Saturday, April 02, 2011

Counterfactual judgment

One of the stock themes in Scripture is the fact that God will judge men according to their deeds. However, the principle of divine judgment runs deeper than deeds. In Scripture, one of God’s qualifications to be the judge of all mankind is his omniscience. For instance:

10 "I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds" (Jer 17:10).
12For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb 4:12-13).
And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works (Rev 2:23).

Divine omniscience is a precondition of divine judgment. And the judicial scope of God’s knowledge isn’t confined to what men do. It’s not just that God sees what we do in secret. What we do when there is no one to witness the crime. It’s not just that God remembers long forgotten deeds–or misdeeds.

No. It goes behind outward actions to the hidden realm of intent. Not just what we do, but what we meant to do. God’s omniscience is germane to his judicial role, not merely because that equips him to know everything we do, but everything we contemplate. Unspoken malice. Imaginary crimes.

And that, in turn, raises the specter of punishment for counterfactual sins and crimes. Not merely for what men do, but what they’d do–given the chance, or absent the deterrent.   

Is universal infant salvation a valid option?

I myself don't subscribe to universal infant salvation. This doesn't mean I oppose it. I tend to think it's a bit artificial, but it's a respectable theological option. For all I know (or don't), it could well be the case. Here's how two reputable Christian pastors argue for universal infant salvation:

I also think infant salvation is more likely in Christian families, although we must avoid the temptation to be  presumptuous about the grace of God.

The fate of unbaptized babies

“Most of Christendom formerly believed that only Christian believers, not unbaptized infants, went to heaven.”

i) Of course, that’s a false dichotomy. Unbaptized babies are not the logical converse of Christian believers. For baptized babies are no more Christian believers than unbaptized babies. That requires a level of cognitive development which newborns lack.

ii) Furthermore, what you’re pleased to call “most of Christendom,” or “the church” (as you put it in another comment) actually boils down a handful of opinion-makers in Catholic church history, viz. a few church fathers, some influential theologians, some bishops at some church councils, and some popes–especially whoever the current papal incumbent happens to be at any given time. Sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t equate that with “the church” or “most of Christendom.” Rather, that’s a very elitist, very reductive definition of “the church.”

iii) Finally, your own denomination got cold feet on the fate of unbaptized infants, which is why it had to resort to stopgap palliatives like limbo, and recently it even found that too much to stomach.

Therefore[:] Most of Christendom formerly believed that there are stuffed animals in Hell. Clear as mud to me, I'm afraid. can you show me how the conclusion follows from the premise?

You evidently lack an ability to grasp either satire or metaphor. Given that deficiency, I doubt I can show you how the conclusion follows from the premise.

If tender feelings for infants makes you uncomfortable with the idea that unbaptized infants suffer in hell…

i) The motive you ascribe to me is premised on an assumption I repudiate. I don’t think the baptismal status of a child has the slightest bearing on its eternal fate. So I’m not framing the question of infant damnation in those terms.

ii) In addition, I’m non-committal on the entire question of infant damnation. We lack sufficient revelation on the subject to speak with confidence.

iii) I’m merely discussing the possibility of infant damnation, and the possible grounds for that possibility. But that’s an open question in theology. And it will remain an open question for the duration of the church age.

“…and you want to find a speculative solution that does not directly contradict scripture the solution you are pointing to (while holding up a sign that says it isn't something you believe but rather something various respected scholars have come up with) does not work.

I’m not looking for a “solution.” Rather, I’m offering a counterargument to infidels who raise this objection. Since the objection is hypothetical, I reserve the right to offer a hypothetical response.

Pre-7-year-old Universalism goes against scripture, which clearly teaches that only Christian believers will go to heaven.

Well, that’s fatally equivocal at best:

i) OT Jews weren’t Christian believers. So did all OT Jews go to hell?

ii) Baptized babies aren’t Christian believers.

iii) Indeed, we can debate whether baptized babies are even Christians. The immediate question at issue is the status of dying infants, but what about baptized babies who grow up to be nominal Christians or outright apostates?

