Saturday, November 06, 2010

Self-fulfilling effrontery

“I used to be a pastor in my evangelical days. I also have been an elder in evangelical reformed, PCA, and PCUSA churches of various sorts on and off for over 25 years. Never, never, never in all that time have I seen or heard anybody, pastor, elder, or layperson, make comments about a deceased person as obnoxious as your comment about Ken Pulliam.”

This was directed at Alan, not me. But since I’ve been linked to this controversy, I’ll make the following observation:

1. On the one hand, I do think we should always consider the effect our words will have on others when we write or speak for public consumption.

2. On the other hand, there’s an obvious risk of self-fulfilling effrontery in this objection. I see no reason to assume that Pulliam’s family, especially his Christian relatives, were in the habit of reading his blasphemous blog. Why would they subject themselves to that kind of abuse?

When, however, irate critics of Alan put his brief comment in neon lights, doesn’t that make it far more likely that Pulliam’s relatives will become aware of the comment? If the comment is, indeed, offensive, and you draw public attention to the offensive comment on various blogs, then, of course, his relatives, who might otherwise remain blissfully ignorant of the (allegedly) offensive comment, are far more likely to be offended by it–since they are far more likely to be apprised of the comment by reading irate critics constantly express their (alleged) disapproval.

And this, in turn, raises the question of sincerity. If they were really concerned about the feelings of his loved ones, why would they go out of their way to advertise a comment which, by their own admission (or assertion), is hurtful to the feelings of his loved ones? Wouldn’t discretion compel them to pass over the offending remark in silence? They accuse Alan of being tactless, but isn’t their own conduct tactless?

So, frankly, it looks as if they are taking advantage of the family to score points against Alan.

"I pity you!"

Over at Rhoblogy, Alan reproduced an email, as well as his reply, regarding the “notorious” comment he left at the blog of the late Ken Pulliam.

Since a number of commenters have chosen to drag Triablogue into that particular controversy, I might as well take the occasion to make a few observations of my own:

1. I’m not Alan, so I don’t know his motives. Only he knows what he intended to accomplish.

2. One objection is that his comment would be offensive to grieving family members. For all I know, that could be true. But that conjecture raises a question:

If the (allegedly) offended family members are Christian, then why would they even be reading Pulliam’s blog? His blog was militantly anti-Christian.

Put another way, it’s odd to suggest that they would be offended by one brief comment by a Christian, but not be offended by the blog itself. Why is Alan’s comment (allegedly) offensive to his Christian family members, but Pulliam’s full-frontal assault on their Christian faith is not offensive to his Christian family members?

It’s kind of like a customer at an adult bookstore using a mild expletive, only to have the cashier and all the other customers reprimand him for inappropriate language. Somehow the surroundings belie the selective umbrage.

If we presume to speak on behalf of his Christian friends and relatives, what could be more offensive than his blasphemous attack on their precious faith? The setting itself is bound to give offense. So shouldn’t all that indignation be redirected?

3. Phrases like “I pity you!” or “I feel sorry for you!” are often used as put-downs in vernacular usage. As such, they’ve acquired a derogatory connotation.

Yet there’s nothing inherently derogatory about the notion or sentiment of pity. Traditionally, that was deemed to be a Christian virtue. Consider some examples from historic English usage:

Job 6:14

To him that is afflicted pity should be showed from his friend; but he forsaketh the fear of the Almighty.

Job 19:21

Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me.

Psalm 69:20

Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.

Isaiah 63:9

In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.

Matthew 18:33

Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?

4. I also think the language of “pity” is apt to offend us because it offends our overdeveloped sense of pride. We don’t like to find ourselves in a pitiful condition.

Again, I can’t speak for Alan. Only he knows what he had in mind. But I am struck by the instantaneous reaction to the language of “pity,” which may reveal more about the attitude of the commenter than it does about Alan.

The First Church of Rome

I recently did a somewhat tongue-in-cheek miniseries on the “papacy” of Aquila and Priscilla. Although I was spoofing the papacy, it also had a basis in fact. Now I’m going to make the same point sans the satire.

I’ll begin with a brief bibliographical précis. F. F. Bruce wrote a useful study of Aquila and Priscilla in chap. 6 of The Pauline Circle (Eerdmans 1985). Peter Lampe wrote a more expansive and up-to-date treatment of Aquila and Priscilla in chap. 18 of From Paul to Valentinus (Fortress 2003), in which he makes use of both Biblical and archaeological evidence. He also has additional background information in chap. 2. His treatment has been sifted, supplemented, and updated by Robert Jewett in his comments on Rom 16:3-5. Cf. Romans: A Commentary (Fortress 2003), 954-60.

Paul Barrett has a helpful analysis of Rom 16 in his commentary. Commentaries on Acts 18:1-3 (e.g. Darrell Bock; David Peterson), 1 Cor 16:19 (e.g. Joseph Fitzmyer; Brian Rosner/Roy Ciampa), and 2 Tim 4:19 (e.g. William Mounce; Philip Towner) provide collateral information.

Aside from the specifics of Aquila and Priscilla, there are general background studies on 1C house churches, 1C ecclesiology, and “urban elites” who patronized the nascent Christian movement. Cf. Cf. R. Beckwith, Elders in Every City (Paternoster 2003); W. Meeks, The First Urban Christians (Yale 1983); D. Gill, “Acts and the Urban Elites,” D. Gill & C. Gempf, eds. The Book of Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting (Eerdmans, 1994), 105-118; B. Blue, Acts and the House Church,” ibid. 119-222; B. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows (Eerdmans 2003).

From this sort of information, we can draw the following conclusions:

1. The church of Rome wasn’t founded by Peter. Indeed, the church of Rome wasn’t founded by any apostle.

2. The church of Rome was informally founded by Roman Christians.

3. Aquila and Priscilla were among the founders (or cofounders) of the Roman church.

4. There was no single church of Rome in the 1C. Rather, the 1C church of Rome was a loose association of independent house-churches. As Barnett summarizes the data in Rom 16:

There are at least three house church groups:

Verse 5: “the church in the house [of Prisca and Aquila]”
Verse 14: “the brothers with [Asyncritus et al]”
Verse 15: “the saints with [Philologus and Julia et al]”

It is possible, however, that a dozen other “clusters” are implied by individuals, couples or groups named by Paul. Beyond that there may have been synagogue-linked groups to which Paul’s main opponent’s belonged.

As many as six Jewish-led house-groups are implied. These Jewish names [Rom 16:3,6-7,10-11,13] confirm that some Jews reentered Rome after the death of Claudius in AD 54 when his decree of AD 49 expelling Jews from Rome would have lapsed.

P. Barnett, Romans (Christian Focus 2003), 366-67.

5. Aquila and Priscilla probably hosted a church in Rome before the expulsion of Jews and Jewish Christians, then returned to Rome, after the Claudian edict had lapsed, to restore the church of Rome.

6. Priscilla was probably a Roman noblewoman who used her wealth and family connections to sponsor the nascent Christian movement. Priscilla and Aquila were Pauline missionaries and church-planters.

7. Given his role as a Pauline missionary, Aquila is probably a Christian elder or “bishop” (in the NT sense of the term). Indeed, he may have been a Jewish elder before he became a Christian elder–since Christian eldership is a carryover from Jewish eldership.

Since they hosted Christian gatherings in their various homes, they were in charge of the proceedings, in their head-of-household capacity. In addition, Priscilla was a Roman aristocrat, who outranked the plebian class. And, of course, they would have instructed the faithful in Christian doctrine and ethics.

As such, we could designate Aquila as the first pope and Priscilla as the popessa. Likewise, since they headed “the church of Rome,” this made them vicars of the heavenly head (Christ).

That usage is admittedly anachronistic, and I myself don’t subscribe to the papacy. Since, however, Catholic apologists never hesitate to retroject later unscriptural developments back into the 1C, I’m simply responding to them on their own grouds. If they reisist the application of papal terminology to Aquila and Priscilla, then they need to ditch the anachronism of a monarchical episcopate in 1C Rome.

Of course, if Peter came to town, there’s a sense in which he could pull rank on Priscilla and Aquila. But that’s true of any apostle who happened to be there.

