Saturday, October 31, 2009

Is Catholicism Christian?

Here's a recent thread at Justin Taylor's blog in which I discuss whether Catholicism should be considered Christian and some common objections to my view on the subject.

Reformation Day

Here's a collection of many of Triablogue's articles about the historical roots of the Reformation and Evangelicalism.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Don't Overestimate The Empty Tomb

You may think I meant to say "underestimate" rather than "overestimate". But the title of the post is correct. Here's something I recently wrote at the Stand To Reason blog:

I agree with your main point. The case for Jesus' physical resurrection is made significantly stronger by bringing in the empty tomb. I would include the empty tomb if I were to debate the subject, and I would include other evidence often not mentioned by people like Mike Licona and William Lane Craig in their debates.

But I think you're underestimating the strength of the argument without the empty tomb. It's not as though non-physical supernatural appearances of Jesus would be consistent with Bart Ehrman's view. You refer to "apparitions", but something like a supernatural vision could serve as evidence for Christianity. A non-physical appearance of Jesus could be inconsistent with naturalistic theories. The data Licona cited concerning the nature of hallucinations would be relevant even if every appearance of Jesus had been non-physical.

I agree with you that Licona would have to take on an added burden if he were to appeal to "the Gospel accounts that speak of Jesus' appearances as being physical in nature". But he could argue for the physical nature of the appearances without even doing that. The gospels and other early sources reflect an underlying theme in first-century Israel that would have to be addressed even if the gospels didn't exist. The reports of physical evidence for Jesus' resurrection are found in every gospel and in Acts (Matthew 28:9, Mark 16:4-6, Luke 24:42-43, John 21:9-13, Acts 10:41, etc.), as well as in a possibly independent passage in Ignatius of Antioch (Letter To The Smyrnaeans, 3; note the added detail in Ignatius as compared to the gospels). That widespread early concern for physical evidence is consistent with what we know of the mainstream view of resurrection in the Judaism of that time. How likely is it that so many people (hundreds referred to in 1 Corinthians 15 alone) would think they had seen the risen Christ without seeking physical evidence and without coming into contact with physical evidence regardless of whether they were seeking it?

What Matthew's gospel mentions in passing, the incident in which some women touch Jesus' feet (Matthew 28:9), is the sort of thing we would expect to happen at some point, probably multiple times. The idea that hundreds of people living in the context of first-century Israel would think they had seen a resurrected man, yet have sought no physical confirmation of it or sought it and never received it, is unlikely. Peter may have been present during three of more appearances (the appearances to Cephas, the Twelve, and all of the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15). Did he hallucinate three times, and did he never successfully seek physical confirmation? The more people and appearances there are, in a setting like first-century Israel, the more difficult it is to argue that there probably wouldn't have been any physical evidence involved. Documents like the gospels make the case stronger, but the case can be made to some extent even from a passage like 1 Corinthians 15.

I would add that defending the gospel accounts (and the accounts of Paul's experience in Acts, which also have physical elements) is less difficult than is often suggested. The earliest Christians were highly concerned about eyewitness testimony (Richard Bauckham, Jesus And The Eyewitnesses [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006]). The highest church office, that of apostle, was reserved for eyewitnesses. The most prominent churches of the second century were churches that had been in historical contact with the apostles (Rome, Smyrna, Ephesus, etc.), since the early Christians valued eyewitness testimony so much. Etc.

How likely is it that none of the eyewitnesses' accounts of seeing the risen Jesus would have been preserved? Or that some were preserved, but that every reference to physical evidence within those accounts is inauthentic? A skeptic could assert such a position, but on what convincing basis would he expect others to agree with him? And, of course, a Christian could argue for the traditional authorship attributions of the gospels and Acts. For example, there seems to have been widespread corroboration of those attributions among the early enemies of Christianity. The early Christians were honest about the doubts they had concerning other authorship attributions, and we have other reasons for trusting what they said about gospel authorship. There are so many reasons to trust what the gospels and other early sources report about physical evidence for the resurrection. It would place an added burden on somebody like Mike Licona to argue for such data in a debate, but I think people often underestimate how successfully it could be done.

Barnac the Magnificent

I was never a regular viewer of the Tonight Show, but from time to time I’ve seen little clips of Johnny Carson doing his Carnac the Magnificent act.

Carson retired in 1992, and died in 2005. However, I see that Barack Obama has assumed the mantle of Carnac the Magificent.

Obama gives a speech a day. He’s the all-seeing oracle who knows the answer to everything. An instant expert on anything and everything. The Carnac-in-Chief.

Bring all your questions to Barnac the Magnificent, and watch him do his billet-reading routine.

The Failure Of The Both/And Approach To Justification

Francis Beckwith, quoting Taylor Marshall, wrote:

So the right answer is that salvation is 100% divine and 100% human – the divine grace being prior to human faith and works. That’s the Catholic position and I would challenge you to read the New Testament with this Catholic paradigm in mind. I think that you will find that it sheds light on passages, brings about a cohesive whole, and clarifies those “difficult passages” that Protestants avoid or dismiss (e.g. James 2, Hebrews 6).

Works (including involvement in baptism and other sacraments) are 100% absent in the paradigm case of Abraham (Genesis 15:6) and 100% absent in the historical descriptions of how others were justified (Mark 2:5, Luke 7:50, Acts 10:44-48, Galatians 3:2-9, etc.). Works were present in Abraham's life, a point made in James 2, and they would have followed faith in cases like those in Mark 2, Luke 7, etc. But justification occurs at the time of faith, not at the time of baptism or any other work. Not only would it be a less natural interpretation to dismiss these passages as exceptions to a rule, but some of these passages are presented in contexts that are about what's normative, not what's exceptional. People like Abraham, the tax collector of Luke 18, Cornelius, and the Galatians are treated as if the means by which they received justification was normative. Every one of them received justification through faith alone, without the presence of baptism or any other work.

Paul often points back to how people were initially justified (Galatians 3:2, Ephesians 1:13-14, etc.). The Judaizers couldn't argue that while justification is initially attained through faith alone, works could be added as means of maintaining or increasing justification later. It seems that Paul viewed the initial means of attaining justification as evidence that works couldn't be added to the process, as a means of justification, afterward.

But let's set that point aside for the moment. Assume, for the sake of argument, that works might become a means of maintaining or increasing justification after justification is received. The fact would remain that scripture contradicts Roman Catholic soteriology on the issue of how justification is initially attained. Passages like Genesis 15 and Acts 10 don't reflect a Catholic view. They reflect an Evangelical view.

Yes, Catholicism teaches that "the divine grace [is] prior to human faith and works", as Taylor Marshall puts it. But scripture teaches that justification occurs, normatively, prior to baptism and other works, which is inconsistent with Catholic teaching. To use Marshall's examples, scripture does suggest that Jesus is both God and man and that Peter was both empowered by God to walk on water and walked by his own power. Thus, we have to account for both. But when baptism and other works are absent from passages of scripture like the ones discussed above, there are no works to account for. You don't need an explanation that includes both faith and works. To the contrary, an explanation that includes works is wrong. It includes too much. It's more reasonable to read passages like Hebrews 6 and James 2 as Evangelicals do than it is to include works in passages like the ones I've discussed above or to dismiss those passages as exceptions to a rule.

Do Catholics worship Mary?

For some odd reason, Victor Reppert has chosen to defend the cult of Mary against the charge of idolatry. And a couple of Catholics have rushed to his aid.

The basic argument seems to be that Catholics can’t be guilty of worshipping Mary since they don’t regard her as God. Therefore, they don’t venerate Mary in the same sense that they venerate Jesus or the Trinity.

There are several basic problems with this argument:

i) To be an idolater, you don’t have to ascribe to your “god” the same set of attributes you ascribe to Christ or the Trinity.

For example, if a Viking worships Thor, this doesn’t mean that Thor is given the same attributes as Christ or the Trinity. Indeed, by Christian standards, if a Thor-like being existed, he’d be more like a fallen angel. A finite being with superhuman powers.

So it’s not as if the Viking is transferring to Thor the attributes of the true God. Yet the Viking is still an idolater.

