Saturday, August 28, 2010

A hill to die on

Catholic revert Francis Beckwith walked out on Mass last Sunday after encountering something “worse than you can imagine.” The offending event was nothing short of an “abomination,” which left him duly “scandalized.”

And what was the unimaginable abomination, you ask? Was it the prospect of receiving communion from the hands of a child molester. Was it a syncretistic homily, a la Vatican II?

No. It was some bubblegum music performed by teen celebrants.

As a leading ethicist, that was simply too much to bear. And it’s gratifying to know that his return to Rome hasn’t dulled his keen sense of moral priorities.

The view from the snowglobe

(Posted on Steve's behalf.)

A supersnowglobal event is a violation of the laws of Snowglobe; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a supersnowglobal event, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from snowglobal experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable, that it must daily snow; unless it be, that these events are found agreeable to the laws of Snowglobe, and there is required a violation of these laws, or in other words, an extrasnowglobal incursion to prevent them? Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happen in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that water freezes. But it is a miracle, that ice should melt; because that has never been observed in any age or corner of Snowglobe.

There is not to be found, in all snowglobal history, any supersnowglobal event attested by a sufficient number of snowmen, of such unquestioned good sense, education, and learning, as to secure us against all delusion in themselves; of such undoubted integrity, as to place them beyond all suspicion of any design to deceive others; of such credit and reputation in the eyes of snowmankind, as to have a great deal to lose in case of their being detected in any falsehood; and at the same time, attesting facts performed in such a public manner and in so celebrated a part of Snowglobe, as to render the detection unavoidable: all which circumstances are requisite to give us a full assurance in the testimony of snowmen.

A supersnowglobalist may be an enthusiast, and imagine he sees what has no extrasnowglobal reality. It forms a strong presumption against all supersnowglobal reports, that they are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barbarous snowmen.

More Teens Becoming Fake "christians"

Here is an article discussing what I'm seeing in college students who come from evangelical homes:

Author: More teens becoming 'fake' Christians

The article intimates that those who come from evangelical backgrounds are better grounded in their faith, but that's not what I'm seeing on campuses here in Greensboro, NC. Frankly, when it comes to content, most of the time I really can't tell much difference between the kid that grew up in a theologically liberal UMC versus one that has an SBC background.

The fate of Judas

I. Introduction

Critics routinely claim the reported suicide of Judas in Matthew and Luke reflect two independent and divergent traditions. But other issues aside, it’s possible that both reports contain literary allusions to the death of the Saulides in 2 Sam 21. I’ve noted the following motifs.

II. Sources

2 Sam 21

1Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David sought the presence of the Lord. And the Lord said, "It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death."

3And David said to the Gibeonites, "What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the LORD?" 4The Gibeonites said to him, "It is not a matter of silver or gold between us and Saul or his house; neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel."

6let seven men from his sons be given to us, and we will hang them before the Lord in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the Lord." And the king said, "I will give them."

9Then he gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the mountain before the Lord, so that the seven of them fell together; and they were put to death in the first days of harvest at the beginning of barley harvest.

Mt 27

3Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,

4saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to that yourself!"

5And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.

6The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood."

7And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter's Field as a burial place for strangers.

8For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.

9Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "AND THEY TOOK THE THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER, THE PRICE OF THE ONE WHOSE PRICE HAD BEEN SET by the sons of Israel;


Acts 1

12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.

18(Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out.

19And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

20"For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

"'May his camp become desolate,
and let there be no one to dwell in it';


"'Let another take his office.'

III. Intertextual Motifs

2 Sam 21:

i) Bloodguilt

ii) Hanging

iii) “Falling”

iv) “Mountain”

v) Silver coinage.

vi) Numerology (7 sons)

vii) David

Although Saul literally had seven surviving sons, this figure may also have numerological significance: :”The number seven represents a full number (seven symbolizing completeness) even though many more Gibeonites had been slain by Saul…” J. R. Vannoy, 1-2 Samuel (Tyndale House 2009), 400n3.

Mt 27:

i) Bloodguilt

ii) Hanging

iii) Temple Mount

iv) Numerology (30 shekels)

v) Silver coinage

Judas’ altercation with the priests took place in the temple, which occupied the temple mount. So Judas may well have hanged himself in the vicinity.

In Zech 11:13, the 30 shekels may either be an exact sum or a round number. But in Matthew’s appropriation of Zech 11:13, the figure is typological.

Acts 1:

i) Bloodguilt

ii) Falling

iii) Mt. Olivet

iv) Davidic Psalms

If Judas hanged himself on a cliff around Mt. Olivet, he could fall quite a distance if the rope was cut or scavenger dogs pulled the body free.

In the pericope, Mt. Olivet has reference to the location of the apostles, not Judas. Since, however, this is how the narrative of Judas’ fate is introduced, that association might linger in the mind of the audience–especially if there was already a tradition connecting the death of Judas to that general vicinity.

IV. Conclusion

Taken individually, these common motifs might be coincidental, but given the number of intersecting motifs, this invites the suggestion that both NT accounts were written (in part) to evoke that cautionary, OT precedent.

If so, this OT subtext would tie the two NT accounts together by their shared intertextual allusions to 2 Sam 21, and might, in turn, reflect a common historical and hermeneutical tradition which each writer selectively appropriates.

Friday, August 27, 2010

God and country

Every now and then the issue of how national identity and Christian identity intersect comes up. This ranges along a continuum.

At one end of the continuum is blind allegiance, where there is no distinction between personal identity and national identity. My-country-right-or-wrong. Kamikaze fidelity to king and country.

That’s a totally this-worldly type of self-identity. And it’s obviously at odds with the transnational and transcendent dimensions of Christian identity. Our ultimate allegiance to God. Our citizenship in heaven.

At the other end of the continuum is a Gnostic, otherworldly spirituality, where our historical conditionality means nothing. We’re pure souls whose self-identity is wholly uncontaminated by the concrete circumstances of our embodiment. This sounds very pious, but it’s mock piety.

Is Christian identity compatible with patriotism? With love of country?

That’s not a simple question to answer, for national identity is such a variegated thing. What is a nation? There are so many different things that constitute a nation:

History, geography, climate, political system, economic system, ethnicity, urbanization, life-expectancy, religion, language, education, transportation, GDP, sports, popular media, &c.

Human identity is a combination of nature and nature. At one level we all have generic human traits which make us human. At another level we also have distinctive physical and psychological features which make us unique individuals. This “hardwired” aspect of human identity and personal identity is the stabilizing principle.

Yet there is also the formative influence of our socialization and acculturation. If I were born at a different time, or place, or both, I’d turn out somewhat differently. But once the concrete has set, this, too, is fairly permanent.

I am who I am in part because of who my parents were–and other friends and relatives. Siblings. Grandparents. Of where I was born. Where I was raised. My playmates. Classmates. Exposure to the popular media. My urban or rural environment. The largely subliminal osmosis of my physical and social surroundings.

Some features of national identity are more central to our personal identity than others. As Christians we need to take a step back and evaluate our conditioning. Make adjustments where necessary. Disassociate ourselves from the ungodly features of national identity in a fallen world.

However, some of these formative experiences are unrepeatable and irreversible. And God uses these factors to shape us. In a nation like the United States, national identity includes elements of common grace and special grace as well as sin and evil.

As embodied, time-conditioned creatures, we are partly defined by our space and by our history. And, in purified form, that is something we’ll take with us to heaven. That is something we will bring back with us to earth–in the palingenesis. It’s integrated into who we are, at conscious and subconscious levels. In our dreams and memories. In our shared understanding. Our shared recognition.

Memory is a basic feature of personal identity. And our memories are memories of people and things situated in specific times and places.

When Christians from different cultures and subcultures come together, they don’t shed their differences but invite one another into the gallery of each other’s God-given experience. And that gives us an opportunity to take the best of each culture and make it our own.

GTCC Outreach Report 8-27-2010

Today, many people seemed to be very open to discussing the things of God. I had several good discussions with folks who had evangelical backgrounds that appreciated my interaction even though many of them couldn't explain the gospel. I met two people who not only could explain the gospel quite well, but also embraced it as truth. I also spoke with one Christian who had a difficult time articulating her beliefs, but seemed to demonstrate a sincere desire to learn and grow in her faith.

As expected, several young people I attempted to speak with were more interested in texting and watching YouTube music videos on their laptops than they were in discussing spiritual things. That's par for the course. It makes even more sense given the fact that people are easily lost if you go beyond surface level conversation that lasts longer than 30-60 seconds. Again, most of the answers I received from these folks regarding God and the gospel were of the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism variety than of orthodox, Biblical Christianity.

I did have an interesting conversation with a young lady that was an atheist. She denied that people could know anything with certainty and when pressed on this issue she eventually saw the inherent contradiction involved. She sticks out in my mind because I sensed some subtle hostility in her interaction with me after I started to ask some probing questions. This was not an overt hostility mind you, but the kind of hostility that flies under the radar, the kind that seemed to be rooted in something other than the present conversation. She noted that she sent her children to church on Sunday mornings because she wanted them to learn "morals". I wanted to then ask why she would have her own children learn morality from what she believed to be a fairy tale, but I didn't get the chance to because a friend of hers walking up to sit beside of her briefly interrupted our conversation.