BTW, mainstream Catholic scholars like Raymond Brown (Priest and Bishop) wouldn’t have any problem with what I’m saying. It’s only lay Catholic apologists, many of them converts to Rome, who resort to retrograde arguments for the papacy.

Partial Transcript Of The Plantinga/Dennett Debate

Some of you may remember that Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennett had a debate on the compatibility of science and religion. A reader of Triablogue told me that he's transcribed Plantinga's opening remarks. You can find links to the audio of the debate along with the transcript here.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Catholic chihuahua

Here are a few lovely quotes full of the sort of bravado, braggadocio, and bluster we've come to expect from Catholic tough guy "Nick" the brick:
In short, I know the Bible better than you and can trounce you with it. . . .

The moment you try to refute the actual arguments will be your downfall. This is very clear to me. Nobody hides and squirms like that if they have a substantial rebuttal. I predict my article will be your downfall, possibly even shutting down this blog as early as Jan 1. . . .

As to my prediction (not a prophecy), it's based on my assumption you'll eventually have to find the courage to address the argument head on, and submit to whatever Scripture ends up really teaching.
But as Peter subsequently pointed out:
Nick is the chihuahua of Catholic apologetics. He's got a high pitched squeak of a bark, and assumes that people walking down the street are running in terror from him.

And much like that poor chihuahua, he will end up crushed when his Bag Lady Owner doesn't check the seat cushion on the sofa before sitting down one Friday evening. She will probably notice him in a day or two, when the smell begins to overpower the room in a way that the poor pup only wishes he could have overpowered the room whilst alive, and she'll mumble a few words before dumping him in the dumpster out back.

And beyond the realm of the front yard, the passersby will keep passing by, unaware of the great tragedy.
All bark and no bite:

Dave and Double-Dave redux

That was then:

I have now documented twice (one / two) how Jason Engwer deliberately picks and chooses what he will deal with, when in a debate.

This is now:

I am under no obligation to debate at extreme length (which is what any debate with Bob involves) anything and everything I may make a passing comment about. If Bob Sungenis doesn't like that, he can lump it.

Dear Zac

(Zac Smith)

"Scripture is largely perspicuous"

Nick said:

Steve said: "Notice that Bryan isn’t quoting from any infallible magisterial interpretations of his prooftexts. He treats Scripture as perspicuous. And he relies on his private interpretation from start to finish." This is simply a straw man and unwarranted insult. Scripture is largely perspicuous, just not to the degree that equates to Formal Sufficiency. For example, the phrase "This is My Body" is 'plain English' to everyone reading. What isn't clear is whether this is literal, symbolic, or something in between. That's the problem. When a Catholic approaches Scripture on such questions, they are to read it just as a Protestant does: The Analogy of Faith. Not every verse has to be infallibly interpreted, the only thing the believer needs to keep in mind is that no interpretation he comes up with can contradict what is already established dogma.

I accept your concession. Scripture is clear enough to falsify unscriptural Catholic innovations, viz. the papacy, Marian dogmas, Purgatory, indulgences, the treasury of merit, the cult of the saints, &c.

Miracles In The Modern World

In a recent thread, James wrote:

Are miracles occurring today? If so, are they identifiable as being the work of specifically the Christian God? If so, how?

We have a long history with James, assuming he's the same person who keeps posting under that screen name and frequently acts the way this James has been acting. He goes on, later in the thread linked above, to ask other questions. He keeps shifting topics, and he often asks questions that have already been answered. He also has a tendency to ignore questions that are asked of him, all the while expecting others to answer his questions. Despite James' misbehavior, there are some larger issues involved that are worth addressing.

The subject of modern miracles is a big topic. It's something I occasionally study, but it's not at the forefront of my priorities. Others could address the topic far better than I'm able to. As Steve Hays mentioned in the thread linked above, the New Testament scholar Craig Keener has been working on a book that addresses the subject. I would expect that book to address some of these issues more broadly and more deeply than I could. But I do want to make some comments on the topic and recommend some resources.

Keener discusses some of his own experiences with miracles in his commentary on John (The Gospel Of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003], p. 267). In his recent book on the resurrection, Michael Licona mentions that Keener has told him that he's "discovered medical documentation" for some of the miracles he'll be discussing in his upcoming book (The Resurrection Of Jesus [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2010], n. 31 on p. 143).

We've addressed miracles in the modern world in many previous threads. See my discussion of the paranormal here and the larger thread by Steve Hays that I link there.

Gary Habermas has often addressed this subject. He has a large collection of articles and interviews at his web site, and many of those address the issue to some extent. He's done some research on near-death experiences, and he sometimes discusses modern reports of healings, for example. Here's an article in which he addresses near-death experiences. Here's a page that has a recording of a program he participated in regarding Jesus' resurrection, in which the subject of modern miracles came up. Look for the October 27, 2006 "Live With The Infidel Guy" listing. See, especially, the third audio file under that heading. He discusses a book he's been writing that, like Keener's, addresses the subject of modern miracles.

Another line of evidence is answered prayer. See, for example, Roger Steer's biography of George Muller, Delighted In God! (Wheaton, Illinois: Herald Shaw Publishers, 1981).

Or take fulfilled prophecy. By its nature, fulfilled prophecy would be more prominent at some times in history than others (the first coming of Jesus, His second coming, etc.). And sometimes the fulfillment would span centuries or millennia and would be only partial at a particular time in history. In our day, we see the ongoing fulfillment of what was predicted about the influence of Israel on the world and the influence of the messianic figure in Isaiah 52-53 (Genesis 12:3, Isaiah 52:15), for example. What was predicted in Genesis 12:3 and what Paul saw fulfilled in some measure in his day (Galatians 3:8) has expanded even further since then. The spread of Christianity, Israel's reemergence as a nation in the twentieth century, and the centrality of Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, in world affairs have prophetic significance and are largely modern developments.

Those are several lines of evidence for supernatural activity in the modern world. Much more could be said. But I want to move on to address some related issues that often come up.

What about more powerful miracles, like the parting of the Red Sea and Jesus' resurrection? Where are the modern equivalents? How do we know that the Christian God, as opposed to some other entity, has been behind the modern phenomena discussed above? Why doesn't He give us more evidence?

Again, these are big questions that I'm only going to address briefly here. We've discussed such things in the past. Those who are interested in reading more can search the archives.

Remember, the Bible doesn't limit itself to the most powerful of miracles, nor does it claim that all types of miracles will occur during all times in history, nor does it claim that every phenomenon that we classify as a miracle is performed by God. Often, people ask questions about modern miracles with some assumptions in mind that aren't Biblical assumptions. Defending a Biblical worldview doesn't require an acceptance of those unbiblical assumptions.

Much of what the Bible reports, such as visions, exorcisms, and healings, are reported in the modern world as well. And sometimes what's reported today is on the more significant end of the spectrum, such as a resurrection (in the sense of resuscitation) or some of the mediumistic evidence documented by Stephen Braude. And it would make sense if the most significant of miracles, like the parting of the Red Sea and Jesus' resurrection, would be reserved for the most significant historical moments. Why should we expect them to occur every day or even every century or every millennium?

Furthermore, it's not as though the average critic of the supernatural is willing to accept visions, healings, and contact with the dead or demons, for instance, but is unwilling to accept something like the parting of the Red Sea. Usually, the critic is skeptical of the supernatural in general. I think the request for more significant miracles is often disingenuous. The people making the request often don't accept lesser miracles even when they're given a lot of evidence for them. Asking for more doesn't explain what they already have.

And that raises the issue of how much we need. There's a difference between sufficient evidence and exhaustive evidence and categories between those two. If a woman's husband gets home from work late one evening, and she asks him why he was late, how will he respond? Let's say he was late because he stopped at the bank on the way home. Could he provide evidence by showing her a receipt and getting some footage from the security cameras at the bank? Yes. But would she want or need that much evidence? Probably not. She'd probably take him at his word, accepting his own testimony as sufficient evidence. All of us distinguish between sufficient and more than sufficient evidence in our everyday lives. Sometimes we provide people with more evidence than they need, and we're often ignorant of how much is needed, but often we knowingly provide people with less evidence than we could. For one thing, it's often an unwise use of time and other resources to provide more than what's needed. God would know how much evidence each person needs, He doesn't share our ignorance, and He has means of reaching people other than through something like a healing or a resurrection. It's not as though such miracles are the only means by which He can persuade people. God isn't a human who's trying to discern the best method of reaching as many people as possible, largely ignorant of their circumstances and the outcome of His efforts. He has more to work with (Acts 17:26-27).

