Saturday, December 11, 2010

The very body and blood of Christ

That which was from the beginning, which we haven’t heard, which we haven’t seen with our eyes, which we looked for in vain and haven’t touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made imperceptible, and we haven’t seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made imperceptible to us.

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw no sensible body, they did not break his True invisible legs. But one of the soldiers pierced the air with a spear, and at once there came out True invisible blood and water. He who saw nothing has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.

 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the occupied tomb, but when they went in they did not find the True body of the Lord Jesus, which was hidden under the species of an empty shroud. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the sensible among the insensible? He is not risen–he is still here, under the species of an empty shroud.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and secretly stood among them and inaudibly said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had inaudibly said this, he showed them his True invisible hands and his True invisible side under the accidents of thin air. Then the disciples were sad when they saw nothing.

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself secretly stood among them, and inaudibly said to them, "Peace to you!" But they continued to talk. And he inaudibly said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my True invisible hands and my True indetectible feet, that it is I myself. Touch my True intangible side, and see nothing. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you can’t see that I have." And when he had inaudibly said this, he showed them his True invisible hands and his True indetectible feet. And while they still were still oblivious, he inaudibly said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" then he took a piece of invisible broiled fish and ate before them under the species of thin air.

 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus imperceptibly came. So the other disciples told him, "We haven’t seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe."

 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and secretly stood among them and inaudibly said, "Peace be with you." Then he inaudibly said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my True invisible hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my True intangible side. Do not disbelieve, but believe." Thomas stared at the air and said nothing.

 After this Jesus concealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he concealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
 Just as day was breaking, Jesus secretly stood on the shore, under the accidents of thin air; yet the disciples didn’t know anyone was there. This was now the third time that Jesus was concealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 

Emperor Pope Dave

Steve said:
Who speaks for Rome? A layman with a BA in sociology? A layman with no institutional standing in his denomination?

Or St. Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church?
I'm afraid His Most Holy and Immaculate Popiness Dave Armstrong would take issue with the point that he has no standing in the Roman Catholic Church.

After all, Emperor Pope (not to be confused with Emperor Penguin) Dave is a Roman Catholic epologist, evangelist, and top 61,326 best-selling author according to #1 online bookstore

Specifically, his qualifications to speak authoritatively for the Roman Catholic Church include:
  • Bachelor of Arts in Sociology (cum laude) from Wayne State University.
  • Considerable time spent informally studying theology, history, philosophy, and apologetics.
  • Approximately 2000 books in personal library.
  • Full-time author.
  • Facilitator of Online Apologetics and Discussion Group for the Coming Home Network.
  • Contributing editor to the Hands on Apologetics periodical.
  • Primary or sole author of the text of five evangelistic comic tracts for the Catholic Information League.
  • BTW, it should be noted that, whenever he speaks, 10% of the time Pope Dave is right 100% of the time. 100%! Incredible.
  • Update (quoting Dave Armstrong below): "six 'officially' published books, a dozen or so appearances on national Catholic radio, many articles in reputable apologetics magazines."
Of course, Pope Dave has done many things which would more than allow him to lay claim on being the absolute and authoritative voice of the RCC. But if every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

Death in the morning

I suppose it’s pretty universal for people to feel that the death of the young is especially tragic. The sense of lost potential. Cut down before they even had a chance to get the most out of life. Cheated by the Grim Reaper. They died before their time–as the saying goes. Hopes and dreams go up in smoke.  

ER physicians feel the same way. Frankly, they’ll make more effort to save the life of teenager than a 90-year-old grandmother. The teenager has so many years ahead of him. So much to live for. Look forward to.  

(I say this because there are TV shows about ER physicians who admit that sentiment.)  

Walking through a cemetery, you notice the dates. There’s something especially sad about the grave of a child. You do the mental arithmetic and realize that this person hardly got started. There you are, alive, looking down on his untimely grave.  

There’s a certain logic to this attitude. Don’t we all feel that way? Yet from an atheistic standpoint, it makes no difference when you die.  

We may feel it’s “natural” from someone to die of old age. He’s completed the arc. Had the opportunity to explore life. Experience the highs and lows. First love. Falling in love. Breaking up. His first child. Discovering the world–on his own, or with his friends. Rediscovering the world through the eyes of his kids and grandkids. He’s fulfilled his promise in a way that someone who died young did not. The dead teenager missed out on so much. Even if the old man blew his opportunities, at least he had the opportunities to blow.  

Yet if you think death ends it all for young and old alike, then what difference does it make? What’s the value of personal fulfillment if you’re not around to value it? What's the point of a long, full life if you can't look back on your life? You can’t savor the fond memories. You can’t hang out with old friends. You can’t enjoy what each day may bring. If you die of old age, you don’t miss out on what you might have had, might have been, might have done–unlike those who die young. Instead, you miss out on what you actually had–and have. The dead teenager loses his potential joys, while you lose your real joys. How is one worse than the other?  

