Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sugar and spice and everything nice!

As we all know, Arminians are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. That’s cuz Arminians worship a nice God, and you are what you worship.

By contrast, Calvinists are mean cuz they worship a mean God. That’s why Calvinists say mean things about their opponents.

In case you doubt me, you only need to compare the mean things that a Calvinist will say about his opponents with the kind and gentle discourse of the loving Arminian. Case in point:

Robert said...

For the Nazis it was the Jewish race that needed to be eliminated by any means at their disposal. For the KKK it was the blacks. I find these groups and their actions to be morally reprehensible and showing the most ugly aspects of what humans are capable of.

And yet if the calvinists are correct about God and the “reprobates”, then God is the ultimate racist.

He decides beforehand that certain individuals will be part of the class of reprobates. He then hates everyone in this class regardless of what they do or what kind of person they are. He just hates them because they are reprobates (and he decided they would be in the reprobate class, the class of those “automatically damned”). And the calvinists just can’t understand why non-Calvinists find their system to be so morally objectionable. That is like the Grand Dragon or Imperial Wizard not understanding why non-racists find their beliefs and practices to be morally objectionable. The parallels between racists like the KKK and the Nazis and the God of calvinism who reprobates most of the human race for his pleasure are chilling.

And my intuition that racism is wrong does not conflict with scripture but is supported by scripture. And your system of theology which makes God into the worst racist in existence is contrary to both my intuition and the scripture. So both our intuitions and scripture are against the racist Calvinistic theology. The theology that makes God a racist against the reprobates. With the non-reprobates then wearing the white sheets and justifying and rationalizing their hatred. And like the KKK the calvinists have the gall to use scripture to justify and rationalize their hatred.

Calvinists are to the Gestapo as their God is to the Führer.

How’s that for charity?

The moral intuitions of Attila the Hun

Victor Reppert keeps appealing to his moral intuitions to verify or falsify a revelation claimant and/or the interpretation thereof.

There are three basic problems with this appeal:

1.He oscillates back and forth between the interpretation of a revelatory claimant and the verification of a revelatory claimant. Yet these are not interchangeable propositions. In principle, you could have:

i) A true interpretation of a false revelatory claimant

ii) A false interpretation of a true revelatory claimant

iii) A true interpretation of a true revelatory claimant

iv) A false interpretation of a false revelatory claimant

To what does moral intuition apply? Is it Reppert’s contention that his moral intuition is sufficiently discriminating to adjudicate all four cases?

2.He also acts as if moral intuition is the only criterion to verify or falsify a revelatory claimant. Does he really think that’s the only line of evidence for or against a revelatory claimant?

3.Finally, I have to wonder if he’s ever asked himself what his moral intuitions would be telling him right now had he been born a Viking or Aztec priest or Samurai swordsman or Spartan soldier or Prussian general or Assyrian warrior or Iroquois brave.

His ethnocentric appeal to moral intuition strikes me as hopelessly provincial.

Thanksgiving or murmuring?

There are two different attitudes you can take to life. One is an attitude to recrimination and complaint. It isn’t hard. In a fallen world, there’s always something to complain about. You don’t even have to go looking. Everyday, unpleasant things happen close to home.

So you can curse and swear, get mad, harp on the problem of evil.

However, that’s counterproductive. Chronic grumbling has two effects: (i) it makes good things bad and (ii) bad things worse.

So you miss out on both counts. On the one hand, grumbling about your lot in life (or the suffering of others) doesn’t make a bad situation any better. Rather, it makes it even worse.

On the other hand, it also spoils the good things in life. You’re so busy complaining about how bad things are that you miss out on the good things which come your way. So this attitude is thoroughly poisonous.

The alternative is to cultivate a spirit of thankfulness. To thank God for all the plainly good things in life. Thank God for all the little goods in life–which we tend to neglect and forget. Overlook. Take for granted. But also learn to see the hidden good in things which, at the time, seemed to be an unmitigated evil.

In the programmatic statement of St. Paul, “All things work together for the good of those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Incidentally, I’m quoting Joseph Fitzmyer’s translation of Rom 8:28. Fitzmyer is a Jesuit Bible scholar. So you can’t accuse me of loading the dice in favor of Calvinism by my choice of translations.

Gratitude doesn’t come naturally to us, especially in the face of evil, but if you apply yourself and think about it, you can come to appreciate God’s providential hand in life. You can compare the past with the present and begin to see how God is bringing good out of evil.

It’s not just that you and I live in a fallen world. You and I are the product of a fallen world. So we should be grateful to be here at all. A “better” world would be better off without the likes of you and me. Yet we made the cut!

God could have chosen the A-team. Instead, he chose the B-team. The ones who are normally picked last.

Now, someone might exclaim: “That’s easy for you to say! You think you’re one of the elect. You have this wonderful future ahead of you. The best is yet to be. But what about the poor, benighted reprobates?”

Yet reprobation has a paradoxical aspect: If you believe in reprobation, you’re not a reprobate; if you’re reprobate, you don’t believe in reprobation. (Which is not to say that only reprobates deny reprobation.)

Reprobates don’t think they’re hellbound. They mock the idea of damnation.

What is more, they mock the idea of heaven. They think Christians are childish fools who can’t face the finality of death. As a result, Christians miss out on life because they’re pining for a nonexistent afterlife.

So there’s no point complaining on behalf of those who deny the very fate you complain about. Those who, what is more, mock the heavenly alternative.

Investing in the pearl of great price

“How a Calvinistic God would reconcile me to the idea of reprobation in such a way as to permit me to worship him is difficult for me to comprehend.”

Well, one basic problem is that I don’t share Reppert’s intuitions. That’s why he has to resort to subversive hypotheticals.

A Reformed theodicy (which I equate with Bible history) operates on the principle of tradeoffs. On the one hand, you could have a world with lesser goods and lesser evils. On the other hand, you could have a world with greater goods and greater evils. God opted for the latter.

Let’s take an illustration. On the one hand you have an arranged marriage between a man and a woman, both of whom come from “good” families. Indeed, they each come from one of the “best” families in the land.

If they marry each other, they will enjoy a very lavish standard of living. While they don’t love each other, they like each other. Over time they may grow fond of each other. Care about each other. They may also have children whom they love.

There’s nothing wrong with a marriage like that. A marriage without highs or lows. A marriage devoid of passion.

On the other hand, you have an arranged marriage, but the rich young suitor has fallen in love with a “commoner.” Indeed, they’ve known each other for years. They take surreptitious walks in the park. Secluded picnics on his sailboat. Little things like that.

He longs for her. And when he looks into her eyes, he sees her yearning in return.

But his family disapproves of marriage to a commoner. Indeed, they’ll disown him if he presumes to marry someone below his station in life.

However, he throws caution to the wind, and takes her to be his wife. As a result, they have a rather meager standard of living. But they have each other, and they live happily ever after.

We see this type of tradeoff in the parable about the Pearl of Great Price (Mt 13:44-46). The man has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire something priceless. But he must sell everything he has to buy it.

He must forego all the lesser goods to acquire one incomparable good.

We also see this with C. S. Lewis. He married a woman with cancer. He knew the risk. As a result, he had a tragically brief, intense, bittersweet marriage.

Lewis was in a position to marry a different woman. A healthy woman. As an Oxford don, he was a very eligible bachelor. But he chose to roll the dice.

I had an uncle whose wife made him oatmeal for breakfast for every day of their marriage. For 60 years, he had oatmeal for breakfast. Like Reppert, my uncle was the mild-mannered academic type.

However, whenever he came to visit us, he wanted to us to taking him out to nice restaurants. The restaurants he could never take his wife to–because she wasn’t into romance or fine food or anything out of the ordinary.

In his little way, my uncle had an adventurous streak. But he chose a life of stability instead. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Now, it may be that Reppert is temperamentally incapable of relating to that type of mindset. Perhaps he’s a naturally cautious, sensible man who’d rather play it safe. He’ll forgo the highs to forgo the lows.

And if that’s the case, I don’t fault his priorities. But I do fault him for faulting the Bible if it doesn’t share his bland, timid priorities.

“I sympathize with Talbott's statement 'I will not worship such a God, and if such a God can send me to hell for not so worshipping him, then to hell I will go'.”

Of course, Talbott takes the position that unless God saves all of his loved ones, then God is unworthy of his love and adoration. And he extrapolates from his own case to everybody else–since just about everybody has loved ones.

Up to a point, I can appreciate his sentiments at a purely emotional level. But I also realize that that’s a purely emotional response which is completely divorced from justice or morality.

For all I know, John Gotti’s widow can’t bear the thought of spending eternity without her beloved husband by her side. But for me to say, on that account, that I won’t worship such a God, and if such a God can send me to hell for not so worshipping him, then to tell I will go, is not a rational or honorable or admirable sentiment. To the contrary, it’s profoundly evil and ungrateful.

Such a thankless, petulant, amoral attitude is, indeed, deserving of hell. I’m tempted to say it’s juvenile, which would be true-–but that tends to trivialize the egregious evil of the sentiment.

Reppert finds Calvinism outrageous, while I find Reppert’s outrage outrageous. It’s reprehensible to say that God is unworthy of your worship in case he punishes evildoers instead of saving them.