Asking for modern miracles doesn't explain past miracles. The fact that the miracles occurred in the past doesn't change the fact that evidence for those miracles exists today. But we do have a lot of evidence for supernatural entities and activity in the modern world.

And Christianity doesn't claim that God performs every miracle, so a Christian wouldn't have to argue that every miracle has been performed by God. Sometimes an activity we would classify as supernatural comes from a demon or some other being who isn't God, and sometimes we don't know who was involved. Something like an answer to one of George Muller's prayers or a modern fulfillment of a Biblical prophecy could be associated with the Christian God in particular, but nothing in the Christian worldview requires that other sources not be involved or that we would even be able to identify the sources involved in every case.

The church of Ephesus

I’m catching up on some old business:

Stan Williams:

“In the RSV the language (in English) is the ‘household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.’ Which makes it clear that we're not talking about a local parish. The ‘household of God’ and ‘the church of the living God’ is universal (Catholic) concepts. And again, no mention is made of Scripture, but a body of people.”

i) How is it clear that a local church can’t be a household of God?

ii) Since the Greek construction is anarthrous, why insert a definite article before the noun?

iii) Moreover, even a Catholic commentator like Msgr. Quinn admits that house-churches were the norm at this time and place. So that would favor a local church referent.

iv) The 1C church of Rome was, itself, a local parish.

“It makes no sense that 1 Tim 3:15 refers in context to ‘only’ the Church as Ephesus.”

Since 1 Tim was addressed to a man pastoring the church of Ephesus, it makes perfect sense to refer the phrase to the church of Ephesus, whereas it makes no sense to refer the phrase to the church of Rome. What textual evidence is there that 1 Tim 3:15 denotes the church of Rome? None whatsoever. That goes against the setting.

“If so, then what authority does Paul have to write about anything?“

Apostolic authority.

“He was not under the elders at Ephesus.”

Naturally, since an apostle outranks an elder.

“There is nothing in the context that limits the definition of ‘church.’ But there is everything to imply (especially coming from a missionary ‘apostle’ like Paul) that ‘church’ here refers to the ‘wider’ universal church.”

i) To the contrary, missionaries like Paul planted local churches.

ii) Every church is not a pillar of truth. The church of Corinth was often a pillar of error. And we could cite other examples (e.g. Galatians).

“And that indeed is how the Roman Catholic Church understands it. There is the wider "church" for which the Roman Church speaks form time to time about what is true, as revealed to by the Holy Spirit to the Church as a whole.”

A circular argument. Suppose a Mormon “understood” 1 Tim 3:15 as denoting the LDS church?

“But we Catholic apologists refer to this verse to point out that the Bible NO WHERE states that the Bible is the foundation of truth.”

i) Actually, it’s better than a foundation of truth. It is the truth.

ii) To say the Bible doesn’t make a certain self-referential claim misses the point–like people who can’t see their glasses because they can’t see without their glasses.

“Indeed, the Bible points to ‘the church’ in this verse ... and the logical understanding of the infallible Word is the ‘universal’ Church.”

I don’t see you quoting an infallible magisterial interpretation of 1 Tim 3:15. Rather, I see you attempting to foist your private opinion on the rest of us.

“By the way, there was no New Testament when Paul wrote this, nor in the hundreds of years after it was distributed as a letter.”

The very fact that you’re trying to prooftext your position betrays your own (albeit inconsistent) reliance on the written word of God.

Hume on miracles

Here is one of Hume's stock objections to reported miracles:
[T]here is not to be found, in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men, 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 mankind, 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 the world, as to render the detection unavoidable: All which circumstances are requisite to give us a full assurance in the testimony of men.
However, Hume's objection easily reversible. Suppose the "educated and learned" move in social circles where belief in miracles is disdained as backward superstition–or worse? If they value their reputation, they have a powerful incentive to remain mum about a miracle even if they were to witness a miracle, or hear a credible report of a miracle from someone they trusted.

Indeed, this is more than hypothetical. We live in a time and place where peer pressure among the "educated and learned" deters the elites from admitting to belief in miracles.

A testimony from North Korea

Dr. Michael Oh relates the following story:
On the second night of the Third Lausanne Congress taking place in Cape Town, South Africa, an 18 year-old girl from North Korea shared her story.

She was born into a wealthy family, her father an assistant to the North Korean leader, Kim Jong II. Eventually her father’s political fortunes shifted, and after being politically persecuted by the North Korean government, he, his wife, and his daughter escaped to China.

In China a relative brought her family to church where her parents came to know Jesus Christ. A few months later, however, her pregnant mother died from Leukemia. Her father started to study the Bible with missionaries and eventually the Lord gave him a strong desire to become a missionary to North Korea. But in 2001 he was reported as a Christian, was arrested by the Chinese police, and was returned to North Korea. Forced to leave his daughter behind in China, he spent three years in prison. During this time the girl shared that it only "made my father’s faith stronger” and that he “cried out to God more desperately rather than complain or blame Him."

After three years he was able to return to China where he was briefly reunited with his daughter. Soon after, however, he gathered Bibles having resolved to return to North Korea to share Christ among that hopeless people. He was given the opportunity to go to South Korea, but he turned them down.

In 2006 he was discovered by the North Korean government and was arrested. There has since been no word from him. In all probability he has been shot to death publicly for treason.

In 2007 this girl, who at the time was not a Christian, was given the opportunity to go to South Korea. While still in China waiting at the Korean Consulate in Beijing to go to South Korea, she saw Jesus in a dream. Jesus, with tears in his eyes, called her by name and said, "How much longer are you going to keep me waiting? Walk with me. Yes, you lost your earthly father, but I am your heavenly Father and whatever has happened to you is because I love you."

She knelt and prayed to God for the first time and realized that “God my Father loves and cares for me so very much that He sent His Son Jesus to die for me.” She prayed, “God here I am. I just lay down everything and give you my heart, my soul, my mind, and my strength. Please use me as you will.”

Now God has given her a great love for North Korea. She shared that, "Just as my father was used there for God’s kingdom, I now desire to be obedient to God. I want to bring the love of Jesus to North Korea."

She closed with the following words:
I look back over my short life and see God’s hand everywhere. Six years in North Korea, 11 years in China, and a time of being in South Korea. Everything that I experienced and love, I want to give it all to God and use my life for His kingdom. I hope to honor my father and bring glory to my heavenly Father by serving God with my whole heart.

I believe God’s heart cries out for the lost people of North Korea. I humbly ask you, my brothers and sisters, to have the same heart of God. Please pray that the same light of God’s grace and mercy that reached my father and my mother and now me will one day come down upon the people of North Korea… my people.
HT: Randy Alcorn.

Revive our hearts

HT: Tim Challies.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The not so brites

According to Ed Babinski:

“Steve, I don't see either Gill or Calvin denying that hell is under the earth. Certainly folks in Galileo's day believed it was. They believed hell was the furthest point from heaven above, and in a geocentric cosmos that meant the center of the earth. That very point was raised against heliocentrism.”

As usual, Edski is a freethinker who can’t think his way out of a wet paper bag. Men are never dumber than when they presume to be smarter than God.

i) I gave specific textual reasons for rejecting his inference from the material he half-quoted. Edski offers no direct rebuttal.

ii) Instead, he talks about what other folks allegedly believed. But this is a tacit admission that he can’t validate his inference from the actual wording of the material he excerpted.

iii) In addition, he isn’t smart enough to draw a rudimentary distinction between a commentator’s own beliefs, and what he attributes to the author he exegetes.

For instance, imagine arguing that if John Ciardi believes in general relativity, then he will attribute general relativity to medieval physics (a la Dante). Conversely, if John Ciardi interprets Dante in terms of Aristotelian physics or Ptolemaic astronomy, then that must correspond to Ciardi’s own scientific outlook.