Were they Christian babies who ceased to be babies? Maybe you think so–I don’t.

iii) We could talk about elect babies. That would be firmer ground, although the scope of infant election is one of the issues in dispute.

iv) Since human beings are social creatures by nature, God tends to save people in packages. So, for instance, he’s more likely to save members of a Christian family.

v) The NT stresses faith in large part because the NT is directed at men and women old enough to understand the message. The Bible isn’t speaking to babies. You can read Scripture to a baby, but it won’t understand a word you say. So the accent on faith is largely an incidental consequence of the audience. 

vi) Indeed, there’s a basic contradiction between your insistence on saving faith and your insistence on saving paedobaptism.

One example of a speculative solution that does not go against scripture relies on the scriptural teaching that not every one in hell will suffer to the same degree (for example Luke 12:47) If that is true (and if you are a bible-believing Christian you better admit it's true), an allowable speculation would be that unbaptized infants, while being denied heaven, receive the minimum possible punishment.

This “solution” apparently involves the conjectural assumption that dying babies remain babies in the afterlife. That’s hypothetically possible, but it has nothing more going for it than other logical alternatives.

Do you realize that when you ridicule Christians you sound like an atheist?

i) Do you apply that admonition to Catholic epologists who routinely ridicule evangelicals?

ii) The notion that unbaptized infants go to hell, but an ouchless, painless circle of hell, is ripe for ridicule by atheists.

Kindergarten in hell


What you are proposing is a modified version of universalism (a sort of universalism before age 7), a philosophy that has been condemned by the church right from the beginning until today.
If tender feelings for babies makes you need to speculate I would suggest you confine your speculation to modes that don't contradict scripture. For example, we know from scripture that the degree of punishment in Hell is not the same for all the damned, that some are punished more than others. If that's the case, is it possible that unbaptized babies suffer the mildest amount possible for someone denied the opportunity to be with God forever and even a degree of happiness and grace? The Bible doesn't say one way or another, it only says there will be varying degrees of punishment, so as a matter of speculation it does not go directly against scripture. If you say that unbaptized babies go to heaven it seems to me (and to most of Christendom before the last century or so) you are going against scripture.

So most of Christendom (before the last century or so) taught kindergarten hell with stuffed animals for unbaptized babies who died in infancy. Good thing we have tradition to guide us through the treacherous waters of sheer conjecture.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Prior probabilities

After his weekly audience with the Omnipotent, Michael was chatting with Tetramorph, one of the seraphim forever stationed in throne room. Michael gave Tetramorph occasional updates regarding the current state of spiritual hostilities between angels, demons, witches, and Christians in the battle for earth.

This week he mentioned in passing that humans think with their brains. Tetramorph was incredulous. Since Tetramorph never left  the throne room, his firm and unalterable experience of minds was discarnate minds. The Godhead. Seraphic minds. Cherubic minds. Demonic minds.

Indeed, was any other type of mind even conceivable? The extraordinary notion of having to think with a brain was superfluous. A flagrant violation of Occam's razor. Why, it went dead against the uniformity of supernature. And extraordinary claims demanded extraordinary evidence.

As any seraph with a rudimentary grasp of Bayesean probability theory well knew, no testimony was sufficient to establish brainpower, unless the testimony were of such a kind that its falsehood would be more extraordinary than the fact which it endeavors to establish.

He was positive that Michael must be mistaken. Of course, Tetramorph was far too polite to openly question Michael’s judgment. That would be impertinent. But he couldn’t help saying to himself, “When any archangel tells me about brains, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable that this sprite should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact which he relates should really be so.” 

Three Benefits of Denominationalism

The gospel in five minutes



Counterfactual culpability

Freewill theists typically regard libertarian freedom as a precondition of moral responsibility. And many of them regard libertarian freedom as equivalent to counterfactual freedom. The ability to do otherwise (i.e. choose between alternate possibilities).

That, however, raises the specter of counterfactual culpability, including counterfactual damnation. If they think, for instance, that God ought to judge a benighted pagan not by what he actually believed, given his heathen surroundings, but by what he would have believed had he been raised in Christian surroundings, then that cuts both ways, does it not?

