Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Odyssey of Theodicy


The illustrated Catholic Mass

The Zombie Last Supper

First of all the whole structure of the discourse of promise demands a literal interpretation of the words: "eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood" can be none other than His true Flesh and Blood, to be really eaten and drunk in Holy Communion. This is why Christ was so ready to use the realistic expression "to chew" (John 6:54, 56, 58: trogein) when speaking of this, His Bread of Life, in addition to the phrase, "to eat" (John 6:51, 53: phagein)...The impossibility of a figurative interpretation is brought home more forcibly by an analysis of the following text: "Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed" (John 6:54-56)...Consequently, eating and drinking are to be understood of the actual partaking of Christ in person, hence literally.   

Waiting for the shoe to drop

For days we’ve been waiting to see how the Obama administration would respond to the Iranian terrorist plot. Well, the shoe finally dropped. Obama has dispatched American troops to invade…Uganda. 

Interview with John Frame

Friday, October 14, 2011

Letters to nature

Cosmologist Luke Barnes offers critiques of atheists like Hector Avalos, PZ Myers, and Victor Stenger. Also make sure to check out the comboxes which include responses from the aforementioned atheists as well as others.

Pretty in pink


10.13.2011 | 8:28am
PB says:
Saltzman writes:
"SNAP has never to my knowledge examined scandals among mental health professionals. It never says anything of public school districts, where reports say children are at far greater risk of abuse. Nor has it said anything of volunteer youth organizations. The simple fact is SNAP targets Roman Catholics."

Umm, yeah. That's because it's an organization devoted to those who have been abused by priests. That's the AP in SNAP. That's the whole point of what it does. It's not a police force out there patrolling all cases of sexual abuse.

SNAP has done a great deal of good work. In my own (former) parish, they helped flush out not only a predator, but the members of the hierarchy that had been protecting him and moving him from place to place. As for the claim that they have mounted a smear campaign against all priests and bishops, I've seen no evidence of it. I have seen plenty of behavior on the parts of priests and bishops, however, that might make one feel rather anti-Catholic at times.

10.13.2011 | 10:31am
Joe McFaul says:
I disagree entirely.

SNAP's finances are far more open than other non-profit institutions including the Catholic Church. SNAP arose from an institutional church stonewalling and denying any clergy sex abuse when the church was aware that it was a widespread problem.

As other have pointed out the "P" descirbes its mission. Others can deal with schools and relatives if they want.

I have spoken with SNAP memberrs who are Catholic and those who are not. There are many who are very internally anguished and in near despair--understandbly so. The spiritual damage to many of the members is almost incomprehensible. Members are obviously in differnt stages of healing from horrific crimes committed against them. I'll cut them some slack on this.

Kansas City in particular is an evil situation. SNAP cannot do enough in KC. The actions of the bishop are beyond inexcusable. The Grand Jury proceedings are well justified and far too late. The numberof criminal proceedings against dioceses is enough to show that SNAP is "restained" in its public relations.

SNAP cannot be hiring the District Attorneys in New Hampshire, in Philadephia, Tuscon and in KC. Those criminal investigations are not the result of ambulance chasing but arise from criminal actity within the Church, which has not dealt with this issue at all. Until it does, SNAP will have to serve as the conscience of the Church. People want SNAP to go away and sulk in silence (or get over it!) so they can go about their lives and feel good when they go to church. If your conscience bothers you, maybe you should listen to it.

I have donated 1/3 of what my church offering would have been to SNAP every year. One thord also goes to Catholic Worker and 1/3 to Rachel's house.

All three organizations send me a single thank you card and none of the three bombard me with donations requests. It's obvious that none of the three "sell" my name to charity mailing lists.

It pains me to talk with mothers who have lost their children to suicide as a result of clerical sex abuse. It pains me to see otherwise functioning people brought to near death as a result of a "flashback." Do victims wallow? Sure. Do they need our help? Yes they do. How do we give it? By complaining about their finances and accusing them of stridency. How Christian of us.

10.13.2011 | 11:39am
Interesting article. Similarly, I no longer view the Catholic Church as PRIMARILY a force for taking responsibility for actions or for protecting human life. It has shown itself to be much more interested in protecting its own existence.

Surely there has been some anti-Catholic backlash in the wake of priests raping children. But I was raised to take the FULL blame for my own actions, even the unintended consequences. The more the Church moans about being picked on, the more it sounds like an unrepentant child trying to blame its sins on others who hate it. I, for one am sick of it.

The Catholic Church has lost its moral authority for its own inability to identify real sin in its midst and has been reduced to claiming that its being picked on. This is the state of the church. Embarrassing.

Lastly, I really don't care how many anti-Catholics there are. The Church's focus should be on completely ripping out by the roots all possibility that there are children in danger. Instead in continues to whine about how it is treated. Until you protect the children, frankly, no one gives a damn how bad the Church hierarchy is ridiculed. Where are the priorities!

10.13.2011 | 11:54am
Joan says:
First Thing, I wish there was no need for SNAP, but when Church lawyers layered up as victims of those abused by Priests came forth, a need arose to protect victims legally. In our culture when wrong is done, we generally settle in court with appropriate damages. It's better than duels.

Second Thing, SNAP's staff have been abused by Priests. This is hardly a wealthy organization, with an annual budget in the $400,000 range for at least 5 or 6 staff and expenses. And if plaintiffs lawyers want to contribute, it's still a free country.

I am a donor to SNAP and I am merely a catholic who is concerned for victims and felt a few years ago that I no longer wanted to be an observer of the molestation mess, but rather a participant to try to help.