It is, of course, true that Gill or Calvin will endorse whatever they think the Bible teaches. But I’m just making a general observation about Edski’s glaring non sequitur.

iv) Notice that Edski also disregards the issue I raised about how the image of the subterranean earth having a “center” suggests a spherical earth rather than a flat earth.

Not only does Edski lack the smarts to think of that objection on his own, but even when I draw his attention to the issue, it continues to bounce right off his steel-plated noggin.

v) Apropos (iv), there’s an obvious tension between alleging that hell was in the center of the earth, and alleging that hell was “the farthest point” from heaven. For if hell was located in the center of the earth, how would be the farthest point from heaven?

Although he posits a triple-decker/flat-earth cosmography, Edski lacks the mental capacity to visualize the spatial relations which that model generates.

a) One problem is that Edski is vague about the specific shape of the flat earth. Is it flat like a disk, or flat like a square? Circular or rectangular?

b) If he’s going to press the imagery of “corners,” then it would be flat like a square. But if he attributes a disk-like configuration to the flat-earth, then does the center refer to a (mid-)point that’s equidistant from the surface perimeter? Like the center of a vinyl record? But that can’t be right since he is situating hell “under” the earth.

Put another way, does “center” represent a point equidistant from the circumference of a circle, or equidistant from the surface of a sphere?

If the “center” denotes a (mid-)point (i.e. core) within a spherical (or cubical) earth that’s equidistant from the surface of the sphere (or cube), and heaven is above the disk (or cube), then the midpoint wouldn’t be the farthest conceivable point from heaven.

Rather, the way to construct a hell that’s as far a possible from heaven, is not to put hell inside the earth, but to put heaven on one side of the earth, then put hell on the opposite side. A podal/antipodal relation, like the north pole and the south pole. Of course, that would involve a spherical earth.

Another schematic possibility is to locate hell in the middle of the (flat? spherical?) earth, then situate heaven exactly the same distance above the surface of the earth as you situate hell below the surface of the earth.

However, on that view hell would have to be deeper than the mountains are high; otherwise, heaven wouldn’t actually be “above” the earth. For the bottom of heaven would be lower than the highest mountain peaks.

How thick or deep was the flat-earth? Does Edski have ancient measurements? Was the depth of the flat-earth commensurate with the height of the mountains?

c) Did ancient men climb to heaven by taking a hike up the tallest mountain in their vicinity? Was that a common experience in the ANE? How did they penetrate the “solid dome”? Did they use a blowtorch to cut a door? What’s the melting point of heaven’s dome?

How did Isaiah, Daniel, Paul, and John the Revelator experience heaven? Did they climb a nearby mountain? Of did they have a vision?

“The Gill and Calvin quotations and some others were collected by an inerrantist brethren of yours, in fact a Christian whose views lay to the RIGHT of yours theologically, King James Only.”

The fact that Edski relies on a KJV-Onlyist crackpot as his source of information regarding historical views of western cosmography tells you something about the caliber of his scholarship (or lack thereof).

BTW, would his sidekick, Paul Tobin, regard a KJV-Onlyist as an example of “mainstream/critical” scholarship?

“And have you disproven Augustine's view that hell was under earth, which he affirmed at the end of his lifelong career of Bible study in his Retr. or disproven that same view found among modern day inerrantists?”

i) Since Augustine was a notorious allegorist, I don’t regard him as the touchstone of reliable exegesis.

ii) Moreover, Edski recently assured us that the church fathers are way to late to tell us anything useful about what OT or NT writers thought. Why is he reversing himself?

“The view that hell lay under the earth, that living beings lay under the earth is not something I invented.”

True. It's something you copied (by your own admission) from a KJV-Onlyist. Truly impressive scholarship!

“It's something people have imagined from ancient Mesopotamian times to today.”

You keep recycling the same discredited claims.

“Why you feel so certain (as only a 20th century inerrantist who has probably seen diagrams of the earth's interior) that such a view as ‘hell beneath the earth’ was NEVER assumed by any Biblical author anywhere in the OT or NT -- is something you have not demonstrated.”

To the contrary, I’ve marshaled a series of arguments for which you offer no direct rebuttal. You, by contrast, continue to do a spot-on impersonation of a parakeet. You excel at repeating the same rote words and phrases.

Actually, that’s not fair to parakeets. Unlike you, even a parakeet has a capacity to learn new words and phrases.

What Are Spiritual Gifts?

What Are Spiritual Gifts? by Vern Poythress (PDF).

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Pagan miracles

One stock objection which unbelievers level against Biblical miracles is to cite reported miracles outside the sphere of Christianity. For some odd reason, unbelievers seem to think that if Christianity were true, only Christians would experience miracles. Yet that’s a non sequitur.

Let’s take the following episode from Bible history. It is told from the viewpoint of the Jewish narrator. But imagine the event from the receiving end. Imagine seeing the same event through the eyes of the heathen to whom, for whom, and among whom, it occurred. They would rightly report a miracle in their midst. Yet this would in no way conflict with Biblical miracles since the miracle in question is, in fact, a Biblical miracle.

1 Samuel 5

1When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. 3And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. 5This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.
6 The hand of the LORD was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory. 7And when the men of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, "The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for his hand is hard against us and against Dagon our god." 8So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, "What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?" They answered, "Let the ark of the God of Israel be brought around to Gath." So they brought the ark of the God of Israel there. 9But after they had brought it around, the hand of the LORD was against the city, causing a very great panic, and he afflicted the men of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them. 10So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. But as soon as the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, "They have brought around to us the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people." 11 They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, "Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people." For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there. 12The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven.

Godless gaffe

In politics, a gaffe is defined by when a gov’t official accidentally says what he really thinks. You’re not supposed to let the electorate in on what you truly plan do to. At best, you save the bad news until after the election.

We see the same dynamic in atheism. This accounts for the ironic spectacle of militant atheists who express outrage if Christians depict atheism on its own terms. That’s “insensitive” (or worse).

Atheism is unspeakable when the consequences count. And death is one of those things where the consequences count.

Atheistic bravado in the face of death is shaken when the decedent is a friend. Or when he dies prematurely. That cuts too close to home.

Francis Schaeffer famously argued that atheism is unlivable. It’s not a creed that individuals can consistently live by or live out. They fudge. They cheat.

Infidels ordinarily strike a truth-for-truth’s-sake pose. But when issue at hand happens to be a dead atheist, then you’re not supposed to speak the truth–for the sake of the living. How dare you depict the fate of an atheist in atheistic terms! Even though atheism is true (so we’re told), you should spare the feelings of the living by tactfully acting as if atheism is false. Nothing could be ruder than to share the truth when the implications actually stick. When they impact the hearts and lives of real people.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Balance of power

The good news: in politics, nothing is forever.
The bad news: in politics, nothing is forever.

Force fed up



(The following is a reprint of a blog post I wrote on November 5, 2008, with bolded “I told you so” passages for purposes of gloating stoically rubbing our chins in deep contemplation.)

Now Is Our Time

Some Conservatives are naturally upset about how the election has gone. But while The One campaigned successfully with his mantra of “hope” and “change,” it has always been the Conservatives that embody hope. Indeed, unlike the Liberals who immediately whine of stolen elections when they don’t get their way, Conservatives do not live and die by political fortunes because we recognize that we are some things (read: “almost everything”) more important than politics.

So while it is okay for Conservatives to be disappointed that the Omighty One is elected, as a Conservative myself I see the countless reasons to remain optimistic, even in “defeat.” Consider just one number for a moment:


That’s how many people (according to the counts at the time of this writing—and look for it to be revised upward too) who voted against the Anointed One. Fifty-five million is not a small number. Fifty-five million is, indeed, a very substantial portion of our voting population.

There is fear that Obamessiah will try to institute many of his radical ideas. The media, who failed to do basic journalism and were so in the tank for the Chosen One from day one, engineered a victory for a man with some of the most questionable associations, statements, and beliefs ever elected. We’ve seen O lie about public financing, promise to bankrupt coal companies, and continue to lower the dollar cut-off for whose taxes will be raised upon.

