Saturday, June 04, 2011

A Response to Richard Carrier's Review of Reppert's AFR

On Trusting the Church Fathers

One commenter said below: “It sounding very strange to assert that a father is lying or that many fathers are lying. It makes any kind of rational conversation difficult when it comes to the faith of the early church when if one is confronted with evidence they can merely claim, ‘Oh, this father is not telling the truth.’”

But that’s the way it was, and this type of head-in-the-sand “I’ll believe any church father over modern historians,” has led to more confusion in church history than most people realize.

Another commenter related that Eusebius had not only passed along a mythical letter that Jesus had written during his lifetime to a Persian king named “Abgar”, but which was, according to Eusebius, “available, taken from the Record Office at Edessa.” That means that anyone who had access to the “record office at Edessa” (no small city at the time) would have found this fictitious letter to be presented as “the official record”. This was only one of many such instances.

For those who are inclined to believe that the "early church fathers" were a pure and holy group, not ever given to lying or even fudging, consider this, which I've written about in the past. Samuel Hugh Moffett, writing in "A History of Christianity in Asia," describes the events at the Council of Ephesus:
"On Easter Sunday in 429, Cyril publicly denounced Nestorius for heresy. With fine disregard for anything Nestorius had actually said, he accused him of denying the deity of Christ. It was a direct and incendiary appeal to the emotions of the orthodox, rather than to precise theological definition or scriptural exegesis, and, as he expected, an ecclesiastical uproar followed. Cyril showered Nestorius with twelve bristling anathemas...As tempers mounted, a Third Ecumenical Council was summoned to meet in Ephesus in 431 ... [it was] the most violent and least equitable of all the great councils. It is an embarrassment and blot on the history of the church. ... Nestorius ... arrived late and was asking the council to wait for him and his bishops. Cyril, who had brought fifty of his own bishops with him, arrogantly opened the council anyway, over the protests of the imperial commissioner and about seventy other bishops. ... "They acted ... as if it was a war they were conducting, and the followers of [Cyril] ... went about in the city girt and armed with clubs ... with the yells of barbarians, snorting fiercely ... raging with extravagant arrogance against those whom they knew to be opposed to their doings, carrying bells about the city and lighting fires. They blocked up the streets so that everyone was obliged to fee and hide, while they acted as masters of the situation, lying about, drunk and besotted and shouting obsceneties... (Moffet 174).
For more information, see also:

Philip Jenkins: The Lost History of Christianity

Mar Bawai Soro: The Church of the East: Apostolic and Orthodox

Hope for the U.S. Economy

The WSJ obviously is one of my more trusted sources for news about business and the economy. This morning they featured an interview with one of Wall Street’s leading perma-optimists, BlackRock Chief Equity Strategist Bob Doll. Despite some of the things that are dragging on the American economy, Doll sees a number of bright spots:
“Credit markets are sound. Money growth is good,” says Mr. Doll, whose optimism has been the right market call since March 9, 2009, when stocks hit their post-crisis lows. The Dow has since risen more than 85%, and Mr. Doll expects the slow economic expansion to continue….

Friday, June 03, 2011

An illustration of the way that critical scholarship is confirming the details of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, while denying an early papacy

An illustration of the way that critical scholarship is confirming the details of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, while denying an early papacy.

The question is, “John, how can you accept the work of scholars who don’t believe everything that conservative evangelicals believe? You’re inconsistent to ‘pick and choose’ only among the scholars who agree with you.”

Gary Habermas has been studying what “critical scholars” have been saying about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and he has been noting confluence on an amazing range of details. Here are a couple of paragraphs from one of his recent articles:

As an example of these recent trends, I will compare briefly the ideas of two seemingly different scholars, John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright. We will contrast some of their views on Jesus’ resurrection, following the specific list of topics that we just provided. This will indicate some of their major differences, but perhaps some unexpected similarities, as well. Such will serve as a sample demarcation from the recent theological scene, as well....

Both Crossan and Wright agree without reservation that Paul is the best early witness to the resurrection appearances. They both hold that Paul was an eyewitness to what he believed was a resurrection appearance of Jesus. Further, they share the view that Paul recorded an account in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 that he had received decades before writing the letter in which it appears, and that the apostle probably learned it during his early visit to Jerusalem, just a short time after Jesus’ death.[67]

Perhaps most surprisingly, both Wright and Crossan embrace the claim that the earliest Christian teachings taught that Jesus appeared in a bodily manner. This is the case for several reasons, such as this being the predominant Jewish view at the time. Most of all, this was the clear meaning of the terms. ...

Lastly, both Crossan and Wright readily agree that the resurrection of Jesus in some sense indicates that the truth of Christian belief ought to lead to its theological outworkings, including the radical practice of ethics. As Crossan states, “Tom and I agree on one absolutely vital implication of resurrection faith . . . that God’s transfiguration of this world here below has already started . . .” To be sure, Crossan’s chief emphasis is to proceed to the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection in the world today, contending that we must live out the literal implications of this belief in “peace through justice.” Just as Jesus’ appearances inspired the disciples’ proclamation of God’s victory over sin and the powers of Caesar’s empire, we must “promote God’s Great Clean-Up of the earth” and “take back God’s world from the thugs.”[75]

Wright argues that, for both the New Testament authors like Paul and John, as well as for us today, the facticity of Jesus’ resurrection indicates that Christian theology is true, including doctrines such as the sonship of Jesus and his path of eternal life to those who respond to his message.[76] The resurrection also requires a radical call to discipleship in a torn world, including responses to the political tyranny of both conservatives as well as liberals, addressing violence, hunger, and even death. As Wright says, “Easter is the beginning of God’s new world. . . . But Easter is the time for revolution. . . .”[77]

So there is at least general agreement between Crossan and Wright regarding most of the individual topics which we have explored above. There is at least some important overlap in each of the six categories, except for the historicity of the empty tomb. The amount of agreement on some of the issues, like the value of Paul’s eyewitness testimony to a resurrection appearance, his report of an early creed that predates him by a couple of decades, as well as his knowledge of the message taught by the Jerusalem apostles, is rather incredible, especially given the different theological stances of these two scholars. The emerging agreement concerning the essential nature of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, especially for Paul and the New Testament authors, is a recent twist that would have been rather difficult to predict just a few years ago. And both scholars argue for the believer’s literal presence in righting the world’s wrongs, because of Jesus’ resurrection.
So, here are two different scholars, from two different backgrounds, both of whom I would disagree with on a number of things. But there is a general confluence of agreement over some of the facts. Important facts.

I know the specific points on which I’d disagree with both Crossan and Wright. None of that diminishes the facts upon which these two agree.

You don’t see this kind of agreement among contemporary scholars saying “Peter was the first pope, Linus was the second, Clement was the third, and on and on through a divine succession of history”. In fact, you see a confluence in quite an opposite direction.