Third Thing, SNAP victims are very clear about the comfort and help SNAP has provided them. Perhaps you should attend a local Survivors meeting?

In closing, if the Church had monitored it's clergy and hierarchy, and prevented molestation from occurring, there would be no need for SNAP. Sadly that has not happened, rather vulnerable children throughout the world have had hideous experiences and the hierarchy has behaved in very self serving sorts of ways, and only with media pressure, have they set up somewhat cosmetic systems to protect some children.

I do not think SNAP is a noisy little group that hates the church, many SNAP members are practicing Catholics. Rather, SNAP is a very very small organization that has made the worlds largest organization uncomfortable, because they have effectively used media on behalf of the protection of children from clergy molesters.

10.13.2011 | 1:35pm
An institution with the wealth, power and prestige of the Roman Catholic Church does not get to whine and whimper when a mostly volunteer organization with an annual budget of $400K calls it to task for the real and revolting harm its hierarchy has caused. Even if every misdeed Mr. Saltzman lays at the feet of SNAP, it is a molehill compared to the mountain of suffering caused by the RCC and its refusal to behave in the manner to which Christ calls his followers. I am no longer one of those followers and never belonged to the RCC. It regularly boggles my mind that those in the highest ranks of the RCC seem regularly to refuse to ask themselves this simple question: How will this deed of mine reflect the love of Jesus Christ? I do not doubt that there are individuals with the RCC hierarchy who have genuine moral authority because of their actions, but the institution as a whole has no moral credibility left at all.

10.13.2011 | 2:41pm
Sibyl says:
BOTH the Diocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Kansas bishops and leadership have been caught in violation of the contractural agreements they willingly made with parents/parishoners for the protection of children.

Their disregard of the welfare of the children under their jurisdiction has caused shock and grief to parents and grievous harm to their children in both these Dioceses.

Despite the programs in place and the denials, the evidence consistently shows that the protection and care of fellow clergy has priority over the protection and care of children. This is underscored at a Philadelphia clergy meeting when Monsignor Lynn, indicted for covering up crimes of priests and interfering with an investigation, was praised by Bishop Chaput and given a standing ovation by his fellow clergy.

Moreover, in every country around the globe, even very high-ranking clergy have been indicted for abuse and caught with child porn, even selling it.

The Diocese of Miami got a new Archbishop only AFTER the LAITY presented the Vatican with irrefutable proof of the sexual activities going on among the clergy of which the Archbishop was the ringleader.

The new Archbishop sent in to fix things, just played musical priests, moving them around to other locations. He did not dare fire them or really clean house because the potential lawsuits might exceed the number of abuse lawsuits.
Can you imagine these 'priests' ministering in the confessional or counseling a boy or teen? Leading the youth?

Accountability and transparency are having to be forced on the leaders by lawsuits, organizations like SNAP and Bishops Accountability, because the clergy do not have the humility, conviction or honesty to feel the need for it and to enforce it upon themselves.

10.13.2011 | 3:21pm
rondre says:
Sad to read how some people take the abuse of children so lightly. If it wasn't for SNAP how many more children would be victims of abuse. Think of it when you read about the next victim who commits suicide. I guess i should not expect more from readers of First Things. After all they supported the founder of the Legionaires.

Of Molecules and (Straw) Men

HT: Patrick Chan

Moral inability

Recently, Ponterites have attempted to deflect the arguments of Paul Manata and me by evoking the Edwardsean distinction between natural and moral ability. But this maneuver fails on multiple grounds.

i) To begin with, Ponterites equivocate over the definition of “sincerity.” They cite dictionaries like the OED, but then disregard the semantic range of “sincere” or “well-meant.”

Having cited the dictionaries, they immediately proceed to abandon the lexical data and dictate makeshift definitions which are custom-made to coincide with their position.

ii) Their contention is that special redemption renders the gospel offer insincere because redemption is a precondition of coming to Christ. Yet redemption is “unavailable” to the unredeemed. It is “impossible” for the unredeemed to come to Christ. God hasn’t make redemptive “provision” for the unredeemed. The words in quotation marks are words that Ponterites have used to frame the issue.

iii) Manata and I have responded by pointing out that this argument either proves too much or too little inasmuch as there are other preconditions which must be met for the lost to come to Christ–preconditions which even 4-pointers accept. Not only must the lost be redeemed, but they must be elected and regenerated.

iv) At this juncture the Ponterites try to block those counterexamples by evoking the distinction between natural and moral ability. However, that move fails on two grounds:

v) Moral or spiritual inability still renders it impossible for the unregenerate to come to Christ. You can say it’s a different kind of inability, but it doesn’t change the fact that God is still “inviting” or “commanding” a subset of sinners to accept the gospel offer even though a necessary precondition is unavailable to them. God hasn’t made provision for the satisfaction of a necessary condition in their case. So this distinction fails to salvage the “sincerity” of the “well-meant” offer even on Ponterite terms.

vi) In addition, this distinction is irrelevant to reprobation. Reprobation is a subdivision of predestination.

The distinction between natural ability and moral or spiritual ability has reference to the noetic effects of sin, especially original sin. This distinction represents an effort to explain how sinners can still be blameworthy for disbelief or disobedience even though they are in some way unable to believe or obey.

It is said that while they are “morally” or “spiritually” unable to respond, they remain “naturally” able to respond. Their “natural” faculties remain intact.

vii) However, that distinction has no bearing on predestination. The reprobate and the unregenerate are “naturally” or metaphysically unable to do other than what God decreed. Indeed, their residual natural ability is, itself, a predestined ability. A result of God’s decree. And the effect of a cause cannot negate the cause of the effect.