Indeed, there’s a sense in which the 90-year-old has far more to lose. For he has something to lose in the first place. The life he made for himself. A lifetime of experience. The cumulative goods of a lifetime. Friends. Family. Fond memories. A pet dog. A favorite place to go for a walk. Little things as well as big things. A past which layers the present. A past which enriches the present. A past which, like a mountain stream, pours forth into the present.  

There are two ways to miss out: to miss what you used to have, but lost–or to miss what you never had. An even greater loss is losing the very capacity to have or have had, be or have been. The moment he dies, he loses everything at one stroke. Loses the capacity to be fulfilled. He has no sense of anything. All is gone beyond recall. As a now-dead atheist once said:

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
- The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anasthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small, unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Pope and the Fathers on Daniel

On the one hand:

Pope Benedict XVI

The Book of Daniel, in the form in which we have it, is generally dated on good grounds to the years between 167 and 163 B.C., that is, the period of the harshest persecution of Israel's faith by the Hellenistic King Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In this extreme tribulation, in which the faith of the people of God, its historical hope, seems once and for all to have been reduced ad absurdum, the seer gains a new vision of the totality of history.

Joseph Ratzinger, The God Of Jesus Christ (San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2008), 62-63.

HT: Jason Engwer

On the other hand:

St. Jerome

Porphyry wrote his twelfth book against the prophecy of Daniel, denying that it was composed by the person to whom it is ascribed in its title, but rather by some individual living in Judaea at the time of the Antiochus who was surnamed Epiphanes. He further alleged that “Daniel” did not foretell the future so much as he related the past, and lastly that whatever he spoke of up till the time of Antiochus contained authentic history, whereas anything he may have conjectured beyond that point was false, inasmuch as he would not have foreknown the future. Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, made a most able reply to these allegations in three volumes, that is, the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth. Appollinarius did likewise, in a single large book, namely his twenty-sixth. Prior to these authors Methodius made a partial reply.

For the benefit of us who are Christians, I wish to stress in my preface this fact, that none of the prophets has so clearly spoken concerning Christ as the prophet Daniel. For not only did he assert that He would come, a prediction common to the other prophets as well, but also he set forth the very time at which He would come. Moreover he went through the various kings in order, stated the actual number of years involved, and announced beforehand the clearest signs of events to come. And because Porphyry saw that all these things had been fulfilled and could not deny that they had taken place, he overcame this evidence of historical accuracy by taking refuge in this evasion, contending that whatever is foretold concerning Antichrist at the end of the world was actually fulfilled in the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, because of certain similarities to things which took place at his time. But this very attack testifies to Daniel’s accuracy. For so striking was the reliability of what the prophet foretold, that he could not appear to unbelievers as a predicter of the future, but rather a narrator of things already past.

Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1958.), 15-16.  

The origins of Christmas

Jason Engwer has already posted some material on the origins of Christmas. I also touched on this issue in response to an allegation by Paul Tobin. I will repost that part of my reply, where I quoted Roger Beckwith on the topic:

Various opinions have been held about the way these dates were chosen. Occasionally it is suggested that December 25th is an adaptation of Jewish festival, but the 4C is too late for Jewish influence to be at all probable. In any case, the Jewish festival in question, the Rededication of the Temple by Judas Maccabaeus (Hanukkah), has quite a different meaning, lasts for eight days, and, through it begins on the 25th day of Chislev, Chislev is a lunar month corresponding only roughly to November or December.

The explanation most widespread today is quite different, namely, that December 25th and January 6th are derived from pagan sun-festivals. December 25th is a well-known date for the winter solstice, and, although sun-worship was not originally part of Roman religion, by the 3C it had become such, and a festival for the worship of the sun was established on December 25th by the emperor Aurelian in AD 274. January 6th, however, is only a very hypothetical day for the winter solstice, and no pagan festival on that day is recorded, except a festival of the goddess Core (Persephone) held at Alexandria, to celebrate her annual return from Hades; so the explanation is incomplete. One of the Greek festivals of Dionysus was in January (Lenaea, the “festival of the raving women”), but it was later in the month, and an orgy of this kind would be more likely to have given rise to a Christian fast than a Christian feast. The Western church may perhaps have reinterpreted the festival on December 25th as referring to Christ, the Sun of righteousness, so as to give the pagan observance an edifying new meaning, but what about the Eastern Church and January 6th?

