Saturday, May 14, 2011

Merlin redux

I've been watching the BBC show Merlin (which Steve also blogged about here). I watched the episodes out of sequence though, since I was originally just dipping into them and not expecting to watch too many of them. But I believe I've seen all of them now.

Life on the run

Let's say Jesus really was a mere human and died on the cross. He wasn't raised from the dead.
  1. I would think a group of first century Jewish dissidents who had just had their leader executed would probably only have two viable choices:

    a. They could entirely give up their movement. Indeed, the Gospels relate that was what most if not all of the apostles wanted to do. Among other things, they didn't have the emotional wherewithal to continue the movement.

    b. Or they could find another leader to take their original leader's place. Maybe they'd have picked Peter. Although the Gospels portray Peter as feeling so dejected after lying about being a follower of Jesus and demonstrating his cowardice, and thus betrayal of Jesus, that being any sort of a leader was probably the farthest thing from his mind (and indeed Jesus had to restore Peter as the Gospel of John relates). Or maybe they'd have picked James who was Jesus' brother and who of course later did become a leader in the early church. But at this point Jesus' family including James didn't believe in him or his movement, as the Gospels tell.

    I would think the last thing anyone would expect would be for the same group of dissidents to start telling everyone that their leader who had just been executed was still alive if they truly believed and knew he was dead. How unrealistic! I mean, who's gonna believe that kind of a message? It's not as if first century Jews didn't know what happened when people were crucified and killed. They knew people who were killed stayed dead. So telling everyone that their deceased leader whom they knew was dead was alive again would seem to strain credulity, to put it mildly.

    Jason Engwer notes N.T. Wright argues much the same:
    So far as we know, all the followers of these first-century messianic movements were fanatically committed to the cause. They, if anybody, might be expected to suffer from this blessed twentieth century disease called "cognitive dissonance" when their expectations failed to materialize. But in no case, right across the century before Jesus and the century after him, do we hear of any Jewish group saying that their executed leader had been raised from the dead and he really was the Messiah after all. (Cited in Paul Copan and Ronald Tacelli, edd., Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment? [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000], p. 183)
  2. But let's say the apostles did do precisely this. And let's say many of their fellow Jewish people did believe their message. Let's say the apostles and their message was now the talk of the town too. Jerusalem was abuzz with news that Jesus was alive again (even though he really wasn't). People were eager to hear more about this Jesus and his message from his followers. Thus the apostles had a huge and popular platform with the public.

    I would think it'd be more likely than not that these first century Jews would be tempted to use such a platform to undermine Rome's authority over Israel in some way (maybe especially Simon the Zealot). Indeed, the Romans themselves seemed to have thought that's what the apostles were really trying to do with Jesus.

    But instead the apostles used their platform to make their central message about turning away from one's sinful, rebellious life against God (not Rome) and trusting in Jesus as the true Lord God and Savior to justly forgive people for their sinful, rebellious life against God (not Rome). They didn't use their platform to deliver the message that people should disrespect the civil authorities, overthrow the Roman Empire, and so forth. In fact, they even asked people to respect the civil authorities.

    After all, what else could realistically be the apostles' motivation for seeking to continue and expand their movement despite knowing that Jesus really was dead? What else could be their real intention, especially in light of the fact that they were forced against their will to live as otherwise innocent men being hunted down one by one by their fellow Jews and others? This might make for a good movie but hardly a good life!

  3. Of course, we read what Gamaliel said in Acts 5:34-39:
    But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!"

An overview of the Jesus quest

These are just some notes on Craig Blomberg's lecture on the historical Jesus. Blomberg in turn acknowledged he took a fair portion of his material from Ben Witherington. I used Google, Wikipedia, and the like to fill in the gaps I noticed.

I've interspersed my own comments here. Sorry they're not clearly labeled or anything. I took these notes down rather quickly and a bit haphazardly too. I didn't intend to post these notes, but just started taking notes for myself so I could better follow Blomberg's lecture. These notes are pretty rough to put it mildly.

Anyway, please feel free to make corrections if you spot mistakes, poor points, etc.

The world ended yesterday...or was it last year?

"Cabbages and Tire Irons"

The Maverick Philosopher analyzes the claim that "atheism only denotes a lack of theistic belief, rather than the active denial or claims of certainty it is often associated with."

Option Zero

To: Specialist Chan
From: Agent Schultz
Security Clearance: Domination/5F

It's clear we're losing our theological and political battles on multiple fronts.

Even with Hays' mastery of combat and Manata's command of philosophy, we're up against overwhelming odds.

Engwer's honorable tactics are no longer sufficient. As fellow half-Asians, we have access to a weapon few other warriors possess.

It's time to deploy Ethnix.

An Answer for “Catholic Answers”

Or, the more devotional side of why I left.

Over at the Catholic Answers forum, my name is attached to a discussion thread that has now exceeded 500 responses:

John Bugay and Beggars All Website - How to Deal with His Anti-Catholicism

Just yesterday I got a Google Alert that a new comment a new comment had been added:
John Bugay Update: He is has been kicked off of the website "Beggars All." From what I can gather he was finally called aside by his handlers and told that many of his arguments were garbage and actually making his position look bad and well, he did not like being questioned so he took his ball and went home.
I responded, noting that I was now posting here at Triablogue, which has a much larger readership. And a regular contributor there, “paul c”, asked this question:
Why do you feel a need to address contemporary Roman catholicism? What compells you to do so?
I posted this answer, which can probably be seen as a more personal and “devotional” counterpart to my Motivations post from about a week ago.
The short answer is that I believe that God has both prepared me to do so and compelled me to do so.

Here is a bit of a longer explanation:

I grew up Roman Catholic, attended Mass and CCD weekly, and being from a good Catholic family, of course I wanted to “be good” and please God. In high school I had some friends who were “born again” Christians, who gave me tracts about “the Gospel,” God’s plan of salvation. At first, of course, I defended the Roman Catholic Church, but I was curious about the very stark differences in belief and practice between my non-Catholic friends and of course, what I had learned in church.

