Saturday, September 26, 2009

When everyday is April Fool's Day

Victor Reppert entitled a recent post of his “A redated April Fool's Day meditation.”

And now that I think of it, quite a few of his posts qualify for that belated distinction. Case in point:

I'm still sick of the question of Calvinism. But the following occurred to me. (This always happens).

Maybe this is no problem for Calvinism. But it seems to me that if Calvinism is true a number of bibilical promises which one would have thought could be appropriated by believers in a straighforward manner have suppressed election clauses in them. I mean God can't be issuing these promises to people he has reprobated, surely…The point is that these biblical letter-writers presumably issued these promises to church members in general, some of whom left the fold subsequently and died pagans. I would be curious to see what a Calvinist pastoral theology looks like in response to this.

Yes, indeedy! Whatever should we say in response to this? Well, one thing that comes to mind is when the Bible makes a promise to and for believers, then the promise is…I don’t know quite how else to put this…to and for believers.

And a promise to and for believers is not a promise to and for unbelievers. Likewise, a promise to and for believers and not a promise made to apostates. I hope that’s not too subtle or anything.

By the same token, when a man and woman exchange wedding vows, there’s a tacit understanding that neither one will subsequently undergo a sex-change operation.

N.B. I realize that this generous presumption may not apply within the city limits of San Francisco, but permit me to pass on that for now.

This doesn’t mean the Bible has no promises for unbelievers. Take a back-to-back promise for each alternative:

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (Jn 3:18).

Fumbling, bumbling Arminians

I see that Scott Christensen, a TMS alumnus, has been trying to reason which Billy Birch. Here’s the quality of argumentation he’s been subjected to for his patient labors:

William Watson Birch said...

Isn't debating this issue with us rather gratuitous? I mean, God has predetermined that we be Arminian, just as he has predetermined that you are a Calvinist. Nothing you can say or do could change that. So, why bother?

This is your fatalistic theology.

Of course, Billy’s rejoinder is both nonsensical and self-defeating:

i) To begin with, the fact that God has predetermined somebody to be Arminian as of now hardly means that God has predetermined him to be Arminian for the rest of his life. The decree, by itself, in no way precludes someone from changing his religious affiliation. It all depends on what God has decreed.

Is Birch so ignorant of Calvinism that he can’t think that far ahead?

ii) And as far as immutability is concerned, if God has foreseen that somebody will be a Calvinist or Arminian or whatever, then nothing that Billy and other Arminian apologists say or do can change what God has foreseen.

It would behoove Billy to think with his brain rather than his spleen. His knee-jerk hatred of Reformed theology constantly betrays him into bungling one argument after another. He’s a poor spokesman for the cause he represents. Of course, that’s fine with me. I’m not the one who’s ill-served by that representative.

Audio Bible

I'm in the process of looking for an audio Bible for an older Christian, who has difficulty with reading because of his age. I got one years ago, which I still use, but I don't know much about audio Bibles. I'm looking for recommendations. The best one I've heard so far is David Heath's, which you can listen to here. (Put a Bible passage in the search engine and click on "Listen" in the upper left after the passage comes up on the screen.) I like Heath's rendering because there's no background music, his voice is clear, and it's not as much of a dramatic reading as others I've heard. In my experience, the more dramatic readings tend to be poorly acted, they would be better without the background music, you have to turn down the volume when the reader decides to (often inappropriately) raise his voice for some portion of the text, etc. Heath's rendering may be too subdued for some people, but overall it's the best one I've come across. I'd consider a dramatic reading if it's done better than the ones I've heard so far. I'm interested in recommendations. Or if you want to recommend one for the readers of this blog in general, without my specific circumstances in mind, you can do that.

Exodus: the alternate history


Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.

And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.

And he said, Moses, I do hope I’m not interrupting thee. I’d like to ask thee a favor. If now is not convenient, I’ll reschedule.

And Moses said, Tending sheep is a drag, man. So what dost thou want?

And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to see if I can deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and try my best to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

Come now therefore, if it’s okay with thee, I’d really like to send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest possibly bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.

If thou mindest not, please go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared unto me, saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt: And I have said, I will try my very best to bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey.

And they may or may not hearken to thy voice. In case they do, thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.

Of course, I’m not sure whether or not the king of Egypt will let you go, since he hath the freedom to doeth otherwise. But I’m betting that I may be able stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in the midst thereof: and after that he may or may not let you go. I can’t force his hand. But I’ll give it my best shot.

And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.

And the guilt of the Lord was kindled against Moses, and he said, I’m sorry, Moses. I didn’t mean to Lord it over thee. I can’t lift a finger to make thee do anything against thine own will. Sometimes I forget who is running the show around here. Please accept my sincerest apologies. I meanest not to impose on thee.

And the Lord said unto Moses, If thou choosest to return into Egypt, please see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will respect his freedom of choice, that he may or may not let the people go.

And if I’m lucky, the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them. But I can’t make any promises.

Luxor Grand Opening

LUXOR (Cairo Times) -- President Hosni Mubarak cut the ribbons at grand opening of the Luxor casino today.

The Luxor was built by Jewish slave labor–descendents of Jacob who–due to an abortive attempt by Yahweh to deliver them in the 2nd millennium BC–remained in Egypt ever since.

According to one account, Moses cut a deal with Pharaoh to play out the clock on the Ten Plagues in exchange for restoration of privileges at the royal court.

"Worse than Hitler"


”I completely agree with Ben.”

Birds of a feather…

“Let me add that the comments quoted in the OP did not call God Hitler nor call Calvinist Nazis or fascists. I believe it stated that Calvinist theology, which the auhtor rejects, makes God like Hitler and makes God racist. There's a big difference between saying the Calvinist God is x vs. saying Calvinistic theology makes God out to be x.”

Explain the “big difference.”

Suppose I said Roger Olsen is like Josef Mengele.

Suppose Roger Olsen rankled at that comparison.

Suppose I responded by saying, “Hey, Rog. I didn’t say you *were* Josef Mengele. I only said you were *like* Josef Mengele. There’s a big difference, ya know!”

Robert is saying the God of Calvinism has the same moral character as Nazis and Klansmen. And he says the same thing about Calvinists. Where’s the “big difference”?

In addition, you say you “completely agree” with Ben. Well, Ben said “I agree that it would be wrong to flatly call the Calvinistic conception of God Hitler, but I don't think it is wrong to point out that Calvinism seems to logically lead to such conclusions.”

Well, if you agree with Ben that it logically leads to Hitlerian conclusions, then what’s the “big difference”?

“Calvinists and Arminians worship the same God?”

We worship the same Hitlerian God?


”If the Calvinistic conception of God's dealings with people resembles in some way the way that Hitler dealt with people, or if the Calvinistic conception of election resembles (on some points and to some extent) racialism that we would normally view as immoral, then I don't see a problem with that being pointed out.”

Does this mean your defending Robert’s statements? Yes or no?

“But mostly, when people make such references they are just speaking of what seems to them to be logical implications of each other's theology.”

Even if that were true, it doesn’t let Robert off the hook. He’s repeatedly lectured Tbloggers about how Christians should be civil and charitable in how they address believers and unbelievers alike. His rhetoric about Nazis and Klansmen stands in blatant contradiction to that oft-repeated claim.


“The big difference seems easy to grasp. One says that another's conception of a person logically implies the person to be like x, whereas the other asserts the person to be x. Your example doesn't fit the situation.”

How is that a big difference in the context of this debate? There’s an ontological difference between being x and being like x. But every invidious comparison takes that ontological difference for granted. So what?

If Robert says a Calvinist is like a Nazi, he isn’t claiming that a Calvinist is a Nazi. Identity is irrelevant to what makes the comparison invidious. But makes it invidious is the allegation that both parties share the same moral traits.

“In this example, we are talking about the same person, but advancing very different views of how he acts as well as different opinions about the logical implication of how he acts.”

Once again, how is that relevant to the issue at hand? An invidious comparison naturally reflects the viewpoint of the speaker. And the butt of the invidious comparison will normally reject the invidious comparison. That has no effect on the intent of the speaker.

“But that the Calvinist conception of God makes him out to have such character.”

In which case you agree with Robert. In which case, where’s the “big difference”? You say it makes him (the God of Calvinism) out to have a Hitlerian character. And that’s suppose to make a “big difference”?

“The big difference is that we contend that God does not act that way and does not have that charcater.”

Irrelevant. The question at issue is not whether Arminians differ from Calvinists. That’s a given. The real question is whether Arminians agree with each other on the Hitlerian character of the Calvinist God.

“Our point would be that your conception of God implies him to be Hitlerian (worse really) in our opinion, though we happily see that you inconcsistently don't think he is Hitlerian.”

If the Calvinist God is Hitlerian, yet Calvinists lack the moral discernment to recognize Hitlerian evil when it’s staring them in the face, then isn’t that, itself, gravely evil?