Since January 6th can hardly have been the Christianization of a pagan festival, and was not a turning point in the astronomical year, it prompts a question whether the corresponding western date can have been merely that and no more. After all, December 25th as a date for Christ’s nativity is quite possibly older than the Christian or even the pagan festival on that date, since it occurs in Hippolytus’s Commentary on Daniel 4:23. The text of this passage is somewhat uncertain, it is true, and may be due to an early redactor rather than to Hippolytus himself. The other date for Christ’s nativity, however, can be traced back with greater certainty behind Hippolytus, to Clement of Alexandria, who before the year 200 dates Christ’s nativity on January 6th. This is over a century before any festival of the nativity on January 6th is recorded. Could Clement’s dating, then, be due to a historical tradition that the nativity took place at that time?

Browne’s and Bainton’s articles ought to be much more widely read than they are, for there is still today a strong tendency to assume that a midwinter date for the nativity is not even one of the earliest surviving traditions, and that this date must be due either to the Christianization of a pagan festival at that time of year, or to the contemporary speculation about the “appropriate” length for Christ’s life and its “necessary” alignment with the seasons. If, however, the traditional eastern day of January 6th was known in the church of Alexandria in the last decade of the 2C, it is as old as any of these speculations, and older than any evidence linking the nativity with the pagan festival on the winter solstice. Moreover, if it was known in Alexandria in the last decade of the 2C, it was probably also known there half a century earlier. For in the same passage of Clement, after speaking of the dates for the Lord’s birth, he says, “And the followers of Basiledes hold the day of his baptism as a festival…”

Basiledes likewise belonged to Alexandria, where he taught in the second quarter of the 2C, and though he was a heretic, he would have known the traditions of the Alexandrian church…Tertullian’s knowledge of January 6th as the date of Christ’s birth is confirmed by his apparent knowledge of it as the day of Christ’s baptism, for we have seen that anciently the date commemorated both events.

R. Beckwith, 
Calendar & Chronology, Jewish and Christian (Brill, 1996), 71-75.

A Good Dividing Line About Roman Catholicism

TurretinFan was the host of yesterday's Dividing Line webcast, and he had David King and James Swan as guests on the program. They discussed Roman Catholicism, especially the patristic evidence related to the claims Catholics have made.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

It's safe to cross against a red light if everyone does it together

The following is an excerpt from D.A. Carson's article, "Contrarian Reflections on Individualism":
[W]e need to reflect a little more on the bearing of truth on [individualism]. Begin with an essay by Phil Myles, "Of Truth, Tolerance and Tyranny." Miles begins by outlining one of the central myths of our time. According to this myth, a society is likely to be most tolerant if it holds to flexible, non-dogmatic, even multivalent notions of truth; conversely, a society is likely to be most intolerant where it holds to absolute truths, truths that are inflexible, unbending. In other words, tyranny and tolerance find themselves in a perennial battle, and which pole triumphs is largely tied to the conception of truth that we sustain.

But does this myth capture reality? Is the myth true? Miles sets forth his thesis:
The reality of the situation is just the opposite of what we have been led to believe. Put simply, tyranny is not the inevitable outcome of an absolutist view of truth, but is, rather, the direct product of relativism. Likewise, tolerance arises not from relativism but from the very thing that our society anathematizes—the belief in absolutes.
It would take too long to lay out the details of Miles’s argument. Suffice it to say that he holds that many of our categories for thinking about these things are inappropriate. In part, he argues by case study. He begins with Japan, a country where he lived for many years. In most Western cultures, we live in the shadow of the Enlightenment, which taught us to classify our experience into two categories: the one, full of non-absolutes, is characterized by emotion, aesthetics, the arts; the other is characterized by absolutes, objectivity, science, logical thought, and truth. These two categories are mutually exclusive. The second category is the domain of both tyranny and objective truth. By contrast, Japan brings the two categories together in ways that would be judged incompatible in most of the Western world: on the one hand, haiku poetry and delicate paintings of enchanting cherry blossoms, and on the other, ruthless business corporations and political machinations. The fact that these two categories co-exist and interpenetrate each other in Japan is part of what makes Japan seem so "mysterious" to the Western observer. In reality, Miles argues, what is often called the “iron triangle"—"the triad of elected government, big business and the bureaucracy"—exerts enormous power in a frankly oppressive manner. "There is no need to picture this in terms of dictators and jack-boots. Things are done a lot more subtly in Japan, but the salient fact is that those who hold power use it to control the lives of those beneath them.” There is little tradition of elected officials being “servants of the people"; in fact, the people exist to serve the state and culture, not to mention the company to which a person belongs. In Japanese culture, there is little notion of "right" and "wrong" in absolute terms; it is well known that there is no Japanese word for "sin." In this sense, Japanese society is relativisitic—i.e., what is "right" depends on the situation in which you find yourself, determined by the social expectations of your position in the power structure. Miles writes,
Japanese are very adept at assessing what is required in a situation and acting accordingly. This is often misunderstood by Westerners as duplicity, but it is simply the way life must be lived where all is relative. Truth itself becomes merely a social construct. If everybody believes something to be true, or if the powers that be say that it is, then for the practical purposes of daily life, it is true. As the Japanese say, it’s safe to cross against a red light if everyone does it together.
In other words, Japan is a case study in which a kind of relativism opens up the door to a kind of social tyranny that massively discounts the significance of the individual and therefore squashes individualism. Miles argues that in this sort of culture, if there were, say, unambiguous and objective moral law to which individuals could appeal, there could be a critique of the unfettered deployment of social and political power. It is the absence of such objective standards that make the oppressiveness of the culture possible.