Some time later I bought myself a Bible and read through the entire New Testament. And this “stark difference” was pressed home on me more.

I did have a tremendous and unmistakable new birth experience when I was 19; I was reading John 17:23 (while in the process of reading the larger passage), and while some have accused me of not being properly catechized (“you couldn’t have been and still say the things you say”), at that moment I was remembering my CCD teaching about Augustine and the Trinity, and understanding the awesome love that God the Father had for me, personally. It was a breakthrough moment, God in my life -- something that had not happened in all my encounters with “the sacraments”.

I did not leave the Catholic Church at that time, but migrated through a “Charismatic Catholic” group at our church (sponsored by a priest), to a Protestant Charismatic group, to a Protestant Charismatic church, where I met some other friends who led me on a journey down south. There I fell in with a Reformed Southern Baptist Pastor who became a life-long friend. Another good friend of mine suggested that I consider going to seminary (Southernwestern Baptist Seminary in Ft. Worth). My Pastor friend had even agreed to sponsor me there.

During that time, I was traveling a good bit, and we were also heavily involved with the pro-life movement, where I met some very fine Catholic people, one of whom invited me to “come home”. He also invited me to consider a Catholic seminary, which I did.

So for a time I would attend my friend’s Southern Baptist church on Sundays, then head up the street for a noon Mass at Holy Rosary church in Memphis.

Eventually, I applied for, and was accepted into, the diocesan seminary program here in Pittsburgh, to attend St. Paul’s seminary. That was about 1983 or ‘84. I met Fr. Donald (now Cardinal) Wuerl when he was the rector there.

But I couldn’t bring myself to make that commitment. Still, I considered various religious orders – I spent some time with the Capuchin Franciscans, and very much was attracted to that whole ethos. While I was in the midst of that consideration, I met my present wife; we married in 1987, and eventually had six children.

[As an aside here, I’ll mention that the priest from my home parish, the priest who married my wife and me, and who baptized several of my children, was one of those convicted during the sex abuse scandal. And in fact, one young man committed suicide because of this priest. But we did not know that at the time, and it did not affect my decision to leave.]

For several years during the early 1990’s, I was somewhat politically active (I campaigned with Rick Santorum in 1990 and 1992, as he was going door-to-door). In 1994, a Presbyterian friend, knowing of my background, handed me the issue of “First Things” that contained the initial “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” statement. At first I was overjoyed, and I began reading “First Things” on a regular basis.

Another devout Catholic friend was, during that time, attending “Evenings of Recollection” through Opus Dei. He invited me to attend, and for several years, he and I attended these monthly “evenings” together.

That was not long after the publication of the new “Catechism,” and I was struck at the similarities – the men at Opus Dei quoted from the Catechism in almost the same exact way that my Baptist friends had quoted from the Bible.

At any rate, I began following the program that Opus Dei recommended you follow: saying the Rosary (I even purchased a CD with the deep, baritone voice of John Paul II reciting the Rosary in Latin); going to confession regularly. I even was meeting with “a priest of Opus Dei” for “Spiritual Direction”.

During those years in the mid 90’s, however, I was also beginning to read more of the literature that was coming out on the topic of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” and I was realizing that there was a bit of fudging of the language associated with that document. Especially the 1997 statement, “The Gift of Salvation,” which came to this conclusion:

Justification is central to the scriptural account of salvation, and its meaning has been much debated between Protestants and Catholics. We agree that justification is not earned by any good works or merits of our own; it is entirely God's gift, conferred through the Father's sheer graciousness, out of the love that he bears us in his Son, who suffered on our behalf and rose from the dead for our justification. Jesus was “put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). In justification, God, on the basis of Christ's righteousness alone, declares us to be no longer his rebellious enemies but his forgiven friends, and by virtue of his declaration it is so.

The New Testament makes it clear that the gift of justification is received through faith. “By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). By faith, which is also the gift of God, we repent of our sins and freely adhere to the Gospel, the good news of God's saving work for us in Christ. By our response of faith to Christ, we enter into the blessings promised by the Gospel. Faith is not merely intellectual assent but an act of the whole person, involving the mind, the will, and the affections, issuing in a changed life. We understand that what we here affirm is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by faith alone (sola fide).
Without getting into a discussion on justification here (as I had done with my “Spiritual Director”), I will note that this was seen as a fudge on the language from both sides. And in fact, I walked out of confession with my “Spiritual Director” during a discussion of this very issue.

Again, as I was at age 19, I became gripped by a desire to know, what was really going on here. Fortunately, the Internet was making available resources that had previously been available only in specialized libraries. And I came across earlier versions of “Protestant/Catholic” online discussions.

I will say that James White’s book, “The Roman Catholic Controversy,” had a very profound impact on me.

So in 1998, I summarized what I was thinking in a very long “resignation letter” to my new Parish Priest (the old, abuser-priest having since been moved away somewhere).

2000 years of church history is a tremendously large topic, and I’ve dived right into the study of it with great enthusiasm. I’ve not followed an organized pattern of learning, but I can honestly say that in my own mind, I’ve more than adequately answered every objection that every Roman Catholic has put to me about leaving.

And that leaves me with the understanding that if Rome really is not what it says it is (“THE Church that Christ founded”), then there is some measure of untruth and even betrayal about its claims. Roman claims to authority are fundamentally at odds with the Truth proclaimed by Christ and the apostles, and fundamentally at odds with the actual history of the actual church.

So for me, it’s been a lifetime of wrestling with this issue, and now sharing what I know.
Now, even this is not a complete accounting of all the struggles I went through when thinking about leaving. While Rome admits virtually anyone who “try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience” to salvation, there is a fearsome curse on Roman Catholics who would leave that fold:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it [CCC 846, citing Lumen Gentium 14].
Again, some well-meaning Catholics have suggested to me that, as a Roman Catholic, I really didn’t “[know] that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ,” and hence I’m not going to hell because of that, but that seems to me to be just another Roman Catholic mind trick that denies reality with a slippery use of words.