But 55 million people are a check against him. Even with majorities in Congress, the Democrats have to acknowledge that the electorate has only given them a razor thin edge at the moment; if they try to do anything radical, that edge will shift immediately to the Republicans.

Conservatives can take heart about this. We are logical people. We understand that reality is real. All our dreams (or our father’s dreams) and hopes do not change what is real. And the reality is: 55,543,527 is not a landslide loss.

But while Conservatives deal with reality, let us also use our imaginations for just one moment. McCain got 55 million votes. Imagine what we could have done with a real candidate.

See, the Republicans nominated a weak candidate. McCain was burdened by being in the same party as an unpopular president, he was outspent in commercials, faced a hostile media, was inarticulate and unable to debate to save his life (or in this case his candidacy)…and he still got 55 million votes. Change any one of these factors and he would have won. So what could we have done with a real Conservative, one who understands Conservativism and therefore can defend it even against all of the above?

There is no reason we can’t have a real candidate in the future. Indeed, if Republicans are paying attention we will get that real candidate in four years.

Moderate Republicanism is a dead-end. And this election demonstrates the fruit of selling out our core principals. If Republicans ignore Conservatives, they lose; it’s that simple. If Americans want Liberalism, they can vote Democrat. If Republicans do not offer an alternative then why are they surprised when they lose?

Just to make it personal, after 2004 I could see that the Republican Party had strayed from its Conservative base. As a result, in 2006 I ceased to call myself a Republican. As Ronald Reagan would have said: “I did not leave the Republican Party; the Republican Party left me.” The Republicans ought to have seen the problems in 2006 given their massive losses in Congress. They ought to have realized that they could not win on a moderate ticket; they had to return to their Conservative roots.

They didn’t. Instead, they nominated McCain. Conservatives were told, “Support McCain because he’s electable.” (Good call there, RNC!) But I couldn’t do so. Only after what the media did to Joe the Plummer did I even think to vote for McCain. I never supported McCain, though; I just despised the media. And I’m not at all heartbroken that McCain lost. I had nothing invested in this man.

There’s more reason to hope though than just McCain. The Republican losses extended well beyond the presidency. The Democrats increased their majorities in both branches of Congress. This ought to be a major wake-up call for the Republican Party: you CANNOT win on moderate Republicanism!

Because we’ve now had two straight losses due to moderate Republicanism, even the densest political strategist ought to grasp that. That’s why McCain’s loss should be a good thing for Republicans. See, Conservatives like me are still waiting for you, dear leaders of the RNC, to return from your prodigal path. If you use this opportunity to reform and return to your Conservative roots, you will find success once again…plus I’ll be able to call myself a Republican again.

As I stated earlier, Conservativism is built upon logic. Unfortunately, logic is intentionally no longer taught in public school. But it is not very difficult to grasp for those who are interested in learning it, and simple analogies (which require candidates who are good at thinking on their feet, unlike McCain) can quickly show the error of virtually every fallacy even for those who do not wish to see. We need to teach people logic once again, to show them how empty and hollow Liberal rhetoric is.

Conservative ideas are strong because they are based on reality, not illusory dreams. It is preferable to be the party of rationality than the party of emotionalism, even if most people these days are irrational. This is still a position of strength because (as I also stated above) reality is real. That which is based on reason will win out in the end, no matter how deluded anyone may be.

This is why Conservativism wins. This is why we cannot give up on it for an easy “win” by caucusing with the intellectually lazy.

Related to that, we must argue for our ideas, especially since we do live in irrational times. It is not enough to simply present those ideas and hope others see the logic of the position. We must be able to defend each and every Conservative position. This requires Conservatives to have an understanding of Conservativism; we cannot accept candidates who claim to be Conservatives but who have no understanding of the philosophy behind it. This is how we ended up with moderate Republicans in the first place, and we’ve seen where that leads us. If Republicans seriously want to win again, they need to winnow the field. Cast out the RINOs. Insist that if you are going to call yourself a Republican there are certain philosophical standards you must uphold.

If Republicans do that, then they will begin to win again. But if they do not—if they are still convinced that “moderate” is the way to go—then Conservatives need to take the next step. This election ought to be our line in the sand. If the Republicans won’t return, then it is time for us to get rid of them. It is time for Conservatives to form their own party. Conservatives may have been hesitant in the past because we did not wish to lose everything by dividing the Republican vote with a third party…but Republicans have lost everything anyway. Conservatives have nothing left to lose in forming our own party.

It would naturally be preferable for Republicans to return to the Conservative fold. But this election has shown us that we Conservatives no longer need to be tied to Republicans on the false hope that it will provide us victory. And that, perhaps, is the greatest reason for optimism of all.

So Conservatives take heart. We did not lose this election, and now is the time to take back our party. The chaff has been cleared away, the façade broken. All excuses are banished. Now is our time.
Incidentally, right before I wrote the above post, I also posted:
…I actually look at it with relief to know that now we no longer have to put up with spineless “moderates” under the guise that “they’re still winning.” They’re not. And after four years of hell, Conservatives will be poised to recapture everything (well, we’ll get Congress in 2 years).
So now that we’ve established that I’m a better prophet than Benny Hinn, it’s time for you to all reach deep into your pocket and send me some cash!!!

Bryan's pacifier

Theologically they [Protestants] oppose the very notion that some communion or institution is the one that Christ founded, referring to such a notion as ‘sectarian’ or ‘sectarianism.’ From their point of view, all those who love Jesus are equally members of the Church that Christ founded. They do not believe that Christ through His Apostles gave charge of His Church to an hierarchy of bishops in a perpetual line of succession having an essential unity that is essentially visible. In their view, the Church Christ founded is fundamentally an invisible union of all those who love Jesus, no matter what their denomination or tradition.

So far so good.

Some Protestants who know of the Catholic Church’s claim to be the Church that Christ founded are not offended by this claim. They are not offended by it, because they remember Protestantism’s historical origin in the Catholic Church. They remember that in the minds of the first Protestants, the intention was not to separate from the Catholic Church, but to reform the Catholic Church. For these first Protestants, their resulting separation from the Catholic Church was a kind of ‘necessary evil,’ not intended to create one or many schisms from the Church, but to bring needed moral and doctrinal reform to the very same Church that Christ had founded. In the minds of those first Protestants, this separation was to persist only until the Catholic Church was sufficiently reformed, so that they could return to full communion with her. The present-day Protestants who remember this obviously do not believe that the Catholic Church is infallible; that is why they believe that they can justifiably be separated from her. But they do believe that the Catholic Church from which they are visibly separated is (or has the best claim to being the visible continuation of) the Church that Christ founded, and they look to be reunited to her as soon as she is sufficiently reformed.5

Carl carries with him a memory that many if not most Protestants have forgotten, the old ancestral memory of having once been Catholic, before the events of the sixteenth century. He carries within himself this memory of Protestants’ true home and family, understanding that Protestants as such are in essence Catholics-in-exile whose Catholic ancestors in the sixteenth century made the painful decision to live in exile from the Catholic Church until she had sufficiently reformed, never intending to be or form a permanently separate body or group of bodies. This is what Protestant fathers used to teach to their children. But memories are feeble and naturally fade and grow dull with the passing of the centuries. Eventually Protestant fathers no longer taught this to their children, and these children grew up not even knowing that they were in exile. They came to think that schism from the Church was normal, because they no longer retained even the concept of schism from the Church.

These descendants of the earlier Protestants have completely forgotten that they were separated from anything. And without this memory, there no longer stirs within them any longing for the conclusion of the Catholic Church’s reformation so that they can be reunited to her. Instead, understandably, their discovery of the Catholic Church’s claim to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded arouses in them some degree of resentment and offense.

For them, the question “How would Protestants know when to return?” makes no sense, because they have forgotten that they were waiting to return to anything. They have forgotten from whence they came, as Protestants. Carl would have them remember. He would have every Protestant get out of bed each morning asking himself whether there remain any good reasons for not returning to full communion with the Catholic Church. Carl understands that those who have no such good reasons, but who remain Protestant, are perpetuating an “act of schism.”7 By his prescription, every Protestant should place the following question in a prominent place by his bed, and read it aloud every morning first thing when he gets out of bed, and teach his children to do the same:

“Why have I not yet returned to full communion with the Catholic Church?”