Though it is not part of Miles's argument, one might observe that in the twentieth century the greatest political crushing of individualism occurred under Marxism and Fascism. Both deployed not only brute force but massive propaganda machines to keep people safely in line with the party dogma. Truth was what Joseph Goebbels (for instance) said it was.

In the light of such case studies, one becomes aware that individualism that can become personally tyrannical (everyone does what is right in their own eyes) may, in this broken world, alternatively serve as a bulwark standing athwart massive social and political tyrannies crying, "Enough!" But it is hard to see whence the moral fortitude for such a stance will come if we systemically lose the category of objective truth. Martyrs are not made of sponge.

The selective doctrine of development

According to Catholic philosopher and apologist Michael Liccione:

The reason for that brings me to the second disanalogy: that between the partial and developing stage of divine revelation recorded in the OT and the full and definitive stage recorded in the NT. In the former state, an infallible magisterium was unnecessary because “salvation history” had not yet exhibited its focus: the God-Man Jesus himself and the “Christ event.” The purpose of an infallible magisterium is to maintain the deposit of faith whole and entire, without addition, subtraction, or corruption. It does that by adjudicating with divine authority among competing interpretations of the deposit’s sources of transmission. Yet the question how to do that could not arise prior to Jesus because the deposit had not yet been fully given, and thus was not yet whole and entire. It was still developing…It was not enough to treat the writings now included in the NT canon as the word of God; indeed, that was not even relevant. For when John wrote what I’ve cited, no such collection had even been made, and he appealed to no such authority.

I’ve already commented on this, but now I wish to address it from another angle. A popular Catholic tactic is to “disprove” sola Scriptura by quoting certain verses that mention oral modes of transmission.

Protestants counter by pointing out that sola Scriptura doesn’t apply to the era of public revelation. At the same time, it was still important to commit revelation to writing even in the age of public revelation. The Mosaic covenant is a paradigm-case.

Notice, however, that Catholics don’t apply the same standard to their own rule of faith. On the one hand, they say the necessity of sola Scriptura could only be true if that was always the case. On the other hand, they don’t say the necessity of the Magisterium could only be true if that was always the case.

They allow the magisterium to be a later development. They allow that to be a break with the past.

Indeed, savvy Catholics take that a step further. Not only do they admit there was no magisterium in OT times, but they admit that there was no magisterium in NT times. They apply Newman’s principle of development to the papacy.

On the one hand, they reject discontinuity where the Protestant rule of faith is concerned while they embrace discontinuity where the Catholic rule of faith is concerned. The magisterium can be a later development, but not sola Scriptura. The papacy can be backloaded, but sola Scriptura must be frontloaded. The magisterium can evolve, but sola Scriptura was be in place from the beginning. Darwinism for the papacy, but creationism for sola Scriptura.

Fidelity to Scripture

Catholic philosopher and apologist Michael Liccione tries to field an objection to the magisterium. Let’s see how he fares.

The argument that, because God’s people in the OT didn’t “need” an infallible magisterium, therefore God’s people the Church don’t need one either, is very common among Protestants. It is also fallacious. David Pell is right to remark that posing the issue in terms of need is “so dry,” but I think we can learn from seeing why the argument itself is fallacious.
The argument is a non-sequitur, and what makes it so is a fallacy of ambiguity on two points: ambiguity about what authority in God’s people is needed for, and who God’s people actually are. If what authority was needed for was just to maintain some sort of fidelity to the Old Covenant among God’s people, then it’s quite true that an infallible magisterium was not necessary in the OT. The priesthood, when it could discharge its function, was necessary, as were prophets, teachers, and scribes. They all had the Law (Torah), in due course written down in a book taken to be God’s word; they observed it more or less, and helped others to do so. None ever claimed infallibility, and there’s no reason to suppose that an infallible teaching authority was needed for what they did.

A Day in the Life of a Street Preacher

This short promo video does a good job of capturing what I deal with on a weekly basis, especially the "afflicted" woman that is shrieking wildly while Pat Necerato is preaching near the end of the video.

"Street Preacher...a day in the Life" NEW DVD Preview from pat necerato on Vimeo.