If God should save him had he responded favorably to the gospel, given the opportunity, then God should judge him, not merely for his actual misdeeds, but for his counterfactual misdeeds. For all the evil he would have wrought had the opportunity presented itself.

Of course, Reformed theism and freewill theism have different ways of grounding alternate possibilities. For now I’m just addressing the broader principle of whether it’s ever fair to judge someone, not merely in light of his actual history, but his alternate history. 

Life's a bitch, then you die!

Antinatalist Jim Crawford has posted a follow-up to his prior challenge.

1. To recap, why should I take the time to even discuss a dead-end like antinatalism? Because, as I’ve said before, it’s an object lesson in atheism taken to its logical extreme.

2. I notice that Jim ignores many of my counterarguments to his previous post. And some of the arguments in his follow-up post (e.g. on risk assessment) rehash objections he already raised in the previous post, to which I responded.

Now maybe he thinks my response was inadequate or irrelevant, but if so, he doesn’t say why. Therefore, those counterarguments win by default.

3. By way of preliminaries, I’d like to comment on the paradox of antinatalism. If you don’t think life’s worthwhile, then why do you think it’s worthwhile to argue for the worthlessness of life? Why pour all that ingenuity and eloquence into the proposition that life is worthless, or worse than worthless?

Take a policeman who tries to talk a suicidal teenager out of jumping from a bridge. Because the policeman values his own life, because he thinks life is worth it, he also thinks the teenager has everything to lose by taking his own life. And that makes sense, doesn’t it? Given the operating assumptions.

But does that make sense in reverse? Even if you’re miserable, why feel the need to convince others that they should be as miserable as you are? Antinatalism is a circular two-step program:

i) Persuade happy people to be miserable

In order to:

ii) Persuade them not to bring other happy people into being

But why is there a duty to make happy people miserable? Why is it so urgent to convince them that they should despise life?

It makes sense to disillusion people if you have something better to offer then, but if your battle cry is Life Sucks! Spread the Word!–then that’s not much of a cause to rally around.

iii) An antinatalist might counter that many people are already miserable. But that’s not enough for antinatalism. For the human race to go extinct, antinatalism must make enough converts to bring global procreation irreversibly below the necessary replacement rate.

4. Is it wrong to gamble with someone else’s life? Well, that sounds ruthless in the abstract, but it all depends on the concrete illustration.

Take an ER physician. He gambles with the lives of patients everyday. He tries to save their lives. Give them a second chance. Another shot at life.

Sometimes he has to make quality-of-life decisions. What about amputation? What if the patient will be brain-damaged to some degree? And he must often make life-and-death decisions for the patient without informed consent. 

He’s gambling with their lives, but he’s doing so for their benefit, not his own.

Of course, he could be wrong about their prospects for happiness. By saving them, maybe they will be worse off in the long run. Even if they make a full recovering, maybe they will later endure some devastating personal tragedy, unforeseen by the ER physician. So is that worth the risk?

There’s no value-free answer to that question, for this is one of those dividing lines where Christians and antinatalists lack common ground. Given his philosophy, an antinatalist might well believe it’s always best to let someone die of his injuries. He got lucky to die young. He’s better off dead. So are we all.

5. Nonexistence can be a deprivation.

i) To never exist in the first place can be a deprivation.

To lose something and know you lost it is a deprivation. To miss out and know you missed out is a deprivation.

But it’s also a deprivation to miss out and not even know what you’re missing. That’s a different kind of deprivation, but it’s still a deprivation.

ii) This doesn’t mean we’re wronging nonentities by choosing not to bring them into being. But they still lose out. At least some of they had something to gain by existence. So that’s a loss to them even if they’re oblivious to the loss. And there’s something poignant about the fact that they will never know any better.

Again, that doesn’t mean we’re doing an injustice to nonentities. But there is a cost to that cost/benefit analysis. The difference between existence and nonexistence isn’t indifferent or inconsequential. It’s not a harmless outcome.

iii) BTW, as a Calvinist, I don’t think there will be any missing persons when the eschatological tally is made. Everyone God intended to live will live.

