn’t ask him the question in the first place unless you suspected his honestly, you’d distrust his answer. So what’s the point? Why ask somebody you distrust if he’s trustworthy? Is that a reasonable thing to do?

I think Thibodaux needs to brush up on the Liar Paradox.

ii) Moreover, I don’t yield to the invidious imposition to disprove a charge in the absence of any supporting evidence. That’s not a precedent I’m going to start.

“…which culminated with Hays relinquishing the debate along with any credibility he may have had when he employed an appeal to ignorance in order to imply that Kangaroodort and I were the ones being dishonest.”

A backwards version of events. He insinuated that I was a sockpuppet, without furnishing any actual evidence, then insisted that I disprove his insinuation.

Since the “appeal to ignorance” cuts both ways–I simply used the same tactic on Thibodaux.

“I am not speaking about Robert, as my dispute is not with him, it's with you.”

Naturally. Like so many Arminians, Thibodaux plays favorites. A respecter of persons.

“Given that accusing another without basis is tantamount to bearing false witness, which is indeed sinful and wrong…”

Which is exactly what Thibodaux did by insinuating that I was a sockpuppet.

“That most surely is a fallacy, since you're attempting to justify wrong behavior as retaliation against the same. That is known as 'Tu Quoque' (you also), which occurs when one party attempts to use wrongs (real or imagined) performed by the other party as justification for its own evil behavior.”

The fallacy lies in acting as if the tu quoque were equivalent to the lex talionis. Thibodaux needs to brush up on the basic rules of argument. There’s nothing vindictive or vengeful about a tu quoque argument. As one logician explains:

“You start from something he believes as a premise, and infer a conclusion he won’t admit to be true. If you have not been cheating in your reasoning, you will have shown that your opponent’s present body of beliefs is inconsistent and it’s up to him to modify it somewhere,” Reason & Argument, 26-27.

That’s it!

Love for me, but not for you

Robert said...

"Most of us who study the scripture are aware of the bible verses that tell us how to interact with other believers and also unbelievers in civil and charitable ways."

"In this way they [Tbloggers] decide whom to sinfully attack and whom to be civil towards (and their 'opponents' seem to be anyone who thinks differently than they do **especially** Arminians, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox believers). It also allows them to rationalize and justify being a jerk in their interactions with others. And that is what these folks have become, jerks, who exult in living out the set #2 verses in their interactions with other believers." [emphasis added]

“On the other hand, some like Steve Hays **are** jerks. I also know from these other calvinists that Hays can do much better. Or can he? If he is just a jerk in his character, perhaps that’s what God predetermined for him to be and so he just can’t help himself.”

Main Entry: jerk

an annoyingly stupid or foolish person

"But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell" (Mt 5:22).

On the rabbit trail

steve said...

Are you posing an exegetical question or a philosophical question? As Peter Davids points out in his standard commentary on the Greek text, James isn't offering a theodicy. "His focus is practical rather than theoretical" (p81).

You're not going to find an answer to you question in Jas 1:13–since your question moves beyond exegetical theology into the realm of philosophical theology. If you want a philosophical answer, then we can engage the question at that level.

As Dominic pointed out, the Bible distinguishes between divine agency and intermediate agency, viz. sending an evil spirit to mess with Saul.

You might find that Biblical "buffer" philosophically unsatisfactory, and at a philosophical level you might be right–since it wasn't meant to offer a metaphysically profound harmonization.

August 09, 2009 6:10 PM

steve said...
Victor Reppert said...

“And God does not cause the elect to sin? That would mean that the elect would never be caused to sin. But they do sin, so if God causes everything, he causes their sin as well.”

Depends on how you define “cause.” If you’re using a counterfactual theory of causation, then in Calvinism, Molinism, Arminianism, universalism, and open theism, God is the cause of sin. The mere act of creating the world is a sine qua non of sin.

If you think Jas 1:13 rules out divine “causation” of sin (thus defined), then Jas 1:13 rules out Calvinism, Molinism, Arminianism, universalism, and open theism. What’s left?

“But if a text has philosophical entailments, and you buy inerrancy, then those philosophical entailments have to be true, even if the text is not aimed at establishing these.”

You mean like predestination texts of Scripture, whose philosophical entailments exclude libertarian freewill?

August 10, 2009 5:48 AM

steve said...
Victor Reppert said...

“Further, the concept of love, even if it includes the infliction of suffering, is always aimed at a good final result for the person who is loved. Otherwise, the word love doesn't make sense.”

i) That’s not an objection to Calvinism, per se. That’s an objection to any position short of universalism.

ii) It also disregards the concept of justice. You act as if Scripture only uses a remedial theory of justice rather than a retributive theory of justice.

iii) It also commits a basic semantic fallacy by confounding sense and reference. What loves means and who is loved are separate issues.

“It looks very clear from Scripture that God loves every person and wants them to be saved. The case for this is strong that many Calvinist exegetes agree.”

I can quote non-Calvinists who offer interpretations of Arminian prooftexts which are consistent with Calvinism (e.g. Lincoln in Jn 3:16, Towner on 1 Tim 2:4, Bauckam on 2 Pet 3:9, &c.).

August 10, 2009 5:57 AM

steve said...
Victor Reppert said...

“Look, the Calvinists in this debate are saying that they have a proof from Scripture that their view is correct. This requires exegetical arguments that predestinarian passages are consistent only with Calvinism and that passages apparently showing a difficulty for Calvinism have explanations that are consistent with Calvinism. That is what it takes to satisfy a burden of proof here.”