Her friend was a professing Christian, but seemed to be a little uneasy that I was there and asked right off the cuff, "What are you preaching?" to which I responded, "I'm a Christian pastor, and I'm out here talking to people about the Biblical gospel." This young man's uneasiness was certainly understandable given the fact that he didn't know me from Adam. He began to speak of how Christians are so-narrow minded and I responded, "Everybody is narrow minded, it just depends upon what they are narrow-minded about." He said, "that's true." I then turned to resume my conversation with the atheist young lady and asked her how she could make sense out of her objections given her worldview. Once I had made the points I wanted to make I then thanked them for their time and was on my way.

In conclusion, take time to talk to people. Be calm, be nice, and most of all, try to be a good listener. People who vehemently disagree with you yet aren't overtly hostile will oftentimes appreciate a good conversation about ultimate questions.

The human face of God

Here's my side of some correspondence that TFan and I recently had on religious art.

1. I interpret the 2nd commandment in light of Deut 4:15-19. As I construe that passage, the ban in divine images presumes a distinction between the deus revelatus and the deus absconditus. Apart from his self-revelation (general/special revelation), God is unknowable. His invisibility is a metonymy for his unknowability (barring self-revelation).

Images of God are disallowed insofar as images of God fail to faithfully represent God, and they fail to faithfully represent God insofar as the artist doesn’t know what God is like.

2. That interpretation harmonizes the 2nd commandment with the further fact that God projects images of himself to human observers in phenomena like theophanies (as well as written records of the same). God can depict himself because God knows what he is like.

To be sufficiently accurate, an image must be fair analogue of God. In the course of progressive revelation, God produces numerous analogues which symbolize his nature, deeds, and economic roles.

3. We have various throne visions in Scripture (e.g. Dan 7:9; Rev 1:13-16. These are picturesque self-depictions of God/Christ.

What is more, this picture language appeals to the imagination of the reader or listener. He forms a mental image of the verbal image. And that’s something he’s expected to do. Something he’s supposed to do. For the word-painting is directed at the imagination of the reader or listener.

4. I don’t see a principled difference between a mental image and an extramental mental of the same image.

5. (1)-(4) apply equally to incarnate or God discarnate. The argument doesn’t turn on the Incarnation, per se.

Rather, it turns on whether an ostensible representation is truly representational, and what makes that truly representational (or not) is if it corresponds to a divine self-representation. The Bible furnishes many inspired models of God.

6. Whether or not pictures of Jesus are permissible is not dependent on (1)-(5), although that could function as one rationale.

7. The Incarnation per se is not the differential factor. However, when the question at issue is picturing Jesus, then, by definition, that contextualizes the discussion in reference to God Incarnate rather than God qua God.

8. At the same time, I also think the Incarnation introduces another consideration irrespective of (1)-(5). Picturing Jesus is not the same thing as picturing the invisible God (Deut 4).

I’m not going to go into the supporting arguments for (8) because I’ve already been over that ground in several posts and follow-up comments.

9. I’m not going to comment on what historical artworks meet these criteria. Depictions of Jesus span the centuries, from the catacombs to Salvador Dali, and everything in-between–Romanesque, Byzantine, Celtic, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Pre-Raphaelite, &c.

Obviously I’m not going to take time to review of all that.

10. A picture of Jesus reflects the theological interpretation of the artist. It doesn’t tell me anything about Jesus, per se. Rather, it tells me how the artist views Jesus–for better or worse.

For now I’ll touch on your main points:

“As to 1) There's no complete picture that could be made without filling gaps between what Scripture reveals about what Jesus looks/looked like, and what is necessary to make a picture. If Steve agrees, then I suppose he and I would agree that there are no lawful pictures of Jesus.”

i) I don’t see why filling in the gaps is illicit. An artistic depiction of Jesus isn’t meant to be photographically realistic. That’s not a reasonable expectation we should bring to art. Since I know that El Greco never saw Jesus, I don’t expect him to depict his actual appearance. Indeed, it’s obvious that he’s using Latino models. So it’s not as if this is inherently deceptive.

ii) I guess, then, you tacitly assume that an artistic depiction of Jesus ought to reproduce his actual appearance. I can’t think of a good argument for that, but you obviously have something in mind.

iii) In addition, as I’ve also said in a recent post, there’s a difference between depicting “Jesus,” and depicting a dominical metaphor, like the Good Shepherd. What’s important in that respect is fidelity to the metaphor–and not the physical features of Jesus.

iv) Although this anticipates another issue you touch on, the Bible expects us to mentally fill in the gaps when it uses picturesque descriptions. So I don’t see anything intrinsically wrong with that.

“As to 2) I don't agree with Steve's explanation here. I think Steve has not properly drawn the distinction between an analogy/metaphor and a similitude. ‘The LORD Is is my shepherd’ and ‘the Lamb of god’ are not similitudes, but metaphors. The painting of ‘The Last Supper’ is a similitude. The golden calf was a similitude.”

i) Every metaphor/simile is an analogy, although not every analogy is not a metaphor/simile (for one can also compare two literal items).

The primary notion is analogy, and not a particular mode of expressing the analogy (e.g. metaphor/simile).

Is a given analogy of God/Christ accurate or inaccurate? That’s the basic question.

ii) Yes, you can draw distinctions between metaphors and similes, but is that relevant? Does the Bible make that the key distinction? Is there a morally/spiritually fundamental distinction between the two?

iii) In fact, a metaphor is just a shorthand simile, while a simile is just an explicit metaphor. The difference is merely that a simile adds a qualifier (“X is like Y”), whereas that relation is left implicit in a metaphor. But even though a metaphor may baldly say “X is Y,” rather than “X is like Y,” it’s to be understood that a metaphorical predication asserts analogy, not identity.

iv) There is also a difference between a literary similitude (i.e. simile) and a material similitude (i.e. painting), although that is not necessarily a relevant difference.

v) As I’ve also pointed out (elsewhere), similitude (to use your word) can operate at direct or indirect levels. A picture of a shepherd is a likeness of a shepherd, while a likeness of a shepherd is (or can be, which is context-dependent) a likeness of Jesus. In that roundabout sense, a picture of a shepherd is a picture of Jesus. However, the pictorial likeness is a literal likeness of a shepherd (which also allows for artistic license), but a figurative likeness of Jesus. So it would be equivocal to say a picture of a shepherd is a picture of Jesus (without further qualifications).

“As to 3) I don't think we're supposed to imagine that Dan 7:9; Rev 1:13-16 are literal. It's unclear to me whether Steve thinks we should view them that way.”

i) I never said anything to indicate that I think Dan 7:9 is a literal depiction of God. Since it depicts God discarnate, this is symbolic rather than literal. In this vision, God simulates a kingly self-representation, as if God were a human monarch, with all the trappings. God is literally an authority-figure, so he exemplifies that property in the symbolic form of a human king.

ii) Apropos (i), it would be appropriate to think of God in those terms, and depict God in those terms, since that type of depiction is a divine self-depiction. That’s one example of how God choose to represent himself. That’s one of the ways in which we ought to think of him.

My argument isn’t contingent on the literality of the model.

iii) Rev 1:13-16 is a bit more complex. Unlike God discarnate, Jesus is not essentially invisible. Not only can he appear to people in human form, but he has a human form (body) in which to appear (unlike angelophanies). At the same time, this description undoubtedly has some figurative details.

a) If this constitutes an objective vision, then John didn’t see the figurative details. Rather, the figurative details were added in his literary description of the vision, where he draws on some stock OT imagery, of numinous heavenly beings, to bring out the theological significance of the vision.

b) If this constitutes a subjective vision, then the symbolism could be built directly into the experience, for, in that case, Jesus is projecting that imaginative appearance.

“As to 4) There is a difference in that one is is in the realm of thought/mind/spirit, and the other is in the realm of the physical. I don't know whether that difference is always significant. It's worth noting that the Westminster Standards would tend to agree with Steve on (4), although they therefore also forbid creating mental images purporting to be of Jesus.”

i) I don’t know what the Westminster Divines had in mind, and it doesn’t especially concern me.

ii) However, “creating mental images” is ambiguous. That could mean either of two different things:

a) Imagining Jesus in terms that don’t correspond to Biblical models.

b) Imagining Jesus in terms of Biblical models (e.g. dominical metaphors and Biblical visions).

"As to 10) Certain alleged images would seem not to fall in this category, such as the allegedly Lukan icon, or the Shroud of Turin."

BTW, that raises a potential dilemma. I haven't kept up with the latest turns and twists concerning the authenticity/inauthenticity of the Shroud. But if it were demonstrably authentic, that would incite idolatrous devotion among many worshipers in a way that an obviously fictitious depiction would not.