HT: Street Preacher: A Day in the Life Of

Why December 25?

Did ancient Christians borrow the December 25 date from paganism? If so, is it inappropriate for Christians to celebrate Jesus' birth on that date? See here, here, and here.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Reality LA interview with D.A. Carson

An interview with D.A. Carson from Reality LA.

When nothing created everything

From Joe Carter.

Bellarmine on geocentrism

I say that, as you know, the Council [of Trent] prohibits expounding the Scriptures contrary to the common agreement of the holy Fathers. And if Your Reverence would read not only the Fathers but also the commentaries of modern writers on Genesis, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Josue, you would find that all agree in explaining literally (ad litteram) that the sun is in the heavens and moves swiftly around the earth, and that the earth is far from the heavens and stands immobile in the center of the universe. Now consider whether in all prudence the Church could encourage giving to Scripture a sense contrary to the holy Fathers and all the Latin and Greek commentators. Nor may it be answered that this is not a matter of faith, for if it is not a matter of faith from the point of view of the subject matter, it is on the part of the ones who have spoken. It would be just as heretical to deny that Abraham had two sons and Jacob twelve, as it would be to deny the virgin birth of Christ, for both are declared by the Holy Ghost through the mouths of the prophets and apostles.

"This Paper Should Not Have Been Published"

Carl Zimmer reports: "Scientists see fatal flaws in the NASA study of arsenic-based life."

BTW, Science is a top-notch scientific journal. It's on par with Nature and PNAS.

Yet Science has published some clunkers over the years - e.g. the Schön scandal, the Hwang Woo-suk controversy, and the ALH84001 meteorite debate.

Now Science has published this "arsenic-based life" paper as well. If the paper likewise turns out to be a clunker like many microbiologists and other scientists already think it is, then the journal will have another lead balloon on its record.

I don't know how Science's track record compares to other prestigious scientific journals. But I can't imagine it's favorable at this point.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A Book On Jesus' Fulfillment Of Prophecy

Dan Phillips has written a review of what looks to be a good book on Jesus' fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

Defending The Resurrection

J.P. Holding is in the process of reviewing Michael Licona's recent book on the resurrection at one of his blogs. There's also a lot of other good material there. He recently published a book of his own on the resurrection. I'm only a few chapters into it, but so far it's excellent. It doesn't cover some issues in as much depth as Licona's book does, but it addresses a lot of subjects not covered by Licona.

Queering the military

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North comments on gays in the military.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Worse for wear

Here's a plug for some Catholic converts/reverts which no doubted sounded better then than it does with the passage of time. 

I'm sure folks such as Scott Hahn, Steve Ray, Gerry Matatics, Dave Palm, Dave Currie, Kenneth Howell, Mark Shea, Kristine Franklin (Bob Sungenis, Jeff Cavins, and Curtin Martin are re-verts so I won't count them) and hundreds more in Marcus Grodi's The Coming Home Network who have appeared on EWTN "The Journey Home" program understood some of the problems you bring up (i.e. seeming lack of evidence for full-blown Catholic doctrines in the earliest centuries, which became explicit in the fourth, fifth and later centuries) but they don't see this as decisive against becoming a Catholic (and neither do I).

Let's see: David Palm is a "Reluctant Traditionalist" who's quite critical of the current post-Vatican II regime:

And for their part, Sungenis is now in open conflict with his bishop while Matatics has become a sedevacantist.

What a difference a decade makes! Not only has Phil Porvaznik's argument failed to stand the test of time, but it's backfired. If he were arguing today, I seriously doubt he'd cite Palm, Matatics, and Sungenis as posterboys for his position. To say it hasn't worn well is an understatement. 

If fact, Jason is now in a position to agree with Porvaznik's illustration, but turn it against him. 

The Danger of an Unconverted Minister

Introduction: This morning I had the privilege of reading The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry by Gilbert Tennant. Though Tennant was dealing with a different situation than I shall describe below, as I read this 250+ year old sermon, my thoughts immediately turned to those pastors in our own day who are eager to proclaim "peace, peace" when there is no peace (Ezek. 13:10).

For years, I wondered why so few pastors clearly teach and preach the Bible and fail to contend earnestly for the faith in their own churches and religious organizations (Jude 3). Its as if most of them simply don't care about doctrinal apostasy and sin in their own congregations. They have no problem conveniently looking the other way when things that are immediately spiritually damaging to their own congregations are running rampant. Many also appear to be more concerned about their own well being than the spiritual well being of their own congregations. They seem to be afraid to preach the truth for fear that they will empty out their church buildings, lose all material support, and lose favor with their denominational peers. They seem to be so shackled tight to their desire to have the praise, favor, and acclaim of men, that they cannot imagine doing or preaching anything that is true that would possibly offend a large majority of their congregation or those in their religious associations. Indeed, "the fear of man is a snare" (Pro. 29:25 HCSB).