That’s just plain silly. Every Protestant theological tradition which lays claim to sola Scriptura as its rule of faith has the same burden of proof. So your contention is clearly reversible:

Look, the Arminians (universalists, Molinists, open theists, &c.) in this debate are saying that they have a proof from Scripture that their view is correct. This requires exegetical arguments that their (allegedly) libertarian prooftexts are consistent only with Arminianism and that passages apparently showing a difficulty for Arminianism have explanations that are consistent with Arminianism. That is what it takes to satisfy a burden of proof here.

Why do we even have to explain that to you?

“I should say that IF you think you can settle the debate by what I call narrow biblical arguments, then you have to not only have Calvinist proof-texts, but you also need good answers to difficult passages.”

Once again, the reasoning is patently reversible:

I should say that IF you think you can settle the debate by what I call narrow biblical arguments, then you have to not only have Arminian (universalist, Molinist, open theist) prooftexts, but you also need good answers to difficult passages.

“I don't think that Calvinists have that. James 1:13 and John 3:16 are good examples why this is the case.”

I’ll have more to say about Jas 1:13. For the time being, I’ll note that this isn’t the first time you’ve cited Jn 3:16. I responded to your appeal by citing a standard commentary on John by a commentator (Lincoln) who is not, to my knowledge, a Calvinist–whose interpretation is consonant with Calvinism. Did you offer a counterargument? No. As usual, you simply repeat yourself as if no one every replied to your appeal.

“If the biblical case is good that God wants people not to sin, is genuinely grieved by their sin, wants them to be saved from their sin, etc., then the only reasonable explanation for the fact that they do in fact sin is a doctrine of libertarian free will.”

If you really think that God doesn’t want anyone to sin, then why do you think he created sinners in the first place? Do you think creation was a metaphysical necessity? Are you a necessitarian? Isn’t that a self-defeating way to defend libertarianism?

And if libertarianism is true, then why didn’t God instantiate a possible world where free agents freely choose to do good rather than evil? If you think free agents have the freedom to do otherwise, then isn’t there a possible world which samples their good choices?

“Calvinists tend to overestimate our ability to make Scripture transparent, but leave us with a God whose intentions toward humanity are completely opaque.”

That’s a rather idiosyncratic accusation. Critics of Calvinism normally complain that Calvinism is only too clear on God’s intentions towards humanity (either you’re elect or reprobate), and they reject it because they think it’s clearly wrong.

August 10, 2009 2:14 PM

steve said...
Victor Reppert said...

“Do we really need reprobates over in hell so that the blessed can appreciate the graciousness of their salvation? God can't impress it on them any other way? You've got to be kidding me.”

Which is exactly what the Bible says. For example “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory (Rom 9:22-23).”

Moving along:

“Is it a favor to the damned, that they receive the just punishment for their sin?”

Why do you think punishment is supposed to do the offender a favor? Should we be doing Charles Manson a favor?

Maybe we should lock you up with Charles Manson overnight to see if that has an effect on your moral intuitions.

“But it turns out God has chosen, before the foundation of the world, to frustrate the sincere prayers of people who want their loved ones saved.”

Once again, Victor, that objection is hardly confined to Calvinism. It’s not as if God answers the prayers of everyone who wants their loved ones to be saved under Arminianism, Molinism, Lutheranism, Catholicism, open theism, Eastern Orthodoxy, &c.

Why don’t you have the simple honesty to stake out one consistent position, then defend it against every opposing position?

Instead, you pretend to be noncommittal, then deploy every opposing position against Calvinism. I’m flattered that you think Calvinism is the creed to beat, but it’s duplicitious to play theological hopscotch the way you do.

“God might love me, but hate my daughter. Or vice versa.”

Yes, God might love Charles Manson’s mom, but hate her precious son. And what you do find so outrageous about that, exactly? Do you love Charles Manson, Victor?

“When I ask this question, I get the mystery maneuver.”

From whom? Not from me.

“God's will is the eternal good of everyone, that good can be achieved only if the creature responds freely, many pains are used by God to induce us to freely obey him.”

Suffering frequently turns people against God. Take the street girl who’s gang-raped. Do you really think that’s the best way to induce her to freely obey God? And you presume to talk about coherence, do you?

“If I graded my classes like a Calvinist, I wouldn't be able to keep my job. That is, if all the tests I gave were so hard that everyone failed by merit, but then I had mercy on some and not on others because, after all, I was the teacher and could do that, the students I ‘reprobated’ with Fs would be in the dean's office complaining about capricious grading. And with good reason.”

Well, Victor, that comparison is quite revealing. So you grade like a Pelagian rather than a Calvinist. Fine. Nothing wrong with a meritocracy in higher education. (I take it that you oppose affirmative action.) But if you think that analogy carries over to soteriology, then you’re a simon-pure Pelagian.

You also need to explain how you harmonize your Pelagianism with your universalism. Does universalism operate according to the merit system?

August 10, 2009 4:00 PM

steve said...
Well, Victor, you say that as if, in a pinch, you can throw the Bible overboard to keep the ship afloat and save the champagne. But if you jettison the inerrancy (or reliability) of Scripture, it’s not as that you can save the cargo or the passengers by that expedient.

Christianity claims to be a revealed religion. God reveals himself in history by what he says and does. Words which interpret his deeds. Captions which decrypt the picture.

The reason Protestants affirm sola Scriptura is not because we have a fetish for paper and ink. Rather, it goes to our source of knowledge. Are we in a position to know that what we believe in or hope for is true? That’s only as good as our source of information.