In that respect, there's a tension between the argument that pictures of Jesus are illicit because they are idolatrous (or promote idolatry), and the argument that pictures of Jesus are illicit because they don't resemble Jesus. For if a picture actually did reproduce his physical features, that would be far more likely to foster idolatry than a picture which no reasonable viewer mistakes for photographic realism.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Seed of Abraham

This comment has been languishing in moderation because I've had other things to attend to:

While it's true the fathers could have erred in thinking the semen is the child, what do we make of the Bible doing the same?

"And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him." Heb 7:9,10

i) By using the introductory disclaimer “so to speak” (Gr.=hos epos eipen), the author tips the reader off to the fact that he doesn’t take this image literally. Instead, it’s a graphic metaphor.

ii) Even if, for the sake of argument, the author of thought of semen in homuncular terms, Levi was the great-grandson of Abraham, not the son of Abraham, so I don’t see in what sense he could have thought of Levi literally subsisting in the loins of his great-grandfather. Is there any reason to suppose ancient Hebrews thought that a man inherited his seminal fluid from his dad, who inherited his seminal fluid from his dad, all the way up the line? Wouldn’t the supply run dry after a few generations?

iii) Although this is a metaphor, it stands for a genuine relationship. Because Abraham was a contracting party to the Abrahamic covenant, he acted on behalf of, and in lieu of, his descendents. They were party to the covenant because their patriarch was party to the covenant.

In the cross of Christ I glory

Ken Pulliam said...

“So the blogger admits that in both cases ‘the party is not receiving his just deserts.’ If someone does not receive their just deserts, that means they are receiving unjust treatment. So he admits my point.”

Pulliam evidently lacks the intellectual aptitude to follow the argument. As I’ve repeatedly indicated, I’m presenting a tu quoque argument from analogy in response to JD Walters.

This doesn’t mean I admit JD’s premise. Rather, I accept his premise for the sake of argument, then construct a parallel case to create a dilemma for JD.

“There is still a difference between an innocent party suffering as a consequence of actions that were not designed specifically to punis him and an innocent party suffering treatment that was specifically designed to punish him. In the former case, it is an unfortunate consequence not an intended consequence. For example, if the US decides to bomb a building that is housing Al-Qaeda terrorists, and innocent civilians that live nearby are killed, the treatment of the terrorists and the treatment of the civilians is distinguished by the intent of the one causing the suffering. Now in human cases this is understandable because we humans are not omniscient and omnipotent. Sometimes we make mistakes and sometimes we cannot design the punishment in such a way that eliminates the possibility of innocents dying. But there is an obvious moral difference between killing innocents as collateral damage and targeting innocents to kill as terrorists often do.”

i) The question is not whether there are differences, but morally relevant differences–given the nature of JD’s objection to penal substitution.

ii) In collective divine judgments, the “unfortunate consequences” are divinely intended. That innocent parties like Ezekiel and Daniel suffer as a result of the Babylonian exile is a divinely intended outcome of divine judgment.

“It is correct that punishment is a special type of consequence. It is special in the sense that it designed to recompense the wrong-doer for his wrong act.”

That doesn’t follow from the concept of punishment, per se. For that doesn’t follow from utilitarian concepts of punishment (i.e. deterrence, remediation).

“To attempt to recompense an innocent for a wrong-act is non-sensical because the innocent by definition has not committed the wrong act. So to follow through with ‘punishment’ of an innocent is to commit an unjust and immoral act.”

If he’s going to say that “by definition,” only the guilty party can be “punished,” then, by definition, there’s no such thing as unjust punishment.

In that case, he can’t say penal substitution is unjust punishment, for the use of the word “punishment” in that connection is “nonsensical.”

“This assumes that all laws and all application of laws reflects justice. In Muslim countries, for example, there are many laws that are patently unjust. Are they legal? Yes. Are they morally just? No.”

i) Unfortunately, Pulliam is unable to follow his own argument. He’s the one who said judicial concepts like “guilt,” “innocence,” and “punishment” are what they are by definition. It’s simply a question of how the law defines those concepts.

Now he’s adding a caveat which he didn’t include in his original statement. And that caveat will vitiate his argument. For if laws and legal applications must reflect justice, then he can’t say that penal substitution is unjust “by definition.” In that event, the fact that something is defined by law doesn’t make it so.

ii) Since, moreover, Pulliam is a moral relativist, there is no objective standard of justice which just laws must exemplify.

“True but the Bible clearly teaches retributive justice. So when the God of the Bible executes punishment, he is executing it according to retributive justice.”

It’s true that Scripture uses retributive language. However, this doesn’t mean that Pulliam can begin with an extrabiblical definition of retributive justice, then say that Biblical penology is at odds with retributive justice. Rather, we’d have to begin with the Biblical concept of retributive justice.

Otherwise, Pulliam is using an extrabiblical definition of retributive justice to attribute retributive justice to Scripture, then alleging that Biblical penology isn’t properly retributive after all. The entire exercise is circular and incoherent.

“I agree and this is one of its many contradictions. The fact is the Bible was written (and edited) by many different authors and there are actually competing or contradictory views presented on this topic as well as many others.”

And Pulliam needs to demonstrate, without begging the question, that Scripture presents contradictory views of just punishment. All he’s done is to posit that Scripture is self-contradictory in this regard.

He can’t very well show that Scripture is self-contradictory by quoting extrascriptural definitions of retributive justice, then show that Scripture is (allegedly) inconsistent with extrascriptural concepts. For that wouldn’t begin to demonstrate the internal inconsistency of Scripture.

How does he determined, on its own grounds, that Biblical retribution is at odds with Biblical imputation or substitution? Unless he can do so on its own grounds, he can’t show that it’s self-contradictory.

“It is as incoherent to talk about punishing an innocent as it is to say that bachelors are married. It is non-sensical. So what one calls ‘punishment’ when inflicted on an innocent is not really ‘punishment’ but the infliction of unjust hard treatment upon one who does not deserve it.”

i) So by his own admission, Pulliam can’t say that penal substitution constitutes unjust punishment.

ii) Instead, it’s “unjust treatment.” Yet when I mounted an argument from analogy in response to Walters, in which I drew that very distinction (i.e. between punitive and non-punitive unmerited suffering suffering), Pulliam objected (see above).

iii) Notice, too, that he’s now falling back on legal conventions, where “punishment” is reducible to how punishment is defined by law. But in that event, it would be just to punish an agent who had nothing to do with the commission of the crime as long as his guilt is legally assigned.

“I don't agree. Evolution has provided us with instincts that are necessary to our survival as a species. Are these instincts true? Yes, I would say so. There are a few moral instincts that we also possess. Precisely how we came to have them, I am not certain but the fact that they are universally or nearly universally agreed upon tells me that they are true.”

i) That’s a category mistake. Instincts can’t be true for false. You might as well say the color red is true. At best you can formulate true or false propositions about instincts.

ii) Is the biological imperative a moral imperative? Doesn’t that commit the naturalistic fallacy? Even if these “instinctual” moral intuitions are necessary for our survival, why should the human race survive?

iii) From a secular standpoint, why does the survival of the many (our “species”) trump the survival of the one? In a lifeboat setting, why should I sacrifice my life for the sake of my fellow passengers? Given atheism, what obligates me to value their life more highly than my own?

iv) It’s ironic that Pulliam tries to ground true moral intuitions in evolutionary psychology when Michael Ruse, for one, regards that etiology as an argument for moral nihilism:

I think I would still say—part of my position on morality is very much that we regard morality in some sense as being objective, even if it isn’t. So the claim that we intuit morality as objective reality—I would still say that. Of course, what I would want to add is that from the fact that we do this, it doesn’t follow that morality really is objective.

I’m saying that if in fact you’re Christian then you believe you were made in the image of God. And that means—and this is traditional Christian theology—that means that you have intelligence and self-awareness and moral ability… it’s a very important part of Christianity that our intelligence is not just a contingent thing, but is in fact that which makes us in the image of God.

What I would argue is that the connection between Darwinism and ethics is not what the traditional social Darwinian argues. He or she argues that evolution is progressive, humans came out on top and therefore are a good thing, hence we should promote evolution to keep humans up there and to prevent decline. I think that is a straight violation of the is/ought dichotomy…I take Hume’s Law to be the claim that you cannot go from statements of fact—“Duke University is the school attended by Eddy Nahmias”—to statements of value—“Duke University is an excellent school.”

Ed [Edward O. Wilson] does violate Hume’s Law, and no matter what I say he cannot see that there is anything wrong in doing this. It comes from his commitment to the progressive nature of evolution. No doubt he would normally say that one should not go from “is” to “ought”—for example from “I like that student” to “It is OK to have sex with her, even though I am married.” But in this case of *evolution* he allows it. If you say to him, “But ‘ought’ statements are not like ‘is’ statements,” he replies that in science, when we have reduction, we do this all the time, going from one kind of statement to another kind of statement. We start talking about little balls buzzing in a container and end talking about temperature and pressure. No less a jump than going from “is” to “ought.”

My position is that the ethical sense can be explained by Darwinian evolution—the ethical sense is an adaptation to keep us social. More than this, I argue that sometimes (and this is one of those times), when you give an account of the way something occurs and is as it is, this is also to give an explanation of its status. I think that once you see that ethics is simply an adaptation, you see that it has no justification. It just is. So in metaethics[4] I am a nonrealist. I think ethics is an illusion put into place by our genes to keep us social.

