Saturday, March 06, 2010

Alice in Hollyland

I read two reviews of Tim Burton’s adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. The official site describes it as a “magical and imaginative twist” on the original.

I have no inherent objection to a creative reinterpretation of a classic. There is, however, a reason why a classic is a classic in the first place.

Due to advances in CGI, we are now able to make accurate, cinematic adaptations of certain classics in the science fiction and fantasy genre. To put on the screen what the author saw in his head. Alice in Wonderland is a case in point.

Before we reinterpret a classic, it would be nice to first see a faithful adaptation of the original. An adaptation which closely follows the original.

After that, it’s fine if a gifted director wants to use the original as a launchpad to give the story his own creative twist.

But the temptation to modernize a classic reflects a lack of historical curiosity. A lack of basic curiosity in other people, times, and places. Instead, it becomes a transcript or allegory of the director’s own life and times. Of the people he knows, the places he likes. Alice in Hollywood.

I don’t mean to suggest that Burton’s adaptation is a bad film. It may be an excellent film in its own right. But I’m just struck by the lack of interest in the original.

One of the striking things about modern archeology and the age of exploration was the xenophilic fascination of British, American, and European adventurers in exotic or ancient cultures. The irony of outsiders who took more interest in vanished civilizations than the locals. Who made the effort to decipher ancient languages and excavate buried civilizations.

Why are Hollywood directors so insular?

The literary Alice is a preadolescent girl. Probably an amalgam of real girls that Dodgson knew.

The literary Alice is one of the great female characters in world literature. And Dodgson’s two classics allegorize the long-lost world of Victorian Oxford.

Why is that of no interest to Burton?

To turn her into a 19-year-old superheroine destroys the inimitable charm of the original character. That’s the stuff of formulaic teen dramas. High school in Wonderland.

Does this reflect the secularization of our own society–especially among the cultural elite? Put another way, I wonder if the previous interest in peoples and cultures other than our own doesn’t reflect a Christian outlook.

When you study the Bible you enter a vanished world. To be missionary you immerse yourself in a foreign culture.

Christianity is outward-looking. But with the loss of Christian vision, the social circle contracts. We retreat into our xenophobic cubicles.

Apostolic Succession (Part 7): Irenaeus And Peter

In his comments on Irenaeus and the Roman church, Dave Armstrong cited comments such as the following from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Nor is there the slightest ground for the assertion that the language of Irenaeus, III:3:3, implies that Peter and Paul enjoyed a divided episcopate at Rome — an arrangement utterly unknown to the Church at any period. He does, it is true, speak of the two Apostles as together handing on the episcopate to Linus. But this expression is explained by the purpose of his argument, which is to vindicate against the Gnostics the validity of the doctrine taught in the Roman Church. Hence he is naturally led to lay stress on the fact that that Church inherited the teaching of both the great Apostles....

Irenaeus, however, supplies us with a cogent argument. In two passages (Against Heresies I.27.1 and III.4.3) he speaks of Hyginus as ninth Bishop of Rome [link], thus employing an enumeration which involves the inclusion of Peter as first bishop (Lightfoot was undoubtedly wrong in supposing that there was any doubt as to the correctness of the reading in the first of these passages. In III:4:3, the Latin version, it is true, gives "octavus"; but the Greek text as cited by Eusebius reads enatos.

Those of you who remember what I said about Hegesippus may be noticing some problems with Dave's argument (taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia). Not only is a joint episcopate of Peter and Paul found in Epiphanius and, apparently, in Hegesippus (who wrote around the same time as Irenaeus), but we also have evidence that Irenaeus used Hegesippus as a source regarding the history of the Roman episcopate. Dave doesn't address the frequent references to Peter and Paul together in Against Heresies 3:3 and Irenaeus' references to how they (plural) appointed Linus and how later Roman bishops followed them (plural). Instead of explaining Irenaeus' language in the passage in which he discusses the Roman bishops in the most depth, Dave points us to other passages.

But even the Catholic Encyclopedia's appeal to those other passages is problematic. For one thing, neither of those other two passages tells us whether Peter or a joint episcopate of Peter and Paul is in view. And the second passage cited (Against Heresies, 3:3:4) refers to Anicetus as the tenth Roman bishop. Yet, the previous section tells us that Pius served between Hyginus and Anicetus. How can Hyginus be the ninth Roman bishop and Anicetus the tenth if Pius served as bishop of Rome between those two? It seems that either Irenaeus miscounted or he changed his method of counting from one context to the other without saying so and without explaining why.

Even if Irenaeus considered Peter alone a Roman bishop, while Paul wasn't, the fact would remain that he repeatedly places Peter and Paul together, without saying anything of a Petrine primacy, in the passage in which he's discussing Roman primacy. Dave seems to be assuming that Peter's serving as Roman bishop would suggest his primacy over Paul, but such a conclusion is both illogical and never suggested by Irenaeus. Even if we assume Dave's reading of the other two passages he cites from Irenaeus, it doesn't follow that Irenaeus viewed Peter or the bishops of Rome as Popes.

Dave goes on to cite the following passage from the Catholic Encyclopedia as an explanation for the "relative absence of earlier papal references":

In the second century we cannot look for much evidence. With the exception of Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement of Alexandria, all the writers whose works we possess are apologists against either Jews or pagans. In works of such a character there was no reason to refer to such a matter as Peter's Roman episcopate.

Again, a Petrine Roman episcopate doesn't imply a papacy. Regarding whether a papacy should have been mentioned in the early generations of church history, if people believed in the concept at the time, see my earlier response to Dave here.

Friday, March 05, 2010

God's time-travelers

Time-travel is favorite convention of the SF genre. This is in part because it appeals to our sense of adventure. Our unrequited desire to visit periods before (or after) we lived.

But it also appeals to our sense of regret. Our inability of go back and make things right. One of the ironies of life is that we only gain insight through hindsight. But, of course, hindsight lacks the advantages of foresight. We can’t apply our newfound wisdom to the past.

So we content ourselves with the vicarious experience of imaginary characters who travel back in time and get it right things right.

Yet there’s something ultimately unsatisfying about that experience. It just isn’t real. After we finish the bucket of popcorn, see the closing credits, and watch the lights come on, we have to reenter a world of linear time and irreversible succession. A world conditioned by the accidental necessity of the past–where what’s behind us is over and done with.

Yet there’s a sense in which a Christian on his knees is a bona fide time-traveler. Not that he is actually moving through time. But a Christian prays to a timeless God. Since time is no barrier to God, time is not necessarily a barrier to prayer.

We understand this when we pray for the future. Yet there are situations in which we can also pray for the past. Our prayers can affect the past (without changing the past) inasmuch as God has written that into his plan for the world. He decreed our prayer, and he decreed the result of our prayer (assuming he chooses to answer our prayer). Since God foreknew our prayer, he can answer a future request about a past event.

So there’s a sense in which we can travel back into the past through the time-machine of prayer and thereby affect the outcome after it occurs.

That only works in those cases where we don’t know the outcome. And, of course, it all depends on God answering our prayers. But it’s possible. And it nicely avoids the paradoxes of time-travel.

Freewill idol

bossmanham said...

1.The primary problem with Hays' analysis is that it’s crucially disanalogous. For Arminians make no attempt to say we are not totally reliant on God. To the contrary, Arminianism accentuates the need of God for human agents.

Except for the awkward little fact that Birch belittled the idea that we are totally dependent on God. That was in his own words.

Hays' analysis would only work for non-Christians like Hitchens.

It works for Birth.

2.Moreover, it’s a very telling reflection on Hays' word twisting ambiguity that he would say that Arminian piety mocks the idea that human beings are totally dependent on God. "It’s crucially disanalogous."

Once again, I was responding to Birch on his own terms–verbatim.

3.Furthermore, to say that Arminians demand their “free will idol over God's sovereignty” is imputing a Calvinistic characterization of Arminianism to Arminians. That’s hardly an accurate characterization of how Arminians view Arminianism. As such, that’s hardly an accurate sentiment to attribute to Arminians.

Since I didn’t say, in response to Birth, that Arminians demand their “freewill idol over God’s sovereignty,” Brennon is falsely imputing to me an ascription that I never made.

4.Finally, Calvinists are not content to be imago dei bearing volitional agents. Rather, they have a stipulative definition of what human nature ought to be like. Indeed, Hays tips his hand with the business about “shemales” and "responsibility" in a car wreck experiment.

i) He’d need to exegete the concept of “volitional agent” from the Biblical usage of the imago dei.

ii) Calvinists don’t deny that human beings are volitional agents.

iii) I didn’t say anything about a “car wreck experiment” in my response to Birch.

In fact, the biggest problem we see in Calvinism is their redefinition of “Sovereignty."

Nice instance of begging the question.

“It's fun to play ad lib with Steve Hays.”

Except that Brennon made false representations of what I said. Is that his idea of fun? Yet another example of Arminian ethics in action.

Unfortunately, this is all-to-typical of the lynch-mob mentality that Arminian epologists exhibit. They only love their own kind.

Arminian patricide

Arminian theology contains both logical and emotional tensions. This comes to the surface in certain Arminian apologists. You’d expect an apologist to either take his position to a logical extreme or at least as far as he dares to take it.

What comes across in Arminian apologetics is, at best, a deeply ambivalent attitude towards God. That’s because God is a potential threat to human autonomy. Excessive divine “interference” would infringe in their libertarian freedom.

So the Arminian has to keep God at a distance. Strike a balance between too much God and too little God.

This is why, when some Arminian apologists talk about God, it sounds like the parable of the prodigal son–minus the happy ending. At a certain level, the Arminian prodigal may be grateful to the old man for the gift of life and a chance to be forgiven for his youthful indiscretions.

But he values the gift more than the giver. The old man is putting a crimp in his style. The Arminian prodigal is chafing under the bit. He needs his space. Needs the independence to do his own thing. “Give me my portion of the estate, then get lost!”