“Are you now a hyper-Calvinist who thinks Arminians are not saved?”

What does hypercalvinism have to do with it?

“It is sounding like you don't think Calvinists and Arminians worship the same God.”

i) You’re the one who chose to frame the issue in those terms, not me. I’m merely answering you on your own terms. That says nothing about my own position, one way or the other.

But given your chosen framework, doesn’t that generate an internal tension. On the one hand, you say Arminians and Calvinists worship the same God. And since you think the Arminian God is the true God, then if we both worship the true God, Calvinists also worship the true God.

On the other hand, you say the Calvinist God is worse that Hitler. How can we worship the true God if the God we worship is worse than Hitler?

ii) Are you trying to drive a wedge between our concept of God and the God we really worship?

If so, would you apply that to a Baal-worshiper? He mistakenly thinks he’s worshiping Baal, but he’s really worshipping Yahweh.

iii) But since you bring up with issue of salvation, you seem to be hedging your bets. On the one hand, you feel free to use this bridge-burning rhetoric about the Calvinist God. But if you think the Calvinist God is Hitlerian or worse, then isn’t he a false God?

If, on the other hand, the Calvinists turn out to be right, then doesn’t that make you blasphemers?

Why do you think your attitude towards the true God would have no bearing on your salvation? It’s not as if you’ve left yourself a fallback position. If you use slash-and-burn rhetoric about the Hitlerian God of Calvinism, then haven’t you gone out of your way to cross a line of no return? To foreclose any avenue of retreat? I don’t see that Robert (for one) is leaving himself an out. So why should I?

Making allowance for the anachronistic labels, what if an ancient Israelite compared Yahweh to Hitler or Himmler or the Imperial Wizard of the KKK? How would that position the Israelite on the day of judgment?

“But it is not uncivil or unloving to point out what you think are the logical implications of someone else's doctrine. Are you saying that is uncivil or unloving? Now it may be that Robert has gone over the line by going beyond that. Is that what you are saying? Or do you think the mere drawing out of what one thinks to be the objectionable logical implications of doctrine is itself uncivil or unloving? That would be strange IMO.”

If Robert hasn’t gone over the line, then what would it take to go over the line?

I don’t have a problem with invidious comparisons. But what type of rhetoric could ever count as uncivil or uncharitable if no matter what adjectives you use, if now matter what comparisons you use, you can always justify your scorched-earth rhetorical on the grounds that you’re merely pointing out the logical implications of the opposing position?

Robert, Billy Birch, and other Arminians constantly presume to lecture us on the proper tone of Christian discourse.

Yet they turn around and either use or defense the use of comparisons between the Calvinist God and Moloch, Satan, Nazis, and Klansmen, as well as applying the same comparisons to Calvinists.

If you think that’s justifiable, so be it. I’m merely judging you by your own standards.

But if you think that’s justifiable, then I can’t imagine any rhetoric, any invective, that could possible cross the line.

Do one or the other.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Arminian dualism

When I did my little post on the logical parallels between Arminianism and Manichean/Zoroastrian dualism, I clearly got under the skin of many thin-skinned Arminians.

What’s ironic about their indignant, overheated reaction is that I was simply playing the game by their own rules. I’m using their very own set-up.

When Arminians attack Calvinism on moralistic grounds, they frame the problem of evil in terms of authorship. Calvinism allegedly makes God the “author of sin.”

So authorship is their paradigm. And, given that paradigm, they reject unitary authorship. God is not the only author of the story.

If, therefore, we play along with their favorite metaphor, then the story (i.e. the world) was coauthored by a virtuous novelist or playwright in conjunction with a wicked novelist or playwright. The virtuous author authored the good stuff while the fiendish author authored the bad stuff. God is the author of all the good stuff, while someone else authored all the bad stuff.

Well, isn’t that bedrock dualism? Arminians bifurcate the story into good and evil, assigning the heroes to one author while they assign the villains to another author. An honorable author authors honorable characters while a dishonorable author authors dishonorable characters.

It’s like saying Sir Arthur Conan Doyle authored the noble character of Sherlock Holmes, but someone else authored the ignoble character of Prof. Moriarty.

I suppose they would tweak the metaphor a bit in terms of composite authorship rather than coauthorship. Different authors wrote different parts of the story.

But the underlying principle remains dualistic. Good has one source while evil has a different source. Two antithetical, opposing sources.

Rice paper walls

A few highlights (or lowlights) from Billy Birch:

“However, what Piper's Calvinism has concealed is the underlying belief that God did not merely, purposefully desist in preventing the death of his or her parents (via 9/11 or whatever other means), but he brought it to pass. What Piper (and all Calvinists) should admit to suffering victims is that God was wise, loving, and good toward them when he brought to pass their loved one's death.”

Don’t you just love the way demagogues like Birch cast the issue in conspiratorial terms? Calvinist should admit…as if we refuse to admit that. As though we’re trying to keep that under wraps.

“Piper is right to insist that God is all-powerful. He has the ability to stop all evil. Evil, contrary to the assumptions and ideas of some, is not a problem for God. He could stop all evil and sin by not allowing anyone to have any freedom to do any thing whatsoever.”

How would preventing evil in general, or just preventing some of the more horrendous forms of evils, require God to disallow anyone from having any freedom to do anything whatsoever?

Is Billy saying that for God to stop the 9/11 hijackers from crashing their planes into the twin towers, God would also have to stop you from choosing between strawberry and raspberry sherbet? Even on a libertarian scheme, how does the correlation begin to follow?

“Arminianism, on the other hand, offers people genuine and unambiguous stability, strength, and hope in God, confessing that God could not bring about evil and sin, which are contrary to his holy nature and character, as demonstrated in Christ Jesus.”

Several obvious problems:

i) Birch acts as though to “bring about” some event, you have to directly cause it. But to consider a few examples:

a) A lawyer is vying with a rival for a partnership in the firm. To eliminate the competition, the lawyer puts a black mamba in the bedroom of his rival. His rival dies of snakebite.

Now, the lawyer didn’t bite his rival. And the lawyer didn’t make the snake bite his rival. But didn’t the rival bring about that fatal outcome?

b) A man leaves a loaded revolver in the toy box of a two-year-old. The two-year-old accidentally shoots himself to death.

Now, the man didn’t pull the trigger. He didn’t make the gun go off. But didn’t he bring about that outcome?

ii) If God creates a foreseen world in which he foresaw the 9/11 hijackers, then didn’t he bring about that eventuality?

iii) How does the life of Christ prove his point? Sin and evil is a presupposition of his redemptive mission. Moreover, sin and evil was instrumental in the completion of his mission. What the Sanhedrin did was sinful. What Pilate did was evil.

“Roger Olson comments: Even sinful acts (and calamities), however, do not escape God's governance, although they are in a separate category than good acts. Sinful and evil acts are never planned or decreed by God.”

i) God didn’t plan on that happening? How is that possible? According to Arminianism, God foresaw it. And God could stop it. Instead, God made it happen by making the world in which it happens. Under those conditions, how can Olsen say God didn’t plan on that happening?

Indeed, under those conditions, doesn’t Olsen have to admit that God foreintended the outcome? If you see it coming; if you can stop it; if, instead, you do something to make it happen, then didn’t you foreintend the outcome? And if you foreintend the outcome, then isn’t that a plan of action?

ii) Moreover, suppose, for the sake of argument, that evil wasn’t in the plan. Suppose God didn’t plan on that happening.

How is that a solution to the problem of evil? Isn’t it incumbent on God to have a plan? If sins and calamities were no part of his plan, then isn’t Godderelict?

Suppose the director of FEMA said, “Sorry about that. We didn’t have a contingency plan for hurricanes. Better luck next time!” Would that let him off the hook?

“God only decrees to allow them.”

How does that solve the problem of evil? Doesn’t the argument from evil normally pose the question: “Why did God allow it?”

The argument from evil is quite prepared to concede the premise that God “allowed” it. But that’s hardly a solution. Rather, that’s a statement of the problem. Is that the sort of thing he should allow that to happen? That’s the question, is it not?

“God never instigates them or renders them certain (e.g., by withdrawing the grace necessary to avoid them [something which Calvinism denies]).”

How does God not render them certain? If he makes a world in which he foresees their occurrence, then isn’t their occurrence certain? Isn’t the outcome a done deal as soon as he makes the world in which that foreseen outcome occurs?

“There is neither a secret impulse of God toward evil nor a hidden God who manipulates people to sin.”

Olsen needs to explain how the God of Calvinism “manipulates” people to sin.

“Yet evil decisions and actions are circumscribed by God so that they fit into his purposes, and he directs them toward the good end he had in mind for creation.”

On the one hand, God didn’t “plan” these events. On the other hand, God had them “in mind,” and God also had a “purpose” for them. Well, of you had something in mind, and it serves your purpose, then isn’t that a plan?

