Saturday, July 17, 2010

Josh McDowell, Dhimmitude in America

Sharia love?

Idealism and Van Tilianism

Godismyjudge said...

Both idealism and the coherence theory of truth disconnect truth from reality. They confuse the ontological question of "why is this true?" with the epistemological question of "how do we know?" In the process they loose sight of the self-evident principle that cannot be rationally denied that consciousness observes reality.

Since I’m not an idealist, I could let this slide. However, the objection is so problematic, both on its own terms, and in relation to Van Til, that I’ll venture a few comments.

1.It’s odd that you’d classify idealism as a form of scepticism when idealists tend to be rationalists (e.g. Blanshard, Leibniz, McTaggart).

2.One needs to distinguish between epistemological idealism (e.g. Blanshard) and metaphysical idealism (e.g. Berkeley, McTaggart).

Likewise, Blanshard’s version had more to do with his views of causal necessity and the nature of perception than the mind-dependent nature of reality (a la Berkeley).

3.Although idealism and the coherence theory of truth often go together, they are not inseparable.

4.Since I’m not an idealist, I’m in partial agreement with you that idealism (a la Berkeley) disconnects truth from reality. At the same time, that’s how a non-idealist views idealism.

In the nature of the case, an idealist doesn’t view himself as disconnecting truth from reality. To the contrary, for him, the rational is the real, and vice versa.

One wouldn’t get very far with a sophisticated idealist like Gödel by saying that he disconnected truth from reality. For instance, Gödel once wrote a celebrated essay for Einstein’s festschrift in which he reasoned from the theory of relativity to the static theory of time. Likewise, quantum mechanics is often cited in support of idealism. In addition, there are scientists like David Bohm, and Rupert Sheldrake who incline to panpsychism because they think that’s where the empirical evidence leads. In a similar vein, David Chalmers and John Leslie are quite sympathetic to panpsychism.

That’s not my own interpretation of reality, but proponents sometimes draw attention to experience or phenomena which any comprehensive worldview must integrate one way or another.

Again, I don’t say this to defend idealism or panpsychism (which I reject). I’m just making the point that an idealist is aware of all the same phenomena that the opposing positions are aware of. He can square appearance with his understanding of reality. Indeed, he happens to think that his position has more explanatory power than the competition. And he’d say it’s the nonidealist who is guilty of dichotomizing truth and reality. You wouldn’t make much headway with an astute idealist like Timothy Sprigge by pointing to “reality”–as if his own theory is oblivious to reality.

5.While I don’t think the coherence theory of truth is a sufficient stand-alone theory of truth, I think the coherence theory of truth has its place in dualism. Just as the correspondence theory dovetails with concrete truths of fact, the coherence theory dovetails with abstract truths of reason. The correspondence theory works well enough for empirical data, but it’s unsuited to abstract objects like mathematical truths and logical relations.

It’s also the case that even physical reality begins in the mind–the mind of God. The material world has its origin in the idea of the material world. God’s exemplary concept. So idealism is true to some degree, even if it fails to capture the whole truth.

7.To say that “consciousness observes reality” is only “self-evident” if you take direct realism to be self-evident. Since direct realism is eminently disputable, you’ve overstated your case.

6.Gordon Clark was arguably closer to idealism than Van Til. Clark was a big fan of Blanshard. And the position of later Clark is hard to distinguish from pantheistic idealism.

By contrast, Van Til criticized Clark’s rejection of sense knowledge for failing to do justice to natural revelation. Van Til was a scientific realist, whereas Clark was a scientific antirealist.

7.When I ascribe a modified coherence theory of truth to Van Til, this is what I mean. Van Til had a position which was structurally similar to epistemological idealism in the following respect: he viewed truth in holistic terms.

And this is because, as a Calvinist, he regarded every event as a meaningful event. Every event had a purpose in the plan of God. There were no brute facts. No discrete, surd events. Each event was related to every other event, for God intended each event, and–what is more–he intended each event to contribute to a meaningful and fully-integrated totality, in a part/whole relation.

In that respect, it’s analogous to a system of internal relations. However, unlike some idealists (e.g. McTaggart), Van Til was not a necessitarian. He didn’t collapse truths of fact into truths of reason. Truths of fact were contingent truths, contingent on God’s decree. What is more, God freely decreed the world.

A Lengthy Interview With Stephen Braude

Many modern critics of Christianity hold a naturalistic worldview or something close to it. They suggest that there's little or no evidence that would challenge their worldview. I think that's often because they're highly ignorant of the evidence.

The radio program Coast To Coast AM recently had a lengthy interview with Stephen Braude, a paranormal researcher and professor of philosophy at the University of Maryland. Go to approximately the nine-minute mark in the You Tube clip just linked, then follow the links on the right side of the screen to listen to later segments of the interview.

I disagree with much of what's said by the host and Braude. I think they neglect a lot of relevant evidence.

But Braude is highly knowledgeable about evidence for the paranormal, and he makes a lot of significant points during the interview. He discusses some of the best cases of paranormal activity that we have (best in the sense of having the best evidence), such as the nineteenth-century medium Daniel Home and Ted Serios' ability to make images from his mind appear on photographs. He also discusses a woman in Florida who has gold-colored brass appearing on her body and on other objects in her presence, among other phenomena. You can see some video footage of this woman, as well as some still shots of Ted Serios' photographs, in a shorter interview with Braude found here. Go to the video titled "UMBC In the Loop: Stephen Braude".

Braude has been in Europe lately, partly to investigate a group in Germany that's been claiming to experience some paranormal phenomena. Apparently, Braude received some sort of grant to investigate it. He said that he has video footage of a table levitation, but some of the more significant phenomena he witnessed weren't caught on tape. He says something about seeing a non-human hand come out of a person's mouth, for example. He seems to be largely undecided about the validity of the group's claims, though he thinks at least some of the activity is genuine. Some aspects of the context in which the group is operating are suspicious (a darkened room, asking people to make noise at particular times during a seance, etc.). But he seems to think there's some evidence for the validity of the phenomena, and he's in the process of doing more investigation.

He said that he's retiring later this year. Apparently, though, he's only retiring from his position at the University of Maryland teaching philosophy. He said that he'll continue researching the paranormal. And he's working on another book.

I'm almost finished reading one of Braude's books, but I haven't read any of his others. From my limited exposure to his material, I have the impression that he underestimates the potential role of non-humans in the phenomena in question. At least in the book I've been reading and in the interviews I've listened to, he says little about God and seemingly even less about demons and angels. He'll mention the possibility of one human mind affecting another or what effect the human mind might have on the world around us, and he discusses such possibilities at length. But he says so little about how other beings, like God or demons, might be involved. (He may take a different approach in other books, for example, but then I would wonder why he says so little about other beings in the book I've been reading and in multiple interviews I've heard. Maybe I'd have a different impression if I read or listened to more of his material.)

At one point during the recent interview, he offers an explanation for why people tend to be afraid when they first witness something like a table levitating. He suggested that people are afraid because of the event's implications about the power of the human mind. That may be true in some cases. But I think a better explanation, and I don't know why Braude avoids discussing it so much, is that people are afraid of a more powerful being, such as a demon, who would do them harm. If human minds in general have the power to do things like levitating tables, then presumably we could respond to what other human minds are doing with the power of our own minds. But what if a more powerful being is doing it? I think that's more relevant to the fear people have.

The involvement of non-human agents seems to make more sense of the evidence in some cases (for a variety of reasons). I'm open to the idea that humans have more abilities than we currently realize. I suspect we do. And I think that's a partial explanation of what we see in the paranormal. But my impression is that Braude is too focused on that aspect of the explanation and is neglecting other aspects.

What's Included And Excluded In Romans 4?

I've been having a discussion with a Roman Catholic that might interest some of you, in the comments section of the thread here. The discussion is about justification, especially what's taught in Romans 4.

The NT as Scripture

One of the unquestioned assumptions we often run into in discussions of the canon is that it took Christians a certain amount of time to elevate the NT to the canonical status of the OT. But it isn’t obvious what that assumption is based on.