This also explains the patricidal rhetoric you find in some Arminian philippics. I don’t think it’s coincidental that the author of the Oedipal complex was an atheist and an apostate.

For Freud, God was the ultimate father-figure. And you needed to assassinate the old man to enter your own manhood. To be emancipated from his oppressive authority.

The same attitude ranges from lowbrow atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins to highbrow atheists like Nagel and Sartre.

Likewise, Arminian apologists resort to any buffer mechanism they can devise to insulate their freedom from the transgressions of a meddlesome God.

They use scorched-earth rhetoric to defame a God who even intends whatever comes to pass. In that respect, it wouldn’t take much of a stressor for Arminians like that to flip into militant atheism.

Apostolic Succession (Part 6): Irenaeus And Rome

Irenaeus seems to have written shortly after Hegesippus, and he comes much closer to Dave Armstrong's view of apostolic succession than any previous source. But that isn't saying much.

Irenaeus believed in a form of Roman primacy, but not a papacy. Even Roman Catholic scholars have acknowledged that the passage Catholics most often cite from Irenaeus on the subject (Against Heresies, 3:3:2) has been abused in support of Catholicism. For example:

"All churches must agree with it [the Roman church] on matters of doctrine because they must agree with the apostolic tradition preserved by the apostolic churches....In any event this is a striking testimony though not, in my view, as decisive as some have argued. The context of Irenaeus' argument does not claim that the Roman Church is literally unique, the one and only in its class; rather, he argues that the Roman church is the outstanding example of its class, the class in question being apostolic sees. While he chose to speak primarily of Rome for brevity's sake, in fact, before finishing, he also referred to Ephesus and Smyrna....The German Catholic scholar, Norbert Brox of Regensburg, has claimed that the argument is framed entirely within a western context. At first I found this argument weak, but after comparing Irenaeus' argument to its expansion as found in Tertullian's De praescriptione haereticorum (36), (cf. next chapter), I find Brox's argument more convincing." (Robert Eno, The Rise Of The Papacy [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1990], pp. 39-40)

"It is indeed understandable how this passage has baffled scholars for centuries! Those who were wont to find in it a verification of the Roman primacy were able to interpret it in that fashion. However, there is so much ambiguity here that one has to be careful of over-reading the evidence....Karl Baus' interpretation [that Irenaeus wasn't referring to a papacy] seems to be the one that is more faithful to the text and does not presume to read into it a meaning which might not be there. Hence, it neither overstates nor understates Irenaeus' position. For him [Irenaeus], it is those churches of apostolic foundation that have the greater claim to authentic teaching and doctrine. Among those, Rome, with its two apostolic founders, certainly holds an important place. However, all of the apostolic churches enjoy what he terms 'preeminent authority' in doctrinal matters." (William La Due, The Chair Of Saint Peter [Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999], p. 28)

The historian Eric Osborn, in a recent study of Irenaeus, concludes:

"The subjection of all churches to Rome would be unthinkable for Irenaeus." (Irenaeus Of Lyons [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005], p. 130)

The Roman primacy Irenaeus refers to is a result of non-papal factors, such as the Roman church's historical relationship with two prominent apostles, its familiarity to other churches, and probably its location in the capital of the empire. Irenaeus believed in a form of Roman primacy that doesn't imply a papacy.

Why are Catholics going to this passage in Irenaeus to begin with? A few hundred pages of Irenaeus' writings are extant, and we have descriptions of some of his non-extant writings. He frequently addressed issues of authority, repeatedly appealing to the authority of the apostles, the authority of those who knew the apostles, the authority of scripture, etc. He never appeals to papal authority, nor does he ever even mention it. Yet, Catholics so often tell us that the papacy is the foundation of the church, the center of unity, that it's the solution to a wide variety of problems in Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy, etc. How likely is it that Irenaeus would have believed in the concept of a papacy, yet would have said so little of it? The fact that discussions of the papacy in Irenaeus place so much emphasis on this one passage, which doesn't actually say anything of a papacy, is revealing.

In the same section of his treatise, Irenaeus goes on to refer to the importance of the churches in Smyrna and Ephesus, and the reasons he gives for the prominence of those churches have nothing to do with a permanent status established by Jesus and the apostles. Other sources before and around the time of Irenaeus, such as Ignatius of Antioch and Tertullian, give non-papal reasons for the importance of the Roman church. Irenaeus probably held a high view of that church for similar reasons, and the same can be said of his high view of Smyrna and Ephesus.

Notice that the opening segment of this section in Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 3:3:1) gives a practical explanation for the significance of the apostolic churches and their bishops. He says nothing about Matthew 16, an office established by Jesus, infallibility, etc. Rather, Irenaeus is (correctly) appealing to these churches' (and their bishops') historical proximity to the apostles. His reasoning is much like what we see today in Christian apologetics, an appeal to concepts like the earliness of a source, geographical proximity to an event in dispute, and eyewitness testimony. Irenaeus is presenting us with a historical argument that any Protestant could accept. No papacy is involved.

He mentions bishops in all three churches (Rome, Smyrna, and Ephesus), although he doesn't name any of them in the case of Ephesus. His focus is on churches, not bishops. There's a difference between a non-jurisdictional primacy of the Roman church and a jurisdictional primacy of the Roman bishop. And there's a difference between a primacy that results from practical factors and a primacy that results from a permanent office established by Jesus and taught by the apostles. The evidence suggests that Irenaeus and other early sources had the former in view, even though Catholics read the latter into their comments.

In addition to Irenaeus' focus on the Roman church and its primacy for non-papal reasons, note that he repeatedly refers to Peter and Paul together, without placing Peter in a position of higher authority. (He mentions Peter before Paul here, but that sort of ordering is inconclusive, and he reverses the two, mentioning Paul first, elsewhere.) He repeatedly refers to how the Roman church reflects the traditions of the apostles (plural). The apostles Peter and Paul (plural) founded the Roman church. They (plural) appointed Linus as bishop of Rome. Clement is referred to as the Roman bishop appointed in third place from the apostles (plural), Sixtus is referred to as the sixth from the apostles (plural), and Eleutherius is referred to as the twelfth from the apostles (plural). Clement is commended for his knowledge of the traditions of the apostles (plural). The Roman church is commended for reflecting the traditions of the apostles (plural) in a document we today call First Clement. Irenaeus had many opportunities to assert a jurisdictional primacy of Peter. He never does it. He doesn't even refer to a non-jurisdictional primacy. Over and over, he places Peter and Paul together. There's no reason to conclude that he viewed Peter and the bishops of Rome as Popes. The foundational doctrine of Catholicism, the papacy, is unknown to Irenaeus.

In my next post in this series, I'll address some of Dave Armstrong's comments about Irenaeus and Roman primacy.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Jumping the Gun

We’ve recently seen another example of scientists jumping the gun by making absurd claims which only serve to backfire upon science as a whole. In this instance, the claims were made so quickly after the events that it is impossible for the claims to have even been peer-reviewed. Yet they have become “scientific truth” because of the authority of the scientists who made the claim.

Of what do I speak? I speak of the claim made by a NASA scientist (and apparently backed up by “NASA officials”) that the recent earthquake in Chile was responsible for moving the Earth’s axis by 8 cm and increased the rotation of the Earth such that our days have permanently become 1.26 milliseconds shorter, as documented in this article. We are told in very scientific terms that this axis is the “figure axis” and not the north-south axis, and that this figure axis “is the axis around which the Earth's mass is balanced.”

I’ve mentioned in the past how science relies on both accuracy and precision, and what the distinction between the two is. Accuracy refers to how closely a measurement corresponds to reality; precision is the degree to which we are certain of our measurement. Precision is measured in science by the number of zeros after the decimal point in a number (as expressed in Scientific notation). So, 1.0 meters is not as precise as a measurement of 1.00 meters, because 1.0 meters could have been rounded from 0.9 meters while 1.00 could NOT have been rounded from 0.9.

When we deal with an object the size of the Earth, 8 cm is a very precise measurement. Let’s put this in perspective. Wiki says the Earth has an average diameter of 12,742 km. That's precise to the nearest kilometer...but if we only have the measurement of the diameter of the earth to the nearest kilometer, we do not have the precision available to claim the movement of something by mere centimeters. (Note: I assume NASA has more precise measurements, but this is just to demonstrate my point regarding precision.)

Now here’s the thing. The rules of precision still apply, and they cross between types of measurement too. That is, if you want to know what temperature water boils at a given air pressure, you’re looking at two different measurements that require precision. First, you need to know the precision of how you measure air pressure (barometer); secondly, you need to know the precision of how you measure temperature (thermometer). Since your answer relies on both, even if you have an uber-precise thermometer, if your barometer is imprecise your final answer is likewise imprecise. Your answer can only be as precise as your least precise measurement.

So let’s move on to the claim by NASA that the Earth’s axis shifted 8 cm. Centimeters are units of length, but this axis is related to the mass of the Earth too. So we need to know a) precisely what the mass of the Earth was and precisely how it was distributed before the Earthquake and b) precisely what the mass of the Earth is and precisely how it is distributed now. And the precision of our measurement of mass must be precise enough to justify the claim of a move of a mere 8 cm. Thus, we need extremely precise mass measurements, and extremely precise length measurements. If we do not have both, we do not have a precise answer.

Just to show you the impossibility of the measurement, this requires NASA to know precisely the mass of the material that was moved in the Earthquake and precisely how far away from/toward the original figure axis this material moved.

What about the shorter day then? Is it possible to verify a shortening of 1.26 milliseconds in our day? Well, that has its own problems. If we measure sunrise and sunset, we have to account for such things as air temperature and humidity when determining how long light travels before it reaches our sensor, as well as the location of the horizon (i.e., perhaps we measure sunrise from the ocean—in which case, wave height comes into play—or from a hill, in which case plate tectonics and erosion come into play). All of these things cause miniscule precision errors, and we haven’t even talked about the inherent precision level of the sensor itself. All of which renders it impossible to verify that the days are 1.26 milliseconds shorter now then they would have been otherwise.