Nick Needham on Roman Catholicism Today, Part 3: “John Henry Newman”

Here are the first two parts of this series:

Nick Needham on Roman Catholicism Today, Part 1: “New Territory” (6:50)
Nick Needham on Roman Catholicism Today, Part 2: “The Advent of Modernism” (15:55)

Again, I’m continuing to post these transcripts, even though the audio version is available, because not everyone will have an hour to listen to it.
... the seeds of Modernism had been sown. And looming in the background stood the titanic figure of Cardinal John Henry Newman, (1801-1890). (15:55)

Newman had of course been a prominent Anglican, and he had converted to Rome in 1845. Now Newman was not really a theological liberal, or modernist at heart, but in the process of his conversion to Rome he wrote what was to become a key text for many liberalizing Roman Catholic theologians, both in the modernist crisis, and later, at the time of Vatican II. (16:32)

This was Newman’s “An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine”. Now Newman’s purpose in this essay was to put forward a new argument for the truth of Roman Catholicism. Prior to Newman, Roman Catholic apologists had maintained that Rome was the unchanging church founded by the apostles and carried on by the early church fathers. That modern Roman dogma and practice accorded precisely with the apostolic and patristic church of the first few centuries, including such things as the papacy, indulgences, purgatory, Rome’s Mariology, etc. Protestantism, by contrast, was marked by continual change and development, and therefore could not be in possession of the truth. (17:25)

Now for any Protestant who knew the history of the first 400 years of Christianity, this Roman Catholic thesis was laughable. Newman perceived this, and turned the argument on its head. “Development,” he argues, “is actually the sign of the fruit.” Ideas are like seeds. When first planted, they have a primitive simplicity about them. Their full meaning and potential are unfolded as they grow, in conflict with opposing ideas. When Christ and his apostles planted the seed of Christianity, therefore, one would expect to see a growing organism, which evolves and changes through the centuries, bringing to maturity more and more of its hidden potential. This, Newman contends, is precisely what we see in the Roman Catholic Church, which, of course, he identified, with the apostolic and patristic church. But, we see no such organic process of growth and development in Protestantism, which is wedded to the sterile and stagnant idea of reproducing first century primitive Christianity. (18:40)

Newman knew that his, for example, with its doctrine of the Virgin’s “Immaculate Conception,” was for Newman, not a betrayal, but a “development,” an unfolding of a seed idea, found in Scripture and the fathers, although made explicit only later. In this way, Newman turned on the edge the Protestant critique that Roman Catholicism did not look much like the church of the apostles or the early fathers. Does an oak tree look philosophy of development could justify all those features of Roman Catholic theology, piety, and worship, which Protestants had historically regarded as betrayals of the early church. Roman Catholic Mariology like an acorn? (19:30)

Now to be fair, Newman recognized that there could be illegitimate developments, corruptions. And he outlined a complex scheme of seven tests by which to distinguish these from proper developments. But in his own mind, he was perfectly convinced that 19th century Roman Catholicism was the historical continuation of first century apostolic Christianity. The early church was the primitive, undeveloped infant; Roman Catholicism is the mature and majestic man. (20:04)

Now Newman’s philosophy of development has won the day in modern Rome. Very few defenders of the old view can now be found. A cursory reading of modern Roman Catholic histories of the church and of theology will reveal Newman’s assumptions at work. It has liberated Roman Catholics from the unenviable burden of trying to prove that everything they believe and practice today was believed and practiced by the apostles (emphasis added). (20:33)

Of course Newman’s development thesis also chimes in with the pervasive evolutionary mindset of 21st century man. Like life itself, church and theology have evolved. (20:47)

Now Newman didn’t write his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine to justify modernism, but his ideas on how Christianity has changed and developed through the centuries were eventually to give comfort and inspiration to those Roman Catholics who wanted to reject the rigid theology of neo-Thomism, and instead promote modernist thinking. If Newman was right, and Christian doctrine had undergone this long process of development, then why should the church canonize the doctrine of one limited time period, the time of Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century? Could things not develop still further? Could modernist thinking not be the development needed to meet the challenges of the 19th and 20th centuries? (21:42)

Friday, May 13, 2011

New Testamental undesigned coincidences

The Society of Liberal Arminians

We believe the Scriptures as originally given by God, both Old and New Testaments, to be the inspired Word of God, infallible, entirely trustworthy, and the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.

We are happy to announce that distinguished Arminian theologian and SEA member, Roger Olson...

Over at his blog, Roger Olson has now done several posts assailing the inerrancy of Scripture. In fairness to SEA, there’s no reason to assume the admins at SEA were aware of his views on Scripture at the time he was inducted into SEA. It’s only been of late that he’s been so outspoken on this issue. (Mind you, I haven’t read his books.)

But now that he’s gone public with his position, do the admins at SEA intend to eject him from SEA? Or do they think his view of Scripture is consistent with their doctrinal statement? If the latter, that tells you something about the state of modern Arminianism. 

The follies of Roger Olson

When I read the qualifications of inerrancy being made by signers of the Chicago Declaration (both in it and in their own writings) I was appalled and shocked.  For example, one leading advocate of inerrancy wrote in his systematic theology that “inerrancy” is compatible with “inerrant use of errant sources” by biblical authors.  In other words, the Bible is inerrant even if it contains blatant errors so long as the biblical writer who erred didn’t err in his use of sources.  How ludicrous!  Why not just give up on the word inerrancy once you’ve come to that point?

One wonders if Roger Olson is really that bone-headed. Let’s take quotations. We quote people for more than one reason.

i) On the one hand, we may quote someone because we agree with him, because what he said bolsters our own position. In that case we quote him with the understanding that what he said is right.

ii) On the other hand, we may quote someone else because we disagree with him, to illustrate what is wrong with his thinking, or use his statement as a representative statement of more widely held error. In that case we quote him with the understanding that what he said is wrong.

It all depends on the intention of the writer. When using a source, is a Bible writer commending that material to the reader as a true account? Or is he using that source subversively?