Or does Olsen mean that while God didn’t plan on that happening, once it does happen he can find a way, after the fact, to “fit it into his purposes”?

But how is that consistent with foreknowledge? Isn’t that what we’d expect an open theist to say?

“And they cannot happen without God's permission and cooperation.”

So God “cooperates” with the natural disaster. If a dam ruptures, flooding the town downstream, God cooperates with the deluge.

i) First of all, I’m less than clear on what “cooperation” means in reference to natural evils.

ii) And, in any case, how do “permission and cooperation” automatically exonerate God? How is that a signal improvement over what the Arminian finds so outrageous about Calvinism?

Watching Arminians like Birch and Olsen deflect the problem of evil is like watching a man take refuge from a typhoon in a Japanese house. They somehow imagine that the rice paper walls will shield them from the typhoon of evil.

I don’t share their confidence in the structural integrity of their Arminian theodicy. I somehow doubt their rice paper barriers can withstand the problem of evil.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A betrayal of common sense


“Definition: The author of sin is the potter of dishonorable vessels.”

i) That’s hardly a definition, since all you’ve done is to “define” one metaphor by reference to another metaphor.

ii) To identify God with the potter of dishonorable vessels is by no means a uniquely Reformed interpretation. Can you cite me any major modern commentary on Romans that identifies the devil as the potter of dishonorable vessels?

iii) Your two-potters dichotomy, in which one agent (God) is the potter of honorable vessels while another agent (Satan) is the potter of dishonorable vessels, is a perfectly illustration of Manichean/Zoroastrian style dualism. Thanks for corroborating my original allegation.

To identify Satan as the potter of dishonorable vessels ascribes godlike power and autonomy to Satan.

“The problem is, this philosophical concept isn't found in the bible.”

Of course, I’m not the one who uses that terminology in the first place. It’s Arminians who cast the issue in such terms.

I’m fine with “predestination.”

“By the way, where do you think we'll end up if we go down the road and take calvinism to its logical conclusion?”

We’ll find ourselves back in the word of God. I rather like that destination myself.

“And what does the bible say?”

Of course, you’re very selective in your Johannine quotations. I can’t help noticing some of the verses you manage to overlook, such as:

“Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (Jn 9:3).

“But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it’” (11:4).

“Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them’” (12:37-40).

“While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (Jn 17:12).

“Steve, you should abolish calvinism!”

I could only abolish Calvinism by violating the freewill of Calvinists. Is that what you want me to do? Seems a bit counterproductive to your thesis.

“Yes, calvinism is a form of pantheism.”

An assertion in lieu of an argument. What else is new?

“God's will isn't contradictory -- calvinism is!”

An assertion in lieu of an argument. What else is new?

“I'm not an arminian, however I also reject the doctrines of grace, because they are both unscriptural and betray common sense.”

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that they do betray common sense. What did Paul say about the gospel?

1 Corinthians 1:18-29

18For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written,

"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

Barrel o' laughs


“My post in the combox of Steve’s second post suggesting that Arminians were Neo-Manicheans, and that Billy’s response was benign, was supposed to be more funny than anything. Quite frankly, I found Steve’s initial post to be funny, and so I was responding in kind. However, I do think that some of the ‘logical connections’ I drew are just as valid as any Steve drew in his initial post, despite Steve’s protests.”

Here is Ben hedging his bets. On the one hand he issues this disclaimer so that we’ll go easy on the quality of his reasoning, since it was just a “lighthearted parody.”

On the other hand, he sticks to claim that his comparisons were just as valid as mine.

“But Steve never explains why it is bad that in Arminianism, God does not cause evil. He assumes it, but does not explain it.”

Why is Manichean/Zoroastrian dualism bad? Why is it bad to have two autonomous principles: a force for good and a force for evil?

Of course, Arminianism can bite the bullet and admit that it’s not such a bad thing after all. But that would concede the comparison.

“But that evil is not caused by an opposing deity, so the comparison to Manichaeism falls flat.”

An opposing deity by another name. The question, once again, is whether Manichaeism/Zoroastrianism simply takes Arminian assumptions to their logical conclusion.

“And I can just as well state that it is bad that Calvinism shares in common with Manichaeism the doctrine of exhaustive determinism, since in both cases God is caused to be the author of all sin and evil (which I think is a bad thing, but maybe Steve would just say that it isn’t a bad thing to him).”

i) Actually, he hasn’t shown that Manichaeism teaches a doctrine of “exhaustive determinism.”

ii) And he hasn’t show what form of determinism it takes. Determinism comes in many different forms.

iii) And he also hasn’t specified the respective role of evil in both systems. For example, is it a means to a greater good in both systems?

iv) And he hasn’t defined “author of sin.”

If Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the author of Prof. Moriarty, is that a bad thing? Moriarty is a villain. Does that make Doyle a villain as well?

v) Does this mean Ben has no objection to “exhaustive determinism,” per se, but only to exhaustive determinism in connection with evil? Would he be okay with exhaustive determinism in a sinless world?

“Why should I need to do this when Steve is not willing to explain the differences between dualism in Mane’s theology and what he imagines to be dualism in Arminianism? At the very least he must admit that it is a different ‘type’ of dualism, so his comparison falls flat by his own standards.”

I specified the level at which I was comparing them. Ben needs to do the same thing.

“Again, why should I need to show this? Why can’t I just assert it like Steve asserts so many things concerning the ‘logical connections’ between Manichaeism and Arminianism, with no documentation? Why can’t I just assert it like Steve asserts that, ‘All the various religions and philosophies past and present are variants on three basic worldviews: Calvinism, atheism, and Manichaeism’ with no documentation? (BTW, I find it ironic that so many Calvinists on this thread are complaining about documentation when Steve continually evaded the need to show documentation when challenged in the combox of his initial thread, though he did eventually mention some books he read on the subject of different Gnostic views, hardly the type of documentation one would expect to back up such assertions).”

No one has challenged the accuracy of my characterization vis-à-vis Manichaeism/Zoroastrianism.

Likewise, no one has challenged my contention that Arminians have a habit of assigning the good things to God and the bad things to finite agents. That dichotomy is a key feature of their case against Calvinism.

To the extent that they soften that distinction, they lose the polemical point of contrast.

Look at how they frame the issue in terms of “authorship.” Now authorship is a creative metaphor. So where does that lead?

While Zoroastrians have two opposing gods, Arminians have two opposing authors. Zoroastrians have a God of good along with a God of evil while Arminians have an author of good along with an author of evil. (Indeed, several authors of evil, e.g. Satan, Adam, sinners.)

For the Zoroastrians and the Manicheans, two different Gods cocreate the world. For the Arminians, two different authors coauthor the world.

Different authors, different books. God authors the heroes while Satan authors the villains. God authors the chapter on creation while Satan authors the chapter on the fall. God authors the Incarnation while Satan authors the Crucifixion. (You can add other authors of sin, but the underlying principle remains the same.)

Arminians supply the documentation by the way they position themselves in relation to Calvinism. They supply the documentation for me–on a regular basis.

“Still, Piper, a leading Calvinist apologist and scholar, advocates the two wills view.”

And you’re welcome to critique his position, if you like. But don’t act as if that’s isometric with the Reformed tradition.

“More than that I explained why the contradictory wills view is a necessary implication in my comments with regards to panentheism.”

Even if, for the sake of argument, Calvinism were panentheistic, this would hardly show that God’s will is contradictory.

“No need to, since Calvinists believe that any such insights are given by God alone unconditionally and irresistibly.”

The fact that God unconditionally elects some people to salvation doesn’t mean belief in election is unconditionally given. We are saved by election, not by believing in election–although we have a moral obligation to believe that revealed truth.

“Otherwise, Calvinists might boast in the fact that they were smart enough to discover these doctrines on their own, while others were not.”

Arminians don’t reject the doctrines of grace because they aren’t smart enough. They reject the doctrines of grace because predestination offends their delicate moral sensibilities. They tell us that all the time.

“Furthermore, even Calvinists generally admit that all Christians start out with an Arminian view point until they are privileged enough to discover (by way of irresistible divine illumination) the ‘doctrines of grace’. Here is a quote from Calvin to that effect...”

i) Was Calvin talking about how all Christians start out? Or about how all unbelievers start out–some of whom become Christians?

ii) Do you want us to say that Arminians are damned?

iii) You also have a habit of using “irresistible” out of context. In TULIP, “irresistible” stands for regeneration. Regeneration is monergistic. This doesn’t mean that everything in Calvinism is monergistic. For example, Calvinism doesn’t define sanctification in monergistic terms.

“But before he can draw that comparison, he first needs to strip away everything that’s distinctive to Manichean dualism.’ (and everything that is distinctive to Arminianism as well).”

Once again, I was quite specific about the level at which I compared the two–unlike you.