Sinners are both naturally and morally unable to do other than whatever God predestined them to do. Indeed, that inability applies to fallen and unfallen creatures alike. Unfallen Adam lacks the freedom to act contrary to God’s decree.

That’s just baseline Calvinism. While there’s more to Calvinism than predestination, there’s no less to Calvinism that predestination.

viii) Let’s also keep in mind that the natural/moral distinction has more to do with Reformed polemic theology than Reformed systematic or dogmatic theology. Original sin (as well as the noetic effects thereof) is a given in Reformed theology. But that generates prima facie theodicean difficulties. Hence, some Reformed theologians (e.g. Jonathan Edwards) draw an apologetic distinction between moral and spiritual ability to explain how the unregenerate can still be morally responsible and culpable.

However, Reformed theology doesn’t require that distinction. For Reformed theology, reprobation and original sin are revealed truths. These are truths regardless of whether we can successfully defend them on purely philosophical grounds. We have a precommitment to these revealed truths. The a priori of faith. If they are philosophically defensible by natural reason, so much the better. But apologetic distinctions don’t have the same dogmatic status or epistemic warrant as revealed truths. There’s a difference between what we are obligated to believe (on God’s authority), and how we go about defending those beliefs (by natural reason). 

Whatever else the “definition of the word church” contains, it must be purged of Roman conceptions of Rome

For as long as I’ve been involved in Roman Catholic vs Protestant discussions (both those within myself at various points in my life, and with others, in person, and more recently, online), I’ve been trying to understand and characterize the struggle. To put it into words. To boil it down into understandable terms.

And many of you who have been involved in these discussions will have found out, the question always (or often) seems to hinge on one question: “what is the definition of the word ‘church’?”

In the history of the Christian church – the 2000 or so years since the time when Christ said, “I will build my church”, the answer to that question has taken many forms. There have been literally thousands of clerics or scholars or theologians and even “church bodies” who have tried to say precisely what that means. I don’t doubt that most of them have been sincere. But huge numbers of them, too, have been quite wrong-headed about it.

I have become convinced that the Roman Catholic Church today is the largest and the most wrong-headed about the whole understanding of what “the church” is. But beyond that, its mission is defined as perpetuating its own wrong-headedness, and sucking the whole world into its vortex.

* * *

Before I get into more of Campenhausen’s account of “where apostolic succession comes from”, I want to make a clarification. One friend commented:
The word “visible” seems to me to be problematic. I would say that the Church is visible in the sense that it is made up of many local congregations which have a visible presence in the communities in which they are found. It is invisible, of course, in the sense that we cannot know in this life, ultimately and for certain, who the elect are. It is my view, however, that it was NOT Christ’s intention to found a religious/political INSTITUTION called the Church.
That says some things pretty well. Of course we can “see” “the church” at various times and places. The WCF and the LCBF make these clarifying statements:
WCF — Chapter XXV: Of the Church:
1. The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.

2. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children; and is the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ; the house and family of God, through which men are ordinarily saved and union with which is essential to their best growth and service.

LBCF — Chapter XXVI: Of the Church:
1. The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

2. All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible saints; and of such ought all particular congregations to be constituted.
(I knew this comparative chart existed but I wasn’t aware until just now that it resided at James Anderson’s site .)

And yes, I believe, with both of these confessions, that “the Pope of Rome cannot in any sense be head thereof” in that he “exalteth himself in the Church against Christ”. You can turn to the pope, or you can turn to Christ. I’m sure Roman Catholics would argue, “you turn to Christ through the pope” or maybe to soften that, “the pope helps you to get to Christ”. But in either case, the pope is an obstacle. We are able to get to Christ without a pope. For we Christians are promised, “we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). If you, as a Christian may go directly to “the throne of grace”, why ever is there a reason to submit yourself to the slavish system that Rome has concocted over the centuries?

That, of course, is the big question.

* * *

And the answer that is most frequently given to that big question is, “The constant teaching of the Catholic Church is that Christ founded a visible Church with an essentially unified visible hierarchy.” In more “official” terms, that statement officially works out this way:
Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation through which He communicated truth and grace to all. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element. For this reason, by no weak analogy, it is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature [see the definition of Chalcedon] inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body.

This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth”. This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.
The phrase “subsists in” is a definite change from the word “is” from earlier Roman dogmas about the church. The earlier dogmas are unequivocal:
“This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, is the [Roman] Catholic Church”
The Vatican II characterization leaves some room for discussion:
“This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church”
As a cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger is on record as saying, essentially, “there is no difference between the two statements”. Dulles puts it this way:
Some have interpreted it as an admission that the Church of Christ is found in many denominational churches, none of which can claim to be the one true Church [though the Roman Catholic church sees itself to be the “gravitas” or the larger portion of it]. Ratzinger asserts the opposite. For him, “subsists” implies integral existence as a complete, self-contained subject. Thus the Catholic Church truly is the Church of Christ. But the term “subsists” is not exclusive; it allows for the possibility of ecclesial entities that are institutionally separate from the one Church. This dividedness, however, is not a desirable mutual complementarity of incomplete realizations but a deficiency that calls for healing.

* * *

In fact, in the Roman Catholic conception of “church”, all Protestants really are really just Roman Catholics who have become “separated” (as in “separated brethren”) – still under the visible headship of the pope and visible hierarchy [which is an integral, ontological part of the one body of Christ], yet “institutionally separate from the one Church”.