“But let's put it this way. Suppose I became convinced that I couldn't deny Calvinism without denying inerrancy, and also that I couldn't reject inerrancy without undermining Christianity. (This is a real hypothetical scenario, but let's go there for a minute). Then I would be left with my intuition that this sort of God was acting wrongly, and what would I do with that? Could my intuitions be in error?”

i) But that generates a dilemma. If your moral intuitions lead you to disbelieve in God, then where does that leave your moral intuitions? In a godless universe, your moral intuitions are the adventitious byproducts of your social conditioning and your evolutionary programming. Mere feelings–feelings which don’t correspond to right and wrong. For a godless world is amoral to the core.

If you begin to question God on the basis of your morality, then you end by questioning your morality in the absence of God. Without God, your moral intuitions are illusory.

ii) I’d also add that I’m not the least bit inclined to answer Reppert’s subversive hypotheticals. Reppert’s whole line of questioning is positively diabolical. He’s reprising the role of the Tempter. But why should I humor Mephistopheles?

“I think I would pose the question as follows. Can Calvinism offer any reason for worshipping their God that is not a dressed-up version of the might-makes-right argument?”

Of course, I’ve answered that question on more than one occasion.

I’d add that I don’t share his voluntaristic view of saving faith. He seems to think we put the evidence for God in one column, and the counterevidence (as he sees it) in another column, then go with whichever column is longer.

But that confuses apologetics with how people come to know something. We don’t believe because of the arguments. Rather, the arguments are just a way of trying to articulate our tacit knowledge of God’s indubitable existence.

Underlying the arguments is our experience of God’s grace and providence. To the regenerate, faith in God is spontaneous and irrepressible. It’s not a light-switch that we flick on or off at will. Rather, it’s sunlight and moonlight–day and night.

“If no, then I'm with Tom Talbott. I won't worship on the basis of mere power alone.”

Actually, unbelievers do worship power. They live for power. Idolize power.

“Is there something better than a might-makes-right argument that can be made on behalf of a Calvinistic God? That would be the question.”

But, as we know, Reppert’s theological antipathies aren’t limited to Calvinism. He’s equally antagonistic to everlasting retribution. He’s equally antagonistic to certain OT commands. He uses Calvinism as a stalking horse to camouflage a far wider range of things in Scripture which offend his precious sensibilities.

And the Bible describes some very unpleasant events–past and future. It also contains some very unpleasant commands.

But that’s because the Bible is realistic. That’s the world we live in. A fallen world which is the theater of redemption is a world with some stark tradeoffs.

There’s a moral austerity to a supralapsarian theodicy. It’s rather angular. A high cost/benefit ratio.

There are possible worlds which lower the cost. But, by the same token, they lower the compensatory benefits. Fewer losses with fewer gains.

That, however, is not the world God chose to make. That’s not the world we inhabit. You and I don’t exist in those nice, safe, equitable, ouchless painless worlds. I exist in this world. My loved ones exist in this world. As such, I’m in no position to complain.

To take one example, suppose I’m the bastard son of an 18C nobleman. I carry a social stigma. My half-brothers shun me as a usurper.

That’s unfair. Unjust. But should I blame God? Well, if my dad hadn’t slept with his courtesan, I wouldn’t even be here. So, like Reppert, I can kick against the goads every step of the way, whining and bitching and bemoaning the injustice of it all. Or else I can thank God for the gift of life and make the most of my God-given opportunities.

“But we are a long way from this situation. I will repeat that the closest I ever came to atheism was when I started reading the Bible Calvinistically at the age of 19.”

For a card-carrying libertarian, Reppert has a fundamentally coercive criterion for love and friendship. For him, it boils down to a quid pro quo. I won’t do something for God unless God does something for me or my loved ones.

That’s why Reppert keeps resorting to emotional coercion. He dares God to damn him unless God behaves according to his specifications.

It’s highly ironic that a doctrinaire libertarian like Reppert regards coercive emotional appeals as the ultimate basis of love and friendship. But there you have it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Libertarian fatalism

It’s often said that certain cultures (e.g. Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist) are backward and stagnant because they are fatalistic, and being fatalistic, the populace is passive in the face of suffering. Since what will be will be, you might as well grin and bear it.

Ironically, libertarians have the functional equivalent of fatalism. Take a statement by Victor Reppert:

“It's easy to see that if people are given a free will, God cannot be systematically insulating the world from its effects without in effect taking that free will away. If a billy-club turns into nerf every time I try to hit someone over the head, or if I start to throw up every time I lust, I am effectively unfree. Welcome to the world of Clockwork Orange.”

Now this has reference to God, but if you take it seriously, then it also has ramifications for social ethics. Logically, we shouldn’t try to make the world a better place, for in so doing we’d be upsetting the libertarian ecosystem. We can do things which improve our personal situation, but to meddle in the affairs of other free agents would tilt the libertarian balance of cause and effect.

Light & darkness

“What makes debate between Calvinists and their opponents so difficult is that it really boils down to a difference of basic hermeneutical principle. What makes Calvinism difficult for many to accept is the fact that they see the Bible pointing in the direction of a hermeneutical center, and that center is love. When the I John 4:8 says God is love, for agapocentrists, this isn't just a statement that God is loving, (except, of course, when he's unconditionally reprobating people), it is rather, that this is an essential characteristic of God that provides the fundamental motivation behind everything.”

i) That’s a good example of Reppert’s perfunctory prooftexting. It’s as if he ran his finger down a concordance and counted the number of times 1 John uses the word “love.”

However, if you actually bother to study the thematic developments in 1 John, he presents a radically polarized outlook. For John, there are two antithetical, inner circles.

On the one hand there is the circle comprising God and Christians. God loves Christians and Christians love God.

On the other hand is the circle comprising the world, the Antichrist, and the devil.

The world loves its own. As a corollary, the world hates God, hates those whom God loves, hates those who love God.

Conversely, John warns Christians not to love the world. If you love the world, you don’t love God. If you love God, you don’t love the world.

So John sees the world in terms of contrasting images: light and darkness, the children of God and the spawn of Satan.

John (in 1 John) defines love in very exclusive and exclusionary terms.

iii) Of course, John also says that Christians were saved from the world. So we have a tension.

The resolution to this tension is found in the Fourth Gospel, where we have a doctrine of election. Those the Father gave to the Son, before the foundation of the world.

iv) Keep in mind, to, that in the Johannine corpus, the love of God does not extend to the devil.

v) I’d add that “love,” while a leading theme in 1 John, is by no means the only leading theme. God is love, but God is truth. Truth, knowing the truth, doing the truth, is a major motif as well.

And that is set in contrast to lies and liars.

iv) This brings us to another Johannine motif which Reppert disregards. Reppert acts as though, to be a loving person means to be indiscriminately loving. But consider this paradigmatic Johannine description:

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (Jn 3:19-20).

To love one kind of thing is to hate what is unlike the kind of thing you love. If you love the light, you hate the darkness; if you love the darkness, you hate the light.

“With respect to the Law, Jesus seems to set love up as the hermeneutical center: love God and your neighbor and in so doing you will fulfill, at least in spirit, the whole of the Law.”

Well, there are different ways of determining what’s “central.” There is, for example, the way the story ends. In a sense, it doesn’t matter how the story begins, or what happens in-between. It’s the destination that counts. That’s what sticks. That’s for keeps.

What are you a sheep–or are a goat? According to Jesus, God treats some men as sheep and other men as goats. The eternal fate of one stands in stark contrast to the eternal fate of the other.

Doesn’t that tell you something about God’s ultimate priorities?

“Paul, with respect to what came to be known as the Three Holy Virtues, faith, hope and love, put love as the greatest.”

i) And here’s something else that Paul said in the very same letter:

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10).

ii) In addition, Reppert defines love as acting in the best interests of a second party. But by that definition, Christians don’t love God. After all, a Christian can’t act in God’s best interests. There’s nothing we can do for God.

“With respect to any question on limits on the scope of love (Who is my neighbor?) Jesus, through the parable of the Good Samaritan, undercut the conception of 'in group' versus 'out group' which, to a regrettable extent, infects all human efforts to love others.”

Well, if Reppert is going to apply this parable to God, then where was God in this story? Was God a good neighbor to the victim? Wasn’t God in a position to prevent the muggers from harming the man in the first place?

Yet as soon as you pose that question, Reppert suddenly shifts grounds. He’ll say something like, “It's easy to see that if people are given a free will, God cannot be systematically insulating the world from its effects without in effect taking that free will away. If a billy-club turns into nerf every time I try to hit someone over the head, or if I start to throw up every time I lust, I am effectively unfree. Welcome to the world of Clockwork Orange.”

But even if, ad arguendo, we accept that rejoinder on its own terms, then where does it leave the parable of the Good Samaritan? Doesn’t that give the priest and the Levite a perfect excuse not to get involved? If they witness a mugging in progress, they can say to themselves, “I dare not intervene, since I’d be insulating the world from the consequences of their God-given liberty. So I’d better cross the street to given the muggers a wide berth. Mustn’t interfere.”

“I had complained against Calvinism that it leaves an unacceptable gap between what God wants us to do and what God himself does. Of course, Steve and Peter have both pointed out that there are plenty of situations in which, depending on who you are, what is right for you to do is different from what it is right for someone else to do. But I was not talking about specific actions, I was talking about the traits of character that God manifests and the God expects humans to manifest.”