“Oh, and as far as some other similarities between Calvinism and Hinduism (though they may be ‘dissimilar’ in other ways), Bob, in the combox of the initial post astutely observes, ‘For example, I could suggest that since Steve has suggested that God sources all things, suggesting that ‘evil’ is ultimately ‘good’, then we could correlated his view to Hinduism, which proposes that the Brahman is the final source of all that exists.”

Hinduism is a highly syncretistic and pluralistic tradition. There’s no one Hindu view of anything. It’s the very antithesis of a monolithic outlook.

“Yes, I do know the difference between literary forms of comedy. I thought it was obvious that I was being less than serious here.”

Yes, it’s so humorous to impute to Calvinists the view that hell is “funny.”

“However, the point still stands regardless of which view of comedy we take.”

Since you merely asserted a “spiritual caste system,” you’re point has nothing to stand on.

“Which misses the point entirely since there never was any ‘real danger’ to be shielded from, since they were chosen only for salvation from before the creation of the universe, remember? How then were they ever in any ‘real danger’ of damnation? Quite the red-herring here.”

You’re arguing in circles. Does the fact that guardrails prevent some cars from going over the cliff mean there was no real danger in the first place?

i) You’re equivocating over what makes something dangerous. Something can be inherently dangerous, but not be dangerous to me if something else shields me from the danger. The fact that I’m not in danger doesn’t mean there is no real danger.

ii) And you have yet to explain why you seem to think it’s a bad thing that some people were never in danger of hell. Do you think God would be wronging us unless everyone were in peril of going to hell? If, say, a five-year-old who dies of cancer was never at risk of damnation, do you think that reflects poorly on God’s character?

“The better question would be: why do Calvinists continue to use such lame counter arguments and expect Arminians to concede to them?”

A better question would be: why do Arminians ask question-begging questions?

“Really, the elect are not a 'chosen race' (1 Peter 2:9)?…The same is true here. The elect are a chosen race favored above all else in Calvinism, even if the basis for that favor is different (i.e. not based on skin color, etc.).”

i) Peter is using genos as a metaphor. The fact that the chosen “race” includes gentile believers should make that clear. He’s taking an OT reference to the Jewish people, and deliberately extending it to those who do not share a common lineage with Abraham.

ii) In that case, they’re not literally a chosen “race.” So if the basis is different, then what does Ben’s comparison amount to? What do they have in common?

iii) Ben said Calvinists reflect a “master race” mentality. That, of course, alludes to the “Aryan” outlook of the Nazis. So what does Calvinism share in common with Nazi racism? Having eliminated the racial component of racism, explain what is left?

“As Steve points out in his initial post, ‘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.’ (but most are not uncomditionally favored in such a way).”

i) Once again, how is that comparable to Nazi racism?

Racism isn’t based on unconditional favoritism. Rather, it has very decided conditions. It’s predicated on theories of racial superiority and racial purity. You must meet the conditions to be so favored.

ii) Or is Ben saying that any form of favoritism is morally equivalent to racism?

So if a man does something for his wife or son that he wouldn’t do for Osama bin Laden, does Ben think that makes him a quasi-racist?

“I think some do, but regardless…”

No, not “regardless.” You don’t get to indulge in drive-by smears. Quote some representative Reformed theologians who equate all and only Calvinists with the elect.

“Calvinists do see themselves as the unconditionally elect of God, favored above all else from all eternity.”

They don’t consider themselves to be elect to the exclusion of Lutherans or Moravians or Anabaptists, &c. They don’t think God has favored them above everyone else. That’s just another scurrilous attack.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Counterfeit love

According to Billy Birch:

From just a cursory reading of Jesus' words [Jn 15:12-13,17], it appears that loving one's brother or sister in the Lord is a non-negotiable. He even called it a command.

Hence when a professed believer cannot admit to loving other brothers and sisters in Christ, then he or she has failed the test of love. It is questionable as to whether this person has truly been born again...If anyone belongs to and genuinely loves God, then he or she also belongs to and will genuinely love God's children. If anyone fails this most basic test, then the likelihood of that individual being regenerate is certainly questionable.

Praying for another believer is certainly one of the most loving acts a Christian could perform. Paul prayed for local churches (2 Cor. 13:7; Ephesians 1:17; 3:13-18; Phil. 1:3-6; Col. 1:9-14; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12), and even for specific individuals. He writes to Timothy...

Of course, in the context of the thread which occasioned Birch’s post, this is deceptive and duplicitous.

To set the record straight, an Arminian detractor posted the following comments about Calvinists and Calvinism:

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.

Does that strike you as loving rhetoric? When, however, I dared to criticize this scurrilous tirade, several Arminians predictably rushed to his defense–expressing solidarity with their scurrilous comrade.

There was then an effort to turn the tables by accusing the Calvinist of being unloving.

It’s very instructive to see all the layers of moral self-deception by which some Arminians insulate themselves from external scrutiny or self-examination.

Let’s make a few ethical and exegetical observations:

i) The Apostle John, when he wrote about loving or hating the brethren, was writing about people who knew each other. For a time they attended the same church.

So these are value judgments based on face-to-face and day-to day experience of the parties concerned.

ii) Likewise, John doesn’t define genuine love by whether or not you can intone the word “love.” It isn’t something you say, but something you do. There’s a fundamental difference between showing love and showing off.

iii) Paul spoke to Timothy in a private letter. Moreover, there’s no question how Paul felt about Timothy. This wasn’t a public reproof, cloaked under the guise of prayer.

iv) And at the risk of stating the obvious, praying for someone is one thing. Using prayer as a debate tactic is something different entirely. Bragging about how prayerful you are, bragging about how you pray for your misguided opponents, is a sacrilegious use of prayer. We’re right back to Mt 6:5-6 and Lk 18:11-12.

v) Likewise, love is one thing. But professions of love as a polemical stunt is something different entirely. That isn’t love–that’s leverage.

That’s a cynical use of prayer. That’s a cynical use of “love.”

And it’s striking that some Arminians, who decry the allegedly coercive character of Reformed theology, resort to rhetorical and emotional manipulation.

v) In addition, professions of love on the heels of unloving behavior are disingenuous. It’s just a way for the wrongdoer to make himself look good at the expense of his opponent.

Was Adam real?

In the age of YouTube, you never know who’s listening in. You may be speaking to the audience in front of you, you may be speaking to a small group, but there’s an unseen audience behind the camera. Many eyes and ears outside the auditorium are overhearing your every word.

There’s a little YouTube clip of Tremper Longman which is making the rounds of the Internet. For now I’ll comment on a few things which Jeremy Pierce has said in response to some of Longman’s critics:

Longman has denies neither plenary inspiration of scripture nor inerrancy. What he has done is deny a view that many people here take to be implied by (a) inerrancy or the plenary inspiration of scripture together with (b) a certain view of what Genesis 1 and/or other texts of scripture, when interpreted correctly, actually teach.

If Longman is incorrect about the matters (b) describes, then his view is compatible with inerrancy but incompatible with the correct interpretation of scripture.

It’s true that there are various situations in which you can distinguish between a true statement and a true (or false) interpretation of a true statement. But as a general proposition, that distinction is far too facile.

Take Jim and Tim Baker. Jim and Tim are identical twins. Jim is a militant atheist while his brother Tim is a “conservative evangelical.”

Jim thinks the story of Abraham is false. God never called Abraham out of Ur. That’s a historical error.

By contrast, Tim thinks the story of Abraham is metaphorical. God never called Abraham out of Ur. Rather, it’s a metaphor for the cost of discipleship. The story is true at a parabolic level. It’s not a question of whether the Bible is true or false, but whether our interpretations are true or false.

Jim thinks the story of the Exodus is false. That never happened. That’s a historical error.

By contrast, Tim thinks the story of the Exodus is metaphorical. It never happened, in the “overly literalistic” sense of the word. But it symbolizes our deliverance from sin.

Jim thinks the story of the manna in the wilderness is false. God never fed manna to the Israelites. That’s a historical error.

By contrast, Tim thinks the story of the manna is metaphorical.

Jim thinks the story of the miracle at Cana is false while Tim thinks the same story is metaphorical.

Jim thinks the story of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness is false while Tim thinks the same story is metaphorical.

Jim thinks the feeding of the five thousand is false while Tim thinks the same account is metaphorical.

Jim thinks the Crucifixion is false while Tim thinks the Crucifixion is metaphorical.

Jim thinks the Resurrection is false while Tim thinks the Resurrection is metaphorical.

Every reported event which Jim says never happened, Tim says never happened. Every Biblical figure which Jim says never existed, Tim says never existed.

Ah, but there’s a world of difference, right? For Jim, that’s a factual question, but for his brother, that’s a hermeneutical question.

In principle, you could maintain this theoretical distinction every step of the way, but by the same token, what’s the practical difference? What Tim the “conservative evangelical” believes has exactly the same exchange rate as what Jim the militant atheist believes. The two positions are functionally indistinguishable. The "believer" becomes the mirror-image of the unbeliever.