Let’s take a limiting-case of idolatry: Satanism. Does a devil-worshiper apply to Satan the same attributes as a Christian applies to Jesus or the Trinity? Obviously not.

In the mind of the Satanist, the devil is the polar opposite of God. A supernatural antihero. The devotion of a devil-worshiper stands in conscious, defiant contrast to Christian piety.

Yet Satanism is a very aggravated for of idolatry. Idolatry taken to its logical extreme.

ii) Likewise, in polytheistic idolatry, the “gods” range along a continuum. High gods and lesser gods. A wood nymph doesn’t have the same attributes as Zeus. A pagan worshiper can distinguish between the attributes of one “god” and another. You pray to different “gods” for different favors.

But whether a Greek priest prays to Zeus or a lowly wood nymph, it’s still idolatry.

iii) This brings us to the final issue. The question is not whether Catholicism is able to concoct some face-saving distinctions which shield the cult of Mary from the charge of idolatry. The question, rather, is whether Marian devotions constitute worship in the way the Bible describes the nature of worship–as well as various perversions of worship. Is she the functional equivalent of a patron goddess?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Why I Believe in God"

From John Mark Reynolds:
In one comment thread on this blog, someone asked why I believe. Here is a short answer.

It is an odd thing to be called on to defend something you think you know. It is disturbing at first, because it makes you simultaneously wonder about your own mental clarity and that of your questioner. Why would he ask such a question? Isn’t the truth of the matter obvious?

Unfortunately, there are few things we believe that some other person, seemingly rational, cannot doubt. After a bit of reflection, the doubts of others about my beliefs are less disturbing, because it is a chance to exercise wonder. Not surprisingly it is wonderful to wonder and a chance to wonder why I think God exists has proven an excellent opportunity for healthy Socratic doubt leading to a sense of His presence.

I am thankful for the process.

God exists, but what God? I mean the God that is all-powerful, all knowing, the God who is the Creator of the cosmos. By definition if such a God exists, there is only one God, because only one being could logically be omnipotent.

Some of my atheist friends assert that since I don’t believe in many gods, I am just an atheist who has refused to go all the way. After all, having given up on the worship of Zeus why do I cling to the worship of the God of the Bible?

My friends are mistaken, however. I don’t reject Zeus, because he does not exist, but because he is evil. The Zeus revealed to me in Homer is not worthy of worship, because he uses his power for evil. Now my friends who are atheists might immediately reply that the God of the Old Testament also commands or does things that appear evil to us, but this is different. The God of the Old Testament is presented as good and some of His reported actions are difficult to square with that goodness. At the worst a believer need only doubt the report, but the gods of the Greeks are presented as intentionally acting for our harm.

There is no giving Zeus the benefit of the doubt, because he and his worshipers do not ask for it!

Of course, in any case Christians do not deny that Zeus might exist as a spirit, though he clearly does not (at present) physically dwell on the top of Mount Olympus! We do not claim to know every supernatural being that exists and for all I know the supernatural world is very complex place indeed. I have it on good authority that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in Richard Dawkins and my philosophy.

So why do I know God exists?

Given the limits of a short essay, I will only be able to point in the direction of my favorite reasons, but there are many books that provide deeper justification and further explication of these reasons. On a popular level favorite books that were helpful to me include J.P. Moreland's Scaling the Secular City and A.E. Taylor's Does God Exist? Readers looking for something more difficult would do well to check out the work of Richard Swinburne of Oxford University.

Of course, I don’t believe in God at first because I sat and thought about Him. I believe in God, because I encountered Him. I prayed and had an experience of Him from a very early age. He has answered my prayers and forced me to change my behavior. This every day direct mental experience of His existence is fundamentally why I know God is real.

If I did not have it, I would have little motivation to wonder about Him, but I sought Him and I found Him . . . or better He found me! Of course, despite my apparent sanity (from my own biased point of view!), I might be mad or deceived. God might be an illusion in my head, despite the sense that there is a different mental texture to what His voice is saying.

Once challenged in his beliefs by reasonable questions, only a fool or a saint would be sure that he was not deluding himself. I know I am no saint and I hope not to be a fool, so I had to ask if my experiences were real and if I had correctly interpreted them.

It is important, therefore, that I have every day indirect experience of His existence. The community of believers around me matters. I am not alone in thinking God is real or speaks to people. This does not prove that God exist, but the billions of people over long periods of time who have believed in God does suggest that at the very least I am not the victim of some private delusion!

So I speak to God and He speaks to me and millions of living and otherwise rational human beings share this experience. It is what I would anticipate if God is out there. Why do some people fail to share that experience?

I don’t know, but absence of evidence in a few does not suggest the problem is in those who believe.

Third, there are philosophical arguments that suggest the existence of God is either necessary or reasonable. For example, the existence and nature of the cosmos suggests the existence of a rational God. The universe appears to have order and design and I am not persuaded that merely naturalistic processes can account for this order and design. Whatever the process God used to create, and only the arrogant believe they have this all worked out, the fundamental nature of that creation suggests a plan.

Fourth, morality persuades me that God exists. The long trajectory of human history demonstrates a common morality behind the blind spots of any particular culture. There is a common way that most people in most places and most times have followed. This law suggests a lawgiver.

Fifth, the existence of gratuitous beauty convinces me God exists. When I traveled above the clouds for the first time with my oldest son, he told me that it was beautiful and neither of us was surprised. Wherever we looked, we saw beauty and this was not a beauty that could have been hardwired into us by any natural process. Wherever we look as humans even to the furthest reaches of the cosmos beauty is there waiting for us.

Sixth, the world of Ideas points in the direction of the existence of the Mind of God. As a Platonist, I am convinced that numbers and ideas are real. There is a metaphysical world that cannot be reduced to the material. This does not prove God exists, but makes His existence more plausible to me.

Finally, love suggests to me that God is real. As Plato points out in his masterful dialogue Symposium love is surely of something. Humanity possesses a love for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful that demands a proper object. Only God is great enough to be a sufficient end for all the longing in the human heart. It might be that the universe is perverse and has given us this great longing without any means of fulfilling it, but there is no good reason to take this withering view. The sensible, indeed the hopeful response, is to assume that like hunger or thirst this longing too can find satisfaction in reality.

My friends who don’t believe in God might claim that I believe in God, partly, because I want to do so. This is true. The existence of a good God is such an awesome, exciting, and hopeful idea that I am rooting for it. There is nothing irrational with giving good news the benefit of the doubt, if you don’t sacrifice your mind to do so.

You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.

Mandatum novum

I was recently asked to comment on Yoder's use of Jn 13:34 as a prooftext of pacifism. Here is my reply:

1.Yoder is assuming that love is incompatible with violence. However, that’s far from obvious. In a fallen world, it isn’t possible to be loving to everyone every time. For in a fallen world, people do harmful things. If you’re loving to the perpetrator, then your unloving to his past or prospective victims. If you refuse to restrain the perpetrator by force, then how is your pacifism loving to the victim? And if you refuse to punish him, that’s unloving to his victims since it denies them a just recompense.

Or, to take another example, we might spank a 2-year-old who runs out into a busy intersection. He’s too young to be amendable to reason. But he understands pain. The fear of corporal punishment deters him from repeating that risky behavior. It’s “violent,” but loving.

2.Jn 13:34 couldn’t furnish a prooftext for pacifism since, in context, it’s referring to in-group love rather than out-group love. Christians are commanded to love one another. So the scope of the command is restricted to members of the covenant community.

Of course, that doesn’t preclude the possibility of out-group love. But Yoder will need to find a different prooftext to swing that argument. A prooftext for pacifism would require a reference to one’s enemies–not fellow Christians. And even then, it would be subject to other qualifications (see above, #1).

3.What makes the new commandment new?

i) The explicit differential factor is a new standard–the example of Jesus.

Indeed, it’s more than exemplary. It’s grounded in his redemptive death for his own (cf. 13:1). Christians love one another as the reflexive response to God’s love for them.

There are likely one or two implicit differential factors as well:

ii) This is a command for members of the new covenant community.

iii) And Ridderbos thinks that this is new, in part, because the coming of the Paraclete will create a new ability (through spiritual renewal) to keep this commandment.