Let’s see. God himself executed the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, while he commanded the Israelites to execute the Canaanites. Sometimes he exacts judgment directly, while at other times he delegates that task to humans. Where’s the gap?

“John tells us those who don't love don't know God because that is who God is.”

No, that’s not what John says. John tells us those who don’t love the “brethren” (i.e. fellow Christians) don’t’ know God. The inner circle of love. And that’s set in contrast to those outside the circle–who occupy a different, opposing circle.

“He doesn't say ‘those who aren't wrathful don't know God, because God is wrath’.”

To the contrary, he says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 Jn 2:15-17).

For John, what Christians love has its corollary in what they hate. Love and hate are mutually defining.

“But in agapocentric theology there is a symmetry between the character God commands us to have and God's character.”

And in Johannine theology, there is a symmetry between the character God commands us to have and God's character. Like father, like son.

And that symmetry includes a symmetrical loathing of all that’s opposed to the things of God.

“To me, that leaves us, not with an Omnipotent Fiend perhaps, but certainly with a God with a divided character that seems to me schizophrenic.”

There’s nothing schizophrenic about loving good and hating evil. Those are two sides of the same coin.

“However, the character of God is the same for universalists as for Arminians.”

Yes, they share a common error. And universalism is a more consistent version Arminianism, in one respect–while open theism is a more consistent version of Arminianism, in another respect.

“But doesn't everyone have a hermeneutical center? Doesn't everyone read passages that are harder to understand from the point of view of their hermeneutical center through passages that express that center?”

We shouldn’t superimpose a meaning on a text which cuts against the grain of the text (and context).

“Does agapocentrism make the problem of evil more difficult? There is a sense in which it does. Persons who advance the argument from evil expect God's goodness to involve loving all persons, which agapocentrists agree with. They also have a tendency to equate love for us with a pursuit of our own temporal happiness, which agapocentrists need not accept.”

To detach our temporal experience from our eternal experience isn’t that cut-and-dried.

Take a woman who’s a pious churchgoer. She also has a grown daughter. Her daughter is her life. They talk on the phone several times a day. See each other several times a week. Mom expects her beloved daughter to be a central part of her life until she (Mom) dies of old age.

One day, a man murders her daughter. On that day, not only does the daughter’s life come to an end, but emotionally speaking, the mother’s life also comes to an end. She no longer has anything to live for. She lingers. Blames God. Can’t forgive him for allow that to happen. Becomes bitter and inconsolable.

Can’t stand church. Can’t stand the Bible. Her life is ruined. Irreparable harm.

Now, Reppert may believe in postmortem repentance and restoration. But that’s like breaking someone’s bone so that you can set the broken bone. Put it in a cast. Give the patient painkillers.

Yet even if the bone finally mends, why break someone’s bones in the first place?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Control and governance

According to Billy Birch:

“First, notice that God is said not to control the actions and passions of his creatures (as is explicitly admitted by Calvinists), but that he governs such. The difference is paramount for a faithful, appropriate, and correct understanding of God as revealed throughout the tenor of Scripture.”

But according to his alter ego:

“I was a youth pastor when 9/11 hit. Many of the kids wanted to know how to react to the situation as far as God was concerned. The first thing I let them know was that this did not take God by surprise. He is in control."

Arminian theodicy suffers from multiple-personality disorder.

Making God the copilot of sin

William Watson Birch said...

“I was a youth pastor when 9/11 hit. Many of the kids wanted to know how to react to the situation as far as God was concerned. The first thing I let them know was that this did not take God by surprise. He is in control. The second thing I told them was that God is not in the business of throwing planes into buildings, so don't think of the event in that manner.”

So, according to classical Arminianism, God is in the business of controlling fanatical pilots who crash planes into buildings.

Thankfully, Arminianism doesn’t make God the author of sin. Instead, it makes him the copilot of sin.

And that makes all the difference…I guess.

The blind leading the blind

An apostate has responded to something I posted on Mt 23:2-3:

“This is an interesting theory. If you bring to the text some assumptions about authority and holiness then you are lift with a real puzzle to solve.”

Well, I quoted from John Nolland who, in addition to his own comments, quoted from Mark Allan Powell. Nolland is Anglican, so I don’t think the assumptions he is bringing to the text are necessarily prejudicial to a high-church polity. Likewise, Powell is a Lutheran ecumenist and member of the Catholic Biblical Association. So I doubt that his operating assumptions are especially hostile to a high-church polity.

“The same goes with Matthew 16 where Jesus tells Peter, ‘On this rock I will build My church’ in one moment and in the next story He is saying ‘Get behind me Satan’. What is going on? Jesus does not see a problem. Men can have a legitimate authority from God and still be quite sinful. In fact, sinful men are all God has to choose from so you can be sure all Christian leaders will be sinful.”

One of the problems with this statement is the fact that we do have moral qualifications for church office-holders in the NT:

1 Tim 3:1-7:

1The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Tit 1:6-8:

6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.

Paul was obviously aware of the fact that “sinful men are all God has to choose from,” yet that doesn’t make questions of character or conduct irrelevant to church office.

The fact that all men are sinners doesn’t mean we should hire someone convicted of graft or embezzlement to be the church treasurer.

So even if we’re going to recast the issue in terms of sinful office-holders, which is not the correct way to frame the interpretation in the first place, that hardly means we can brush aside questions of character and conduct with glib platitudes about the universality of sin.

“God solves this problem by establishing an office that transcends the office-holders. Holier men make the office more powerful but ‘blind guides’ cannot ruin the office.”

i) An obvious problem with that solution is that Mt 23:2-3 isn’t describing “office-holders.” “Pharisee” was not an office, like high priest or procurator. Someone who happened to be a Pharisee could also be an office-holder, but that’s incidental to Pharisaic identity. Many or most Pharisees were laymen.

The closest thing you had to a religious office in Judaism was the priesthood, and you didn’t need to be a priest to be a scribe or Pharisee. It was possible to be both, but that was not a job requirement.

ii) Indeed, the Pharisees were opponents of the religious powers-that-be (i.e. the Sadducees).

iii) And even if, for the sake of argument, you said they were office-holders, that doesn’t mean they’re office-holders in the specialized sense that Catholicism ascribes to the episcopate or papacy. The Archbishop of Canterbury is an office-holder, yet Catholics don’t ascribe the same authority to him that they do to Roman Catholic prelates.

Likewise, we still have rabbis and chief rabbis. Yet Catholics don’t regard the chief rabbi as their pope–even though they are religious office-holders as well as heirs to the 1C Pharisees.

“Powell, and Steve, come to this text with the notion that this is an impossible thing for God to do and therefore Jesus must be talking about something else.”

This is something which our apostate pulls out of thin air. I never said it was impossible for God to use sinners in positions of authority. That was not a presupposition of my interpretation.

The problem with the Catholic interpretation is that Jesus describes the scribes and Pharisees “blind guides” (cf. vv16-17,19,24; 15:14).

What that pinpoints is not a lack of character, but a lack of judgment. A “blind guide” is an oxymoron.

The point of hiring a guide if you go on safari is to keep you from getting lost in the jungle. But if the guide were blind, then you’d both be lost. Indeed, Jesus himself explicates the implicit results of the satirical imagery:

Mt 15:14:

Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit."

Moving along:

“So they invent this notion that Jesus must simply be talking about the reading of scripture.”

There’s nothing particularly “inventive” about that notion. Why were the scribes called “scribes”? Because they copied the Scriptures. As a result, they acquired an accurate and detailed command of the text of Scripture. The Pharisees also read the Scriptures in their original language and committed large portions to memory.

In an age when illiteracy was widespread, and access to books was limited, this interpretation is grounded in the concrete circumstances of the audience.

“That makes sense until you go back and look at what Jesus actually said. Verse 3 says, ‘So you must obey them and do everything they tell you’. The word ‘So’ indicates the reason for the obedience is in the preceding clause. What is that reason? The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Jesus could have said they read from the word of God or they read from the scripture. He didn’t say what they read was trustworthy. He said the position they occupy is trustworthy. That is the reason. So Powell flatly contradicts the plain meaning of the text.”

Since “Moses’ seat” is a metaphor, it has no “plain meaning” to contradict. Quoting a metaphor proves nothing. Metaphors are open-textured. So you need to unpack the metaphor. What does it stand for?
“He goes on to say ‘they do not practice what they preach.’ Again this makes no sense if Powell is right. Preaching and reading scripture are different things. Jesus clearly says they are preaching. That is going beyond the words of scripture and explaining what they mean. He could have said they don’t obey the scripture they read. He did not. He said ‘preach’ because he meant preach.”

i) Our apostate is not making a serious effort to envision the real-life situation of the audience. Suppose a Jewish husband is dissatisfied with his wife. He wants to know if the law of Moses permits him to divorce her. So he asks a scribe or Pharisee what, if anything, the law of Moses has to say in reference to his situation. That’s his source of information.

Sure, the scribe or Pharisee will also volunteer his interpretation. Or the husband may even ask them what they think the text means. But that’s a separate issue from knowing what the text says.

ii) And, remember, we need to construe 23:2-3 consistent with what Jesus also says about “blind guides.” You can’t properly gloss the text in isolation to that recurring theme–which occurs in this very discourse. You need a unified interpretation which considers the text in relation to the context.