Yes, note especially that there is an ontological element implicit in this statement: For this reason, by no weak analogy, it is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation … governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him …. The doctrine of the papacy is wrapped up in the Roman definition of “church” and under the “successor of Peter”, we’re all just one big “living organ of salvation”.

That’s why Rome can never give up. It’s own conception of itself is just too important in the scheme of things. Rome has defined itself in as the most important element in the body of Christ. This is why I say, Rome is all about aggrandizing Rome.

* * *

This is what the Reformation is up against. This, I believe, is the greatest danger that the Reformation faces. Among all the other problems that the one church of Christ faces, this is the greatest one, even today. This is what lies “in, with, and under” every Roman Catholic overture of “peace and safety”, from every smiling Roman Catholic cleric. “We are all, after all, citizens of the Roman Empire”.

Even committed Protestants seem unaware of this dimension of, this danger from, the Roman Catholic Church. Those who look for “lines of continuity” between Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism especially risk being swallowed up in it.

So when the pope makes a seemingly sensible and ecumenical statement, even one that sensible Protestants like Paul McCain feel compelled to pass along without comment, we must always keep in mind what’s lying behind that apparent “good will”. Even “The Gospel Coalition”, in inviting the not-quite-converted Chris Castaldo to be a part of its blogging team, seems to miss this dogmatically defined danger from Rome.

Very few modern evangelicals realize the insidious nature of the way that Vatican II Roman Catholicism has positioned itself – the devouring and all-embracing nature of what Roman Catholicism is at its very heart.

However else Protestants want to understand the word “church”, the one thing that we must not allow ourselves to do is to become swallowed up by the behemoth of Rome. We must resist it with all our hearts. This is why I do what I do.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Your Wife Is Dying!

Ponter's Last At Bat

David Ponter took his last at bat. He struck out again, and since he was behind, he lost the game. Here's his last swing:
And now to Manata’s comment:

So here’s the upshot: Ponter can’t offer necessary and sufficient conditions for what counts as a sincere offer. Therefore, he cannot properly demarcate an insincere offer from a sincere one.

I don’t need to. That is just a red-herring. All I need to show is a single condition which falsifies the (alleged) sincerity of an offer. This should not be rocket science.

What is the single condition that falsifies the purported sincerity of an offer? If you don’t have it, and you know you don’t have it, then you can’t sincerely offer it. God knows he has no provision of salvation FOR the NDF, so he cannot sincerely offer a provision for salvation TO the NDF. He has nothing to offer the NDF, so any pretense of offering salvation is just that, a pretense. Sincerity is indexed to at least this, having in your possession the thing you are offering, or setting forth, or presenting, or tendering, etc etc. I do not know how many ways or times I have to state this. The issue is all about God’s sincerity, for his part, in tendering the offer, not his ability to save the person who actually does come. Even and evangelical Arminian would agree with that God is able to save all who actually come to him.

So he's saying he needs to list one necessary condition. Since it's necessary, then a counterexample disproves his strictures. So:

1. Notice he has added the qualifier "and knows about it" to his constraint. I helped him on this score, because originally he didn't have the qualifier. So this is his re-worked constraint.

2. Notice Ponter simply stipulates a constraint for what counts as a sincere offer. he wants to win by stipulation. He cites no Bible verse that provides his constraint on sincere offers. He doesn't derive it from premises or the empty set. Why should we believe it? Because it rigs the game for him? What argument can be given to accept it? Ponter's offered none. He's offered his "gut intuitions," but perhaps it's a case of "there's a way that seems right to a man, but its end leads to death"? Now, I'm not saying Ponter's headed to destruction, but often our "intuitions" are wrong. Besides that, the problem with proof by stipulation is that the other side gets to do the same. So, here's a tu quoque stipulation: If you offer something to someone who you know cannot accept what was offered, you've made an insincere offer. What do we do at this point? Point fingers and yell nee ner nee ner at each other?

3. His constraint suffers from counter examples. Suppose a businessman had an infallible crystal ball that ushered in predictions. So he sees that some number less than the total population is going to buy his widget. He thus makes only enough for those he infallibly saw would buy it. Why waste the time, material, capital, etc., making ones no one will buy. He then advertises the widgets in magazines, etc. It's the same as all the advertisements we see around us on a regular basis and which we take to be ostensible offers of products. They seem sincere to us. Furthermore, suppose that he knows that the set of humans that are the remainder of humans who don't buy the product actually hate the product, the company, the CEO, etc. He knows they'll never want the product. But out of generosity he offers it to them anyway. He knows he has no more of the product on hand, but also knows exactly how much he'd need. Hence he made what he needed. He's not wasteful or irrational, after all. How is this an insincere offer? It doesn't seem so to me, but on Ponter's terms it's supposedly ruled out.