I’m not sure about that interpretation, but it’s worth considering. (Hard to prove or disprove since we can’t enter into the experience of pre-Christian believers.)

4.BTW, the command is outward looking (v35) as well as inward looking. It includes a missionary dimension. However, even that is oriented to members of the in-group. To those the Father gave Jesus. Present and prospective members of the new covenant community. The ingathering of God’s elect.

Splitting the difference

On the one hand, Francis Beckwith says:

"In fact, virtually every Christological heresy in the history of the church is the consequence of someone trying to split the difference."

On the other hand, he also says:

"It [Roman Catholicism] rejects as artificial bifurcations the 'dilemmas' that are the woof and warp of most Protestant theologies: God's sovereignty v. Man's autonomy, faith v. works, Scripture v. tradition, body v. soul, nature v. grace."

Looks like Catholicism is trying to split the difference Scripture and tradition, nature and grace, sovereignty and freedom, &c. But isn't that know...heretical?

Boris Has Been Banned

I've deleted his most recent posts, banned him, and hidden his posts that aren't deleted. He created two Boris screen names, probably in an attempt to have a second one in place in case his first account was banned. I suspect he knew that his behavior was bad enough to warrant a banning. He may decide to post again under other screen names. And he complains about Christian ethics.

Here are some examples of his latest comments, none of which he supported with arguments or documentation:

For what reason should any sane person believe that Jesus Christ even existed? Give me a good reason not the lies I've heard all my life....

Methodological naturalism is a principle NOT a philosophy. Leave it to a Bible believer to distort the language and redefine words away from their actual meaning to make their case....

No scientists like Victor Stenger and the ones who made Michael Behe admit he hadn’t done any research on the evolution of the immune system. Or the scientists who work with Behe who have disowned him or the ones who made him cry like a little girl on the witness stand....

There is no evidence for anything supernatural in the universe. That’s why no one in their right mind studies it. If something supernatural should appear or occur who is better qualified to study it and repost their findings than scientists. Theologians? Theology isn’t even a subject. Theology is the study of nothing like Thomas Paine said....

Give an example of what area scientific research is not applicable. We all know Bible believers don’t like I when their paper idol is subjected to a scientific criticism. Is that what you’re talking about? Hahaha...

ID isn’t science because science doesn’t begin with preconceived notions that can never be challenged or changed. And again, science has to produce results and advance knowledge. The major tenet of ID magic is thou shall not think. ID will never produce anything but delusions buddy....

I can’t remember reading a more retarded post that yours in the last few months. You base all your arguments on bogus assumptions and falsehoods so it’s no wonder your post was so easy to refute....

Intelligent Design is a Christian hoax. It doesn’t matter if some senile idiot like Anthony Flip-Flop Flew has fallen for it. The ID promoters are all Christian creationists....

How come every private Christian college and university teaches that teaches science teaches evolution and common descent and not one teaches Intelligent Design magic? This little fact is something the ID hoaxers don’t want the general public to find out. It’s easy to fool creationists because 90 percent of them have never set foot on a college campus.

A monkey's uncle?

[Quote] Their remarkable progress led to a vast, ambitious vision: to spell out the full complement of genes in the human genome. As Walter Gilbert of Harvard University put it, “The search for this ‘Holy Grail’ of who we are has now reached its culminating phase. The ultimate goal is the acquisition of all the details of our genome.”

This astonishing achievement has indeed transformed our view of ourselves, but not in the way that was anticipated. The first surprise was that there were so few genes. Rather than the predicted 100,000 or more, the finally tally of about 25,000 was very puzzling, and all the more so when compared with the genomes of other animals much simpler than ourselves. There are about 17,000 genes in a fruit fly and about 26,000 in a sea urchin. Many species of plants have far more genes than we do–rice has about 38,000, for example.

In 2001, the director of the chimpanzee genome project, Svante Paabo, anticipated that when the sequencing of the ape’s genome was completed, it would be possible to identify “the profoundly interesting genetic prerequisites that make us different from other animals.” When the complete chimpanzee sequence was published four years later, his interpretation was more muted: “We cannot see in this why we are so different from chimpanzees.”

In the wake of the Human Genome Project, the mood has changed dramatically. The old assumption that life would be understood if molecular biologists knew the “program” of an organism is giving way to a realization that there is a huge gap between gene sequences and the way living organisms grow and behave.

R. Sheldrake, Morphic Resonance (Park Street Press 2009), xvi-xviii.

Jeremy Pierce on Reformed theodicy

[Responding to Victor Reppert]:

Jeremy Pierce said...

There are two key claims in the argument:

1. God's reasons are all reducible to acting for his glory.
2. Everyone deserves far worse than they get in this life.

I can think of one influential Calvinist who holds the first claim to be true, John Piper. I don't see how it's essential to Calvinism. In fact, plenty of Calvinists don't want to engage in that kind of reductionism of all of God's motivations to that one motive. They're happy to put God's love on part with God's pursuit of his own glory. (They won't make it more fundamental, or they'd be denying some clear statements in scripture.)

But I think you can run the argument without claim (1). Doesn't the argument fully work as long as everyone deserves worse than they get in this life? And isn't that something all (non-Pelagian) Christians should believe, given that we are all being given grace not to go to hell immediately and forever? There's nothing particularly Calvinist about that.

I'm not sure it's right to say this dissolves the problem of evil, either. What it does is provide an explanation for why God allows evil. Why isn't that just another theodicy? Or does any theodicy dissolve the problem of evil?

Gordon, you have to keep in mind what it is to give God glory. It's not that his glory increases or anything like that. God receiving the glory is just people recognizing that God is good.

If God is the most perfect being possible, and all goodness comes from God, then God receiving the glory is just recognition of goodness wherever it is and acknowledgment of God as the source. This includes recognizing that a human being is intrinsically good and seeking the person's good because of it.

So the kind of love you have in mind is not just compatible with the things Piper says. It's guaranteed by it. God's glory requires God to appreciate the intrinsic goodness in every part of his creation. Piper's premises require that.

So I don't think Piper's view eliminates love for created beings at all. I don't think his way of stating things is helpful communicatively, and I'm not sure I want to put God's glory at foundation with nothing else at that level of explanation, but I don't think Piper's view can fairly be accused of implying that God can only love himself.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Barqueing up the wrong tree

Francis J. Beckwith said...

“Is it just me, but why is that there has never been a great Calvinist saint on par with Augustine, Aquinas, or John Paul II? When I think of Reformed theology, holiness and love do not jump out at me.”

i) That’s a very revealing comment coming from somebody who likes to accuse his opponents of “bigotry.” I’d be hard pressed to find a more bigoted statement than his.

ii) I also don’t know how the conversation suddenly jumped from the proper way to designate members of the church of Rome to the piety of Calvinists.

iii) How we answer his question depends, in part, on whether we judge saintliness by Catholic standards or Biblical standards. For example, is devotion to the Black Madonna of Częstochowa a mark of sanctity or idolatry?

Likewise, this is how John-Paul II responded to Cardinal Law’s complicity in the priestly abuse scandal: “Archpriest of the Patriarchal (now Papal) Liberian Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. Member of: Congregations: for the Oriental Churches; for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; for Bishops; for the Evangelization of Peoples; for the Clergy; for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; for Catholic Education; Pontifical Council for the Family.”

Is that a mark of the late pope’s saintliness or his moral blindness?

I also don’t know why Beckwith thinks Augustine can be so holy and loving, but a Calvinist cannot. What’s the differential factor, exactly? It can’t very well be belief in predestination.

Is it that, after his conversion, Augustine sent his longtime mistress packing, a woman who bore him a son? Why not do the honorable thing and take her to be his wife?

On the other hand, George Whitfield (to take one example) does strike me as an example of saintly Christian character.

iv) As a rule, holy folks aren’t famous folks. They generally lead quiet, unobtrusive lives. Godly mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, brothers, sisters, and friends who live and die in self-effacing obscurity. Some of them are backwater missionaries or small town pastors. The whole notion of “great saints” whom we can tabulate bespeaks a cult of celebrity which is incongruous with true sanctity.