What would it mean to follow the “authoritative” lead of a blind guide? By definition, a blind guide is misguided. If you follow him, you will both lose your bearings.

iii) To take a really obvious example: if we construe the text the way our apostate did, then the Jewish rank-and-file were justified in denying the messiahship of Jesus since most of the Jewish authority-figures did. If the “interpretive authority” of the scribes and Pharisees, lawyers and Sadducees were truly binding, then it would be an act of godless insubordination for any Jew to credit the claims of Jesus.

iv) Our apostate also overlooks the obvious fact that Pharisees and Sadducees and other schools and rabbis often differed on the correct interpretation of the OT. When authorities disagree, it isn’t even possible to accept their interpretation on authority, since there’s no one interpretation to accept. What you have, rather, are a set of mutually exclusive, but equally “authoritative” interpretations. And that’s the reductio ad absurdum of our apostate’s position. An appeal to authority can’t broker a disagreement if the authorities disagree.

Our apostate might try to trump this by appeal to the pope. But 1C Jews didn’t have a pope.

Responses To The Latest Edition Of John Loftus' Book

J.P. Holding and some of his colleagues at TheologyWeb recently posted a response to the latest edition of John Loftus' book, Why I Became An Atheist (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2008). Holding's responses to previous editions of the book can be found here. On both pages just mentioned, Holding links to other responses to Loftus as well, such as Steve Hays' review of a previous edition of the book.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Reppert Tries Good

In many recent blog exchanges, I've engaged Victor Reppert on the question of Calvinism and the problem of evil. During these exchanges, I have pointed out several times that Reppert never bothers to define what "good" or "evil" is, and I've also pointed out that there's really no purpose in discussing "the problem of evil" if one does not define "evil" in the first place.

I would have thought that this would be sort of obvious, especially for Reppert who is a professional philosopher. Apparently, however, Reppert feels no need to actually define his terms—making it very easy for him to engage in sloppy thinking without even realizing it. After all, part of the reason we define terms is so we can spot ambiguity. If you work with an undefined "evil" then it can morph depending on how you feel, such that an opening paragraph and a closing paragraph in a philosophical argument use completely different meanings of the term "evil" and yet seek to come to a logical conclusion. Not defining the terms is, obviously, poor argumentation.

Since Reppert posted another article about Calvinism and the problem of evil without defining his terms, I pointed out once again that he had not bothered to define his terms. In this case we might give him some leeway since he merely reposted an older blog post; however, given the fact that I have asked for his definition several times, I think such leeway is ultimately unjustified. Since his lack of defining terms has been shown many times, he ought to define his terms before posting another thing on the problem of evil from any perspective.

Reppert decided to respond to my request that he define his terms. He decided to first attack my definition of "good" before attempting what he claims is a definition. Unfortunately, rather than actually interact with my entire argument, presented for instance when I examined the Euthyphro Dilemma or my post on the definition of evil, Reppert decided to use quotes from one comment made on this post.

Sadly, Reppert didn't seem to read his own post, for his first question in response to what I had written was:
At the risk of becoming tiresome, I would have to ask what definition of God we are working with here?
The post I responded to was entitled: "Is there a moral obligation to worship a Calvinistic God? Or any other God for that matter?" Apparently, Reppert didn't think that maybe I was responding to his first question.

But it's actually even worse than that, for in that post in response to my previous comments Reppert had already said:
Of course the divine command theory has the problem of identifying God. The standard philosophical definition of God is a being who is worthy of worship in virtue of being omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good. But if "good" means "commanded by God" and "God" means a being who is, among other things, perfectly good, it looks like you've got vicious circularity here.
I note in passing that this paragraph is basically the entirety of Reppert's current response to me too.

If Reppert had bothered to actually read my arguments that I had linked in my comments before the one Reppert pulled out to respond to now, he would have seen that I already addressed the issue of identifying who God is. In my Euthyphro post, I said:
Now one could argue, as the Moral Philosophy site did, that that means that God could command slavery, genocide, holocausts or any number of such things. However, God could not have done so, for then God would have a different nature then the one He has. A different God could have commanded those things and been morally good in doing so; this God (Who happens to be the real God) cannot do so.
Apparently Reppert thinks that when Christians talk about God, they might mean Moloch or Vishnu.

In any case, the God of the Divine Command Theory is pretty obvious to spot. He's the God who gives the commands. I would have thought that to be self-evident.

Reppert then moves on to the only thing that resembles a definition (and sadly, he does think it is a definition). He writes:
In my view moral obligation is created by the fact that God creates us with an intended purpose which is identical to our good, in that we as humans flourish if we fulfill that purpose.
But this simply fails as a definition of good. This definition would not enable one to examine whether God Himself is good, for good apparently is fulfillment of the purpose for which God created us. Since God did not create Himself, nor did He have a creator, then under such a definition God cannot be good.

Secondly, such a definition of "good" is not equivalent to moral goodness. It is good of me to eat food when I am hungry, but it's hardly righteous of me to do so. If this is what Reppert implies by the moral obligation portion, then this definition remains unsatisfactory, for it is certain that God designed people needing food, yet who would consider eating breakfast to be morally good? If, on the other hand, Reppert only intends to define only what moral obligation is here, then he's got the cart before the horse for he is using the term "good" without defining it once again.

Thirdly, and quite damaging to Reppert, in order for us to use "good" in the above, we would have to know for what purpose God designed us. How would we know what that is…without God's commands? But wouldn't that make Reppert a closet Divine Command Theorist?

Fourth, and most damaging to Reppert, if God designed someone to be a vessel of wrath, then by the above definition Reppert has said such an intended purpose "is identical to our good," in which case there is absolutely no reason at all for Reppert to disagree with double-predestination on the grounds that it's evil. Even by his own (weak) definition above, fulfilling the purpose God intends for us is the definition of good. So when a reprobate fulfills his purpose and burns in hell, that's good by Reppert's above definition.

Note that at this point Reppert will be required to insert a qualifier. That qualifier will be: "No, it must be a good intention." At which point it will be demonstrated that the "fulfilling one's purpose" definition above does NOT define "good" at all because it already presupposes some other definition of good in "fulfilling one's good purpose."

Reppert continues:
Further, God acts in a way that is consistent with the pursuit of that good for all his creatures.
I shudder to think that Reppert seriously is asserting that if God does not act in a way that is beneficial toward man then God is committing evil (see next blockquote too). This is so obviously anti-Christian that I would think it absurd for a professing Christian like Reppert to think that God failing to live up to our goodness is what constitutes evil, rather than us failing to live up to His goodness. But sadly Reppert doesn't give me confidence that he sees this problem, so I mention it here.

Our good is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, evil is what gets in the way of that.
But again, under such a view, good or evil is meaningless of God. At best, Reppert can only use this to try to establish relative good and evil amongst mankind, but he can never examine the problem of evil for none of his "definitions" of good and evil extend to anything that God can do.

Reppert says:
On Calvinist theory there is a large gap between what makes God's character good, and what makes us good, a gap that cannot be explained in terms of a difference in God's wisdom or knowledge.
Well, yes there is a gap because men are sinners and God is not, and therefore what "makes us good" is Christ's righteousness imputed to us and our unrighteousness imputed to Him, which God does not need to be good.

But more specific to our current discussion, God is the standard of goodness; we are not. Yes, that makes a wide gap. But so what?

Reppert continues:
A native may believe that men in white coats bearing long needles are mean to little kids because he lacks knowledge that the men in the white coats possess, but the standard of goodness for natives and for missionary doctors is the same.
That is because both are human. Apparently, Reppert would put God under the Law, which was implemented as a tutor to bring us to Christ, as if God needed to be brought to Christ.

Reppert continues:
Piper seems concerned to respond to the charge that God's interest in his glory makes him selfish, since selfishness is a vice amongst humans.
There's a difference between the one who claims something as his own having not earned it and the one who claims something as his own after having earned it. As a liberal, Reppert will never grasp this. But to help others, the next time Reppert says, "I wrote C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason" I will point out that that's a pretty selfish thing to say. Who cares if Reppert deserves the title of "the author of the book C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason"? It would be selfish to attribute it to him and not also to me.

Reppert said:
If I were to read on someone's tombstone "He pursued his own glory single-mindedly throughout his life" I don't think I would think I was looking at the grave of someone I wish I had known. Glory hogs in basketball don't help the team win.
But once again Reppert reduces God to a mere man. He never considers that the reason God can be selfish for His glory is because God deserves glory for who He is, and because we are not God we do not have the same right to pursue our own glory.

But even worse, this trivializes what God does for us in the pursuit of His glory. He demonstrates greater love than we ever could by sending His Son to die for us while we are yet sinners; He shows mercy, justice, wrath, and love; He sends rain to the just and unjust alike. And Reppert is upset that God would do this for us with His own glorification—the very thing He most deserves—in mind?

Reppert says:
It seems to me that when you say God gives commands based on his nature, it is pretty clear that we don't have obligations to reflect all aspects of God's moral nature in our own conduct.
How could we? It's pretty clear that no matter how much you love someone, you will never die a substitutionary death for them, imputing their unrighteousness to yourself while imputing your righteousness to them, so that you take upon yourself the sins of another so that they might live. Maybe that's why God didn't command it of us, but He did ask it of His Son.