But in reality, the situation is even worse than that, for the claim that the Earth shifted 8 cm on its axis and days are 1.26 milliseconds shorter now is not based on any observational data at all. Rather we read: “The computer model used by Gross and his colleagues to determine the effects of the Chile earthquake effect...” etc (italics mine).

At this point, I have to wonder if the computer model even takes into account the fact that the earth is not a true sphere, but rather bulges at the equator. I certainly hope it takes that into effect. But even if so, there’s absolutely no way it accounts for all of the Earth’s topographical features—the mountains and the valleys—which help determine the distribution of mass on Earth. Nor could it take into effect all the various mine shafts that have taken mass from inside the crust of the Earth and moved it to some of the many millions of tons of building material on the face of the crust. Even if it did, it would have to be able to accurately show the composition of the Earth’s crust across the entire Earth (density of material would affect where the center of mass is, and thus where the figure axis is).

Finally, this came so quickly after the earthquake that it’s impossible for any of this to have been peer-reviewed. Instead, it’s just a NASA press conference. Which is fine as far as it goes, but when people assume you’re presenting a scientific point of view when you’re really just rushing a computer model out, that is a disservice to science.

And some other scientists have noticed. As reported here, several German scientists have questioned NASA’s conclusions. One said:

It is highly doubtful that these calculations are correct. The changes to the Earth’s axis caused by an earthquake would be so tiny that it isn’t measurable and therefore impossible to reliably detect.
Another said: “It is impossible that there could ever be such a severe earthquake which would observably move the Earth’s axis.”

Given all the factors involved, I would have to agree. It is true that we can know quite a bit. For instance, I have no doubt that we could probably get within several kilometers of where the figure axis of Earth is. We could also measure to within fractions of a second the exact length of a day. But “several kilometers” cannot justify “8 cm” and I doubt that we measure the time of day precisely enough to justify a 1.26 millisecond change. In other words, I agree with these German scientists that any effects from the earthquake would be unobservable.

The problem is, this is not what people will remember. What people will remember is that NASA claimed the Earth’s axis moved and days are now shorter. This is what the news ran with, even though it is highly dubious and not based on actual observations at all.

The greater problem is this is how most of science gets reported! From Darwinism to Global Warming to the Hole in the Ozone to the Fire Danger Levels of the Western U.S., possible scientific claims are made on shaky evidence and, if they fit the current paradigm, are given free reign to profligate until it appears that consensus has been formed. This is a disservice to the scientific method, and ultimately a disservice to everyone who relies upon science.

"God's little robots"

One of the primary motivations of exhaustive determinism is the fact that determinists resent being responsible human beings. They rankle at the idea that they are not totally dependent on God, while God is totally independent of them. They find that distressing and frightening.

In this respect, exhaustive determinism is motivated by the same resentment as men and women who begrudge the fact that God made them responsible, free human beings. So they rebel by undergoing "human reassignment" surgery. They can't stand the fact that they are responsible, free human beings -- that God determined their responsible, free, human identity -- and everything that goes with it. They hate being responsible, free human beings.

So they strive to recreate themselves. Flout nature. Pursue their "target humanity," viz. H2C (Human to Creature). Be God's little robots -- in their grand little Frankenstein costume drama.

By contrast, Arminians are content with the niche that God assigned them. We are what God made us, as we rejoice in the distinctive experience of being human (i.e. not robots) -- with all its dimensions and limitations. We don't war against our responsible nature. Rather, we celebrate God's design for humanity.

I take it that this is supposed to represent Birch’s effort to be clever. But the danger with trying to be clever is that, unless you succeed, the exercise backfires.

1.The primary problem with Birch’s analogy is that it’s crucially disanalogous. For Calvinists make no attempt to evade moral responsibility for their actions. To the contrary, Calvinism accentuates the moral responsibility of human agents.

Birch’s comparison would only work for a hard incompatibilist like Pereboom.

2.Moreover, it’s a very telling reflection on Birch’s Arminian piety that he would mock the idea that human beings are totally dependent on God.

3.Furthermore, to say that Calvinists long to be “robots” is imputing an Arminian characterization of Calvinism to Calvinists. That’s hardly an accurate characterization of how Calvinists view Calvinism. As such, that’s hardly an accurate sentiment to attribute to Calvinists.

4.Finally, Arminians are not content to be whatever God has made them to be. Rather, Arminians have a stipulative definition of what human nature ought to be like. Indeed, Birch tips his hand with the business about “robots” in a Frankenstein experiment.

In fact, Birch’s contemptuous remark about “God’s little robots” is the way in which a militant atheist like Christopher Hitchens expresses his disdain for the sovereignty of God:


Friel: “What if God exists, and what if he has provided everything for you… life, health, food, trees, royalties… would he not have been good to you?”

Hitchens: “No. If that were true, I would have an eternal supervising parent who would never let me get on with my life, never let me grow up, and constantly be asking me to thank and praise him. It would be like living in North Korea and having to continuously praise the ‘Dear Leader.’ I think it’s servile.”

Friel: “If God created you and provides everything for you, does he have rights on your life?”

Hitchens: “No. I don’t accept anyone’s right to own me. I created my children and provide for them, but I don’t own them. Besides, would this mean that the sick and starving for whom God has not provided are not owned by God?”

Friel: “Um… next question… does religion really poison everything?”

Hitchens: “Yes. If I am someone’s slave, that ruins everything. The Bible calls for slavery and genocide, too, but that doesn’t make it right.”

Friel: “So if God saw you committing all these sins, would he send you to heaven or hell?”

Hitchens: “Not heaven, I hope. An eternity of praise and groveling and thanksgiving would be my idea of hell.”

Friel: “What if it’s true that Jesus died on a cross to save your sins? Isn’t that the ultimate act of kindness?”

Hitchens: “No. I didn’t ask for a human sacrifice and don’t want it. I would’ve tried to stop it. It’s barbaric. I don’t want anybody to immolate themself for me. And I’m not bound by it. It’s an act of extreme presumption to say that ‘What I’m doing now binds millions of unborn children and takes away their freedom.’ It’s a tyrannical act.”

Friel: “Is it possible the reason you rage against God is that you want to live your own autonomous life?”

Hitchens: “That’s highly probable, yes.”

Why Pray?

Now that Justin Taylor has closed a lengthy thread over at Between Two Worlds, I'll repost my comments here:


steve hays March 1, 2010 at 5:50 pm

“Why would Jesus pray to have the cup removed? He was free yet His life was completely predetermined (see Calvinist’ statements). Wouldn’t that make his prayer meaningless?”

There’s a rudimentary difference between knowing that something has been predetermined and knowing what has been predetermined.

steve hays March 1, 2010 at 6:48 pm

“It is because God knows what the outcomes will be, which allows him to present prophecies in scripture which present references to events that will occur with certainty before they occur.”

So, according to Robert, God is merely a souped-up psychic. Things simply happen of their own accord, which he can foresee. It’s not as if he’s responsible for the fall of Babylon or the advent of Christ. He just looks into his celestial crystal ball and tells us what will happen.

“Now the ordinary definition allows for God to foreknow events that involve LFW, while the theological determinist’s definition does not allow for this possibility.”

Definitions don’t prove anything. Defining a unicorn proves nothing. A definition is no substitute for an argument. While it’s useful to define our terms, that is no argument for the thing thus defined.

“The church has believed for its entire history that God foreknows events including events that involve LFW.”

There is no one thing that “the church” has believed on this issue.

“Because according to a very common caricature of LFW: if we have LFW then we could always do otherwise than what God predicts and falsify God’s foreknowledge. And if we can falsify God’s foreknowledge then this would completely undermine predictive prophecy.”

Robert merely asserts this to be a caricature. Where’s the supporting argument?

“But perhaps it has not occurred to ‘Calvinist’, maybe she has not studied church history in this area much.”

Church history doesn’t prove anything one way or the other. History is descriptive, not normative. It documents what various people believe, not what they ought to believe.

And church history points in no one direction, for all positions are represented in church history.

“Do you really believe that all of these Christians who hold the ordinary view of foreknowledge have never thought about this issue?”

So, according to Robert’s truth-by-numbers appeal, if most professing Christians pray to the dead, then every Christian should pray to the dead.

“My point is that a whole lot of people have no problem believing things because they believe the bible presents these things to unbiased minds who interpret properly and do not have some axe to grind against a particular belief.”

Of course, Robert has an ax to grind against Calvinism and Calvinists. But his bias blinds him to his bias.

steve hays March 2, 2010 at 8:40 am

“Where’d I liken His foreknowledge to a ‘souped-up psychic?”

Unless God knows the future because he brings it to pass, then God is like a psychic who can foresee events which happen apart from anything the psychic did.

“And in my statement where did I say that God isn’t responsible for certain events in history?”

And does Robert think there’s a linkage between the two? For example, is God’s foreknowledge of the crucifixion based on God’s plan?

“Since I readily acknowledge that I do not know how God knows what he knows, apparently Hays does know how He does it: ‘He just looks into his celestial crystal ball.’”

i) Was I stating my own position? No. I was stating the ramifications of Robert’s position.

ii) Speaking for myself, God knows the future because he planned the future, and everything happens according to plan. That is Isaiah’s argument against the idolaters (Isa 46:10-11). For exegesis, see volume 2 of Oswalt’s commentary (pp236-37).

Robert then admits that he made a false claim about the teaching of “the church.”

Moving along:

“I have seen theological determinists and open theists and atheists all make this same argument. Claiming that if we have libertarian free will then we can invalidate God’s foreknowledge.”

i) I see that Robert doesn’t get it. The question at issue is not whether Calvinists say that. Rather, the question at issue is whether or not that’s a caricature. Robert hasn’t shown how that’s a caricature.

ii) According to libertarian freedom, as folks like Robert define it, human agents have the freedom to do otherwise. In that event, the future is open-ended. The outcome could go either way.