“No offense, but you have no idea of the joy and peace I have found on the Barque of Peter. For once, I know what why it is important to be holy.”

For someone who’s full of peace and joy, Beckwith seems pretty irritable.

As far as the “Barque of Peter” is concerned, Catholicism is like a superyacht with a glorious upper deck while the lower decks are taking on water. A fantastic view–until it sinks below the waterline.

“It's not just because I'm ‘grateful to God,’ which sounds like something I need to conjure up.”

Christians need to “conjure up” a spirit of thanksgiving? Gratitude to God is just a conjuring trick?

“Rather, it's about kneeling prostrate at the altar at which the Eucharist rests and allowing the grace of God to transform me from the inside out. It is indeed quite a gift, these sacraments.”

When I read this sentence, I can’t suppress the mental picture of devotees who prostrate themselves before images of Buddha, Kali, Lakshmi, Ganesha, &c. Christ and Krishna become interchangeable.

An Interview With Gary Habermas

I just listened to a July 12, 2008 interview with Gary Habermas. He discusses Antony Flew's conversion from atheism to deism and addresses charges that Flew is senile, is just believing whatever the people around him tell him to believe, etc. (For those who don't know, Habermas is a friend of Flew and has been in frequent contact with him for years.) He also mentions that he's gotten an offer from a publisher to write a three-volume series on the resurrection. They would allow him up to eight hundred pages for each volume, based on the estimate he gave them as to how much material he has. I don't know whether he's decided to accept the offer since that interview, but if it's accepted, that could result in a series of books covering more than two thousand pages.

Riding high in the saddle

Francis Beckwith is in a tizzy. Sometimes you have to wonder when the poor guy isn’t in a tizzy. Apparently, “coming home” hasn’t brought him the peace of mind he was seeking.

One of my pet peeves is the intentional overuse of "Rome," "Roman," "Romanist," etc. by Protestant critics of Catholic theology. Here's why: the Catholic Church is a collection of many churches in communion with the Bishop of Rome. It's catechism--The Catechism of the Catholic Church--is that of all these churches that are in communion with one another and with the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI. The theology found in that text, therefore, is not Roman Catholic theology. It is Catholic theology. That's the way the Church understands itself. Common courtesy suggests that those who are critical of that theology summon the respect to refer to it as such.

I am a member of a parish that is in the Latin Rite, and thus, I am, in that sense, "Roman" Catholic. But if, let's say, my wife and I moved to Austin and we became members of Our Lady's Maronite Church, we would still be Catholic, in communion with the Bishop of Rome, but not technically "Roman" Catholic. We would be Maronite Catholic.

I, of course, do not believe that people who use the phrase "Roman Catholic" without knowing its pedigree are intending anything more than to label. Others, however, are less noble in their purposes.

Consequently, anyone with any grasp of the issues knows full well that the Catholic Church is no more the Roman Catholic Church than is the United States of America the District of Columbia of America.

Just as it is not wise or polite to insist on calling a man "black" who asks you to call him an "African American," one should call Catholicism by the name it calls itself rather the label its ignorant or bigoted critics insist on calling it.

If an individual Catholic wants to be called a "Roman Catholic," that's his business, and I will respect him by calling him nothing but that. On the other hand, if the Church with which he is in communion insists on calling itself "Catholic," he and the Protestant should comply, if for no other reason than that it is charitable to do so and charity is a virtue.

I guess it should not surprise me that a Protestant would not only protest against the Catholic Church but also the Catholic Church's use of the word Catholic. He's not pleased with just leaving our church and having his own church; he wants to take our name and give us a new one. So much for the "priesthood of all believers." :-)

You wouldn’t expect a philosophy prof. to exhibit quite so much philosophical naiveté.

i) For starters, when speakers (or writers) use a designation, it’s not necessarily to make a point about the referent. Oftentimes, it’s just a common way of referring to something. A conventional, recognizable designation.

In that context, such usage carries no special significance one way or the other. There’s no subtext.

ii) At other times, the speaker will, indeed, use a designation to make a point. But one of the odd things about Beckwith’s outrage is that “Roman Catholic” or “Roman Catholicism” comports perfectly well with the self-understanding of his denomination. According to the official legend that underwrites his denomination, Peter, as vicar of Christ, was the first bishop of Rome, and he ordained a line of successors. That’s why Catholic apologists and theologians stress “Roman primacy.”

Why Beckwith imagines this usage to be ignorant, or bigoted is puzzling.

iii) It’s even more puzzling when you consider the fact that he himself entitled his book “Return to Rome.” And that’s also the name of his blog.

The fact that he’s so hypersensitive about this innocuous designation on the lips of Protestants must betray some insecurity on his part.

iv) Conversely, and ironically, the reason he gives for why a Protestant speaker should defer to “Catholic” usage is the very reason a Protestant might balk. To the extent that this designation is taken to reflect the self-understanding of his denomination, that’s an excellent reason to avoid it.

A self-designation can be a propaganda device: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter…”

In cases where a self-designation is propagandistic, a speaker has every right to resist that terminology.

Mainland Chinese party officials might well regard it as more charitable and polite to designate their totalitarian regime the “People’s Republic of China,” but I’ll stick with “Red China.”

Mormons might find it more charitable and polite if we called them “Christians” rather than “Mormons.” After all, the self-designation of their cult is “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” That reflects their self-understanding.

Since, however, that self-designation is a propaganda tool, I’ll stick with “Mormon.”

Likewise, the abortion lobby prefers to peddle euphemisms like “woman’s choice” or “medical procedure.” Does charity or courtesy oblige me to be a party of their agenda?

To take his own example, when race-baiters like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson insist on “African-American” to denote and promote their brand of identity-politics, I reserve the right to opt out of that linguistic extortion.

v) I can’t help noticing that the church of Rome only discovered the virtues of courtesy and charity rather late in the day. If, for example, you read the text of Exsurge Domine (available online), the language and countermeasures proposed by Pope Leo X to describe and suppress the nascent Protestant movement doesn’t strike me as overly charitable or courteous.

I also can’t help but notice that this discovery seems to time with the church of Rome’s loss of temporal power. And therein lies a moral: the true test of charity is not to be charitable when you have to be, but to be charitable when you don’t have to be.

Once his denomination no longer had state sponsorship to back its brass knuckle policies, then it suddenly discovered the virtues of tolerance. Funny how those in power are quick to advocate tolerance the moment they fall from power. But I’m sure that’s purely coincidental.

vi) For Beckwith to image that Protestants are “taking our name,” as if the church of Rome held the copyright to “Catholic,” is symptomatic of his insular self-absorption.

This sort of opining about someone’s inner life and thought processes from an online interview is unseemly. The meanness was palpable.

I have no idea how people like Mr. Turk can so causally and without regard for others claim to know every jot and tittle of what lurks in a person’s spiritual journey. It made me ill when I read it two years ago, and it makes me ill to read again now.

To take something so personal, profound, and moving and turn into a condescending blog entry in order to get a rise out of your fundamentalist Amen corner is beyond the pale.

But what just sticks in my craw is the arrogant flippancy of people like Turk who think they can move from a brief interview to pronounce on the seriousness of a person’s spiritual journey.

Of course, that complaint is wholly duplicitous. Like so many converts and reverts, Beckwith is using his life story to justify his change of religious alliance. An exercise in autobiographical apologetics. Since he himself has made that large part of the argument, then his personal narrative is fair game.

In fact, virtually every Christological heresy in the history of the church is the consequence of someone trying to split the difference.

That’s often the case. And it’s highly ironic that Beckwith would bring this up since church of Rome has always tried to split the difference between sola gratia, on the one hand, and human freedom or merit, on the other. So, by his own yardstick, “Catholic” soteriology is analogous to Christological heresies.