1. Presumably, that assumption hinges on something like this: Jews had venerated the OT for centuries, so there’d an initial barrier to overcome in raising the newly-minted writings of the NT to the same exalted status. That’s not something which would happen overnight.

Now perhaps there’s some truth to this argument. Indeed, many Jews never made that transition. They never became Christians.

2. However, even on its own terms, it doesn’t follow. After all, an OT prophet like Moses or Isaiah didn’t ask his audience to mull over what he said for a few centuries before honoring his message as the word of God. No. The obligation to believe and obey was instantaneous.

There was, of course, a distinction between true and false prophets, but if a prophet was a true prophet, then his message demanded immediate acceptance.

3. But even if, for the sake of argument, we postulate that Messianic Jews were somewhat reluctant to acknowledge the NT writings as Scripture, most converts to the Christian faith were converts from paganism, not Judaism. And I don’t see that a pagan convert to Christianity would have any psychological threshold to cross before receiving the NT writings as inspired Scripture. Nothing over and above his conversion itself. For the OT was never his standard of comparison.

If anything, his heathen background might predispose him to be too inclusive rather than too exclusive concerning what was “inspired.” Too indiscriminate rather than too discriminating.

4. We do have an intermediate group: gentiles who converted to Christianity via Judaism. In other words, gentiles (Godfearers, proselytes) who first converted to Judaism, then converted to Christianity.

But in their case, I don’t see that accepting the NT as Scripture would be any more of a hurdle than accepting the OT as Scripture. After all, they already came to the OT from scratch.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Does Permission Exculpate God?

Arminians often attempt to insulate God from moral complaints against His sovereignty by falling back to the “permissive” argument. For example, in dealing with the problem of evil, they assert that God does not deterministically cause any evil to occur, but instead He merely allows it to happen, and because he permits it instead of ordaining it, He is somehow no longer culpable. On Triablogue, we’ve often discussed this issue and why it isn’t defensible on philosophical grounds for an Arminian to claim that permission could exempt God from culpability. In the process, we’ve also made many exegetical arguments for our position as well. I do not wish to rehash old ground anew, but instead to add yet one more Scriptural proof that permission alone is insufficient to exempt someone from culpability. And that Scriptural proof is found in the Law of Moses.

Exodus 21:28 states:
When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable.
Now an ox is an animal, and as such it as a rudimentary will. It is not an inanimate object, in other words, and it will often do things that the owner does not wish for it to do. Anyone who has ever owned livestock—or even pets, for that matter—knows of the frustration of wanting an animal to do something and the animal not doing it.

What is clear from this verse is that the owner of the ox is not held responsible for the actions of the ox. Presumably, this would be due to the fact that the ox’s will is not the owner’s will, and that is why the owner is not liable. The owner did not wish for the ox to kill anyone, the owner did not plan for this, therefore the owner is not culpable.

Thus far, it looks like this would be evidence for the position that if God permits something evil to occur He is not culpable for that. However, the very next verse reads:
But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.
And here we see that the escape to “permission” cannot remove culpability from God. For we see that it is still the case that the owner of the ox does not will that the ox gore anyone, and we still see that the owner does not plan this event to happen, yet nevertheless the owner is held responsible with the same penalty imposed as if he had murdered the man himself. Why is the owner culpable? Because he did not take measures needed to reign in an ox “accustomed to gore.” He is negligent for not stopping that which he knew was dangerous, and therefore he receives the same penalty as if he had personally acted instead of the ox.

It seems to me that this verse neutralizes not only all Arminian arguments designed to exculpate God, but it even neutralizes Open Theist arguments. For the Arminian is now in the unenviable position of acknowledging that God has exhaustive foreknowledge and knows not only which ox will gore which person, but also which person will murder another. And if the owner of an ox is culpable when he knows full well that he has a dangerous ox, then God surely must likewise be culpable if He knows full well that a created being He put on Earth is a danger to others. Likewise, the Open Theist is not let off the hook because even if God did not know at first the human beings were going to commit evil, once they did and He did not take measures to restrain that evil, then this verse would show God is just as guilty as if He Himself did the evil. So clearly, the argument that “permission” exculpates is invalidated by the Law itself.

Now for the record, and because I know that some will misread what I write here, I am not saying that it really is the case that God is culpable for evil and that Arminians will just need to learn to deal with it like we icky determinists do. Rather, I am only saying that one cannot escape to “permission” to get God “off the hook” given the typical starting point of morality that most Arminians (and not only Arminians, mind you) have. Since I am a Divine Command Theorist, then my own position doesn’t start where theirs does. Indeed, I don’t have to use “permission” to get God “off the hook” because God is never on the hook to begin with under DCT.

Butterflies and bull feathers

Some comments I left at Beggars All:

steve said...

It’s ironic that a Mohammedan would presume to compare sovereign grace to rape when you consider the fact that Islam not only has the custom of honor-killings, but honor-rapings (i.e. gang-raping a girl/woman who “shamed” her family, even if she was the innocent victim).

steve said...
Ken said...

"I am grateful the Grandverbalizer19 sometimes speaks out against violence and hypocrisy from other Muslims..."

But isn't that rather disingenuous on his part? He has no voice in the Muslim world. He's just an American kid who converted to American-style Islam, and speaks out from the safety of his American surroundings.

Effective criticism must come from the top down. From political and religious representatives in positions of power and prestige throughout the Muslim world.

He doesn't have the luxury of defining or redefining Islam to make it more humane or democratic. Islam defines him. So he can't disassociate himself from the institutional violence and hypocrisy of his adopted religion. It's a package deal.

Let him go to Saudi Arabia, stand on a street corner with a megaphone, and see what happens to him when he tries to peddle his libertarian form of Islam at the epicenter.

thegrandverbalizer19 said...

“Wow! Can sure feel the love and grace over here!”

You set the tone with your incendiary “rape” analogy.

“Steve first off I'm not a Mohammedan. Just so you know that terminology is 100 plus years out dated. So I just needed to bring you up to speed.”

I don’t capitulate to politically correct usage.

“Mohammedan” is accurate. You don’t follow the true God. Rather, you worship the projection of a false prophet.

“There is major flaws with this. 1) It assumes that people who go to the hospital and give consent do so of their own free will and volition outside of the will of God. To admit this is pantheism and shirk-association of partners with God.”

i) It makes no such assumption. I wasn’t contrasting those who give consent with those who don’t. I was simply responding to Waltz’ defamatory comparison between rape and acting on behalf of a second party without his consent.

ii) As a Calvinist, I don’t think any man either can or does act outside the will (i.e. decree) of God.

“2) Your deity set up the whole scenario to begin with! Don't try and play nice.”

i) That’s one of the things which makes him God. The Creator of the world.

ii) Do you think that Allah didn’t set up the whole scenario to begin with?

“The analogy we are looking at is someone who unleashes a virus upon humanity and than introduces the cure and says to everyone see how great I am that I have stepped in and given vacinations to people so far gone out of their mind that they cannot speak of their own.”

i) Unless you think natural and moral evils take place outside the will of Allah, you’re in the same boat.

ii) The Fall was an evil event, considered in isolation. However, the Fall also faciliates various greater, incommensurable, and second-order goods.

Apart from the Fall, you and I wouldn’t be here. If Adam never fell, the genealogy of man would branch off in a very different direction. Different human beings would take our place. So there are tradeoffs. A fallen world comes at a cost, but it also has compensatory benefits which are unobtainable in an unfallen world.

“The nail in the coffin is this. What would you say of Physicians who upon seeing the sick, crippled and dying capraciously upon their own whim chose which ones they would save and which they would not?”

i) Since the God of biblical Calvinism doesn’t act “capriciously” on a “whim,” you’re burning a straw man.

To the contrary, he acts rationally, purposefully, and justly.

If you think otherwise, then you need to present an actual argument. Tendentious adjectives won’t do the trick.

ii) If the patient was a suicide bomber (you know, the kind that your religion multiplies like rabbits), then I’d commend the physician for letting him die of his wounds while tending to the needs of his victims.

thegrandverbalizer19 said...

“Well steve my boy, I set no tone that was not already given by your Christian brethern.”