You keep invoking the love of God. And you try to use that as a wedge issue to leave the door wide open for universalism. You also invoke the love of God to ditch the retributive theory of punishment in favor of the remedial theory of punishment.

If, however, we have no reliable revelation from God, then how do you know that God is love? How do you know that God loves everyone? How do you know that God will save everyone, or intends to save everyone, or intends to save anyone at all?

Without a reliable revelation, what are you left with, Victor? If we were to judge the outcome by the world, the world is not a very loving place. How would you extrapolate from our sublunary experience to universal salvation–or anything remotely approaching universal salvation?

Unless you can prove universalism from Scripture, you have no reason to believe that universalism is true, or probably true, or plausibly true.

Apart fro revelation, the nature of the afterlife is, at best, a blank. And if we were to extrapolate from this life to the afterlife, we’d expect the hereafter to be an extension and intensification of the disparities and asperities we find in the here-and-now.

August 10, 2009 5:41 PM

steve said...
Victor Reppert said...

“The problem with the ‘Calvinist grader’ is he's got two different systems for two different set of people with no reason for selecting one group for one kind of treatment over another.”

Well, Victor, if you wish to press that metaphor, then according to the Reformed version, all the students were cheaters. Every student cheated on the exam.

The next question is, what should be done? The teacher could flunk the whole class. That would be a just and justifiable course of action.

He could also pardon every student and give every student an “A”.

Or he could pardon half the students to give them a second chance, a chance to learn from their mistake–while he flunks the other half to send a message, a warning to the other students not to be presumptuous.

However, your metaphor trivializes the issue. And that’s what I like about opponents of Calvinism. When we tediously peel back the layers, the core objection always comes down to the fact that opponents of Calvinism don’t take evil seriously. They can’t bring themselves to see evil as truly culpable.

If everyone is guilty, then there’s no injustice in treating offenders unequally. Inequity is only unjust in case the parties have just claims. Claims to better treatment.

If no one deserves any better, then God wrongs no one by giving some offenders their just deserts while showing mercy to others.

You fail to grasp either justice or mercy. That’s why you remain a stranger to the Gospel.

“That's what I would call a ‘respecter of persons,’ which, last time I read the Bible, it said God was not.”

Which you conveniently rip out of context. Rom 2:11 makes the point that Jews are not exempt from the principle of retribution according to works. You have completely subverted Paul’s point. Paul is not stating that God must be indiscriminate in whom he forgives. The passage is about the basis of judgment, not salvation.

August 10, 2009 6:45 PM

steve said...
Victor Reppert said...

Regarding the Amalekites, you’re conflating two distinct issues: the veracity of Scripture and the interpretation of Scripture. So I’m not clear on where you think you’re going with that example.

At the interpretive level, the Bible says that event happened, and it says God gave the orders. I don’t think any OT scholar, whether liberal or conservatives, denies that. What the Bible claims to be the case is not in doubt. The point at issue is whether we’re prepared to believe the claim.

Your previous position had been: “All I need is to show that Scripture is inconclusive.”

That would be a hermeneutical position. Since the Bible is “obscure,” it doesn’t single out Calvinism to the exclusion of alternate ways of reading the Bible (e.g. open theism, universalism).

When, however, you shift to inerrancy, and use the case of the Amalekites to illustrate your point, you’re using as argument which is at odds with your previous argument. The “problem” with the case of the Amalekites is not due to the “obscurity” or “opacity” of Scripture. It’s not as if any interpretation of that account is “inconclusive.”

Rather, it’s a question (for you) of whether the claim is true or false. Did it happen the way the Bible says it happened” Did it happen as a result of a divine command?

That is not a hermeneutical question. Rather, that’s a factual question.

If you don’t think the Bible is a reliable source of information, that unreliability doesn’t make room for universalism–or whatever view you’re promoting. Rather, if God hasn’t disclosed the nature of the afterlife, then we have next to nothing to go on regarding our hopes and fears and expectations for the life to come.

If you distrust the Bible, then what are you left with, Victor? Your life experience? But how is your life experience sufficient to underwrite your belief in a loving God? Much less universalism?

At best, you’d be in a situation like Ecclesiastes where, if you could only judge by appearances (“under the sun”), it would be hard to discern any consistent moral pattern in history.

August 11, 2009 6:07 AM

Does Jas 1:13 contradict Calvinism?

Victor Reppert has cited Jas 1:13 as a problem passage for Calvinism. In this post, I’ll quote Reppert’s objection; then I’ll quote the response of four NT scholars (Beale, Hamilton, Poythress, Schreiner) whom I emailed; then I’ll quote three commentators (Davids, Green, Pratt) on this verse or related verses of Scripture.

I’m not offering a philosophical response to Reppert. Rather, since he raised an exegetical objection, I’m responding to him on his own terms. An exegetical response to an exegetical objection.

Victor Reppert

If you take the Calvinist position and reject libertarian free will, it seems that what we find in James 1:13 comes out false. Not only must we say that we were tempted by God, God guaranteed before the foundation of the world that we would succumb to the temptation.

Jim Hamilton

I think that the text is simply saying that God is not tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone to it.

This fits easily, I think, with texts like Rev 6 (which has all these divine passives, the evil agents "were given" their power and authority, etc.) and Rev 17:17, where God puts it into the hearts of the evil to do their purpose. God equips the wicked and allows them to do their worst, then they go out to kill and conquer and tempt and lead astray.

