Saturday, September 04, 2010

"Lee Strobel, You Are Just Plain Stupid!"

Lee Strobel, You Are Just Plain Stupid!
By John W. Loftus at 8/21/2010

I like Bishop John Shelby Spong. I've read a couple of his books more than a decade ago and they were eye-opening to me. He presents a superior case against Christian fundamentalism. Watch Spong in action below but take special note of how utterly stupid Lee Strobel is at the end. He merely repeats platitudes that Biblical scholars have long ago debunked. Sorry Lee but you are one ignorant man.

Loftus is one of those benighted individuals who's too self-absorbed to know he made a revealing statement when he makes it. Spong is just a hack who merely repeats platitudes by Fosdick, Harvey Cox, &c.

It shows what his real standards are, what passes for "scholarship" in his eyes, that Spong is a source of inspiration.

As for Strobel–it's true that he's just a popularizer. However, he interviews top scholars in the field.

And he himself has a law degree from Yale. So I seriously doubt he's just plain stupid.

Moreover, attacking Strobel makes no more sense than attacking Charlie Rose. It comes down to the guest, not the interviewer.

Richard Carrier On The Infidel Delusion

Richard Carrier has posted a response to The Infidel Delusion at his blog. I’ve replied in the comments section there.

Craig Blomberg On His Choice To Adopt And Defend Inerrancy

Craig Blomberg recently made some comments on inerrancy and scholarship that I want to highlight. First, let me provide the context.

Paul Tobin, an atheist, wrote:

Perhaps this would be a good time to explain why the word ‘scholarship’ cannot be used when referring to evangelical literature[9] and why people like Hays are mistaken in placing their trust in such works.

The mark of scholarship is its dependence of evidence and reason regardless of where it leads.

Yet we find that many evangelical institutes have very strict rules about what their “scholars” are supposed to accept. Many evangelical theological seminaries, such as the Dallas Theological Seminary,[10] Denver Seminary[11] and Fuller Theological Seminary[12] require its faculty to sign a strict statement of adherence to biblical inerrancy before they are allowed to teach there. Some institutions even require the faculty member to recommit to this statement annually, just in case they have changed their mind on inerrancy after signing the statement.

Not adhering to these statements could mean loss of one’s tenure and may even result in sacking or forced resignation. The recent case of Bruce Waltke, an evangelical professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, is one such example. He had to resign his post from the Reformed Theological Seminary in circumstances still unclear – but it clearly had to do with his advocating the compatibility of evolution and biblical creation, something clearly anathema to many, if not most, evangelicals.

How can honest scholarship be done when one is already adhering to a position of inerrancy? Imagine physicists being required to sign a statement affirming the “inerrancy” of quantum mechanics before they can get a teaching position in any university! One would not believe any “research” on the fundamentals of physics that comes out from such an institution.

It is the same with evangelicals. When they are already committed to an unalterable belief, then that very position cannot but produce “scholarship” which agrees with such a belief. Thus, it should come as no surprise that any book by Craig Blomberg on the reliability of the gospels will conclude that the gospels are “reliable.”[13] And if Ben Witherington III were to write a book about the Acts of the Apostles, you can bet your bottom dollar he is going to “find” the book historically reliable and that Luke is its author.[14]

Studies where the end results are known beforehand are not works of scholarship but of pure apologetics. As Robert M. Price noted in his recent book, “The Case Against the Case for Christ,” such “scholarship” has only one main goal – to “turn back the clock” to a time when the Bible made is safe from historical criticism.[15]

Craig Blomberg then responded (partly to John Loftus and partly to Paul Tobin):

Hi John. Good to hear from you again. There are, of course, other possibilities about people like me, which are sometimes, though not always, the case. I was raised in a liberal Lutheran environment and went to a liberal Lutheran liberal arts college that held the mainstream critical views you describe. I then went to an evangelical seminary and then to a Scottish university (largely secular but with some Christian presence) for my doctorate. I did "crazy" things while there like decide to follow what I discerned to be the New Testament model and be immersed as a believer in a Scottish Baptist church, cutting myself off from being able to teach in contexts that required me to affirm the legitimacy of infant baptism. It was also where I finally decided that I could believe in an appropriately nuanced form of inerrancy after having been raised in an environment that held "biblical inerrancy" to be an oxymoron, going to a seminary where it was part of the very definition of evangelical and then becoming familiar with the British evangelical scene where it was viewed as a rather uniquely American shibboleth. So I don't believe in inerrancy because I teach at a seminary that includes that in its statement of faith. I teach at a seminary that includes that in its statement of faith because I believe in inerrancy. And I have had enough invitations over the years to teach in places with different perspectives that I hardly feel constrained in my scholarship by that conviction. I examine every new issue relevant to the topic that I become aware of (though I haven't run into very many that weren't already on the landscape during my three degree programs in the 1970s and early 1980s, just in repackaged garb) and if I should decide I could no longer affirm inerrancy, I will go teach at a place that doesn't require it. As for going wherever reason leads, how open are you to returning to Christian faith should reason lead you there? From my now fairly extensive reading of your published and web writings, my sense is "much less so than I would be open to changing my views".

I would add that non-Evangelical scholars often endorse the works of Evangelicals, like Craig Blomberg, and refer to those Evangelicals as scholars and refer to their work as scholarship. Evangelicals often contribute to books of scholarship with non-Evangelical scholars, belong to the same organizations, etc. Why should we believe Tobin rather than those non-Evangelical scholars?

We've addressed Tobin's appeals to a scholarly consensus many times. See here, for example.

Babinski's flat-headed higher criticism

Edward T. Babinski said...