Jack Kevorkian is dead

Dominion & Dynasty

The Tanakh is not a random concatenation of texts, but a Text with a discernible structure, a clear beginning, a middle and an ending. Genesis and Chronicles are the beginning and ending, and the middle is carried with a narrative storyline into which many and various poems, much legislation, lists, building instructions, tribal boundary records, reports of visions and prophecies and many small stories have been appropriately placed. The narrative continues until it is interrupted by a substantial block of poetic commentary from the prophet Jeremiah through to the book of Lamentations, after which it resumes with Daniel and concludes with Chronicles.
The narrative ‘bookends’ of this Text, Genesis and Chronicles, are very different…Despite the significant differences, there are striking similarities. Genesis and Chronicles are virtually the only books in the Hebrew Bible saturated with genealogical lists…A key purpose of genealogies in some contexts is to show a divine purpose that moves history to a specific goal. It is easier to see the big picture when a wide-angle lens is used to look at the canon. Genesis begins with Adam, and the storyline quickly progresses through history, using genealogies, until Abraham arrives on the historical scene. The storyline follows Abraham and his descendants, and Genesis closes with Abraham’s grandson predicting that an individual from the family of a great-grandson (Judah) would wield a ruling scepter over all the nations and preside over an astonishingly fertile land (Gen 49:8-12). Chronicles begins with Adam and rapidly moves through history, largely using genealogies until David from the tribe of Judah arrives. And after David there is the explicit hope in a future seed from his line, who will rule according to the oracle of the prophet Nathan (1 Chr 17). Abraham and Sarah are called out of Babylon (Babel) to go to the promised land at the beginning of Israel’s national history in Genesis 12; their distant descendants hear the same call to leave Babylon and return to the promised land in 1 Chronicles 36.
But these two books are not only about genealogy that culminates in a Davidic dynasty; they are about land–geography and dominion. Genesis establishes a domain over which which humans are to realize their humanity. The world was created by the command of God; the garden of Eden becomes the prime habitat of human beings until their exile from it. Humans are expelled from the earth with the judgment of the great deluge. The postdiluvian human community is dispersed across the face of the earth at Babel. And when Abram arrives on the historical scene he is promised a commodity that has been in short supply for human beings: a land to call his own. He never quite gets it, except for a graveyard of his wife. By the end of Genesis his descendants are exiled in Egypt from this land of promise. From this exilic vantage point the aged Joseph’s remarks conclude the book of Genesis: “I am about to die; but God will surely visit (paqad) you and bring up out (ala) of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’” (50:24).
Chronicles also focuses on the land, which Abraham and his immediate descendants did not possess. This focus narrows to Jerusalem and the temple within that land. For example, the heart of Chronicles concerns Jerusalem and the temple under David and Solomon, some twenty chapters [1 Chron 17–2 Chron 7]. The ultimate tragedy is the destruction of the temple and the exile of the people to Babylon. Yet the end of Chronicles, like Genesis, is not exile. The note of promise is a directive from Cyrus for them to return to the land and rebuild the temple [1 Chr 36:23]. Consequently, these two books, which function to introduce and conclude the canon and which have such strikingly similar endings, keep the main storyline in view with two of its important themes–dynasty and dominion–being realized through the Davidic house.
A clearly defined ‘middle’ carries this storyline between the beginning and ending of the canon. The story begun in Genesis flows (at times not so smoothly) from the first couple’s loss of land and exile through to Abraham’s call, Israel’s exile in Egypt, the exodus and the possession of the promised land, followed by the institution of the Davidic dynasty and the loss of land culminating in the exile of Judah. The last narrative note before the interruption of this story is the favour shown to Jehoiachin, the exiled Davidic king in Babylon (2 Kgs 25:27-30). This historical sequence of events from Genesis to Kings is disrupted by a body of poetic literature that functions to provide a pause in the storyline to reflect on the tragedy of the exile, its causes and significance. It is here that a profound dialogue occurs, in which God addresses Israel in the first person through the voice of the prophets and Israel addresses God in the first person through the voices of the psalmists.
Significantly, the first book of this commentary, Jeremiah, indicates that exile is not God’s final word…After this commentary the narrative storyline resumes in Babylon with the vision of Daniel’s son of man, which charts a glorious future for Israel…But the seventy years stands for a much longer span of time–seventy sevens, probably 490 years or a complete period of time…the Danielic clock has started ticking. The command of a foreign king, named ‘Messiah’ in the biblical text, who has ended the rule of Babylon [Isa 45:1], presages the coming of another Messiah (Dan 9:25), who will not only end the world order but also establish a new one–the kingdom of God–in which Jerusalem will be the centre of the earth, a city set on a hill radiating light to the nations (Is 2:1-5; 60:1-22).
From Adam to David. From the creation of the world to the building of the temple, which will give new life to the world and from the divine rule will extend to the ends of the earth. Genealogy and geography, dynasty and dominion. This represents the story of the Tanakh, a story that leaves Israel still in a type of exile, waiting for someone from David’s house to come and build a house to bring about the restoration of all things. This is the overall message, presented in a storyline with commentary, shows that the Tanakh is a book and not a ragbag. To be sure, it consists of many texts, but these find their part in a larger Text. The many stories together constitute a single Story. And this Story is about the reclamation of a lost human dominion over the world through a Davidic dynasty. In short, it is about the coming of the kingdom of God, and it is unfinished.
A significant structural feature of the biblical narrative is typology…typological features emerge naturally when the biblical text is understood as a Text. This is particularly clear for the twin themes of dynasty and dominion. In each case there is movement from the universal to the particular and back to the universal. For example, humanity is called to be the image of God, fails in its task and is replaced by Israel, who is regarded as God’s son. A tribe is singled out within Israel–a family within the tribe–and an individual, David–becomes the focus. And yet David, his sons and their failures, point forwards to a just Davidic king who will bring the benefits of the rule not only to Israel but to all of humanity Similarly, the dominion of Adam begins over all creation, and then the land of Canaan becomes the focus, and next the city of Jerusalem and then temple. And from this particular place, the rule of God extends outwards to Israel and the nations, even to the ends of the earth.
Significantly, the New Testament is structured similarly to the Tanakh: story (Gospels, Acts), commentary (Letters), story (Revelation)…The New Testament story begins with a genealogy, one that comprehends the entire history of Israel (Mt 1:1-17)…the New Testament links the beginning and ending of Tanakh’s story with the life of Jesus…Jesus is a new David, the culmination of Israel’s history, who will bring about an end to the exile. Yet his birth brings light to the Gentiles; a star is seen rising in the east (Mt 2:2), which means the crushing of the enemy’s head (Num 24:17). Thus, when Jesus begins his ministry, he, as the new Adam and the new Israel, succeeds where the old Adam and the old Israel failed (Mt 4:1-11). Hence he recapitulates in his life the history of Adam and Israel.”
He is the descendant of David who, by virtue of his resurrection, sits on the throne of David as the long-expected descendent of the Davidic house (understood as a dynasty) (Lk 1:32; Acts 2:30-35)…But Jesus is also the Davidic house understood as a temple, in which God’s presence is incarnated, a presence that flows out of him like a surging river giving life to all (John 2:19-22; 7:37-39; cf. 47:1-12).”
From the Davidic centre of Jerusalem the growing band of disciples makes its way from Judea to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)…At the end of the New Testament, ‘history’ resumes in Daniel-like fashion with the book of Revelation, which, in its message, captures the vast kaleidoscope of the latter-day visions of the Tanakh in one stunning panoramic vision. There is the Son of Man (Rev 1:13; Dan 7:13), from whose mouth emanates a sharp sword (Rev 1:16; Is 11:4; 49:2), the one among the lampstands (Rev 1:13; Zech 4), the lion from the tribe of Judah (Rev 5:5; Gen 9:9-10) and the root of David (Rev 5:5; Is 11:1).

S. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (IVP 2003), 46-60; 231-34. 

The Free-Floating, Imaginary Papacy

Klaus Schatz, after summarizing the “historical development,” points to “the very notable remarks of Rudolf Pesch, Simon-Petrus, Gechicte un geschichtliche Bedeutung des ersten Jungers Jesu Christi (Stuutgart, 1980) 163-170.

Robert Eno, in “The Rise of the Papacy,” also points to Pesch’s work (not translated into English) as “the most significant Roman Catholic study [of the early papacy] since Raymond Brown’s joint work “Simon Peter in the New Testament” (1973). Of this work, Eno says:
Here I am not concerned with his detailed study of Peter in the various New Testament traditions but in his general conclusions. Pesch concludes, among other things, that neither the story of the historical Peter nor the image of Peter in the later New Testament traditions is of immediate importance for the primacy of the Roman bishops. Indeed, later references back to Peter in the New Testament, primarily Matthew 16:18, may sometimes appear almost to be an afterthought. For Pesch, an issue such as a general leadership of the Church is an open question. Even if Peter is conceived as a sort of leader among the Twelve, whether his “Petrine office,” if there was such a thing, had successors is also an open question. Even if one could argue for such a successor on the basis of the New Testament text, there remains the most elusive and fascinating question of all: is there a missing link in the first and second centuries between the historical peter and a bishop of Rome conceived of as a successor to him? (pgs 15-16)
Of course the answer is no. Through the process of “development” that Schatz had outlined, “whose initial phases extended well into the fifth century,” the historical truths of it are “not of immediate importance”.