4. Now, Ponter wants to talk about fantastical per impossibles. He wants to talk about what if those who God decreed and knew would not come, ended up coming. Since if they did, per impossible, there'd be no atonement blood for them, then God's insincere. But if we get to talk about wild and crazy impossibles (like reprobates who end up coming), then there's no jumping off the roller coaster just because you don't like the upcoming drops, loops, and corkscrews. Go back to the business man. Suppose he also believes this: "Now, I know, thanks to my infallible crystal ball, that I only need n widgets (where n is some number less than the consumer population, C). I know that I only needed n widgets, so I only made n widgets. Thus, I know I don't have n+1 widgets. Thus there's no widgets for any in the set C-n. Yet, out of my kindness—since I know my product is pure awesomeness—I offer it to all men via television advertisements, magazine ads, etc. Now, I also believe this: If, per impossible [it's impossible that if S knows that p, that ¬p obtain], a member of the set C-n were to ask for a widget, then I'd make him one. I'd make a special case just for him, and make a widget just for him, done quite apart from my normal and usual production. This especially seals the deal in terms of agreeing that we have a sincere offer here, and it contradicts Ponter's constraints. Now, perhaps God holds a belief like this? So, perhaps the atonement blood has the potential to grow from amount b to b+1. Or, perhaps it has the potential to do something like fissioning, such that it is possible that it grow, even though it is now at an amount where only members of some select group could each have an equal share. Or, perhaps God could proleptically save the per impossible sinner, such that if he trusted in something that functioned like lambs did for OT Israel, he'd be saved. Or, perhaps God believes that if he needed to, he would send Jesus one a special rescue mission to die for this one per impossible sinner. Or, since it's not necessary that only Christ could become incarnate and die, perhaps the Holy Spirit fills a contingency role and would become incarnate and die for this per impossible sinner. There seems to me to be a number of beliefs God could have which would make him relevantly similar to the business man, who we agreed made a sincere offer.

So I'm afraid that Ponter's last at bat looks like this: K.

Archaeology and the Historical Reliability of the New Testament

AC Grayling

A Sceptic’s Guide To Atheism

Leadership material

One of the primary objections to Romney is that he doesn’t believe what he says. Romney just tells votes what they want to hear, based on focus-group tested sound bites. However, Romney has another problem which receives less attention.

He’s also weak on the things he does believe in. For instance, he’s a businessman, and I’m sure he is pro-business. That’s something he is sincere about.

But even in that respect he suffers from temperamental inhibitions. He has a moderate disposition. Naturally middle-of-the-road.

He’d tweak the tax code. Make certain improvements. But he’s not a radical reformer. He doesn’t have that in his psychological makeup. He’s a technocrat. Someone who tinkers with the system. Even what he does best is diluted by his timid temperament. 

The religious test-clause

I recount this simply to remind us that religious liberty depends on religious tolerance, and injecting sectarianism into politics has an ugly history. There are certain civic wounds that one doesn’t want to reopen.

This is a popular sentiment. It sounds better in the abstract. But to take one counterexample, suppose a zealous Muslim ran for POTUS. Should American voters not take his religious outlook into consideration?

One of the basic problems which this article ignores is a suppressed premise. For tolerance is, or ought to be, a two-way street. It’s counterproductive for American voters to be tolerant of other religions if other religious don’t reciprocate their tolerance. It’s silly to say a voter shouldn’t allow his religious outlook to affect his politics if the candidate’s religious outlook will affect his politics.

Of course, Mormonism isn’t Islam. But that’s the point. We need to be able to draw reasonable distinction where there really are significant differences, rather than treating all religious alike even though different religious are unalike in various ways.

We also have Romney attempting to quash legitimate discussion over the nature of Mormonism, as if that’s simply off-limits. This is the same rhetoric of intimidation that the homosexual lobby uses, as well as the Muslim lobby. That, itself, is one less reason to vote for Romney. 

Phil on Phreedom

Phil decided to write a response I guess to me, however he never once quotes any of my views on the matter. Ponter chimed in with, "Yeah, you tell him, God doesn't will sin directly, so there!"

Unfortunately, the response was unresponsive to anything I've argued. It is comprised of going on pop-Calvinist auto-pilot and throwing out a few vague terms as if they're really doing serious philosophical or theological work.

The first issue is that it was assumed that the distinction between "moral and natural ability" somehow provided a workhorse of a conceptual tool, the mere mentioning of which, without direct reference to anything I wrote, sufficed to settle the matter. I see neither of them read my essay on free will. I'll plug it again. One problem from the start is that we're talking about determinism, and the above conceptual distinction, while maybe stating a vague truth, does not address the issue raised. For libertarianism is compatible with the distinction between moral and natural in/ability. I went over this in the above mentioned paper.

Phil writes, "There are two sink holes to fall into regarding the idea of a God who is so sovereign that He determines all things ahead of time, denying his sovereignty . . . and denying his goodness." Phil thinks I've done the latter, but cannot demonstrate it from anything I've said. In any case, see that he admits that God "determines all things ahead of time." So, if X determines that S will Φ at t, then S cannot do otherwise than Φ at t, given the determinism (whether it's laws of physics, the fates, laws of logic, or God's decrees). So, per Phil's statement, if God decrees that Phil will eat pizza at noon tomorrow, then given that decree Phil cannot do otherwise than eat the pizza at noon tomorrow.

Now, let's get one thing straight from the start. Phil claimed that a necessary constraint for a sincere offer is: Necessarily, if S sincerely offers Φ to S′, then S can give Φ to S′. Call this Phil's Principle, PP. My counterexample was simple. Suppose Phil offered a slice of pizza to his neighbor, David. David accepts. This looks like a sincere offer. However, suppose God decrees from eternity that Phil will be overtaken by ravenous hunger the moment the pizza arrives (perhaps he was vigorously playing pirate in his backyard tree house). Given Reformed theology and the meaning of "determines," Phil could not have given what was offered to David. There, counterexample, so the constraint has been falsified. Interestingly, Phil thought if he changed subjects about reprobation, positive and negative determining, natural and moral in/ability, etc., that that would somehow save him. No, I'm afraid he's wrong. My counterexample shows that PP is false. Thus, it's not a necessary condition. Phil can qualify, move goal posts, etc., but as stands, I refuted PP.