God is not doing the tempting, the evil agents are. The only reason the evil agents get any traction when they tempt humans is that humans desire evil, which gives birth to sin, which brings forth death. So James is exonerating God from being evil or from doing evil, but he isn't denying God's sovereignty.

Vern Poythress

Various verses do indicate that God "tests" people (e.g. Gen 22:1). The word "tempt" indicates an inciting to do evil which is inconsistent with God's moral character. The issue then has to do with the relation of the moral (preceptive) will of God to his decretive will. Everyone, including Arminians, has to recognize a distinction in order to deal with God's decreeing of the crucifixion (Acts 2:23; 4:25-28).

Gregory Beale

There is not enough time for me to comment on this topic to the degree that it deserves, since it is a very big issue. I am afraid that I will merely have to say that the point of this verse is, at least partly, to affirm that God does not directly "tempt any one." People can directly tempt themselves, the ungodly world can tempt people directly, and Satan and demonic powers can tempt people directly.

Nevertheless, on the other hand, God is ultimately sovereign over all of these. Good examples of this are Job 1-2: God does not directly tempt Job but Satan does, nevertheless all of Job's evil is said to come from God ultimately (see, e.g., Job 1:16, 21 and 2:10). In such matters, God is not accountable but the intermediate agents of tempting are accountable, as is also the human who commits sin, after succumbing to temptation.

Tom Schreiner

I would simply say that I don't think Jas 1:13 poses a great problem. We have always believed that God is sovereign over all things (Judas' betrayal, etc.--Acts 2:23; 4:27-28) w/o being guilty of tempting people to sin. Calvin always argued that the ultimate resolution to the problem is a mystery, and that we hold to all that scripture says. God hardens the hearts of sinners, but he doesn't tempt people to sin. That's what scripture says.

Peter Davids

It would be wrong to consider this a theodicy; James is not explaining how a good God can permit evil…His focus is practical rather than theoretical.

Commentary on James (Eerdmans 1983), 81

Richard Pratt

As the story of Job illustrates so clearly, one of his [Satan’s] duties as “accuser” is to tempt and test human beings…Although God himself tempts no one (see Jas 1:13), God gives Satan permission to test believers (see Mt 4:1-10; Lk 22:31-32; Rev 2:10).

1 and 2 Chronicles (Mentor 1998), 170

Gene Green

What God sends them in this judicial act is, first, “powerful,” a term that describes some kind of supernatural and powerful action (2:9 and the verb in 2:7; 1 Thes 2:13). This “power” produces in them a great “delusion.” Since they did not receive the truth of the gospel, God sends them confusion so that they cannot distinguish between truth and “the lie” and, in the end, they believe “the lie” as if it were the truth.

As strange as this kind of judgment may seem to us, it is in harmony with the biblical witness, which shows the way God gives sinners over to the very sin and error they have embraced (Ps 80:12-13 [81:12-13]; Rom 1:24,26,28; 11:8; 2 Tim 4:4). The thought is similar to that in those texts in the OT that describe how God uses malignant spirits to execute his judgments and will even employ the inspiration of false prophets (2 Sam 24:1/1 Chr 21:1; 1 Kgs 22:19-23; Ezk 14:9.

The Letters to the Thessalonians, (Eerdmans 2002), 323-24.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Almighty abortionist


“Add to this the fact that many embryos die in the early stages of pregnancy, indeed, most conceptuses are unfit to survive and are killed in the womb, and this seems to be part of the design plan. If every fertilized egg is sacred before God, then why is God systematically killing so many of them? It seems George Tiller had nothing on the Almighty as an abortionist.”

i) In a fallen world, everyone dies sooner or later. You have human beings who die at every stage of life. Miscarriage. Infant mortality. Men and women cut down by cancer in the prime of life.

If that’s supposed to be an argument for legalizing abortion, then that’s an argument for legalizing infanticide and (adult) homicide.

But if Reppert refuses to take the argument that far, then what’s the point of his comparison?

ii) There is also an obvious difference between letting nature take its course, and preventing nature from taking its course by terminating a pregnancy.

iii) If we’re to take Reppert’s argument from analogy at all seriously, then he has no problem with George Tiller’s profession. Yet Reppert resents my accusation that he’s a front man for baby-killers. Well, which is it?

iv) At the risk of stating the obvious, the Creator and Judge of mankind has a right to do some things which you and I don’t have.

In this house of prayer

“Grandpa. Sometimes I don’t feel like praying.” Nick said.

“When I’m not in the mood to pray, I find that praying puts me in the mood to pray. Sometimes, when I begin to pray, I’m agitated, distracted, out of sorts. It can take me ten or fifteen minutes to withdraw from the world and work myself into a prayerful frame of mind,” he answered.

“Don’t you ever find prayer boring?” Nick asked.

“Not nowadays. Maybe I did when I was younger. It’s hard to remember back that far. We pray for different things at different times. We pray for different things at different times of life,” he answered.

“I feel like I have to pray for certain things every day. Squeeze everything in. Like going down a checklist. Crossing off the items. I do it out of duty, but it feels mechanical,” Nick said.

“I think it’s natural for younger folks to ask God for more things, while it’s natural for older folks to thank God for more things. When you’re young, you have your whole future ahead of you. So there’s a lot to ask for. When you’re older, most of your life lies in the past, or in the world to come. So there’s less to ask for, and more to be thankful for,” he answered.

“So you have a different checklist than I have?” Nick asked.