If that’s the case, then a human agent can either do what God predicted he would do, or not do what God predicted that he would do.

Therefore, according to libertarianism, it is possible for a human agent to falsify God’s prediction by doing the contrary.

If Robert deems this to be a caricature of freewill theism, then he needs to explain why.

“It is true there are various positions in church history and yet theological determinists like Hays claim their view is the true view the view the church ought to hold.”

Robert continues to confuse a descriptive process with a normative process. Robert is the one who is selectively appealing to church history to disprove Calvinism.

To say that Calvinism is the true view which the church ought to hold is not an appeal to church history to prove Calvinism. Why is Robert unable to draw that elementary distinction?

“And yet if we look at church history we find that previous to Augustine (or for the first four hundred years of the early church’s history) no Christians are espousing theological determinism.”

Christians like St. John, St. Peter, St. Paul, &c., would beg to differ.

“This is a deafening **silence** that does make not sense if theological determinism is true. If it were true then we would expect someone in those first four hundred years to be teaching it, espousing it, arguing for it.”

i) That’s a tacit admission on Robert’s part that he can’t defend his position on exegetical grounds. So he takes refuge in church history.

ii) This is also the tactic of Catholic and Orthodox apologists. But it’s clearly self-defeating for a Protestant like Robert to make that move–since Robert believes a number of theological “novelties” which he can’t document throughout church history.

“But there is no evidence whatsoever for this. And if we look at church history as a whole we find that the vast majority of Christians have denied theological determinism and argued against it.”

To my knowledge, the vast majority of professing Christians pray to the dead. Just consider the cult of the saints in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodoxy, and Anglo-Catholicism.

Therefore, according to Robert’s truth-by-numbers argument, all Christians should pray to the dead.

“I did not make any claim that truth is determined by a numerical vote.”

That’s exactly the argument which Robert is using. According to him, if a “vast” majority of Christians believe something, then that creates a strong presumption in its favor. If, however, Robert now retracts that argument, then his majoritarian appeal is worthless.

“And these words apply doubly to Steve Hays. Steve Hays has an ax to grind against Non-Calvinism and Non-Calvinists. But his bias blinds him to his bias. Steve Hays’ words here are simply the pot calling the kettle black.”

Robert has a problem living by his own standards. I didn’t say if bias was good or bad, now did I? I merely pointed out that Robert was imputing bias to Calvinists, as if that were a bad thing, while he was blind to his own bias.

“His bias is much worse against the non-Calvinist then mine is against the calvinist. He thinks we are heretics, I only believe that calvinists are mistaken.”

Actually, Robert is on record comparing Calvinists to Nazis, Satanists, cult-members, and Klansmen.

steve hays March 2, 2010 at 9:13 am
I notice that Robert often makes sweeping claims about what the “vast majority” of Christians have believed throughout church history regarding the compatibilist/incompatibilist issue. Perhaps he’d like to share with us his source of information. Where’s the polling data?

For example, did papal pollsters go door-to-door in 12C Lorraine to find out where average farmer, butcher, baker, blacksmith, milkmaid, barmaid, &c, came down on the compatibilist/incompatibilist spectrum? Did they fill out a questionnaire that went something like this?

How would you classify your position, choosing from one of the following options?

i) Augustinian
ii) Thomist
iii) Scotist
iv) Molinist
v) Calvinist
vi) Hard incompatibilist
vii) Agent-causal libertarian
viii) Event-casual libertarian
ix) Noncausal libertarian
xii) Freewill subjectivist

I'm sure that Robert would be more than happy to supply the rest of us with his statistical breakdown.

steve hays March 3, 2010 at 9:09 am

“Planning does not typically include irresitible guarantee of people’s actions. You do not seem to be being realistic in your assessment. It is hard to believe you would say this if you ever planned anything.”

That’s a good example of how Arminians reduce God to the level of a weak, shortsighted man. Indeed, where human planners are concerned, there’s no guarantee that our plans will succeed. That’s because we don’t control all of the relevant variables.

And this is why consistent Arminians become open theists.

“But also, the Arminian view would be that he formulated his plan in dynamic interaction with what he knew of how people would freely act.”

If they could “freely” act, in the libertarian sense, then the outcome is indeterminate. Knowing how they would act denies the open-endedness of transaction.


One of the primary motivations of freewill theism is the fact that libertarians resent being mere creatures. They rankle at the idea that they are totally dependent on God, while God is totally independent of them. They find that humiliating and demeaning.

In this respect, freewill theism is motivated by the same resentment as men and women who begrudge the fact that God made them men or women. So they rebel by cross-dressing or undergoing “gender reassignment” surgery. They can’t stand the fact that they are finite creatures. That God determined their sexual identity–and everything that goes with it. They hate heteronormativity.

So they strive to recreate themselves. Flout nature. Pursue their “target gender,” viz. M2F. Be their own little gods–in their grand little costume drama.

By contrast, the Calvinist is content with the niche that God assigned him. We are what God made us, as we rejoice in the distinctive experience of our humanity–with all its dimensions and limitations. We don’t war against our nature. Rather, we celebrate God’s design for man.

Arminians in holy underwear

Herein we begin to see surfacing a major problem for the Determinist. For his philosophy to remain intact, nothing God does can be based upon anything man does. Yet the Bible here clearly states that God blessed Abraham because he was obedient to His voice. Abraham offering his son didn’t compel God to do anything, yet God freely chose to bless Abraham based upon his obedience. This is important to note, since if even part of the reason behind God’s reaction / response / reciprocation towards men is their own actions, then this establishes some form of contingency. This is especially devastating to the determinist philosophy, since in God’s own words, it’s addressing the ‘why’ behind His actions, not merely the ‘how.’

Calvinists sometimes claim that God is speaking to people in ‘human terms,’ and hence might say some things that seem to make more sense to the ‘mind of the natural man’ (which they often equate with Arminianism). So because God is speaking words designed to appeal to the Arminian viewpoint (who, unlike Calvinists, haven’t been given the mind of Christ enough to see past the facade that God is erecting), it’s safe to exclude the idea from our understanding of God altogether, isn’t it?

Four words: “God’s word is truth.” Can this defense for determinism then hold up when compared to scripture? Is it still truth, just in ‘human terms,’ for God to say that He blessed Abraham because he obeyed, when He actually means His deciding to bless him wasn’t at all dependent upon his obedience? That wouldn’t merely be phrasing things in terms that people can relate to, it would be downright deceptive. Even Christ’s parables, which hid their meaning from many a hearer, weren’t designed to mislead people into believing falsehood. When scripture applies anthropomorphisms, idioms, or other literary devices, it’s not for vain exercise or duplicity, but to convey truth of God’s word, for all of God’s word is truth (Psalms 12:6, 33:4, John 17:17). The objection above really amounts to saying that God’s word employs literary devices to obfuscate the truth of who He is, rather than reveal it. But the hole in the determinist case rips even wider yet upon further examination….

Far more than just in Abraham’s story, all throughout the Bible, we’re told numerous times of God doing things because of something man does. Using objection 6’s “God’s only telling us what He appears to be doing” interpretive method, or some other such contrivance, we would have to recast major portions of scripture into superficial smokescreens, declaring God’s revelations of Himself to be pretenses, and repeatedly insisting that the reasons God gives for His actions aren’t really His reasons at all, just to salvage determinist philosophy.

1.Because Arminians are more obsessed with predestination than Calvinists, they project their obsession onto Calvinists. But while it’s true that, given our commitment to Biblical predestination, Calvinists will reject the incipient open theism in Thibodaux’s alternative, that’s not the only reason we have to reject his open theism.

For the way he’s framed the issue isn’t simply a logical choice between Arminianism and Calvinism, but a logical choice between Arminianism and classical Christian theism.

For if you subscribe to a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, impassible, a se, timeless, and spaceless, then you have to reject Thibodaux’s open theism.

Put another way, Thibodaux can either redefine “reaction” or else he can redefine God.

If you wish to say that God is omniscient, then what it means for him to “react” is very different from what it means for finite human agents to react. Ordinarily, we react to events because we don’t know the future. We have to wait and see what happens, then we adapt to the situation.

Likewise, if you wish to say that God is timeless, then what it means for him to “react” is very different from what it means for finite human agents to react. Ordinarily, we react to events after the fact. There’s a temporal sequence between the prior action and our subsequent reaction.

Those are just two examples. And it’s ironic that Thibodaux began his post by quoting Cottrell’s allegation that Calvinists “redefine” freewill. For unless Thibodaux is a closet Mormon or open theist, he will have to redefine “react” in terms of how a transcendent God “reacts” to human beings.

Put another way, unless Thibodaux is prepared to make generous allowance for anthropocentric language in depicting God’s relation to Abraham (and other men), then he is a de facto Mormon or open theist. Yet Thibodaux has already cut off that escape route on this issue by assuring us that any appeal to anthropomorphic language at this juncture would be “deceptive,” “duplicitous,” a “pretense,” &c.

The moral of the story: scratch an Arminian and out pops a Mormon or open theist. Like the Pod People, Arminian body-snatchers are not what they appear to be. Beneath the holy underwear of the average Arminian epologist is a Mormon epologist clawing to get out.

2.Then there’s Thibodaux’s logical blunder. He fails to draw an elementary distinction between two very different propositions. To say that, given God’s plan, God does something because we do something is hardly equivalent to saying that God plans something because of what we do. For what we do is not a given unless God made it a given in the first place.

God is like a novelist. The decree is like the plot of a novel. If the novelist makes Jerry propose to Margery, then the novelist makes Margery accept his proposal.

In a novel, there’s a sense in which a novelist does something on account of what the characters do next. In the novel, some things happen because other things happen.