Rome has untethered the very papacy from the roots that it supposedly had. It is a free-floating structure, with no genuine earthly reality, much like a Platonic form. Adrian Fortescue’s historical certainty is abandoned.

The “real substance” of Optatus of Mileve

It was noted in comments below that “Called to Communion” was writing “articles that have the real substance,” such as articles about “St. Optatus”. Actually, I’ve written about Optatus in the past. And in fact, I’ve written more extensively about the “pope” that he defends, Damasus. Damasus, of course, had hired a mob of gravediggers [armed with picks and shovels, etc.] to defend his “election” to the papacy. This mob, according to contemporary accounts, had “savagely” attacked and killed 137 followers of a rival [and previously elected and consecrated] “pope”. Regarding Damasus:
Since the mid third century there had been a growing assimilation of Christian and secular culture. It is already in evidence long before Constantine with the art of the Christian burial sites round the city, the catacombs. With the imperial adoption of Christianity, this process accelerated. In Damasus’ Rome, wealthy Christians gave each other gifts in which Christian symbols went alongside images of Venus, nereids and sea-monsters, and representations of pagan-style wedding-processions.

This Romanisation of the Church was not all a matter of worldiness, however. The bishops of the imperial capital had to confront the Roman character of their city and their see. They set about finding a religious dimension to that Romanitias which would have profound implications for the nature of the papacy. Pope Damasus in particular took this task to heart. He set himself to interpret Rome’s past in the light not of paganism, but of Christianity. He would Latinise the Church, and Christianise Latin. He appointed as his secretary the greatest Latin scholar of the day, the Dalmatian presbyter Jerome, and commissioned him to turn the crude dog-Latin of the Bible versions [currently] used in the church into something more urbane and polished. Jerome’s work was never completed, but the Vulgate Bible, as it came to be called, rendered the scriptures of ancient Israel and the early Church into an idiom which Romans could recognize as their own. The covenant legislation of the ancient tribes was now cast in the language of the Roman law-courts [emphasis added], and Jerome’s version of the promises to Peter used familiar Roman legal words for binding and loosing -- ligare and solver -- which underlined the legal character of the Pope’s unique claims. (Eamon Duffy, “Saints and Sinners, A History of the Popes, New Haven and London, Yale Nota Bene, Yale University Press ©1997 and 2001, pgs 38-39)
Shotwell and Loomis note, “During the pontificate of Damasus, Optatus, bishop of Mileve, a town in the Roman province of Numidia, wrote a treatise on the Donatist schism, which he dedicated to the Christian emperors.”
Here’s what Optatus (c. 370) said of “the Chair of Peter”:
We must note who first established a see and where. If you do not know, admit it. If you do know, feel your shame. I cannot charge you with ignorance, for you plainly know. It is a sin to err knowingly, although an ignorant person may be blind to his error. But you cannot deny that you know that the episcopal seat [“cathedra”] was established first in the city of Rome by Peter and that in it sat Peter, the head of all the apostles, wherefore he is called Cephas. So in this one seat unity is maintained by everyone, that the other apostles might not claim separate seats, each for himself.… (Cited in Shotwell and Loomis, “The See of Peter,” pgs 111-112, writing to the Donatists.)
According to the editors, “not only, he says, was Peter ‘head of the apostles’ and the first bishop of Rome, but his bishopric at Rome was the first to be established anywhere in the Church. It was the original episcopate. The claim, however, was excessive even for that credulous age. It violated such widely accepted ideas as those of the bishopric of James the apostle at Jerusalem, and of Peter’s foundation of the bishopric at Antioch.” (111)

Optatus was an incredibly bad historian. No doubt he was passing along what Eamon Duffy had termed “pious romance, not history” about Peter – in the form of “later legends” that sprung up around his personality in the second century.

Who wants their faith to be formed around a legend? I certainly don’t. But that is the legacy of hundreds of years-worth of papal “history”.

Separating what is true from what is the legend is the ongoing work of critical historians. As I’ve mentioned, during the 20th century, Rome has backed far away from some of the claims made by someone like Adrian Fortescue. They have been very shy about proclaiming the results of their own studies.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Vocational education

Atheist epologists are fond of touting a sociological correlation between education and atheism: as a rule, those with more education are less religious while those with less education are more religious.

Statistics are interesting things. Here’s another, albeit neglected, correlation involving educational achievements which, for some odd reason, atheist epologists are not as eager to tout:

Boneheaded Stimulus Never Works

Universalism's Ensurance Policy

One problem for dogmatic universalists (those who don't merely hope all might be saved, they positively believe — from reason and Scripture — that all people will eventually be in heaven) is the problem of ensurance. That is, how does God ensure that all will eventually find their way to heaven. The "ensurance question" can be put like this:

[E] Just how, exactly, does God ensure that all people will eventually be in heaven, thus warranting dogmatic universalism?

There seem to be two options for those "evangelical universalists" who believe you don't get into heaven "no matter what" and that there needs to be some connection to coming through Jesus: Either one gets into heaven by exercise of his libertarian free will or one gets into heaven by exercise of a compatibilist free will.

The first road some universalists take is to posit that compatibilism must be true in order to answer the ensurance question. But a problem arises when we consider that the overwhelming majority of "evangelical universalists" believe that those who don't choose Jesus in this life will go to a terrible hell where they will get another chance to trust in Jesus. To ensure that all of these hellions get into heaven, God will, for some, bring it about that they compatibilistically free trust in Jesus. Here's the problem, and it's taken from their playbook against Calvinism. With Calvinism, it is said that if God can make it that someone compatibilist freely believes in Jesus, why doesn't he do that for everyone, thus saving all from hell?

But at this point the Calvinist gets to use the "I'm rubber you're glue, anything you say bounces of my and sticks to you" argument. It goes like this: If God can bring it about that some will compatibilist freely choose Jesus, why doesn't he bring it about before they die, thus saving them the pain and horrors of hell? If he knows he will eventually have to do this for them, it seems like torture to make them "wait," as it were, when he could have avoided all that pain and torment they would face, and give them immediately to their family members, making their time in heaven that much better (for if you knew your loved one was suffering in hell you couldn't be truly happy until he was released).

The upshot is that universalists who answer [E] by positing compatibilsim should aim their same "injustice guns" against their own position, consigning belief in a temporal hell to the flames. All those who don't libertarian freely choose Jesus in this life God ensures that they compatibilist freely does so. The vast majority of universalists hold to this view, and so the vast majority either need to find that God is a moral monster, or drop their belief in a temporal hell, becoming dogmatic universalists about no one spending any time in hell.

[Addendum: It is illogical to posit libertarianism and compatibilism about the same world. If indeterminism is true, it's a necessary truth, and so compatibilism is false. To avoid this some might claim that God just straight up violates the will and forces hellions to choose Jesus, then hopes that once in heaven they will agree that this is best for them and that believing on Jesus is best for them. Obviously, the same problem arises]

The second road, the harder road, is to keep libertarianism all the way around. On benefit is that it avoids the illogical conjunction of libertarianism and compatibilism. Another benefit is that it keeps a "robust" freedom and eschews the problems inherent in "addendum." A rather glaring defect, however, is that it appears full orbed libertarianism cannot guarantee all will get into heaven. That is, it cannot answer [E].