I get the sense from his language that he's more interested in recognizing that people can accept inerrancy and accept the conclusion of the consensus of science than he is at arguing that we ought to take any particular view of how to interpret Genesis 1.

i) That strikes me as incoherent. If we assume that a scientific theory like macroevolution is true, and if the question at issue is how a Bible story relates to scientific truth, then it’s not just a hermeneutical question, but a factual question. Is the Bible true–taking the scientific theory as the frame of reference? So that’s not just a question of how you interpret the story. That also goes to the truth or falsity of the story.

If the evolutionary theory of human origins is true, then can the Biblical account of human origins also be true in the same sense?

So I don’t see, as Pierce frames the issue, that inerrancy and hermeneutics occupy airtight compartments.

ii) In addition, what about the hermeneutical question? Suppose Longman doesn’t believe that Gen 2-3 is literally true because he thinks that’s unscientific. So his objection to the literal truth of Gen 2-3 is a scientific objection.

However, Longman is an OT scholar who employs the grammatico-historical method. Even if modern science is an impediment to his own belief in the literal truth of Gen 2-3, that was no impediment to the author of Genesis or his target audience.

So shouldn’t he start by asking what it would be to them, rather than what it could mean to him? Isn’t the grammatico-historical method like a time-machine in which we try to leave our cultural filters behind us (as best we can) and reenter the mental world of the author or his target audience? Ask ourselves how they would have viewed the story?

If we do compartmentalize the factual question from the hermeneutical question, then we can’t allow the factual question (as defined by modern science) to infect the answer to the hermeneutical question.

So it seems to me that Pierce is oscillating between to contradictory approaches. Do we treat these as distinct domains, or does one inform the other?

There are ways to fit the non-individual approach to Adam to the other texts people are citing. It does mean a somewhat unnatural reading of a few statements (such as Paul's comparison of the one man Adam and the one man Jesus), but it's possible to take those statements as true while not referring to an actual one man Adam but to the one man Adam in the Genesis account. I don't think this is the most natural way to take either the Genesis narratives or Paul's statement, but it's possible to take the Genesis narratives as true in the sense parables are true and Paul's statement as true in the same sense that it's true that the Good Samaritan helped the man that other passersby ignored. It's true that the Good Samaritan did this. It's just truth within a story. The character in Jesus' parable did that. It's just that he was telling a parable and not implying the existence of a real person who did what the Good Samaritan did.

i) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that there are logically consistent ways to “fit the non-individual approach to Adam” to other Biblical texts.

Once again, though, if we’re going to cast the issue in hermeneutical terms, then what is logically consistent is hardly a sufficient hermeneutical condition.

A ufological interpretation of Ezk 1 might be logically consistent. But is that what the prophet thought he say? Is that what he meant to convey to his audience?

When we interpret Rom 5 or 1 Cor 15, is Pauline intent irrelevant to the correct interpretation? Is it sufficient to construe the text in a way that makes all the moving parts fit? Or do we need to take into consideration what Paul thought he was teaching?

ii) Apropos (i), for Paul, Gen 1-3 isn’t just true “within the story.” Rather, he thinks that he and his readers are part of the same story. We, too, are “characters” within the same continuous, unfolding narrative. The story has a real world referent.

Someone could take Genesis' early chapters in a similar way, teaching about how we are all fallen and how we all do what Adam and Eve did, thus in NT terms taking there to be an explanation of why there's a need for a savior, without believing there was a real individual person whom the Bible calls Adam and a real individual person whom the Bible calls Eve.

The problem with that explanation is that Genesis and other Biblical passages aren’t merely citing the case of Adam and Eve to illustrate an abstract truth, the way a fictitious character can illustrate an abstract truth. They are more than illustrations. What Adam and Eve are said to have done is treated as a precondition of subsequent events.

If the Good Samaritan did not exist, the truth which his character illustrates would still be true. But if Adam and Eve did not exist, then the effect of their actions would not occur.

Adam and Eve do more than illustrate an abstract truth: they function as truthmakers.

Calvinism In The Patristic Era

Some of you might be interested in some comments I made in another thread:

Richard Coords wrote:

"The relevance of the citation from the appendix is that it confirmed that Irenaeus specifically criticized the Gnostics (Florinus and Blastus) regarding their concept that God is 'the author of sin.'"

But there were far more Gnostics than those two men, and whether the concept of authorship of sin is relevant depends on how it's being defined. You haven't demonstrated how the term was being defined in this historical context. And I've cited Irenaeus' comments on the uniqueness of Florinus' beliefs. You could argue that Irenaeus was referring to the uniqueness of other beliefs held by Florinus, not the belief(s) you have in mind, but you'd have to argue for that exemption, not just assume it.

I don't see how adding Blastus to the discussion furthers your argument. Here's what Eusebius writes about the two men:

"Others, of whom Florinus was chief, flourished at Rome. He fell from the presbyterate of the Church, and Blastus was involved in a similar fall. They also drew away many of the Church to their opinion, each striving to introduce his own innovations in respect to the truth....Irenaeus wrote several letters against those who were disturbing the sound ordinance of the Church at Rome. One of them was to Blastus On Schism; another to Florinus On Monarchy, or That God is not the Author of Evil. For Florinus seemed to be defending this opinion." (Church History, 5:15, 5:20)

There are some similarities. Both were active in Rome, for example. But there were differences as well. Eusebius notes that "each [was] striving to introduce his own innovations in respect to the truth", and he differentiates between the subjects Irenaeus addressed when responding to each of them. Regarding the treatise you keep referring to, on the subject of the authorship of sin, Eusebius tells us that "Florinus seemed to be defending this opinion", without including Blastus. I've already cited Irenaeus' comments on the uniqueness of Florinus' beliefs.

I'm not a Calvinist. And I think there's an element of truth to your argument. There was widespread opposition to some aspects of Calvinism in the patristic era. That fact has some significant evidential value. But you would need to do much more to establish the extent of that patristic opposition to Calvinism. Citing a source like Wikipedia isn't enough, and you would have to address more than the church fathers.

An example I often cite when discussing such issues is the perpetual virginity of Mary. The doctrine was widely accepted among the church fathers, especially from the fourth century onward. But the Biblical evidence is against it, and the concept seems to be contradicted by some early post-apostolic sources (Josephus, Hegesippus, etc.), though sometimes not explicitly. If we limited ourselves to explicit statements from the fathers and generalities asserted in sources like Wikipedia, we might come away with the impression that every mainstream Christian of the patristic era, or almost every one, believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. Roman Catholics sometimes cite Jerome to the effect that only a small number of heretics denied the doctrine. But a contemporary of Jerome, Basil of Caesarea, commented that the view that Mary had other children after Jesus "was widely held and, though not accepted by himself, was not incompatible with orthodoxy" (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines [San Francisco, California: HarperCollins Publishers, 1978], p. 495). As far as I know, none of the writings of those men Basil refers to are extant. But Basil tells us that such people did exist. And there's less explicit evidence that the Biblical authors and some earlier post-apostolic Christians held the same view. It would be misleading to limit our evaluation of the subject to explicit statements made by church fathers whose writings are extant. There's more that has to be taken into account.

If you're going to argue that no mainstream Christian believed in some aspect of Calvinism prior to the time of Augustine, you should cite sources who are better qualified than Wikipedia to address such a subject. The same is true with regard to the origin of Augustine's beliefs. It would be better to cite a patristic scholar or historian than to cite a source like Wikipedia. I haven't studied the early history of Calvinist doctrine enough to address these subjects in depth, but I find it doubtful that Augustine's beliefs originated as you've suggested and that no other mainstream Christian held such views earlier. (The fact that Augustine was inconsistent, as you mentioned above, suggests to me that his later beliefs were less related to his pre-Christian life than you've suggested. I think that, overall, his inconsistency works against your view rather than supporting it. And Augustine doesn't seem to have expected his later views to bar him from mainstream Christianity.)

As I said before, Christian theology predates the era of the New Testament. What I mean is that much of what Christians believe is rooted in the Old Testament era. And in that respect, a Calvinist view of an issue like free will or predestination is different than an issue like the perpetual virginity of Mary. We wouldn't expect Jews of the Old Testament era to be commenting on Mary's perpetual virginity. But they did comment on some concepts related to Calvinism. Josephus tells us that the Jewish people held a wide variety of beliefs on such issues, including some that seem at least vaguely similar to Calvinism or what you're attributing to Calvinism. Thus, it's not as though, from a Calvinist perspective, an individual Gnostic like Florinus or the Gnostics in general first corrected a misunderstanding of Biblical theology. Rather, a Calvinist could argue that some extra-Biblical Jews, like those referred to by Josephus, had a correct understanding even earlier.