However, this doesn’t mean the characters have an independent existence. This doesn’t mean they affect the choices of the novelist. This doesn’t mean the actions of the novelist are contingent on the actions on the characters in the sense that what he writes is dependent on what they do.

Rather, what they do is dependent on what he writes. But what he writes will including writing a certain amount of interaction into the plot–to give the story continuity and cohesion. In the novel, one event leads logically to another event. One action forms the basis of another action.

Likewise, to take one example, God makes conditional promises to men. If men comply with the promise, then God does what he promised.

But God’s promises aren’t conditional in the sense that God was dependent on man acting a certain way. Divine promises are entirely consistent with divine predestination. God decreed the promise, and God decreed the human response–or lack thereof. Same thing with prayer.

The entire transaction turns on God’s sovereign initiative. Man is acting and reacting in accordance with God’s plan of action.

Apostolic Succession (Part 5): Hegesippus

The Roman Catholic appeal to Hegesippus is problematic for Catholics, for reasons not commonly understood. He does provide them with a relatively early (late second century) form of apostolic succession and one that includes a succession of Roman bishops. But his notion of apostolic succession is too vague to add much weight to an argument for Catholicism, and he doesn't seem to have viewed Peter as a Pope.

The relevant fragments of Hegesippus can be found in section 4:22 of Eusebius' Church History. We read there:

"And the church of the Corinthians continued in the orthodox faith up to the time when Primus was bishop in Corinth. I had some intercourse with these brethren on my voyage to Rome, when I spent several days with the Corinthians, during which we were mutually refreshed by the orthodox faith. On my arrival at Rome, I drew up a list of the succession of bishops down to Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. To Anicetus succeeded Soter, and after him came Eleutherus. But in the case of every succession, and in every city, the state of affairs is in accordance with the teaching of the Law and of the Prophets and of the Lord."

No knowledgeable Evangelical would deny that the history of the episcopate in the ancient churches, particularly apostolic churches like Corinth and Rome, is of interest in multiple contexts. Those bishop lists have historical value, and the continuity of teaching among the bishops is of value in arguing against heretics like those Hegesippus was opposing. Such a use of apostolic succession, if we're to call it that, doesn't carry with it the implications Catholics assign to their notion of apostolic succession in disputes with Evangelicals. Nothing Hegesippus says implies that bishops have inherited the office of the apostles, that every Christian church throughout history, including ones in circumstances much different from those of Hegesippus, must have a line of bishops going back to the apostles, etc. There isn't much in Hegesippus for a Catholic to use against Evangelicalism.

But we gain some information about Hegesippus from a later source, Epiphanius, that's problematic for Catholicism. Robert Lee Williams explains:

In the early twentieth century Lawlor compiled evidence that Epiphanius had preserved some information from Hegesippus that is not included by Eusebius but dovetails with Hegesippan material he has used....Furthermore, the Roman bishop list extends precisely to Anicetus in Epiphanius (Pan. 27.6), as Hegesippus states of his own according to Eusebius (Hist. eccl. 4.22.3)....

B.H. Streeter has given substantial evidence that both Irenaeus and Epiphanius derived independently from Hegesippus their comments on Marcellina and the Carpocratians and their Roman bishop lists. Irenaeus says of Marcellina that she "came to Rome under Anicetus" (Haer. 1.25.6). Epiphanius records of the same instance that she came "to us" (Pan. 27.6), but he was of Cyprus, not Rome. A common source appears likely. A common source is suggested again when both Irenaeus's bishop list and Epiphanius refer to Pauline epistles (Haer. 3.3.3; Pan. 27.6). Hegesippus is the only earlier writer known who could be this source....

In Rome the apostles Peter and Paul were the first bishops (Epiphanius, Pan. 27.6)....

Hegesippus was probably a source for Irenaeus's list of Roman bishops. Comparison of comments on Roman episcopal information suggest Hegesippus's doing his own research and Irenaeus's use of something already available. (Bishop Lists [Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2005], pp. 96-97, 112, 129)

I'm currently focused on Hegesippus, but his view of Peter and Paul has implications for other sources, like Irenaeus. I'll have more to say about that when I address Irenaeus later.

For now, note that Epiphanius, apparently using Hegesippus' material, assigns a joint episcopacy to Peter and Paul. He doesn't say that they served as bishop of Rome at different times. Rather, he says that Peter and Paul filled one Roman episcopate at the same time, followed by Linus. Such a joint episcopacy can be reconciled with a Petrine papacy. But it's more naturally taken as evidence that the two apostles were viewed as equals. Peter and Paul are frequently grouped together in the earliest patristic generations, including in Roman sources. It isn't until the third century that we see a much more consistent and widespread singling out of Peter and various concepts of Petrine primacy.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

"Redefining freedom"

No matter how “free will” is redefined and the efficacy of the decree is qualified, Calvinism is still a theology of determinism as long as it declares that nothing God does can be conditioned by man or can be a reaction to something in the world. (Cottrell, J.W.; The Grace of God, the will of man: a case for Arminianism; pp. 102)

I’ll take this occasion to make one basic point. Arminians often act as though Calvinists “redefine” freedom. In so doing, Arminians also act as though there’s a received definition of freedom which fell from heaven. One which the nefarious Calvinists proceed to “redefine.”

At the risk of stating the obvious, anyone with a cursory knowledge of current literature on action theory would realize that there is no standard definition of freedom. Hence, there’s nothing to redefine.

Rather, different action-theorists define freedom consistent with their differing theories of action. It’s not as though Arminians are custodians for the received definition, which furnishes the frame of reference in relation to which everyone else offers a modified definition.

This is just so much special-pleading on the part of the Arminian apologist and polemicist. An illicit attempt to scoop out a preexisting foothold for his own position. Intellectual cheating.

I’d also note in passing that Thibodaux’s discovery of a “fatal flaw” in Calvinism is based on prooftexting Scripture in a manner which is indistinguishable from open theism.

Green like Puke - Donald Miller's Postmodern Epistemology

I have had several people either make reference to or ask me about Donald Miller's writings over the years. I have purposely refrained from directly addressing the writings of men like Miller both on my church blog and in teaching because I would rather focus on teaching people the truth of a Biblical epistemology, that way when a counterfeit rears its ugly head, they recognize it for what it is. That is why I'm three years late on this issue. Nevertheless, in my pastoral ministry and evangelistic work, I have been asked questions about Miller, and thus, I will provide a short response to his views in this blog article. In short, Miller is a postmodern relativist with a constructivist theory of truth. That means that he has bought in to the notion that truth is neither objective or knowable.

On page 103 of Blue Like Jazz, Miller basically says that Christianity is not an intellectual issue for him any more because he has grown past that. According to him, having an intelligent, rational discussion and debate about the existence of God is pretty much a waste of time because doing so amounts only to a display of arrogance and ego since it reveals who the smartest debater is. To be fair, this can be true as far as it goes, but not all debaters are the same since some love the truth and believe they are obligated to defend it. In the context of this discuss Miller then says, "Who knows anything anyway?" There are a few obvious problems with a statement like this:

1. If we really can't know anything then we can't know that proposition either. Thus, Miller's position is self-refuting.

2. He also essentially says that if he walks away from God he will not do so for intellectual reasons. Instead he says, "I will walk away for social reasons, identity reasons, deep emotional reasons, the same reasons that any of us do anything." However, the discerning Christian doesn't walk away from truth claims and worldviews simply because they are emotionally painful; we walk away from them because they are not true.

3. If there is no objective truth that is knowable (as Miller clearly suggests in his book) and if there is only the endless, pointless argumentation of intelligent people who disagree with each other because it only amounts to relativistic opinions, then what else is there at the bottom of it all? My conclusion as an unbeliever was this: nothing. There is nothing at the bottom of it all and reality as we know it is a cosmic accident (i.e., nihilism).

As I see it, the problem with Miller and any professing Christian who has fallen for this postmodern cultural view of the nature of "belief" can say that he believes in biblical authority or biblical inspiration, but the words will be absolutely meaningless. The postmodernist's individual's particular interpretation of Scripture will potentially be devoid of any significant grounding in the historical creeds and confessions of faith because of the complete lack of epistemological certainty; hence, Miller's statement, "Who knows anything anyway?" This is highly problematic, because the idea of mind-independent, objective truth necessarily grounds belief in Biblical authority and if truth does not exist and is not knowable, then we are without hope and without God in the world.

Biblical authority has to do with the author's intended meaning in writing what he wrote. The postmodernist view of truth as merely a social or personal construct (a constructivist view of truth) that renders the author's intended meaning completely irrelevant. With a postmodern constructivist view of truth, what really matters is the reader's understanding and perspective of the writing, not what the author originally intended. As a result, biblical authority and inspiration flies out the window and the door has just been opened to theological liberalism. Whether he knows it or not, this is exactly what Miller does with his "who knows anything anyway" type of statements. This is also the fundamental presupposition behind Jacques Derrida's philosophy of literary deconstructionism.

Christians who want to be clear in their statements and intellectually compelling can never fall for the truth-eviscerated notion of "belief" put forward by Donald Miller while at the same time arguing for a particular interpretation of Scripture based on the authority of Scripture. Such view would be internally contradictory, because a constructivist view of truth does not permit Scripture to have any intrinsic authority in and of itself; it can only have the authority that the reader chooses to give to it. Someone who holds this postmodernist view of truth will not hold to Christian teachings because of the truth and authority of the God-breathed Scripture, but because of his or her "social reasons, identity reasons, deep emotional reasons." This is mysticism at its finest; determining truth based upon how it makes you feel. In conclusion, Miller's "who knows anything anyway" view of truth is at best dishonoring to God since it implies that He hasn't spoken to men in His word with sufficient clarity and at worst, it is dangerous to Christianity since it eviscerates the very foundation for objective, knowable truth, the type of truth that is necessary to ground the sure and certain promises of the gospel as contained in Holy Writ.