That also reminds me of something I read at the Ancient Hebrew Poetry blog concerning the biblical flood narrative...Finally, given that the balance of probability lies with a reconstruction along those lines, it will be surmised that tradition universalized a local occurrence in the process of elevating it to an occurrence of protological and universal import. No wonder then that the ark lands on the “mountains of Ararat,” the highest mountains of the known world from the perspective of people in the ancient Near East. Where else could it have been said to have landed? That is how great literature works, regardless of genre: poetry and prose, parable and history, protological and eschatological narrative. The particular is universalized according to genre-specific techniques."

As usual, Babinski is so bent on attempting to disprove the Bible that the poor sap can’t think straight.

i) To begin with, Mt Ararat is not the highest peak in “the known world.” Both Mt. Elbrus and Mt. Damavand are significantly higher–not to mention Pik Imeni Ismail Samani or the Hindu Kush.

ii) In addition, how does one measure the height of a mountain? In principle, you can either measure it from base to peak or sea level to peak. But it’s not as if ancient observers had the modern techniques of geodetics at their disposal. They couldn’t take absolute measurements of one mountain and then compare that to absolute measurements of another mountain.

I assume, at best, that they could only gauge the height of a mountain by eyeballing a mountain in relation to the surrounding landscape.

If we bracket inspiration, why would a Bible writer think Mt. Ararat was higher than, say, Mt. Hermon or Mt. Sinai? What was his frame of reference?

Atheism And Catholicism

I've been participating in a couple of discussions that might interest people. Here's a thread at Debunking Christianity in which I discuss the authorship of the pastoral epistles of Paul, early church government, and some other issues with Paul Tobin, one of the contributors to The Christian Delusion. And here's a thread at Justin Taylor's blog in which I've been having a discussion with a convert from Protestantism to Catholicism. It's mostly about the church fathers.

Friday, September 03, 2010

The Leviathan number

According to Roger Ebert:

Pew finds that 18% of Americans believe President Obama is a Muslim. A new Newsweek poll, taken after the controversy over the New York mosque, places that figure at 24%...When the focus is narrowed to Republicans, a Harris poll finds 57 percent of party members believe he is a Muslim, 22% believe he "wants the terrorists to win," and 24% believe he is the Antichrist.

This many Americans did not arrive at such conclusions on their own. They were persuaded by a relentless process of insinuation, strategic silence and cynical misinformation. Most of the leaders in this process have been cautious to avoid actually saying Obama is a Muslim...Palin and Beck have so far both been content to let this process work without specific comment on their part. Their silence is a symptom of a cancer infecting American democracy. Our political immune system has only one antibody, and that is the truth.

The time is here for responsible Americans to put up or shut up. I refer specifically to those who have credibility among the guileless and credulous citizens who have been infected with notions so carefully nurtured. We cannot afford to allow the next election to proceed under a cloud of falsehood and delusion.

We know, because they've said so publicly, that George W. Bush, his father and Sen. John McCain do not believe Obama is a Muslim. This is the time -- now, not later -- for them to repeat that belief in a joint statement. Other prominent Republicans such as Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul also certainly do not believe it. They have a responsibility to make that clear by subscribing to the statement. Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh must join, or let their silence indict them. Limbaugh in particular must cease his innuendos and say, flat out, whether he believes the President is a Muslim or not. Yes or no. Does he have evidence, or does he have none? Yes or no.

I just received an advance copy of a joint statement by Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin which reads as follows:

Dear deluded followers,

Due to a cynical campaign of innuendo, you’ve been duped into believing that Pres. Obama is a Muslim. We are here to denounce that contumacious insinuation and set the record straight.

Pres. Obama can’t be a Muslim because he is actually the Antichrist! Sure, he had his pointy ears bobbed, he uses makeup to conceal his Leviathan numerical birthmark, and he wears tinted contacts to obscure his glowing red eyes, but don’t be taken in by the cosmetic enhancements.



Does the Christian God Exist: Debate Audio and Handouts

"Does the Christian God Exist?"

UNCG Atheists, Agnostics and Skeptics & Shepherd's Fellowship with Sinner Ministries.

Here is the unedited debate file.

The Debate Handout (SF/ PTGE)

The Debate Handout (UNCGAAS)

Truth Talk Live 09022010

Robbie's Hobbies (PastorDustin 08282010)

Flying Spaghetti Monster question

Watch this blog and the Shepherd's Fellowship church blog for analysis and open questions to follow.

Do Not Answer a Fool According to His Folly

Note: The following is from one "Seiggy", an attendee at last night's debate.

Hi Seiggy,
"You guys did nothing but dance around questions all night."
If there's no God, what's wrong with avoiding questions? What moral obligation do I have to answer anybody's questions or be rational if there is no God? How does epistemic normativity arise out of mere matter in motion?

The above metaphysical and epistemological issues are why we *purposefully* and *strategically* refused to address some of their assertions. Our opponents did exactly what we wanted them to do:

1. They flatly denied that logic was universal, invariant, and absolute.

2. Then, they plainly admitted that they couldn't account for immaterial laws given their materialistic metaphysic.

Thus, unless one can account for the laws of logic by which to disagree with my worldview, they have no right to demand that *I* provide answers to their alleged Bible contradictions when their own worldview can't provide the philosophical cash value needed to account for the very logical laws needed to make their argument in the first place. To say otherwise is mere special pleading.

Also, your assertion that we "danced" around questions "all night" is false. This is why we had an audiovisual recording made for all to see and decide for themselves.

As my post states, most atheists that are formally unschooled in Biblical Studies and/or philosophy try to undermine the Christian faith by making bare-naked assertions and spouting off a list of alleged Bible contradictions. This is unimpressive for the reasons stated here.

We knew this was coming, and (1) because we knew that we would not have the time to do justice to their list of alleged contradictions in the six minute rebuttal period and, (2) because we knew that they wouldn't be able to account for immaterial logical laws given their naturalistic materialism, we took the strategy that we did.

