Saturday, August 06, 2011

Calvin passes the OTF with flying colors!

What if Calvin took the OTF?

At the end of my last post, I asked a question: what would Calvin think of the OTF? It wasn't an idle question. If you are a Christian who believes in the predestination of the Elect and the Fallen world, the fact that your religion is one amongst many is not a surprise. That few have the right faith may not bother you at all. As far as I am aware, nothing about your religion says that it should not appear to an outsider as one among many. Strange then that advocates of the OTF tell you that the existence of other religions discredits your religion. You can reasonably say, "my religion looks like one of many to you? Swell, your point being? We agree about this, and it bothers me not. For chances are that you are not one of the Elect and are not destined for Salvation and understanding. That you and others do not believe as I do does not surprise me in the least; if anything, I would be surprised if outsiders readily understood the Truth and could easily aspire to it, as I understand otherwise."

Bullet with butterfly wings

Whale Wars is wrapping up its fourth season. I’ve blogged about it before:

Now for a few random observations:

i) For a Far Left organization, the command structure of the crew is amusingly chauvinistic. Men hold the upper ranks in the faux navy. And it’s the men who see most of the action.

For the most part, the viewer is shown reaction shots of women looking tearful, aghast, or perplexed.

So what exactly are the women there for? What’s their contribution of the onboard mission?

If I were cynical, I’d suspect they are there to supply a floating bordello for the male members of the crew–who are away from wives or girlfriends during their lengthy excursions to the Antarctic. But I’m far too idealistic to offer such a jaded explanation.

ii) Most of the time there’s not much going on. So the show has to pad out each episode. This often involves a behind-the-scenes explanation of their sneaky tactics and strategy in attempting to outfox the Japanese whaling fleet.

But isn’t that counterproductive? The Japanese aren’t stupid. They watch the show, too. That simply forearms the Japanese whalers to take countermeasures when the next whaling season comes around.

iii) Paul Watson has cast himself in the role of the noble, indefatigable environmentalist and animal-rights activist. However, another interpretation suggests itself. He’s 60 years old. That means he came of age during the Sixties counterculture.

For many radicals, that was the highpoint of their life. It was all down hill after that. The rest of their life was an anticlimax.

So what do you do for a second act? Well, what about becoming an ecoterrorist?

iv) One of the crewmen (Vincent Burke) is a very heavyset. One wonders how he got so corpulent on a vegan diet.

v) As an interesting sidelight, Whale Wars illustrates relativity of reference frames.

Occasionally one of the Japanese vessels collides with one of the Sea Shepherd vessels, or vice versa. Shipboard cameras on the Sea Shepherd vessel show the Japanese vessel apparently swerving to ram the Sea Shepherd vessel while shipboard cameras on the Japanese vessel show the Sea Shepherd vessel apparently swerving to cut off the Japanese vessel. A game of chicken on both sides.

Fact is, with two boats in motion on the open sea, there's no way of telling which one changed course in relation to the other, since there's no fixed point of reference. From one angle, it looks like one did it–from another angle, it looks like the other did it. 

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Defining freedom and responsibility

Paul Manata has updated his outstanding introduction to the subject:

Remind me why I hate you

Bart Ehrman has helped to popularize the urban legend that the early church arbitrarily voted certain books out of the canon. And that meme has been duly parroted by village atheism.

Now, there are Christian monographs that disprove this urban, but for now, let’s play along with the meme. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the NT apocrypha had just as much or more right to be in the NT canon as the books sanctioned by the church. What would that admission accomplish for the sake of atheism?

The NT apocrypha also contain miracles. The NT apocrypha depict Jesus as a divine or supernatural figure.

True, the NT apocrypha are sometimes heretical, but how is that relevant to atheism? What atheism finds fundamentally objectionable about Christianity is not Christian orthodoxy but Christian supernaturalism.

Ehrman touts the slogan that history is written by the winners. But suppose the losers won? Suppose the monophysites won.

Would Ehrman and his fellow infidels rest content if monophysite Christianity were the dominant Christology in Christendom? No.