I distinguish normative ethics from metaethics. In normative ethics I think evolution can go a long way to explain our feelings of obligation: be just, be fair, treat others like yourself. We humans are social animals and we need these sentiments to get on. I like John Rawls’s[5] thinking on this. On about page 500 of his Theory of Justice book, Rawls says he thinks the social contract was put in place by evolution rather than by a group of old men many years ago. Then in metaethics, I think we see that morality is an adaptation merely and hence has no justification. Having said this, I agree with the philosopher J.L Mackie[6] (who influenced me a lot) that we feel the need to “objectify” ethics. If we did not think ethics was objective, it would collapse under cheating.

If we knew that it was all just subjective, and we felt that, then of course we’d start to cheat. If I thought there was no real reason not to sleep with someone else’s wife and that it was just a belief system put in place to keep me from doing it, then I think the system would start to break down. And if I didn’t share these beliefs, I’d say to hell with it, I’m going to do it. So I think at some level, morality has to have some sort of, what should I say, some sort of force. Put it this way, I shouldn’t cheat, not because I can’t get away with it, or maybe I *can* get away with it, but because it is fundamentally wrong.

We’re like dogs, social animals, and so we have morality and this part of the phenomenology of morality, how it appears to us, that it is not subjective, that we think it *is* objective…So I think ethics is essentially subjective but it appears to us as objective and this appearance, too, is an adaptation.

Within the system, of course, rape is objectively wrong—just like three strikes and you are out in baseball. But I’m a nonrealist, so ultimately there is no objective right and wrong for me. Having said that, I *am* part of the system and cannot escape. The truth does not necessarily make you free.

There is no ultimate truth about morality. It is an invention—an invention of the genes rather than of humans, and we cannot change games at will, as one might baseball if one went to England and played cricket. Within the system, the human moral system, it is objectively true that rape is wrong. That follows from the principles of morality and from human nature. If our females came into heat, it would not necessarily be objectively wrong to rape—in fact, I doubt we would have the concept of rape at all. So, within the system, I can justify. But I deny that human morality at the highest level—love your neighbor as yourself, etc.—is justifiable. That is why I am not deriving “is” from “ought,” in the illicit sense of justification. I am deriving it in the sense of explaining *why we have* moral sentiments, but that is a different matter.

I think ultimately there is nothing—moral nihilism, if you wish.

Continuing with Pulliam:

“Some define objective as something that is true whether anyone believes it or not but I would prefer to define it as something that is true because everyone believes it.”

No amount of consensus can ever make a naturalistic fallacy true.

“That does not mean that everything that man has universally believed in history has proven to be correct but when one comes to moral instincts there has been a universal agreement among men that certain things are wrong, for example, rape, killing an innocent, and so on. Someone might argue that some societies have condoned these practices but I would disagree. Sometimes societies have enforced different standards for the treatment of those within their group versus the treatment of those apart from their group. For example, cannibalistic societies would prohibit eating people of their own tribe but people of other tribes could be eaten.”

Of course that’s special pleading. The only evidence for unanimity would be unanimity. Once you have to begin carving out deep exceptions, then you’re no longer going by the evidence.

“Or one might say that millions of Christians have seen no problem with Jesus dying as the penal substitute for man's sin even though he was innocent. However, the fact is that Christian theologians who believe in the PST have attempted ways to justify the punishment of an innocent in the case of Jesus. They have taken a number of different approaches but if it was not commonly believed that it is wrong to punish an innocent, then why would they attempt to rationalized and justify it in the case of Jesus?”

That doesn’t follow. They defend it in response to outside critics like the Socinians.

“But according to the Christian the administration of human justice if it is to be truly just should be a reflection of God's nature which is the perfect standard (according to them) of justice.”

That’s deeply confused:

i) The very existence of a judicial system in Scripture presupposes the fall. All parties to the transaction are sinners. The judge. The accused. The accuser. The witnesses. There’s no biblical expectation that the human administration of justice will mirror the divine administration of justice. That’s one reason we have a final judgment.

ii) OT law establishes some basic boundaries for what the Israelites were required, permitted, or forbidden to do. It doesn’t attempt to set an absolute ideal. For one thing, law can only regulate conduct, not attitudes. You can’t legislate faith, love, wisdom, &c.

iii) Moreover, laws are inherently general. They deal with certain types of situations. But it would be up to an OT judge (for better or worse) to exercise judicial discretion in any particular case, by taking into account the unique features of each individual situation.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On Darwin and Darwinism

A letter to Giberson from Mohler.

Former Fundy's latest failure

According to Ken Pulliam:

“A certain blogger, in an attempt to defend the Penal Substitutionary Theory (PST) of the atonement, has sought to justify God's punishment of the innocent with the following two arguments.”

Of course, that’s a prejudicial way of framing the issue. “Innocent” in what sense?

“What is wrong with this argument? There is a logical distinction between suffering as a consequence (or ‘collateral damage’) and being singled out specifically for ‘punishment.’”

i) The “logical” distinction is morally irrelevant to the issue at hand, for the core objection to penal substitution is that the condemned party did nothing to deserve this treatment. Whether you call that treatment “punishment” or “collateral damage” does nothing to differentiate the underlying principle, for in both cases the party is not receiving his just deserts. Unmerited suffering raises the same moral or theodicean issue as unmerited punishment.

ii) Moreover, it’s artificial to distinguish between “punishment” and “consequences,” for a punishment is simply a special type of consequence.

“The reason for the distinction is that "punishment" is a legal term.”

Of course, if punishment is merely a legal term, then guilt can be assigned by law. By definition, a party is guilty if the law assigns guilt in that situation. By definition, the punishment is legally just.

“Punishment is the application of retributive justice.”

That hardly follows even on its own terms. You can have utilitarian (e.g. deterrence, remediation) as well as retributive theories of punishment.

“According to one source, retribution ‘is a theory of justice that considers that punishment, if proportionate, is a morally acceptable response to crime, with an eye to the satisfaction and psychological benefits it can bestow to the aggrieved party, its intimates and society.’”

The fringe benefits of punishment are secondary to retributive punishment.

“There are two necessary requirements for just punishment according to retributive justice: 1) the person be guilty of the crime; 2) the punishment be proportionate to the crime committed. Without these two components, there is no retributive justice.”

i) It isn’t clear if Pulliam is attempting to mount an internal critique or external critique of penal substitution.

ii) Clearly the Bible itself doesn’t regard penal substitution as incompatible with Biblical canons of justice.

iii) Perhaps Pulliam would say that Scripture codifies conflicting traditions regarding just punishment. But it would be difficult to argue that point without begging the question.

iv) Or does he contend that penal substitution is incompatible with extrabiblical definitions of retributive justice? But even if that were the case, what’s the force of that objection?

a) Is he simply treating the definition of retributive justice as a social convention or analytical truth, like “bachelors are unmarried men?” But that wouldn’t begin to show that penal substitution is objectively wrong.

b) Or is he grounding retributive justice in objective moral norms? Yet Pulliam appeals to evolutionary psychology to explain our moral sensibilities regarding retributive justice. But even if we went along with that etiology, this would only account for the origin our moral beliefs. It wouldn’t begin to demonstrate that our moral sensibilities map onto objective moral facts. Indeed, if our moral sensibilities are the byproduct of an amoral process like naturalistic evolution, then that would undercut their normative force.

“Obviously the most important element is the establishment of guilt and that is why we have judges and courtrooms.”

Actually, that’s not the priority in modern jurisprudence. The priority is to see to it that the accused receives full due process rights. Even if he’s flagrantly guilty, he must be acquitted on legal technicalities.

“Punishment, therefore, as a judicial sentence, is only justified by guilt. If the person is not guilty of the crime but is punished anyway for it, the act of punishment is itself an unjust act.”

Once again, does he mean “unjust” by definition, as a social construct?

“This argument fails to understand the relation of "justice" to the holiness of God. Christians believe that God is perfectly holy. Thus, he cannot do anything that it is unrighteous or unjust…Furthermore, man's moral code, according to Christians, is based on the absolute of God's nature (thus morality according to them is absolute). Laws that reflect the moral nature of God are just laws and those that do not are unjust. God's nature is the standard by which man is supposed to measure his conduct. Thus, if it is wrong for man to punish an innocent, then it must be because somehow the punishment of an innocent contradicts or violates the perfectly just nature of God.”

Unfortunately, Pulliam didn’t pay attention to what I actually said. I didn’t say anything about “man’s moral code.” Rather, I distinguished between the divine “administration” of justice and the human “administration” of justice.

The human administration of justice is necessarily imperfect inasmuch as human judges aren’t privy to all of the relevant factors–unlike God. And, of course, human judges are biased in varying degrees. Therefore, an inspired law code might include certain precautionary measures to constrain human judicial authority which are altogether unnecessary in the case of God.