A Major Problem: Unconverted Pastors

After interacting with many evangelical pastors through the years, I have come to the conclusion that many of them are simply unconverted. They have a fear of man rather than a fear of God (Matt. 10:28). I was speaking with a pastor-friend this past Sunday morning and he told me story after story about pastors, preachers, and Bible teachers he knew of who were living double lives of adultery, homosexuality, and other grievous sins when all the while getting up and preaching twice every Lord's Day. When these men were confronted, all of them denied any wrongdoing and one even said, "You people have no right to judge me." Its important to note that I am not talking about men who are pastors of churches associated with apostate mainline, liberal denominations, but churches that pride themselves in being in theologically conservative. When "pastors" respond to sin this way, they are showing that they possess a perverted mind that is destitute of the grace of God.

Unconverted Pastors = Grade-A Myth Makers

So many professing Christians are concerned that gospel preaching and direct, clear, Bible teaching will drive people away instead of reaching them. This was evident in my outreach at UNCG last week and it has been evident in the responses that I have received from professing Christians who have objected to our regularly preaching the gospel outside of a local abortion clinic. I have often asked them, "Since you think the message is driving people away, what do you think I should say to get these people to think about the judgment that awaits them should they fail to repent?" They usually say something like, "Just tell them that God really loves them and that they need to give their lives to Him." I then ask the following: (1) "Why do they need to give their lives to Him?" and (2) "Where in the pages of the New Testament do you find Jesus or the Apostles telling people that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives?" At this point the person usually tries to shift the conversation away from what the Bible says about the gospel being the God-ordained means by which He saves the lost to something like "We live in a different time and culture; people today aren't going to listen to you if you're always harping on about God's wrath, God's hatred of sin, and the only way of salvation being through Christ." When the conversation comes to this point, they are telling me that either they simply don't understand the message of the New Testament, or, they do, yet they think that we need to apologize for God being so harsh and exclusivistic. The way that we typically "apologize" for God is by purposefully avoiding telling people what the Bible says about sin, righteousness, and judgment and pandering to society's standards of holiness (i.e., political correctness) rather than God's. As I've said many times before, evangelical churches are confusing Biblical meekness with political correctness and removing the offense of the cross in the process. Hirelings that do this will not only attract a huge following, but they will also become grade A "myth-makers". As I noted last week. remember what Paul says in 2 Tim. 2:2-5,
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Many modern congregations are filled with preachers that tell the people what they want to hear instead of what they really need to hear. This isn't just a problem in theologically liberal, mainline denominations. Conservative churches have produced scads of false converts through their altar call invitational system and by simply watering down the precious apostolic deposit and mixing it with pop-psychology. Then, when the false convert is produced and starts showing signs of going back to the mire, the hireling comforts them in their sin and gives them false assurance. Congratulations hireling, you just made your proselyte twice as much a son of Hell as yourself! (Matt. 23:15)

Wherever the pastors are spiritually determines to a large extent where the parishioners are spiritually. If he is hungry for truth, they will be too since hungry people attract more hungry people. If he loves myths, they will too, since myth-makers attract myth-mongerers. Either way, it's a like a fly to the ointment. Which type of ointment do you want to be? The one that burns upon initial contact yet heals forever, or the kind that goes on warm and smooth but seeps fatal poison into the skin until you finally croak and are cast into a devil's Hell? Sadly, many so-called "evangelicals" are swimming in an ocean of mythology, evangellyfish mythology.

Please understand that I'm not advocating hateful, nasty, and mean-spirited behavior from angry pastors. Quite the contrary, I want men to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) and warn people of their peril with tears in their eyes if necessary. I want pastors to seek the salvation of their people and their communities for the blessing of those people to the glory of God. I want to see pastors who pour over the Scriptures night and day mining out the gems of the Biblical text from the original languages so as to equip their people to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-12).

IN CONCLUSION, may God grant us thousands of young preachers that are willing to go homeless and be mistreated for the sake of the truth. May they love their people and patiently preach Biblical grace rather than worldly rubbish and may their hearts be set aflame by the Spirit's power rather than the endless myths that come from the idol factories of men's minds.

127 Hours and evil

Steven Nemes recently saw the movie 127 Hours, and an interesting point with regard to the problem of evil occurred to him.

Sinking compass

When I was a boy, back in the Sixties, A Charlie Brown Christmas used to air during the Christmas season. But this year TV stations are running The Golden Compass. Does this now represent the seasonal anti-Christmas classic?

From what I’ve read, The Golden Compass is the first-installment in Pullman’s anti-Narnian trilogy. On the plus side, the film is stuffed with classy actors.