Reppert continued:
We might be rightly wrathful when someone we love is raped, but we aren't supposed to be looking for or artifically creating opportunities for us to exercise our attribute of being wrathful at evil…
Why look for artificial opportunities when natural occurrences abound? Secondly, so what? Again, we have already established that God's nature is not ours and that He can do things that we cannot. Why insist that God must be a man rather than God?

Reppert said:
So while divine commands are supposed to be based on the divine nature, the kind of people we are commanded to be fails to fully reflect the character of God, and there are actions on the part of God which are deemed right which, if parallel actions are performed by humans, they would contravene the commands of God.
But this last clause is true no matter what position you take. God does do things that He has commanded us not to do. And the first clause is only a problem if God has commanded us to fully reflect His character. He has not done so. He has given us the commands which we are to follow, and we do not have any right to add to them. For an easy example, God doesn't command us to take vengeance—He claims that as His own right. Engaging in vengeance surely is an aspect of character, isn't it?

Channeling the dark side

Victor Reppert said...
“It seems that the Calvinistic God comes across a little bit like a hypocritical parent, who says ‘Don't do as I do, do as I say’ and ’That's different’, two responses I think I've managed to avoid using with our kids.”

In reading Victor Reppert, you must make a forcible attempt to remind yourself that he’s supposed to be a philosopher. It’s trivially easy to come up with examples in which what is right for one person may be wrong for another.

i) It’s wrong for an alcoholic to consume booze. That doesn’t mean it’s also wrong for someone who can hold his liquor.

ii) It’s wrong for Typhoid Mary to attend a baseball game. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong for you and me attend a baseball game.

iii) It’s wrong for a two-year-old to handle a loaded pistol. That doesn’t make it wrong for a policeman or soldier to handle a loaded pistol.

“In my view moral obligation is created by the fact that God creates us with an intended purpose which is identical to our good, and is acts in a way that is consistent with the pursuit of that good for all his creatures.”

So when the rattlesnake eats the groundhog, that’s good for the groundho? When the shark eats the seal, that’s good for the seal?

Somehow I doubt the seal and the groundhog would share Reppert’s Panglossian outlook. Admittedly, they can’t be reached for comment–inside the tummy of the shark and the rattlesnake.

“On Calvinist theory there is a large gap between what makes God's character good, and what makes us good, a gap that cannot be explained in terms of a difference in God's wisdom or knowledge.”

Well, what do you expect? To take one obvious example, humans reproduce sexually. This creates a whole network of natural social obligations, between husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, as well as unrelated age-mates, &c.

As such, there are both analogies and disanalogies between divine and human goodness.

“A native may believe that men in white coats bearing long needles are mean to little kids because he lacks knowledge that the men in the white coats possess, but the standard of goodness for natives and for missionary doctors is the same. Both the native and the doctor want the child to be well, and for the child not to suffer, but they have different ideas as to how to go about it.”

Note the incorrigible irony: Reppert is trying to define goodness, yet he invariably defines goodness in amoral terms. For Reppert, the difference between guilt and innocence never figures in his definition of goodness.

Of course, that’s the way I’d expect the Old Horny to define goodness. To define it amorally, so as to avoid incriminating distinctions between good and evil.

So often, Reppert seems to be channeling the dark side. Listening to Reppert is like overhearing the speech a certain archangel must have given to his comrades to make recruits for his “cause.”

“Piper seems concerned to respond to the charge that God's interest in his glory makes him selfish, since selfishness is a vice amongst humans. If I were to read on someone's tombstone ‘He pursued his own glory single-mindedly throughout his life’ I don't think I would think I was looking at the grave of someone I wish I had known. Glory hogs in basketball don't help the team win.”

i) God is the benefactor, not the beneficiary. God has nothing to gain. It’s for the good of the elect.

ii) God is the summum bonum. The infinite good from which all finite goods derive. Our human self-fulfillment relies on the various ways in which God communicates his goodness to human beings. That’s the opposite of selfishness.

Reppert is a study in spiteful, hellish ingratitude.

“It seems to me that when you say God gives commands based on his nature, it is pretty clear that we don't have obligations to reflect all aspects of God's moral nature in our own conduct. We might be rightly wrathful when someone we love is raped, but we aren't supposed to be looking for or artifically creating opportunities for us to exercise our attribute of being wrathful at evil, (maybe by creating androids who commit crimes so that we can punish them for those crimes)…”

As a general proposition, human beings constantly look for or create artificial opportunities to exercise their attributes, viz., art, literature, music, sports.

So Reppert needs to explain which it’s wrong to “artificially” manifest some attributes, but not others.

Remember, Reppert is the one who’s accentuating the commonalities between God and man.

“As if there was some aspect of us that is going to go unfulfilled if we are fortunate enough never to be in a position where that sort of wrath is called for.”

Once again, this is a spiteful caricature of the Reformed position. The question is not whether God is unfulfilled, but whether creatures are unfulfilled unless they exemplify the exemplar.

That, of course, doesn’t mean every creature is entitled to achieve self-fulfillment. If, for example, a suicide-bomber kills a pizzeria full of Jewish teenagers to get his 70 virgins in Paradise, it’s a fit punishment if, in fact, his eternal destiny deprives him of the very thing he sought through murderous means.

“So while divine commands are supposed to be based on the divine nature, the kind of people we are commanded to be fails to fully reflect the character of God, and there are actions on the part of God which are deemed right which, if parallel actions are performed by humans, they would contravene the commands of God.”

Reppert doesn’t state what he’s referring to. For example, God sometimes visits direct judgment on the wicked (e.g. raining fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah), but sometimes he delegates the judicial action to second parties (commanding the Israelites to execute the Canaanites).

Sanctimonious bobbleheads

I see that Reppert is being intellectually frivolous, as usual:

This behavior, which is only too characteristic of Reppert, undercuts the faux moral tone of his objections to Calvinism. You can’t affect the moral high ground in a critique of Calvinism, then fall back on frivolous reasoning in your actual critique.

See what I mean:

“I am redating a post from 2005 which took place, if course, before my exchanges with Calvinists. I am aware of the fact that some Calvinists, notably Sudduth, dissasociate not only themselves from what I am calling Ockhamism here, but also dissassociate Calvin from Ockhamism.”

That’s a promising start. Yes, Reformed scholars like Sudduth and Helm have pointed out, with suitable documentation, that Calvin was not a voluntarist.

Unfortunately, that’s the high point of Reppert’s post. It’s all downhill from there:

“Now if ‘good’ means ‘in accordance with God's will,’ then there is simply no possibility that God actions can possibly be wrong. If we are prepared to set aside the concept of goodness that we are inclined to apply to human beings and admit that ‘good’ means be definition ‘whatever God wills,’ there simply can be no problem of evil.”

i) Now, Reppert himself opened his post by noting that Calvin was not a voluntarist–according to Suddth. And Reppert offers no evidence to the contrary.

Yet having begun his post by drawing attention to that fact, Reppert immediately abandons a point which he himself made, substitutes a quote from Gordon Clark, and then proceeds to attack Calvinism on those grounds–as if Clark’s position is representative of Calvinism in general.

ii) Likewise, defining “good” by reference to God’s will is also ambiguous. That bald statement could be true or false depending on what qualifications, if any, you add. As a rule, Reformed theologians don’t treat the will of God as sheer will, in isolation to God’s other attributes.

iii) If that weren’t bad enough, Reppert, in a further descent into intellectual chicanery, acts as though Clark’s theodicy is the only possible explanation which a Calvinist can give for the problem of evil. This is despite the fact, as he very well knows, that Calvinists like Peter Pike, Paul Manata, Dominic Tennant, and myself have, for months on end, been interacting with him on this very issue, and have, for months on end, presented him with a far more multifaceted position.

Reppert is just a taudry little scoundrel. He occasionally goes through the motions of honest debate, but it isn’t very long before he reverts to his cheap, malicious, mendacious stereotypes.

“Earlier I put together a couple of posts on why Calvinists can't solve the problem of evil. That is true. But they can dissolve it. This is, I think the only possible option the Calvinist has in responding to the objection from evil.”

Really? That’s the only possible option? After all the months and even years that I and others have been interacting with Reppert on this issue, he presumes to say, with a straight face, that this is the only possible option? The degree of dissimulation would be remarkable if it weren’t so typical.

“The fact is that for the Calvinist, for all eternity, the world could have been better than it was, is, and always will be, at least by any understading of goodness that humans can make any sense of.”

In other words, Calvinists are subhuman. After all, a Reformed theodicy makes sense to Calvinists. But since, according to Reppert, it’s at odds with “any” understanding of “goodness” that “humans” can make sense of,” then Reppert must regard Calvinists as subhuman.

That’s very funny coming from a bleeding-heart liberal like Reppert, who makes soothing noises about universal love. But when the turf meets the surf, Reppert only loves those who think like he does. Everyone else is subhuman.

I guess he missed his calling as a prison guard at Treblinka.

Wolfram & Hart, Attorneys at Law

Reppert’s latest salvo:

“On the Calvinistic view, God is in a position such that he can bring it about that no one needs to be reprobated. God can do that by decreeing that they not sin or by decreeing that they receive redemption.”