Militant atheism is so consumed by its hatred of Christianity that it’s forgotten why it hates Christianity. The sheer hatred has become all-consuming. Hatred is all that now defines militant atheism.

And that’s illustrated by another phenomena. Why are Western atheists obsessed with Christianity? After all, Islam poses a far greater threat to what atheists value than Christianity. Most modern-day Christians have a live-and-let-live attitude towards infidels. As long as infidels don’t try to impose their values on the majority, Christian are quite tolerant. We don’t go around beheading infidels.

So why are Western atheists so obsessed with Christianity? Why don’t they shift their attention to Islam?

Because this is personal. Many of them are apostates. They left the church. They are bitter. Angry.

Put another way, their motivation is essentially emotional rather than intellectual or ethical. That’s why they single out Christianity. Not because that poses a greater tangible threat to them than Islam. But because they continue to find it psychologically threatening to them–the way some middle-aged men and women continue to rebel against their long-dead parents. 

Pentecostals now 25% of all Christians; increasingly focused on social concerns

“Christianity Today” has featured an article about A New Kind of Pentecostalism. Suggesting that it is “a major new social movement that is shifting Christianity's center of gravity to the developing world,” they note as well that “Pentecostalism arguably thrives amid adversities extant in places of violence, corrupt politics, and poverty. As developing-world Pentecostalism has become better known in North America, so have its social needs and demonstration of social concern.”
Pentecostalism in North America has come a long way. It has moved from a faith to and of the disenfranchised to one that is recognized if not fully accepted across the board among evangelicals. From the movement's origins among a few adherents in the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles (1906), Pentecostalism grew to some 12 million adherents by 1970, and now incorporates some 600 million worldwide in its various expressions, a fourth of all Christendom. David Barrett's monumental World Christian Encyclopedia states that in 1900, only seven-tenths of 1 percent of Christians were Pentecostal; today, approximately 25 percent are.
And they carry a message. “In recent years, Pentecostal theologians have focused on eschatology, especially the Lukan view centered on the messianic prophecy in Isaiah 61. This passage is rife with social ministry significance and images, including, ‘The Spirit of the Lord … has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; … to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; … to comfort all who mourn’ (ESV).”

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

"Christian Smith Makes the Bible Impossible"

The Trinitarian Shema

4"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deut 6:4-5)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor 13:14)
4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:4-6)

As numerous scholars have pointed out, 1 Cor 8:6 is a binary reworking of the Shema. By the same token, does that make Eph 4:4-6 is a trinary reworking of the Shema? Paul already brought Jesus into the Shema in 1 Cor 8:6, so is he now extending that framework to the Holy Spirit in Eph 4:4-6? In other words, this seems to be his Trinitarian reformulation of the Shema.

A possible objection to this interpretation is that we have 7 ones rather than 3 ones in Eph 4:4-6 (i.e. Father, Son, Spirit, body, hope, faith, baptism).


i) The 4 ones (body, hope, faith, baptism) take the 3 ones (Father, Son, Spirit) as their devotional object. So it's a 3+4 relation, where the 4 are subordinated to the 3.

ii) Likewise, this, too, could be modeled on Deut 6:4-5, where love, heart, soul, and might take God/Yahweh as their devotional object.

Ephesians uses "one" whereas Deuteronomy uses "all," but both quantifiers are employed to express exclusive devotion to the only true God.

Split-personality narcissist

It's bad enough to be a narcissist, but when you're at war with your mirror-image, who's left to turn to? It's hard to be Dave Armstrong. Hard to be a bipolar solipsist.

BTW - I see that Mr. Armstrong is (in a post linking to this one) disputing Dinesh's status as a "high profile Catholic." Not long ago he himself described Dinesh this way:

"But it's funny that in the very next post, TAO applauds well-known political conservative and devout Catholic Dinesh D'Souza as a representative of Christianity in debate with an atheist:"

In the post linking to this post, though, Armstrong accuses Hays thus:

"Now we can all be entertained by Hay's inevitable sophistical spin. Somehow under his magical abilities of obscurantism D'Souza shall be transformed into (formerly) a devout, fully observant Catholic, and one who should trouble us, as if his departure casts doubt on Catholic truth claims in any way, shape, or form."