Not only would this daily practice help Protestants see the Catholic Church as their true home, and Catholics as their separated brothers and sisters, it would also encourage Protestants to pray for Catholics and the Catholic Church from a perspective of love and affection and longing, as one would pray for an estranged sibling, spouse or parent. Before we can begin talking about whether the Reformation is over, and how Protestants would know when it is time to come back to the Catholic Church, Protestants (and Catholics) must first recover our collective memory of our former union in one and the same Church, and the fact of our having become separated in the sixteenth century. The “when should we return” question can make no sense to Protestants until they see themselves daily as Catholics-in-exile from the their own Catholic Church, waiting eagerly to return home and be reunited to the family from which they have been separated now for almost five hundred years.

Several basic problems with this analysis:

i) There is Bryan’s tendentious use of Jungian categories (e.g. ancestral memory, collective consciousness) and genealogical metaphors (e.g. Mother Church).

ii) But if we strip away the Jungian psychology and the tendentious metaphors, his claim in part boils down to the banal observation that, in some sense, the past causes the present. So, in a sense, the Protestant Reformation came out of the Roman church.

But although there’s a causal continuity between the past and the present, that doesn’t mean folks living in the present should necessarily feel homesick or orphaned or exiled. Let’s explore a different, but related metaphor: immigration.

i) Some immigrants are refugees. They love their homeland, but were forced to leave. So they always feel wistful for their homeland.

ii) But other immigrants leave because they want to. There are folks who hate their hometown, homestate, or homeland. They are just dying for an opportunity to move away.

iii) Likewise, immigrants can have very different views of the host country. The parents may always regret having to leave the fatherland. They may never feel that they belong here.

But if their kids came here at an early age, or if their kids were born here, then this is their home. They don’t wax nostalgic for the old country. They don’t feel like exiles. They identify with the land of their birth, and not their parents’ birthplace.

There is no longing to return home. For them, they can’t go back since they didn’t come from there in the first place. That is not a defining space for them.

iv) We all have many ancestors we don’t know about. Even people who make the family genealogy their personal hobby can only trace the family tree back so far. So the cut-off is inherently arbitrary. They simply run out of links. Run out of records.

Does that mean I feel rootless or homeless because I don’t know who all my ancestors were? But, of course, that’s absurd.

Yes, there’s a sense in which you can trace evangelicalism back in time to the Latin church. But in terms of historical continuity and historical causation, the Latin church doesn’t pop into existence ex nihilo. There’s a past that lies behind the Latin church as well. Like the pre-Christian Greco-Roman Empire. Should I long to be reunited with my separated heathen forebears? What about estranged pagans? Maybe I have a witchdoctor in my family tree. What a loss!

v) There is also a tacitly ethnocentric, if not racist, undertone to Bryan’s argument. No doubt there’s a sense in which a educated white American like Bryan might identify with Western civilization as his reference point, but what about, say, Chinese Christians or sub-Saharan black African Christians? Do they naturally trace their social identity back to 1C Italy?

What about Messianic Jews? Or American-Indian Christians? And so on and so forth?

There’s a kind of white-is-right undercurrent to Bryan’s appeal. But Christianity is inherently transnational and multiethnic.

It’s not as if all Christians subconsciously identify with Palestrina or Latin liturgy or Renaissance architecture or Raphaelite Madonnas as their emotional motherland. Bryan keeps projecting his own sentimental immaturities and insecurities onto everyone else.

Today, as many Protestants celebrate “Reformation Day,” and we Catholics reflect upon the events that separated millions of Christians from us, we would do well to remember that reforming and separation must never be ends in themselves, least of all to the point of becoming so comfortable with schism that we forget that it exists, or that we are in it. Today we ought to reflect on the schism that continues to divide Protestants and Catholics, and earnestly pray that God by His grace may reconcile us, in one family, at one table, so that the world may see our unity in love and know that this love is from Christ, and that Christ is from the Father.

If you’re reconciled to Christ, then you’re ipso facto reconciled to the sheep.

The earthly church

They [Protestants] came to believe that the Church Christ founded was not a visible institution, was not even visible at all, even though some still used the term ‘visible Church.’6 For many, if not most, the Church is an entirely spiritual entity to which one is fully united by a merely spiritual act of faith, such as a sinner’s prayer.

This is false. The question at issue is not whether Protestants believe in a visible church, but how the church is manifested in history. Put another way, how is our invisible bond with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, under the invisible headship of Christ (who is presently in heaven), visibly manifested in time and space?

The visible church is the outward flowering of God’s invisible grace (e.g. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit,” Jn 3:8).

Christians have an inner life which is, in turn, lived out in our tangible, embodied, communal existence. In fellowship with other members of the family of faith.

What is unseen gives rise to what is seen. The spiritual dimension animates the physical dimension.

But it doesn’t necessarily work in reverse. For appearances can be deceptive. What is seen is sometimes just an empty shell.

Likewise, Protestants don’t identify the visible church with one particular expression of the church on earth.

Biblical "discrepancies"

Liberals and outright unbelievers typically alleged that Biblical narratives contradict each other. Various reasons are assigned to these contradictions: one Bible writer didn’t know what they other author wrote: each Bible writer was preserving different, divergent traditions; one Bible writer was consciously advocating a rival version of events.

Here are two sets of parallel accounts, which narrate two interrelated events:

1. Version 1A

1At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, "Cornelius." 4And he stared at him in terror and said, "What is it, Lord?" And he said to him, "Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. 6He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea." 7When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, 8and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.

2. Version 2A

30And Cornelius said, "Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31and said, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.' 33So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord."

3. Version 1B

9The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13And there came a voice to him: "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." 14But Peter said, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." 15And the voice came to him again a second time, "What God has made clean, do not call common." 16This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
17Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate 18and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are looking for you. 20Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them." 21And Peter went down to the men and said, "I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?" 22And they said, "Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say." 23So he invited them in to be his guests.

The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him.

34So Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ ( he is Lord of all), 37you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

44While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" 48And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

4. Version 2B
4But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 "I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7And I heard a voice saying to me, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.' 8But I said, 'By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' 9But the voice answered a second time from heaven, 'What God has made clean, do not call common.' 10This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.' 15As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?"

If these variant accounts occurred in four separate books of the Bible, liberals would write learned monographs discussing the independent origin of each. They’d assign different redactors and different dates to each account. They’d reconstruct the community to which, for which, and from which, each account emanated. They’d recreate the socioeconomic situation of each target community. They’d delineate the distinctive theological agenda of each redactor. They’d meticulously tabulate the irreconcilable discrepancies between one account and a rival account. This would all be done with brilliant ingenuity and impressive erudition. "Fundamentalist" Christians who attempted to harmonize these accounts would be accused to special pleading.

But there’s only one problem: these four accounts occur in the very same book, back-to-back (Acts 10-11). They were meant to be read together. To contribute to the same overarching narrative.

No Evidence?

From time to time, we get non-Christian posters who make comments like the following from rrlane in a recent thread:

Actually the big issue is that you're teaching kids something that there is no evidence for.

Often, the same people who make such comments rarely or never attempt to interact with our arguments for Christianity. We post on such issues frequently, and people like the non-Christians who have been posting here in recent threads don't participate in those discussions about evidence. That's their choice. But when they do decide to comment on evidential issues, like rrlane did above, shouldn't they attempt to interact with what we've already said about such things? Or if they aren't familiar with our material, why don't they familiarize themselves with some of it or at least interact with arguments they're familiar with from other sources?

Why is it that so many atheists and other critics of Christianity who have so little to say when we're posting about evidence for Christianity find so much more to say when a less substantive topic comes up? They see an opportunity to complain about how Steve Hays is responding to Ken Pulliam's death, so they post. They see an opportunity to issue some vague, common objections to Calvinism, so they post. But they're more silent in other contexts. Why is that? If these people are as concerned about evidence as they claim, then why does their behavior suggest otherwise?

Maybe some of these people are new to the blog. But I've noticed the pattern described above for a long time and with a lot of individuals. People who object to an alleged lack of evidence in one context are often silent in other contexts in which evidence is being discussed.