So it’s not as if Christians have an obligation to conceive as many children as they can. And even if (arguendo) they did have such an obligation, they have other obligations as well. Taking one obligation to a logical extreme can conflict with other obligations. Not all obligations are equally obligatory. Not all obligations are maximal.

In the providence of God, it’s not as if there were human beings who were meant to exist, supposed to exist, but were cheated out of existence because many Christians practice contraception. (I’m not talking about abortion, which takes a life.)

6. There’s such a thing as mutual enjoyment. Mutual fulfillment. Mutual edification.

Generally speaking, parents enjoy kids and kids enjoy parents. Indeed, parents who don’t get something out of parenting are apt to be bad parents. So it’s a false dichotomy to classify that transaction as “exploitation.”  Human beings were divinely designed to want each other and need each other.

It’s no more exploitive than pair-bonding between men and women. Many pleasures are shared pleasures.

Of course, since the antinatalist sees every aspect of human life through his jaundiced prism, it’s hard to come up with examples he will accept. If he had a life-affirming ethic, he wouldn’t be an antinatalist.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Counterfactual damnation

One of the favorite objections to Christianity is the specter of infant damnation.

(BTW, I’m using “infant” for anyone below the age of discretion.)

Now, I have no settled opinion on the subject, for the simple reason that Scripture has so little to say on the subject one way or the other.

Within Calvinism you have some Reformed representatives like Grudem, Warfield, Piper, and Storms who believe in universal infant salvation.

However, suppose, for the sake of argument, that God damns some individuals who die in infancy. Although this is speculative, I’m going to discuss it because infidels use this as a wedge issue. So it’s good to confront head-on the toughest objections they can raise.

This objection involves a suppressed premise. That if an infant dies and goes to hell, he goes to hell as an infant. But why assume that, even for the sake of argument?

Suppose that Stalin died of cholera as a baby. Had he lived, he'd grow up to be the mass murderer that history denounces.

And suppose that’s the “infant” Stalin whom God consigns to hell. He dies as a baby, but when he goes to hell, God instantiates his adult counterpart. The counterfactual Stalin who, had he lived, went on to be a mass murderer. The Stalin of the alternate history. Not baby Stalin, not the Stalin who (ex hypothesi) died in infancy–but Chairman Stalin.

Let’s consider this from several different angles:

i) Suppose a serial killer is about to murder his 20th victim, but just before he slits her throat, a sharpshooter caps him. The serial killer goes to hell.

Is he punished for killing 19 women? Or is he also punished for the 20th victim he intended to kill? Does he get off the hook for #20 through a fluke of timing? Wouldn’t that be morally arbitrary?

ii) God created Adam and Eve as adults. Yet God could also imagine Adam as a baby, or a teenager. God had the concept of younger Adamic counterparts. In God’s mind there was a continuum of Adams. God chose to instantiate one of those Adamic ideas along the continuum, to the exclusion of others.

iii) Suppose a senile Christian goes to heaven. Is he senile in heaven? No. God restores his memories. God ages him back down to the psychological age when he was still lucid, when he had all his faculties intact. In a sense, God instantiates a younger counterpart. His younger self, glorified.

So even if (arguendo) God were to damn some babies, that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to visualize cute little babies writhing in hell. Rather, it would be reasonable to formulate this in terms of counterfactual damnation. God damning their adult counterparts, for their alternate futures.

An atheist might complain that this answer is too speculative. To that I’d say, if you don’t like conjectural answers, don’t raise conjectural objections.

Likewise, an atheist might complain that this answer takes too many Christian presuppositions for granted. Yet the objection itself takes certain Christian presuppositions for granted in order to exploit the emotional tension they (allegedly) generate. 

If Yahweh isn't nice, the Bible must be bunk

The whole case comes down to an emotional case rather than a rational one. So intolerable, so disagreeable...that we are doomed to death...playing on the heartstrings, playing on the emotions. It’s not nice to think that we’re all going to die. Not nice to think everything is meaningless.