“I wouldn’t call it a checklist,” he said. “For me, my time of pray is a world apart. I withdraw from this world and enter into another world. Then I return to this world refreshed,” he said.

“So you don’t have to pray about certain things every day?” Nick asked.

“What’s the rush? I like to pace myself. Spread it out over several days,” he answered.

“Where do you pray,” Nick asked.

“Depends on where I’m living,” he answered. “Since I moved here a few years ago I’ve been taking that trail through the woods. You know the one.”

“Why do you go there?” Nick asked.

“It’s calm, quiet, and pretty, but not too pretty,” he said.

“Why does that matter?” Nick asked.

“Well, I don’t know that it matters to everyone. Just to me. If it’s too pretty, that’s distracting. But if it’s too ugly or noisy, or busy, that’s also distracting.. I like a nice quiet place to pray,” he answered.

“What makes that place special?” Nick asked.

“Well, life is like a journey. My prayer life is like a journey. And the trail is a journey. God has filled the world with similes. Living similes–etched in time and space and sound. The trail has a beginning, middle, and end. A long, winding trail. You can’t see how it ends from where you begin. You can’t see around every twist and turn. Just like life. The trail is shaded by the trees. Then, at the end, you come back out into the light. Like the afterlife,” he answered.

“So you pray in the same place every day?” Nick asked.

“Depends on where I’m living,” he answered. “When I was still living in my hometown, I’d pray in different places, depending on who or what I wanted to pray about. If I wanted to thank God for the father he gave me, I might go to the junior high school where my dad used to teach. It had a nice campus. A nice kind of place to walk about and pray. I’d go there during summer break when no one else was around. Just brown grass and bumble bees. There’s something evocative about an empty school. Empty playground. Empty classrooms. It gives you sense of time. The passage of time. The lifecycle. Life, death, and immortality. It felt natural to pray about my dad where he used to work,” he answered.

“But you can’t go there anymore,” Nick said. “Didn’t the school burn down?”

“True. I can’t hop in a car and drive there anymore. But I can go there in my mind’s eye,” he said

“Is that what you mean by entering another world?” Nick asked.

“Yes, that’s right. When I pray, I tell a story. The story of my life. I give thanks to God for the life he’s given me. And when I pray, I take a trip. A journey through time and space–with various stops along the way. I see what I pray about,” he answered.

“What do you mean?” Nick asked.

“I begin at my grandmother’s house. I used to go there as a boy. And I thank God for my grandma. For the way in which God brought her into my life when I was a boy,” he answered.

“When you pray about your grandma, what do you pray about?” Nick asked.

“She was a bridge–a spiritual bridge. At that time she was the only relative I knew who was truly devout. So she helped me make it over that chasm in my life. Make it to the other side. Make it to the next stretch in my pilgrimage–long before I knew I was a pilgrim. God has always provided a bridge whenever I needed one. People he brings into my life for a season,” he replied.

“Where do you go from there?” Nick asked.

“From there I go down the street to a little Jewish delicatessen my parents used to eat at when I was young,” he answered. “We went there until the proprietor had a heart attack.”

“Why do you pray about that?” Nick asked.

“It reminds me of how transitory life is. I’m sure the store changed has many times by now. And that’s a warning to us–not to take life for granted. To live every day with a view to our latter end,” he replied. “So many people pour the best years of their lives into something utterly ephemeral. A hundred years from now it’s all gone. They are gone. No one remembers. No one cares.”

“Where do you go from there?”

“From there I go down the road to the cemetery, where my grandma was buried with my granddad. I never knew him. He died before I was born. But I thank God for him, because he touched my life–through my mother and grandmother. I look forward to seeing him. To meeting him for the first time. We’ll both be young again. He can tell me about his life, and I can tell him about my life,” he answered.

“What’s the next stop?” Nick asked.

“A hamburger joint my dad used to take me to as a kid,” he answered.”

“Why to pray about a thing like that?” Nick queried.

“Because we should thank God for the little things in life. God is present in the little things–as well as the big things. God blesses us in so many little, ordinary ways. Looking back on it, I’m sure the food at that hamburger joint was very nondescript. Just like any other hamburger joint. But it was special to me because I was young, and it was something he did for me. At that age, you look up to your dad. He’s this godlike figure. At that age, it doesn’t take much to make you happy. If your dad does some simple little thing for you, that makes your whole day. I try to find the sacred in the mundane. It’s there–if take time to stop and take a good look,” he replied.

“And what’s the next stop along the way?” Nick asked.

“I go back to my old junior high school,” he replied.

“Why,” Nick asked.

“For me, that was a special time and place. That’s where I came of age. Adolescence is a turning-point in a man’s life. An irreversible, one-time event. Becoming what God designed you to be. As a boy, you looked up to your dad. Now you’re becoming you’re dad. That’s an exciting experience for a boy,” he replied.

“Anything else?” Nick asked.

“That’s the first time I had a fear of death,” he answered.

“In junior high?” Nick asked. “But at that age, death is so far away. Why would you be afraid of death at that age?”

“Yes, in one respect it seems odd to be afraid of death at that age. But in another respect, it’s only natural. Adolescence is the first time in life that you begin to think like a grown-up–because you’re growing up. So you think ahead. What will you do with your life? What will you do with you’re allotted time on earth? Life is short. How will you arrange your time to make the most of it? So it’s natural to start at the end and work back from there. To think about the end of your life, and how you’ll fill the time in-between,” he replied.

“And that made you afraid?” Nick asked.

“It overshadowed my life,” he replied. “The idea that my life would never add up to anything. Time was going to blot it out, as if I never existed. And something else,” he said.