Resurrection Witnesses And Acts 26:19

In a post that has a lot of other problems, John Loftus writes:

That even though the Apostle Paul was the only NT author to claim he saw the risen Jesus, Paul said he merely saw a vision of Jesus on the Damascus Road rather than Jesus himself. Yep, just see Acts 26:9: "So then, King Agrippa, I (Paul) was not disobedient to the vision (i.e. ὀπτασίᾳ) from heaven." That's called evidence? I hardly think so at all.

- What's the significance of "NT authors"? If a historical source tells us that somebody saw the risen Jesus, what's the significance of the fact that the resurrection witness in question didn't leave us a New Testament document in which he made the claim that he saw Jesus risen from the dead? If Josephus tells us that Herod the Great made claim X, do we dismiss Josephus' report just because we don't have a document from Herod in which he affirms X?

- If Matthew wrote the gospel attributed to him, then he claims to have seen the risen Jesus (Matthew 26:32, 28:7, 28:10, 28:16-17). John 21:24 most naturally suggests that the author of the fourth gospel claimed to be the beloved disciple, and that gospel refers to the beloved disciple as a witness of the resurrected Christ (John 21:1-23). Given the widespread early Christian belief that seeing the risen Jesus was required for apostleship (Acts 1:21-22, 1 Corinthians 9:1), the Petrine documents indirectly affirm Peter's status as an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ by affirming his apostleship (1 Peter 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1).

- Surely Loftus doesn't think Paul wrote Acts. If he's going to include the author of Acts' report about what Paul said concerning the resurrection in Acts 26:19, then why not include similar reports about what other individuals said (Luke 24:35, John 20:25, Acts 10:40-41, etc.)? Then we wouldn't be limiting ourselves to "NT authors", and Paul wouldn't be the "only" witness.

- Why doesn't Loftus interact with the arguments for a traditional Christian understanding of Acts 26:19, such as the references to the physical and objective nature of Jesus' appearance to Paul elsewhere in Acts (9:3-4, 9:7-9, 22:9, 22:11, 26:14)?

- Loftus' claim that Paul "merely saw a vision of Jesus on the Damascus Road rather than Jesus himself" is contradicted by Acts 22:14 and 1 Corinthians 9:1.

- Does Loftus think Acts' report of what Paul said in Acts 26:19 is historically reliable? If so, why? And what does that view suggest about common skeptical claims regarding the alleged unreliability of Acts? If he doesn't consider Acts 26:19 reliable, then what's the significance of his citation of it? If he's claiming that the passage is problematic for Christianity under Christian assumptions, like the assumption of a high view of Acts, then Christian assumptions also include the sort of qualifications I've outlined above (Acts' references to the physical and objective nature of Jesus' appearance to Paul, etc.). How would Acts 26:19 be problematic for Christianity when those qualifications are included?

- What Christian has ever argued for the resurrection only on the basis of Acts 26:19? That one passage isn't the full extent of what we "call evidence". Even the testimony of Paul taken as a whole is just a portion of the evidence Christians have traditionally cited. Loftus hasn't even given us good reason to reject Paul's testimony, much less all of the evidence considered collectively.

- Loftus often mentions his Christian education. And how old is he now? How long has he been arguing against Christianity, publishing books against it, etc.? Why is he still overlooking evidence like what I've outlined above? Why would he include such a bad argument against Christianity in a "Top Ten List of Christian Delusions"?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Corporate solidarity

In a post which is basically a response to me, JD Walters commented on the fate of Achan and his family:

A similar thing can be said of the slaughter of Achan and his family when he absconded with some of the spoil of Jericho that was set aside for the Lord (see Joshua 7). As McIlwain himself notes,

"Achan died with his whole household. We don’t know how many were in this family, but we might reasonably surmise that what Achan did – rebelling with lust for silver and gold – received the approval of his children. Quite likely the family knew what was in the tent, but said nothing and may even have been secretly pleased about it. Just because they were not the ones to take the initial decision, in defiance of God’s command, does not mean that they had disapproved of Achan’s actions. Nothing is said, but God does not punish the innocent. If such punishment is brought upon the sons and daughters, then the children have been corrupted and complicit in some way in the crimes of the parents, perhaps by following their wrong example."

That all of Israel was 'troubled' for Achan's sin should be explained according to the principle that even individual sins can have negative repercussions for a larger group. We see this principle illustrated again and again in Scripture, but we should still draw a difference between being punished for one's sins and suffering as a result of another's sins. The biblical principle that only the guilty are punished for their sins stands.

Actually, I hadn’t discussed this passage, but since he brings it up:

i) In this narrative, the principle of collective punishment doesn’t being with Achan’s family. It begins with Israel. God holds Israel responsible for his crime (Josh 7:1,11).

ii) Israel suffers military defeat, with attendant loss of life (v5), on account of Achan’s crime.

iii) This is despite the fact that Achan’s comrades were ignorant of his crime. Indeed, they had to run through an elaborate process of elimination to discover the culprit.

iv) Achan was covenant-breaker. And the Mosaic covenant was a document which generated corporate responsibility. The signatories to the Mosaic covenant were God, Moses, and the Exodus-generation. But, except for Joshua and Caleb, the Exodus-generation was dead by the time of the Conquest. Yet the younger generation is held to the terms of the covenant. They are parties to the covenant, even though they aren’t signatories to the covenant.

v) Not only is Achan executed, along with this family, but his livestock are also destroyed.

McIlwain’s explanation is acontextual:

vi) Given the consistent corporate outlook of the narrative, there’s no reason to speculate about the complicity of Achan’s family.

vii) Since God held Israel responsible for his sin, even though Israel was ignorant of his sin, there’s no reason to think the sanction was predicated on “corruption and complicity” of his wife and kids.

viii) Since his livestock were also destroyed, should we assume, by parity of reason, that his livestock were coconspirators?

ix) To say that we must interpolate these conjectures into the text because “God doesn’t punish the innocent” begs the very question at issue.

And it also frames the issue in prejudicial terms. Does collective guilt punish the innocent? It does from McIlwain’s viewpoint, but not from the narrator’s viewpoint.

x) There is also a parallel between the collective guilt of Israel, and the collective guilt of the Canaanites. God is holding both groups to the same standard.

xi) Finally, corporate responsibility cuts both ways. In the very same book, Rahab and her family are the beneficiaries of this principle. Not only is she spared, but her extended family is also spared on account of her initiative (2:12-14; 6:25). Yet no one complains about the injustice of that outcome–even though this is the flipside of the same coin.

UNCG Outreach Report 8-24-2010

As expected, today's opening outreach for the Fall was interesting. We were able to hand out many invitations to the upcoming debate with the UNCG Atheists, Agnostics, and Skeptics on the subject, "Does the Christian God Exist?"

Because I have been focusing on our upcoming debate, I was issuing clear verbal challenges for rational discussion with secularists while I was open-air preaching. This created no small stir. After open-air preaching for about 1.5 hours, an atheist student associated with the above group briskly walked up and stood directly in front of me such that I was literally preaching over his head for a few seconds. Once he positioned himself directly in front of me he started laughing at me while smoking his cigarette. I knew where this was going, so I immediately stepped off my soapbox and tried to engage him in a rational conversation as he continued to giggle at me like a little schoolgirl. Like many new atheists I've encountered, he didn't want to engage in rational discussion, but instead he equated making fun of someone with an argument. Thus, I asked, "You're laughing at me because you think that what I believe is ridiculous, right?" He affirmed as much with a nod and stopped laughing long enough for me to attempt a discussion regarding the metaphysical and epistemological problems associated with accounting for logic given naturalistic materialism. We didn't get very far because of what follows.

At this time, the UNCG Police arrived and I greeted them with a handshake and informed them of my purpose for being there. Apparently, (1) the atheist's standing directly in front of me while I was preaching and my promptly stepping down to attempt a conversation with him provoked someone to call the police, and (2) after I stepped off my step stool to engage the atheist in conversation, I stepped off of public property (the sidewalk) onto the campus lawn (private property). The police kindly and respectfully informed me that technically (heretofore unbeknownst to me), I'm not allowed to be on the campus proper unless I'm either a student or I'm invited on campus by an outside organization.

I told the officers that I had contacted their boss, Major Herring, before the Spring semester 2010 and that he had informed me that I could not open-air preach on campus, but that the public sidewalks were open game. Thus, I wrongly assumed that it was okay to walk onto campus and have one-on-one conversations with students as long as I wasn't open-air preaching. I apologized to the officers, told them that I misunderstood their boss, and that we would be sure to stay on the public sidewalks in the future. They shook my hand, I gave them my ministry card, and they clearly expressed their appreciation for my being at the campus to share the gospel with these students. I am thankful that these officers are there to ensure that order and peace is maintained so that the gospel can be proclaimed.

I finished our outreach today by conversing with a secular Jew who came up to me and tried to hand me a book while I was preaching. He was pretty silly and didn't take seriously much of anything I said until I started to explain to him why he was going to Hell if he refuses to repent and embrace the Messiah he's rejected. He received much of his "understanding" of Christianity from movies and I said, "My friend, you need to get your theology from the Bible and not from the TV." He admitted that he had never really read the Bible so I gave him a compact copy of the ESV. We finished our conversation and went our separate ways.