However, Phil really thinks his points should be taken seriously. And even though they're off topic and unresponsive to my argument, I suppose I can answer him further. Aside from his moral/natural in/ability distinction not doing the compatibilistic work Phil intends for it to do, there's general problems. To say that S has the natural ability to Φ is to say that there's nothing coercing or forcing S to Φ. S does what S does unimpeded by external or constraints. Nothing is forcing or stoping S from Φ-ing. For example, suppose S gets on a bus. To say he has the natural ability to refrain from this, means that there was nothing forcing or coercing S from getting on the bus. His body-parts and the movements thereof worked sufficiently normal to be able to move his body down the street the Chuck E. Cheeze's rather than on the bus. Calvin gives the example of the bones of Jesus. Were they breakable? In one sense, yes; in another, no. In the first sense, they were normal bones, which had the property of breakability if hit with sufficient force, just like all normal bones. In more contemporary terms, Jesus didn't have Wolverine's skeleton. In the latter sense, however, since God had decreed that no bones would break, and since the negation of one of God's decree is impossible to bring about, then the bones couldn't be broken.

Now, those who employ the natural in/ability distinction will use it to argue for compatibilism in classical compatibilist fashion (classical compatibilism is the compatibilism of Hume, Locke, etc.) Since they affirm theological determinism, and they feel the push from questions about how it is just to hold a man responsible if he could not do otherwise, they will claim that man is naturally able to do otherwise, just not morally. The former is what it needed to ground ascriptions of responsibility. So the argument will run like this: S was responsible for Φ-ing because S could have done otherwise than Φ. This 'could have done otherwise' means that S had the natural ability to do otherwise in that nothing coerced or forced S to Φ; and, had S wanted to Ψ instead of Φ, then S would have. This last part is crucial. it invokes the notion of hypothetical ability. That is, we have an ability or power such that were we to want to do otherwise, then we could or would do otherwise, nothing prevented us from doing otherwise in the sense of forcing or coercing.

However, note a couple problems. First, if S did want to do otherwise, and so would do otherwise, this requires another decree. S cannot do otherwise given identical decrees. This brings in possible worlds semantics, but David Ponter taught us that this was strictly forbidden. Second, notice that the move works only if we are able to want to do otherwise. Are we? Well, how does 'ability' get cached out on classical compatibilst terms? Recall that it gets cashed out this way: S is able to do otherwise means that if S were to want to do otherwise, then S could or would. It gets cashed out hypothetically. S is free to Φ if and only if (i) if S chooses Φ then S would Φ and (ii), if S were not to choose to do Φ then S would not do Φ. The bottom line here is that what S chooses to do results from S's will, volition, desires, wants, whatever. So, it's not enough to say that S would have done otherwise had S wanted to, for S also needs to be able to want to. The problem brought out here is that the hypothetical account isn't enough. We need more than just, S could have done otherwise if S had wanted to do otherwise. But this pushes the question back to whether the agent could have wanted to do otherwise. To answer that requires another 'could' statement: S could have wanted or chosen to do otherwise. This requires another hypothetical analysis: S could (or was 'able' to) have wanted or chosen to do otherwise, if S had wanted or chosen to want or choose otherwise. The same question would arise about this analysis, needing another 'could' statement to be analyzed, and so on ad infinitum.

There's other worries too about the sufficiency of the above kind of position. Take cases of mental illness. Clearly a mental patient can do what she wants, or may want to do what she can; say, shoot all the giant elephants walking around New York city (actually, they're people but she hallucinates), but we clearly wouldn't call her free, this is why we send her to a hospital rather than a jail. We need rather more than mere natural ability and doing what we want to do.

In any event, Phil offers a response:

And with that we're ready to address Mr. Manata's question: if God has foreordained that Mr. Bob would spend eternity in Hell, then how can He make a genuine offer of salvation to Bob? The answer is easily found: God happens to know that man left alone will choose hell, but even so He is not condemning man to hell with His decrees. Man is given the empty space to make His own decision, and chooses himself.

Note that this does nothing to undermine my use of an arbitrary example of an offering which refuted Phil's necessary constraint. Second, God doesn't just "happen to know" that man left alone will choose hell, for God has decreed all of man's choices, since he decrees "whatsoever comes to pass." As Berkhof has pointed out,"The execution of the plan may require means or be dependent on certain conditions, but then these means or conditions have also been determined in the decree. God did not simply decree to save sinners without determining the means to effectuate the decree. The means leading to the pre-determined end were also decreed." Third, God condemns man to hell for his sins, which he determined, by the way. If this is rejected, then we must deny that God has decreed whatsoever comes to pass. That God did not directly cause the man to sin is of no consequence, for that simply means that God is the actor. And yes, man makes his own decisions and choices, which of course were decreed before the foundation of the world. Moreover, responsibility and inability to do otherwise is fully compatible with determinism. So, there is a sense in which man makes his own choices, yet he could not have done otherwise. And aside from these objections come objections from the foreknowledge argument. I ask Phil again, what Reformed answer will he give to the foreknowledge argument, which concludes that we cannot do other than we do?