For instance, from time to time the Bible quotes false prophets and apostate kings. In that case, there’s no intention of vouching for the veracity of the statement. Just the opposite: the Bible writer is quoting the speaker to document his corrupt character, or to illustrate how the speaker sadly reflects of a corrupt institution, or corrupt society.

That’s entirely different than using an erroneous source as if the source were true. Is Olson too dimwitted to absorb that elementary distinction?

iii) In addition, it’s quote possible to use a fallible source, but correct whatever you use. In that case the process of inspiration is, in part, an editorial process.

For instance, Luke may well have used uninspired eyewitness accounts as raw material in composing his gospel. But that doesn’t mean he reproduced their errors.

Even secular historians, when they consult primary source material in writing the history of an event, will sift the material and correct for any mistakes they detect in the primary sources when they produce their own account.

Unfortunately, Olson is a man who makes imbecility a virtue. 

Tell me a story

This chapter is devoted to a critical analysis of certain lines of argument used by many New Testament scholars to support a negative conclusion on the historical value of reports of dominical sayings and of events in the Synoptic Gospels…I will be concentrating, though not exclusively, on reported utterances of Jesus rather than on his deeds and other happenings. I will also exclude the parables from discussion–not because I regard them as unimportant; quite the contrary. It is because the parables are, at least in what is regarded as their earliest form, more widely accepted as stemming from the historical Jesus than the sayings I will be discussing…The principle that short sayings are most likely to be remembered fits ill with the principle that parables are among the alleged sayings most likely to be remembered. For some of the parables are considerably longer than many allege sayings rejected by the [Jesus] Seminar].

W. Alston, “Historical Criticism of the Synoptic Gospels,” C. Bartholomew et al. eds. “Behind” The Text: History and Biblical Interpretation (Zondervan 2003), 151-52, 177.

Although Alston doesn’t develop the point, it draws attention to something elementary, yet fundamental. Even if, for the sake of argument, we bracket the inspiration of the Gospels, each canonical Gospel is a collection of stories, some of them embedding speeches.

Stories are memorable. Indeed, that’s one reason the Bible contains so many stories. And speeches associated with stories are more memorable due to their narrative association. Remembering the story helps you remember who said what. Not only are the gospel stories historical records, but they also serve as a mnemonic device.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that these stories were transmitted by word-of-mouth before they were committed to writing, there would still be no reason for general scepticism regarding the reliability of the canonical account.

Memorable events give rise to memorable stories. Stories of what was said and done. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Preview of the Romney Healthcare Speech Today

The WSJ has provided a bit of a preview of the speech that Mitt Romney is scheduled to give today in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Romney, they say, has a bit of a problem, in that his 2006 “Romneycare” law in Massachusetts provided the model for the 2010 “Obamacare” law:
As everyone knows, the health reform Mr. Romney passed in 2006 as Massachusetts Governor was the prototype for President Obama's version and gave national health care a huge political boost. Mr. Romney now claims ObamaCare should be repealed, but his failure to explain his own role or admit any errors suggests serious flaws both in his candidacy and as a potential President. …

In the name of personal responsibility, Mr. Romney also introduced the individual mandate, first in the nation, requiring everyone to buy coverage or else pay a penalty. Free riders, he said, transferred their own costs to others, either through higher premiums or taxes. This is the same argument the Obama Administration is now using to justify the coercion of the individual mandate in the federal courts. Because the states have police powers under the Constitution, Mr. Romney's plan posed no legal problems. His blunder was his philosophy of government. …

The only good news we can find is that the uninsured rate has dropped to 2% today from 6% in 2006. Yet four out of five of the newly insured receive low- or no-cost coverage from the government. The subsidies will cost at least $830 million in 2011 and are growing, conservatively measured, at 5.1% a year. Total state health-care spending as a share of the budget has grown from about 16% in the 1980s to 30% in 2006 to 40% today. The national state average is about 25%.

The safety-net fund that was supposed to be unwound, well, wasn't. Uncompensated hospital care rose 5% from 2008 to 2009, and 15% from 2009 to 2010, hitting $475 million (though the state only paid out $405 million). "Avoidable" use of emergency rooms—that is, for routine care like a sore throat—increased 9% between 2004 and 2008. Meanwhile, unsubsidized insurance premiums for individuals and small businesses have climbed to among the highest in the nation.

Like Mr. Obama's reform, RomneyCare was predicated on the illusion that insurance would be less expensive if everyone were covered. Even if this theory were plausible, it is not true in Massachusetts today. So as costs continue to climb, Mr. Romney's Democratic successor now wants to create a central board of political appointees to decide how much doctors and hospitals should be paid for thousands of services. …

Once government takes on the direct or implicit liability of paying for health care for everyone, the only way to afford it is through raw political control of all medical decisions. …

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Keller in the dock

Some questions have arisen about Tim Keller’s view of women in church ministry. There are both simply and complex aspects to this issue. I’m going to briefly block out the issues.

I. Male headship

I think this aspect of the issue is simple in the sense that I think a pretty solid, straightforward case can be made for the general principle of male headship in Scripture.

I’m not going to argue the point, in part because this is well-trodden ground. Among the more able and reliable complementarian writers are Vern Poythress, Tom Schreiner, Jim Hamilton, and Andreas Köstenberger.

A lot of their stuff is available for free:

II. Factual issues

There’s the factual question of what Tim Keller has actually said and done in terms of women in church ministry. I don’t have an informed opinion on that question, because I haven’t bothered to monitor that debate. I merely mention it because that’s a relevant consideration.

III. Procedural issues

i) A denomination like the PCA has a policy on the women in church ministry. Even if (arguendo) Keller disagreed with the policy, he has some responsibility to uphold the policy as long as he’s a PCA pastor. If he’s irreconcilably opposed to the PCA policy, then he should transfer to a different denomination.

I’m not saying for a fact tha this is the case. The procedural issue piggybacks on the factual issue. I’m just stating another relevant consideration.

ii) At the same time, it’s not quite as simple as (i). Presbyterianism has an appellate system. In that respect, one of the official channels in revising denominational policy is to challenge the policy, then let that challenge be adjudicated.