True. And what about Reppert’s alternative? He’s a libertarian. But he’s also indicated that universalism is a viable option.

But if, according to Reppert, it’s possible for God to save everyone without infringing on their libertarian freewill, then it’s presumably possible for God to eliminate many of the horrendous evils which some of us experience in this world without infringing on our libertarian freewill.

“I didn't really intend for my claim to rest on the fine points of Kantian ethical theory. The Second Formulation has an intuitive appeal, why? The idea of someone being simply exploited is obnoxious to us.”

Now he’s introduced the loaded word “exploitation” into the debate. Whether or not that’s intuitively obnoxious depends on how he defines and illustrates his terms.

“I thought I provided a common-sense account of what it is for someone to be treated as a mere means. If another person's interests are completely set aside so that one's own goals can be accomplished, this is using a person as a mere means. Slavery and seduction would be paradigm cases of using persons as a means.”

i) But seduction is a form of consensual behavior. Both parties get something out of that transaction. It’s in their perceived mutual self-interest.

Moreover, many human beings don’t find the concept of seduction to be intuitively obnoxious. For them, as long as sex is consensual, it’s permissible.

So it’s hard to see how this paradigm-case even begins to illustrate Reppert’s contention.

ii) As to “slavery,” that, again, depends on what we mean. For example, every few years we read about a high-profile investor (or investment firm) who ripped off his clients.

Supposed the crooked investor were put on a work farm to make financial restitution to the clients he defrauded. That would be a form of forced labor. I assume that would meet Reppert’s definition of “slavery.”

Is the notion that a crooked investor should be forced to repay his clients “intuitively obnoxious”?

“Here interests need not be given any especially hedonistic definition. I take it that Calvinists agree that the interests of a created person are served when that person can ‘glorify God and enjoy him forever.’ Whether using violence to their will or not, the Calvinistic God guarantees that reprobates act in such a way that they spoil their chance at permanent happiness, and exist in irretrievable misery. No interest of these persons is taken seriously, these are all completely frustrated in the interests of fulfilling God's purpose either for himself (glory) or for the blessed (object lessons showing them he graciousness of their salvation). In ordinary contexts this would be a paradigmatic case of exploitation.”

i) If Reppert defines “exploitation” to denote using a person as a mere means, then that example fails to meet his criteria:

The Westminster Confession says the “chief end of man is to glorify and to enjoy him forever.”

Notice the key qualifiers.

i) That’s the chief end of man, not the only end of man.

ii) The chief end of man is subdivided into two different ends: (a) to glorify God; (a) to enjoy God.

The reprobate glorify God. Therefore, they achieve one of their chief ends.

In that case, it’s simply false to say that God uses them as a mere means rather than an end.

iii) And even if they failed to achieve their primary end, that wouldn’t obviate secondary ends.

iv) Moreover, the Confession says “man,” not “men.” It’s not speaking of individuals qua individuals, but individuals qua representatives. The human race. A collective. A corporate entity.

And at the corporate level, it isn’t necessary for every individual to achieve the end in order for the collective achieve the end.

Therefore, this part of Reppert’s argument is a complete failure.

“I think Kant would say that if a reprobate person were to see the true nature of his actions, he would not do them. He can only act in a reprobate way by being irrational.”

That goes to an old issue. Is sin the result of ignorance? The sinner didn’t know any better?

Or is it possible to sin in conscious defiance of what is good and true? In aggravated cases, to sin for the sake of evil, where defiance of the good becomes an end in itself?

If Reppert thinks that all sin is ultimately due to ignorance, then he needs to argue that point, not take it for granted.

“The fact that God can, without violence to their will, bring it about that people act irrationally and undermine their own best interests does not mean that they are not being exploited, any more than someone who plays on the irrational greed of someone in order to bilk them out of their money is exploiting them, even though they are not committing violence to their will.”

i) What does he mean to “undermine their own best interests”? Is he still defining his terms according to the Westminster Confession? If so, then I’ve responded to that argument.

ii) If, on the other hand, he means that God isn’t doing all he can to benefit the individual, and if he regards that as a problem for Calvinism, then that objection is hardly limited to Calvinism. Even on Reppert’s view, the world is chock-full of preventable evils. In the world we see around us, it’s far from clear that God is doing all he can to benefit each individual.

“Is it right to sacrifice the interests of a rational creature for the accomplishment of one's own goals?”

i) Reppert is surely aware of the distinction between prima facie duties and actual duties. What is permissible or obligatory, all things being equal, and what is permissible or obligatory, all things considered.

For example, I think it’s intuitively obvious that an individual can, through certain forms of culpable conduct, forfeit some of the rights and immunities to which he’d ordinarily be entitled.

Suppose we are engaged in a just war. We are defending ourselves against an unprovoked attack.

Suppose we discover a spy in our midst. He’s feeding classified intel to the enemy. Since he doesn’t know that we’ve fingered him as the source of the leak, we take advantage of the situation. We feed him disinformation. We send him on a suicide mission. We “exploit” him to achieve our strategic objective.

Perhaps Reppert would say we’re using him as a mere means to further our interests at the expense of his interests. So what? Under the circumstances, that type of manipulation doesn’t strike me as being “intuitively obnoxious.”

“Is it right to raise rational creatures as food? For the purpose of doing slave labor?”

Is it right to sentence a crooked investor to “slave labor” to reimburse his clients?

“If we could create conscious androids with the kind of rich inner life as we have, would we be justified in treating them the worst plantation owners treated Negro slaves? After all we created them, so we can use the ‘potter argument’ from Romans 9 to justify doing whatever the hell we want with them?”

Of course, in Rom 9, God is dealing with sinful clay.

What’s incongruous about Reppert is that he’s raising moralistic objections to Calvinism, yet, in so doing, Reppert exercises absolutely no moral discrimination. He acts as if guilt and innocence are morally inconsequential. So Reppert’s moralistic critique of Calvinism is fundamentally amoral.

“Well, here is where the real conflict lies. Does God's glory justify all of this, or the benefit of the blessed. My first question has to be "What glory does God get, and what benefit to the blessed get?" I don't see any.”

I, for one, have answered that question in some detail–on more than one occasion.

“But if you can accept a ‘divine glory’ theory of the good, and then be persuaded that reprobation maximizes that good, then you can get around my argument.”

Been there, done that.

“It is one thing to make the case that a position is itself morally repugnant. It is another thing to hold that a position has logical entailments not recognized by adherents of the position lead to morally repugnant conclusions. You have suspected that I have open theist leanings, and I do. Bill Hasker is both one of the founding fathers of the AFR, and the chief philosophical defender of open theism.”

But isn’t there a tension between Reppert’s sympathies for open theism and his sympathies for universalism? If open theism is true, then how can God ensure the salvation of everyone? He can’t foresee that outcome. And he can’t enact that outcome.

“Bill Craig thinks middle knowledge is the way out. They don't think they have to justify unconditional reprobation.”

i) I don’t know what Reppert means by “unconditional reprobation.” Calvinism doesn’t teach unconditional reprobation. Calvinism teaches unconditional election. But election and reprobation are, in some respects, asymmetrical.

Demerit is a necessary, albeit insufficient, condition of reprobation.

ii) As I recall, Craig has admitted that, according to Molinism, there are some people who will be damned in this world who’d be saved in another world. Yet God chose to instantiate this world, where they will be damned–rather than another world, where they will be saved.

So God isn’t acting in their best interests.

“The fact that many people, even conservative Christians, are willing to take the step of going to open theism instead of to Calvinism when they become persuaded that reconciliations of foreknowledge and freedom don't work is ample evidence that there is something repugnant, at least to them, about Calvinism.”

I’m sure that if you were to poll the residents of Pandemonium, they’d also express their disapproval at the ways of God.

“There is nothing in the character of sinners that merits salvation for them. However, the character of God is such that He will save anyone who can possibly be saved.”

Which begs the question.

“And is a redeemed world better than an unfallen world? Do you have a model of each in a petri dish so we can compare? In C. S. Lewis's Perelandra the Un-man uses the Fortunate Fall argument to try to seduce the Green Lady of Venus to fall. I don't see why failure to fall should have cost the world the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.”

Doesn’t that pose a dilemma for Reppert? We inhabit a fallen world. A world in which the Son of God became incarnate to redeem sinners.

i) If Reppert doesn’t like the sticker price of redemption, then isn’t that an objection to Christianity in general rather than Calvinism in particular? If the benefits don’t outweigh the costs, then isn’t Reppert agreeing with the argument from evil? Agreeing with the atheist that the problem of evil disproves or undermines the existence of a God?

ii) And what about the price tag. I believe that Reppert has a daughter. In an unfallen world, his daughter wouldn’t exist. As his pal, Bob Adams has pointed out, an unfallen world would have a different set of inhabitants than a fallen world.

Does Reppert think the best possible world is a world where his daughter was never born? How much is his daughter worth to him? Is he prepared to throw her over the back of the sled for a better world–as he defines it?

iii) Moreover, for someone who’s so enamored with the outlook of C. S. Lewis, what about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where Edmund is redeemed by Aslan (through blood sacrifice, no less!) after he betrays his siblings?

Doesn’t Edmund’s experience of redemption reflect a distinctive good? A good unobtainable apart from betrayal and redemption?