Well, my boy. Ken, for one, is the very model of the Christian gentleman, so if you were truly calibrating your tone to match the tone of my Christian brethren, then you should take a cue from Ken. It’s his post.

“Steve please do not give such conflicting messages. I am seeing a man desperately trying to flash 'lion' but all I am seeing are feathers?”

And all I’m seeing are bull feathers from the bull verbalizer. But do continue.

“So Adam and Eve sinned with the decree of Allah?”

i) If by “Allah” you mean the Mohammedan deity, then they didn’t sin by his decree since Allah (in that sense) is a nonentity.

ii) But if you’re using “Allah” as simply the Arabic name for God, as Arab Christians do, then, yes, God decreed the Fall.

“If there are 'second-order goods' pray do tell what are the first-order goods?”

The unfallen world.

“*Ahem* How does that help establish your original analogy again? So you capitulate very good!”

It’s irrelevant to my original analogy. I was merely responding to your irrelevant objection.

“Such as? For example would we be aware that one of Allah's attributes is the forgiver?”

One can’t experience the grace of God in a sinless world. So that’s an example of a second-order good.

“Really? Than let's see some Sola Scriptura in action shall we. Textual evidence please?”

Take Rom 9:17,22-23, where God gives an underlying rationale for election and reprobation.

“What you see as tendentious I see is objective, especially in the light of such sloppy analogy.”

You’ve given us your subjective assertion in lieu of any objective argument.

“I'll take this tired statement of yours and put it up on my shelf; with all the others made by Caucasian males over the age of 50;whom see a world they once controlled slowly giving way to a world of colour.”

The Mideast was Christian long before it was overrun by the Saracens. Do you classify Arab Christians as “Caucasians”?

And why do Mohammedans enslave and murder Black African Christians if they cherish peoples of colour?

You can also spare me the faux radical chic line about “males.” Islam is the most male chauvinistic religion on earth. A religion by and for men. A religion which celebrates the most brutal forms of misogyny while sanctioning male libertinism to a fare-thee-well.

steve said...
David Waltz said...

"Up to your usual caustic and misrepresenting behavior I see...You have (and I suspect with a dark, dubious and premeditated purpose in mind) implied that I have accused the Reformed position on soteriology as 'rape'; I did not do so, and I do not believe such. All I said is that I 'understand' the position of those who actually do so—understanding another position is not an endorsement (well, except to those who seem to relish in misrepresenting others for personal pleasure)."

Thanks for illustrating your capacity for dissimulation. What you've now done is to misrepresent your original statement. But this is what you originally said–this is what I responded to:

"I personally do not like the term 'rape' for the Reformed position concerning regeneration (i.e being born again) prior to belief. Yet with that said, I think I understand why non-Reformed folk invoke the term, for despite protestations, when one breaks down Reformed soteriology, one is left with the fact that regeneration occurs against the will of the unregenerate sinner—the sinner has NO CHOICE in the matter; as such, there is some truth to the claim that it is “a forced love."

That goes well beyond mere intellectual understanding of the objection. Rather, that expresses sympathy with the objection. "That...despite protestations, when one breaks [it] is left with the such, there is some truth in the claim it is 'a forced love.'"

So you object to the rhetoric of "rape," but not the underlying charge.

When you left the church of Rome, I kept my silence. I gave you your space.

It was my hope that you might be leaving error for truth, rather than leaving one error for yet another error.

But, no, one of your first moves was to make yourself a doormat for Islam–even though Islam has been the sworn enemy of the Christian faith since its inception.

You’re not a truth-seeker, David. You’re a social butterfly who flits from one pretty flower to another. For you, it’s a noncommittal exercise in comparative religion, like Huston Smith. You’re tolerant of everything except commitment. The consummate syncretist. “Fair” to all and faithful to none.

We're A Long Way From Legalism

Michael Brown recently did a radio program on the subject of time management. I highly recommend listening to it. He cites some statistics and makes many good points. I've discussed this issue in the past (for example, here and here). It's a subject that's especially important to address in a context like twenty-first-century America. I suspect that it's neglected, in part, for the same reason some other sins aren't discussed much. People don't want to step on too many toes.

Think about your priorities. Think about the details of your life: how you spend your travel time to and from work, what you think about while you're at work, whether it makes sense to do the housework and yard work you do, whether your relationships make sense, etc. Review your life often. Memorize and think about passages of scripture concerning themes like the primacy and greatness of God (Jeremiah 2:13, Ephesians 3:8), how brief and fading this life is (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, James 4:14), and how you're influencing other people (Psalm 102:18, 2 Timothy 2:10). Study church history. Think about how other people have lived. Consider what others will think of how you've lived.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dave Armstrong: Cowardly Anti-Catholic extraordinaire

"Rhology" Deletes My Comments at John Q. Doe's Boors All Blog...This is one of a long line of examples of ridiculous anti-Catholic behavior and blatant double standards...This is the same-old same-old intellectual cowardice from our anti-Catholic friends. I was booted off of Eric Svendsen's discussion board when it was the anti-Catholic place to be, some years ago. James White or David T. King have kicked me off of White's chat room many times (when I had done nothing whatever wrong). Now Rhology adds himself to the honor roll of "delete 'em when ya can't talk rationally with 'em" folks, along with John Q. Doe and Steve Hays (whom I thought till recently was pleasantly immune to this cowardly trait).

Actually, that's not a double standard. That's a Davidic standard. No one deletes more comments by Dave Armstrong than...Dave Armstrong. Dear ol' Dave is an auto-delete machine.

So that's not a double standard. Rather, that's merely measuring his comments by his own yardstick. Why should Rhology et al. value Armstrong's comments more highly than Armstrong himself? If Armstrong has a habit of self-deleting dozens of his own comments, then that, by his own admission, makes him a cowardly anti-Catholic. Since Dave Armstrong regards Dave Armstrong's comments as eminently delete-worthy, who are we to take issue with his low self-estimate?

Two Wills in God: Not Just for Calvinists

Two Wills in God: Not Just for Calvinists by Jeremy Pierce

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What's a presupposition?

Dan Chapa seems to be confused about what Van Til meant by “presuppositions.” He makes oddball statements like “If God's existance [sic] can be demonstrated, then why presuppose it?” “Well given my observation that I have arms, my also presupposing that I have arms is minimally irrelevant, if not downright impossible.”

However, I don’t think there’s anything mysterious about Van Til’s usage. From my reading, Van Til uses “presuppositional” as a synonym for “transcendental” reasoning. Indeed, one synonym for presuppositional apologetics is transcendental theism.

So what does it mean to reason presuppositionally (i.e. transcendentally)? Well, as one scholar defines it:

Transcendental arguments are partly non-empirical, often anti-skeptical arguments focusing on necessary enabling conditions either of coherent experience or the possession or employment of some kind of knowledge or cognitive ability, where the opponent is not in a position to question the fact of this experience, knowledge, or cognitive ability, and where the revealed preconditions include what the opponent questions. Such arguments take as a premise some obvious fact about our mental life—such as some aspect of our knowledge, our experience, our beliefs, or our cognitive abilities—and add a claim that some other state of affairs is a necessary condition of the first one. Transcendental arguments most commonly have been deployed against a position denying the knowability of some extra-mental proposition, such as the existence of other minds or a material world. Thus these arguments characteristically center on a claim that, for some extra-mental proposition P, the indisputable truth of some general proposition Q about our mental life requires that P.

Van Till gives this type of argument a specifically Christian twist.

Hurtado on historical scholarship

My own position is clearly to the right of Hurtado's. That being said, it goes to show just how far "out there" nullafidians like Carr actually are when you see a moderate like Hurtado take them to task. And while one could (and should) dismiss Carr as just another crackpot, he represents the same paranoia we find in Richard Carrier and Hector Avalos.


larryhurtado permalink
Mr. Carr: I know that web-blogging seems to invite the “fire-from-the-hip” approach to issues and by anyone with an opinion. I do invite open discussion and debate on relevant matters. But the truculent tone of your contributions does cause me to give some advice.