It seems to me that the issue on which the Reformation ultimately turns is the nature of grace. Once I could not in good conscience hold to forensic justification and imputed righteousness, I had no choice but to return to the Church of my baptism.

i) That’s quite illogical. Even if you reject forensic justification and imputed righteousness, it’s not as though the church of Rome is the only alternative. Why not become an Anabaptist or Eastern Orthodox, or any number of other options?

ii) Does Catholic theology reject imputed righteousness? Sure, there’s more to Catholic theology than imputed righteousness–like congruent merit and infused grace. But doesn’t Catholicism also subscribe to the vicarious atonement of Christ? Likewise, isn’t the treasury of merit vicarious merit?

All I am suggesting is that Evangelicals like Turk learn how to read others with an eye toward learning rather than “gotcha.” If he had not read the interview locked and loaded, and if he had taken the time to understand Trent as Trent understood itself rather than how philosophically untutored low-church fundamentalist American Christians read it...

i) I’m struck by how often Catholic converts and reverts exhibit this overweening pride. Why do so many of them act like self-important prigs? I always have to ask myself, are they so proud of themselves because they're Catholic, or are they Catholic because they're so proud of themselves?

I’d just note in passing that if a man is that full of himself, then there’s not much room left over for Jesus.

ii) Moreover, Beckwith is not a church historian or licensed Catholic theologian. He’s not some great authority on Tridentine theology. He’s just a layman–like you and me.

A word of advice to Beckwith: Don’t get on your high horse when you ride a Shetland pony.

iii) To further an ecumenical agenda, there’s a lot of historical revisionism afoot regarding the original intent of the Tridentine Fathers. And it isn’t just beetle-browed fundies who see it that way. To take a few examples from different sides of the debate:

Robert D. Preus, Justification and Rome (Concordia 1997)

Arguing For The New Testament Text (Part 3)

As Harry Gamble explains, the early heretical opponents of Christianity had the New Testament text in common with the orthodox mainstream. Rather than accuse the mainstream of significantly altering the text, they seem to have accepted the text and attempted to get around it by means of a less literal form of interpretation:

"This means that what was at stake between gnostic and non-gnostic Christians was not principally which books were authoritative, but rather how the scriptures were to be rightly interpreted. In point of fact, gnostic Christians employed virtually all the books that were used in the church at large. The difference lay not in the documents, but in different hermeneutical programs." (Lee McDonald and James Sanders, edd., The Canon Debate [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002], p. 293)

Trypho, a Jewish opponent of Justin Martyr, comments that he's read one or more of the gospels (Dialogue With Trypho, 10). And Justin cites the gospels and alludes to other New Testament documents frequently in his dispute with Trypho. Justin makes much of alleged Jewish corruption of some portions of the Old Testament text (Dialogue With Trypho, 71-73, 120), yet both he and Trypho seem to assume a common text for the New Testament. (There would have been some textual variants, of course, but they apparently weren't of much significance.) Why would Justin have put such emphasis on Old Testament corruption if he thought that significant corruption of the New Testament was a common Christian practice? Why is there no need for him to interact with any such charge from his Jewish opponents?

Some early opponents of Christianity did make the charge of textual corruption, but it seems to have been a minor charge that didn't come up very often. Celsus, a second-century Gentile critic of Christianity who got some of his information on the religion from Jewish sources, wrote:

"Certain of the Christian believers, like persons who in a fit of drunkenness lay violent hands upon themselves, have corrupted the Gospel from its original integrity, to a threefold, and fourfold, and many-fold degree, and have remodelled it, so that they might be able to answer objections." (cited in Origen, Against Celsus, 2:27)

Notice that Celsus cites no evidence for the claim. And he only brings the charge against some Christians, not all. He doesn't even claim that it's a majority. Celsus often exaggerated. On the subject of unity, for instance, he wrote:

"Christians at first were few in number, and held the same opinions; but when they grew to be a great multitude, they were divided and separated, each wishing to have his own individual party: for this was their object from the beginning....being thus separated through their numbers, they confute one another, still having, so to speak, one name in common, if indeed they still retain it. And this is the only thing which they are yet ashamed to abandon, while other matters are determined in different ways by the various sects." (cited in Origen, Against Celsus, 3:10, 3:12)

He's speaking hyperbolically. But when this critic of Christianity who often exaggerated was addressing the New Testament text, he only referred to what "certain of the Christian believers" did.

As you read through Origen's entire treatise Against Celsus, it seems that the two men argue on the basis of the same text, aside from relatively minor variants. If Celsus had much knowledge of some significantly different earlier text, one wonders why he didn't make more use of it.

Origen's response to Celsus assumes that Celsus was addressing textual corruption, but some scholars think that he may not have even been discussing the subject (Henry Chadwick, ed., Origen: Contra Celsum [New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003], n. 2 on p. 90). Instead, he may have been referring to the existence of multiple gospels among Christians (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and others among some professing Christians). If so, then Celsus' charge isn't even relevant.

But Origen possessed a copy of Celsus' treatise, which we don't have, and his reading of Celsus seems preferable. Origen was in a good position to comment on the text of the New Testament. He traveled widely, he was in contact with many Christian and non-Christian sources, and his life reflects well on his character. He responded to Celsus:

"Now I know of no others who have altered the Gospel, save the followers of Marcion, and those of Valentinus, and, I think, also those of Lucian. But such an allegation is no charge against the Christian system, but against those who dared so to trifle with the Gospels. And as it is no ground of accusation against philosophy, that there exist Sophists, or Epicureans, or Peripatetics, or any others, whoever they may be, who hold false opinions; so neither is it against genuine Christianity that there are some who corrupt the Gospel histories, and who introduce heresies opposed to the meaning of the doctrine of Jesus." (Against Celsus, 2:27)

Celsus doesn't say much about the subject, and Origen doesn't spend much time on it. He doesn't seem to be aware of any significant need to defend the general reliability of the transmission of the text.

Celsus' charge doesn't carry much significance, and Origen confirms what we saw in earlier sources like Irenaeus, Dionysius of Corinth, and Justin Martyr. Altering of texts was considered shameful, and steps were taken to avoid it and to condemn those who practiced it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Two Books"

I’m now going to comment on chapter 8 of Dembski’s new book. I didn’t cover that in my general review because, while the issue he raises is important in its own right, that’s something of a side-issue in relation to his main thesis. So it’s best to treat that separately.

“To undermine the constancy of nature for theological gain preserve the integrity of neither science nor theology,” The End of Christianity” (71).

While this is true up to a point, it needs to be qualified:

i) The constancy of nature is a scientific presupposition, not a scientific discovery. A metascientific axiom by which science infers causes from effects.

Without a doctrine of divine creation and providence to ground this assumption, induction is viciously circular.

ii) Moreover, Dembski believes in creation ex nihilo as well as miracles.

“God gave humanity two primary sources of revelation about himself: the world that he created and the Scripture that he inspired. These are also known as the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture…God is a God of truth. As the author of both books, he does not contradict himself (71-72).

Unfortunately for Dembski, this hoary metaphor is fatally equivocal in two fundamental respects:

i) Nature is not very bookish. A book generally contains verbal assertions or propositions. While not every sentence is assertive (i.e. questions, commands), most sentences are assertive. And in the case of non-fiction, they make factual claims. They have truth-value.

By contrast, nature makes no assertions. Nature contains no propositions. Nature doesn’t say anything. Nature is a fact, not a factual assertion. Nature doesn’t assert anything to be the case. Therefore, it’s strictly nonsense to characterize the issue the way Dembski does.

We simply draw inferences from nature. We try to infer causes from effects. Sometimes all we have is trace evidence. We have to interpolate. Fill in the blanks as best we can.

ii) Moreover, to say that nature is revelatory hardly means that nature is self-revelatory. If nature is a medium of God’s self-revelation, this doesn’t mean that nature was designed to reveal anything about itself, such as the age of the universe.

Now, this doesn’t rule out the possibility that nature contains evidence sufficient to date its point of origin. But that’s not a valid inference from Dembski’s premise. That doesn’t follow from the status of nature as a mode of divine revelation. Dembski would need to mount a separate argument to yield that conclusion.

“As distinct witnesses to the work of God, these books can be read individually or together. When read individually, they have an integrity of their own that must not be undermined by using one to invalidate the other” (71).

i) I don’t know how far Dembski intends to take this. Is nature self-explanatory? Is nature its own commentary? Why did God reveal Gen 1-3 if nature is self-interpreting?