And the concept of looking for support from extra-Biblical sources, while somewhat significant, isn't as significant as some people make it out to be. It's not as though the Bible is just one document written by one source who only addressed the relevant subject(s) briefly and vaguely on one occasion. Rather, a Calvinist would argue that his beliefs on subjects like predestination and free will are addressed many times in scripture, in many contexts, sometimes explicitly. If he doubts his interpretation of one of the relevant passages in the writings of Moses, he can judge it by other passages in Moses. And passages in the Psalms. And in Proverbs. And in the prophets. And in the gospels. And in Paul. Etc. By the time we get to the church fathers, we've already heard from dozens of Biblical authors and other pre-patristic sources. It's not as though we just have one brief, vague passage in the Bible that nobody commented upon until the patristic era. The Bible and other pre-patristic sources carry more weight than people sometimes suggest as they're attempting to assign too much weight to the patristic sources. Some Protestants do neglect the patristic data, but some of their critics go too far in the opposite direction.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Petitionary prayer and accidental necessity

Victor Reppert said...

“What sense do you make of petitionary prayer on Calvinist assumptions? Wouldn't any petitionary prayer be an attempt to change a past state of affairs?”

1.Assuming, for the sake of argument, that it did entail changing the past, I’m not sure why Reppert rules that out. After all, there are philosophers and physicists who toy with retrocausation, time-travel, and backtracking counterfactuals.

Not that I myself subscribe to that.

2.It’s also not clear to me why he’s cast the question in terms of changing the past. If he’s alluding to predestination, then the decree is timeless. Strictly speaking, the decree doesn’t lie in the past.

Perhaps, though, he’s treating a timeless decree as functionally equivalent to an accidentally necessary past.

3.For discussion purposes, let’s assume they’re equivalent. Some philosophers of time distinguish between changing the past and affecting the past. Even if the past is unalterable, that doesn’t mean the past can’t be affected by the present.

In addition, if we apply the counterfactual theory of causation to this distinction, then there’s a perfectly coherent sense in which timebound supplicants could affect the past.

God has decreed that certain outcomes are contingent on answered prayers. And God has decreed the prayers. Therefore, answered prayers effect corresponding outcomes which wouldn’t otherwise obtain absent the predestined prayers.

Coral Ridge

A couple of blogs I frequent have chronicled the woes of Tullian Tchividjian. As an interested spectator, I’ll venture a few comments.

1.I know nothing about Tchividjian beyond what I’ve read. I’ve never heard him preach. I have no inside information about the day-to-day operations of Coral Ridge. So I have no opinion about him one way or the other.

I will say that I don’t think the potential schism he’s facing comes as any great surprise. Kennedy was a dominant, visionary leader who single-handedly built a megachurch from the ground up. He’s the only pastor many of his parishioners ever knew.

Visionary, single-minded pastors like Kennedy tend to self-select for like-minded parishioners. They come for what he has to offer.

That’s a very large pair of shoes to step into.

2.There were many commendable things about Kennedy and his multifaceted ministry. He founded a megachurch. What is more, he founded a Presbyterian megachurch, which is no small feat!

He also founded a seminary, Christian K-12 school, Evangelism Explosion, Center for Reclaiming America, and Center for Christian Statesmanship.

In addition, he was a prolific author, as well as a pioneering televangelist.

On a more personal note, there was, to my knowledge, no hint of financial or sexual scandal during his long, high-profile ministry. And he was married to the same woman until the day he died.

From what I’ve heard, he also practiced shoe-leather evangelism, going door-to-door long after he became famous.

3. I think the Coral Ridge Hour was poorly formatted. There were two basic problems:

i) It tried to cover too much ground in too little time. The basic format involved a 2-stanza hymn, followed by a brief anthem, followed by a brief homily or sermonette, followed by a segment on apologetics or the culture wars.

Now, I appreciate his emphasis on apologetics and the culture wars. I’d like to see that emphasis continue in some venue. But the overall presentation was very choppy. When you try to do a little of everything, you don’t to anything very well. It’s too rushed, too superficial.

ii) The broadcast failed at the level of a worship service. It isn’t very worshipful. It isn’t very edifying.

From what I can tell, expository preaching was not his forte. And doing a biopic on Thomas Jefferson or George Washington is no substitute for a meaty sermon.

I think the broadcast should have been reformatted. It would be preferable to broadcast a real worship service say, 3 Sundays a month. 3 out of 4 Sundays. Something like that.

Also, the actual service shouldn’t be squeezed into the timeframe of the broadcast slot. Rather, it should excerpt the highpoints of a prerecorded service–from the week before.

Then, every 4th Sunday of the month (give or take), one could devote an hour-long broadcast to apologetics or the culture wars. That gives better coverage. It’s easier to follow. Easier to remember.

iii) I also think that one should sponsor guest speakers who are experts in the field. Church historians. Professional Christian apologists.

4.Since I speak as an outsider, I could be wrong about this, but Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy strikes me as being an intrusive presence at this juncture. I can understand, back when there was a leadership void, followed by a turf war, why she jumped into the breach. At that time she might have been a unifying figure. But after the congregation voted in a new pastor, I think it was time for her gracefully exit center stage.

I understand that, as the devoted daughter, she wants to honor her dad’s legacy, but it’s not a family business. Has she been elected or selected to assume the role of congregational representative or spokeswoman?

At this point her presence strikes me as being disruptive and presumptuous. Divisive. Nepotistic.

The ministry could start by removing her blog from the church website. It’s time to give the new pastor a clear shot.

Loving the brethren

Loving the brethren, and its antithesis, is a recurring theme in 1 John. But in Johannine usage, what does it mean to love or hate the brethren?

To know what it means to love the brethren, we need to start with what it means to hate the brethren. The one defines the other.

And that’s because John is writing in response to a crisis. Some false teachers, along with their disciples, are guilty of hating the brethren by what they teach and do accordingly. To love the brethren would be the opposite.

“The churches to whom 1 John was written are under doctrinal and emotional duress. There had been a recent departure of false teachers from the church (2:19) and that apparently was both painful and unpleasant and that was still evident in 2 John (v7). This is evident especially in the repeated charge against the secessionists that they do not love other believes (e.g. 1 John 2:9-10; 3:10; 4:7). The Christians to whom John wrote in 1 John were in need to instruction, but more importantly they needed to be reassured and comforted in light of the recent upheaval ending in the departure of the false teachers (5:13; see 2:19),” A. Köstenberger et al., The Cradle, The Cross, & the Crown (B&H 2009), 792.

“As far as we are able to determine with regard to the background of 1 John, some in the church taught that possession of the Spirit was not enough; those ‘truly enlightened’ must be initiated into all kinds of ‘secret knowledge’ open only to those initiates. This created all kinds of insecurity and second-guessing among those who were no longer sure whether they were Christians at all–when in fact those self-characterized ‘super-Christians’ turned out not to be believers in the end. This seems to follow from 1 John 2:19,” ibid. 793.

“Although John does intend to edify his readers, most scholars rightly reject this view as an inadequate explanation of the evidence. Some believers have already seceded (1 John 2:18-29), and John is writing to warn his readers about false teachers who are actively trying to deceive them (2:26)…’savage wolves’ were rending the flock, and John labels them ‘false prophets’ (1 John 4:1), ‘deceivers’ (2 John 7), and ‘antichrists’ (1 John 2:18; 4:3; 2 John 7). Probably their secession owed much to their failure to convert more of the congregations(s) to which they once belonged (1 John 2:18-19)…John finds he must reassure the faithful and explain in straightforward terms the differences between the two groups and thereby give them grounds for their own assurance and confidence before God (1 John 5:13) at a time when they were being made to feel inferior and spiritually threatened…Meanwhile their [secessionists] own conduct was so haughty, loveless, and schismatic that they denied the very gospel they claimed that only they understood, prompting some of the more hesitant amongst those left behind to wonder at times if they had the Spirit at all (see 2:26-27), D. Carson & D. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Zondervan 2005), 678.

Circling the wagons

Victor Reppert and the militant Arminians are busy circling their wagons:

steve said...
Why should we even bother given your past performance and statements?

i) When you cite prooftexts for your position, and I cite non-Calvinists who offer interpretations consistent with Calvinism, you respond in silence.

ii) You've also said that if you were convinced that Reformed exegesis is sound, then that would be a reason to reject the inerrancy of Scripture.

iii) In addition, you've set the bar arbitrarily high for Reformed exegesis and arbitrarily low for opposing exegesis. You've said that any merely possible interpretation is always preferable to a Reformed interpretation.

When you've rigged the game in so many ways, why should we play your game? You cheat. You used marked cards.

Sure, we could spend a lot of time on Hamilton. Suppose we showed that his exegesis is implausible.

Would you become a Calvinist? Clearly not. By your own admission, you have too many layers of resistance.

So why do you even go through the motions of invoking Scripture? You admit that you're not bound by Scripture if it conflicts with your intuitions. So why the charade?

steve said...
Victor Reppert said...