Philosophers, if anything, are known for coming up with all kinds of unique and creative ways around problems. What looks pretty obvious, viz., that one cannot ensure or guarantee a libertarian free choice, isn't as obvious to some. The idea here is that it is possible for God to guarantee that all will be saved so long as he always leaves the door open for repentance. The illustration here (given by Eric Reitan) is that if you have a box of pennies and you toss the pennies out of the box onto the ground, there's a 50% chance a penny will land heads and a 50% chance a penny will land tails. If heads = heaven and tails = stay in hell, then after the first toss (probably) some pennies go to heaven and some stay in hell. Toss them out again, some may go to heaven, others will stay in hell. The idea is that, mathematically, all will eventually get into heaven, given that the tossing can go on as long as it needs to ensure the result.

The flaw here is that hell is unjust since some people stay in merely by chance. Thus, God could punish a person in hell for one hundred thousand years all because they, by chance, kept landing tails! Whether one gets to be out of hell and enjoying heaven is a matter of luck. So, while [E] might be able to be answered here, it gives us an unjust God. We might want to amend [E] at this point to this,

[E*] Just how, exactly, does God ensure that all people will eventually be in heaven, and do so while remaining just, thus warranting dogmatic universalism?

But if God can just keep people in hell due to arbitrary chance, thus being unjust, why doesn't he just let everyone into heaven without repenting of their sins? Let them in no matter what. So if one wants to keep this pure, random "chancy" indeterminism, he cannot answer [E*], and if he digs in his heels, he just just have God let people into heaven no matter what, Indeed, the latter god seems better than the god who keeps people in hell due to chance.

The upshot of this argument by cases is that, at best, dogmatic universalists need to get rid of their belief in a horrible temporal hell. God ensures all get into heaven before they die. The problem that arises now is that a temporal hell was (partly) posited to get around certain objections like, "Universalism undermines evangelism." But if everyone gets into heaven on the first go-around, whence ariseth the need for evangelism?!

Nice guys finish last

Better a man-centered theology than one that revolves around a being hardly distinguishable from the devil.

What is Reprehensible about Calvinism
Though consistent in form, the theory of supralapsarianism is utterly repugnant...This heinous philosophical-theological error places one's salvation in a cold (seemingly arbitrary) decree...

Which reminds to spot Arminians and Calvinists:


The good boy. Sensitive male. Wears a bow-tie. Does whatever mommy tells him. Eats the right food. Never swears, smokes, drinks, or dates girls who do. Was class president. Won state spelling bee. Never cut class. In bed by 9 every night. Drives hybrid car. Never speeds, double parks, or walks on the grass. Sorts garbage into specified recycling bins. Into checkers. Barbershop quartet. Think Father Knows Best.


The bad boy. Gone to the devil. Has that daredevil, devil-may-care attitude. Tattoos. Wears leather jacket. Rides a Harley. Plays a mean game of pool and poker. Into football, hockey, MMA, motocross, windsurfing, hang gliding, autoracing. Hunting. Latin dance. Think Magnum P. I. The Hustler. The Cincinnati Kid. 

Emperor Worship and Roman Supremacy: The Roman Mindset

Earlier I alluded to the fact that Caesar (Octavian) Augustus was worshipped as “pontifex maximus”. But where did the notion come from that there was any kind of “divine institution” for the bishop of Rome?

F.F. Bruce’s “New Testament History” (required reading by Dr. David Chapman in this free course, for example), notes that “The reputation of the Romans for rapacity had preceded them in the new areas which they now occupied” in the century prior to Christ’s birth. He cites a couple of ancient authors in this respect:

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

What makes a failed prophecy fail?

Mt 24:29-34

 29"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
 32"From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.

Opponents of Biblical inerrancy cite this as a stock example of a failed prophecy. Any attempt to defend it is dismissed as special pleading.

Rather than discuss the passage directly, I’d like to approach the issue from a different angle. Here’s a similar apocalyptic passage:

Acts 2:1-3,16-20

 1When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.
16But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
 17 "'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
   and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams;
18even on my male servants and female servants
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19And I will show wonders in the heavens above
   and signs on the earth below,
   blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
   and the moon to blood,
   before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.

But on the face of it, the recorded events on the day of Pentecost (vv1-3) hardly reflect a point-by-point match with vv19-20.

Some commentators think this refers back to certain events on Good Friday. But there are two or three problems with that explanation:

i) Peter’s usage doesn’t seem to be retrospective. Rather, the linkage is between Joel’s oracle and what happened on Pentecost.

ii) While there are somewhat similar events on Good Friday, there’s still no direct correspondence between that and the wording of Joel.

iii) Moreover, Good Friday isn’t the day of judgment.

Other commentators think this looks forward. And certainly there are subsequent events in the history of Acts that exemplify vv17-18. Likewise, the outpouring of the Spirit is inaugurated on Pentecost. Yet there’s nothing in Acts that “fulfills” vv19-20.

But it won’t do to say this is a case of failed prophecy. For Luke himself juxtaposes a description of what actually happened on Pentecost with Peter’s citation of Joel. So the narrative itself invites the comparison and contrast between these two passages. Hence, it’s not as if the narrator was oblivious to the difference between vv2-3 and vv19-20.

Even if Peter (or Luke) thought the ultimate fulfillment of Joel awaited the day of judgment, that’s a fairly defused fulfillment–where it’s partly fulfilled at Pentecost, partly fulfilled in subsequent events in the history of Acts, and fully realized on the day of judgment.

Another possibility is that Joel is using stock apocalyptic imagery, which was never intended to set up a one-to-one correspondence between the colorful imagery and the specific fulfillment.

Whichever explanation we favor, the larger point is that a modern reader must make allowance for how ancient Jews and Christians understood prophetic fulfillment. We need to hear the text the same way they did. If they didn’t think prophetic diction was ever meant to map onto the future event in strictly descriptive terms, but was, instead, more generic, formulaic, and open-textured, then modern readers need to adapt to the ancient assumptions of an ancient text. No different than when we enter the world of Dante.

Best of William Lane Craig Debate Collection

The Best of William Lane Craig Debate Collection Volume 1
Total running time: 12 hours, 19 minutes

1) Christopher Hitchens - Does God Exist? Biola University

2) John Shelby Spong - Resurrection Debate: Bethel College, Indiana

3) Peter Atkins - What is the Evidence for/against the Existence of God? Carter Center, Atlanta

4) Gerd Ludemann - Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Boston College

5) Victor Stenger - Existence of God? Oregon State University

6) Jamal Badawi - Concept of God in Islam and Christianity: University of Illinois

The Best of William Lane Craig Debate Collection Volume 2
Total running time: 12 hours, 44 minutes

7) Lewis Wolpert - Is God a Delusion? Central Hall Westminster, London

8) Frank Zindler - Atheism vs. Christianity: Willow Creek Church, Chicago

9) Marcus Borg - Did Jesus Physically Rise from the Dead? University of North Texas

10) Austin Dacey - Does God Exist? Purdue University, Indiana

11) Francisco Ayala - Intelligent Design: Is It Viable? University of Indiana

12) Bart Ehrman - Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus? College of the Holy Cross, Mass.

Biola/Reasonable Faith are selling each volume for $97.00 and the two volumes combined for $185.00. I'm selling each volume for $70.00 each, and probably with cheaper shipping, too ($3.00)!

Here are some blurbs:

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"Let A stand for my admiration of Dogfreid, B stand for all of his wonderful attributes, and C stand for it being a good idea to purchase William Lane Craig DVDs. Now consider the following argument: (1) If A, then B; (2) If B, then C; therefore, (3) If A, then C." - Paul Manata

"I care about three things in this life: (1) Driving on the correct side of the road; (2) reruns of Braveheart; and (3) supporting my dear old chap Dogfreid. Let it be known that this list exhibits an increasing order of importance, with (3) being of total importance." - James Anderson

"I studied under William Lane Craig. Do you understand how powerful of a thinker this has made me? Can you fathom the riches of knowledge I have obtained since working as this fine Christian scholar's understudy? Need any other incentive to purchasing these volumes?" - John Loftus

Go ahead and ignore the last blurb, please. I'm not sure it helps. The others you can take to the bank.