Indeed, in Bible history we see an alternation between event-revelation and word-revelation. God’s words interpret God’s deeds. So general revelation is not autonomous.

It’s like looking at a painting. You can learn a lot about a painting just by studying the work of art. But, at the same time, there’s only so much you can learn about it from the artifact itself. It helps to know something about the painter. About his time and place. About his values. You can’t necessarily infer artistic intent from what you see on the canvass. Correct interpretation requires some knowledge of the painter as well as the painting.

ii) I’d also add that there are obvious hazards to scientific autonomy. Science is no better or worse than its practitioners. Science can be politicized. Become a tool in the hands of social engineers–from behaviorists and Social Darwinianist to climatologists, sociobiologists and transhumanists. Should we really deliver ourselves into the hands of anyone who calls himself a scientist?

“Theology may led us to question certain claims of science, but any refutation of those claims must ultimately depend on scientific evidence” (71).

Seems to me that’s overstated. Any scientific refutation depends on scientific evidence. But in some cases it would be possible to refute a scientific theory on philosophical grounds–to take one example.

“Likewise, science may lead us to question certain claims of theology, but any refutation of those claims must ultimately depend on exegetical evidence” (71).


“Theology requires metaphors and concepts that come from our understanding of nature and therefore form science. How can we understand that Jesus is the ‘Lamb of God’ without knowing something about biology. How can we understand that God is light without knowing something about physics?” How can we understand that faith can move mountains without knowing something about orology” (73).

This is a half-truth. Once again, it suffers from a fatal equivocation.

You don’t need to understand modern science to understand Biblical metaphors. These metaphors are prescientific. They simply depend on ordinary observation and experience–as well as a cultural and literary tradition. No scientific theorizing, which goes beyond and behind ordinary perception, is required.

“The history of biblical interpretation includes cases where interpretations of Scripture once universally held were later abandoned–and for scientific reasons no less! For instance, at the time a young earth was unquestioned, the Church also taught that the earthy was stationary. Ps 93 states that the earth is established forever and cannot be moved. A face-value interpretation of Psalm 93 seems to require geocentrism. And yet young-earth creationists accept the Copernican Revolution. We read this psalm today as endorsing not geocentrism but the stability of God’s works” (75).

Two problems:

i) While I agree with Dembski’s interpretation of Ps 93, he doesn’t bother to argue for his interpretation on exegetical grounds. So, as it stands, his paradigm-case is question-begging.

ii) Actually, I don’t think that a “face-value” interpretation of Ps 93 seems to require genocentrism. That’s quite deceptive. Dembski isn’t coming to this text with the mindset of an ancient Israelite. Rather, his impression of the text is filtered through later scientific theories and controversies like Ptolemaic astronomy. Geocentrism is a system of celestial motions. Celestial mechanics.

Ps 93 doesn’t teach a system. It doesn’t discuss the relative position of the earth. There’s nothing about the position of the earth in a dynamic system involving the sun. It doesn’t attempt to situate the earth at the crossroads of time and space.

That’s a theoretical grid which postdates Ps 93. It reflects the synthesis of Babylonian star charts with Greek mathematics.

Because the modern reader is a child of science, there’s danger of seeing so much more in the text than is actually there. Reading the text through the subsequent history of science.

“Charles Hodge faced the challenged of balancing the science of his day with the interpretation of Scripture” (76).

But, of course, that example cuts both ways. If you read Hodge’s attempt to harmonize Scripture with science, the exercise is hopelessly obsolete. So that example accentuates the peril of reinterpreting Scripture in light of the “cutting edge” science of the day. We have to revise our interpretation every decade or so–in which case our interpretation is external to the text rather than internal to the text. An extraneous gloss which we superimpose on the text, rather than finding that explanation within the text itself–or the historical horizon of the target audience.

Survival of the misfits?

One of the standard arguments for evolutionary psychology is that true beliefs are adaptive whereas misbeliefs are maladaptive. True beliefs confer a survival advantage. Hence, natural selection selects for organisms and species with an accurate perception of the world around them.

Yet you have Darwinians like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett who rail against the religionists. Rail against the millions of Christians who deny the theory of evolution. Rail against the billions of religious people around the world.

But that generates a paradox. If misbelief is maladaptive, and religious beliefs are false, then faith is maladaptive. Yet it’s arguable that religionists vastly outnumber atheists.

If, on the one hand, all religious beliefs are misbeliefs, then natural selection is disproportionately selecting for false beliefs. In that case, it’s a highly unreliable belief-forming mechanism.

If, on the other hand, religious beliefs are maladaptive, then shouldn’t natural selection have weeded out most pious hominids a long time ago?

When Dawkins indicts the majority of the human race as deluded, isn’t he simultaneously indicting the reliability of evolutionary psychology? But if, by his own tacit admission, natural selection can’t be trusted to yield true beliefs, then doesn’t that reduce his atheism to self-refuting skepticism?

These aren’t anomalies to a normally reliable process. Not isolated cases or random exceptions. By his own testimony, this is pretty pervasive. So where does that leave the original argument?

Arguing For The New Testament Text (Part 2)

It's important to understand how the documents of the New Testament would have originated and initially circulated. We shouldn't think that an author would compose a document on his own, without telling anybody else much or anything about it, then send that one copy away and pay little attention to what happened with it afterward. It's not as though Paul would write a document like 1 Corinthians without anybody else knowing of it before its completion, then would send that one copy out and do little or nothing to track its status thereafter. If such a scenario had occurred, then we could imagine somebody getting hold of that one copy and significantly altering it without anybody else's knowledge. It would still be highly unlikely that such corruption would occur with all or even most of the New Testament under such conditions, but theories of widespread textual corruption would at least be more reasonable under those conditions.

In reality, document production in antiquity was often a highly public procedure. And some of the New Testament documents explicitly reflect that fact. To use 1 Corinthians as an example again, Paul has a co-author (1:1), other people with him (16:19-20), and a scribe (16:21). Commenting on the gospel of John, Craig Keener notes:

"Besides any skills John had acquired [which could change at different times in his life], he undoubtedly would have had help; even the most literate normally used scribes, and Josephus’s staff included style editors to improve his Greek. John would have been an unusual writer if he published the work entirely by himself." (The Gospel Of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003], pp. 101-102)

It was common for documents to be read and commented upon publicly prior to their wider circulation. Steve Mason comments:

"An author normally composed a work gradually and by constant revision, presenting it in stages to ever-widening concentric circles, moving from closest friends to more remote associates through a combination of oral recitation and distribution of partial drafts. The cycle of oral presentations typically began in the intimate setting of a private residence, perhaps at a dinner party, and moved as the author gained confidence in the work to rented auditoriums. The oral dimensions of this entire process, even with written texts, should always be kept in mind." (Josephus, Judea, And Christian Origins [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009], p. 52)

And authors commonly kept a copy of their document before sending out another copy to be circulated:

"There is also evidence that even private letters regularly had copies made (e.g., Cicero, Familial Letters 9.26.1; 7.18.1; Letters to Atticus 13.6.3)....As noted above, scholars for a number of years have suggested that Paul might have made copies of his letters at the time he was writing them with his scribe and missionary companions. This would follow the pattern of many ancient writers - among them, Seneca and Cicero as literary authors (who speak of actual letters, not composites made out of the fragments of earlier letters), and Zenon as a documentary writer - who made copies of their letters before having them dispatched. This allowed the writers not only to refer to their letters in the future - perhaps explaining why 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Colossians and Ephesians, among others, have verbal material in common - but to have the copies either with them or in the possession of their companions....Paul is widely regarded in classical studies as one of the great letter writers of the ancient world. If that is true - and his corpus of letters argues that it is - then it is logical to think that Paul followed the conventions of ancient letter writing, including producing copies." (Stanley Porter, in Craig Evans and Emanuel Tov, edd., Exploring The Origins Of The Bible [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2008], pp. 189-190, 195, n. 106 on p. 195)

Thus, an author didn't entirely give up control of the transmission of his text to other people. He kept a copy himself and could restart the copying process anytime he wanted with his own edition of the original.