So again, the problem is clear. Phil thinks that there not being any atonement available precludes a sincere offer. I have of course refuted this constraint, and also conjectured that if per impossible a reprobate were to come to Christ, God would send again Jesus to die just for him. This would need to be shown to be impossible. Aside from this, however, is that Phil is faced with a similar problem, and it's the one all non-Calvinists give. Since man cannot accept the gospel, then it looks as if God is insincere to offer it. It's akin to offering a man in a wheelchair a treat if he will come and get it. This is not avoided by saying that you have enough of whatever it is such that you could give it to him if he came. And the appeal to natural ability is not relevant here, that's an accidental detail of the situation. The problem lies in the inability in general. If saying, "Well if the man could walk, then he'd come" doesn't mean anything since he's unable to walk in this world. Similarly the reprobate. Given God's decree that a man will not want to come to Christ, and the positive decree is a necessary condition for coming to Christ, that man cannot come to Christ. He's unable. To say he is able in the sense that if he wanted to come he could invites questions about whether he's able to want. Etc.

Testing Roger Olson's Depth of Exegesis

Christ did not found a visible church

Did Christ found a “visible church”? Let’s look at some of the exegetical evidence.

Joseph Ratzinger, destined to be pope, in an essay entitled “Primacy, Episcopacy, and Successio Apostolica,” in the work “God’s Word: Scripture-Tradition-Office” (San Francisco: Ignatius Press ©2008; Libreria Editrice Vaticana edition ©2005), says “The concept of [apostolic] succession was clearly formulated, as von Campenhausen has impressively demonstrated, in the anti-Gnostic polemics of the second century; [and not, as some Roman Catholic writers assert, in the first century] its purpose was to contrast the true apostolic tradition of the Church with the pseudo-apostolic tradition of Gnosis” (pgs 22-23).

<---------------- Yes, that’s Pope Joseph Ratzinger’s picture over there, on the book cover, stating for all the world to see, “The concept of Apostolic Succession was clearly formulated in the second century.” (Even though he wasn’t yet pope when he wrote that, some enterprising publisher put his picture, and name as pope! on the cover, with the hope that more people would buy it!)

The work he is referring to is Hans von Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power in the Church of the First Three Centuries, trans. J. A. Baker (London: Black, 1969), pgs 149-177. Hmm. And look at that recommendation from Ratzinger, who was still only a “brialliant theologian” when he wrote that endorsement. “Clearly formulated … impressively demonstrated…” That’s a very fine endorsement indeed.

We look now at what von Campenhausen says:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The idolatry of Mac

After John MacArthur was convicted in absentia of crypto-Popery, he had to go on the lam to escape the Puritan death squads. For months leading up to his conviction, the internet was rife with rumors that TMS students were taught behind closed doors to burn votive candles to the Black Madonna of Czestochowa.

His conviction was overturned by the Nine Circuit Court in San Francisco on the grounds that every third person in Haight-Ashbury was stoned at one time or another. However, the Puritan death squads refused to acknowledge the court’s jurisdiction. They had spies planted at LAX to catch him if he attempted to flee the country. MacArthur barely escaped in hail of rocks. Fortunately for him, his inveterate bodyguard, Fred Butler, subdued the death squads with the jawbone of an ass.

Using a fake passport, PhotoShopped by Dan Phillips, MacArthur fled to Cuba, since it had no extradition treaty with the U.S. There he continued a ham radio ministry from his seaside cabaña.

However, Puritan death squads landed in the Bay of Pigs under cover of darkness, to mete out rough justice. But they were repelled by Frank Turk, unleashing his pyrokinetic powers.

MacArthur continued to publish books. He’d deliver his manuscript in unmarked manila envelops to a courier named Raoul, who flew it by private jet to Phil Johnson.

For his part, Jabba the Hubner did a sensational series tracing the history of Dispensationalism through the Free Masons and the Knights Templar all the way back to Jannes and Jambres.  Jabba also uncovered some truly fascinating correlations between Zionism and the Bermuda Triangle. 

Christian reunion

The following quote is (I think) from C.S. Lewis in his book Christian Reunion and Other Essays:
The real reason why I cannot be in communion with you [Roman Catholics] is not my disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine, but that to accept your Church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but also to what he is going to say.

Common Objections to Christianity

John Hendryx of Monergism fame recently solicited my input on a questionnaire. Here's the link:

Innocent mistakes and willful errors

The death of an eighteen-year-old brother...

Domestic duties

I’m reposting some comments I left over at Justin Taylor’s blog:


Defining a cult is less important than defining Christianity. While Mormonism can be legitimately classified as a cult (indeed, a paradigmatic cult), it’s more important to explain why Mormonism isn’t Christian–not even close.

What exactly are you referring to? Do you object to the pastor saying Mormonism is a non-Christian cult? Do you object to his endorsing a candidate? Do you object to his vouching for the piety of a candidate?

Actually, Paul’s position on pagan statecraft (Rom 13) would be offensive to Jewish insurrectionists.

Keep in mind that politics is not irrelevant to the freedom to evangelize. That, itself, is a civil right. A right which the state may revoke if Christians desert the political sphere.

“The first line here is true, but the rest doesn’t follow. The Gospel flourished under the world-wide domination of an Empire who not merely suppressed Christian voting, but killed you for not bowing before its leader. And the Gospel’s chief messenger also prospered greatly in his efforts to spread the Gospel despite never having petitioned Rome for better living conditions or equal rights.”

The problem with citing historical precedent is that it’s easy to cite counter precedents. For instance, Christianity hasn’t flourished in Muslim countries. It didn’t flourish in communist E. Germany.

“Paul never threw his weight behind a senator or would-be Emperor.”

Actually, we’d be in no position to know one way or the other. All we have is a sampling of his letters to a few churches.

“His love was for the Gospel, not the protection of political freedoms.”

That sounds nice when you confine yourself to an abstract phrase like “political freedoms,” but what about concrete issues like abortion, euthanasia, homosexual adoption, indoctrinating students in public schools, &c.?