“The total frustration of all their interests for the sake of the ends of others strikes me as treating them as mere means.”

i) If he’s still defining “all their interests” in terms of the Westminster Confession, then that doesn’t follow (see above).

ii) If, on the other hand, he’s speaking more generally, viz., his objection to everlasting punishment, then that’s hardly limited to Calvinism.

“It's easy to see that if people are given a free will, God cannot be systematically insulating the world from its effects without in effect taking that free will away. If a billy-club turns into nerf every time I try to hit someone over the head, or if I start to throw up every time I lust, I am effectively unfree. Welcome to the world of Clockwork Orange.”

Well, to paraphrase Reppert, is a libertarian world better than a sinless world? Do you have a model of each in a petri dish so we can compare? I don't see how the putative value of libertarian freedom outweighs the horrendous expense.

“I hope I have come a tad closer to giving you a sense of what makes Calvinism seem morally outrageous to many people, including Christians.”

Frankly, it reads like a legal brief prepared by Wolfram & Hart, Attorneys at Law.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The rotten fruit fell close to the Birch tree

Billy Birch has also weighed in:

Before I address what passes for the substance of his post, I find it instructive to compare Billy’s stated standards of Christian discourse with his actual performance:

“One may conclude that a professing Christian is truly born again when the fruit of the Spirit is manifested in his or her life. Paul writes: ‘But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!’ (Gal. 5:22 NLT). And while the Triabloguers believe that they have scriptural warrant for treating other professing believers with whom they disagree with invective, the Bible teaches otherwise. Paul writes: ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:29-30 TNIV). So much for Triablogue's invective theory. Paul continues: ‘Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you’ (Eph. 4:31-32 TNIV).

“Though we do not take the authors of Triablogue seriously, we certainly think it wise now and again to give an answer to the farcical writings found on that site. Many times the arguments against Arminianism are so laughable that they do not warrant a response whatsoever: people are capable of determining for themselves their daffy altercations of Classical Arminianism. Still, there are times that their droll, clownish, and comical anticts warrant correction ~ their latest prattle included.”

Moving along:

“Let us focus for the moment on a recent post by Steve Hays at Triablogue. In his opinion, ‘All the various religions and philosophies past and present are variants on three basic worldviews: Calvinism, atheism, and Manichaeism.’ How did Hays compose the ‘three basic worldviews’? Well, they came from his imagination. Since, however, Calvinism proper can only be traced back to John Calvin (1509-1564), then Calvinism could not have been one of the ‘three basic worldviews’ upon which ‘all the various religions and philosophies past and present’ are variants. That would then leave us with Atheism and Manichaeanism. He must not have thought this one through. Manichaeanism was not taught systematically until the third century AD. That would, then, according to Hays' ‘scholarly’ estimation, leave us with Atheism as the basic worldview upon which all the various religions and philosophies past and present are variants. But what of the four thousand years prior to the advent of Christ? How is it that Hays, as a careful ‘scholar,’ neglected so many other worldviews upon which all other religions are variants? It is no wonder why so many find it difficult to take Triablogue seriously.”

What is difficult to take seriously is Birch’s breathless ineptitude. Ideas don’t have to be historically traceable to other ideas to be variants thereof. They only have to be similar to one another in some important respect. Birch isn’t doing himself any favors when he advertises his lack of intellectual competence by raising such muddle-headed objections.

“Moreover, his equating Manichaeanism with Arminianism only serves to divulge his incomprehension of Classical Arminian theology. Nothing ruins one's credibility quicker than the inadequacy to expound one's theological opponent accurately.”

Actually, nothing ruins one’s credibility quicker than the inability to recognize a reductio ad absurdum.

“First, notice that God is said not to control the actions and passions of his creatures (as is explicitly admitted by Calvinists), but that he governs such. The difference is paramount for a faithful, appropriate, and correct understanding of God as revealed throughout the tenor of Scripture.”

Needless to say, that’s a distinction without a difference. Governance is an exercise in control. If something is uncontrollable, then it’s ungovernable. If the “actions and passions” of God’s creatures fall outside his control, then they cannot be governed.

“It is not as though God does all of the good stuff, while the devil (equal in power) does all the bad stuff per se. Arminians have historically never believed that Satan was in any way equal with God, such as a Manichaean worldview would demand.”

i) Once again, learn what a reductio ad absurdum means.

ii) In addition, Arminians charge Calvinism with making God the “author of evil.” Arminians can only exempt themselves from the same charge by treating evil as a surd event. An Arminian theodicy, especially when directed at a Reformed theodicy, banks in the direction of a Manichaean or Zoroastrian dualism. Otherwise, they lose the salient point of contrast between Calvinism and Arminianism.

As a result, Arminianism, like any intellectual compromise, is unstable and incoherent. It all depends on which opposing side of Arminianism you’re quoting.

“Above, note that Arminius grants that God permits some things to happen. Calvin would have nothing to with God permitting anything…”

That’s demonstrably false. All the more inexcusable coming from someone with affectations of becoming a church historian.

“To suggest that God has predetermined merely by decree what a person should say, or how a person should act, by bringing those words and actions to pass by his irresistible compulsion, and at the same time maintain that the person in question said words and performed actions freely is to admit insanity.”

Birch lacks a rudimentary grasp of rudimentary concepts. “Compulsion” involves the notion of resistance. And individual is acting under duress, against his will. There is nothing in Reformed predestination or providence which has that effect.

Either Birch is too simple-minded to grasp elementary distinctions or else he’s too demagogical to accurately represent the opposing view.

“Blinded by their lust of Calvinism, they cannot even represent their theological opponent's views adequately.”

Can’t say I ever entertained lustful thoughts of Calvinism.

“I wonder if Augustine had never been born if we would even be debating Calvinists today.”

If Augustine had never been born, we wouldn’t be debating Arminianism today, either.

Freakasaurus, One Million Years B.C.

According to JC Freak, “I have this ‘blog’ more as a dump of all the crazy ideas that are often running in my head.”

To judge by his response to me, I’d say he’s making signal progress in achieving his goal.

To sample the intellectual quality of his analysis, here’s some of what he has to say by way of rebuttal: “…so absolutely ridiculous…comical…Wow. Just wow…Seriously…so ridiculous…just so ridiculous…I mean, really? Really?… sophistic…”

As you can see, JC Freak’s reply reads like a parody of a surfer dude on weed.

“This is also odd, since there is absolutely no historical link from Manichaeism to Armnianism, yet the historical link from Manichaeism to Calvinism is well documented. Calvinism is derived primarily from Augustinianism. Augustine was the one who first introduced deterministic ideas into the church. It is also important to note that Augustine was a Manichean before he was a Christian, and only turned back to more deterministic ways of thinking during his dealings with the heretic Pelagius.1”

i) Since my argument was based on logical connections rather than historical connections, there doesn’t need to be a historical link. Nothing odd about it.

Thinkers can arrive independently at similar ideas. There are only so many basic ways to think about the world.

ii) But JC Freak is using this as a pretext to engage in guilt-by-association. Yet one of the problems with the genetic fallacy is that it cuts both ways.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, we say that Calvinism has “historical links” to Manichaeism via Augustine. And suppose, for the sake of argument, we say that discredits Calvinism.

But, by the same token, Arminianism also has “historical links” to Calvinism. Indeed, the linkage could hardly be more direct. After all, Arminius began his career as a Dutch-Reformed theology prof.

And, of course, if we accept the historical linkage between Calvinism and Manichaeism, then Arminianism is just another link in the chain.

So what did JC Freak accomplish by this comparison except to discredit his own position by parity of argument?

“Now, Steve Hays's actual argument is because Arminians hold that there exist events and ends in the world which do not have their origin in God that there must therefore exist an equally powerful opposing force to God.”

No. What I said is that Arminians act as though the creation of our world was a division of labor–between a good God and an evil God. They try to erect an impenetrable firewall between God and evil, as if God has nothing to do with evil events, but only with good events.

That involves a very compartmentalized view of reality, with two ultimate, independent, opposing principles.

Psst! Triablogue's nefarious plot to take over the world!

“To argue as does the author that James Arminius in particular and contemporary Arminianism in general are essentially Manichean is too historically ignorant for words.”

Where, in my post, did I argue that Arminianism is historically indebted to Manichaeanism? I didn’t.

Rather, I compared some different groups which think alike in some basic ways. Which share a similar outlook.

The difference is the Manicheans and Zoroastrians are more consistent. They take their faulty assumptions to a logical conclusion.

There’s a name for this type of analysis: reductio ad absurdum. Is Lumpkins so philosophically naïve that he can’t recognize that type of analysis?

Of course, people with a faulty belief-system often get hot under the collar when you take their position to a logical extreme, or point out that their position is a just a variant of an even more radical and consistently misguided position. It’s no fun to have your errors exposed to the harsh light of day.

If, however, they resent the comparison, then they should make the necessary adjustments in their belief-system to avoid the comparison.

“My advice, however, is to forfeit the idea of finding good solid teaching on the internet. ”

Since Lumpkins is, himself, a blogger, that’s an oddly self-incriminating statement. By his own admission, you can’t find good solid teaching at the weblog of Peter Lumpkins.

Well, let me be the first to congratulate Lumpkins for volunteering that candid confession. But having disqualified himself, when is he going to exit the blogosphere?