Once a community received a document like a letter from Paul, the document would commonly be read publicly (1 Thessalonians 5:27). Thus, even those who were illiterate could become witnesses to the original text by means of hearing it read publicly early on.

Authors often took steps to ensure the preservation of their text and to monitor the status of the text's circulation. Thus, ancient authors often commented on subjects like what titles were being applied to their works in libraries, how some people were interpreting their work inaccurately, how some people were altering their text, etc. Their concern over the text didn't end once the first copy was sent out. Thus, the second-century Christian Dionysius of Corinth wrote:

"For I wrote letters when the brethren requested me to write. And these letters the apostles of the devil have filled with tares, taking away some things and adding others, for whom a woe is in store. It is not wonderful, then, if some have attempted to adulterate the Lord’s writings, when they have formed designs against those which are not such." (cited in Eusebius, Church History, 4:23)

Irenaeus wrote:

"I adjure thee who mayest copy this book, by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by his glorious advent when he comes to judge the living and the dead, to compare what thou shalt write, and correct it carefully by this manuscript, and also to write this adjuration, and place it in the copy." (cited in Eusebius, Church History, 5:20)

Such concern by authors for the preservation of their work was common. The idea that men like Dionysius and Irenaeus would have had such concern and would have monitored the circulation of their work, yet men of far higher authority and influence in the church (such as the apostles) didn't, is absurd.

The apostles and other authors and relevant witnesses would have lived into the late first century and beyond. See, for example, Richard Bauckham's Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Benny Hinn, Heroin, And A Long Trail Of Other Scandals

Justin Taylor has blogged about a Nightline interview with Benny Hinn. Hinn's performance in the interview is highly unconvincing. Below are some comments I posted in that thread, accompanied by some further comments on drug issues, which weren't accepted by Justin Taylor's blog for some reason. I suspect that something in the HTML coding from one of the links wasn't able to go through.

Ignorant skeptics sometimes compare Jesus Christ to Benny Hinn, on the basis of vague similarities like the fact that both men have been viewed by many people as miracle workers. I have an article here that discusses some of the many differences between the two men.

A resource on Benny Hinn that's seldom mentioned is Yves Brault's Behind The Scenes: The True Face Of The Fake Faith Healers (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Dorrance Publishing Co., 1997). Brault attended Hinn's church, and he writes about some of his family's experiences with Hinn and other individuals and ministries.

Hinn promises miracles, then tries to prevent investigation of his alleged miracles.

You can watch a devastating expose of Benny Hinn online, by CBC's The Fifth Estate, here.

Hank Hanegraaff of the Christian Research Institute asked Hinn for his three best-documented miracles. When the documentation was provided, all three were found to be inauthentic.

Hinn has repeatedly been documented to have made false prophecies. He predicted that Fidel Castro would die in the 1990s, for instance.

Members of Hinn's staff have been caught in various scandals. Here's some video footage I saw years ago in another context, in which Hinn seems to be giving some sort of drug to a member of his staff. I've seen this footage from three different sources, but I've never seen any documentation that would give it further authentication. It does look as though Hinn is encouraging some sort of drug use in the video, and his staff does have a history of heroin problems. The video appears to be taken from a story by Tony Pipitone from WKMG, channel 6, in Orlando. There might be additional information that exonerates Hinn in some manner, but the video looks bad, and I've seen it used by multiple sources.

I've found little information about this video online. If you go to this page, and use the Ctrl F feature on your keyboard and search for "Pipitone", you'll see a post by somebody (illusionbuster) who raises some doubts about the negative implications of the video. I find his reasoning unconvincing, though.

I have a longer version of the video that I saw years ago, found at the end of a VHS tape titled The Signs And Wonders Movement Exposed: Ministry And Music, Vol. 1. The tape series (of which the tape in question is the first part) was put out by National Prayer Network in England and features Dave Hunt, Roger Oakland, and some other critics of modern miracle claims like Benny Hinn's. You can watch an online version here. Go to the 47-minute mark in the first video.

At the close of the tape, they run a more extensive version of the video in question. They include footage of Tony Pipitone and some other reporters introducing the story. They explain that the video in question is an "amateur" video. They say that Hinn canceled an interview scheduled with them after seeing the footage. This edition of the video also includes subtitles of what somebody in the video was saying. It's hard to tell who's doing the speaking, but it seems to be David Delgado, who smokes the pipe after Steve Brock hands it to him. According to the subtitles, Delgado (or whoever is speaking) makes the comment "I thought this was vice." He then explains that he had hidden the pipe before Benny Hinn walked by. Apparently, Hinn saw the pipe and gave it back to Brock and Delgado to smoke. In the footage that follows, Delgado is clearly under the influence of some sort of mind-altering drug. But there's no indication of how that second footage relates to the first. It was soon after that when Delgado died as a result of heroin abuse.

Perhaps what Delgado and Brock were smoking, which Hinn gave them, was something more innocent. I don't know. But the video at least raises some significant questions. If Hinn was just giving the men tobacco or something else more innocent to smoke, why did he cancel his scheduled interview with WKMG? It's possible that multiple sources using this video are misrepresenting it in order to make Hinn look bad or that multiple sources have misunderstood it. But I find that unlikely. The people behind the VHS tape mentioned above don't strike me as the sort of people who would do that. The most obvious explanation of the evidence I've seen so far is that Hinn gave his staff a mind-altering drug to smoke. Why else would the people who put the video together run footage of David Delgado under the influence of something mind-altering just after running the video involving Hinn? If there's no connection between the two clips, then it's misleading to run them together in that manner.

But even if there's a more innocent explanation for the video, it would just mean that one scandal surrounding Hinn's ministry has been taken off the list, while many others remain.

Arguing For The New Testament Text (Part 1)

(This will be a three-part series.)

Many skeptics consider criticism of the New Testament text a significant argument against Christianity. Why did Bart Ehrman initially become so popular among skeptics? He addresses a lot of issues outside of his expertise, such as the problem of evil and Jesus' resurrection, but his popularity has been due primarily to his work on the text of the New Testament. Yet, there isn't much there for skeptics to use. On some of the most foundational issues related to the text, Ehrman agrees with conservative Christians:

"Most of these [textual] differences are completely immaterial and insignificant....In fact, most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple - slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another....when scribes made intentional changes, sometimes their motives were as pure as the driven snow....And so we must rest content knowing that getting back to the earliest attainable version is the best we can do, whether or not we have reached back to the 'original' text. This oldest form of the text is no doubt closely (very closely) related to what the author originally wrote, and so it is the basis for our interpretation of his teaching....In a remarkable number of instances - most of them, actually - scholars by and large agree [about what the earliest attainable text said]....It is probably safe to say that the copying of early Christian texts was by and large a 'conservative' process. The scribes - whether non-professional scribes in the early centuries or professional scribes of the Middle Ages - were intent on 'conserving' the textual tradition they were passing on. Their ultimate concern was not to modify the tradition, but to preserve it for themselves and for those who would follow them. Most scribes, no doubt, tried to do a faithful job in making sure that the text they reproduced was the same text they inherited." (Misquoting Jesus [San Francisco, California: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005], pp. 10, 55-56, 62, 94, 177)

We have a large amount of evidence about the nature of the text from the second century onward. Thus, skeptics who (unwisely) want to keep making a major issue of the text of the New Testament have to push their speculations about widespread textual corruption back into the earliest decades of church history. That timeframe, therefore, is where the discussion should be focused, yet textual discussions often don't focus there. Since we have so much evidence from manuscripts and other sources from the second century onward, discussions are often heavily weighted toward a consideration of that evidence. And it does have some significance. But I would recommend that Christians only address that later data briefly, then spend most of their time on the earliest decades of church history. The implications the later sources have for earlier church history are worth discussing at length, but establishing the state of the text in the second century and later shouldn't be our focus. There isn't much doubt that we have a lot of data on the text of the gospel of John, for example, in manuscripts and other sources from the second century and beyond, and it's widely acknowledged that the textual differences in that timeframe are relatively minor. What Christians need to do, primarily, is get explicit and detailed about the implications that evidence has for the earliest decades of Christianity and discuss in detail the other evidence relevant to those earliest decades. What I want to do in this series of posts is briefly outline some of the issues that ought to be brought up.