Snapshot of a sick society

"We protect the evil living and dismiss the innocent dead."

A few lines from songs from church on Sunday

Psalm 34
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.

It Is Well With My Soul
My sin—O the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more.

The Power of the Cross
Oh, to see the dawn, Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men, torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

This, the pow’r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see my name, Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live, Won through Your selfless love.

Mighty to Save
Savior, He can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save
Forever, author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave

Being the church when empires fall

Monday, August 01, 2011

Living without a moral code

There is still a group that lots of Americans just don’t like much: atheists. Those who don’t believe in God are widely considered to be immoral, wicked and angry. They can’t join the Boy Scouts. Atheist soldiers are rated potentially deficient when they do not score as sufficiently “spiritual” in military psychological evaluations. Surveys find that most Americans refuse or are reluctant to marry or vote for nontheists; in other words, nonbelievers are one minority still commonly denied in practical terms the right to assume office despite the constitutional ban on religious tests.

More than 2,000 years ago, whoever wrote Psalm 14 claimed that atheists were foolish and corrupt, incapable of doing any good. These put-downs have had sticking power. Negative stereotypes of atheists are alive and well. Yet like all stereotypes, they aren’t true — and perhaps they tell us more about those who harbor them than those who are maligned by them.

I wonder why. Hmm. Maybe this has something to do with it:

Many people live without a moral code.
Some do not think that morality exists. Others have chosen a life of sensual beauty instead of morality: aesthetics over ethics. Still others despise morality, seeing it as an impediment to their own domination of others.
I am in a rather odd position. I think that moral imperatives are real and knowable, but as it happens I know almost none of them. So, I don’t know how to live a moral life. I am morally bound but morally blind. I’m driving my life forward at 100mph but I don’t know which direction to turn it.
Let me explain.
I spend most my time on moral theory. Why? Because if I have the wrong theory, then all of my conclusions in applied ethics are unfounded. So I need to make sure I have the right theory before I can answer questions in applied ethics.
I think I may have found the right theory: desire utilitarianism. Unfortunately, this theory does not let me answer moral questions by closing my eyes and asking my “conscience.” Nor does it have any easy answers to any moral questions.
Instead, desire utilitarianism says that moral imperatives can only be known by way of calculations involving billions of (mostly) unknown variables: desires, strengths of desires, relations between desires and states of affairs, and relations between desires and other desires.
Oofta. Can’t I have a moral theory that is a bit more… practical?
Unfortunately, all other moral theories have turned out to be false.
So, I’m still researching moral theory, and it may be years or decades before I can turn my eye to questions of applied ethics.
Which means I’ll be living without a moral code for a long time.
Which wouldn’t be a big deal, except that I want to be moral very badly. That’s why I spend so much time studying ethics in the first place!
So I’m stuck. I want to be moral, but I’m not sure what is moral, if I’m living morally right now, or when I’ll get around to figuring out what is moral! I don’t know if I’m a good person.
Now, I don’t mean to overstate this. I’ve got some good guesses about what is moral and not moral, based on the theory of morality that seems most true to me. But they’re really just guesses.
But I can’t just stop living. I have to make decisions every day. Thousands of them. I can’t calculate the morality of each one – or really, hardly any of them. Not yet, anyway. So what do I do?

"Atheism is not a philosophy"

It’s become fashionable for atheists to tell us atheism is not a philosophy or ideology or belief-system or worldview. Atheism doesn’t have a positive identity. It doesn’t stand for anything. It merely opposes one thing: atheism is disbelief in God or gods.

The motivation for this nugatory claim is to shift the burden of proof onto the Christian. The supposition is that if you express your position in purely negative terms, then you don’t have anything to prove.

Of course, that’s just a verbal trick, but for now I’ll pass on the logic of the strategy, and discuss some other ramifications of the claim.