For those not familiar with our material on the evidence for Christianity, I'll point you to some representative examples. You can also search the site with our search engine above or with Google, for example, if you want to find something else. We've published some ebooks on evidential issues, such as here and here. You can find a topical index of Steve Hays' posts here. We've written many posts about evidence for the paranormal, the infancy narratives, and Jesus' resurrection, for example. We've addressed these kinds of issues many times and in a lot of depth.

As I noted in a recent series of posts (here, here, and here), Christianity has set itself within an evidential framework from the start. Evidential concepts like eyewitness testimony and fulfilled prophecy are prominent in both the Old and New Testaments. Churches like the ones in Smyrna and Rome were prominent in early Christianity largely for reasons related to historical evidence, particularly the churches' historical relationship with one or more of the apostles. Somebody like rrlane could interact with traditional Christian arguments or explain why he finds more recent efforts, like Richard Bauckham's Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006) or Michael Licona's The Resurrection Of Jesus (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2010), unconvincing. But just making vague references to "no evidence", as you avoid so many threads at the same blog in which evidence is discussed, is insufficient.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The All-seeing Watchmaker


“If Calvinism turns out to be true, then Ken is exactly where God wanted him to be. Ken never had any real choice in the matter. Ken's final destination was planned out long before he was ever born. It's all part of the script that was foreordained for Ken's life. Seems like the charge of human beings as nothing but ‘robots’ can apply equally as well to the Calvinistic worldview.”

This is what passes for intelligent argument in pop atheism.

i) I’ve often pointed out the inadequacies of the robotic metaphor in reference to Calvinism. Walter offers no counterargument.

ii) His criticism also disregards the literature on compatibilism and semicompatibilism.

iii) I’m not the one who leveled the “charge”; rather, I’m merely reproducing the language of Richard Dawkins.

iv) I, as a Calvinist, don’t take offense what someone characterizes me in Calvinistic terms. However, infidels have taken offense when I characterize an atheist in atheistic terms.

Therefore, the attempted analogy is fundamentally disanalogous.

Walter’s comparison also suffers from a fatal equivocation of terms. Here is Dawkins’ actual statement: “We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.”

Is that parallel to Calvinism?

v) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Calvinism turns men into robots, we wouldn’t be “blindly-programmed” robots. For the God of Calvinism would be the All-seeing Watchmaker, and not the Blind Watchmaker of naturalistic evolution. As such, men would be omnisciently-programmed, not blindly-programmed. And that’s hardly a trivial difference.

vi) We wouldn’t be vehicles to transmit our genes.

vii) Even if the reprobate (e.g. Pharaoh) have a “vehicular” function, the elect do not.

vii) We wouldn’t be machines, for men are ensouled creatures, not simply bodies.

viii) And we don’t survive for the sake of replicating ourselves.

Ode to the New Atheists

New Atheists like to put on a front they pretend heroic,
To pat one on the back, and call the other a stoic
But in this world they built from visions so myopic
One sad event exposes all they made as mere sophomoric.

For you see the castles they have built are sculpted hypocrisy
Denying all eternity in pursuit of expediency.
Yet when push comes to shove you’ll find interdependency
Between their claims and the morals they identify as deviancy.

For lo!, when things are looking up, the atheist is quite sure
That morals are delusions, tricks to make you feel secure.
But in reality there is nothing at all that is impure
(If there’s one thing that is certain, on this they’re not demure!)

They fight against all claims of virtue, any standards of behavior.
“We are good for goodness sake; we need not your Savior.”
They’ll do it all their own way, saying “We’ll keep that for which we labor.
While we tend to our own needs, you go grovel for your neighbor.”

They claim morality is a lie, a deceit of evolution’s wheel.
It’s nothing but serendipity, a matter of how you feel.
There’s no standard, it’s all relative, and it’s best that you steel
Yourself rather than bend the knee and kneel.

Yet let just one of them kick the bucket and they become the greatest moralists!
Telling you what you dare not say, they’re always there to assist
And order you to “shut up, shut up!”—and how they do persist
With a zeal that makes up for all the times their morals have been missed!

Let the one who died be a champion striving for non-faith
And suddenly they all realize that nowhere for them is safe;
So lashing out like little kids, they attack and they strafe
Their own troops they’ve put forth, like some evil haunted wraith.

For suddenly they’ve discovered laws that apply to you and me.
No longer are they opinion. No! They’re dogma, can’t you see?
You must submit to their demands, it is a moral decree
That one not inform the atheists of their fate in eternity.

For that would be too insensitive—wait for the corpse to cool
And give them time to forget how they live but as a tool
To the bleakness of a future built without sanity’s rule.
Truly, the more they whine and cry, the more they play the fool.

So take these hypocrites away, be done with them at last.
They played loose and free, and it ended in a blast.
And now they’re left with a mess to clean in the filth that they’ve amassed
In a wasted life spent in their own void, so infinite and vast.

Preach not to me, you atheist, you lying hypocrite
Who now deigns to condemn all that you would so easily permit
Were it not for but just one man whose body merely quit.
Such is your “virtue”, and we all know, that it is not legit.

Death: the final debunker

Infidels like to play atheist. Play the moral relativist. They talk tough in the face of death–as long as death remains a vague abstraction.

Like Harvey, atheism is their invisible 6'3.5" rabbit. A marvelous make-believe playmate. And as long as you play along with their special friend, then all is well.

It’s fun to play atheist as long as you don’t treat it for real. For instance, never preach an atheistic eulogy at an atheistic funeral. That would hurt the feelings of the survivors.

Atheism isn’t something an atheist thinks you should talk about at a wake or morgue or funeral. To honestly state what mortality means in atheistic terms is something deeply offensive to the average atheist. Instead, you’re supposed to wink and nod at Harvey the Rabbit.

When you lose a loved one to atheism

There are Christians who lose a friend, father, mother, brother, or sister, husband or wife to atheism. This is a shattering experience. They were hoping to spend eternity with their loved one. Now they have to face the future without that prospect.

Yet if a Christian comments on the death of an atheist in terms of what death meant to a human biological unit from the viewpoint of atheism, that’s grossly insensitive to the feelings of the survivors.

But somehow this sensitivity is irrelevant when militant infidels poach on vulnerable Christian. They show no concern for the feelings of his Christian friends and family, who must deal with the emotional loss as best they can.

Double standards

David said:
If you're born an a[--]hole, you'll be an a[--]hole, regardless of any religious beliefs. All relgion [sic] tends to do is amplify, excuse and sometimes empower a[--]-holyness. Rho's actions repeatedly show that he doesn't really believe that the Bible is the absolute truth. It has no real impact on who he fundamentally is.
Since evidently irreligious people like David are trying to hold Christians like Rhology to their own standards, then why is it wrong if Christians try to hold atheists to their own standards?

Coping with death

On the one hand:

The late Ken Pulliam appears to have written some blog posts in advance and scheduled them to appear, and so those who read his blog have the eerie experience of reading new posts from a blogger who is no longer with us.

Unfortunately the first comment is from Rhology, known to most readers of this blog, who has decided to bring yet further shame on himself and his faith tradition by harassing someone who has recently died and has no opportunity to respond.

Posted by James F. McGrath at 8:47 AM

On the other hand:

In any case, the universe doesn’t owe us comfort, and the fact that a belief is comforting doesn’t make it true. The God Delusion doesn’t set out to be comforting, but at least it is not a placebo.

If it's true that it causes people to feel despair, that's tough. It's still the truth. The universe doesn't owe us condolence or consolation; it doesn't owe us a nice warm feeling inside. If it's true, it's true, and you'd better live with it.

Dead robots

According to various notices on the Internet, the robot vehicle known as Ken Pulliam self-terminated from a massive heart attack at the age of 50. Over at Common Sense Atheism and Debunking Christianity, other survival machines are currently performing their blindly-programmed grieving rituals.

An interview with Matt Chandler

Justin Taylor has posted a brief interview with Matt Chandler one year after his surgery. Not only is it a testament to God's graciousness and sovereignty in Chandler's life but it's also a testament to God's graciousness and sovereignty in the church, The Village.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The witness of Luke

Liberals typically deny that any of the four gospels preserve eyewitness testimony. They deny the apostolic authorship of Matthew and John. They date all four gospels as late as they can to put them as far as possible out of reach of living memory. And they also postulate a lengthy phase of fairly creative oral transmission before redactors even committed this tradition to writing.