It's often noted that the text is more varied early on than it is later. The earlier manuscripts differ from one another more than the later manuscripts differ from each other. We're supposed to conclude, therefore, that textual variations probably would have been greater in the earliest decades of church history. But that's like saying that a turtle would do better than a snail in a race with a horse. So what? Neither would even come close to winning, so replacing a snail with a turtle doesn't accomplish much. There isn't much significance in saying that textual variation increases as we go earlier into church history if the earliest levels of variation aren't nearly what they would need to be in order to sustain the critical theories.

Keep in mind that people living in the earliest generations of church history didn't anticipate archeology and other means by which we've discovered manuscripts and studied the text of the New Testament. It's not as though they knew when they would have to stop altering the text so much and begin being more conservative with the text, as if they knew that they only had several decades to carry out their textual corruption. How likely is it that such disregard for the original text early on would be followed by such consistent concern for textual preservation? A concern for textual preservation in the earliest decades of church history makes more sense of the later data. We don't assume some sort of major shift in beliefs and practices as our default position.

Ironically, skeptics often make much of the alleged disunity of early Christianity, even pushing back their theories of major discord as early as New Testament passages like Galatians 2. Supposedly, Paul was opposed to James, Petrine communities differed from Johannine communities, etc. Yet, they suggest that there was some sort of unified corruption of the New Testament text. There was significant unity in early Christianity, but it was a unity on issues like the virgin birth and the resurrection, not unity in the form of something like a post-apostolic worldwide denomination or church hierarchy that had widespread control over the manuscript record. Arguments about widespread textual corruption have to take into account factors such as the number of people involved, the organizational independence of the relevant individuals and groups, the ease with which any opponent of such corruption could have preserved his own copies of the text and made known what the corrupters were doing, etc. Skeptics who understand the problems with conspiracy theories in politics and other areas of life ought to be consistent by discerning the problems with conspiracy theories about early Christianity.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Remembering The Reformation

This week's Coral Ridge Hour features a sermon by D. James Kennedy on Martin Luther and the Reformation. (Watch the videos of the program online here.) Next week's program will be on John Calvin. I just watched this week's program, and I would recommend it as an introduction to the Reformation and some of the related issues. It's good to see Kennedy's ministry still bearing good fruit a couple of years after Kennedy's death, and hopefully it will continue to do so for many years to come. We'll see how many other popular ministries address Reformation issues this week and this Reformation Day. Probably not many.

Moscow Nights


I was recruited by Bill Casey to do counterespionage during the waning years of the Cold War. I got the job, in part because my mother was a Russian émigré. Russian, as well as German, were spoken at home. I also got the job because Bill knew my Dad–way back when they worked together at the OSS.

Bill showed up at the door of my dorm room one evening, unannounced–with two beefy, unsmiling aids in dark glasses who wordlessly persuaded my roommate that now might be an excellent time to go for a walk in the quad.

I remembered Bill from the times he used to visit my Dad, or vice versa. As I was bringing him a glass of bourbon, he offered me a Havana cigar while he lit up.

After a smoky exchange of pleasantries about how my Dad was doing, he got down to business. At first I rebuffed the offer. I enjoyed college. I’d already lived and traveled abroad with my Dad. While it was interesting, I tired of the nomadic lifestyle. The lack of stable friendships.

But Bill prevailed on my patriotism and adventurous streak. It wouldn’t be a full-time career. I didn’t have to join the agency. I’d report directly to him. This would all be off-the-books. A private, handshake sort of thing.


And that’s how I ended up in East Berlin. My assignment was to recruit high-level defectors from the Stasi or the KGB.

I hung out at The Blond Venus–a local nightclub, which was a popular watering hole for officers and apparatchiks representing various, indefinable affiliations. The nightclub was a throwback to a bygone era, like something out of A Foreign Affair, with Marlene Dietrich. Indeed, as local rumor had it, The Blond Venus was where Marlene got her first break–back in the Twenties.

And that’s where I met Maksima. She sang at The Blond Venus. Indeed, she’s the primary reason many of the clientele went there in the first place–drawn to her by the fateful allure of her iridescent eyes and her imperious stride.

If I could make her my contact, she’d give me entrée to all of her contacts. One-stop shopping.

However, Maksima was both approachable and unapproachable. Deeply cynical, she’d do anything if the price was right, but she held herself aloof.

She had no more reason to trust me than anyone else. And, indeed, my motives were just as calculating as hers. At least, that’s how it started out.

Maksima loved to dance and skate. That’s the only time she lowered her guard. Where she felt free to lose herself–there on the dance floor or the skating rink. Lose herself in time and space. Music in motion. Motion in music. A place to retreat and a time to forget.

So I’d take her to a local skating rink–hoping to make her fall for me. Afterwards, we swapped stories about our Russian mothers. At first she was suspicious, but I knew too much to be making it up. And that created an emotional opening. A little crack in her towering wall of distrust.


Unfortunately, or fortunately–as the case may be–there is always the risk in this little exercise that the intended effect should have an unintended side-effect. As it turned out, I was a little too successful for the good of the mission. As she was falling for me, I was falling for her.

So long as she was a stranger to me, so long as my cause was just, it was easy to lie to her. But as we got to know each other, I felt bad about feeding her lies. I had planned to turn her, but she was turning me. Not that she was turning me to the enemy cause. And, indeed, she herself was above politics, believing in nothing. But turning me to herself. It was reciprocal.

She became the sunlight to my moonlight, and the moonlight to my sunlight. We burned and shined in the mutual refulgence of each other’s light.

And I knew that I could offer her a better life. Encourage her to defect. Bring her back home with me to the States. And truly love her–as no other man had done. Behind the inner and outer walls of her cynicism was a passionate soul who yearned for something more, but was afraid to hope. Afraid to dream.


So, one evening, at an outdoor café, with no one else around, I disclosed my true identity. I offered to take her with me. By then I’d made enough contacts that, with a small favor over here and a discreet bribe over there, I could whisk her out of East Berlin.

We agreed to meet on Friedrichstraße at midnight, two days later. There I prearranged her passage through checkpoint Charlie.

As I walked to Friedrichstraße, my mind was a jumble of thoughts. Bill would be disappointed. I let him down. But I could always explain to him that I cut my own, off-the-books deal. He’d understand. Such is life.

At the same time, I began to harbor second thoughts. What was waiting for me at Friedrichstraße? Was Maksima waiting for me? Eager to begin our new life together?

Or was the Stasi lying in wait? What if she’d turned me in? Cut a better deal with the authorities?

When I first got to know her, I was playing her. But what if she was playing me–all along?

As I rounded the corner…

Chapa on White on Molinism

“James White discussed Molinism on a recent dividing line. (link) His two primary criticisms of middle knowledge (God's know what you would do under any circumstances) were 1) it doesn't accomplish God's goal of giving man freewill, which makes man robots and doesn't escape unconditional election and 2) middle knowledge removes God's sovereignty and places too much in the hands of man's autonomous freewill, thereby limiting what God can do with His creation and robbing God of His glory. Awkwardly for Dr. White, sometimes he would raise both objections in the same train of thought - seemingly unaware of how at odds these to claims are to each other. Both cannot be problems at the same time. Nor were his objections based on two distinct aspects of Molinism; they were both based directly on the idea that God knows what you would do under any circumstances. It's odd that those objecting to Molinism's consistency use such inconsistent approaches such as this.”

If Molinism is a compromise position which tries, unsuccessfully, to harmonize conflicting aims or opposing principles, then it’s internally inconsistent. It that case, a critic of Molinism can consistently raise inconsistent objections to Molinism. For the mutually inconsistent criticisms have their basis in the mutually inconsistent implications of the position under review. It’s odd that Dan Chapa overlooks that elementary point.

Inconsistent objections would be a problem in case the critic were judging a position by his own criteria. Inconsistent objections are not a problem in case the critic is judging a position by its own criteria. For in that event, the inconsistency is generated by the incoherence of the position itself.