From what I understand, dissent, per se, is not out-of-bounds, for one of the structural means to establish or revise denominational policy is to raise an issue, then let the appellate process run its course.

iii) In case of a preexisting policy, I assume the most responsible way to do that would be to express a respectful dissent, continue to uphold the policy while the issue is adjudicated, then, if the status quo is reaffirmed, either submit to the policy or leave the denomination.

IV. Exegetical issues

The debate over women in church ministry frequently oversimplifies the Biblical data. Here’s a treatment that draws attention to the kinds of distinctions we must consider:

V. Cross-contextual issues

Roman Catholic epologists have a bad habit of making a straight-line correlation from Biblical categories to Roman Catholic church orders. This highlights a tempting anachronism that evangelicals need to resist.

i) You can’t just take a Biblical category like “pastor,” “elder,” “bishop,” “deacon,” then map that directly onto church officers who go by that name in your own denomination (or independent church).

Rather, you must first determine the functions of the Biblical category, how these categories relate to each other (i.e. are they sometimes synonymous?), then consider the degree to which Biblical categories correspond to the polity of a particular denomination.

ii) Apropos (i), different denominations, theological traditions, and independent churches assign different duties and prerogatives to the clergy. Consider congregationalism, Presbyterianism, episcopacy, Pentecostalism, &c.

iii) Likewise, a small-town pastor may do it all whereas a megachurch may have a specialized division of labor.

VI. Authority

The question of women in church ministry is frequently bound up with the question of authority. But what do we mean by authority?

i) This is sometimes cast in terms of teaching authority. But that’s ambiguous.

a) Does that mean church office (i.e. ordination) confers a degree of authority on the teaching over and above the quality of the teaching itself?

b) Or does it mean the pastor has the “authority” of an expert witness, due to his formal training in theology?

ii) Put another way, is the teaching of a pastor more inherently authoritative than the teaching of a layman, or does authority reside in truth?

Does the authoritative character of authoritative teaching derive from church office, or from the authority of Scripture, assuming a pastor accurately teaches what Scripture teaches? In other words, is the locus of authoritative teaching the Bible (i.e. Biblical teaching) or church office?

Scriptural teaching is authoritative. If a pastor’s exegesis is sound, and his application is sound, then, to that extent, his teaching shares the divine authority of the original source.

iii) Or does authority have reference, not to doctrinal authority, but to enforcing doctrine? Put another way, does this have reference to church discipline?

iv) In the high-church tradition, it’s sacramental authority, which is grounded in church office (i.e. holy orders, valid ordination, apostolic succession). 

Rise of the machines

So Microsoft recently acquired Skype:

I predict:

Don't say I didn't warn you!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ministering in Gotham

Some corners of the Reformed world consistently criticize Timothy Keller for his ministry practices. Having attended Redeemer, I find some of these criticisms to be unfair.

This is especially the case for those that suggest or state Keller compromises the Gospel in order to coddle and appease the expectations of unbelievers. Keller often commits the only secular sin of unapologetically asserting that belief in Jesus Christ is superior to all other religions and belief systems. That's far from accommodating.

Keller isn't beyond critique, of course, but sometimes it seems like his faultfinders are clueless as to what's involved in ministering in New York City. Their cultural expectations, which they improperly universalize in evaluations of other ministries, seem generated from Southern and/or heavily Christianized environments. What's appropriate in a nominal Christian culture isn't necessarily appropriate in a post-Christian environment.

I think Keller has his finger on the cultural pulse of New York City and effectively dismantles the postmodern foundation upon which all manner of sinful lifestyles are built, offering instead a life built on Christ. Criticisms of his failure to speak to some specific sins are misguided insofar as they fail to appreciate that there's more than one way to diminish sinful behavior. Sometimes one sin is produced by another sin, or several sins are symptoms of a greater, underlying sin. If you dig up the roots, you kill the tree and its fruit.

This is especially relevant given the transitory nature of New York City. You don't have a lot of time to speak to surface manifestations of deeper idols. You need to attack the heart of the secular lifestyle before its too late. It's not like a small town in rural Georgia where you can expect the same congregants to faithfully attend church for ten, twenty or thirty years.

This also means I disagree with some of the attempts to repeat the Redeemer model elsewhere. New York isn't Boston or LA.

There's also a lot of work to be done. Christians are underrepresented in urban areas in general, and New York is no exception. Given the number of lost souls and the enormous influence cities have on society at large, someone like Keller has an obligation to draw a wide net.

I'm also reproducing some relevant remarks I left on a comment thread containing criticisms of Keller and Redeemer:

Brad said:

I’m given to reckless oversimplification. Here I go again: The Redeemerites/transfos are basically “U2 church.” Their deepest desire is to see Bono join a hipster PCA church. For Bono to sign up of course he’d need to like us and feel comfortable. The whole movement is about building a “space” that Bono would like and about doing things he would largely approve of.

I came to Christ listening to Keller preach during my undergraduate years at New York University, after which I spent a few years attending Redeemer.

What Keller preaches is viewed as radically intolerant and utterly absurd by the secular world in NYC, to say nothing of how ridiculous Keller and fellow evangelicals look within the university context (I was a Religious Studies major). He’s just another contemptible Evangelical as far as many are concerned, as Redeemer’s preaching ministry is unapologetic in its clear declaration that Christ alone is the path to salvation and fulfillment.

You can criticize his approach to homosexuality, and there’s probably a better way for Keller to address the issue (I suspect he frames it the way he does because some, or many, gay people in NYC listening to an Evangelical on these issues will automatically associate him with the “God hates f—” movement unless he’s exceptionally careful with his words). But please avoid these kinds of simplifications about how Redeemer simply wants hip celebrities to “need to like us and feel comfortable.” Maybe you simply need to live and work in the city to appreciate the utter contempt its inhabitants have for any exclusive truth claims; neither I nor my friends in the city felt that Redeemer was seeking to make others “feel comfortable” like you might find at some theologically liberal church. Simply by proclaiming Jesus as exclusive Lord and Savior and taking the Bible seriously as God’s inspired/inerrant Word you are creating a deeply uncomfortable, even offensive, environment (to say nothing of Keller’s consistently pointed critiques of the postmodern, relativistic understanding of truth and fulfillment).