Again, hear me well: we didn't avoid their questions about Bible contradictions because we didn't have the answers; for I had many of them already answered and ready to read in my own study Bible and my prepared notes. As a matter of fact, virtually none of their alleged contradictions needed preparation beforehand since I've heard them so many times that they can be answered off the cuff. We avoided answering them *on purpose* because if they can't account for contradictions in their worldview in the first place, then I'm not obligated to answer their alleged contradictions. The only exception to this was in the Q&A period when I answered one alleged error from Leviticus 11:22-23. The answer I gave resulted in audience cheers.
"I still would like to know how you justify believing in the "Christian God" over Zues, as you have presented nothing that distinguishes the two."
By appealing to this objection, you have made my point for me; namely, that atheism cannot account for the very things it needs to refute Christian theism but instead has to appeal to some version of the divine in order to attempt any objection against our position. You've just shown us that you had to leave atheism to appeal to "Zues" in order to argue against Jesus.

Also, I quoted from Romans 1:18-21 and Colossians chapter 2 in my opening statement. Those passages alone refute the idea of any non-Christian deity since they are inherently defending the Christian God. Romans 1 sufficiently tackles any non-theistic deity (like "Zues"; i.e., polytheism), pantheism (i.e., due to Creator-creation distinction), and leaves the reader to only face the Creator God of Scripture. Colossians 2 and the surrounding context teaches that it is only in Christ (the 2nd person of the Trinity) that the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden. If that doesn't exegetically establish that our position is founded on the Christian God, I don't know what does.
"All of your arguments are cookie-cutter and generic."
This is something you've asserted but have yet to prove. Also, what's wrong with this if you can't account for the need to be logical in the first place?
"I could easily plug in Allah, Zues, FSM, or any other imaginary creature and 'win' in your view."
But when you do, you just left your atheism to defend your atheism. I can easily answer these, but since you cannot account for logic, I'm not obligated to at this point. You heard the gospel last night. Please repent of your intellectual autonomy and place your faith in Christ. Your only other option is to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die.

Debate Report: Does the Christian God Exist?

I, Pastor Dustin and Sye TenBruggencate of Sinner Ministries had the privilege of engaging in our first formally moderated public debate on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro last night. We appreciate the UNGG Atheists, Agnostics, and Skeptics for inviting us to participate in this debate.

Our goals for the debate were twofold: (1) give a clear gospel presentation, and (2) that God be glorified. In my humble opinion, our goals were met. However, we can always do better by God's grace! As expected, our opponents attacked God's character and God's word. We knew that they would focus on those two things, and so instead of trying to answer their many assertions about alleged contradictions or about God supposedly being an immoral monster, etc., we simply took their feet out from under them by showing that they have no basis for using the laws of logic to begin with in order to create any objection to Christian theism. Then we preached the gospel to them and the crowd.

In the debates I've listened to over the years with atheists that have no formal scholarly training in either Biblical studies or philosophy, I have noticed a disingenuous trend of three things:

1. They tend to amass a list of alleged Biblical contradictions one after another knowing that their Christian opponents will never have time to fairly respond to them in a public debate setting.

2. They tend to ask questions of their opponents that have been successfully answered by Christian theologians for hundreds of years (i.e., Euthyphro's Dilemma).

3. They make bare naked assertions based upon prejudicial conjectures in order to "preach" their unbelief (i.e., "You can't trust the Bible because it's been translated and re-translated, over and over again.")

Regarding # 1, no one is impressed, except the most hardened atheist.

Regarding # 2, the Christians definitely aren't impressed because you are using old worn out arguments that have been refuted for hundreds of years.

Regarding # 3, the uninitiated may be impressed because they don't have the background knowledge in spotting such informal logical fallacies as the bare-naked assertion in the form of a question-begging epithet. Not only that, they also don't have the background knowledge in understanding issues related to textual criticism and the effect that underlying presuppositions have on any field of study.

In conclusion, I will take the time to respond to numbers 1-3 above as they presented themselves in our debate for the benefit of the Christian reader. May God be glorified and may His church be edified!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Ersatz immorality

Bill Vallicella comments on Christopher Hitchens and death.

God, evil, and Olson

Another salvo from Olson:

“Contrary to the accounts of Calvinism offered here by some, Calvin himself strongly denied that God merely permitted the fall of Adam and Eve. His language against that is quite strong; he scoffs at the idea that God would ever merely permit something. We Arminians are confused and even bemused by contemporary Calvinists’ use of 'permission' when referring to God’s relationship to sin and evil."

I'm not crazy about permissive language myself. However, Helm has carefully explained what he means by that terminology ("Willing Permission," Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion, 233-34), so I assume that Olson is simply ignorant of that analysis.

"But that’s not sufficient to say God is not the author of sin and evil."

Typical of Arminians, he doesn't bother to define what he means by "authorship." This is a traditional term in historical theology, so it has to be defined according to its historical sense. I assume it was used by Calvin and the Westminster Divines in the Latin sense to mean that God is not the actor or doer of evil.

By contrast, Olson seems to be using it in a metaphorical sense. But that introduces an equivocation into his objection. Even if God is the author of sin (whatever that means) in his metaphorical sense, this doesn't mean God is the author of sin in the sense in which Calvin and the Westminster Divines denied that appellation to God.

Moreover, to say that God is the author of sin in a metaphorical sense doesn't show what's wrong with that characterization, even if it were true. So what? Where's the argument that this (i.e. figurative authorship) would be unacceptable?

"Sin and evil, in the Calvinist view, in contrast to the Arminian view, are positively the will of God to glorify himself (by overcoming them)."

What does he mean by "positively willed"? Does that stand in implicit contrast to "negatively willed?" And what would that mean?