“What’s that?” Nick asked.

“It made me see the world in a different light,” he answered. I had a happy childhood. Loving parents and relatives. A nice place to live. It’s easy to think the world cares about you. We treat the world like a friend. But as I thought about dying, it suddenly hit me that the world wasn’t like that at all. There was no one there, behind the screen–smiling back at me. But then I had another experience.”

“What experience?” Nick asked.

“One day, during lunch break, I was outside in the courtyard, by a fountain. It was a warm, sunny day, so I decided to have lunch outside–while the other kids were in the cafeteria. Then, out of the blue, I had a sense of God’s presence. It was the first time in my life I ever felt that way. I never felt that way before or since. But for a few minutes, it’s as if the clouds parted, and God was shining down on me,” he said.

“Do you think that’s for real?” Nick asked.

“If you mean, could it be a figment of my imagination? Sure,” he answered. “But here’s the catch. Now that I know there is a God, it doesn’t really matter. Even if that was some sort of hallucination, it’s still an experience God gave me. So I thank God for that experience.”

“Anything else?” Nick asked.

“There was something about that school I couldn’t quite put my finger on at the time, but now that I think about it, I think it had something to do with the elevation,” he answered.

“What do you mean?”

“Our home was down on the water, but my school was up on the summit,” he said. When you’re up on high ground, it’s as if the light is different. The sky is different. The rarified ambience. It reminds me of the mountains in the Bible. Mountains were holy places.”

“Where do you go from there?” he asked.

“Across the street to my elementary school,” he answered.

“So you’re going back in time, from junior high to grade school. Isn’t that confusing?” Nick asked.

“As I say, my prayer is a story. The story of my life. I tell it the way I see it since that’s how these places line up on the map, in real life,” he explained. “If I were walking or driving, that’s the order in which I’d see them.”

“Why do you pray about your time in grade school?” Nick asked.

“We only discover God’s story for our lives by living each day at a time. We only find out what he planned for us after it happens–moment-by-moment, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, and year-by-year. So we need to look back, from time to time, to appreciate the goodness and the wisdom of God’s story for our lives. To thank him for his providential care. It’s like reading a story. If it’s a good story, it’s worth reading more than once. The more of the story you read, the better you grasp the earlier parts of the story.”

“So when you think about grade school,” what do you think about?” Nick asked.

“I think about the little things I took for granted at the time, like when my parents used pick me up after school,” he answered. Just to know there’s someone waiting for you is a blessing. The day will come when that person may be gone. Death is so abrupt. When someone dies, they die all at once. It’s not as if, when they die, you go from seeing them every day to once a week, then once a month, then once a year. No. You may have seen them several times a week, year after year–then they’re gone. The separation is instant and remitting. At least in this life,” he said.

“Where do you go from there?” Nick asked.

“To my childhood home,” he answered.

“Why do you go there?” Nick asked.

“God has implanted a homing instinct in the human heart,” he answered. “A metaphor for heaven. A yearning for eternity. Returning from exile.”

“What do you pray about?” Nick asked.

“So many things,” he said. “We were living on the water. Across the lake was a navel air base. From our place I could see the hanger, and other miscellaneous buildings. As a kid, I was always curious about what it looked like up close. It was very tantalizing from a distance.”

“Then what?” Nick asked.

“The navy moved away. It became a public park. I grew up. So one day I drove there. I wanted to see it from the other side,” he answered.

“And what was it like?” Nicked asked.

“A bit of a letdown,” he said. “You imagine things look smaller at a distance. Bigger up close. But when I finally went there, it seemed smaller than I expected. Maybe that’s because everything seems bigger when you’re a kid. And the deserted buildings were rusty and weather-beaten. On the other hand, it would have been a fun place to grow up. To play hide and seek with other boys. Play war games in the bunkers–just like the grown-ups. Go swimming on a hot day with your friends.”

“So you’re sorry you weren’t able to do that?” Nick asked.

“It doesn’t make me regret the life I had,” he answered. “I wouldn’t swap what I had for something else. But it tells me that the road not taken can be just as good as the road we took. Even in a fallen world, there are so many different stories that are equally good. Equally fulfilling. Equally worth having and living and doing. God’s goodness is so wide and deep and varied. He diversifies his goodness in so many different ways. Each story is unique. We have so many reasons to be grateful.”

“But not everyone has a happy life or childhood, like you did,” Nick said.

“True,” he replied. “We all have different things to pray about. Be thankful for. But God made some of us like Abraham. God blessed us so that we could be a blessing to others.”

“So what’s the next stop along the way?” Nick asked.

“My old high school,” he answered.

“What do you pray about?” Nick asked.

“Many things,” he answered. “For one thing, I pray for some of my classmates. I haven’t seen them for almost forty years. But I have my yearbook, so I still pray for some of them.”

“Why?” Nick asked.

“I think we should pray for some of our age-mates,” he answered. “If every Christian generation prays for some of its contemporaries, for some lost souls in each generation, that adds up from one generation to the next. The pilgrim path is not a secret trail which we should keep hidden from view.”

“Yet you said you hadn’t see them for almost forty years,” Nick responded.

“But that’s the nice thing about prayer,” he replied. “Distance is no barrier to prayer. I can pray for anyone anywhere. So I’m like a secret friend.”

“Do you pray for everyone in your yearbook?” Nick asked.