On Ridding the World of Five-Paragraph Essays

The most common form of essay writing on scholastic campuses is the five-paragraph essay. Consisting of an introductory paragraph bearing a thesis statement with three points (each of which is expanded in numerical order for the next three paragraphs) and ending with a concluding paragraph that recapitulates the thesis statement, five-paragraph essays have long been a staple of academia. This unfortunate practice should be abolished because following strict formal guidelines stifles creativity, some things cannot be summed up in three points (necessitating poorly linked final points that are only superficially related to the thesis statement), and because school administrations only use the five-paragraph essay to force adherence to dictatorial norms.

To demonstrate that five-paragraph essays stifle creativity, one only need to examine the fact that our greatest heroes in literature are precisely those authors who manage to break the mold, transcend the rules, and demonstrate their greatness through the application of style. This is the essence of creativity, the genius inside a man or woman that enables him or her to soar to heights only slightly lower than the angels can attain. Yet if one attempts to do this in a five-paragraph essay, one finds one’s grade significantly lowered, thus stifling any creative spark that the author may have originally carried.

This follows through to the fact that some subjects simply do not have three points and attempts to add in the third point come across as being ham-fisted or, what is worse, nonintellectual. The fact of the matter is that some subjects can fully be explained in only two points, while others require four or more points to develop. Adherence to the strict guidelines of the five-paragraph essay therefore result in forced attrition via the deletion of relevant data (i.e., the fourth, or higher, points) or, more commonly, forced inflation via the insertion of a third point that stands out like a hippie in a Presbyterian church.

It is inevitable that five-paragraph essays are used by school administrations, therefore, simply to force adherence to dictatorial norms. No concern is given to the fact that students did not decide what these norms should be, or why their essays must be five hundred words in length, or why they must contain five paragraphs arranged in a specific manner. Obedience is demanded, like an anti-proletarian government decreeing obedience from its subjects, where any nonconformity is punished swiftly by various actions of the administration (viz., the reduction of grades, public mockery in the classroom, detention after hours, and sometimes the forced repeating of an entire year’s worth of schooling). Such tactics belong to political dictatorships, not to the realm of academia.

All of the above makes it quite obvious that the five-paragraph essay format is prone to abuse and should be abolished as soon as humanly possible. It is time to evolve. Indeed, there is nothing that is stated in a five paragraph essay that could not be stated without stifling creativity, rigid adherence to three points, or the use of dictatorial tactics.

Another day, another doomsday

Black on black

Here's a black liberal assessing a fellow black liberal:

Behold, I shew you a mystery

In my previous two posts, I commented on some “opening reflections” that then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger gave in advance of a “symposium” on the topic of “The Primacy of the Successor of Peter,” held December 1996:

Part 1
Part 2

In that introduction, Ratzinger referred to “an earlier … symposium held here in Rome in October 1989, directed by the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, at the request of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the theme: The Primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the First Millennium: Research and Evidence.”

That historical symposium is noted on the Vatican’s website, here.

But it is merely noted. There were “published Acts” from this symposium, but they cannot be found.

Research and evidence
Proceedings of the Historical and Theological Symposium (Rome, 9-13 October 1989)
(Acts and Documents Series, No. 4, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 1991, pp. 784).

Symposium on the historical and theological primacy of the bishop of Rome II in the first millennium. Research and evidence, which we have the instruments , is the result of a request addressed to the study of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences, by His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, by letter dated January 19 1985. The letter expressed the interest of the congregation, within the jurisdiction of its own, the historical and theological issues concerning the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. In this context he felt the need to investigate further as it has been seen and experienced in the first millennium, trying to ascertain what was considered "deposit of faith" during that period and how it has developed the conviction of faith in this regard. To this end, the congregation considered appropriate prior research in their historical and invited the Committee to organize a symposium on the theme of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the first millennium, in order to bring out some historical conclusions, in the light of a overview of the issue by enabling a deeper theological point of view.

Contents of volume :

Presentation by Archbishop Michele Maccarrone.
Knock Otto, Petrus im Neuen Testament.
Antonio M. Javierre Ortas, Apostolic Succession and Succession of primacy.
Roland Minnerath, La position de l'Eglise de Rome aux trois premiers Siècles.
Victor Saxer, self-Africaine et romaine de Tertullien primacy to Augustin.
Charles Stone, the first conversion de Rome et du Pape (IV-Way S.).
Spyros N. Troianos, Apostolische Der Stuhl im Früh-und Recht Mittelbyzantinischen Kanonischen.
Stephan O. Horn, Die Stellung des Bischofs von Rom auf dem Konzil von Chalcedon.
Michele Maccarrone, "Sedes Apostolica - Vicarius Pietri." The perpetuity of the primacy of Peter in the office and the Bishop of Rome (Ages III-VIII).
Peter Conte, the "Consortium Apostolicae Fidei" between bishops and the Bishop of Rome in the seventh century (with appendix philological and canonical).
Rudolf Schieffer, Der Papst als Patriarch von Rom
Orlandis José, en la España El Roman Primado Visigoda.
Aidan Nichols, The Roman Primacy in die Ancient Irish and Anglo-Celtic Church.
Michel van Esbroeck, Primates, Patriarcats, Catholicossats, Autocéphalies en Orient.
Hubert Mordek, römische Der Primat des Westens Kirchenrechtssammlungen in den vom IV. bis VIII.Jahrhundert.
Vittorio Peri, The Church of Rome and the mission "ad gentes" (VIII-IX).
Harald Zimmermann, Der Bischof von Rom im saeculum obscurum.
Daniel Stternon, Interpretations, Oppositions Resistances et en Orient.
Horst Fuhrmann, im Widerstand gegen den Primat päpstlichen Abendland.
Roland Minnerath, historical and theological Symposium "The Primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the first millennium" (Rome, 9-13 October 1989).
After this symposium, a work was published containing its results, entitled, Il Primato del Vescovo di Roma nel Primo Millennio. Richerche e Testimonianze. Atti del Symposium Storico-Teologico, Roma, 9-13 Ottobre 1989. Edited by Michele Maccarrone. [Pontificio Comitato di Scienze Storiche, Atti e Documenti, 4.] (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 1991. Pp. xii, 782)

Patrick Granfield, author of a number of works on the papacy, wrote an untitled review of this work, in The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 80, No. 3 (July 1994). Granfield said,
Monsignor Maccarrone, the editor of this volume, died in May, 1993. He was a superb church historian and a tireless worker for the Vatican in several capacities. For many years he was President of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences. He is well known for his scholarly research on papal history, especially for his studies on "Vicarius Christi," apostolicity, and Innocent III.
The subject of this book is important, with major historical, theological, and ecumenical dimensions: What was the role of the Bishop of Rome in the first centuries—before the Eastern Schism, the Great Western Schism, and the Reformation—The eighteen contributors, whose names are known to anyone familiar with the scholarly literature on the papacy, seek to answer that question. The articles are in various languages—seven in German, five French, four Italian, one Spanish, one English—and provide rich bibliographical data. The volume ends with a summary of the 1989 symposium and an extensive index of names and places.
The book is organized, more or less, chronologically, but not rigidly so, since there is some overlapping. The entire volume can be divided into six major categories.
1. The First Three Centuries.
2. The fourth and Fifth Centuries
3. The Third to the Eighth Centuries
4. The Primacy and Churches Outside of Rome
5. The Fourth to the Tenth Centuries
6. Opposition to the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome.
Granfield notes in this section on “Opposition, “The first millennium in general did not reject in principle the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. There was, however, occasional dissatisfaction in the way the primacy was exercised.”

He concludes:
In conclusion, this volume has achieved its goal: to analyze the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the first millennium both historically and theologically. The contributors trace the evolution of the primatial concept in the East and the West and provide solid historical evidence. The book is not, nor does it pretend to be, an exhaustive treatment of the topic. No one volume could do that. What it does give us is a panoramic view of the first ten centuries and shows that there was a persistent affirmation of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the Church of Christ. This volume is a significant contribution to the on-going study of the Petrine ministry.
My question is, if this “historical symposium” is such a great piece of research, why has it dropped off the map?