Even though we’re told that atheism is not a philosophy or ideology, atheists certainly act as if atheism is a package deal. For instance, they wax indignant at OT ethics. They assail Christians because we don’t think mothers have the right to abort their babies. They assail Christians because we don’t think sodomites have a right to marry each other, adopt children, serve in the military, and so forth.

For a lean nonbelief, atheism seems to have an awfully long list of do’s and don’ts.

In addition, atheists claim that they are victims of an unwritten code which discriminates against atheists. That they are unjustly distrusted by the intolerant Christian majority.

But if atheism is just a simple nonbelief, then atheism is compatible with an enormously wide range of beliefs and behaviors. Atheism doesn’t logically preclude you from kidnapping college coeds and dissecting them alive, without anesthetic, in your basement, for the sheer fun of watching them writhe and scream and beg for mercy.

Atheism is fully compatible with making your living by cheating elderly widows out of their lifesavings.

Atheism is fully compatible with abducting street kids and selling them on the black market for their vital organs.

Atheism is logically consistent with anything short of theism.

There’s a sense in which a suicide bomber is more reliable than an atheist. At least you know where you stand with the suicide bomber. You know what to expect.

But with an atheist, that smiling cable guy you let into your home might as well be Dexter Morgan.

Breivik and the no-true-Scotsman fallacy

Some unbelievers are accusing Christians of committing the no-true-Scotsman fallacy when they deny the Christian identity of Breivik.

To begin with, of course Christians should have a say in who we are. After all, if outsiders presume to define what insiders stand for, the insiders at least have some right to define what they stand for.

Take the Council for Secular Humanism. Don’t you think insiders reserve the right to define who qualifies for membership?

Now, if Christians were concocting ad hoc caveats to artificially insulate Christians from blame, the charge would stick. But Christians aren’t particularly defensive about the possibility that Christians can do wrong.

To take a few examples, King David is, for better or worse, a type of the Christian life.

Likewise, when Robert Duvall’s film The Apostle came out several years ago, I don’t recall Christians en masse mobilizing to boycott the film, even though it depicted a Christian minister beating a man to death with a baseball bat in a fit of jealous revenge.

Let’s take a few examples: liberal church historian Martin Marty made the following comparison:

Start with a timely quiz. Q: What do the following have in common? Anders Behring Breivik, killer of scores of innocents in Norway; assassins Lee Harvey Oswald (JFK) and Sirhan Sirhan (RFK); serial killers: Dennis Rader (Kansas, murdered 10); Charles Starkweather (Nebraska, 11); Jeffrey Dahmer (Wisconsin, 17); and Dylan Kiebold (Columbine, CO, 13).
Answer: they were all Lutheran Christians.

Now I’m not Lutheran. So I don’t have a vested interest in sticking up for Lutherans, per se.

But I wouldn’t say, “Ah ha! Lutherans are dangerous!”

I don’t consider them representatives of Lutheranism.

Likewise, Hector Avalos says Hitler was Catholic.

Goodness knows I’m no friend of Roman Catholicism. But I’ve denied Hector’s allegation. Yet that can’t be chalked up to special pleading on my part, as if I have a stake in preserving the reputation of Roman Catholicism.

Likewise, I'm not fan of Arminian theology, but if  Methodist did what Breivik did, I wouldn't hang that on Arminians. 

Christless Christianity

Captain America and Superhero Worldviews, Part 1

Licona reviews Forged

Isaiah's Trinity

Dale Tuggy said:

We can ask here, of whom is Isaiah speaking? Who is this YHWH? We might well think it is the Father, since the NT plainly presupposes that the Father of Jesus and the one true God Yahweh are one and the same. Of course then anyone else, would not be the one true God.
But if I understand him, Steve thinks Isaiah there speaks of the one perfect Self, who later, we learn, is the Trinity. Isaiah of course doesn’t say anything about whether or not this perfect Self contains or is somehow composed of other selves.

I already addressed this question from another angle:

But now I’m going to revisit the question from a different angle. In the orthodox doctrine of inspiration, we normally distinguish between the primary (divine) and secondary (human) authorship of Scripture. The primary/secondary distinction is a type of cause/effect relation.