“No,” he answered. “We have to choose whether we spend more time on less of something, or less time on more of something. I prefer to pray for same people year after year. I’ve had to live in a number of different places over the years. And I think I should pray for at least one person in every place I ever lived. God brings different people into our lives at different times of life–for a few years here or there. We can’t pray for them all. But I make it a mission to pray for some. To take them along with me on my pilgrimage of prayer.”

“Do you expect to see them in heaven?” Nick asked.

“I can’t count on that,” he said “I have to leave that in God’s hand. But I’m sowing seeds of prayer for the harvest to come. And I look forward to what God has in store.”

“Seems to me like it would take a long time for you to tell your story every time you pray,” Nick said.

“I don’t have to finish the story every time I pray,” he explained. “I tell the story over several days. I pick up wherever I left off. When I’m done I start over again. Prayer is like that, you know. A lifelong conversation with God. It’s interrupted by the necessities of life. But we resume the conversation.”

“Doesn’t it get tedious to repeat the same story?” Nick asked.

“Not for me,” he answered. “When I thank God for the story of my life, I’m thanking him for his story. This is the story which he wrote for my life. A story which includes other stories. Stories of my friends and relatives. And as I thank God for all the good things that he’s done in my life, and the lives of those I know and love, it reminds me of blessings I’d long forgotten. Causes me to see the unforeseen goodness of things which were onerous to me at the time they first occurred.”

“Isn’t there a danger of clinging to the past?” Nick asked.

“I don’t pray about the past because I long for the past,” he said. “For me, it’s like widows and widowers who visit the cemetery every day. You don’t live in a cemetery. But you continue to go there because you’re waiting–waiting for God to call your number. Waiting to rejoin your loved ones. Hoping for the best. Hopeful prayers. Prayerful hopes. So, for me, prayer is a world within a world. An inner world leading me into the world to come–as the shell of a fallen world falls away, and the blossom of the better world flowers forth.”

Arminian rhetoric

Here’s a sample of traditional Arminian polemics. Consider the “tone” which Arminius adopted.


Since, therefore, the Roman Pontiff either attributes these most honorable titles of Christ to himself, or willingly suffers them to be ascribed to him; and since he evinces no horror at the blasphemy contained in these titles, and gives no tokens of his displeasure at this ascription of them; it follows, that he puts himself in the place of Christ, and is supremely opposed to Him. There is no excuse in the explanation which is given, that "the head and foundation is ministerial, and that he attributes all these things to himself under Christ, as having been elevated by the grace or favor of God and Christ to that dignity." For the protestation is directly contrary to the fact; and he is so much the more the bitter enemy of God and Christ, as he the more confidently boasts of being defended by the authority of God and Christ. Such conduct is, in fact, under the semblance of friendship to exercise the deepest enmity, and, under the disguised pretext of a minister of light and of righteousness, to promote the interests of the kingdom of darkness and of unrighteousness. On this very account, therefore, we assert that the disparaging epithets which we laid down in our first Thesis, most justly belong to him; and this we now proceed to show by descending to particulars.

First. The name of the Adulterer and The Pimp of the Church is his.

(1.) He is the Adulterer of the church, both by the public and mutual profession of each other; because he calls the [Roman Catholic] church his and she neither disowns the arrogance of this title nor is afraid of the odium [attached to such assumption,] and he is the adulterer in reality. For he practices spiritual adultery with the church, and she in return with him.

(2.) But he is also the Pimp or Pander of the church, because he acts towards her as the author, persuader, impelling exciter and procurer of various spiritual adulteries committed, or to be hereafter committed, with different husbands, with angels, Mary and other deceased saints, with images of God, of Christ, of the Holy Ghost, of the cross, of angels, of Mary, and of saints; with the bread in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper; and with other inanimate objects.

10. To him likewise belongs the name of The False Prophet, whom the Scripture calls "the tail," in opposition to "the head;" (Isaiah 9:15;) and this, whether it be received in a general acceptation, or in a particular sense and restricted to a certain and determinate person.

11. He is also deservedly called The Destroyer And Subverter Of The Church.

12. It is demonstrable by the most evident arguments that the name of Antichrist and of The Adversary of God belongs to him. For the apostle ascribes the second of these epithets to him when he calls him "the man of sin, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God." (2 Thessalonians 2:3-8.)

It was he who should arise out of the ruins of the Roman empire, and should occupy its vacant digaity. These expressions, we assert, must be understood, and can be understood, solely respecting the Roman pontiff.

But the name of "The Antichrist" belongs to him pre-eminently, whether the particle anti signifies opposition, or the substitution of one thing for another; not indeed such a substitution as is lawfully and legitimately made by Him who has the power of placing things in subordination, but it signifies one by which any man is substituted, either by himself or by another person through force and fraud. For he is both a rival to Christ, and his adversary, when he boasts of himself as the spouse, the head, and the foundation of the church, endowed with plenitude of power; and yet he professes himself to be the vicegerent of Christ, and to perform his functions on earth, for the sake of his own private advantage, but to the manifest injury of the church of Christ. He has, however, considered it necessary to employ the name of Christ as a pretext, that under this sacred name he may obtain that reverence for himself among Christians, which he would be unable to procure if he were openly to profess himself to be either the Christ, or the adversary of Christ.