Five years later, Pope John Paul II wrote Ut unum sint, “On commitment to Ecumenism,” in which a pope essentially asks to “re-think” the papacy: I am convinced that I have a particular responsibility in this regard, above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian Communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation.

For all the bluster of the previous thousand years of papal statements, who’da thunk that they didn’t get it quite right?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why some people hate Calvinism

Many react quite strongly against the Calvinist doctrine of election. Arminians think the notion is morally reprehensible. When we turn our thoughts to heaven and hell, some have been indigent that a loving God might show "favoritism" when they put their own parents up as exemplars; parents who, according to them, have never shown favoritism among their children. Calvinists are painfully aware of the strongly worded responses to what we feel the Bible teaches. Our God is called a moral monster, and we are called morally insensitive or defective for not being able to see how our teaching is morally and rationally repugnant. I think we can see some interesting analogies between this and reactions toward Jesus' raising of Lazarus from the dead in John 11.

We can note several things from the text,

1. The family knew that Lazarus would rise again, at the general resurrection. This hope didn't solve the psychological problem of evil. They were still deeply affected, saddened by their loss, and they would have liked to have Lazarus back then, not just at the general resurrection.

1a. It's safe to assume other families who lost loved ones also would have liked to have their loved ones back. They wanted this even they also knew that they would see their own loved ones again at the general resurrection.

1b. So there's a set S of people that will be raised at the general resurrection, but families who have lost loved ones are saddened by this loss and desire to see members of this set restored to them before the general resurrection.

2. Jesus tells the family that he will raise Lazarus from the dead.

2a. Jesus raises Lazarus so that God may be glorified, so the people may see the power of God, the glory of God.

2b. Jesus brings to life a member of S, someone chosen out of S, for God's purposes.

2c. Other families were just as sad as Lazarus' family, just as pious, just as faithful, just as whatever. According to human intuitions, this might appear to show partiality or favoritism. If any mere Jew had the power to raise from the dead, he would raise his own children, and the children of his neighbor too. Jesus didn't.

2d. There's several similarities with Romans 9 here. Ultimately, this "favoritism"was to glorify God, to put him on display. Jesus elects to save Lazarus. Chooses him out of the mass of people he could have raised from the dead. To others this appears unfair, unjust, partial, unloving, and self-promoting (done for God's glory, for God's purposes, to magnify God before the people).

3. Here was one reaction to that kind of Jesus, a Jesus who chooses to have mercy on some, not all (N.B. the fact of a future general resurrection did nothing to take away the sadness or dull the pain of the loss, and other families who lost their own loved ones — just as important to them as Lazarus was to his family, they didn't love their deceased less than Mary loved Lazarus):

"So from that day they plotted to take his life."

The kind of Jesus seen here is the kind to be killed. If Jesus went around healing everyone, raising everyone, and making no distinctions and divisions, he would probably not have been in danger. Or, if he at least gave everyone the choice to have their loved ones raised, their infirmities healed, and entrance into his circle granted, ready and willing to heal and save all without exception, he wouldn't have been in danger. The Jesus presented in this text is not the Jesus of Arminianism or Universalism. He's a Jesus who choses to bring certain people to life and leave others in their death. He's a Jesus who shows "favoritism." If, say, Thomas Talbott had lived back then and had the power to raise people from the dead, he'd raise everyone from the dead. If Thomas Talbott heard that Jesu raised Lazarus, and his own child had recently died, Thomas Talbott would ask Jesus to do the same for his own child. If Jesus refused, Thomas Talbott would claim that Jesus was a moral monster. Thomas Talbott would tell Jesus that his own parents would never show this kind of favoritism, and so this Jesus could not be the messiah, could not be God.

Schism in the church of godlessness

Are contact sports immoral?

Does the “violent” component of contact sports make them immoral or less ethical than nonviolent sports? The answer depends, in large part, on what you’re comparing them to.

Of course we can think of many nonviolent activities. But is that the standard of comparison? Is that a realistic alternative.

Appearances notwithstanding, it seems to me that contact sports restrain violence by channeling and regulating natural masculine aggression. Contact sports have rules which limit the violence.

If male aggression is an innate masculine trait, then attempts to suppress it will be counterproductive. The attempt to systematically suppress a natural irrepressible trait will simply divert the trait to a more dangerous outlet.

In place of contact sports, you’re liable to have more beatings, knifefights, gunfights, urban warfare. Gangs take the place of teams.

Of course, absent common grace and special grace, any social activity can degenerate. 

Godless prophets

Sports and Moral Superiority

HT: Paul Manata

Buy a jet, get a sports car free

I know for some of you, this is a deal thats just too good to pass up.

"Should We Cheer Osama’s Death?"

“Religion of Peace” news

The Question of Truth lies at the Centre of Theology” – by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Part 2

[Or Subhead: “The facts of history are just putty in our hands, shaped to meet whatever needs we have at the moment”]

I wanted to follow up on my previous post and provide the remainder of the document that I presented there. I’m going to follow this up with another document, The Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the Mystery of the Church, which is intended to “recall the essential points of Catholic doctrine on the primacy” (and again, it will be important to compare these essential points with what Adrian Fortescue was saying about the papacy in 1920.) Ratzinger:
Given the historical nature of Christian Revelation, an attentive co-operation between historical and theological methods is essential to enable theological reflection, also critically justified, to fulfil its task. Undoubtedly, it is true that history as such cannot provide an apodictic certitude of the truth of faith. It should nevertheless be borne in mind that the true meaning of historical facts—even in profane matters—is not revealed by a mere photographical recording of facts as such, but unfolds only in a light that comes from elsewhere, from a vision of reality which can never be simply reduced to the limited horizons of a fact empirically considered. From this point of view it is even logical that the interpretation of faith cannot be indisputably imposed on the historian. What is essential however is that such an interpretation should not be excluded from the facts.
I’ve written about the way Ratzinger treats this subject in the past. Here is how he phrases it from his work “Called to Communion”:
“…compatibility with the base memory of the Church is the standard for judging what is to be considered historically and objectively accurate, as opposed to what does not come from the text of the Bible but has its source in some private way of thinking.”
What Ratzinger is saying here is that a particular interpretation of faith, which elsewhere he called “the base memory of the Church” must not only be imposed upon historical facts, but must be “the standard for judging what is to be considered historically and objectively accurate”.

One major problem with this is the way that Rome has untethered itself from its own history, and even from its own doctrines.

This is illustrated simply in the way that a phrase “no salvation outside of the church” has been “reformulated” to mean “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.”

This process of “reformulating history” had its roots in the opening address of Pope John XXIII from Vatican II, “Gaudet Mater Ecclesia [which curiously has been removed from the web and which G.C. Berkouwer (trans. Lewis B. Smedes, Calvin College) provides in his work “The Second Vatican Council and the New Catholicism”, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, pg 22)]:
“The certain and unchangeable doctrine, to which we must remain ever faithful, must be examined and expounded by the methods applicable in our times. We must distinguish (sic) between the inheritance of the faith itself or the truths which are contained in our holy doctrine, and the way in which these truths are formulated, of course with the same sense and the same significance.”
Of course. [Latin: oportet ut haec doctrina certa et immutabilis, cui fidele obsequium est praestandum, ea ratione pervestigatur et eponatur, quam tempora postulant nostra. Est enim aliud ipsum depositum Fidei, seu veritates, quae veneranda doctrina nostra continentur, aliud modus, quo eaedem enuntiantur, eodem tamen sensu eademque sentential.]