Phillip Mayberry said:

Dear Matthew,

Your point about oversimplification is well taken.

I am glad you are in the faith, my brother. There IS a better way to address homosexuality, and it is to say what the Bible says. The way something is viewed by a God-hating culture is irrelevent to the message itself. We have no liberty to change the message. Period. I rejoice where Pastor Keller gets it right, I lament where he gets it wrong. Whether or not we will speak what Jesus spoke openly is a serious matter according to Mark 8:38: check it out. With prestige comes great temptation to compromise.

I remember a man whose message was also rejected, and yet the message was not altered at all. This man calls his disciples to do the same… nothing less, for any reason, and no matter where they live, and no matter what the consequences- even death or loss.

Hope you will consider this: it is written in love. I have spoken personally to Pastor Keller along the same lines, and exhorted him to stick with the Bible, and proclaim it openly on every topic, not just what we deem to be the “main” ones. We are heralds, speaking the message of the King, not politicians, keeping some parts of the message quiet so as not to offend. The gospel is offensive: and as you point out, people already think we are crazy anyway- why not declare the whole counsel of God?

Grace to you,



I appreciate the spirit in which your comments are offered.

We need to distinguish between compromise and presentation. I think the question is not whether the message is declared, but where and how it is preached, and in what manner, for, if I recall correctly, Redeemer is undoubtedly clear about this issue on its membership form. I also believe it confronts the issue in small groups.

In NYC (or Manhattan, really) what is the critical issue for its inhabitants? Since Richard Rorty won the question of solidarity at the academy, and logical positivism has suffered its (frankly all too fitting) death, the critical philosophical issue, and thus critical theological concern, is whether objective truth exists, whether there are normative, universal standards binding on all of humanity. Obviously the secular intellectual and cultural leaders of the city say "no," and there is now a belief that the words you choose have the power to create value and meaning. Combine this with a generous heaping of Enlightenment individualism, and you have an edifice, a structural framework, that excuses sins of every kind merely as a matter of personal preference, fulfillment and choice.

Keller attacks and dismantles this edifice on a regular basis. It's one of the stronger points of his preaching that only Christ will satisfy the deepest longings of your heart, not whatever you yourself define and pursue as the means of satisfaction. He attacks the intellectual/philosophical roots that produce virtually all the sins of the secular world, including homosexuality. To focus on this foundation is highly effective in that sense, especially given the intellectual nature of his audience, which will work out the implications of what he teaches a the core level. Certainly this line of attack, this destruction of deep, abiding, foundational patterns and assumptions of sin, worked much more effectively on my heart than if someone had simply preached to the surface manifestations of my sinful behavior. Obviously that's not applicable in all situations, but I don't think we can discount this approach as necessarily false.

People listening to Keller come to see the ravishing beauty of Jesus Christ over against the secular ash heap that is personally defined fulfillment. They then can't help but give up their sinful habits and ask Christ what he demands of their lives--including sexually in the practice of homosexuality, if I am to believe some of the reports I've heard.

While you're certainly correct to say that the "way something is viewed by a God-hating culture is irrelevant to the message itself," this has the potential to paper over an acute issue that all pastors in cultures other than the ANE in which Christ was preaching must address. Sometimes when you say one thing to one culture, it will be misinterpreted as another thing you didn't say. Of course, sometimes this is willful and deliberate on the part of the audience, done in order to distort and create (yet another) excuse for sinful behavior. But since we have some measure of control over how the Gospel is received, to what extent do we have an obligation to change our presentation (not content) so as to be properly understood by the audience hearing our message? The practical outworking of this question is felt in NYC when people hear condemnations of homosexual behavior; the homosexual community and its allies will interpret such language as that of Fred Phelps. Obviously the orthodox position on this matter is nowhere near what Phelps presents, but how do you speak to this issue so that others, conditioned by the media to associate a denial of homosexual "rights" with the language and attitude of "God hates f---," can understand that you are offering the Gospel of hope to sinners who are lost under the wrath of God in their self-destructive ways, rather than a reveling and rejoicing, as Nietzsche and other moderns suspect (not without reason), in the eventual torment and suffering of those "disgusting sinners" over there? This is not an easy question, and its often made out to be almost binary by those who really demonstrate no comprehension of the difficulties of ministering in what is almost accurately called the City of Satan.

Again, I think Keller could be better on this issue, but it's not the kind of deficit it's often made out to be by people (not necessarily you in particular) who strike as both simplistic and unsympathetic in their critique of Redeemer and the work it does in a culture completely and totally alien to the Southern and/or Christianized environment that most of the PCA seems to enjoy.

Stop tipping off the enemy

Why Kill Bin Laden?

Results from Mitt Romneycare in Massachusetts

From the WSJ:
The ObamaCare preview that Massachusetts has been conducting for the last several years grows more ominous by the month, not that anyone in Washington is paying attention. So let's check on the Bay State's latest warning, coming soon to a hospital or medical practice near you.

A new survey released yesterday by the Massachusetts Medical Society reveals that fewer than half of the state's primary care practices are accepting new patients, down from 70% in 2007, before former Governor Mitt Romney's health-care plan came online. The average wait time for a routine checkup with an internist is 48 days. It takes 43 days to secure an appointment with a gastroenterologist for chronic heartburn, up from 36 last year, and 41 days to see an OB/GYN, up from 34 last year.

• Emergency room visits jumped 9% between 2004 and 2008, in part due to the lack of routine access to providers.

• Merely 43% of internists and 56% of family physicians accept Commonwealth Care, the heavily subsidized middle-class insurance program. The same respective figures are 53% and 62% for price-controlled Medicaid.

• The Medical Society also finds “a continued deterioration of the practice environment for physicians in Massachusetts.”

The Journal concludes: “Perhaps you should book your checkups now, in advance of the national sequel.”