–Richard Dawkins (the Mexico debate)

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unplesant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

–Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) 

16 Lessons From the 'Love Wins' Debate

Tony Reinke provides a list of observations from the Rob Bell Fiasco:

In retrospect a friend asked me to share a few lessons I saw in the Rob Bell, Love Wins debate so I typed them up and figured I would share them here. I was mainly just an observer, and I compiled this list as I watched the debate unfold. Here are 16 lessons that come to mind:

01: The gospel is eternal, but vulnerable, never to be assumed, and never to be left unguarded (1 Tim 6:20, 2 Tim 1:14).

02: Bloggers have emerged as the church’s frontline defense against popular-level theological error.

03: Academic-bloggers, pastor-bloggers, publisher-bloggers, and blogger-bloggers offer key strengths. We need them all.

04: Social media enables bloggers to piggyback and collaborate, resulting in a rapid response to error.

05: Bloggers can quickly and accurately apply revered theological writings (like those by J.I. Packer and D. A. Carson) to rapidly developing debates.

06: Yet there remain a number of online influencers who ‘enable’ bad doctrine. They may not believe it, but they keep it on the table.

07: Slower moving institutions (like SBTS) play the role of confirming blog findings, providing a platform for a follow-up discussion, and ensuring those findings are scattered broadly.

08: It is entirely appropriate to subject brief promotional videos to theological inspection.

09: Justin Taylor is quick, discerning, and gutsy.

10: In serious and timely theological discussions 92.6% of blog comments fail to advance the discussion.

11: Some will declare a 3-word Tweet definitively ungodly but cannot do the same after reading an entire unorthodox book.

12: Identifying false teachers is no good way to “win friends and influence people.” It forces the question: are we addicted to the approval of man?

13: Bogus theology follows a trajectory, meaning that careful discernment requires past experience with a particular teacher. Less experience can lead to unnecessary caution.

14: Discerning pastors, who are short on time, should be regular readers of a few key blogs, especially Justin and Kevin DeYoung.

15: When serious theological debate happens, the national media will be watching, so speak as a bold defender and a humble evangelist.

16: The theological errors of universalism and inclusivism have been around for a long time and will outlive us all.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I’ve been watching the British TV series Merlin. While it’s not great art, it has a certain gentle, good-natured, light-hearted quality that’s fairly unusual in contemporary TV fare. It also has excellent ensemble acting.

The show makes no pretense of historical accuracy in reconstructing the 6C English setting in which the Arthurian legend is situated. And I don’t expect that.

What’s striking, but not surprising, given the ideological bias of the entertainment industry, is the way in which the series completely dechristianizes the Arthurian tradition. In the ostensibly medieval world of the series, there is no church, no Trinity, no Christ, no Bible, no angels or demons, priests or bishops, heaven or hell.

There’s something called the “Old Religion,” but there doesn’t seem to be anything supernatural about the “Old Religion.” In Merlin, magic is just a way of channeling the forces of nature.

The worldview of Merlin is a world apart from the worldview of the Arthurian tradition, which was awash in Medieval Catholicism.

In the Arthurian tradition, King Arthur is a Christian knight. The Fidei Defensor. His kingdom represents an outpost of Christendom, supplanting the heathen faith with the Christian faith. That’s a central theme: the battle–quite literally–between Catholicism and paganism. Chivalric Christianity.

In the Arthurian legend, Merlin is a half-breed: his mother was a nun while his “father” was an incubus. His paranormal powers are occult powers.

Of course, this is “history” written by medieval monks. Hagiographa. Still, it’s instructive to contrast the traditional Arthurian legend with the thoroughly secularized TV series. To take a few examples:

At that time, the Saxons grew strong by virtue of their large number and increased in power in Britain. Hengist having died, however, his son Octha crossed from the northern part of Britain to the kingdom of Kent and from him are descended the kings of Kent. Then Arthur along with the kings of Britain fought against them in those days, but Arthur himself was the military commander ["dux bellorum"]. His first battle was at the mouth of the river which is called Glein. His second, third, fourth, and fifth battles were above another river which is called Dubglas and is in the region of Linnuis. The sixth battle was above the river which is called Bassas. The seventh battle was in the forest of Celidon, that is Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth battle was at the fortress of Guinnion, in which Arthur carried the image of holy Mary ever virgin on his shoulders; and the pagans were put to flight on that day. And through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and through the power of the blessed Virgin Mary his mother there was great slaughter among them.