Raymond Brown, a leading Roman Catholic biblical scholar of the 20th century, explicated how this process came about:
One should start with the ... assumption … that no twentieth-century Church is the same as the Church of Churches of NT times … A critical study of the NT can point out unexpected differences, thus reminding us how much things have changed and what has been lost (or gained). … Churches and Christians, confronted by a critical picture of NT times, can be led to needed reform, either by chopping away distracting accretions or by compensating for deficiencies.

What I have just described is not pure theory; that it is possible is verified by what has happened in Roman Catholicism in this century. … Scholars can be purged once or twice, but a new generation keeps coming along; and eventually the [Roman Catholic] Church has to enter into dialogue with them. Thus [the second of three periods into which Brown divides Catholic Biblical Scholarship in the 20th century] saw the introduction of biblical criticism and the gradual but reluctant acceptance of its initial results an and through Vatican Council II. More than by any other single factor, the self-reform of Roman Catholicism in that Council was influenced by the modern approach to the Bible. Catholic mastery of biblical criticism has progressed since Vatican II, and the implications have proved more wide-ranging than even the most perceptive leaders of the Council foresaw. The third period of the century (1970-2000) in which we now live, therefore, has involved the painful assimilation of those implications for Catholic doctrine, theology, and practice (Raymond E. Brown, “The Critical Meaning of the Bible,” New York, NY: Paulist Press ©1981, Nihil Obstat and Imprimitur, from the Preface, pg ix).
Later in this same work Brown further explains this process works out in real life:
“Essential to a critical interpretation of church documents is the realization that the Roman Catholic Church does not change her official stance in a blunt way. Past statements are not rejected but are requoted with praise and then reinterpreted at the same time” (pg 18 fn 41).
Robert B. Strimple, in his contribution to “Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze what Divides and Unites Us,” (Chicago: Moody Press, Ed. John Armstrong, pg. 103), cites this very passage from Brown, along with other contemporary Roman Catholic theologians, and because of this “untethering from history,” concludes, “I am convinced that the theological situation in the Roman Catholic Church today must be viewed as worse than it was at the time of the Reformers.”

Continuing with Ratzinger:
From these methodological premises, it seems to me an important consequence for our theme follows: the collaboration between history and theology can be fruitful if the growing knowledge of historical (and exegetical, with reference to the Bible) facts leads to a deeper theological vision of the Roman Primacy and its ecclesiological function, which helps to distinguish better and better what is necessary and cannot be renounced, from what is accidental or non-essential to the truth of faith. Moreover, this collaboration requires that the question of the doctrinal evaluation of historical facts be made in the light of Tradition, as the locus and criterion of the self-verifying consciousness of the Church’s faith.
See my comments above.

Ratzinger concludes:
6. Lastly, the importance of the theme for ecumenical discussion cannot be ignored. It is true that the symposium does not intend to make a theological comparison of the different viewpoints of the Christian confessions, as would be the case with an ecumenical colloquium. On the other hand, it is quite obvious that the question of the Primacy of Peter and its continuation in the Bishops of Rome is one of the most burning issues in ecumenical dialogue. And it is precisely the awareness that at the centre of theology lies the question of truth, which obliges us to place the service of truth as the basis and goal of the search for Christian unity itself, without prejudice and in obedience to the Lord.

The invitation extended to Prof. Pannenberg and Prof. Chadwick to come to our symposium as representatives of the Lutheran and Anglican confessions (unfortunately Prof. Clement was unable to take part due to unexpected illness) attest to the interest with which the Catholic Church looks to a greater and ever deeper knowledge of the positions of non-Catholic Christians even on this particularly difficult topic. For Catholics, criticism of the papal primacy by other Christian brothers and sisters is like an earnest request to carry out the Petrine service in a way which is more and more in conformity with Christ. In turn, for non-Catholic Christians, the Roman primacy is a permanent and visible challenge to concrete unity, which is a task of the Church and must be her distinguishing mark before the world.

7. As I express my personal hopes and those of the Cardinals who are members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that this symposium may be a favourable occasion to further the in-depth knowledge of faith about this aspect of ecclesiological doctrine, in conformity with the Holy Father’s wishes, I am profoundly pleased to conclude my greeting by reading the Holy Father’s Message of good wishes to all the participants, which I have the honour to convey.


Taken from:
L’Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
1 January 1997
L’Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Football vs. Baseball

This will be Triablogue's most controversial post ever!

I received an email with a link to philosopher Douglas Groothuis' critique of football in favor of baseball. Here's the responses I offered:

1. Football is intrinsically violent. It cannot be played without heavy padding and physical punishment. Professional players typically undergo multiple surgeries for repeated injuries. Many of these injuries are permanently debilitating. The nature of the sport encourages a toleration for, and even promotion of, violence. Players attempt to injure each other to take them out of the game. Many young men are seriously injured while playing football. Why risk the damage to a growing body? If the body is “fearfully and wonderfully made” and the temple of the Holy Spirit for the Christian, why should anyone treat one’s own body and other’s bodies to so much physical abuse? We were not designed for this kind of punishment.

ME: I don't get it. What does he mean that football *cannot* be played without heavy padding and physical punishment? I myself have played many padless pick-up football games that occurred without "punishment" (a somewhat subjective term, btw, since an activity may be more or less physically demanding on a person depending on the shape they're in). And I assume he's not talking about flag and two-hand touch. But if violence and heavy padding are *necessary* to football, what, pray tell, are thousands of people playing when they play flag and two-hand touch *football*? Furthermore, What about soccer or rugby? They don't wear "heavy padding," but often have as much or more "physical punishment" than an american football game. What about wrestling, like collegiate or olympic? This is a very technical and chess-like sport. Moreover,wrestling was known by the Israelites, are we to think the youth never engaged in matches? Never tried to mimick the Greeks in this way? Moreover, professional players in all sports undergo debilitating injuries from which they suffer permanent damage. I also daresay that this reasoning would make certain lines of work "immoral" since we're "fearfully and wonderfully made." Has Groothuis ever watched the Discovery Channel's "World's Most Dangerous Job"? Why would someone who's body is the Holy Spirit's temple do deep sea crab fishing?

I'd also add that it is *contingent* to football that "players *attempt* to injure each other and take them out of the game." How does Groothuis even know this, first off. Has he taken a poll? I know many players at high level high school ball (we won the CIF championship) who didn't attempt to injure other players, and indeed they felt bad when another player got injured. I know more than a few college players, and I went to high school with Charlie Joiner's daughter. He didn't indicate (at get-together's at her house) that he ever attempted to injure people. Second, there have been many baseball players who have "attempted" to injure another player. This "attempting to injure" is contingent and not necessary to either sport. Lastly, the violence is contingent upon the position. Receivers don't try to tackle the defense. Most of the time, running backs try to *avoid* tackles. So, some positions are more active, physical, or violent than others. Same with baseball, see below.
2. Baseball is not intrinsically violent, but only contingently violent; it much less violent than football overall. A runner barreling home from second base on a single to the outfield may need to collide with the catcher in order to attempt to score. However, his is not necessitated by the game as such, and the catcher is well-protected by his pads and mask. Many games are played where this kind of contact never occurs. Further, many runners will try to avoid the catcher entirely with a hook slide.

ME: So wearing pads in the catcher's case is something that *negates* the violent nature of this position in baseball? But with football, being "well-protected" with padding only serves to show its violent nature! But while we're on the catcher. We all know their careers are usually cut brutally short. Catchers typically suffer debilitating knee injuries for the rest of their lives. They also get hit by pitches and *must* block the plate from a hulking, 250 lb roid-raging base runner who *must* cross home plate. What worse, only one of these guys is wearing padding — the catcher — and that padding is rather meager. There are times in the game of baseball, then, when violence is "necessitated." So, we have *certain positions* that "must" get involved in brutal physical alteration, and this is an essential part of the game when those situations arise. Moreover, many football games are played where the physical contact is at a minimum, and the more prepared and physically stronger players can take the bumps and bruises that happen in the game. And of course, as mentioned, many players will *attempt* to *avoid* the hit, just like some base runners will.
3. Baseball is intellectually superior to football, because of the degree of strategy, finesse, and intelligence required to play it well. Football knows of many plays and patterns, but most of them reduce to speed, strength, and coordination--as opposed to intelligence.