"I said Lincoln's analysis of John 3:16 didn't entail that it was not also saying that loves all persons alienated from God."

You denied it, but you didn't offer a counterargument, as I recall.

If your going to use Jn 3:16 to disprove Calvinism, then the question is not whether this verse is consistent with Arminianism (open theism, universalism), but whether it's inconsistent with Calvinism.

I asked you to show how Lincoln's interpretation is at odds with Calvinism. I don't see where you've done that.

I've also pointed out that the way you construe kosmos would make nonsense of 1 Jn 2:15. Once again, I don't recall any response at your end.

steve said...
Victor Reppert said...

"Why assume that the same Greek word has exactly the same meaning in all context. It's not that way in English. What makes Greek different?"

In that case you have to individually show what it means in each separate Johannine occurrence. I await your documentation.

steve said...
Robert said...
“I really don’t like racial prejudices and other prejudices that come from hateful hearts”

Of course, this is symptomatic of Robert’s self-righteousness. Christians of genuine sanctity don’t strut and fluff their feathers in this ostentatious way. Is there something about Arminian theology that fosters all this moral preening?

“And they have certain common features, such as the racist decides beforehand, completely apart from what the person does or what kind of a person they are, that an entire class of human persons is worth being hated and mocked and destroyed.”

Of course, in Calvinism, God damns sinners. But Robert can’t tell the difference between sin and skin. And somebody who can’t tell the difference between sin and skin is, by definition, a racist.

“And for the racist if someone is from that class of hated non-persons, then anything evil done to them is justified.”

Notice that Robert equates retributive justice with evil–nicely illustrating his morally inverted scale of values.

“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.”

A bald-faced lie. The rebrobate are sinners. That’s the kind of person they are.

When someone lies as often as Robert does, you begin to question his spiritual paternity. Like father/like son.

“He just hates them because they are reprobates.”

No, because they’re hateful sinners deserving God’s wrath.

“(And he decided they would be in the reprobate class, the class of those ‘automatically damned’).”

Just like the OT had automatic penalties for capital crimes.

“And the calvinists just can’t understand why non-Calvinists find their system to be so morally objectionable.”

Oh, it’s easy to understand why someone like Robert finds Calvinism so morally objectionable. He loves his own kind.

“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.”

This is from a man who pats himself on the back for his Christian civility. But, with Robert, it doesn’t take long for the mask to come off.

“Actually it is because we believe that scripture has authority that we accept scripture and reject the Calvinistic system.”

“We”? That’s not how Reppert framed the issue. He asked how we should respond if the “best reading of Scripture” yielded a certain consequence. And he used that as a reason to reject what, by his own hypothetical, is the “best reading of Scripture.” That’s hardly deferring to Scripture.

And it’s not as if Robert cares about the authority of Scripture. Why didn’t he take issue with Reppert’s subversive way of framing the issue, which contains an implicit challenge to the authority of Scripture?

But, no. That would go against Robert’s priorities. The Bible is fishwrap to Robert compared with what is really important to him: attacking Calvinism.

“And calvinists reject the plain and clear teachings of scripture because of their false man invented system of theology. You really can’t be any more plain and clear than when God says ‘For God so loved the world that . . .’ We take it to mean what it was intended to mean. Necessatarians on the other hand have to **reinterpret** texts like John 3:16 to fit their a priori system, so they lose their plain and clear intended meanings.”

Of course, in responding to Reppert’s appeal to Jn 3:16, I didn’t quote a “Calvinist” interpretation. I quoted a non-Calvinist. So Robert’s statement is either willfully ignorant or willfully false.

“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.”

Another example of Robert’s Arminian civility in action. His charity knows no bounds.

“The dirty little secret Hays keeps putting under the rug or hiding in the closet is that if all events are predetermined by God (as Hays wishes were true) then God predecides every choice that we will make.”

I’ve never tried to “hide” that connection. Robert sounds increasingly like a tinfoil conspiracy theorist.

“And so every time we sin we are only doing what God predecided in eternity that we would do and then ensures that we do in time by controlling us and forcing us to do the sins that he predecided that we would do.”

Robert needs to explain where “force” comes into play.

And, according to Arminianism, God “predecided” what we would do by creating the world in which we will do it. Once he does that, there’s no turning back.

“God makes all of the choices; we just carry out the orders as he controls us and forces us to do what we do like the good sock puppets that we are.”

I agree that Robert is a sockpuppet, although the choice of adjectives (“good”) is certainly debatable.

“And being forced to do things, is not coercion against our will, rather, it is being forced to do things because he directly and completely and continuously controls our wills.”

Another falsehood. In Calvinism, God doesn’t control everything “directly.”

“Oh and Steve if anything I say here upsets you or frustrates you, (assuming your system to be true), then I am only following orders, only doing what I was controlled to do. I couldn’t help myself, it was impossible for me to do otherwise. So if you have a problem with anything I say then take it up with your puppet master version of God.”

To the contrary, it’s not my problem when folks like Robert store up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath. They’re fulfilling an eschatological prediction. That’s a problem for them, not for me.

steve said...
drwayman said...

"Robert - it appears that you are being cast as a non-Christian."

But if Robert is casting Calvinists as Nazis and Klansmen, that doesn't bother Wayman. That's because Wayman is an Arminian respecter of persons. An Arminan chauvinist. He only loves his own kind. Thanks for showing Arminian ethics in action.

steve said...
William Watson Birch said...

"When exactly did you become God? Can you justify a person? Can you regenerate a soul? Can you persevere a believer? When did you become the Judge of all the earth?"

When Robert compares Calvinists to Nazis and Klansmen, you don't think that's judgmental language? Do you think Hitler went to heaven when he died?

But, of course, Robert one of your own, so you give him a pass. You're just another Arminian respecter of persons. You love your own kind. Make excuses for your own team. You preach universal love and equal treatment for all, but in practice you play favorites. A sectarian chauvinist.

steve said...
drwayman said...

"Steve - It's too bad that you see me as so narrow as to only love Arminians. I love you too."

Robert compares Calvinists to Nazis and Klansmen. Is that your idea of loving discourse?

If a Calvinist compared Arminians to Nazis and Klansmen, would you regard that as loving discourse?

But you pass over his comparisons in silence. So you play favorites. You're just another Arminian chauvinist.

steve said...
William Watson Birch said...

"Yeah, you just say that he is storing up wrath for himself against the Day of God's judgment. That's so much nicer!"

Once again, you're ducking the question of whether or not you think Robert's language is judgmental. Shifting the blame is just a dodge.

But since Robert is one of your own, he's above criticism. You only love your own kind.

steve said...
drwayman said...

"Steve - I give you a pass. I love you."

Your lips say one thing but your feet say another. Try to bring your lips and feet into a state of mutual alignment.

steve said...
William Watson Birch said...

"Have you ever prayed for me, Steve? Do you pray to the Lord that he will open our eyes? Do you have any pity on us, that we are caught up in this false doctrine?"

Since I don't regard Arminianism as a damnable error, I'd have no occasion to pray for an Arminian on that account. There might be other occasions, but that's not one of them.

And, at the risk of stating the obvious, I either know or know about far more people than I have time to pray about, so I prioritize.

steve said...
J.C. Thibodaux said...

"You haven't answered his question Steve: what do you mean by 'respecter of persons?'"

I've already that question two months ago:

steve said...
J.C. Thibodaux said...

“Irony #1, someone who teaches that God condemns people on an unconditional basis but saves others on an equally unconditional basis is so quick to accuse people of 'respect of persons.'”

No irony here, since I’m not faulting Robert, or his Arminian defenders, by my own standards. Rather, I’m faulting him and his Arminian defenders by Arminian standards. You’re the guys whose theological ethic commits you to equal treatment for all.

“Irony #2, a person who baselessly implies that Christians are reprobates and thinks that maliciously slandering and bearing false witness against them is justifiable, suddenly starts whining that the other side's supposed to be 'civil' when comparisons between his beliefs and a racist belief system are drawn.”

Aside from your tendentious mischaracterization, which is, itself, slanderous, bearing false witness, &c., I’m not faulting Robert by my own standards. Rather, I’m faulting Robert by his own standards. He’s the one who makes pretentious claims about Christian civility, while he then proceeds to flagrantly violate his own code of conduct where the Calvinist is concerned.

Next time you go hunting for ironies, try to master what it means to answer an opponent on his own grounds. It would behoove you not to be so trigger-happy, for you end up shooting yourself in the foot.

But, of course, you’re a partisan, so you react like a partisan-thereby corroborating my allegation. Thanks for the supporting evidence.

September 21, 2009 4:12 PM

steve said...
William Watson Birch said...

“Where are Robert's words? I haven't read them in this thread.”

I see. So you rush to Robert’s defense before you even read the statements of his that I was responding to. That knee-jerk reaction is the very definition of a blind partisan.