It’s rather important in serious critical discussion of historical matters to understand that an assertion doesn’t amount to proof of anything, and that the absence of corroborating evidence for individuals (e.g., of the sort you say you’d like) doesn’t justify the conclusion that they never existed. It’s one possibility, which in turn would have to be tested with equal critical scrutiny, and on a case-by-case basis. Indeed, it is legitimate to consider whether there may be legendary characters in the Gospels narratives, entirely possible in principle. But sweeping generalizations of the sort you’ve lobbed aren’t sound method.

So, go off and do the critical research and publish it in a proper refereed journal or with a respectable publisher and get critical reviews. That’s how we scholars make and try to establish our views. You’ve made your claims clear. Thanks. But they’re no more established by making them than there were before doing so. So, do the detailed analysis required. Publish it. And give us the reference(s) when it’s out. I think that there are some criticisms that can be levied at some of Bauckham’s arguments and claims, too. But at least he’s done the hard work involved (acquiring the languages, working through the scholarly literature, etc.) that justifies his work being critically considered.

larryhurtado permalink
I’m not sure what Steven Carr would count as evidence. He asks for signed affidavits of first century people, but that’s not available for anyone from antiquity, Julius Caesar, anyone.

So, what do historians usually work with? Well, texts of first-century provenance that appear to posit personages as real people. So, e.g., in the Gospel accounts we have a number of named figures, without any other introduction, which would suggest that the authors expected their readers to recognize the figures. Technically, of course, this suggests only that they were known names/figures, which could still allow for them being fictional-but-already-accepted figures at the date of writing. In the case of Simon of Cyrene, Mark’s gospel identifies him as “the father of Alexander and Rufus” (Mark 15:21), again without further introduction, which most scholars have taken as alluding to two guys known to the original readers. We have a Rufus mentioned in Romans 16:13, for example, whom some suggest could be the same guy mentioned in Mark.

With all due allowance for the growth of legend etc., we should recall that people often speculated that Pontius Pilate was a fictional character too, until the inscription mentioning him turned up in Caesarea Maritima in the 60s.

larryhurtado permalink
I repeat that Mr. Carr echoes legitimate questions about the gospels and their narratives (but neither he nor others should labor under the impression that they’re new or unconsidered questions, one needs only to probe the scholarly literature beyond web banter to find the discussions). We can discuss any such question here, but as this is my seminar (so to speak), I do ask that participants express themselves as serious interlocutors, not as schoolyard feisties.

So, e.g., Mr. Carr, what leads you to *assume* (and without any reason for doing so given) that the Gospels’ authors “hide” their identify for unworthy reasons? *Much* of ancient literature is anonymous, from our earliest pieces (e.g., the Enuma Elish) onward. Indeed, “signed” writings begin to appear in the Hellenistic period a bit more, but it was still a relatively newer literary practice.

The gospels are judged by most scholars (of whatever persuasion on religious matters) to have been “in house” texts, i.e., written by/for fellow Christians. Indeed, many scholars believe that the authors (or some of them) wrote to/for particular circles of Christians, and so may well have been known to the original recipients.

But the authors also seem to have seen their task as formulating and giving a “rendition” (NB: musical analogy, not the CIA) of Jesus-tradition that was largely already known.

So, e.g., Mark introduces “Pilate” without bothering to indicate what he was, suggesting that stories of Jesus’ crucifixion were already circulating before Mark wrote.

So, it is more commonly thought by scholars that the anonymity of the Gospels sprang from the authors’ sense that they were serving a *community* of interests, conveying what they believed was sacred truth/tradition, and, so out of modesty felt it inappropriate to present their accounts as their own literary products (even though it is evident that each author seems to have exercised considerable editorial control over the finished accounts).

As for corroboration that the cast of characters in the Gospels were real people, I repeat, a fair question. But, again, why the antagonistic tone to it, Mr. Carr? (You have your own web site where you can rant and engage in schoolyard fisticuffs, so please restrain yourself to calm discussion here. If you aren’t interested in learning anything, but merely wish to joust and work out personal “issues”, this isn’t the place for it.)

We don’t have anyone from the 2nd century BCE who verifies that he met Judas Maccabee either. Yet virtually all serious scholars take 1 Maccabees (with its cast of characters) as a basis for trying to reconstruct the Jewish revolt against Antiochus IV. The point, again, is that the absence of corroboration isn’t proof of fiction. That’s what’s called a non sequitur.

We do have corroboration of some characters. E.g., in Paul’s letter to the Galatians we have first-hand references to Kephas (Peter), James (Jesus’ brother), John (Zebedee), Barnabas, and Titus (all of whom are also mentioned in Luke-Acts.

Now, unfortunately, it appears that first-century Christians didn’t think to lay aside the sort of affidavits that Mr. Carr (and, dear me, all of us) would have liked. So, should we accuse the ancient gospels authors of wholesale deviousness and duplicity, or leave open the likelihood that the uncorroborated characters might well be as real as the ones corroborated? “You pays your money and you takes your choice.”

As I tell my students, in history lots of things are possible; the job of critical historical work is to judge what among the possibilities may be more likely. That requires a lot of knowledge, a lot of weighing of options, and trying to be as clear-headed and unpolemical as you can.

Now, unless I’m a bit premature, I think we’ve just about run out this thread, so let’s move on to something else. Results: (1) We don’t have first-century affidavits testifying to the existence of a lot of people, well, for most people, including a number mentioned in the Gospels; (2) this can be taken as proof that they (and, uh, most people in antiquity) never existed and any references to them in narratives of any kind are fiction and devious duplicity, or as accidents of history (like Forrest Gump’s mama said, “S*** happens”.)

For those interested in serious scholarly investigation of relevant matters, I recommend, inter alia, another book by Richard Bauckham, _Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church_ (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1990), which will also have oodles of bibliography for still further reading.

larryhurtado permalink
In critical historical work we try to keep our assumptions as controlled as we can. So, it’s a fair point to note that Paul doesn’t mention Judas. But what to *make* of that? Ah, that’s the real question. Options: (1) Could be Paul didn’t know about Judas, and perhaps because the Judas-story came along later (not a new suggestion); (2) Could be that this isn’t significant at all or has some other reason behind it.

Paul (in the uncontested letters) doesn’t refer to Pilate’s involvement, or the temple authorities, or Roman soldiers, either, however, so should we call all these characters into question too? Maybe. But maybe not. Maybe this isn’t an entirely adequate way of determining the authenticity of all these characters and their actions.

Now it’s true that the passion narratives are studded with allusions to, and appropriations of, OT texts, this intended to bring out the religious meaning of the events narrated. Some have proposed that the OT texts may even have been mined to construct some/all the passion narratives. Possibly. But that’s a very strong claim that requires a very strong argument, not simply asserting it. The commentaries, and serious books have canvassed all this. (Contrary to some assumptions, the Internet hasn’t really produced much in the way of new thoughts, just a wider circulation of them, including a lot of discredited ones.)

For one detailed study the following:
Raymond E. Brown, _The Death of the Messiah. From Gethsemane to the Grave: A Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels_ (2 vols.; New York: Doubleday, 1994).

larryhurtado permalink
It’s getting a bit wearisome to have to correct repeatedly Mr. Carr’s sweeping claims and his polemical (i.e., he’s made up his mind) approach/tone. But, for the record, a few comments more.

We *do* have historical documents referring to all the “cast of characters” for which Carr (and, Lordy, the rest of us too) would like still further information and references. OK. Carr would like more, and is suspicious of what we have. But it’s not a *lack* of evidence, only a body of evidence of which he’s suspicious. OK. We’re done with that. No need to keep on re-asserting that you’re suspicious, Mr. Carr. We’ve got it.

Now what on earth he means by some of his other statements, I can’t figure out. The authorship of the Gospel of Mark was not disputed. The only name we have attached to it in ancient tradition is “Mark”. That may be right or wrong, but ancient Christians don’t seem to have felt confused about the matter. So, there’s no mystery to allege as suggesting some sort of conspiracy.

We don’t have references in Paul’s letters to lots of narrative events in the Gospels, Judas and lots. So?? These letters presuppose readers already converted, already introduced to the Christian message and Lord knows what body of traditions. Letters to churches are one genre, and gospel narratives another.