The king [Arthur], after his general pardon granted to the Scots, went to York to celebrate the feast of Christ's nativity, which was now at hand. On entering the city, he beheld with grief the desolation of the churches; for upon the expulsion of the holy Archbishop Sanxo, and of all the clergy there, the temples which were half burned down, had no longer divine service performed in them: so much had the impious rage of the pagans prevailed. After this, in an assembly of the clergy and people, he appointed Pyramus his chaplain metropolitan of that see. The churches that lay level with the ground, be rebuilt, and (which was their chief ornament) saw them filled with assemblies of devout persons of both sexes.
Upon this the messengers hastened to the governor of the city, and ordered him, in the king's name, to send Merlin and his mother to the king. As soon as the governor understood the occasion of their message, he readily obeyed the order, and sent them to Vortigern to complete his design. When they were introduced into the king's presence, he received the mother in a very respectful manner, on account of her noble birth; and began to inquire of her by what man she had conceived. "My sovereign lord," said she, "by the life of your soul and mine, I know nobody that begot him of me. Only this I know, that as I was once with my companions in our chambers, there appeared to me a person in the shape of a most beautiful young man, who often embraced me eagerly in his arms, and kissed me; and when he had stayed a little time, he suddenly vanished out of my sight. But many times after this he would talk with me when I sat alone, without making any visible appearance. When he had a long time haunted me in this manner, he at last lay with me several times in the shape of a man, and left me with child. And I do affirm to you, my sovereign lord, that excepting that young man, I know no body that begot him of me." The king full of admiration at this account, ordered Maugantius to be called, that he might satisfy him as to the possibility of what the woman had related. Maugantius, being introduced, and having the whole matter repeated to him, said to Vortigern: "In the books of our philosophers, and in a great many histories, I have found that several men have had the like original. For, as Apuleius informs us in his book concerning the Demon of Socrates, between the moon and the earth inhabit those spirits, which we will call incubuses. These are of the nature partly of men, and partly of angels, and whenever they please assume human shapes, and lie with women. Perhaps one of them appeared to this woman, and begot that young man of her."

Trojan horse universalism

Question: if Bell is not a universalist, then why is his church plugging universalist literature by Tom Talbott and George McDonald as a follow up to Love Wins?

                    LOVE WINS RESOURCES 
Further Exploration of Some of the Main Themes 
For additional reading or listening, this Resources document lists books and previous Mars Hill podcasts for those interested in further study on topics in the book. 

When Helping Hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett  

The Poor will be Glad: Joining the Revolution to Lift the World Out of Poverty by Peter Greer and Phil Smith  

What Can I Do?: Making a Global Different Right Where You Are by David Livermore 

Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller 

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church 

The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott 

The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis 

One.Life: Jesus Calls We Follow by Scot McKnight 

Unspoken Sermons by George MacDonald.  
Especially “Justice”, “Righteousness”, “The Child in the Midst”, “The Truth in Jesus”, and “The Consuming Fire”. 

[Mars Hill Teaching Series]    
Visit for: 

The Flames of Heaven        
Big Jesus 
Where Else is the Cross True?, [The Cross] 

We hope this Resource List helps you interact with the book, Love Wins. For information on Mars Hill’s beliefs, see our Narrative Theology at

"Let’s Not Play Their Game"

"Why I Believe the Bible"

Phases of faith

I’ve been exploring the relationship between regeneration and faith. Does regeneration automatically issue in faith, or can there be impediments to faith despite a regenerate heart?

Mind you, I think regeneration inevitably issues in faith, for that’s the goal of regeneration. But it’s a question of timing.

Take the familiar case of the disciples. One of the recurrent themes in the Gospels is their defective faith. They chronically doubt or outright disbelieve what Jesus tells them. It’s only in light of Easter that they come to exercise robust faith in Christ. And, in a sense, that’s more a case of walking by sight rather than faith. They believe what they see.