And the film is handsome to look at. Retro modernism in sunset illumination. The technology is quaint and decorative, like the futuristic visions of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.

However, Pulliam doesn’t have a coherent picture. We’re treated to a pastiche of jarring period pieces and architectural styles. By turns Gothic, Byzantine, Baroque, or Bauhaus. Then we tumble into a Joan Crawford vehicle for a fashionable matinée with Mrs. Coulter.

Lyra Belacqua is the anti-Lucy. She’s played by a fine child actress with a glorious shock of curly red hair.

However, the character isn’t nearly as sympathetic as Lucy. Lyra is suspicious and resentful.

For a militant atheist who is writing the godless alternative to The Chronicles of Narnia, one is puzzled by Pullman’s lazy recourse to New Age/fairy tale paraphernalia like flying witches, pixie dust, “subtle knives,” alethiometric Ouija boards, and shape-shifting animal spirit-guides.

Then there’s the plot. Or perhaps I should say, where is the plot? A climactic battle between two talking polar bears? Is that the best he can do?

I guess the basic problem is the Pullman is a reactionary. His only ambition is to negate Lewis. He has no constructive, inspired alternative.

But maybe the book is better than the movie (although it could also be worse.)

This represents a painful setback for atheism. If Hitchens and Dawkins were the prophets of the new atheism, then Pullman was the poet laureate. Riding on the crest of the new atheism, this was the one-time opportunity to give their nugatory creed a mythopoetic appeal and recruit the next generation to the cause. But the momentum is gone.

Midichlorians or microchimerism?

When I studied Anatomy and Physiology in college, the lesson that included microchimerism, became instructive to me on a different level. Learning that every child leaves within his mother a microscopic bit of himself–and that it remains within her forever–the dogma of the Immaculate Conception instantly became both crystal clear and brilliant to me. 

Actually, microchimerism also relates to the dogma of the Assumption of Mary as well. In the psalms we read “you will not suffer your beloved to undergo corruption.” Christ’s divine body did not undergo corruption. It follows that his mother’s body, which contained a cellular component of the Divinity–and a particle of God is God, entire–would not be allowed to corrupt as well.

That's unscientific. The scientific explanation for the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception is midichlorians, not microchimerism. Just like the bond between Shmi Skywalker and Anakin Skywalker.

The divine ironist

Infidels are especially fond of citing the incident of Balaam’s talking donkey to mock the Bible. I’ve discussed this before, but I’ll say a bit more on the subject:

i) This is inherently incredible only if miracles are inherently incredible. Just citing the incident does nothing to disprove it. You’d either have to make a solid case against miracles in general, or allow for the possibility of miracles in general, but show why this particular case is out of bounds.

ii) Among exorcists and paranormal investigators, there are reported incidents which are just as bizarre. So, once again, you can’t dismiss this out of hand unless you make a general case against miracles or paranormal events.

Keep in mind that infidels pride themselves on their intellectual superiority. Yet they aren’t actually demonstrating their intellectual superiority. They make fun of something, but where’s the argument?

iii) Finally, their objection to the Balaam incident is quite obtuse. They ridicule the account because they find it patently absurd. But that misses the point entirely. For the incident is meant to be ridiculous. God is ridiculing the pagan prophet. God is assuming the role of satirist or ironist.

To take a comparison, suppose somebody thought it was clever to lampoon Gulliver’s Travels. He’d cite preposterous scenes in Gulliver’s Travels, then exclaim, “How could Jonathan Swift be so stupid!”

But would his mockery reflect badly on the intelligence of Jonathan Swift, or the intelligence of the mocker?

Since Gulliver’s Travels was ridiculous by design, if you ridicule something that’s intentionally ridiculous, you just make yourself look stupid.

Incidentally, wacky things happen all the time in real life. The fact that something is absurd doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Life in a fallen world is brimming with absurdities.

As one commentator explains:

Yahweh provides the donkey with the means of verbal communication. He “opened the mouth” of the donkey; ironically, this is an expression used when God opens the mouths of prophets to speak (Ezk 3:27; 33:22). Who is the true prophet in this episode? It is the donkey that sees a vision or theophany and speaks the words of God given to her!

The contrast between the two figures is sharp:

[Quoting Milgrom] In truth, Balaam is depicted on a lower level than his ass: more unseeing in his ability to defect the angel, ore stupid in being defeated verbally by his ass, and more beastly in subduing it with his stick whereas it responds with tempered speech.

A further irony, or satiric comment, is Balaam’s statement, in the optative mood, that if he had a sword, then he would kill his donkey. There is a sword nearby; it is in the hand of the angel of Yahweh whom Balaam, the seer, cannot see! J. Currid, Numbers (EP 2009), 322-23.