“I think we need to get Christians out of politics and into the Gospel and let the geo-political chips fall where they may…”

Like the way the chips have fallen in N. Korea, Maoist China, Stalinist Russia, Romania under Ceauşescu, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, &c.?

“…that is to say, we need to trust that God will allow political systems rise and fall as he sees fit as we continue the work of the Gospel.”

That’s a hypercalvinistic quietism, as if our efforts somehow impede God’s efforts.

“Except that the letters we have from him are now part of the inspired cannon, and clearly you’re forced to presume he was political via an argument from silence.”

i) When I explicitly say that we’re in no position to know one way or the other, that carries no presumption in either direction.

You’re the one who’s drawing inferences from silence, not me.

ii) But as far as that goes, give the fact that Paul held dual citizenship (Rome, Tarsus), it would hardly be surprising if he were involved in the civic affairs of the empire. That would also explain his political connections with Roman officials (i.e. the Asiarchs).

“Yet his letters clearly tell us about the horrible suffering he endured for Jesus’ sake, and his letters stretch from his conversion to just before his death. You’d think if he was political he would have said something, or at least have something political included in Scripture.”

Paul also said nothing about Christians farming or raising livestock. Therefore, by your logic, Christians should expect God to feed them manna from heaven.

“Except that I didn’t just cite any historical precedent did I?”

So you’re now dropping historical precedent?

“I cited what the apostles did and didn’t do based on the Gospel itself. And clearly the Gospel shows us how obsessed the apostles were with advancing Christ’s kingdom, rather than personal freedoms in an age when there were none.”

i) You need to learn how to draw an elementary distinction between what Scripture prescribes, proscribes, and permits.

ii) In addition, apostolic example has obvious limitations. That was a special calling. Christians don’t have that unique vocation.

“What about them? Didn’t Paul have infanticide in his day? How about the common treatment of women in the first-century? And we can only guess about the depth of atrocities and idolatry that was taught in Roman schools. Paul didn’t ignore these things at all, instead he taught a better a message. He taught a message that transcended the mere appeal to a human institution, and instead preached a Gospel that eventually changed the face of the greatest empire on earth.”

Paul also discussed the rule of law (1 Tim 1:8-10).

“It’s hypercalvinistic only if you insist that your ideology supplants real Gospel-centered evangelism, Steve. Jesus wants you to preach him, not limited government and better tax rates. He wants you to trust in his Word, share his Good News, and to stop worrying about whether a President who shares your political views (yet who likely cares little to nothing about the Gospel) attains the White House just to obsess all over again about keeping him in there for another four to eight years.”

i) It’s funny how you appeal to apostolic precept, but then ignore the fact that the apostles never enjoin every-member evangelism.

ii) Preaching the gospel is not the only Christian duty. For instance, Christian family men have a standing duty to protect and provide for their dependents (1 Tim 5:8). If someone breaks into your home and threatens your wife and kids, you have a duty to defend them. If a mugger assaults your wife, you have a duty to defend her.

You also have a duty to protect your livelihood, since that is how you provide for your dependents. If you were a rancher in the Old West, you’d have the right to protect your herd against cattle-rustlers. That’s how you put food on the table. If you own a mom-and-pop store, you have a right to protect your store against an arsonist. That’s what pays the bills.

If you have a duty to protect your family against rapists, muggers, murders, and arsonists, then politics is no different, for gov’t run amok can also pose a threat to your family’s wellbeing.

“This is what I was talking about earlier, Steve. You intimate that he did do these things and you have to assume that he did when you have no proof.”

You disregard the reason I gave.

“What the apostles did do is encourage their followers to risk everything (houses, families, livelihoods) for the name of Jesus and for the sake of the Gospel.”

i) That’s not all they did. They also encouraged Christians to lead normal lives.

ii) There’s also an elementary difference between being prepared to risk everything and failing to take rational precautions. The Bible also commends prudence.

“Nice try, Steve. But we’re not talking about farming or livestock or just sitting on your hands waiting for the rapture.”

You’re the one who acts as though it’s improper for Christians to do something without explicit apostolic authorization. So by your logic, Christians shouldn’t farm or raise livestock. They should devote full-time to evangelism and expect God to feed them manna from heaven.

“We’re talking about mixing ideology and faith – specifically, an obsession with ideology over faith.”

Reality isn’t compartmentalized the way you’d like it to be.

You also have a bad habit of resorting to hyperbole. Since that’s a straw man, it fails to prove your point.

“You seem to be suggesting that not being political is tantamount to doing nothing, and that seems to suggest you don’t believe that the Gospel alone is all that powerful or worthy of your trust.”

The Bible isn’t confined to evangelism. The Bible is also concerned with personal and social ethics.

“Yes, but what is that supposed to prove? Do you think that Christians putting an emphasis on the Gospel in their lives, even wholly in lieu of politics, is to ignore the rule of law? I can think of several martyrs and saints of old who would disagree with you here.”

You’re the one who drives a wedge between “gospel” and “ideology” or “politics.” Well, the rule of law is political or ideological. St. Paul had “ideological” or “political” concerns over and above evangelism. He didn’t share your dichotomies.

“Steve, I don’t know where to begin with your non-sequiturs here and I don’t have the time to unravel them.”

You’re using adjectives to do the work of arguments.

“But I’m not so paranoid to believe that devoting my time and energies towards preaching the simple Gospel, instead of making sure that a Republican defeats our current President next year, is somehow tantamount to hypercalvinism and allowing an arsonist to ‘burn down my store.’”

You’re not making a good faith effort to engage the argument.