On an analogous note is the crisis of faith which John the Baptist suffered in prison (Mt 11:2-6). At that point he was having second thoughts about the claims of Christ.

Of course, that’s easy to explain. He was lonely and afraid. Depressed. Not in his right mind.

Still, he did not, at this juncture, have a credible profession of faith (as the saying goes).

Or take Jeremiah’s complaint that God deceived him (Jer 20:7). His sense of betrayal reflects a false belief about God.

Again, this is easy to explain. He’s been ostracized for proclaiming a deeply unpopular message. So he’s discouraged. Feeling hopeless and alone.

In each case it’s reasonable to assume that the individuals in question were saved or regenerate. Yet that didn’t automatically resort in the formation of proper religious beliefs. Countervailing circumstances succeeded in temporarily blocking or repressing faith. Faithless rather than faithful. And I don’t mean behavior. I mean their mental state. A lack of faith, despite God’s grace in their hearts and lives.

Let’s now consider a different type of case:

10The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. 11 Therefore the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. 12And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 13He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God (2 Chron 33:10-13).

When, as an adult, Manasseh exercises faith in God, for the first time in life (apparently), does this mean God regenerated him in captivity? Certainly that’s one possibility.

Of course, he could pray to God because he’d been indoctrinated in the true faith as a child. He had that to draw on.

So another possibility is that faith didn’t take without a suitable, external stimulus. Perhaps the capacity was there all along, but remained dormant until his extremity made it relevant to his situation. He suddenly saw his need, and the corresponding answer to his need. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Nature red in tooth and claw

I’ve reposting some comments I left on an earlier thread:


The adverb also occurs nearby in 3:6, where it indicates a novel action.

Steve Drake said...

“…but I'm a bit puzzled if as you say that Adam was created mortal, does this mean the animals were created mortal as well and needed to eat from the tree of life to keep living? How was that possible? Or is it your opinion that the animate sub-human created order was never intended to live forever?”

Individual animals were never intended to live forever. Various kinds of animals survive (through reproduction) from one generation to the next, but not individuals.

“Raises some interesting questions about whether there was death in the animal kingdom before Adam sinned, doesn't it?”

I think that’s answered here:

More Reviews Of Bart Ehrman's Forged

James White commented on Bart Ehrman's latest book on his webcast last week. Brian Auten has linked a review of the book by Michael Licona. And Michael Kruger is going to be on Greg Koukl's radio program April 10 to discuss Ehrman's book.

Deconverting from deconversion

Shall the first be last?

Paul Manata and JD Walters have been sparring over universalism. Among other things, JD said:

Hmmm….sounds a bit like the worker who grumbled that those who worked just a few hours in the evening were being paid as much as those who had toiled for the whole day?
Your original post makes it seem, against all reasoned protest by universalists to the contrary, that universalism posits that those who have to go through hell before getting to heaven have somehow gamed the system, that they get ‘all this and heaven too’.
Why wouldn’t the believer be entitled to make a similar complaint, that his friend got to ‘have fun’ and live his youthful years however he wanted and still got into heaven because of his midlife repentance? How is this scenario any different from the one involving the earthly saint and the post-hell redeemed sinner? Under any scenario salvation is ‘unfair’ and a gift of sheer grace.

A few quick points:

i) Manata wasn’t “complaining” that it’s “unfair” to “game the system.” Rather, he was giving a factual description of what universalism entails. If universalism is true, then, as a matter of fact, “they do get all this and heaven too.”

ii) Actually, it’s the universalist who bristles at the suggestion that sinners can game the system. So, if anything, it’s the universalist who’s complaining about the unfairness of that depiction.

iii) Far from supporting universalism, the parable to which JD alludes is diametrically opposed to universalism. The punch line in Mt 20:16 involves the eschatological reversal of fortunes. But that’s not the case in universalism. If universalism is true, then it’s false to say the first will be last and the last will be first. In universalism, everyone crosses the finish line. Everyone wins the grand prize. There are no losers. Rather, you have complete equality of outcome.  

iv) Apropos (iii), wouldn't that be unjust in terms of Mt 20:16?