Apostolic Succession (Part 4): Ignatius, Justin Martyr, And Some Others

Concepts of succession become more prominent in second-century Christianity. But we can't assume that what one source wrote on the subject represents what every other Christian believed or even what most others believed. Robert Lee Williams comments:

"It is the particular nature of the ecclesiastical struggle in each case that shapes the content of the doctrine of apostolic succession at that point. The content of apostolic succession, linchpin though it is in defense of orthodoxy, changes in content and emphasis from writer to writer...The bishops in apostolic succession are the legitimate leaders of the churches not in every way, with a carte blanche of authority, but in specific ways that emerge at the particular historical junctures at which bishop lists are cited. Political needs changed theological emphases." (Bishop Lists [Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2005], pp. 8-9)

I've already discussed two early patristic sources, Clement of Rome and Papias.

Regarding another, Williams writes, "Ignatius says nothing of apostolic succession." (p. 68) Ignatius does say a lot about church government, and he sometimes tells his audience to obey church leaders as they would obey the apostles. But he also compares church leaders to the Father and Christ, for example. Such language is commonly used without any sort of succession or infallibility in view (Ephesians 6:5, Philemon 17). Allen Brent, a scholar who has specialized in the study of Ignatius, similarly concludes that there's no relevant concept of apostolic succession in Ignatius (Ignatius Of Antioch [New York, New York: T & T Clark International, 2009], pp. 86-87, 122-129). As Brent notes, Ignatius mostly parallels presbyters, not bishops, with the apostles, and he never refers to himself as a successor of the apostles or as having the authority of Peter or the other apostles. (Ignatius' church, the church of Antioch, was apostolic.) He may have not referred to a monarchical bishop when writing to Rome because that form of church government hadn't developed in Rome yet, as other sources from the same time period also suggest. It should be kept in mind that Ignatius puts a lot of emphasis on issues of church government, so the absence of Dave's concept of apostolic succession in Ignatius' writings (as well as the absence of a papacy) is accordingly significant.

Justin Martyr, like other early patristic sources, makes many explicit references to the authority of the Father, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and scripture, and he appeals to many extra-Biblical sources (government records, written or oral traditions about Jesus, etc.). But he says nothing of apostolic succession (or an infallible church), and his Jewish and Gentile opponents raise no objections to Christianity that assume Christian belief in such concepts.

Much the same can be said of Celsus, who wrote against Christianity late in the second century. However, we do begin to see some concepts of apostolic succession that are closer to Dave's view around the time when Celsus wrote. The first relevant source is Hegesippus, and I'll discuss him in my next post.

However, before I move on to Hegesippus, it should be noted that many other Christian sources from the late second century onward continue to write at length, including in many contexts relevant to apostolic succession as Dave defines it, without mentioning the concept. We shouldn't assume that the concept was universally accepted, or even accepted by a majority, once a Christian somewhere advocates it. The appearance of concepts of apostolic succession in Hegesippus, Irenaeus, and other sources is significant evidence of the popularity of such ideas. But the earlier absence of those ideas and their ongoing absence or lesser emphasis in other sources is significant as well. Both lines of evidence have to be addressed.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

"A spiritual body"

“Paul declares that with the resurrection of the dead, ‘…It is sown a physical body; it is raised a spiritual body’ (1 Cor 15:42-44). This needs clarification…The term ‘spiritual’ is not a denial of ‘bodililess.’ It is not even an oxymoron, as Fitzmyer seems to claim (though in the end, he stresses the work of the Spirit). The adjective ‘spiritual’ (Greek, pneumatikos) means regularly in Paul, and certainly in 1 Corinthians, ‘shaped in accordance with the Holy Spirit.’ Here it means that the Holy Spirit will animate or control it. I have long argued this, and recently N. T. Wright has corroborated it. He writes, ‘They will have a soma pneumatikon, a body animated by, enlivened by, the Spirit of the true God, exactly as Paul has said in several other passages’ (Rom 8:9-11; cf. Ezk 36:27; 37:9-10),” A. Thiselton, The Living Paul: An Introduction to the Apostle's Life and Thought (IVP 2009), 143.

“This is further corroborated by Paul’s closing section (1 Cor 15:45-58). The last Adam became a life-giving Spirit (v45). Christians will bear ‘the image’ of the Man from heaven (v49). Christ alone bears the true image of God. Thus Christians will be like Christ in form and in character, fully to bear the image that God intended. Hence flesh and blood can now approach the immediate presence of the holy God (vv50-51). Paul is interested in whether sinful humanity can approach a holy God, not in whether a quasi-physical ‘body’ can enter a spaceless heaven,” ibid. 144.

"Hardline presuppositionalism"

Paul Helm has posted an assessment of presuppositionalism. I’m going to focus on his description and evaluation of “hardline presuppositionalism.”

i) One initial difficulty is that Helm is shadowboxing with invisible opponents. He names no names. He quotes no one. So I don’t know who or what, exactly, he intends to target.

For example, much of what he says would be germane to Clarkian presuppositionalism. But it seems far less relevant to Van Tilian presuppositionalism.

And, of course, there are varieties of Van Tilian presuppositionalism. Is he targeting Van Til’s version? Frame’s? Bahnsen’s? David Byron’s? James Anderson’s? Who and what?

ii) Another problem is that he seems to interpret a presuppositional method in chronological terms. That to reason presuppositionally is to observe a certain sequence in which you treat the Bible as your chronological point of departure.

You begin with Scripture. For unless you first know the Bible, you can’t know anything else.

But if this is what he means, then I think that badly mischaracterizes the position. In Van Tilian apologetics, the Bible is not a chronological starting point, as if it enjoys temporal priority in the “order of knowledge.”

The point, rather, as I understand it, is that biblical revelation is a necessary presupposition in the justification of knowledge.

iii) In addition, I don’t think Van Tilian apologetics primarily concerned with using the Bible itself as a textbook for epistemology.

The point, rather, as I understand it, is that unless the God of the Bible exists, then what we believe and perceive systematically unwarranted. In that event, there is no reason to trust our sensory relays, or cognitive mechanisms, or moral intuitions.

Only God can underwrite knowledge. Unless the Creator and sustainer of the world exists, as identified in Scripture, then we’re condemned to scepticism.

iv) I’m puzzled by the way in which Helm opposes Van Tilian apologetics to “Reformed epistemology.” James Anderson, for one, has argued that we can and should incorporate elements of Plantinga’s epistemology into Van Tilian apologetics.

v) I’d also like to remark on the ambiguities of reliability. For instance, when we say the senses are reliable, what do we mean?

a) Reliability is a relative notion, and on more than one level. Reliable for what?

The eyesight of an eagle is reliable for daytime hunting whereas the eyesight of an owl is reliable for nighttime hunting.

So is the eyesight of an eagle reliable or unreliable? There’s no uniform answer. An eagle’s eyesight is reliable in relation to its internal design and corresponding environment. Reliable during the daytime, but less reliable (or unreliable) at night.

b) Likewise, reliability is also bound up with the principle of design. Is it functioning according to its design specifications? Doing what it was meant to do or made to do?

That’s a teleological concept, and since methodological naturalism banishes teleological explanation from scientific discourse, then an atheistic position like naturalistic evolution can’t evaluate a sensory input in terms of its general (alethic) reliability.

And that, in turn, is a case in which presuppositionalism comes to the fore. Unless God designed our senses, unless God designed our sensory environment, unless God designed each to function in a state of mutual adaptation, then our senses are untrustworthy.

c) Reliability is ambiguous in another respect. Something may be “reliable” in the pragmatic or subjective sense that I rely on it. I have no alternative.

Take a man who’s color-blind. Even though his vision is defective in that respect, he must still rely on his defective vision.

Yet his vision remains defective, and, to that degree, unreliable. There are also situations in which his vision lets him down. Situations in which he needs the benefit of color discrimination. Even though he has to make do with what he’s got, that, of itself, doesn’t vouch for the reliability of his eyesight.

d) Suppose a man is born blind. Suppose, due to technological advances, he is given a pair of artificial eyes. Are these implants reliable?

Well, that depends on whether or not the artificial eyes suffer from a design flaw. If the company which manufactures the artificial eyes has a reputation for shoddy workmanship, then he has reason to suspect the reliability of his artificial vision.

And since he was born blind, he can’t very well compare his artificial vision with his memory of normal vision. So he’s in no position to detect faulty vision.

Yet, in another respect, he is still dependent on his artificial vision. He must rely on his unreliable vision. He has no choice. No fallback.

If, on the other hand, the company is reliable, then he has reason to believe the product is reliable. A reliable source or process produces a reliable product.

And this is, of course, analogous to the evolutionary psychology. Unless God, a God with the attributes accorded him in Scripture, exists, can we trust our minds and senses?

Yes, we still have to take them for granted–even to pose that question–but, then, a man who’s is high on LSD must also take his mind for granted. Delusive or not, that’s the only mind he’s got. Yet, in that diminished condition, his perception of reality amounts to a radical misperception of reality.

That’s the dilemma for naturalism. You have to place unquestioning faith in reason to question reason. But what if your resultant philosophy casts doubt on the reliability of reason?

At that point, should you question your sanity–or question your philosophy?

Presuppositionalism has a confirmatory role. Given the existence of the Biblical God, then we have good reason to trust our minds and senses–within the limits of their design parameters.

Apostolic Succession (Part 3): Succession In The New Testament

I've mentioned that apostolic succession could be defined in many ways. You could say that it's a Biblical concept if you have some definitions in mind, but not others. The question here is whether a definition like Dave Armstrong's should be considered Biblical. Consider the arguments he offers in one of the articles he linked in a recent response to me.