I repeat again that it’s a fair *question* whether any of the named or unnamed characters in the Gospels might be legendary (aside, of course, from those in the parables, etc., who are presented as instructive fictions). But that it is a *question* does not make the question itself an answer to anything. And the questions have been explored quite considerably by scholars, and with various proposals. So, we don’t need Mr. Carr suddenly to burst into the room as if we’ve all been stupidly plodding along in our naivete. Pa-leese!

Carr refers to “plagiarising”, but I don’t get the reference. In any case, people in the ancient world operated often with a different sense of authorship than moderns, and often felt much freer to appropriate from other works. Indeed, the anonymous authorship of the Gospels suggests no desire to claim ownership of what they wrote, not an intention to deceive.

Anyway, Mr. Carr, if you think that the whole guild of NT scholars is so incompetent as you judge (as a mere amateur you think yourself able to show us all up), then perhaps you have nothing to learn from this site and should bid your farewell. Or visit as you choose. But we all have your views well in mind now. So, thanks, and selah.

larryhurtado permalink
James, Jesus’ brother, is mentioned in Acts 15:13; 21:18. (James Zebedee’s death is related in 12:2. And the simple reference to “James” without need of any other qualifier is commonly taken as reflecting this figure well-known among early believers).

Mr. Carr: I request that you read others’ postings more carefully. I have repeatedly granted that questions can be asked about the historicity of any character in the Gospels. I have simply reminded you that this does not require non-historicity of the characters. So, please stop distorting my comments as “all Hurtado can do is say that these people existed because they are in the Gospels”. That’s not what I’ve said. You seem to want constantly to polarize simplistically, rather than probe in honest investigation. If that’s the case, then go somewhere else. If you’re interested in honest investigation, then stop distorting what others say.

Are grace and rape synonymous?

Some comments I left at Beggars All:

steve said...
I'd note that this Mohammedan was all nicey-nice over at Articuli Fidei when Waltz made himself a doormat for this enemy of the faith. But see how he now unfurls his true colors.

9:22 PM, JULY 12, 2010

steve said...
David Waltz said...

"Me: I personally do not like the term 'rape' for the Reformed position concerning regeneration (i.e being born again) prior to belief. Yet with that said, I think I understand why non-Reformed folk invoke the term, for despite protestations, when one breaks down Reformed soteriology, one is left with the fact that regeneration occurs against the will of the unregenerate sinner—the sinner has NO CHOICE in the matter; as such, there is some truth to the claim that it is 'a forced love'."

Everyday we have patients wheeled into the ER who can't give informed consent. It maybe because they are comatose, or high on drugs, or poisoned, or psychotic, or suffering from head trauma, or some infection in the brain.

So the ER physicians act on their behalf when the patient is unable to act in his own best interests.

Do you think ER physicians should be prosecuted for "rape" when they intervene to save someone who is not in his right mind, who is unable to make decisions for himself in his current diminished condition?

What about a spouse or grown child who has to care for a senile parent or husband or wife. Should the caregiver be prosecuted for rape?

Parents often make decisions for young children, against their will, to protect them from harm. Should caring parents be prosecuted for "rape"?

It's a remarkably revealing and twisted view of saving grace to cast it in such invidious terms.

9:06 AM, JULY 13, 2010

Caner's guard dogs

I haven't posted a lot on the Caner affair. There are more important things in life. However, while reading a post at TFan's blog last night, I got drawn into an exchange with one of Caner's guard dogs. One wonders why some folks are so personally and emotionally invested in this man. Why they defend him at all costs. It's like a homosexual lover who flies into a rage whenever somebody slights his boyfriend.

steve said...
Tim G said...

"Are you saying that misspeaking is lying? If the intent was NOT to give false information and yet the information was false - it is lying or misspeaking."

There are things that a man can misstate, and things that he can't–especially when we're dealing, not with an isolated utterance, but a pattern.

Unless Caner is suffering from senile dementia, he can't repeatedly misstate where he was born, where he grew up, whether or not he trained to be a suicide bomber, &c.

Ironically, you're using a dishonest argument to defend a dishonest man.

"The problem in this scenario as you present it is that you have already determined the intent as if you knew and do know the heart. That is a huge issue in my book."

How is that a "huge issue"? By that standard, we could never convict a defiant defendant of a crime. As long as the accused pleaded innocent, we couldn't conclude that he was lying, despite compelling evidence to the contrary, unless we could read his mind.

Likewise, by your standard, it would be okay to let your cub scouts go camping with a Scout Leader who's a convicted pedophile, for as long as he denies the charge, it would be wrong to assume he's lying about his past.

The fact that you and others go to such lengths to defend Caner illustrates the fact that, for better or worse, fans and followers often take after their leaders or idols.

TUESDAY, JULY 13, 2010 2:41:00 AM
steve said...
Tim G said...

"He did not enhance his resume. He did not create anything that was not there."

In a fallen world, there's a symbiotic relationship between deceivers and self-deceivers. Tim graphically illustrates the Biblical truth that some men have an insatiable appetite for self-deception. They are what makes false teachers possible.

The fact that Tim calls himself a pastor and "church strategist" is a disgrace.

TUESDAY, JULY 13, 2010 2:46:00 AM

steve said...
Tim G said...

"For one to so do is to bear false witness."

By your standard, the allegation of perjury is self-refuting. By your standard, you can't rightly accuse someone of perjury unless you can read his mind. For he can't bear false witness unless he intends to bear false witness, and only God can discern his intentions.

Therefore, you just convicted yourself by your own rules of evidence.

TUESDAY, JULY 13, 2010 3:13:00 AM
steve said...
Tim G said...

"Geisler also points out that in the Swedish culture, the place of birth of one's father is considered to be the nationality of the children."

Even if that were true, Caner wasn't addressing Swedes, he was addressing Americans. That's not a cultural assumption in American society. And since Caner is thoroughly acculturated to American society, it would be duplicitous to say something that means one thing to the speaker, but something quite different to the target audience.

TUESDAY, JULY 13, 2010 3:17:00 AM

steve said...
Tim G said...

"For one to so do is to bear false witness."

It is pointless for you to quote provisions from the OT penal code when you smother the law code with your unscriptural standard of evidence. By your lights, an OT judge could never convict a defendant, for he could never infer criminal intent. In that event, the OT law code would be unenforceable. A dead letter from the time the ink was dry on the parchment.

People are entitled to a reasonable presumption of innocence, not a blanket presumption of innocence. People can nullify any presumption of innocence by guilty actions.

TUESDAY, JULY 13, 2010 3:39:00 AM
steve said...
Tim G said...

"Intent requires a clear thorough plan. None is there."

That's demonstrably false. For instance, a man can intend to commit a crime without having a "clear thorough plan." Many burglars are bunglers. They don't think ahead. They don't have contingency plans. They act on the spur of the moment. Doesn't mean they lack criminal intent.

TUESDAY, JULY 13, 2010 3:44:00 AM

steve said...
Tim G said...

"One more thing. I have no emotional tie. I am passionate about people destroying the character of others for the simple reason of some crazy theological agenda."

That seems to be a popular argument among Caner's fanboys. However, that argument obviously cuts both says. If Caner's opponents have a theological agenda, then, by converse logic, his supporters also have a theological agenda. So you discredit yourself in your effort to discredit others.

"I also think that one needs to realize that any preacher in America could be found guilty if all were held to the standard that Caner's critics are holding him to."

Well, you certainly have a low opinion of the Christian ministry. However, that explains a lot, for you're certainly living up to your low expectations.

TUESDAY, JULY 13, 2010 5:01:00 AM

steve said...
Tim G said...

"Your refusal to repent and your continued attacks towards me are telling of your arrogance and lack of spiritual guidance. "

In order to defend Caner you just stooped to smearing the entire Christian ministry by dragging everyone down to his level.

TUESDAY, JULY 13, 2010 5:10:00 AM

Monday, July 12, 2010

What does the unbeliever know?