They basically view the gospels as allegories for the circumstances of the church at the time the gospels were “really” written. According to them, redactors concoct speeches and incidents to furnish a backstory for church doctrine and practice.

Conversely, conservatives traditionally regard two of the four gospels as having been written by apostles. As such, they transcribe direct eyewitness testimony. Conservatives also think Mark contains eyewitness testimony, because Mark is channeling the witness of Peter. And they think Luke contains eyewitness testimony drawn from his oral and written sources.

Without denying that Mark is passing along eyewitness testimony which he heard from his circle of informants, I’ve also argued that since he was a native of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), Mark was probably an eyewitness in his own right whenever Jesus came to town.

It’s usually assumed that although Luke was an eyewitness to some events recorded in Acts, he was not an eyewitness to any events record in his gospel. However, the wording of his prologue doesn’t actually say that, and may even point in the opposite direction.

One ambiguity is the way he includes himself in the statement about “the things accomplished among us” (Lk 1:1). Since that statement introduces the gospel, you’d expect that statement to cover at least some events recorded in the Gospel account.

Some commentators think it anticipates the “we-sections” in Acts. But while the statement may well take a long-range view, it would be odd for Luke to introduce his Gospel with this self-inclusive reference, only to drop it for the entire gospel narrative, and then expect his audience to pick up on claim when they finally got around to Acts.

And that’s not the only potentially self-referential statement of its kind in the prologue. As one commentator notes,
“Eyewitnesses” (autoptes). The word, which is absent from the LXX, is comparatively rare in Greek writers, and tends to occur in a limited number of specialist contexts. The principal meaning of autopsia is…"seeing something for oneself.” It was thus used by geographers of the knowledge of foreign lands acquired by personally visiting them, or from those who had done so…In its rare occurrence in the papyri an autoptes is someone commissioned to investigate or inspect–an observer or overseer. In scientific, especially medical works it belongs closely with the author’s claim to experience, and with the necessity of basing the science on the observation of empirical data rather than dogma…The idea was given a special slant by Thucydides (though not the word, which he never uses), when in his account of his sources and method in his preface (I, 22), he refers to his presence at some of the events he records, and to his ability to examine witnesses, which meant that his history had to be for the most part of contemporary events. This established a convention, and is repeated with or without the word autoptes, sometimes in prefaces and sometimes with the narrative itself, of a succession of historians…In which tradition Luke stands here is difficult to say, since autoptai has no object. If this is to be supplied for “the things which have been accomplished among us” from the previous verse, then the claim could be for eyewitnesses as the basis of the accounts both of the Gospel and of Acts, C. F. Evans, Saint Luke (Trinity Press 1990), 126-27. 
“For some time past” (anothen), characterizing Luke’s activity of following, not that which he had followed. The word occurs again in Luke-Acts only at Acts 26:5, also in proximity to ap’arches="from the beginning.” The two could be synonymous…In that case Luke would be stressing that his personal activity and familiarity with the events went as far back, and was as original, as that of the eyewitnesses and ministers of the word. But they could be distinguished, as, in the view of some, in Acts 26:4f…Luke’s claim would then be to accurate personal knowledge of the Christian movement from a long time back, ibid. 131. Richard Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 116-24) and Craig Keener (The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, 91f.) also have some useful analysis of the prologue's terminology.
So Luke may well be telling the reader that he was a sometime witness to events in the Gospel as well as his history of the church. In that case, his Gospel has a foundation in his firsthand observations, supplemented by written sources (e.g. Mark) as well as interviews he conducted with other eyewitnesses.

Of course, we don’t know the circumstances under which he might have had occasion to observe certain incidents in the Gospel, although it’s easy to speculate. Perhaps he made his living in Jerusalem as a physician who treated military detachments stationed there or thereabouts. That might also explain his friendship with Theophilus, assuming that Theophilus was a centurion or some other Roman official (e.g. procurator) connected with the occupation of Palestine.

Although he wasn’t commissioned in the sense that Jesus commissioned the apostles, and though he didn’t have the daily contact with Jesus which the Twelve had, that doesn’t mean he was in no position to see what he reports.

There were many eyewitnesses to what Jesus said and did besides the Twelve. Observers who were present at some event or another–depending on where they happened to live, or how much leisure time they had to follow Jesus around.

My point is not to prove anything–much less demarcate his sources. My point, rather, is that it’s inaccurate to claim Luke could not have been on the scene at some the events he relays in the Gospel bearing his name. The prologue doesn’t rule that out. If anything, he includes himself in the narrative–as a sometime spectator or participant.

Remembering Halloween And Forgetting The Reformation

Many millions of people will dress up in costumes and collect candy, watch football on their television, and do other things today that are so insignificant. A far smaller number will remember the love and labors of some people who came before us who suffered and died for our benefit, whose ideas and efforts have transformed the world. Our society does so much to remember our nation's history, our military, and civil rights leaders, for example, but so little to remember other things. Individuals, families, churches, and nations continue to benefit from the Reformation, but often with little recognition of it.

"Those preachers whose voices were clear and mighty for truth during life continue to preach in their graves. Being dead, they yet speak; and whether men put their ears to their tombs or not, they cannot but hear them...Often, the death of a man is a kind of new birth to him; when he himself is gone physically, he spiritually survives, and from his grave there shoots up a tree of life whose leaves heal nations. O worker for God, death cannot touch thy sacred mission! Be thou content to die if the truth shall live the better because thou diest. Be thou content to die, because death may be to thee the enlargement of thine influence. Good men die as dies the seed-corn which thereby abideth not alone. When saints are apparently laid in the earth, they quit the earth, and rise and mount to Heaven-gate, and enter into immortality. No, when the sepulcher receives this mortal frame, we shall not die, but live." (Charles Spurgeon, cited in The C.H. Spurgeon Collection [Albany, Oregon: AGES Software, 1998], A Biography Pictoral Of C.H. Spurgeon, p. 3)

"I dread much the spirit which would tamper with the Truth of God for the sake of united action, or for any object under Heaven—the latitudinarian spirit, which sneers at creeds and dogmas. Truth is no trifle. Our fathers did not think so, when, at the stake they gave themselves to death, or on the brown heather of Scotland fell beneath the swords of Claverhouse’s dragoons for truths which nowadays men count unimportant, but which, being truths, were to them so vital that they would sooner die than suffer them to be dishonored. O for the same uncompromising love of the Truth!" (Charles Spurgeon)

"Upon the day that was appointed for this holy martyr of God [John Lambert] to suffer, he was brought out of the prison at eight o'clock in the morning unto the house of the Lord Cromwell, and so carried into his inward chamber, where, it is reported of many, that Cromwell desired of him forgiveness for what he had done. There, at the last, Lambert, being admonished that the hour of his death was at hand, was greatly comforted and cheered; and, being brought out of the chamber into the hall, he saluted the gentlemen, and sat down to breakfast with them, showing no manner of sadness or fear. When the breakfast was ended, he was carried straightway to the place of execution, where he should offer himself unto the Lord, a sacrifice of sweet savour...As touching the terrible manner and fashion of the burning of this blessed martyr, here is to be noted, that of all others which have been burned and offered up at Smithfield, there was yet none so cruelly and piteously handled as he. For, after that his legs were consumed and burned up to the stumps, and that the wretched tormentors and enemies of God had withdrawn the fire from him, so that but a small fire and coals were left under him, then two that stood on each side of him, with their halberts pitched him upon their pikes...Then he, lifting up such hands as he had, and his fingers' ends flaming with fire, cried unto the people in these words, 'None but Christ, None but Christ;' and so, being let down again from their halberts, fell into the fire, and there ended his life." (John Foxe, Foxe's Book Of Martyrs)

Remember these things. Much of the world, even many professing Christians, are plugging their ears, running away from these things, and trying to bury them deep in the ground.

For a collection of many of our articles on the issues surrounding Roman Catholicism and the Reformation, see here.