He claims that "St. Paul appears to be passing his office along to Timothy (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 1:6, 13-14, 2:1-2, 4:1-6). See, for example [2 Timothy 2:1-2]". But while such passages are consistent with apostolic succession as Dave is defining it, they're also consistent with my rejection of that concept. The passages are consistent with Dave's view, but they don't render it probable. Timothy can be appointed to an office by an apostle, and he and successors to that office and similar offices can be expected to maintain apostolic teaching in that capacity, without an implication that Timothy is taking on Paul's office. Nor is there any implication in 1 and 2 Timothy that all future churches must have an unbroken succession of bishops going back to the apostles, for example. What Dave often does, in the article I'm currently addressing and elsewhere, is cite Biblical or other sources that give us something vaguely similar to what Dave believes, but without any explanation as to how those sources allegedly lead us to Dave's specific conclusions. For a further discussion of passages like the ones Dave has cited from 2 Timothy, see Steve Hays' article here and the sources he cites within that article.

Regarding passages like Luke 10:1-3, Dave writes, "The latter passages appears to imply that there are many others involved besides just the 70 (which is already an expansion upon the original twelve). This implies succession and perpetuity." Nobody denies that Jesus' original followers and leaders expanded beyond twelve. But where is Dave getting "perpetuity" in this context? The seventy were sent out to prepare the way before Jesus during His public ministry, and the performance of miracles was part of their task (Luke 10:9, 10:17-20). There would be no ongoing need to prepare the way for Jesus' public ministry, since that ministry came to an end. And there is no perpetuity of such miracles in Catholicism. The fact that there are no people fulfilling the role of the disciples of Luke 10 today is an indication that the office wasn't meant to be carried on throughout church history.

One of the passages of scripture most often abused by Catholics when discussing this subject is Acts 1:16-26. Dave appeals to it:

"Later in the chapter [Acts 1] we see explicit proof of apostolic succession (as discussed in my linked paper above): Judas was replaced by Matthias (1:17-26), and an OT passage is cited: 'His office let another take' (1:20)."

Judas was being punished by having another man take his office. Judas is replaced as a unique fulfillment of prophecy (Acts 1:16), and his being replaced is seen as something negative (Acts 1:20), not something positive. He's replaced by one man (Acts 1:20, 1:22), not by multiple men all claiming to be his successors. The requirements that Judas' replacement had to meet can't possibly be met by people alive today (Acts 1:21-22). And when people like James (Acts 12:2), Paul, and Peter are killed or are nearing death, the events of Acts 1 aren't repeated. People are told to remember what Jesus and the apostles had taught (Acts 20:28-35, 2 Peter 1:13-15, 3:1-2), not to expect all apostolic teaching to be infallibly maintained in unbroken succession throughout church history.

Dave also cites passages in support of other concepts, like confession of sins, baptismal regeneration, and the laying on of hands. Some of those issues have already been addressed in past articles at this blog, and some don't have much relevance to what I'm discussing here. But Dave's article fails to demonstrate that his concept of apostolic succession, or any notion of it that's contrary to Evangelicalism, is taught by scripture. The fact that he resorts to such misuses of passages like 2 Timothy 2 and Acts 1 suggests that he doesn't have much to work with.

While some concepts of succession consistent with Evangelicalism can be found in the Bible, Dave's view isn't there. There's no oak, and there's no acorn. Robert Lee Williams writes:

Scholars do not expect to find in the New Testament a precursor of the monepiscopacy in succession from the apostles. While bishops are mentioned, they are not clearly single bishops. There are only hints in that direction. No succession seems to be associated with them. Furthermore, what can be said of the possible existence of a line of succession in the New Testament is not based on apostleship....

Luke knows succession terminology [Acts 7:45, 24:27], but he never applies it to Christian leaders....

The Pastorals provide officials to continue protecting their churches (Titus 1:5, 7, 9-14; cf. 2 Tim 2:2) but not to continue the office or position held by the apostle or his lieutenant. (Bishop Lists [Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2005], pp. 47, 60-61)

Williams argues that bishops do share to some degree in "the apostle's role" (p. 47), and he sees "a concept of succession" (p. 59) in the New Testament. But Evangelicals don't deny that there's some continuity between apostles and bishops and some forms of succession in the church.

Despite their familiarity with many concepts of succession and the availability of language that could be used to describe a succession, and despite the popularity of succession in the cultures of their day, the New Testament authors don't advocate Dave's view. When they do suggest some sort of succession, such as the responsibility of church leaders to maintain apostolic teaching from one generation to another, it's a form of succession consistent with Evangelicalism.

We've also seen that there's no basis for seeing Dave's concept of apostolic succession in Clement of Rome or Papias. In my next post in this series, I'll address some other early post-apostolic sources.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Lost sheep

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” (Lk 15:4).

Few things are worse in life than losing your way. I expect most of us lack the experience of what it means to be truly lost. For most of us, to be lost is to take the wrong turn in a strange city.

But that’s a nuisance–nothing more. We know that sooner or later we will find our way back. The only thing we really lost was time. We’re wasting time. Running late. Because we have to double back. Go in circles until we regain our bearings.

A paradigm-case is a lost child. Of course, in most instances, he isn’t really lost. He just feels lost. Momentarily separated from his parents.

Young children live in their own fantasy world. Easily preoccupied. Self-absorbed, they wander off. As long as they remain within earshot or eyeshot of their parents, they feel secure.

But sometimes, after having gone off on their own, they suddenly become aware of the fact that their parents are nowhere to be seen. That they are truly alone–in a strange world. Instant terror greets them.

Although this is something we normally associate with childhood, the same fears and insecurities can recur in old age, when many people feel very vulnerable and alone–because they are.

Feel lost in the sense of forgotten or abandoned. If they went missing, no one would miss them. That’s a terrible apprehension.

Another paradigm-case is a hiker who loses his way. If he’s with a fellow hiker, if they both are lost, they at least take comfort in their companionship.

But a lone hiker normally takes comfort in hope. Trusting in the fact that even though he is lost, people are looking for him. There are friends and family who notice that he never came home. A search party is trying to find him at this very moment.

But suppose there was no search party. Suppose no one was waiting for him to return.

He suddenly feels terribly alone in the world. That, in a sense, he was always alone in the world. It’s just that, in this situation, it hits him for the very first time.

Or perhaps you have an injured hiker who’s abandoned by his party. They leave him behind because he would slow them down.

Perhaps he adopted a Nietzschean philosophy. And that sounded swell as long as he was young and strong and able-bodied. A proud, youthful atheist–exulting in his manly independence. But now that he’s weak and needy and vulnerable, that’s not much of a creed to live by–or die by. A philosophy that deserts you in your time of need.

I suppose that some medical patients feel lost. They went to their family doctor for some ailment. They’ve known him for years. But he refers them to a specialist–who refers them to another specialist. They wind up in the hospital. Handed off from one stranger to the next. At the mercy of others. Where are they anymore?

At the outset I said there were few things worse than being lost. But there is one thing worse: to be lost, but not know that you are lost.

Of course, that feels better, but it’s far worse. In that condition, a lost soul is heedless of his own condition. He ambles about, frittering away precious time. For time is running out, yet he has no sense of urgency. No sense of jeopardy. Of what it truly means to be lost, utterly lost, in a world which is indifferent at best, and malevolent at worst.

It’s like a hunter stalked by a lion. He imagines that he is hunting the lion, but the lion is hunting him .The lion approaches him from behind, but he’s oblivious to the peril since his back is turned to the lion.

You can see the lion, but he cannot. You jump and shout and wave your hands, but he can’t hear you. He’s not looking in your direction. There he stands, blissfully unconscious of the silent slayer which is creeping up on him, step by fatal step.

Apostolic Succession (Part 2): Succession In The Ancient World

Everett Ferguson writes:

Succession lists of kings, periodically appointed magistrates, and heads of philosophical schools were kept in the Hellenistic world. The Jews had lists of prophets and rabbis, but most importantly of high priests. Although early Christians had an interest in the succession of their own prophets and teachers (particularly in the catechetical school in Alexandria), special attention attached to the succession of bishops, who by the end of the second century incorporated much of the authority and function of prophets and teachers into their office.

1 Clement 42-44 taught the apostolic institution of the offices of bishop and deacon in the church. After the appointment of the first bishops and deacons, the apostles provided for the continuation of these offices in the church. This was not the same as the later doctrine of apostolic succession, and it is to be noted that Clement included deacons as well as bishops in his statement. Ignatius, the first witness to only one bishop in a church, did not base his understanding of the ministry on succession. The one bishop was a representative of God the Father, and the presbyters had their model in the college of apostles (Trall. 3).

The first claim to a succession from the apostles in support of particular doctrines was made in the second century by the Gnostics. They claimed that the apostles had imparted certain secret teachings to some of their disciples and that these teachings had been passed down, thus having apostolic authority, even if different from what was proclaimed in the churches (Irenaeus, Haer. 3.2.1; cf. Ptolemy in Epiphanius, Haer. 33.7.9). Hegesippus, an opponent of Gnosticism, compiled a list of the bishops in Rome (Eusebius, H.E. 4.22.5f.).

Irenaeus of Lyons drew on the idea of the succession of bishops to formulate an orthodox response to the Gnostic claim of a secret tradition going back to the apostles. Irenaeus argued that if the apostles had had any secrets to teach, they would have delivered them to those men to whom they committed the leadership of the churches. A person could go to the churches founded by apostles, Irenaeus contended, and determine what was taught in those churches by the succession of teachers since the days of the apostles. The constancy of this teaching was guaranteed by its public nature; any change could have been detected, since the teaching was open. The accuracy of the teaching in each church was confirmed by its agreement with what was taught in other churches. One and the same faith had been taught in all the churches since the time of the apostles.

Irenaeus's succession was collective rather than individual. He spoke of the succession of the presbyters (Haer. 3.2.2), or of the presbyters and bishops (4.26.2), as well as of the bishops (3.3.1). To be in the succession was not itself sufficient to guarantee correct doctrine. The succession functioned negatively to mark off the heretics who withdrew from the church. A holy life and sound teaching were also required of true leaders (4.26.5). The succession pertained to faith and life rather than to the transmission of special gifts. The "gift of truth" (charisma veritatis) received with the office of teaching (4.26.2) was not a gift guaranteeing that what was taught would be true, but was the truth itself as a gift. Each holder of the teaching chair in the church received the apostolic doctrine as a deposit to be faithfully transmitted to the church. Apostolic succession as formulated by Irenaeus was from one holder of the teaching chair in a church to the next and not from ordainer to ordained, as it became....