Dan Chapa has done a post on Van Til. I’m not going to spend time quoting chapter and verse from Van Til. I have other priorities. I will, however, give my own interpretation.

I. Antithesis

Van Til sometimes casts the knowledge of the believer and unbeliever in terms of radical antithesis. This is Van Til’s way of indicating that if you take the unbeliever’s position to its logical extreme, the unbeliever negates his knowledge of God (or anything else). In principle, the unbeliever knows nothing. This represents the “ideal” unbeliever.

On a related note, Van Til, as an academic apologist, tended to take philosophical unbelievers as his paradigm-case of unbelief. And philosophers are more likely to push the envelope.

I notice that Chapa indulges in some superficial prooftexting to refute Van Til. But he’s highly selective and lopsided. For instance, 1 John also uses very antithetical language to demarcate the difference between believers and unbelievers. So there’s nothing inherently unscriptural about Van Til’s rhetorical register.

II. Common Grace

Counterbalancing his position on antithesis is Van Til’s quasi-Kuyperian view of common grace. In practice, unbelievers range along of continuum. Some unbelievers are more thoroughly and self-consciously atheistic than others. As a result, a believer has more common ground with some unbelievers than others.

To take some recent examples, there’s very little common ground between a Christian and Peter Singer or W. V. O. Quine. These are secular thinkers who go out of their way to define their own position in diametrical opposition to everything that Christianity represents. They try to create a complete, self-contained alternative to the Christian life and worldview.

As such, common ground is person-variable. We can’t generalize about the degree of common ground between believers and unbelievers.

To take a Biblical example, how much common ground does Chapa think really exists between Jesus and religious adversaries who attribute his miracles to demonic possession? Haven’t they dynamited the bridge by that last-ditch resort?

Van Til does think that unbelievers retain some true knowledge, and he uses that as a wedge to split their worldview right down the middle.

III. Square of Opposition

The tension between antithesis and common grace is not so much a point of tension in Van Til’s own position, but a point of tension in the unbeliever’s position. Van Til regards the unbeliever’s position as inherently unstable. An intellectual compromise that is not, and cannot be, consistently true or false. Because the unbeliever is using a mind which God designed, because the unbeliever is living in a world which God designed, the unbeliever cannot avoid acting like a believer in some respects. He doesn’t have a tenable alternative. He is a rebel against reality, with all the loose ends which that entails. So he lurches back and forth between rationalism and irrationalism.

On a related note, Chapa says: “David Turner studies Van Til's comments on Romans 1:18-21 and concludes that Van Til advocate the paradoxical position that unbelievers are both theists and atheists.”

This confuses logicality with psychology. That’s not a logical paradox. Rather, it makes the point that unbelievers can hold mutually inconsistent beliefs. That’s a psychological truism. The fact that their beliefs are in logical tension doesn’t mean that can’t have contradictory beliefs.

IV. Common Ground

“Common ground” is an ambiguous term. Chapa took issue with White’s position. I can’t speak for White. I haven’t heard his presentation.

But I will say this. "Common ground" could stand for common beliefs. What believers and unbelievers both know about God, at a conscious or subconscious level.

Or it could stand for common standards. Do believers and unbelievers share the same methods and assumptions?

White debates radicals like Robert Price, Bart Ehrman, and John Spong. White obviously can’t have a meaningful debate with people like that if he allows them to dictate the rules of evidence. For instance, if an opponent insists on methodological naturalism, you can’t expect White to squeeze into that straightjacket. He will have to challenge the ground rules if an opponent tries to filter out probative evidence. There’s no point debating the evidence if your opponent discounts unwelcome lines of evidence in advance of the fact. To make any headway with an opponent like that, you have to go back a step and challenge his tendentious framework.

V. Paradox

Chapa asks, “If you can have contradictions sometimes, how do you know when you can use reason and when you cannot?”

The problem with this question is that Chapa acts as though that’s never been answered before. But Anderson wrote a whole book in answer to that question! What is more, he recently went into further detail in response to Bill Vallicella and Peter Lupu. Therefore, I expect Anderson would find it rather tiresome to have Chapa repeat the same stale objection as though this objection had never been addressed.

VI. Circular Reasoning

Chapa apparently takes issue with Van Til’s commitment to circular reasoning. However, Chapa doesn’t explain what he understands by the term, and whether he imputes his understanding to Van Til.

I’d just say that, in Van Til, circular reasoning doesn’t have reference to a fallacious type of syllogistic reasoning. Rather, I suspect that it represents a modification of the coherence theory of truth, a la idealism. If Chapa finds that objectionable, he will need to explain why.

VII. Divine and Human Knowledge

Chapa apparently objects to Van Til’s position on the disanalogy between divine and human knowledge. But, once again, he raises this objection as though this hasn’t been covered in the relevant literature. A good place to start is Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 226n150; 226-27n151.

Future present

In Scripture, prophecy typically involves visionary revelation. There’s a sense in which the prophet “sees” the future, or sees a representation of the future.

But this raises the question of what he actually perceives. What images of the future does God disclose? Does God reveal the future in future terms, or does he reveal the future in present terms?

If, for instance, God were to reveal to Isaiah some calamity to befall Manhattan in the 23C AD, would God do so by showing Isaiah a preview of Manhattan as it appears in the 23C AD? Or would he depict a scaled up version of an 8C BC metropolis?

To judge by various endtime prophecies in Scripture, what a prophet sees is the future in present-day terms. “Present” in relation to the time and place of the prophet.

And that’s only logical. A depiction of the future which is too far removed from the experience of the prophet or his audience would be unintelligible. So it makes sense if God represents the future in terms familiar to the prophet and his audience.

If, however, that’s the case, then it has some ramifications for the Biblical hermeneutics:

1.It makes it harder for us to anticipate the precise terms of the fulfillment in advance of the event. We don’t know what exactly the fulfillment will look like. The fulfillment itself will select for the corresponding terms. So that’s something which will be easier to discern after the fact.

2.It also means that we need to avoid glib accusations about a failed prophecy. For in considering the fulfillment of a prophecy, we must take into consideration the difference between the future event and the representation of a future event. Especially in the case of endtime prophecies.

Early Christian Opposition To Baptismal Justification

I haven't been posting much lately, since I've been working on some other things, so I've been late in responding to some of the discussions that have been taking place. Since my link below might be helpful to some readers, I want to repost something I said in the comments section of a thread below. This was written in response to Steve Hays' comments on Bryan Cross' view of baptism:

It should be noted that Catholics like Bryan Cross accept some beliefs that were widely absent or rejected in scripture and/or among the church fathers. Some of those beliefs are more absent or rejected than a non-justificatory view of baptism. There's a lot of evidence for justification apart from baptism in scripture, and there were some people in the patristic era who rejected baptismal justification. The Biblical evidence has been significant enough to motivate many Catholics to argue for widespread exceptions to baptismal justification in the Bible, even among individuals in scripture who could easily have been baptized before being justified. I discussed issues like these with Bryan Cross and some other Catholics in another thread at Called To Communion. It's a lengthy discussion, but I cite a large amount of Biblical and patristic evidence that's often neglected.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


One liberal cliché is that we can’t trust NT history because the books were written decades after the fact. There are, however, some basic problems with this objection:

i) It overlooks the factor of inspiration.

ii) There’s a cottage industry of deconversion testimonies, in which an apostate recounts his journey from faith to infidelity, frequently beginning with an account of his religious upbringing in childhood and adolescence. And, depending on the age of the apostate, he is recounting events and conversations which took place decades after the fact.

iii) The liberal cliché doesn’t comport with human experience. To take just two examples, out of many:

Ten years ago I [Roger Ebert] was the emcee of my high school class reunion. This year I sat and watched. It was better this way. As I'd walked into the room I realized I knew almost everyone on first sight...We went to Urbana High School between 1956 and 1960...I am beginning to realize most of our memories are still in there somewhere, needing only a nudge to awaken. Here was a girl who appeared with me in a class play. She recalled that I had a monologue just before she was to walk onstage and kiss me--which, she said, was mortifying because she was shy. I hadn't thought about that play once in all these years, but now into my mind came the memorized monologue. From where? From where everything still is.