I think one of Olson's problems is his failure to distinguish between causes and intentions. God intends sin and evil (though not for their own sake). However, the way that's brought about is a different issue, and a complicated issue. (Just consider different philosophical theories of causation, and the whole determinist/indeterminist debate).

"What I still want to know that, no Calvinist here or anywhere, in my experience, has sufficiently answered, is why anything is considered truly evil in the Calvinist account of God and creation."

I don't see how that's difficult. Something can be evil in its own right, but contribute to something better. Consider Gen 50:20, as well as the preceding events leading up to that summary statement.

When Joseph's brothers wanted to murder him out of envious resentment, their attitude was sinful. But God's motive in decreeing that attitude was quite different from the motive he decreed. It set into motion a series of events which turned out for the best.

Perhaps, though, what Olson means is that something can't be "truly" evil unless it has no redeeming value whatsoever. But in that case, God allows horrendous events for no good reason. No greater purpose.

"If everything is planned and rendered certain by God for his glory, including sin and evil (even as only absences and not substances) why not praise God for sin and evil? "

Why does Olson assume a Calvinist wouldn't (or shouldn't) praise God for sin and evil?

Again, though, he oversimplifies the issue. Sin and evil aren't praiseworthy in their own right. Likewise, the motives of the sinner or evildoer aren't praiseworthy. However, the occurrence of a sinful or evil event can be praiseworthy if God meant it for good. We can praise God for his subtle wisdom in ordaining the Joseph cycle, with all its twists and turns.

Olson’s basic error is that he only sees the problem of evil in terms of God’s involvement in evil. And if we can disassociate God from evil, that’s exculpatory.

But, of course, that doesn’t solve the problem. It simply relocates the problem. For there’s a sense in which God ought to be responsible for whatever happens.

I think one of his problems, and this is a problem with Arminians generally, is that they treat evil as if it were a ritual impurity, like a contaminant or infectious disease, and the way to remain pure is to avoid physical contact. As long as God wears latex gloves, that exonerates him.

And this this is subconsciously reflected in the legalism I sometimes run across among Arminians, where holiness is a matter of avoiding certain physical activities, like drinking or watching R-rated movies.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

J.P. Holding's Response To The Christian Delusion

J.P. Holding just released the first edition of his response to The Christian Delusion. Anybody who has a subscription to his E-Block gets access to it. (It doesn't cost much, and the money supports a good ministry.) You can also get access to it for a one-time donation of $3.

Marian prayers


Regarding the issue of Mary and the saints... )which btw I'm not defending), A catholic theologian once said to me that the whole issue depends on what you mean by asking someone to pray for you?

In their theology they don't see any difference in asking someone who is alive here to pray for them... and asking someone who is dead in this world to asking them...Its to do with how they perceive the state of the dead..

Look at this prayer (see below); when you ask a friend to pray for you, is this how you frame your request?


Heart of Mary, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, according to the heart of God, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, united to the Heart of Jesus, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, organ of the Holy Ghost, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, sanctuary of the Divine Trinity, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, tabernacle of God Incarnate, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, immaculate from thy creation, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, full of grace, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, blessed among all hearts, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, throne of glory, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, most humble, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, holocaust of Divine Love, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, fastened to the Cross with Jesus Crucified, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, comfort of the afflicted, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, refuge of sinners, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, hope of the agonizing, Pray for us. Heart of Mary, seat of mercy, Pray for us.

Immaculate Mary, meek and humble of heart: R. Make our hearts according to the Heart of Jesus.

Let us pray. O most merciful God, Who, for the salvation of sinners and the refuge of the miserable, wast pleased that the Most Pure Heart of Mary should be most like in charity and pity to the Divine Heart of Thy Son, Jesus Christ: grant that we who commemorate this sweet and loving Heart may, by the merits and intercession of the same Blessed Virgin, merit to be found according to the Heart of Jesus. Through the same Christ, Our Lord. R. Amen.

Praying To Mary Is Problematic, Even If You Don't Think She's God

Here are some comments I made in a recent thread, which may be helpful to some people:

craigbenno1 wrote:

"A catholic theologian once said to me that the whole issue depends on what you mean by asking someone to pray for you? In their theology they don't see any difference in asking someone who is alive here to pray for them... and asking someone who is dead in this world to asking them...Its to do with how they perceive the state of the dead...The question to ask is whether they actually worship Mary as God or any other statue"

Prayer to the deceased wouldn't have to involve "worship as God" in order to be sinful. There's no reason to expect the deceased to hear our prayers, scripture and early patristic sources condemn attempts to contact the deceased, and the practice is absent in contexts in which we'd expect it to appear if it had been accepted in Biblical and early patristic times.

We've covered this issue in depth in previous threads. See, for example, here, here, here, here, and here. There's a lot more that I haven't linked. Those who pray to Mary frequently do more than "asking Mary to pray for them". See the examples I cited here, and search the web for other examples of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox prayers to Mary. Those prayers are far different than a discussion with a living person, in which you ask that person to pray for you.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Que sera sera

According to Arminian epologist Ben Henshaw:

Also, if God did foreknow what a person would freely choose and then not create that person based on that knowledge, God would falsify His own foreknowledge by not creating that person. God would essentially make Himself wrong by making something He foreknew happening as not happening, or making a person He foreknew as existing, never to exist. Since God cannot be wrong, He cannot not create someone based on what He knows this 'person' (who will actually never exist) would do or choose. Do you see the problem?

So the future is necessary. God's hands are tied. What will be will be. Sounds pretty fatalistic to me. Indeed, it's more deterministic than Calvinism.

I'm not the only one who sees the dilemma that Ben has created for himself. As a fellow Arminian observes:

Don’t you think God was free to create other people than He has chosen to, or do you think He was constrained in some way to create people He has created?...Well speaking of different ways things could be is simply speaking of different worlds. Possible world lingo simply makes it more convenient, unless this is the only possible world. But then you’d be a determinist.