On the repression of information in the pursuit of an agenda

I grew up during the cold war, during the 60’s and 70’s, when complete and total annihilation could occur at any moment. Such a memory can have a lasting effect on you.

Other things, too, make an impression on the memory. In the Orwell novel, ‘1984’ – in those days, it was still a dystopian future – it was the job of the main character, Winston Smith, “to rewrite historical documents so they match the constantly changing current party line. This involves revising newspaper articles and doctoring photographs — mostly to remove ‘unpersons,’ people who have fallen foul of the party.”

To find real-life precedent for this practice, Orwell had to travel no further than the Roman Catholic Church, which had enshrined such a practice for centuries. In describing how we have come to know about the genuine teachings of Nestorius, for example, Friedrich Loofs wrote, “The church of the ancient Roman Empire did not punish its heretics merely by deposition, condemnation, banishment and various deprivation of rights, but, with the purpose of shielding its believers against poisonous influence, it destroyed all heretical writings ... a similar fortune was prepared for Nestorius.” (Loofs, “Nestorius,” 2-11).

Of course, according to Orwell, “If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say this or that even, it never happened—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.” (Book 1, Chapter 3)

Rome knew well this tactic. In describing the difference between movements that are typically known as the “Catholic Reformation” and the “Counter-Reformation” (and arguing that they were really one and the same thing), Patrick Collinson related this incident:
In 1543 a little book was published in Venice with the title Trattato utilissimo del beneficio di Giesu Christo crocifisso i cristiani (A Most Useful Treatise on the Merits of Jesus Christ Crucified for Christians), written by an elusive Benedictine monk called Benedetto da Mantova (dates of birth and death unknown, but his surname seems to have been fontanino) with some help from the humanist and poet Marcantonio Flaminio (1498-1550), a popular work of piety that was translated into several languages including Croat. At first sight this may appear to be a piece of native Italian Christocentrism, part of a Pauline and Augustinian renaissance known to have been nourished by a Spanish humanist and biblicist, Juan de Valdes (1500-1541), whose pious circle in Naples had included Flaminio. But the Beneficio can be read in more than one way. It proves to have been made up from a number of transalpine Protestant texts, and especially the 1539 edition of Calvin's Institutes. Whether or not Benedetto had come across Calvin in his monastery on the slopes of Mount Etna, which seems unlikely, the Institutes was known to Flaminio.

It is hard to distinguish between the theology of the Beneficio and Protestantism. “Man can never do good works unless he first know himself to be justified by faith.” Other scholars insist, however, that the Beneficio is an expression of Evangelism, a movement that was not generated by Protestantism and should be distinguished from it. What is certain is that the Beneficio was placed on the Index and so successfully repressed by the Roman Inquisition that of the many thousands of copies of the Italian edition that were once in existence only one is known to survive, discovered in the library of a Cambridge college in the nineteenth century. That sort of successful repression was the Counter-Reformation. (“The Reformation, a History”, Patrick Collinson, (c) 2003, New York: The Modern Library (Random House edition), pgs. 105-106.)
So, yesterday, the thing I was lamenting was not so much that the Heidelblog was gone (though I’ve quoted from it many times and found it to be a very fine resource), so much as that it was thought that the act of deletion was some sort of disciplinary measure, by one party or another, thinking that either the “plucking out of an eye,” so to speak, or the excision of some inconvenient form of information, was going to be a solution to a problem.

Monday, May 09, 2011

What's fair?

Scroll down to Note from KBJ at the bottom of the post:

Are you a heretic?

Of course, the questionnaire reflects the viewpoint of the questioner. But it's still an interesting exercise:

Timothy McGrew On Bart Ehrman's Recent Book And Other Topics

Brian Auten recently posted a good interview with Timothy McGrew. It covers a lot of topics, including undesigned coincidences and problems with Bart Ehrman's recent book on New Testament authorship. He gives many examples of parallels between the alleged problems with the New Testament and similar characteristics in non-Christian literature.

Bush 44

First there was Bush 41. Then there was Bush 43. It's ironic to see Obama morph into Bush 44:

"Justice and the Death of Osama bin Laden"

Straw Men Burning

George Eldon Ladd ‘single-handedly reinvigorated’ ‘the Evangelical Mind’

Justin Taylor has picked up a paragraph from Scot McKnight’s brief review of the recently published biography of George Eldon Ladd:
I don’t believe our goal as Bible or theology scholars is to be deemed among the finest of scholars or to find a place at the table, but to be faithful to Jesus Christ and to the gospel and to orthodox theology and to academic rigor. Yes, we are to work to discover and to be creative, but the driving passion to prove ourselves at the feet of others falls short of a true Christian telos. I’d put it this way: we are called to be faithful, whether we are accepted or not.
McKnight summarized: “Ladd single-handedly reinvigorated evangelical scholarship and D’Elia tells that very story…. George Eldon Ladd was a Titan, his work irreplaceable, and his impact incalculable.” I’ve also had the opportunity to read and comment on Ladd’s impact. Here’s a paragraph from Donald Hagner’s Introduction to the Revised Edition of Ladd’s 1974 work:
Without question Ladd’s theology reflects the orientation of a specific interpretive community, that known widely as “Evangelicalism.” It was Ladd who was especially instrumental in helping many fundamentalists to see for the first time not merely the acceptability, but the indispensability, of historical criticicsm. Evangelicals – at least many of them – have become more open to many of the conclusions of critical scholarship (in regard to, for example, the authorship and dating of New Testament writings and the implications for the development of the New Testament) in the twenty years since Ladd wrote (in 1974). They continue, however, to share the basic convictions embodied in Ladd’s approach to biblical theology. For all the actual diversity in the New Testament writings there remains an unforced and genuine unity among them at the same time. For all the historical particularity of these writings they continue to possess a normative authority for the church. And if, as J. Reumann has recently written, “the ultimate test for any biblical theology will be whether it enables faith and obedience to God’s word,” that practical concern was close to the heart of Ladd. Ladd’s interpretive community continues to cherish the goals of faith and obedience. At their best, evangelicals will cultivate openness to all that increases faith and leads to a more effective obedience (pgs 19-20).