In the year 1990 I [Martin Hengel] can still remember, sometimes very accurately, the portentous events of the years 1933–45 [in Germany], which I experienced between the ages of six and eighteen, and I know a good deal more from eye-witness reports. Can we completely deny Luke the use of such old reminiscences by eyewitnesses, even if he has reshaped them in a literary way to suit his bias?

Martin Hengel, The Pre-Christian Paul (Fortress 1991), 65.

Illiterate librarians

I think one of Babinski’s problems is that he’s just a librarian. As such, he’s good at quoting other people. He can copy/paste lots of stuff from databases.

But he has no analytical skills. Indeed, for a librarian, he lacks basic reading skills.

Mind you, not all librarians suffer from his intellectual impediments. Among other things, John Warwick Montgomery is a librarian, but he also has an analytical mind.


“Steve, Your mind must work overtime attempting to reconcile what you think is ‘good’ with what the Bible says about God, heaven, hell, infants dying, etc.”

Which has precisely nothing to do with my post. I simply evaluated an argument that some abortionists use against Christians.

I’ve already discussed the goodness of God in relation to all these other issues, but that wasn’t the point of this post.

“Do you really believe that God pre-arranged every which way each infant would perish and made sure that he implanted eternally saved souls inside each such infant?”

i) I explicitly said in my post that I have no firm position on the salvation of every dying infant. Try not to be such a knucklehead. Can’t you even read? How can you work at an academic library, but have such lamentable reading skills?

ii) Since, however, I am I Calvinist, then by definition I believe that God has prearranged when and where everybody is born and everybody dies. And he prearranged each life in relation to every other life, so that each and every life will contribute to his overall plan.

iii) From a Reformed standpoint, there’s no antecedent objection to the possibility that God prearranged all dying infants to be elect infants.

“So, you know God's secret concerning every infant that has died? They're all going to heaven?”

Let’s see. What did I say at the outset of my post? I said “I myself don’t have a firm position on the fate of infants. That’s because the Bible has so little to say one way or the other.”

How do you infer from that disclaimer that I know God’s “secret” concerning every infant that has died?

Do you really think it helps the glorious cause of infidelity when you’re such a dunderhead?

“Or are you admitting that you're simply inventing your own personal best guess?”

Since I didn’t speak to the issue one way or the other, I didn’t hazard a guess. What’s your problem, Ed? Was English your second language? Are you still laboring to master the rudiments of English?

“Maybe God does damn some people no matter how young. It's his Calvinist right to do so, isn't it?”


“Didn't Calvin himself believe in infant damnation as well as Jonathan Edwards?”

So what?

“You really know nothing certain concerning this situation as I believe you admitted.”

So what accounts for all of your addlebrained imputations to the contrary?

“You've merely added another guess that you and other Calvinists might like to believe.”

I didn’t advance a position of my own. I merely answered the abortionist on his own terms. Do you lack the intelligence to grasp that rather obvious counterargument?

“I spoke with a Calvinist mother of many children via email. She was a member of Phelps' church, and she told me she was distressed over a miscarriage or two she'd suffered, and the fate of that soul. She was suffering over the very real possibility of infant damnation, one of her own infants.”

If she’s a Calvinist, she ought to attend a Reformed church rather than Westboro cult. Indeed, she wouldn’t have to attend a Reformed church to improve on Westboro.

“Yet you can't prove to her or anyone else just what DID happen to that tiny infant.”

i) If you’re attempting to use this as a pressure point against my Christian faith or Reformed belief-system, your tactic will backfire. It’s not as if atheism holds out any hope for the eternal fate of dying infants.

I prefer some hope to no hope. So if it’s a choice between hopefulness and hopelessness, Calvinism and atheism, then there’s still no comparison. Not evenclose.

Atheism is the counsel of despair. Not a flicker of hope. Just a smoldering wick where a person used to be.

ii) I’m not in the business of offering false assurance. However, I can say the following:

a) God will do right by every dying child.

b) God knows our feelings. Indeed, God gave us our feelings (i.e. maternal, paternal feelings).

God knows what we need in this life and the next. No Christian will suffer an inconsolable loss.

“So, don't you live with disconcerting and diverse views concerning the ETERNAL damnation of babies?”

i) What’s that suppose to mean, exactly? I myself don’t hold diverse and disconcerting views regarding the fate of dying infants. To be disconcerted, I’d have to hold a view which I find disconcerting.

ii) Or do you mean I live with the knowledge that diverse views exist on the subject? Yes. So what?

iii) Keep in mind, too, that "baby" is misleading. It's not as if dying infants are frozen at that age for all eternity, and thereby cease to mature physically and psychologically.

“You admit you really don't know and the Bible gives you little clue.”

That’s the walk of faith. To trust, to pray, and to wait. To live in hope and thankfulness.

Sacramental preterism

Bryan Cross did a recent post on “The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration.” Several things stand out:

1. Patristic Perspicuity

He acts as though the church fathers are perspicuous. Even though they wrote in a different time, place, language, and culture, he seems to think there’s no barrier between the ancient author and the modern reader. We don’t have to ask basic questions like the genre of the writing, the occasion and purpose of the writing, for whom, to whom, and against whom a church father was writing, or his intellectual milieu.

But if the church fathers are perspicuous, why not Bible writers? Who needs the Magisterium?

2. Biblical Perspicuity

And, as a matter of fact, he also acts as if the Bible is perspicuous. For he has a section in which he tries to prooftext baptism regeneration of the Bible. He doesn’t cite magisterial interpretations of his prooftexts. He simply takes it for granted that he, as a Catholic layman, knows exactly what they mean.

3. Spooftexting

Let’s run through is examples:

“In Genesis 1 we see that the Spirit hovers over the water in creation. Similarly, the Spirit descended when Christ was baptized by John. And in the same way the Spirit descends upon the waters in our baptism.”

Notice the blatant equivocation. Gen 1 doesn’t describe the Spirit “descending” on the waters. But even if it did, there’s no parallel between that event and the baptism of Christ, for the Spirit descended on Christ, not the waters of the Jordan!

And, of course, he has no verse to show that the Spirit descends on the baptismal font.

After quoting 1 Pet 3:20-21, he says:

“Why does baptism give us a good conscience? Because in baptism all our sins are forgiven, and we are raised to new Life in Christ.”

i) To begin with, this wouldn’t prove baptismal regeneration. For if Peter is using the rite of baptism as an emblem of saving grace, then he’d describe the rite in efficacious terms even though he was speaking figuratively rather than literally. So Bryan would first have to show that Peter’s ascription is literal rather than emblematic.

ii) But suppose, for the sake of argument, we take Peter literally. That, however, proves too much for Bryan’s purpose.

a) One the one hand, Bryan doesn’t think that baptism is necessary for salvation. In contemporary Catholic theology (e.g. Vatican II), it’s possible for a Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist to be saved.

b) On the other hand, Bryan doesn’t think that baptism necessitates salvation. That’s why the sacrament of baptism must be supplemented by the sacrament of penance, to deal with postbaptismal mortal sins.

“The wood, the water, and the dove show the relation of the cross, the water, and the Spirit in baptism.”

But Peter doesn’t draw an analogy between a threefold type (water, wood, dove) and a threefold antitype (cross, water, Spirit). Bryan is interpolating items into the text that simply aren’t there to generate a neat little symmetry.

“Similarly, the crossing of the Red Sea also is a type of baptism, wherein our enemy (sin) is drowned and we pass into new life.”

That’s an allusion to 1 Cor 10:1-2. However, Paul doesn’t say the Israelites were spiritually renewed by that experience. Indeed, he goes on to say that “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”

Back to Bryan:

“Also, the bitter water that was sweetened by the wood at Marah is a type of baptism: the wood is the cross that brings the power of the Spirit to the water to give us life. The story of Naaman the Syrian is also a type of baptism. The seven dippings prefigure the seven sacraments, of which baptism is the gate. Naaman is cleansed not by water alone, for he had water in his own land. He is cleansed by the combination of the water and the word.”

i) Bryan gives us no reason to accept his allegorical exegesis.

ii) And how would 7 dippings prefigure 7 sacraments? After all, 7 dippings are dippings in the same medium. Repeated instances of the same type of experience. That’s hardly analogous to 7 different kinds of experience. The 7 sacraments are not interchangeable.