13. Although the Roman pontiff calls himself "the servant of the servants of God," yet we further assert that he is by way of eminence, That Wicked And Perverse Servant, who, when he saw that his Lord delayed his coming, "began to smite his fellow-servants." (Matthew 24, 48.) For the Roman pontiff has usurped domination and tyranny, not only over his fellow-servants, the bishops of the church of God, but likewise over emperors and kings themselves, whose authority and dignity he had himself previously acknowledged. To acquire this domination for himself, and still further to augment and establish it, he has employed all kinds of satanic instruments — sophistical hypocrisy, lies, equivocations, perfidy, perjury, violence, poison, and armed forces — so that he may most justly be said to have succeeded that formidable beast which "was like unto a leopard, a bear and a lion," and by which the Roman empire was prefigured — and to have "had power to give life unto the image of the beast, and to cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast, should be killed."

Modern Idolatry

Greg Dutcher tells the story of a woman he visited in a hospice shortly before she died:

She had read Luke 7:11-14....

The passage had deeply impacted Cynthia because, unlike in most miracle accounts, Jesus does not follow up with a teaching moment or a call to commitment. He simply passes through a town, sees a woman's pain, raises her son, and (the most striking aspect of the story to Cynthia) gives 'him to his mother.' Cynthia was convinced that God put this passage in the Bible for no other reason than for us to see 'just how beautiful Jesus is,' her exact words. And as far as I'm concerned, her final words.

Everything we talked about from that moment on was just a sub-point of that larger theme - the beauty of Christ. From that moment on, the thrust of my ministry was forever changed....the more I immerse myself in contemplating just how beautiful, strong, precious, and awesome my Savior is, the less and less appealing my idols look. (You Are The Treasure That I Seek [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Discovery House Publishers, 2009], pp. 98-99)

Dutcher's book is about the sin of idolatry and the solution to it. He defines idolatry as "cherishing, trusting, or fearing anything more than we cherish, trust, or fear God himself" (p. 62). He was motivated to write the book, in part, because he "can't find much material on the subject" (p. 80). He quotes Os Guinness:

Idolatry is the most discussed problem in the Bible and one of the most powerful spiritual and intellectual concepts in the believer's arsenal. Yet for Christians today it is one of the least meaningful notions and is surrounded with ironies. Perhaps this is why many evangelicals are ignorant of the idols in their lives. Contemporary evangelicals are little better at recognizing and resisting idols than modern secular people are. There can be no believing communities without an unswerving eye to the detection and destruction of idols. (pp. 80-81)

What Dutcher and Guinness are getting at is the theme we see in Biblical passages like Ezekiel 14:7, Colossians 3:5, and 1 John 5:21. Idolatry is common, even among Christians, and doesn't require anything like a statue or shrine. Dutcher comments:

A seminary professor of mine had a helpful saying that I've never forgotten, "You know what your idols are by observing this: When they shake, you shake." (p. 71)

He gives many examples of how idolatry can manifest itself in people's lives, and he makes some suggestions as to how to overcome it. His solution consists largely of some of the themes found in John Piper's Desiring God (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Books, 1996). He acknowledges his indebtedness to Piper (n. 8 on p. 69), though he also cites and recommends other sources.

Unlike Piper's book, which is a few hundred pages long, Dutcher's is less than one-hundred-fifty, on small pages and with a lot of open spaces. It's a good introduction to some of the themes of John Piper's work, an introduction that would be easier for some people to read and understand. It would be a good book to give to some non-Christians as well, if they already have a significant level of knowledge of Christian concepts and terminology. I would recommend the book as a brief introduction to or reminder of concepts such as the primacy of God and the sin of idolatry.

I suspect that the book would have more of a positive impact on most readers than it had on me. It's been nearly a decade since I read Piper's Desiring God, and I've thought about these issues and read other material of a similar nature over the years. I'm probably not representative of the average reader of a book like Dutcher's in that regard. I did find it helpful, and he made some points that were new to me, but the book's probably most useful for people who are less familiar with the subject. It's shorter and more accessible than Piper's book.

I think and Barnes & Noble are out of stock. But anybody interested in ordering the book should be able to get it from the publisher, here.

One Of The Reasons Why Ephesians Is Important

I referenced an article about early evidence for Paul's letter to the Ephesians in my last post. I thought I'd use the occasion to reiterate a reason for the significance of Ephesians, a reason that's seldom discussed.

Critics of Christianity often argue that the early Christians thought that Jesus had promised to return before the end of His generation, sometime well before the end of the first century. That argument has many problems, some of which I've discussed in the past. One of those problems comes from Ephesians, if the letter was written by Paul or if it was written by somebody else at an early enough date.

Paul repeats, in a passage addressing children, the Old Testament concept that children will tend to live lengthy lives on earth if they obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3), suggesting that he thought it was possible for people who were only in childhood at that time to live to an old age. Those children wouldn't reach an old age until after Jesus' generation had passed. When Paul wrote Ephesians, it had been more than fifty years since Jesus' birth. Thus, if Ephesians is Pauline or even non-Pauline, but written early, it's inconsistent with the notion that the early Christians thought that Jesus had promised that His second coming would occur before the end of His generation. As Harold Hoehner notes:

"In short, Paul does not refer [in Ephesians 6:3] to a future eternal life but to a present temporal life. In the end, the same general OT principle can be applied to the NT, namely, that obeying and honoring father and mother will bring well-being and a long life on earth. Again, there are going to be exceptions to the rule but the general principle holds....Because of the promise of long life on the earth, Lincoln contends that this could not have been penned by Paul who expected an imminent parousia....This argument is not compelling, for Paul never predicted that the parousia would occur within his lifetime. Even the apostles did not presume to know the time of the parousia since Jesus had told them that even he did not know, only the Father knew (Matt 24:36 = Mark 13:32)." (Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006], p. 793)