"A quick question for my Calvinist interlocutors"

Dr. James Anderson responds to Dr. Roger Olson.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wilhelm à Brakel on cessationism

Here's something I ran across recently in one of those click-of-a-click-of-a-click operations:

In volume 2 of à Brakal’s [sic] “Reasonable Service” he discusses the marks of true and false churches. The sixth mark he refutes as a mark of a false church is the continuing presence of miracles. To this à Brakal [sic] replies:

“Sixthly, miracles are proposed as one of the distinguishing marks of the church. To this we reply:
(1) Miracles do not belong to the distinguishing marks of the true church. This is nowhere to be found in the Word of God.

Of course, Brakel is shadowboxing with the church of Rome.

(2) Miracles are not intended for believers, but for unbelievers; thus the church has no need of them. If one were desirous of bringing an unbeliever into the true church, one would have to perform a wonder time and again, which, however, the proponents of this mark do not do.

That’s a half-truth. In both the OT and NT, God also performs miracles for believers. The evidentiary role of miracles is not their only role. Miracles can also be acts of mercy, for the benefit of God’s needy people.

(3) The performance of and boasting in miracles in the post-apostolic era, as a means of the confirmation of doctrine, is a distinguishing mark of the anti-Christian church. “Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Thess 2:9). This certainly confirms that the performance of miracles does not belong to the distinguishing marks of the church.” (Wilhelmus à Brakal [sic], The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 2, pg. 29.)

i) That’s an overstatement. It’s true that miracles can be demonic. As such, the evidentiary value of miracles needs to be qualified. They’re not a stand-alone proof.

But to my knowledge, some of the church fathers appealed to contemporary miracles in the life of the church to challenge pagans. And I don’t see why we should automatically treat that appeal as a distinguishing mark of the anti-Christian church. Was the ancient church apostate through-and-through?

Of course, this doesn’t mean we should automatically credit their claims. But by the same token, this doesn’t mean we should dismiss their claims out of hand.

In my opinion, neither side of the charismatic debate has a knockdown argument from Scripture. So we can’t predict what God will do in this respect. We should take a wait-and-see attitude. Whether or not he intends to perform miracles in church history is something we must discover by observation.

ii) Moreover, as Andy points out a little later (see below), demonic miracles aren’t just a post-apostolic phenomena. Conversely, there’s a sense in which the NT church was a wonder-working church. So where does that leave the evidentiary status of miracles on Andy’s view? Was the NT church the “anti-Christian church”?

Does the possibility of demonic miracles vitiate the evidentiary value of miracles? If so, what about the miracles of Christ and the Apostles (e.g. 2 Cor 12:12)? Or Moses, Elisha, and Elisha?

In his zeal to disprove Pentecostalism, Andy is shooting a hole in the bottom of his own boat, too.

Shifting to Andy, who posted the material by Brakel:

Isn’t ironic that the continuists claim to follow Scripture, hence their practice of charismata, yet Scripture nowhere states that miracles are a distinguishing characteristic of the Church. In fact, Scripture takes it for granted that false teacher may perform “miracles.” (Deut. 13:1-5; 2 Thess. 2:9). In fact, Jesus never rebuked the Pharisees for not believing in His miracles; He rebuked their unbelief of His teaching and the Scriptures. The warning of Deut. 13:1-5 is surely behind this fact.

Really? Didn’t Jesus say, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (Jn 10:37-38)?

I once knew a missionary who claimed that miracles were, in his words, “the dinner bell to salvation.” I watched him preach and pray for those who came forward to his altar calls. I can’t recall a single miracle. No doubt there were many in his imagination, but there were certainly no verifiable miracles. I don’t buy the claims of healing from headaches or back pain.

i) That’s a valid criticism, but the existence of charlatans hardly falsifies the existence of miracles in the church age.

ii) Moreover, this is inconsistent with his admission of demonic miracles. How can he say there are no verifiable miracles during the church age if he grants the existence of demonic miracles during the church age? He seems to be reaching for any objection he can find, whether or not these objections are mutually consistent.

iii) In addition, what does he mean by “verifiable” miracles? Many miracles in Scripture are essentially private events. If we didn’t have the record of Scripture we wouldn’t know they ever occurred. So there’s no presumption that no miracle occurs just because it was not a spectacular, public event.

Moreover, à Brakal’s [sic] point is dead on: where are the people performing verifiable miracles over and over to bring unbelievers into the Church. Indeed the Charismatic doctrine of faith precludes this. On the Charismatic scheme, miracles occur for those who have the faith to believe for their miracle, hence an unbeliever could never receive a miracle. If miracles are to convince unbelievers, we have a catch-22 on our hands. Those who need miracles and for whom they exist can never have one!

That’s fallacious. In principle, an unbeliever could witness a miracle which God performed for the sake of a believer.

Idols & idolatry

“4 You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them…” (Exod 20:4-5).

What is the scope of this prohibition?

i) V4 is stated in blanket terms. If, however, we take it without further qualification, it contradicts the representational art which God commanded to decorate the tabernacle.

If, therefore, we honor the inspiration of Scripture, then the force of v4 must be modified in some respect.

ii) The logical way to harmonize v4 with the representational art in the tabernacle is to view v5 as a qualification on the generic statement in v4.

iii) On that view, v4 is not an absolute prohibition. Rather, the intended scope of v4 is delimited by the specifications in v5. And that concerns the motives of the worshiper.

iv) That, in turn, raises the question of how we are meant to construe the force of v5. And this involves the function of idols in idolatry. What purpose did they serve?

To my knowledge, idols were fashioned to make the gods accessible to the worshiper. The idol mediated the presence of the god it depicted. That was a way of reaching the gods and even manipulating the gods. It was a two-way conduit, by which the worshiper could interact with the god, and vice versa.