The account is riddled with deliberate biting irony. The predicament of Balaam was meant to be ludicrous. Balaam is the butt of God’s humor. Comic effect is the very point.

When an unbeliever cites this passage as a paradigm-case of just how ridiculous the Bible is, the unbeliever makes himself ridiculous in the process. His ridicule amounts to self-ridicule because he is too dense to even recognize the satirical nature of the account. Indeed, his reaction is doubly ironic, for the infidel is just as blind, just as clueless as Balaam. He falls into the very same trap. Makes himself a fool by affecting wisdom. 

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Skeptical Flimflam

I recently read an article by Greg Taylor that I saw linked at Michael Prescott's blog. The article is a response to some skeptical claims about the mediumship of Leonora Piper. (For those who are unfamiliar with the Piper case, see Michael Sudduth's PowerPoint presentation here.) Taylor makes some good points that are applicable not only to the Piper case, but also to many others. I'm not saying that I agree with Taylor's entire worldview or everything at his site, but he does make some points worth considering on this particular subject.

I've explained how I approach such paranormal phenomena in previous threads, like the one here. I think some non-Christian researchers have a tendency to underestimate the possibility of demonic activity, even though the demonic explanation can make so much sense of cases in which there seems to be a combination of genuine paranormal phenomena and deception or error. But however we explain the Piper case, it does seem that there was something going on that goes beyond the typical naturalistic worldview.

Here are some of Taylor's comments:

One of the more curious aspects of Mrs. Piper’s trance mediumship was that for a time (during the transition from communication via the voice, to communication via writing), three different ‘communicators’ could hold ‘conversations’ with three different sitters at the same time – one through voice, one writing with the right hand, and one writing with the left hand. Yet Gardner casually explains away this bizarre simultaneous three-way mediumship simply by saying Mrs. Piper was “strongly ambidextrous”. And there are other aspects that should give the curious mind pause before dismissing her as a fraud. Given her reputation after the first couple of years of investigation, Mrs. Piper could have left the service of the SPR and charged exorbitant amounts of money offering sittings for the rich and powerful, with much less chance of being caught. Instead, she remained on a compensatory wage under the skeptical eyes of investigators for a good portion of her lifetime. Further to that, if she was a fraudulent medium, why change ‘technique’ from voice mediumship when it was so successful, to developing simultaneous voice and writing (and at times communicating via mirror writing) for no additional reward or benefit? And how did she fool scientists and physicians that her trance was genuine, showing no reaction to pain sensitivity tests including surprise needle jabs, flames held to her skin, and long inhalations of ammonia?

Martin Gardner could have engaged readers with any of these topics, but instead he steers them away from intelligent discussion of this case. He ignores the source material completely, raising criticisms that were comprehensively dealt with a century before he wrote his essay, and impugns the integrity of the original investigators despite having no grounds to do so. If Gardner is, in the words of Stephen Jay Gould, “the single brightest beacon defending rationality and good science against…mysticism”, one would have to think that rationality and good science are in serious trouble on the evidence offered in this particular essay....

Unscientific skepticism of the type exhibited by Gardner and Cattel is a corrosive one which, rather than defending science, instead shields it from possible new discoveries and viewpoints through irrational over-protectiveness. It also brings skepticism as a whole into disrepute when such cheap tactics are employed. In his article “How Mrs. Piper Bamboozled William James”, Martin Gardner ignores the original scientific work done, misrepresents the competency of the investigators, and misleads the reader both through incorrect statements and loaded language. This is hardly the type of writing we would expect from “one of the great intellects produced in this country in this century.”

Finishing Like Simeon

"Now, we read that David, after he had served his generation, fell on sleep; it is time for man to sleep when his life's work is finished. Simeon felt he had done all: he had blessed God; he had declared his faith; he had borne testimony to Christ; he had bestowed his benediction upon godly people; and so he said, 'Now, Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.' Ah, Christian people, you will never be willing to go if you are idle. You lazy lie-a-beds, who do little or nothing for Christ, you sluggish servants, whose garden is overgrown with weeds, no wonder that you do not want to see your master! Your sluggishness accuses you, and makes you cowards. Only he who has put out his talents to good interest will be willing to render an account of his stewardship. But when a man feels, without claiming any merit, that he has fought a good fight, finished his course, and kept the faith, then will he rejoice in the crown which is laid up for him in heaven, and he will long to wear it. Throw your strength into the Lord's work, dear brethren—all your strength; spare none of your powers: let body, soul, and spirit be entirely consecrated to God, and used at their utmost stretch. Get through your day's work, for the sooner you complete it, and have fulfilled like an hireling your day, the more near and sweet shall be the time when the shadows lengthen, and God shall say to you, as a faithful servant, 'Depart in peace!'" (Charles Spurgeon)