[In Tertullian] Churches were apostolic that agreed in the same faith, even if not founded by apostles.

Apostolic succession arose in a polemical situation as an effective argument for the truth of Catholic tradition against Gnostic teachings. As so often happens to successful arguments, it came to be regarded as an article of faith, not just a defense of the truth but a part of truth itself.

Hippolytus is apparently the first for whom the bishops were not simply in the succession from the apostles but were themselves successors of the apostles (Haer., praef.). When Eusebius of Caesarea used the lists of bishops as the framework for his Church History, he did not count the apostles in the episcopal lists. Cyprian, however, made an identification of the episcopate and the apostolate (Ep. 64.3; 66.4; cf. Sent. epp. 79 and Socrates, H.E. 6.8)....

The sacramental understanding of ordination that grew up in the fourth and fifth centuries shifted the emphasis to a succession from ordainer to ordained, but the earlier historical type of succession was preserved in the lists of local bishops....

Election by the people was one of the methods of appointment known to Origen (Hom. 13 in Num. 4)....

The will of the populace could prevail over clerical opposition (Sulpicius Severus, V. Mart. 9). (Encyclopedia Of Early Christianity [New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999], pp. 94-95, 366-367)

Robert Lee Williams did his doctoral dissertation on a subject related to apostolic succession in 1982, under Robert Grant at the University of Chicago. He recently published a revised version of his dissertation, under the title Bishop Lists (Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2005). He reaches some of the same conclusions outlined by Ferguson above. He notes that there were many concepts of succession circulating in the ancient world, in political circles, among philosophers, etc. Different individuals and groups defined succession in different ways, and the early Christians adopted multiple concepts of succession in multiple contexts. Williams notes, for example, that Eusebius' church history begins, "It is my purpose to write an account of the successions of the holy apostles" (1:1), referring not only to successions of bishops, but also to successions of Christian philosophers, for example (pp. 201, 203, 211, 220). Williams argues that Eusebius was largely influenced by the Jewish historian Josephus in how he formulated his ideas related to succession (pp. 213-214).

The popularity of succession concepts in antiquity is important for more than one reason. It's a possible explanation of where concepts of apostolic succession came from if they weren't taught by the apostles. And the widespread use and development of succession concepts suggests that the early Christians, including the New Testament authors, could have explicitly referred to such ideas if they had wanted to. The absence of evidence for apostolic succession in the earliest Christian sources can't be explained by an alleged unfamiliarity with such concepts.

Remember, when Dave Armstrong was explaining his dubious claim that "we find an explicit espousal of apostolic succession" in Papias, he wrote, "the word 'explicit' was relative insofar as someone that early can only be so explicit. 'Direct' would have been a better term to use in retrospect, because of the meaning of 'explicit' in discussions having to do with development of doctrine". Elsewhere, he wrote, "Jason's mistake is what I noted early on: he irrationally expects to find the full-blown oak tree when it is only reasonable to find the acorn or small tree." But the more the early Christians were familiar with concepts of succession, and the more relevant terminology they had access to, the less likely it becomes that we should expect their alleged belief in Dave's notion of apostolic succession to only be expressed in seed form and in ways that are so easily denied by Protestant scholars and others.

Review of The Making of an Atheist

In The Making of an Atheist (2010. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers), James S. Spiegel engages in a task that is well-defined and focused, and perhaps maybe too focused. As a result, the book gave me mixed feelings, yet I cannot fault Dr. Spiegel as his book does exactly what he set out to accomplish. It is rather like being handed a scalpel: it’s the perfect instrument for surgery, but you wouldn’t want to carve a sculpture with one.

Thus, Spiegel’s book is very audience relative. There are certain books where I can give a blanket recommendation to everyone, as there will be “something for all types” in it. This book, however, requires one to know exactly who the audience is.

If that sounds harsh, don’t take it that way. Books that have “something for everyone” also have portions that everyone will dislike. On the other hand, with the proper context Spiegel’s book shines and I have read none better. As you can tell from that depiction, many of the things that I look at will have a relativistic factor to them: for some people they will be beneficial, for others not so much. Let me look at those first, and then get into the meat of the work.

The first “relative” factor in determining whether this book is good for you or not is the length. It’s only 130 pages long, plus some end notes after that. This makes it a fast read. This may or may not be a good thing, depending on what you want. If you’re like me and you’ve bought Calvin’s Commentaries, Luther’s Sermons, and the 2-volume works of Jonathan Edwards (you know the one I’m talking about—double columns filled with 6-point font text) then the shortness of this book is unappealing. But given that most of America today thinks that The Shack is a wonderful expression of theological thinking, this may end up being more of a benefit than a detriment to Christians as a whole.

The second “relative” factor is that, for those who have studied the issues, there was not much new information present in this book. This is related to its shortness, since Spiegel was forced to keep to the main points he tried to make without extraneous texts on rich alternate “bunny trails.” Again, this could be good or bad depending on what you expect from a book. It is good in the sense that Spiegel’s main points are very well defended and argued; it is bad if you think outside the box and want him to dig deeper into some of the implications, especially since his writing is so well done on his main points that you know he has the ability to treat those other issues quite well.

In any case, while there was little new information presented, if someone has never looked into Plantinga’s Reformed apologetics, or into modern presuppositional arguments, Spiegel is the perfect place to start. Indeed, Spiegel’s debt to Plantinga is acknowledged through the work, including the dedication page. And, having read both Plantinga and Spiegel, I can attest that Spiegel is much easier to follow. So once again, for the average reader, Spiegel’s book is going to be very beneficial.

Now let’s get into some of the details. As I said at the top, Spiegel has a very specific goal for this book:
…[M]y aim here is not to defend the Christian worldview nor even theism, for that matter. Rather, my purpose is to present a Christian account of atheism—an account that draws from the Bible, as any Christian doctrine properly does (p. 14)
The result is that this book is not a list of “arguments against atheists” but is instead an examination of what the Bible says about atheism. Spiegel does this by providing many proof-texts about unbelief from Scripture. The result is that whether you accept the validity of Scripture or not, if you read this book you will see that the Bible does make specific claims about unbelief.

Aside from the arguments of Scripture, Spiegel does have one interesting aspect to add. In his third chapter, he deals with the causes of atheism. This steps away from Scripture a bit and deals with some psychological reasons, the most common of which is the absence of a father-figure. As Spiegel says:
Is there any relevance to the fact that these two atheists grew up without a father? Some recent research strongly suggests that there is. In this chapter we will look at evidence for the claim that broken father relationships are a contributing cause of atheism. We will also consider evidence that immoral behavior plays a significant role in motivating views on ethics and religion (p. 63).
This is probably Spiegel’s weakest part of the book, as it relies heavily on anecdotal evidence. However, that said, it is a very strong “weak” point. In fact, while I read this chapter I was reminded of the line from the movie Fight Club where Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt) says: “Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God?” So that movie provided another bit of anecdotal evidence to the rest of Spiegel’s argumentation.

One must be careful with this sort of argument and Spiegel does take great pains to assure us that lacking a proper father-relationship does not guarantee atheism (p. 67). It does, however, seem to be very well correlated. This implies the question: why?

Spiegel answers:
Human beings were made in God’s image, and the father-child relationship mirrors that of humans as God’s “offspring.” We unconsciously (and often consciously, depending on one’s worldview) conceive of God after the pattern of our earthly father…. When one has a healthy father relationship and a father who is a decent moral model, then this metaphor and the psychological patterns it inspires are welcome. However, when one’s earthly father is defective, whether because of death, abandonment, or abuse, this necessarily impacts one’s thinking about God. Whether we call it psychological projection, transfer, or displacement, the lack of a good father is a handicap when it comes to faith (pp. 69-70).
This is one of those areas where I wish Spiegel could have spent more time. He did do a great job of giving background on several historical atheists, as well as many of the New Atheists, to illustrate this point (and I think those are worthwhile), but I would have liked to have seen more of the psychological science fleshed out. This is not because I think Spiegel might be wrong here. Rather, it’s because he’s right that I would have liked to see this point vigorously defended and expanded upon.

So, in the end, what are my final thoughts on this book? I think it’s a great book to give to anyone who wonders what the Bible says about atheism. Despite not directly attempting a rebuttal of atheism, I think atheists who read this book will be challenged by it too. One great thing about the book is that Spiegel is both faithful to Scripture and irenic toward atheists, and any offense that atheists might take would be the result of their dislike of what Scripture says rather than their dislike of Spiegel’s arguments.

Furthermore, since Spiegel largely pins his arguments directly on the text of Scripture, and uses Scripture that is both plain and non-contentious to orthodox Christian believers, this book ought to be acceptable to any mainstream Christian view. (Despite the use of the word “Reformed” in “Reformed apologetics,” Plantinga’s views are not synonymous with Calvinism, and thus one need not be a Calvinist to see the truth presented in Spiegel’s book. All Bible-believing Christians ought to agree with the conclusions presented, even if they disagree on other theological points.)

I also think this is a good book for anyone who has pondered reading Plantinga, Bahsen, or vanTil yet who is not studied in philosophy. This book gives a solid foundation to the basics of positions held by those three gentlemen in terms that most laymen can understand. It’s not in-depth enough to give anyone a full understanding of presuppositional and Reformed apologetics, but it will definitely get you a start in the right direction.

Unfortunately, for those who already do read Plantinga et al, you may not find much use for this book personally. But I also think that Spiegel didn’t intend to replace Plantinga, but rather to make Plantinga understandable to more people. And in that regard, I think he succeeds.