In conclusion, I surely hope that the type of irrational behavior displayed today by our atheist friend isn't indicative of what we'll be seeing in next week's debate. Meanwhile, we'll just have to wait and see.

The Ground Zero mosque

The Ground Zero mosque is quite controversial. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. Opponents generally concede that Muslims have the legal/Constitution right to build the mosque. Speaking for myself, I don’t assume that Muslims have any more right build a mosque there or elsewhere in the US than I concede that the Weather Underground, Animal Liberation Front, or Earth First! has a right to rent office space.

To take a comparison, consider the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

Unfortunately, there’s no presumption that Muslim-Americans share these sentiments.

2. In addition, the Ground Zero mosque is just another attempt by Muslims to mainstream their image. Deceptive PR. When Muslims can’t subjugate the kafir by direct conquest, they resort to an incremental campaign of infiltration to gradually gain political power and dominance. We see this strategy play out in England, Europe, and Canada. And we also see it being implemented in places like Dearborn (to judge by reliable sources).

This should be resisted at every turn.

Bock on homosexuality

Over on his blog, Darrell Bock got into a sparring match with a commenter over homosexuality. I'll reproduce his comments:


Submitted by Darrell L. Bock on Tue, 2010-08-17 21:23.
Ok, Lynn, explain this in the Bible--Gen 2 and its definition of marriage as involving a man and a woman, a text Jesus cited (and he was capable of challenging the status quo). Please note I am not talking about the government or civil rights. Just what Jesus taught. To say Jesus accepts same-sex marriage is to say something for which there is no biblical evidence (generic claims about love do not apply) and to ignore how he defined marriage and how he said God defined marriage as well in responding to the issue of the exception in Moses. You are right to raise the issue of consistency in how we let moral violations in heterosexual contexts slide, but as we discussed long ago and long and hard, to use one poorly handled moral area to open the door for another is not moral progress.

On to whomever: I suppose one day people will use the argument that people are born aggressive and thus are murderers by nature, people God cannot help to do better.

Submitted by Darrell L. Bock on Wed, 2010-08-18 21:30.
Please do not misrepresent what I said. Bad place to start. Neither did you answer the question. You tried to skate around it, taking logical missteps along the way.

1) Genesis, which he cites, only mentions a man and a woman in marriage.

(2) Problems in what can be done does not equal allowing what cannot be done (logical fallacy there), so raising 1 Cor 7 does not work. hat is a rabbit trail from my question.

3) Even worse in your reading is that Paul makes clear in 1 Cor 7 that choosing to marry is not sin right there in the context, so this is not a command in any kind of absolute sense as you try to characterize it (even though it is not relevant anyway).

(4) So you misrepresent 1 Cor 7 to try and get out of what Genesis 2 says. Genesis 2 is not a commandment when Jesus cites it but a definition of what marriage is and a description of what happened when God brought Adam and Eve together to start the helpmeet relationship that made for a marriage, a male-female design that Jesus affirms. No where does he say one must do it. In fact Jesus also notes the value of staying single. but what Jesus does say is that this is what constitutes a marriage according to God.

(5) So what Jesus says simply states what a marriage was intended to be and nowhere does he say two partners of any sex, but specifies a man and a woman.

(6) This was no "ideal". (genre mistake) It was a declaration of what marriage is and that it was intended to be permanent. Thus, Jesus' no divorce reply (at least with only adultery as an exception- but all of this detail on divorce is not relevant to my question either). So you calling it and making it ideal is a second logical equation that is not what is taking place in the passage. Each of these moves (commandment, ideal) obscures the point by trying to move away from it and ceases to see the point of why Jesus cited Genesis 2, which was to define marriage as a base for what he goes on to say.

(7) So to say Jesus approved of same sex marriage not only says too much. It says something Jesus denied by the very passage he used to define and discuss marriage.

(8) Not only is nowhere a same sex marriage in the Bible endorsed, but every time a sexual relationship between the same sex comes up, it is condemned. Jesus even referred to Sodom and Gomorrah as evidence of evil. Running to love to cover a multitude of condemnations is yet another run around the text.

For these reasons, you lack of understanding about my position on morality affirmed in the last paragraph of your response does not respond to facts about the text, but efforts to get around what it says. According to Genesis 2 and Jesus' own words we can cite, gender has everything to do with marriage and the morality of it so defined (Judge Walker's view notwithstanding).

I am not going to go around in circles with you again on this topic of same sex relationships. We did that dance already. I will leave it here.

Submitted by Darrell L. Bock on Thu, 2010-08-19 16:45.

You claim another scenario for marriage but cite no text for it. That speaks volumes. You attempt to redefine passages that address the kind of relationship present in same sex marriage. That speaks loads. I let the nature of your answers speak for themselves.

Scripture has two exceptions that permit divorce. Sexual infidelity (Matt 5) and unbeliever desertion (1 Cor 7). I am not missing what the text says there, but the point is irrelevant to the key point being made.

These passages do not stand by themselves. There are several texts on this theme. Not a one is positive. Not a one says (all bad except for this one case where love is present). Nothing. Nada. That speaks tons as well. Not one positive example. Not one.

I am sorry Lynn but as sincerely as you believe this, it is at the expense of the emphasis on this topic in the Word. People who engage in this practice sin (as do others in other areas-- on this we are all agreed). It is sad that it cannot be identified as the sin the Scripture calls it to be. There are different kinds of disobedience-- denial is one kind. That has consequences God will one day sort out for all of us. But Paul warns at the end of Romans 1 that encouraging people to do this is even worse. That is part of what makes your responses so tragic.

What the nation ends up doing probably will have little to do with God's word because we no longer care about that consideration as a society. That is what I most lament. The law permits lots of things that are not moral. It is a low common denominator in part because we love freedom of choice (read no accountability to God) so much. I do not expect good moral judgment (or much of a moral reflection from many in the world who do not care about God) on topics like this. We love our autonomy from God too much. That also is sin.

The only truth you defend is the one you see about this topic while ignoring several counter signs in the text.

Despite all I have said about how I read your view, I also wish you all the best.

Submitted by Darrell L. Bock on Fri, 2010-08-20 17:18.
Still have not answered the core question about same sex relationships in Scripture, running instead to discernment of spirits. You ignore the Hebrews 13 text to continue to discuss many wives. All irrelevant to the direct topic because that is the best you can do. There is no evidence for your category. It is what you have discerned because it is what you want to believe. God speaks but we discern in a direction that has no clear single text. Simply dangerous.

Submitted by Darrell L. Bock on Mon, 2010-08-23 05:40.
When we are not dealing with a text only, but a theme consistently handled negatively with no hint otherwise. The only discernment one needs is to recognize the theme for what it is: teaching. In this scenario, there are no underlying principles to seek out. The text has them in its consistency. That is part of what this topic different than others you raise to try and move around what is explicitly present in the text again and again. Everything you say about principles or dealing with texts where there are a variety of angles being presented (as with polygamy or divorce) and that do ask us to think through qualifications that apply to those topics do not apply in this case. This key difference in how the texts are handled render the examples of these other categories irrelevant to the particulars of this discussion.

The issue is "not to blindly follow Paul's instruction" but to hear the heartbeat of God in a consistently set forth rebuke of a specific sin so serious it is the example of a deep fall of a culture. Your "personally" section states your credal priorities. Sadly, it ignores all of the above. God's creation of male and female and their interaction within marriage are obliterated by what you argue for as acceptable to God. His definition of marriage, affirmed by Jesus, as involving male and female is ignored, set aside as an irrelevancy. If people find affirming that repulsive, then so be it. No one said that calling sin a sin would be popular, not even Jesus had that success in his life. But he screams through his shed blood that forgiveness and transformation (please note this last category) are possible for those who seek him. It is not where we start as people that matters (because we all start in the pit); it is where we turn to get out. That is what makes forgiveness and enablement that comes through him and the work of the cross so beautiful.

Submitted by Darrell L. Bock on Tue, 2010-08-24 05:13.
Our differences are well summarized in your last post. Thank you for that. Just one point. We are not talking about relationships in general here where all the points you make about how people should treat one another apply and where gender does not matter. We are discussing marriage, where gender is a central part of the issue as Genesis 2 presents it. The gospel is not gender-related, but marriage is. The failure to note this biblical distinction in categories is precisely where I think your confusion lies. All the best, Lynn.

Two faces of atheism

When Ken Pulliam is attacking proponents of penal substitution, he says:

The notion that it is wrong to punish an innocent person is a basic intuition that all men possess and it seems to be present in man from infancy. I believe the notion is present in man due to the way our brains have evolved...

But when Ken Pulliam is attacking opponents of penal substitution, he says:

Concerning Achan, I think it is a case of eisegesis to say that his family somehow were complicit in his act and thus rightly deserved to die. The text says that his animals and all of his possessions were also destroyed. It seems to me that one could hold that either his sin had "contaminated" everything that belonged to him (including his wife and children) and thus had to be destroyed or one could hold that the Israelites were simply operating under a "collective culpability" mindset, which we know was prevalent in ancient times. This collective culpability mindset would also explain why the command was given to destroy all the Canaanites, why all within Sodom was destroyed, and so on.