“Know the only reason I'm concerning myself with Triablogue is its profound influence among many Founders Calvinists.”

Well, we tried to keep it under wraps for as long as we could, but Lumpkins has now blown our cover. If you must know, Albert Mohler, Roger Nicole, Tom Ascol, Tom Nettles, Mark Dever, et al. used to be dyed-in-the-wool Arminians until they began to read Triablogue, and the scales fell from their eyes.

In fact, I can’t tell you how many bottles of Madeira I downed with Roger Nicole before I was able to talk him out of his lifelong infatuation with Charles Finney.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Giving the devil his due

There’s a strange omission in the way Arminians attack Calvinism. Take a typical specimen from John Wesley:

“Such blasphemy this, as one would think might make the ears of a Christian to tingle! But there is yet more behind; for just as it honours the Son, so doth this doctrine honour the Father. It destroys all his attributes at once: It overturns both his justice, mercy, and truth; yea, it represents the most holy God as worse than the devil, as both more false, more cruel, and more unjust…No scripture can mean that God is not love, or that his mercy is not over all his works; that is, whatever it prove beside, no scripture can prove predestination.”

Is there anything missing from this picture? I’d say so.

It overlooks a very large and conspicuous counterexample. For there’s a whole class of sinners whom Wesley ignores: the fallen angels.

If you think limited atonement is too tight, try no atonement on for size. How does that fit?

The Son of God became a man to redeem men. He did not, however, become an angel to redeem angels.

Even if you subscribe to unlimited atonement, that’s only for the sons of Adam. There’s no provision for fallen angels. No sufficient grace. No opportunity to repent and be forgiven.

If doctrines like reprobation and limited atonement are incompatible with God’s love and justice, then why the double standard where angels are concerned?

The neo-Manicheans

All the various religions and philosophies past and present are variants on three basic worldviews: Calvinism, atheism, and Manichaeism.

For example, freewill theism in its various forms (e.g. Arminianism, open theism) is a variant on the Zoroastrian or Manichean outlook on life. Representatives of this viewpoint include Zoroaster, Mani, Arminius, Wesley, Roger Olsen, Clark Pinnock, and Gregory Boyd–to name a few.

The theology of the Arminian, Manichaean or Zoroastrian is essentially and radically dualistic. He may claim to be a monotheist, but he’s really a bitheist or ditheist. In his theology, “God” is a code word for the good God (Zurvan/Ahura Mazda) while “Satan” is a code word for the evil God (Ahriman/Angra Mainyu).

The Arminian, Manichaean, or Zoroastrian must oh-so gingerly pick his through the minefield of life, assigning the good things to Zurvan’s creative hand and the bad things to Ahriman’s creative hand. All the good things were made by Zurvan while all the bad things were made by Ahriman.

He tiptoes through the world, in a chronic state of tension, for he never knows–from one moment to the next–what lies around the corner. Which part of the world will he bump into? The part made by Zurvan, or the part made by Ahriman? In his theology, it’s all-important to distinguish the two and put each one in airtight compartments. The neo-Manichean oscillates between blessing and cursing his lot in life.

By contrast, the Calvinist accepts everything from God’s hand with thanksgiving and gratitude. For the Calvinist only believes in one God. He accepts the totality of God’s handiwork and overruling providence. The tragedy with the comedy. For you can’t have the comic upturn without the tragic downturn.

For a Calvinist, every experience that God sends our way is a way to experience the goodness of God. A way to discover the wisdom of God. The greatness of God. We need to learn how to find the value each experience that God has given us. For what makes our own life good and meaningful comes from sharing in his goodness.

Of course, this doesn’t come naturally or easily. A Calvinist doesn’t like pain and suffering anymore than the next man. But we live by faith, trusting in the wisdom and goodness of God. For God brings good out of evil, and he decreed the fall for that very purpose.

You can go through life, like the Arminian, Manichean, and Zoroastrian, kicking and screaming and biting and scratching every step of the way. Curse the darkness. Rage, rage against the dying light.

Or, like the Calvinist, you can put your faith in God and then begin to seek the hidden, deeper wisdom of his designs. It’s not that everything is good in itself. Some things are evil, taken in isolation. But they exist for good reason.

Life in a fallen world is often harsh. Full of loss and longing. Yet you, and all your loved ones, are fallen creatures, too. Were it not for a fallen world, none of your loved ones would even exist. Be in your life, for long or short.

And life in a fallen world is a place in which some of us are also favored to learn what it feels like to be redeemed. Delivered. Forgiven.

And then there’s atheism. The atheist, like the Manichean, and his modern counterparts, sees no good in evil. No overarching purpose.

The Arminian wants the good without the bad, while the atheist–by disowning God–loses the good. All that’s left is irredeemable evil.

An Arminian hangs onto his tenuous faith by remaining sufficiently plastered to avoid lucid thoughts about God, good, and evil. An Arminian is a boozy atheist, while an atheist is a sober Arminian.

By contrast, the Calvinist doesn’t live in a state of acute anxiety and chronic recrimination.

A father gives his five-year-old son a pet dog. Over the years, the son will grow to love the dog. The dog will never betray him. The dog is always happy to greet him and be with him. Overjoyed to share his company. The dog will be with him throughout his childhood and adolescence.

Yet, when the father gives his young son a dog, he knows the day will come when his grown son must say good-bye. Must bury the dog.

The lifespan of a dog is brief compared to the lifespan of a man. The boy will outlive the dog. And then he will be full of sorrow. He will miss the dog. The pain of separation. Emptiness.

Was it cruel to give his son a dog–foreknowing the outcome? Knowing full well that his son would become very attached to the dog–only to watch it age and die, or even put it to sleep? Should the son blame his dad? Hate his dad?

Or should he cherish the greater good in having a dog–if only for a time? That it’s better to have happiness with sadness than not to have the happiness without the sadness?

How To Use A Book

Tim Challies recently put up a post about the use of books (reading them, taking notes, etc.). It includes an often-repeated quote from Mortimer Adler, in which Adler recommends writing in your books, among other things. If anybody is interested, I posted a response in that thread explaining why I disagree with some of Adler's advice.

A lot could be said about this subject and others related to it, but I would add the following to the points I made in the thread at People can figure these things out on their own, and most readers probably have already implemented some or all of these suggestions or have better ideas than mine. But I thought I'd post these suggestions for the possible benefit of some readers, especially those who are young or new to Christianity:

- Use a piece of paper as a bookmark for any book you read, even if you don't think it's one that's likely to give you anything worth noting. There may be something in the book you didn't anticipate, and it's good to be persistent in keeping paper with you when you're reading. That makes it less likely that you'll be unprepared when you need to take notes.

- As early in life as possible, spend some time reading a large variety of online forums, or consulting some similar source, to gather information about what you should be looking for when you read. Follow some forums in which there are discussions with and/or about atheists, Mormons, Roman Catholics, Muslims, etc. Notice what issues are involved. If you spend a lot of time doing that sort of research, then you'll be better at discerning what to look for in books, what notes to take, etc. For example, it's good to know, prior to starting down the course of reading the writings of the church fathers, that some people deny that Jesus existed, deny that He died on the cross, deny that Paul wrote Ephesians, believe that Mary was sinless, etc. If you don't know about the controversies surrounding such issues as you read the fathers, then you probably won't take much notice of what the fathers say relevant to those subjects and won't write any notes about what they say. If you later want information on those subjects, you probably won't remember where you read about them in the fathers. I would advise those who are newer to Christianity to deliberately put off some types of reading until they're more familiar with the general outlines of what to look for in the books they're reading and how to take notes.

- We can't take extensive notes on every conceivable subject when we read books. We have to draw a line somewhere. Each individual has to have his own hierarchy of priorities, depending on his experience, interests, what he expects to be doing in the future, etc. Somebody who's a former Mormon and is involved in ministry to Mormons, for example, is going to be more interested than the average person in taking notes on subjects related to Mormonism when he reads a book. But even if you've never been a Mormon, have never met one, and have little interest in becoming involved in ministry to Mormons, there may be enough of a chance that you'll want information on the subject in the future to warrant taking some notes. To an extent, it's better to take too many notes than too few. You don't know how your interests will change once you meet a particular person in the future, read a particular book, etc. If X subjects in a book seem interesting to you at the moment, you probably should be taking notes on at least X + 1.

- What you remember five seconds after reading a passage usually isn't going to be what you remember five years after reading it. Even though it takes more time and effort initially, make your notes detailed enough so that they're sufficiently useful in the future. For instance, if you come across a helpful passage in a book concerning the physicality of Jesus' resurrection, don't just write "resurrection" in your notes. Write "physical nature of Jesus' resurrection" or something like that. It will save you time and effort over the long run, even though in the short term it takes more time and effort to write out a longer note.

- If you're involved much in online work (corresponding with people through email, online apologetics, etc.), you may want to organize some of your notes, or quotes from the books you read, in the form of computer files. For example, have a file titled "Resurrection" or "Papacy" containing relevant notes and/or quotations from books.

- Get a good bookstand (a stand that will hold a book up for you, has clips to keep the pages open, etc.). It's useful for typing out quotes on a computer, for example. You can get some good bookstands at

If anybody else has recommendations on these topics or related ones, you can post them in the comments section of this thread.