“Yeah, you just say that he is storing up wrath for himself against the Day of God's judgment. That's so much nicer!”

Let’s evaluate Robert by Birch’s own criteria, shall we? As a recall, Birch has said, on more than one occasion, that Calvinists and Arminians worship the same God. And since he obviously thinks that Arminians worship the true God, then, by parity of argument, he must believe that Calvinists also worship the true God.

Enter Robert: Robert compares the God of Calvinism to Nazis and Klansmen.

By Birch’s own logic, this means that Robert is comparing the true God to Nazis and Klansmen.

Wouldn’t that qualify as blasphemy? And what is the presumptive spiritual status of blasphemers? You tell me.

steve said...
William Watson Birch said...

"And I noticed that the ONE thing you refused to comment on in my thread was my sincere prayer for you, Hays, and your family."

Well, Billy, the problem is that you mentioned two different prayers:

"Perhaps something happened to you or a family member. Immediately I began praying for you and your family, that God would protect you physically, mentally and emotionally."

"I have, however, prayed that God would open your hearts to treat others better."

The first prayer is a nice Christian prayer, and I have no reason to question your sincerity.

However, the second prayer is really a reproof cloaked in prayer. The mention of the second prayer spoils the effect of the first.

steve said...
William Watson Birch said...

"Well, Steve, shall you not partake of your own medicine? Robert was merely taking an idea and showing a similarity. They only have to be similar to one another in some important respect."

Which begs the question of whether his Nazi/KKK comparisons are specious or logically sound. Are you now agreeing with him?

Unless you have suddenly retracted your oft-stated position regarding Arminians and Calvinists worshipping the same (true) God, how could comparing the true God with Nazis and Klansmen be a valid comparison?

steve said...
William Watson Birch said...

“And how could comparing the fatalistic and dualistic notions of Manichaeanism be a valid comparison of Arminius's Arminianism?”

For specific reasons I gave–which you’ve done nothing to rebut.

“(Don't think that I and everyone else watching hasn't noticed your avoidance in answering Dale's simple question, cf. 1 John 5:1-2.)”

Since Dale doesn’t act lovingly towards Calvinists, I take it that you don’t think Dale is born again–a la 1 Jn 5:1-2. Was that your point?

“Nazis and Klansmen prefer to favor a respective race. God unconditionally prefers to favor certain people.”

Racists (e.g. Nazis, Klansmen) don’t favor one race over another unconditionally. Rather, their racism is predicated on a theory of racial superiority. To be favored, you must meet a condition of racial purity and racial superiority.

So your comparison is fatally equivocal.

“I loved your latest post on prayer. What a coincidence that you thought to post that after I publicly stated my praying for you.”

I didn’t single out anyone in particular. I didn’t name anyone.
“BTW, you just exposed the apostle Paul's public acknowledgment that he prayed specifically for others.”

No named individuals–much less individuals he disapproved of.

“…betrays praying for one's enemies in the first place.”

Since I don’t regard mere theological opponents as “enemies," what’s the point?

steve said...
J.C. Thibodaux said...

“Such elephant-hurling/non-explanatory strawman burning doesn't explain anything about what you're saying. Care to cite any specifics?”

Specifics for what? Evidence that Robert frequently insists on the necessity of civil discourse? Since you read blogs where Robert has often left such comments, I hardly need to tell you what you already know. Do you deny that Robert has frequently made statements to that effect?

Or evidence that given his aforesaid statements, he has violated his own code of conduct? A specific case in point would be the very example I cited (e.g. Nazis/Klansman).

“Wrong again, you've plainly stated as much yourself. Your sophistry won't evade that fact.”

Which I rebutted:

“If you're still under the delusion that answering someone 'on his own grounds' justifies breaking God's commands by bearing false witness, you can keep such godless rhetoric, thank you.”

i) Which I’ve rebutted (see above).

ii) You’re also shifting ground. Your initial argument imputed irony to my response. Since, however, there was nothing ironic about my response, you have to change the subject.

iii) I’d also add that you’re the one, not me, who indulged in slanderous innuendo and bearing false witness by your broad-brush insinuation that two or more Tbloggers were sockpuppets.

iv) And given your high tolerance for Robert’s Nazi/Klansmen” rhetoric, your abhorrence of “godless rhetoric” is somewhat deficient in the sincerity dept.

“You continued to baselessly wail that I'd ‘defended Robert’s misconduct,’ even after I'd clearly stated that Robert could speak for himself on the matter.”

i) You came to his defense by responding to something I said in reply to Robert. For you to then say, in that very context, that you’re not defending Robert is a tribute to your powers of partisan self-deception.

ii) You speak on his behalf when it suits your agenda, but conveniently say he can speak for himself on other occasions when his statements are indefensible.

steve said...
William Watson Birch said...

"BTW, Dale is one of the nicest Arminians on the 'net."

One of the nicest Arminians to fellow Arminians. When commenting on Calvinists and Calvinism, he checks his nicety at the door.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Private prayer

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44).

"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (6:5-6).

I’m sometimes asked who I pray for. Did I pray for Ted Kennedy? Do I pray for my opponents?

The raises a larger question. As a rule, I think it’s a mistake to publicize who we’re praying for.

i) To begin with, I think that savors too much of Mt 6:5. Spiritual pride under the chasuble of spiritual humility.

ii) On a related note, to say you’re praying for someone, especially someone everyone knows you disapprove of, can easily be, and frequently is, a backhanded slap.

And it’s a particularly insidious putdown since the putdown is cloaked in a show of pious concern. “See what a good person I am! When you-know-who mistreats me, I turn the other cheek by praying for his wayward soul!”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with praying for someone who mistreats you (Mt 5:44). But to make a public show of praying for someone who (really or allegedly) mistreats you converts the act of prayer into a sanctimonious weapon.

Love your neighbor

The question sometimes crops up of whether Christians should treat unbelievers the same way as they treat fellow Christians. And, in case they should be treated differently, how does that pan out?

The question is often framed in an adversarial manner. There are unbelievers of the “Theocracy Watch” variety who imagine that all Bible-believing Christians are closet witch-burners who look back wistfully at the goode olde days of the Spanish Inquisition. Inside every outwardly amicable, Bible-believing Christian is a little Torquemada scratching and clawing to get out–like a those chest-popping, acid-dripping critters from the Alien franchise.

Of course, there’s nothing to say to people like this. Given their deep-seated suspicion, any denial on our part would be scoffed at.

However, the question is still worth answering, if only for our own sake. Let’s take a few examples.

Suppose you’re hiking with some friends. One of your hiking companions, who happens to be an atheist, sprains his ankle. If you go at his pace, that will slow you down.

Suppose a dangerous weather front is approaching. If you lag behind to help him out, you do so at considerable risk to your own safety.

What would you do? What should you do?

Suppose you’re a consistent unbeliever. In that case it would be irrational for you to risk your own life to save his. You’ve only got one life to live.

Suppose you’re a consistent Christian. In that event, all things being equal, you’d assume a personal risk. You’d stay behind to tend to his needs as best you could.

(I say, “all things being equal.” You do have to balance the risk against other obligations. For example, if you’re an only child, you shouldn’t assume the same degree of risk, for your parents may depend on you in their old age. If, on the other hand, you’re one of nine kids, then you can assume a higher risk.)

In this scenario, a Christian would treat an unbeliever better than his fellow unbelievers would. So Christian ethics is more loving and neighborly to the unbeliever-next-door than secular ethics.

On a related note, it’s not as if Peter Singer’s influential brand of secular ethics is very loving or caring–not even where his fellow infidels are concerned.

This, in turn, shades into a related issue. Atheists sometimes quote polling data according to which a majority of Americans distrust atheists. They then complain about how unfair this is to atheists.

But should a Christian trust an unbeliever? Well, it’s a matter of degree. Let’s take another example.

In a combat situation, who would want to take with you? A comrade who believes in the afterlife, or a comrade who denies the afterlife?

A consistent unbeliever would be less reliable since, from his perspective, he has everything to lose if he’s killed. So he’s less likely to risk his own skin to save his comrades under fire.

Now, in real life, people can be inconsistent. A lot depends on what we know about a person.

But that’s a general sense in which Christians would be inclined to treat an unbeliever differently than a fellow Christian. That’s not the same thing as mistreating an unbeliever. Treating him unjustly. Or treating him worse. It’s just a question of prudence.

Take another example: if two men are running for public office, one a competent Christian, and the other a competent atheist, should a Christian voter treat one differently than the other?

Well, there are situations where their policies may overlap, but as a rule the atheistic candidate will have policies which are unsympathetic to Christian values. So we don’t trust him to represent our interests.

In the last two examples, no injustice is done to the unbeliever. To the contrary, we’re simply taking him at his word. We take his ideology to heart. We take his agenda seriously. If he’s sincere about what he says he believes, then, to that extent, he can’t be trusted.