Yet if our brains are hardwired to believe it's wrong to punish the innocent, then how come collective culpability was "prevalent in ancient times"?

Nothing but the blood

According to JD Walters:

"It is important to note that, while the New Testament does say that the death of Jesus was unjust, nevertheless God did act to deliberately bring it about, which is to say that men's motives for bringing about the death of Jesus were not the same as God's:

And yes, it is clear that the suffering and death of Jesus was something God wanted to happen, and made sure that it did happen. It is also true that God is not (necessarily) unjust in allowing or ordaining something evil to happen in order to bring about a greater good. However, what's at issue here is not whether God ordained something to happen for a greater good, but what his intentions were. Advocates of PSA assume that the purpose for which God ordained Jesus' death was to show His justice in punishing sin, but the above texts and similar ones do not establish that. They only establish that God ordained Jesus' death for a purpose, they do not specify what that purpose was."

JD is conflating two different issues:

i) I didn’t cite prooftexts like Isa 53:10, Lk 22:22, Acts 2:23, 4:27-28, and Rom 8:32 to establish what God’s intention was in the death of Jesus, but to establish that the death of Jesus was divinely intended.

ii) Apropos (i), JD has argued that penal substitution is wrong because it would be wrong for God to punish an innocent victim. However, the same objection would apply if God made an innocent victim suffer. For in both cases, the victim did nothing to deserve that treatment–or mistreatment.

iii) There are other passages that establish penal substitution.

“First of all we should notice the asymmetry in the two cases: even if God does pursue future generations of those that hate him, it is only to the third and fourth generation at most, whereas his mercy and faithfulness extend to a thousand generations. Even if there is a concept of corporate responsibility in the Bible, it is strictly limited in extent.”

i) Even if we accept his interpretation, it doesn’t solve the problem he posed for himself. On the face of it, JD objected to penal substitution because it would be intrinsically wrong for God to punish the innocent. However, the asymmetry is a difference of degree, not of kind. So he can’t continue to object to collective guilt (or related concepts) in principle, but only if the punishment is excessive.

ii) However, the point of the asymmetry is that God’s mercy outweighs his judgment in the life of his people.

“Second, we should make a distinction between punishment for the sins of another, and suffering for the sins of another. Because no man is an island, obviously many sins will have consequences for others who are not individually culpable for those sins. I may go to jail or death-row for blowing up a building which caused the death of several people, but those deaths are not punishments for my sin, they are the consequence of my sin. Succeeding generations may certainly suffer for the sins of the prior generation. Indeed, it is part of the punishment of that generation that their children will suffer for it.”

But this distinction doesn’t solve the problem that JD posed for himself. Unless they did something to deserve the dire consequences, then that raises the same theodicean issue as undeserved punishment.

“Take the exile, for example. It was simply inevitable that, in punishing Israel for its apostasy by exiling it, God would be involving future generations in that punishment, even if those future generations did not themselves apostatize. The consequences of exile would extend far beyond the first generation.

But successive generations cannot use the fact that they are suffering for the sins of their fathers as an excuse to cover up their own sins. That is the point of Ezekiel 18. There is a clear difference to be drawn between the exilic condition and individual punishment for sins. For succeeding generations, the exile becomes the backdrop against which they must reckon with the consequences of their own actions. It also becomes the backdrop against which God can use pious Israelites for his own good purposes, for example the exilic prophets to lay out the vision of God's final redemption, or people like Daniel and his friends to be a witness for God in the courts of Babylon. For them being exiled was not a punishment (even though they were suffering for the sins of their forefathers), but an opportunity for them to be a witness. God works in all things for the good for those who love him.”

i) Once again, this fails to address the underlying problem, as JD has identified the problem. If he’s going to deploy the greater-good defense to justify unmerited suffering, then he can continue to object in principle to unmerited punishment. It ceases to be wrong in itself, but only wrong absent mitigating factors.

ii) Moreover, if an opponent of penal substitution can invoke the second-order goods to justify unmerited suffering, then a proponent of penal substitution can also invoke second-order goods to justify unmerited punishment.

“Actually, the way the Lord lays out the reason for the famine gives us some reason to think that they were not entirely innocent. The Lord tells David that the famine is "for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites." (2 Samuel 21:1b, KJV)

Bob Deffinbaugh, after noting the Pentateuchal command that "Fathers must not be put to death for what their children do, nor children for what their fathers do; each must be put to death for their own sin," (Deuteronomy 24:16), suggests that "God's words to David seem to emphasize the fact that Saul did not act alone in seeking to annihilate the Gibeonites. He would have needed help, and who would be more likely to help than his own family? Whether any Gibeonite blood was shed by their hands or not, they must have known, and thus they became accomplices in this heinous plan." As accomplices, Saul's sons and grandsons were not innocent of this crime, and thus could justly bear responsibility for it when Saul died.”

Several problems with this analysis:

i) The phrase “bloody house” doesn’t imply that Saul’s descendents were personally complicit in the crime. To the contrary, that phrase is what we’d expect in assigning collective guilt. The king is the representative of the royal household–especially his male heirs.

ii) To say he needed his sons or grandsons to carry out the deed is ridiculous on the face of it. Saul was a king, with many soldiers at his beck-and-call.

Moreover, soldiers are expendable in ways that heirs are not. Why put an heir at risk when a soldier will do?

iii) JD disregards the sustained corporate emphasis of the narrative:

a) A divine famine falls on Israel, not the immediate culprits. Eretz Israel has incurred bloodguilt. The people of Israel stand under God’s curse.

b) This was precipitated by a breach of covenant between two people-groups. Saul violated a national treaty. Hence, that is a crime, not merely against the murder victims, but the Gibeonite people.

c) Restitution also occurs at a representative level, where the penalty for a royal father’s breach of covenant is visited on his male heirs. Since the offender is dead, retribution is exacted on his living descendents.

This is not a one-to-one correspondence between the assailant and the victim. Rather, the correspondence operates at a corporate level. The Gibeonite survivors exact retribution on the Saulide survivors.

“Given that the apparent examples of corporate responsibility are either limited in extent or involve complex historical trajectories in which it is far from obvious that those who are being punished are actually innocent, these should not outweigh the clear biblical evidence in the form of specific commandments that the innocent should not be punished for the guilty. If the two sets of texts appear to conflict, we should conclude, not that the principle of the proper meting out of punishment has to be qualified, but that in the cases where this principle seems to be ignored, we simply do not have all the information we need to verify that that principle was indeed upheld.”

i) One problem with this argument is that the passages which prohibit the punishment of the innocent have reference to the human administration of justice (i.e. what Jewish judges are allowed to do), whereas the passages to the contrary have reference to the divine administration of justice.

ii) One possible explanation is that while a sinner may be innocent of a particular crime, he is guilty of many other transgressions–of which God is fully cognizant. That leaves the sinner justly liable to the general consequences of sin, even if there is no direct correlation between a particular sin and a particular outcome.

“So when it comes to Jesus, we should not think that his suffering for sins means that the guilt for those sins was laid upon him. It could not, seeing that he was innocent of all sin and never consented to any sin either. God made Jesus to suffer for our sins, not as a punishment, but so that he could truly claim to be the One sinned against, so that his obedience could be made perfect and so that he could truly empathize with those who suffer and thus effectively intercede for them. There is no hint of Jesus being burdened with the guilt of our sins, only that he was burdened with the sins themselves, that he suffered their consequences.”

i) Not only does that beg the question, but it disregards many prooftexts to the contrary.

ii) JD continues to disregard the elementary distinction between punishing a second party and self-punishment.

“Another possible worry is that this objection (that the innocent should not be punished for the guilty) simply trades in the problem of the punishment of the innocent for the suffering of the innocent. If God would be unjust to punish an innocent person, wouldn't he also be unjust by making him suffer, even if that suffering is not punishment?

But it is obvious that these two cases are not at all analogous. God allows the innocent to suffer for many good reasons: so that they can show their faith and obedience to Him (see Job or the suffering believers that Peter writes to), so that the wicked can fill up their cup of judgment by showing how fully they hate God and his anointed ones (or by bringing their wickedness to light in the first place), or so that God's power can be revealed in their suffering (for example, Paul's thorn in the flesh). The problem of God punishing an innocent person is a problem of justice: He would be unjust and going against his nature to do so. But the problem of God allowing the innocent to suffer is a problem of His goodness, IF we assume that God's goodness means that the innocent would never suffer from anything, and we never get this guarantee from Scripture (indeed, all who live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution). The two problems are not at all analogous.”

i) Yet the two cases are clearly analogous. Why would it be unjust to punish the innocent? Because they didn’t receive what was their due. Their due reward or penalty. There’s a mismatch between the treatment and their just deserts.

JD’s explanations systematically fail to address the issue in terms of how he framed the issue.

ii) And the facile disjunction between divine justice and divine goodness won’t hold. For Scripture certainly regards the suffering of the righteous as an issue of divine justice. That sooner or later, God must recompense the faithful by punishing the wicked. He must right the scales of justice.