This, in turn, can generate a potential distinction between the divine viewpoint and the human viewpoint. The primary author is both infallible and omniscient whereas the human author is infallible, but not omniscient. There is what the human author consciously intended, and there is what God intended the human author to mean. These are mutually consistent, but not conterminous.

This can also give rise to other potential distinctions. Considering original intent, we might distinguish between subjective intent and the objective referent. As well as between a singular sense and multiple referents.

This is sometimes distinguished by asking if OT prophets “spoke better than they knew.” And, in principle, the same distinction applies to NT prophecy.

One reason we draw these distinctions is to avoid anachronistic interpretations. To avoid making writers mean more than they were in a position to know or convey.

However, in Isa 40-48, the distinction between primary and secondary authorship frequently breaks down. That’s because, in these chapters, God is often the speaker. Isaiah isn’t simply speaking on God’s behalf. Isaiah isn’t simply the second-person narrator.

Rather, God is speaking in his own voice. Isaiah is God’s mouthpiece, quoting God–in the first person. Direct, rather than indirect, divine discourse.

But in that case, the viewpoint is omniscient. We don’t have to draw the customary distinctions in progressive revelation. Between the past perspective of the speaker and subsequent revelation or future fulfillments.

For if God is the speaker, then whatever is true at anytime is present in God’s mind. It’s not anachronistic to take later revelation into account.

If, according to the NT, the Trinity is God, then we can properly gloss or paraphrase the monotheistic statements in Isaiah thusly:

“For I am the Trinity, and there is no other;
I am the Trinity, and there is none like me.”

“For I am the Trinity,
besides me there is no other Trinity.”

The unicity of God would mean there is no other Trinity. There is only one Trinity.

And if we wanted to, we could apply Leibniz’s law to that characterization.

Keep in mind, too, that the uniqueness of God in Isaiah is not contingent on what divine names are used. Isaiah frequently uses “Yahweh” because, through Pentateuchal usage, that had already become a brand name for the true God. So it makes sense to use a name that already has distinctively divine connotations.

But in principle, Isaiah could use a different, or novel, designation for God. For Isaiah demarcates the one true God, not so much by the choice of divine names, but by the unique actions and the unique attributes which Isaiah ascribes to God–in contrast to the pagan pantheon.

After all, Isaiah also uses “Elohim,” but that name does not, of itself, single out the one true God. That’s a question of context, and not merely the occurrence of the word “Elohim.”

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Encouragement For Apologists

What's below is a portion of an email I recently sent regarding encouragement for apologists. I'm posting it here in case it would be helpful to other people. Though I was addressing individuals who do apologetic work, my comments are applicable to those doing other work as well:

Between faith and faith

Exponents of the “New Atheism” flatter themselves as “skeptics.” But real skepticism is very different. Here’s a paradigm-case:

It is especially noteworthy in Hume’s case that he is not being any rougher on religion than on science!–for science also rests ultimately on faith in inductive principles incapable of non-inductive substantiation. Faith which, in the latter case, has a mechanism consisting in custom; but this is no justification. Anything has some mechanism.
There is such conflict, and, insofar, it is a conflict between faiths; not between faith and reason, or between faith and science, but between faith and faith; for scientific method itself goes back to faith of its own kind, in the form of acquiescence in the mechanism of custom.
Which is right it is, presumably, impossible to say except from a scientific point of view or from a religious point of view. We may prefer one, insist on it, despise those who deviate from it in favor of the other; but there is no higher court. Such is Hume’s skepticism. W. V. Quine, “Lectures on Hume’s Philosophy,” Confessions of a Confirmed Extensionalist (Harvard 2008), 112-113 (emphasis his).

The church in China

Mike Wittmer takes his cue from a Books & Culture article and offers a few comments on the church in China.

BTW, Bill Edgar has similarly shared his thoughts on China in the past.

More here:

Tremper Longman.

John Warwick Montgomery.

Bledsoe by way of Ryan McReynolds.

Un poisson dans le net.

More broadly in Asia:

A testimony from North Korea.