On a related note, if you brought offerings to the idol, then the corresponding god would be compelled to return the favor.

v) The Pentateuchal prohibition against divine images would therefore apply to any analogous use of divine images. Does a modern-day worshiper use a divine image to facilitate contact with God? If so, then that is idolatrous. That is forbidden.

vi) This is not the only potential problem with divine images. As I’ve noted before, since Yahweh is invisible, we cannot know what he is like apart from his self-disclosure.

vii) What about, say, a statue of the virgin Mary? Is that idolatrous? Mary is not a goddess, so an artistic depiction of Mary is not inherently idolatrous.

But that also depends on the use to which the statue is put. In Catholic theology, Mary is, herself, a way of making God available to the worshiper. And a statue of Mary is a way of focusing one’s prayers to and through Mary to God.

In that respect, a statue of Mary is idolatrous twice over.

Brotherly love

This recent comment on an old post by Dustin found its way into moderation. Since Dustin is otherwise occupied at the moment, I'll take a stab at it:

To the author of this blog: Wow. Is this what your brand of Christianity teaches you? It is hard to find as many bigoted and intolerant people in the world. Shame to see someone who supposedly calls himself "Christian" going off like you have. It is people like you who give Christians a bad reputation with so many people. I saw the Glenn Beck speech and I thought it was inspiring and his words sincere. Did you see it? Or were you too wrapped up in your own self righteous condemnation of everyone who doesn't follow the exact same tenants as you? If God sends a man like Glenn Beck to hell, then he is not a God of love or a just God, just a spiteful and cruel one. What we need is more brotherly love and unity in finding what unites us, not the kind of acrimony and un-Christian hatred that you displayed in your posting. I know that Mormonism features many tenants that are different from Baptist teachings, but if you look at the heart of what Mormon people feel and believe about Jesus Christ and living the gospel of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you", they are essentially the same as those of other people who read and understand the words of Jesus.
By cicero on Mormon Glenn Beck Speaking at Liberty University G... at 5:27 PM

i) Folks who can’t argue for their position fall back on first-shaking adjectives like “hatred,” “intolerance,” and “bigotry.” That tactic won’t work here.

ii) Whether or not Beck is sincere is irrelevant. Sincerity and veracity can lead separate lives, and often do.

iii) The commenter is typically blind to his own intolerance. He’s only tolerant of those who see things his way.

iv) The fact that he’d say God is spiteful and cruel for sending Beck to hell is a good illustration of folks who judge by tone and appearance rather than reality.

v) I’m all for brotherly love. But Beck is not my brother. He’s a lost soul. And he’s recruiting others to his false gospel.

vi) Since I’m not a Landlord, I don’t have any “tenants.”

vii) Then there’s the ignorant, revisionist history regarding Mormonism. But Joseph Smith regarded all of the existing denominations as apostate churches. Smith had to restore the “true,” long-lost Gospel.

Mormonism doesn’t regard the theology of other Christian traditions or denominations as essentially the same. Mormonism is a polytheistic, neopagan fertility cult with an autosoteric doctrine of apotheosis. It’s hard to think of any other Christian heresy that’s as systematically opposed to every Biblical doctrine as Mormonism, once you get past the traditional labels which it purloined from Christianity.

viii) ”Do unto others” is not a slogan you can uproot from its Biblical soil and transplant wherever you please. For instance, mob families also live by the golden rule: you kill my boy and I’ll kill yours.

ix) Incidentally, it’s clear that the Mormon hierarchy has no standards for public officials. I don’t see it cracking down on liberals like Harry Reid–or Mitt Romney, when he was governor of Massachusetts. So we have conservative Mormons like Glenn Beck bashing liberal Mormons like Harry Reid while the hierarchy remains culpably silent.

Plymouth Brethren

Are any of the contributors to this blog Brethren?
By halo on La Paulina Commedia on 8/29/10

This is a recent question on an ancient post, so I’ll answer it here.

To my knowledge, none of the bloggers at Tblog is Plymouth Brethren. Mind you, I don’t ask folks what church they attend when I invite them to join. I judge them by their general theological orientation.

Tblog has at least one Plymouth Brethren site on the blogroll. Although I disagree with Plymouth Brethren polity, inasmuch as I do think the NT teaches church office, albeit a barebones variety, the Plymouth Brethren represent an honorable theological tradition. On the high church/low church continuum, I myself am clearly near the low church end of the spectrum.

The Plymouth Brethren represent a limiting case of Protestant polity. I wouldn’t go quite that far myself. On the other hand, church office in many evangelical churches often more specialized than what we find in the NT.

A simple thank-you will do

Recently I spent some time defending penal substitution. But while it’s necessary to defend penal substitution when it comes under attack, it shouldn’t be necessary to defend penal substitution.

Intellectuals can fall into the trap of demanding a rational justification for everything. But that’s not always the appropriate response. There are situations where that represents a mischievous or even malicious use of one’s intelligence.

Suppose your mother bakes you a birthday cake. How should you respond? When she brings it to the dining table, should you demand that she furnish an intellectual justification for her birthday present?

No. That’s no way to treat a gift. The proper response is “Thank-you!”

When God is gracious to us, we should at least be grateful. God’s grace, our gratitude. Is that too much to ask?

For people to attack the logic of penal substitution is no way to treat a priceless gift. That’s an act of supreme ingratitude.

My point is not that penal substitution is illogical, but we should overlook that fact. I don’t think it’s illogical. But that’s beside the point. Our response to penal substitution ought to be one of thankfulness, not a thankless, confrontational protest. It’s difficult to adequately convey the degree of impudence which such a defiant attitude reflects.

It’s as if you desperately needed a blood transfusion to survive, a friend offers to donate his blood on the spot, and you make it a requirement that he defend his generous offer to your personal satisfaction.