“In the New Testament, we see baptism revealed in John 19:34, where water and blood pour from Christ’s side.”

I0 Once again, he doesn’t even attempt to argue for his fanciful interpretation. How is that a revelation of baptism?

The point, rather, is to establish the death of Christ. He really died. Death is a precondition for the Resurrection.

ii) And when he was pierced, bodily fluids issued from the wound. That doesn’t happen to prefigure baptism, as if the body of Jesus was specially constructed to bleed out in that fashion to foreshadow a sacrament. That could happen to anyone under the same circumstances.

“From this water and blood that proceeds from the side of Christ, Christ’s bride is made.”

Bryan apparently sees this as an allusion to the creation of Eve from Adam’s “rib.” But, of course, there’s nothing in Jn 19:34 about the rib of Christ, or the bride of Christ. Bryan is simply projecting his theological agenda onto the text.

“When refers to being “born again” (John 3:3), he is talking about being regenerated through baptism. The Fathers all understand the following verse in Titus [3:5] to be referring to baptism. I have found not a single Church Father who thought that this verse does not refer to baptism.”

Bryan is assuming what he needs to prove. Jn 3:5 was spoken to a rabbi, not a church father. Tit 3:5 was written to Titus, not a church father.

“Here again, the washing of water [Eph 5:25-27] with the word refers to baptism, since baptism is the combination of matter and form, i.e. washing with water [matter] accompanied by the invocation of the Holy Trinity [form], (i.e. the sacrament of regeneration through water and the word). Why is it called “washing” if it does not cleanse?”

Once again, he takes for granted that this has reference to baptism, rather than a metaphor for spiritual renewal or forgiveness.

Moreover, there’s nothing in the text to suggest baptism formula. Bryan is taking later Catholic practice as his frame of reference, then superimposing that imagery onto the text.

“In these three passages [Acts 2:38; 22:16] we find that our sins are washed away in baptism…Finally, baptism signifies and actually brings about our union with Christ in His death and resurrection. The Apostle Paul writes…[Rom 6:3-5].”

This suffers from the same fallacies I noted in his appeal to 1 Pet 3:20-21 (see above).

“This is not merely figurative language; in baptism we are ontologically united to Christ’s death and resurrection in such a way that the character effected in our soul by our baptism is indelible. (cf. Col 2:12).”

That doesn’t advance the argument. For if it were “merely figurative language,” then Paul would use that word-picture to depict saving grace. But he wouldn’t confuse the picturesque metaphor with the thing it stands for.

“In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul explains that Christ is the second Adam. In baptism we are immersed into the cleansing water that flowed from Christ’s side. We receive sanctifying grace and the Holy Spirit, and thus die to sin. This is what is meant by ‘dying with Christ.’ We are thus buried with Him and reborn in His resurrection. The life we live is no longer only natural; it is a supernatural life, the Life of the Second Adam.”

i) Except for the enigmatic reference to baptism for the dead in v29, 1 Cor 15 doesn’t talk about baptism.

ii) Bryan’s misinterpretation amounts to sacramental preterism. He has reinterpreted 1 Cor 15 in such a way that, like Hymenaeus, the resurrection of the just has already occurred. The Second Coming comes in baptism. This life is the afterlife. The resurrection of the body is just a metaphor for baptism.

In his sacramentalism preterism, Bryan has now has everything in reverse: the sacraments are the reality, of which the future state is the metaphor. Bryan is a one-man cult.

The one over many

Ecclesial consumerism carries with it a crucial theological assumption. The church-shopping phenomenon presupposes that none of the churches is the true Church that Christ founded. That’s precisely why the church-shopper believes he can pick whichever presently existing church best suits him. If, however, one of the present churches is the true Church that Christ founded, and the others are to some degree or other mere imitations, then none of those other criteria (e.g. quality of preaching, conformity to one’s own interpretation, musical endowment, child care provision, community, etc.) is relevant in determining where to be on Sunday mornings. Only if none of the existing churches is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded do the other criteria become relevant. In short, only if Christ never founded a visible universal Church, or it ceased to exist, does ecclesial consumerism become an option.2

In the proper order of inquiry, however, one can engage in ecclesial consumerism only after one has established that either Christ never founded a visible universal Church, or that it ceased to exist. But the invisible-church ecclesiology underlying the contemporary practice of church-shopping is typically taken for granted, never established.3 Invisible-church ecclesiology is part of the theological air we breath in our present religious culture, so familiar and ubiquitous that it remains unnoticed and unconsidered to all those within it.

One of the problems with the way Bryan has framed the alternatives is that he is also making a crucial assumption, which he doesn’t bother to justify.

He’s assuming a one-to-one correspondence between the “one true church” and concrete manifestations of the “one true church.” For him, there can only be one “visible, universal” instance of the “one true church.”

But that’s like saying there can only be one human being. Yet we know that’s not the case. Human nature can be multiply exemplified in time and space. Billions of discrete human beings share a common nature. They are visible variants of the same natural kind of being.

Winning the race

Bryan Cross June 15th, 2010 5:48 pm:

If the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is “impossible in the Reformed system,” and if all the Church Fathers unanimously testify to the truth of baptismal regeneration, then either ecclesial deism is true and in the most amazing fashion the true understanding of the nature of baptism was almost immediately and universally lost throughout the whole universal Church, or the “Reformed system” is false.

This type of argument is a very popular argument among Catholic epologists. Indeed, they act as if that’s a knock-down argument against the Protestant faith. That the church would later depart from the teachings of the earlier church is inconceivable. But a few comments are in order:

1.To begin with, there are notable scholars who don’t think the early church actually taught what Catholics like Bryan attribute to the early church concerning the nature of baptism (an other issues), viz. Kurt Aland, Did the Early Church Baptize Infants? (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2004); Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Eerdmans, 2009); Steven A. McKinion, "Baptism in the Patristic Writings," T. Schreiner & S. Wright, eds. Believer’s Baptism: The Covenant Sign of the New Age in Christ (B&H 2006), 163-88; David F Wright, Infant Baptism in Historical Perspective: Collected Studies (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2007); What Has Infant Baptism Done to Baptism? An Enquiry at the End of Christendom (Paternoster, 2006).

So even if Bryan’s argument was valid, they reject the premise.

2.But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that that’s an accurate description of the Protestant position, viz. the true teaching was “lost” at a later stage in church history. Why is that consequence implausible or unacceptable?

After all, on any reckoning, including Bryan’s, we have a situation in which one set of professing believers is deceived while another set of professing Christians is not. Why does Bryan think it’s unacceptable for millions of Catholics to be deceived, but acceptable for millions of Protestants to be deceived? Why is it inconceivable that God would allow Catholics to fall into grave error, but quite conceivable that God would allow Protestants to fall into grave error? So why does the onus automatically fall on Protestants rather than Catholics?

And, of course, this isn’t just a Catholic/Protestant divide. The Eastern Orthodox think that Catholics, Protestants, and Oriental Orthodox happen to be deceived, while the Oriental Orthodox return the favor.

Why is it inconceivable to Bryan that God would allow the church of Rome to go off the rails even though God allowed the Great Schism, the Western Schism, and the Protestant Reformation?

Bryan evidently takes the position that the gates of hell shall sometimes prevail.

3.Moreover, why make the early church the standard bearer? Isn’t what ultimately matters not how the race began, but how it ends?

Some racers begin well, but fall behind, or drop out of the race before they cross the finish line–while other racers get off to a rocky start, but pick up speed, overtake the competition, and finish on a strong note. Likewise, what matters in the walk of faith is not where you start, but where you finish. He who endures to the end will be saved.

So why should we judge the progress of church history by the early stages of the race? After all, a racer can storm out of the starting gate, but break a leg on the backstretch. You don’t win the race by how you begin, but by how you end. Many losers were in the lead. But they didn’t have the staying power to finish what they began.