ME: Sorry, it's *this* that doesn't appear well thought-out. I grew up playing *both* baseball *and* football. I was a thrid-baseman and clean-up hitter in baseball. I was a fullback and insider linebacker for most of my football "career," but at the end just played outside linebacker, as positions became more specialized and rest became more important to play at a high level. So, I know both games. Speaking for myself, I have always thought football required far more intelligence. The playbook is typically massive and complex, and players are required to memorize much or all of the playbook. I never once had a playbook to memorize in baseball. Further, while the *individual players* in a football play must be fast and strong, that doesn't mean that *the play* reduces to such. For there is misdirection, tricks, traps, and several moving parts combining to pull off a highly developed play. Typically, quarterbacks and middle linebackers must be *very* intelligent — as far as what is required for the game — and often spend *hours* not only memorizing their own plays, but also knowing where everyone on their side of the ball is and must be. They typically watch *hours* of footage from the other team, learning what to expect and coming up with plans for how to respond to the *dozens* of various positions they might find themselves in: whether it's 1st and 10, 2nd and 5, 3rd down, 4th down, what quarter it is, what half it is, what the score is, which player is on the field (which often determines what plays might be run, but then there's tricks with players who are usually only in on third down short yardage run plays, only to have it turn into a passing play, etc).
In baseball, a pitcher with less than a cannon arm (such as Greg Maddox) can be one of the best pitchers in baseball in light of his intelligence in pitch selection, control, knowledge of batters, and fielding ability. Nothing analogous is the case with football, to my knowledge.

ME: This is just an autobiographical remark. First, this just shows that more than a "cannon arm" is required of good pitchers. Indeed, of the very best pitchers, I'd say *all* of them had more than a "cannon arm." Baseball is full of stories about guys with "cannon arms" who burn out early, or never make it. We can also give examples with football. The great linebacker Sam Mills, who at 5'9" was one of the best linebackers of all time, largely due to his heart and game preparation, his knowledge of the game (which is why he became a coach). About cannon arms, what about, say, Joe Montana, who was drafted in round three because of his weak arm (a rating of six). Montana was one of the best quarterbacks ever, and intelligence and knowledge factored large.
Historically, intellectuals have been drawn to write and reflect on baseball.

ME: In America, maybe; it is the national pastime, after all. But consider intellectuals in other countries who write on soccer or rugby. Or consider ancient intellectuals who write on popular sports of the day. Baseball much older too, so we should expect this "historical" contingency. Of course, intellectuals have written on football, e.g.,

4. Aesthetically, baseball is superior because of its unique sense of time. There is no clock in baseball.

ME: Yeah, not sure about that. Anyway, football gives us elegance and simplicity, when we consider a play qua play. The individual parts may not be as elegant (though I dare say one cannot say this after watching a quarterback thread a needle through several defenders while his receiver effortlessly catches the ball and runs like a gazelle into the end zone), but the entire play often is. But on this, see Stanford prof Hans Gumbrecht, who loves football and argues for its aesthetic beauty, arguing it's just as much art as anything else artsy is. Lastly, you can have a *perfect* season in football. Watching the Patriots 2007 season was to watch something *beautiful*. Also, let's not forget 1972 Dolphins, who went undefeated in season and post-season. Just beautiful; especially considering they did this with the "no name" defense. Lastly, Groothuis uses this to claim Baseball is more Christian, but Christianity has an end to our games down here. History won't continue forever without end. Time is important in Christianity.
In football, the game is often over (determined) before it is over (temporally), rendering the final minutes meaningless and pointless. In baseball, as in the Christian world view, a measure of hope is always alive until the game is over. Near-miraculous comebacks are possible. When they occur, there is no greater drama in all of sports.

ME: Hardly, which is why football has a saying, "A minute is an eternity, in football." If we're going to get all "Christian worldview" here, we might think of "With the Lord, a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day."

Speaking of comebacks, let's not forget the 1994 Bills down 34 - 3 in the second half. The Bill's star quarterback was out, so was their star running back. Things looked bleak. The fans left early, dejected. The Bills came back and won in overtime. If we're going to talk about football, hope, and the Christian worldview, this seems very close to the crucifixion of Jesus. All looked lost. The messiah was out of the game. The disciples scattered, dejected. But Jesus pulled off the greatest comeback ever. Or let's not forget the 1980 49ers, who overcame a 28 point deficit, trailing 35-7 at one point in the game. I could go on.

And in Christianity, it was over before it started. The enemy cannot mount a comeback. So, even on his own terms . . .

Moving on.
The pace of baseball is far more deliberate and delicate than football, given that there is no time clock. It is thus more conducive to patience and reflection.

ME: In football, there's *extensive* study that goes into a game. The majority of reflection is done during the week, but let's not forget the 15 minutes of reflection at half-time. Serious analysis and adjustments are often made, sometimes resulting in fantastic and amazing comebacks, see above. Also, one must make wise decisions in a short amount of time. Should we run or pass on 3rd? Should we go for a field goal or try to score a touchdown? Should we go for a two-point conversion, or kick the extra point. Often, these decisions can have huge ramifications. There is something to be said for patient decision making, but there's also something to be said for deliberate, immediate decisions. This is similar to the military, where intelligent and highly trained men have to make heavy and right decisions in a short time frame. Yes, there's something to be said for a long game of chess, but there's also something to be said of speed chess too.
6. Both baseball and football require athletic skill for their performance, but I venture to say that an expertly turned double-play, a diving catch in the outfield, or a deftly stolen base (particularly of home) demonstrates more athletic and aesthetic excellence than anything in football. Moreover, nothing in any sport has the dramatic effect of a grand slam home run, especially in a close game.

ME: An expertly turned double reverse finished with a half-back pass to a receiver waiting in the endzone, a diving catch 70 yards downfield, or a running back beautifully juking the defense out of their jocks, running a 98 yard touch down. Moreover, I'll put up Hail Mary's, the immaculate reception, or Jack Dempsey's kicking a 63 yard field goal with 3 seconds left to win the game, etc., up against game winning grand slams, exciting as they are.
7. No one can hog the ball or exclude other players from play in baseball. This is largely because baseball is the only team sport where the defense controls the ball.

ME: This just is to say that football isn't baseball. In baseball, everyone on defense can touch the ball. In football, everyone on defense can touch the ball, but on offense, certain players cannot (unless, there's a fumble). So what? I find the silent, unnoticed, soldiers in the trenches — aka, linemen — to fill and honorable role. But while we're on fairness, what about the salary cap? Any team can win any year in football. Any given Sunday!
8. In baseball, apart from the aberration of the designated hitter (a recent perversion only used in one league), all the players must function on both defense and offense.

ME: Again, this is just to say football isn't baseball. But at youth levels, many players frequently play both sides; and in pro-football, at any moment the offense can become the defense and vice versa. (And let's not forget refrigerator Parry!) So, a quarterback isn't expected to tackle well, but he should be able to do it well-enough to stop a linebacker who has intercepted his pass and is running toward the end zone.
More could be said, but if these reflections are correct, baseball is superior to football as a cultural form.

ME: Weighed and found wanting. But if Groothuis disagrees, we can fight it out :-) This isn't to say I am anti-Baseball. I enjoy it very much. I'm a Padres fan. Some of my favorite all-time players are Mike Schmidt, Don Mattingly, Steve Garvey, Tony Gwynn, Fernando Valenzuela, and Randy Johnson. My favorite World Series was the 2001 D-Backs v. Yankees. I will don a rally cap. I like watching games with a big bag of seeds. I have carried a broom around a ballpark, rooting for a sweep. So I have nothing against baseball.

In any case, maybe we can let George Carlin settle things (HT Peter Pike):