Liberal scholarship

"Do not wish to digress here, but it does remind me a bit of James White’s charge/s leveled against Muslim apologists who quote 'liberal', critical Christian scholars in their debates, whilst James allows himself to use 'liberal' and critical Islamic scholars."

It’s less than clear why David Waltz finds this problematic. To begin with, if, in a debate with James White (or whoever), a Muslim quotes a “Christian” scholar who attacks the credibility of the Bible, then White is certainly entitled to point out that this scholar doesn’t speak for Christianity at large. At best, his views merely represent the views of other theological liberals. The Muslim can't use this appeal as an argument from authority.

And, of course, since White is a Christian rather than a Muslim, he’s not going to draw quite the same distinction with respect to Islamic scholarship. Since there’s a fundamental difference between a true religion and a false religion, scholarship attacking the credibility of a true religion (e.g. the Bible) is going to be false. It doesn’t follow that scholarship attacking the credibility of a false religion is going to be false, even when it hails from liberal critical scholars.

Apparently Waltz can only keep one idea in his head. He thinks it’s hypocritical if we don’t treat every religion equally. But equal treatment is only justified when dealing with equal claims. If two religions are fundamentally unequal (e.g. the one is true while the other is false), then, of course, they should be treated differently.

Reppert on Lewis

[Quote] Victor Reppert said...

In fairness to John [Beversluis], I think there are some improvements in his book. Specifically, in the previous edition, he used the reports of Lewis's dismay concerning his exchange with Elizabeth Anscombe as grounds that he had backed away from his previous confidence in the defensibility of Christianity. In an review essay of A. N. Wilson's Lewis biography he abandons this line. I think you do get a better-developed rebuttal to the Trilemma argument than you got in the first edition, though not one I agree with in the end. In a footnote he criticizes Christopher Hitchens for an overly simplistic reply to Lewis's argument (Dawkins is even more simplistic), which is good. His understanding of my development of the argument from reason is inadequate, the reading problems Talbott points out concerning his treatment of the problem of evil are accurately portrayed by Talbott, and the attempt to derive a fundamental shift in Lewis's apologetic stance out of A Grief Observed is also a nonstarter. So, it's a mixed bag. But, as the kind of definitive refutation of Lewis' apologetics that it is touted to be on Debunking Christianity, it's certainly not that.

Baggett, Habermas, and Walls' C. S. Lewis as a Philosopher (IVP, 2008) is a good book that was in production at the same time as Beversluis's was, and contains two papers that are replies to Beversluis, one by Dave Baggett, and the other by David Horner. It also contains my rebuttal to Richard Carrier. A good online source is Steve Lovell's "Philosophical Themes from C. S. Lewis,"

I'm not a fan of biographies, but I think Alan Jacobs' The Narnian is probably the best out there.

Glenn Beck

I heard an interview with Glenn Beck on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. I ordinarily avoid Beck. From what little I’ve heard of him, he comes across as a sanctimonious buffoon.

Listening to the interview I was struck by how shallow, trite, and frankly insipid his “message” was. It’s basically a self-help gospel.

However, folks like Beck and Palin are politically useful in their own way. They’re not terribly significant in their own right (although Palin may be the GOP nominee). For the time being they serve as a prism through which agitated voters can focus their disapproval of Obama and the Congressional Democrats. Both of them are riding the crest of Tea Party discontent with the status quo.

I don’t know how much staying power Glen Beck will have in the long run. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a fad. Palin’s future is harder to gauge.

She was damaged in the presidential campaign, but has rebounded. At the moment she’s a force to be reckoned with. A political kingmaker. Whether or not she will fizzle over time remains to be seen.

Hurtado on the historical Jesus

Larry Hurtado usefully summarizes the historical perspective of the canonical Gospels:

[Quote] In a recent book, Lord Jesus Christ (2003), I noted that one of the features common to all four of the intra-canonical Gospels is that they situate Jesus explicitly and rather fully in time, place, and cultural setting. This is all the more remarkable in light of the interesting and well-known differences among them in some other matters, and also in comparison with the rather unlocalized way that Jesus is depicted in extra-canonical “Jesus books” such as The Gospel of Thomas, and The Gospel of Philip. That is, all four intra-canonical Jesus books concur broadly in emphasizing that the risen and glorified Jesus is to be identified as the historic figure who first appeared in Galilee, and whose career was framed by the prophet-ministry of John (the Baptizer) and by Jesus’ execution in Jerusalem at the hands of the Roman governor, Pilate. By contrast, from the Gospel of Thomas, for example, one would scarcely suspect that Jesus was a Jew, where he may have operated, or any specific time-frame for him, to say nothing of anything more specific about him in historical terms.

All four intra-canonical accounts, however, are rich in geographical references (e.g., Lake Galilee, Capernaum, Nazareth, Bethsaida, Caesarea Philippi, the Decapolis, Samaria, Jericho, Bethlehem, Bethany, Emmaus, the Jordan River, Tyre and Sidon, and Jerusalem), and references to the religious and cultural setting, including religious parties (e.g., Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians), issues about observance of Jewish religious law (e.g., Sabbath, food laws, divorce and remarriage, skin diseases, oaths, tithing, and taxation), festivals such as Passover, issues of belief such as resurrection. We also get information on governing structures and personalities (e.g., Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Caiaphas, and the Roman governor Pilate). There are references to local occupations, such as fishing, farming, tax gathering, and shepherding. Indeed, it seems to me that this emphasis that the Lord and Christ of Christian devotion is to be linked to, and defined with reference to, the historic figure of Jesus may also have been a major impetus for these texts, and an important factor in shaping their genre as narrative books about him.