“It's true Paul focuses a lot on Jesus' death. I'll have to look into this some more…”

So he didn’t bother to study the Pauline doctrine of the atonement before rejecting penal substitution. Rather, he begins with his conclusion, then goes back to scene of the crime to destroy evidence to the contrary.

“…but one reason might have to do with his Gentile audience, and the problem of how the Gentiles could be included in the covenant community. Their justification is patterned after that of Abraham before circumcision, which involved believing that God would provide him an heir, even when Abraham and Sarah were basically 'as good as dead'. It was Abraham's faith that God would provide life out of death that was accounted to him as righteousness and ensured that his spiritual progeny would also be justified. Paul sees Jesus as fulfilling that motif of Scripture (trusting God to bring life out of death, i.e. resurrection).”

Is he suggesting that if Paul was writing to Jews instead of Gentiles, Paul would teach justification by circumcision rather than justification by faith?

“Salvation is a complex thing, and every part of Christ's life, death and resurrection played an essential role in accomplishing it. It seems that you're thinking of 'save' in a very limited sense here. Even if Jesus' death wasn't necessary to take away the punishment for our sins, it was still necessary in order to destroy its power, which is definitely part of salvation, as Hebrews makes clear.”

i) Except that Hebrews has a doctrine of penal substitution.

ii) JD doesn’t actually explain how Jesus’ non-penal death is necessary to destroy the power of sin. Where’s the connecting argument?

“If Jesus' death was necessary as laid out in 2, then of course the Father would want Jesus to suffer and die and would arrange for it to happen. But we must keep in mind the difference between the idea that a) the Father would bring about something evil for the greater good, i.e. whether he is just in bringing about an atrocity and b) whether the death itself was an expression of God's justice, i.e. a punishment.”

What about Rom 3:21-26–to take one example?

“But in any case, we can understand imputation as the proleptic verdict of the final judgment. Those who trust in Christ receive the Holy Spirit, who will make sure that they are able to stand blameless at the final judgment, and in the meantime Christ's righteousness covers them.”

So ultimately we’re justified by our own merit. Imputation is just a bridge loan until we can justify ourselves by our own good works. After that, who needs Jesus?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Our first Muslim president

According to a recently, widely touted poll, one out of five Americans believe that Obama is Muslim. And technically I think that’s true. In Islam, as I understand it, if your dad’s a Muslim, then you’re a Muslim–barring apostasy.

Technicalities aside, I myself am inclined to think that Obama is either a closet atheist or a religious pluralist.

Not surprisingly, the White House rankles at the suggestion that Obama is Muslim. After all, that’s a politically damaging rumor.

Yet this presents a dilemma for the White House. Why should they be so defensive? Do they think a Muslim ought not be president of the United States?

Doesn’t Obama lecture us on tolerance? He assures us that Islam is not the religion of our enemies. Surely he doesn’t think that Muslim-Americans can’t be loyal, patriotic Americans.

But in that event, what’s so wrong with suggesting that Obama might be Muslim?

Individualism in the Bible

Ezekiel 18 has recently come up in discussions here. I'm going to post some of my private notes on this matter. I wrote it about 4 years ago, in the process of writing rebuttals to credobaptist arguments, and that's why you'll see reference to credobaptism. I don't post this to debate that subject, but just to post some of my thoughts on Ezekiel 18 (and Jer. 31) and its use in arguing against principles of corporate solidarity or federal representative headship. Again, this are notes I wrote up to myself and I have not taken the time to proof read or otherwise spruce them up. The letter 'L' you see represents where in my set of notes this answer is found. I have also deleted portions of this section in my notes from this post as they were more specifically geared toward credo/paedo debates.


L. The Individualistic Nature of the New Covenant:

The argument based off this text from Jeremiah 31,

27 "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast. 28 And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring harm, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, declares the LORD. 29 In those days they shall no longer say: "'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.' 30 But everyone shall die for his own sin. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.

Malone takes from this,

“When the New Covenant administration is examined by Baptists, they see ample evidence that the New Covenant does not include the organic idea in covenant membership in the same way the Abrahamic covenant did. Rather, they see a new individualistic element in the New Covenant administration that was not as patent in the Old Testament ‘covenants of promise.’


The promise was that, in the days of the New Covenant, God would cease bringing generational covenantal curses upon men for the sins of their fathers as he did upon the members of Old Testament organic Israel. The link would be changed. Each would die for his own sin, not the sins of the father. According to O. Palmer Robertson, every heart in the New Covenant Israel will be individually changed and directly responsible to God.


In other words, although the Israel of God in the Old Testament included all naturally born children under the blessings and curses, the New Covenant ‘Israel of God’ only includes regenerate individuals in the covenant, not the organic seed. There is a heightened individualism in the New Covenant.”

My problems with the above argument are numerous:

1) Daniel Block has written what Tremper Longman has referred to the best book on the Old Testament; his commentary on Ezekiel. Block notes about Malone’s type of argument,

“For more than a century this chapter has provided the primary basis for the widely held notion that one - perhaps the most - important contribution made by Ezekiel to Israelite theology was his doctrine of individual responsibility. Prior to this time sin and judgment were supposed to have been dealt with by Yahweh on a corporate basis.”

So we can see that Malone’s interpretation is simply keeping in step with some standard views on the claim by Jehovah made in both Jeremiah and Ezekiel. It is not disputed that they are referring to the exact same proverb. Therefore, any answer applicable to Ezekiel is likewise applicable to Jeremiah as well. Block goes on to note that,

“In recent years, however, scholars have largely abandoned this view. Not only is the individualism reflected in this chapter [Ezekiel 18] evident in texts much earlier than Ezekiel; the corporate emphasis of earlier writings is never abandoned in favor of strict individualism. Furthermore, individual responsibility is much more muted here than has previously been supposed. Indeed, the aim of this dispute in the transformation of the corporate body, specifically the exilic community. These are the children whose ‘teeth are set on edge’ (v. 2). This corporate focus is highlighted by early references to Israel (vv. 2, 3) and repetitious later identification of the addresses as ‘the house of Israel’ (vv. 25, 29-31; cf. also vv. 6, 15). The call to repentance is issued to the community as a whole. To identify a new doctrine of individualism as the principle agenda of the chapter is to confuse subject with theme.”

Block notes that this was a “pithy saying” that operated in both the ancient Near East as well as Israel. Malone’s interpretation suffers from a few problems. First, this saying was a secular proverb. Block says that Ezekiel quotes the proverb correctly (Jeremiah was trying to highlight the anteriority of the father’s actions, hence his use of the perfect verb, akelu). The non-perfect use of the verb represents “true proverbial style” (Block, 560). It also “expresses belief in an inevitable and uncontrollable determinism. This is how things are; one can do nothing to change it” (Block, 560).

Second, in ch. 16 Ezekiel does quote cause-effect relationship between generations, but this is just to establish that personality traits are passed on from one generation to the next.

Third, why, if this challenge by the people is intended to mock previous ways God has dealt with his people, why was the point made so “obliquely?” (Block, 560). Indeed, Ezekiel’s audience makes direct charges against God in this very chapter (v. 25).

And, fourth, since the Israelites ask why God should not punish people for the sins of their fathers in v. 19, then the traditional interpretation has a built in contradiction to it. Supposedly, in v. 2 the people reject the traditional theology, and then in v. 19 they ask for it to be implemented!

So, Block concludes that “the problem the proverb poses for Ezekiel is not with punishment that children are bearing for the sins of the fathers, or even the issue of theodicy. On the contrary, it reflects a materialistic fatalism, a resignation of immutable cosmic rules of cause and effect. … To the extent that the charge concerns God at all, it accuses Him of disinterest or impotence in the face of the exiles’ current crisis” (Block, 561).

The response to the Israelites is an extended theology on the involvement and immanency of God. Jehovah responds by claiming that he is Lord over all life. Jewish as well as Gentile. Theocentrism is taught and fatalism repudiated. Their fate, as is the fate of every man, is in the hands of a personal God.

2) The credo Baptist who makes the argument that all people are now held responsible for their own sins (as the universal claim says, “the soul who sins shall die") and there is no more principle of children being punished for the sins of their fathers has a contradiction in his system if he holds to a covenant of works. All men still suffer, and are born with the guilt of, Adam’s sin. Even as Christians our bodies still break down. We still sin. In fact, why would we accept Christ’s righteousness? Jehovah also states the if a man sins but his father (his own federal head) is righteous, the sinful son will still be punished (Eze. 18:5-13). Thus a total and complete abandonment of the traditional principle of federal headship theology cannot be accepted. It was also argued that corporate responsibility, correctly considered, was not the subject up for debate.

3) In 1 Corinthians 5 we note that the sin of one individual is counted as the entire congregation’s sin. If they do not take care of it, they will also be punished! In Titus 1:10 we note that entire families are destroyed because the heads of those families have accepted Judaizing teaching. And, in Matthew 10, we read that entire households and towns are destroyed because of the decision of at least one representative of that town.