Where is Heidelblog?

As a former Roman Catholic, I’m still a bit of a newbie when it comes to being a Protestant. And I have to admit, I’m somewhat puzzled by “church discipline”.

For some Reformed Christians – in some of the Reformed Confessions – there are two marks of the church: that the Gospel is faithfully preached, and that the sacraments are properly administered. For others, there is that “third mark” of “church discipline,” and here is where we face potential train wrecks.

Now, I know that some pastors are very sensitive to the dimension of discipline, and discipline, properly effected, is a good thing. It can save eternal lives. And as a member of a PCA church, I have taken a membership vow that “I submit myself to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace.” I don’t wish to question the concept of church discipline.

But sometimes, it seems as if the concept of “church discipline” can be taken too far.

I’m not going to speculate as to who did what to whom in this case. I know that Clark was frequently controversial. At one point he turned off the comments on his blog because they became too rowdy.

As a freshly-minted non-Roman Catholic in the late 1990’s, I searched the Internet for sources about Reformation theology, and one of the sources I found was a site that was the precursor of Clark’s Heidelblog.

Because of his writings and his blog, I was able to get to interact with and to know the man. Not well, but even during some disputes, I always found him to be accessible and open and a good guide through a number of Reformation-related topics. I referred to, and even quoted his blog a number of times.

And no doubt the same is true for many of his students and readers.

Whether you like(d) Clark or hate(d) him, The Heidleblog, in its entirety, was the culmination of years’-worth of effort from a brilliant and erudite man. And its removal has the feel of a 21st-century book burning.

Edit (3:00 pm EDT): Since I made this initial post, I've learned a bit more about Dr. Clark’s reasons for deleting the blog. What I have to say is that it takes a tremendous amount of work and commitment to continue to write, day after day, on controversial topics. As Christians, we should be grateful for the work of such individuals, especially those who labor mightily for the kingdom -- on all sides of controversies that we have among ourselves -- and we need to be mindful that we work for the ultimate [in this world] controversialist, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Leaders & curators

A crisis brings out the difference between leaders and curators. For the most part I think the difference is temperamental.

On the one hand you have the curators. The administrators. They maintain the status quo. Their natural element is normalcy. They can function in ordinary times. They are the keepers of the social order. Sentinels of the conventional wisdom.

When the system is good, it’s good to conserve the system. When the law is good, it is good to be law-abiding.

Mind you, curators are also the dutiful bureaucrats who keep the machinery of the totalitarian regime well-oiled. Good or bad, they play by the rules. They never question the rules.

However, the curators can’t function in a crisis. They can’t adjust to something novel or extraordinary. They are vacillating. Or fossilized. Constitutionally unable to rise to the demands of an exigent challenge.

Observing the speed limit is generally a good thing. But if you’re trying to outrun an F-5 tornado, it’s time to floor the accelerator.

In a crisis, natural leaders emerge. They are daring and decisive.  Uncompromising in their objectives, but adaptable in their tactics.. Problem-solvers who do whatever it takes to get the job done. 

They make great generals. They will snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by seizing the moment, even if it means disobeying a direct order from a superior officer.

People like this terrify the curators. It’s the difference between Charles de Gaulle and Marshal Pétain, Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, Jean Calvin and Henri de Navarre.

Conversely, natural leaders should generally retire to a ranch after the crisis has passed and write their memories or take up painting.

George Patton is very useful in wartime, but a bit of a nuisance in peacetime. Once the good status quo has been restored, or a bad status quo has been replaced, you can let the custodians take it from there.

We see this in church history. And politics. We see this in how different Christians and different Christian institutions react to the threat of dhimmitude and global jihad. 

Michael Licona And Stephen Patterson Debating The Resurrection

I just noticed that Michael Licona has posted the audio of his 2010 debate on Jesus' resurrection with Stephen Patterson, a member of the Jesus Seminar.

What Americans Really Believe

Part 3, "Atheism and Irreligion," reveals that rather than belief in God fading fast into oblivion, the percentage of Americans in 2007 who said they did not believe in God (4%) was the same as the percentage of Americans in 1944 who said they did not believe in God. Furthermore, "irreligion is not effectively transmitted from parents to children. Studies show that the majority of children born into an irreligious home end up joining a religious group - most often a conservative denomination" (pp. 117, 205; cf. p. 7). Many who assert no religion say they still pray, and the majority are not "atheist," just unaffiliated (p. 141; cf. pp. 117, 142, 205).

Stark cites complementary evidence that despite enduring nearly a century of brutal government suppression of religion, only 4% of Russians and 14% of Chinese did not believe in God near the turn of the millennium. Also embarrassing for self-described "bright" and "rational" New Atheists are statistics demonstrating that irreligious people are "almost three times as likely" to place "great value" in Tarot, seances, and psychic healing, and also more likely to believe in "real" UFOs (p. 125).;content


Resisting evil

On the one hand:

In other words, Calvinism may be God-centered, but the God at the center is morally ambiguous and unworthy of worship.

Theologian David Bentley Hart expresses it thus: One should consider the price of this God-centeredness:  It is a strange thing indeed to seek [God-centered theology]…at the cost of a God rendered morally loathsome. (The Doors of the Sea [Eerdmans, 2005], p. 99)
In this theology, the God at the center is the ultimate narcissist, the greatest egoist who finds glory in displaying his naked power even to the point of consigning millions to hell just to manifest his attribute of justice.
Better a man-centered theology than one that revolves around a being hardly distinguishable from the devil.

On the other hand:

I don’t see Jesus giving us that “out.” The Sermon on the Mount is clear. We are to love all people equally and never resist evil.

Roger Olson clearly thinks the God of Calvinism is evil (viz. “morally ambiguous,” “morally loathsome,” “unworthy of worship,” “hardly distinguishable from the devil”). So why is Olson resisting Reformed theism if the Sermon on the Mount is clear: we are never to resist evil? Where's the out?