Also notable is the use of Semitic words and expressions in these Greek texts. The most familiar instances are echoed in one or more of the four Gospels, such as “Hosanna” (Mark 11:9-10/Matt. 21:9/John 12:13), “Gehenna” (Mark 9:43-47; Matt. 10:28; 23:15, 33; Luke 12:5), “Rabbi” and “Rabbouni” (e.g., Matt. 23:7-8; John 1:38; 20:16), and the famous cry of Jesus on the cross reported in varying forms by Mark (15:34) and Matthew (27:46). It is very interesting that the use of such Semitic loanwords seems particularly frequent in GMark and GJohn.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Last Waltz

David Waltz, who is to religion what Solomon was to women, is charging John Bugay and James White with hypocrisy because they cite liberal scholars in opposition to Islam or Roman Catholicism, but reject liberal scholars in opposition to Scripture. Yet there are several basic problems with his analogy:

i) The comparison would only work if, in fact, the arguments and counterarguments regarding Scripture were comparable to the arguments and counterarguments regarding the Koran or the Roman Magisterium.

If that is David’s position, then he needs to mount an actual argument from analogy, rather than asserting an analogy.

ii) To take a comparison, in sifting testimonial evidence, we don’t treat every ostensible witness the same, for some ostensible (or even real) witnesses are less credible than others.

iii) David would also have to show that Lampe’s argument regarding early Roman church polity is crucially contingent on his argument regarding the composition of certain NT documents.

iv) Liberal scholarship can sometimes be right for the wrong reasons. For instance, it’s wrong to apply methodological naturalism to religious claims. It’s wrong to presume that supernatural dynamics can’t be a factor in religious claims.

But if, in fact, religious dynamics are not a factor in some religious claim or another, then it’s appropriate to interpret the claim on mundane terms. For instance, if the angel Gabriel did not appear to Muhammad, then there’s nothing wrong with a liberal scholar explaining the Koran by reference to natural causes. While it’s wrong for him to assume, as a matter of principle, that supernatural factors can’t figure in the origin of Islam, yet if Islam is a natural phenomenon masquerading as a supernatural phenomenon, then naturalistic methods and assumptions will coincidentally dovetail with the true nature of the phenomenon. And the same holds true for the Roman Magisterium.

v) Incidentally, there’s nothing inherently liberal about redaction criticism. For instance, conservative scholars like Craig Blomberg and Darrell Block use redaction criticism to defend the inerrancy of Scripture.

vi) But even if these methods were suspect, there’s nothing inherently wrong with their application to Roman Catholicism. After all, the modern Magisterium sanctions the historical-critical method. So a Protestant apologist could rightfully apply that methodology to Catholicism as a tu quoque argument. Measuring Catholicism by its own yardstick.

Of course, the basic problem for Waltz is that he has no fixed frame of reference. He’s a boat adrift, anchored to another boat adrift, anchored to another boat adrift. For Waltz, everything is in a state of relative motion.

Martin Luther and Hector Avalos

(Posted on Steve's behalf.)

Hector Avalos contributed a chapter to TCD in which he tried to pin the blame for the Holocaust on Christianity, including Martin Luther in his roster of villains. Here's a corrective to his slanted treatment:
  1. "Luther and the Jews I: The Problem"
  2. "Luther and the Jews II: The Context"
  3. "Luther and the Jews III: Lessons"

Christless Calvinism!

Watch this video. American Presbyterians are aiming at planting Reformed congregations back in Germany. Watch this video and notice how lacking an articulation of the Gospel actually is. Notice particularly the first several minutes where not once is the name of Christ mentioned, and only God is referred to and his glory. The word “Gospel” is mentioned but not articulated. Typical of Calvinism, unfortunately.

Read this hymn:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Read this hymn and notice how lacking an articulation of the Gospel actually is. Notice particularly the first stanza where not once is the name of Christ mentioned, and only God is referred to and his might. Typical of Lutheranism, unfortunately.

Running the race

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Tim 4:6-8).

The Christian pilgrimage is a paradox. At one end, when we begin the race, the journey is intimidating. We have such a long journey ahead of us. So many miles to cover. So many years to travel. And we will pass through so many strange towns and cities, side-streets, crowded freeways, and deserted highways on the way to our hoped-for, longed-for destination. It’s a daunting prospect.

On the other hand, when we begin the race, we’re young and strong. Fresh and vigorous. We have energy to burn. Snappy reflexes. Brimming with optimism. In the very prime of life. There’s so much to do, but we have so much in reserve.

At the other end is the aging runner. He has far less ground to cover. So many miles behind him. So few ahead. His destination is so much closer than when he began. And that’s encouraging.

On the other hand, he’s bone-weary. Every step is effortful. He’s fallen down so many times. Been injured so many times. Where he used to sprint, he limps. He’s hot and dry and breathy. His feet ache. His knees ache. His eyes are bleary.

The remainder of the journey is brief, but it takes more effort to cover less ground. Every hill may be the last, or every hill may be the next to last. He only knows by going.

Some of his fond old companions have gone ahead. Disappeared over the distant hills and ridges. Others fell behind. Dropped out of the race. Settled for a way station.

At that sparse stretch in the race he is far from the verdant valleys of his earthly home, yet he hasn’t arrived at the outskirts of his heavenly destination. There’s no going back, but he can’t skip ahead to the finish line. He’s learned from sad experience that short-cuts take longer. So mile-by-mile and day-by-day he must press ahead, one step at a time. Yet whenever he feels on the verge of collapse, something unexpected keeps him going. A spring rain. A sudden breeze. A cooling stream. Wild blackberries.

Then one morning he gets up, just like any other day, only this day is not just any other day. As he heaves and pants his way up another interminable hill, he catches a glimpse of the heavenly spires, gleaming in the everlasting dawn. And as he rounds the hill, a cloud of witnesses is standing at the finish line to welcome him home.