Friday, November 18, 2011

Ought Implies Can

Stop the violence!

That’s what happens when gun-nut types are given free rein. This tragedy could have been easily averted through Federal regulation of porcine weaponry. How much longer will we stand by and do nothing while the lobbyists for the National Oinker Association threaten public safety? How many more tragedies like this will we tolerate before empowering to AFT crack down on the sale and distribution of ham butts? When is the White House going to get serious about porco traffickers? 

This has been in the news today...

Any suggestions on a photo caption?

Saudi moral committee

Convicted in the court of public opinion

I recently saw Herman Cain complain that he’d been “convicted in the court of public opinion.” Of course, that’s a popular cliché. I’ll just make a few observations:

i) Oftentimes there’s more than one court of public opinion. There’s a court that convicts the accused, but another court that acquits the accused.

ii) Apropos (i), Cain has no doubt been damaged by public allegations of sexual misconduct. However, that cuts both ways. He has public detractors, but he also has public supporters. One tries to pull him down while the other tries to prop him up. So his complaint is rather one-sided.

iii) The court of public opinion is unregulated and often unfair. It has no consistent standards.

However, the court of public opinion can sometimes be superior to the court of law. Judges routinely treat certain types of probative evidence as inadmissible based on legal technicalities. A voluntary confession will be tossed because the suspect wasn’t Mirandized. Background evidence will be peremptorily excluded because it’s “prejudicial.” Incriminating evidence will be excluded because the police didn’t have a search warrant.

Put another way, judges often apply the genetic fallacy. It doesn’t matter if the evidence is probative, but how it was obtained.

As a result, juries often have a very blinkered, very skewed impression of the accused. They only see and hear what the judge allows them to see and hear, which is artificially truncated. By contrast, those who bother to follow the story in the news media may have a much broader database from which to evaluate the allegations.

As a result, there’s nothing inherently or antecedently suspect about conviction in the court of public opinion. Sometimes that verdict is more accurate than a court of law. 

“Why the Spirit, not the magisterium, will lead us into all truth”

Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today, “the magazine of Evangelical conviction”, responded to the question, “What do you make of all the evangelicals converting to Roman Catholicism?” Here’s a quick overview of the response he gives is:
The Holy Spirit set the pattern for what church would be like at the day of Pentecost. And it looked like this: Massive confusion. So much confusion that when onlookers tried to describe it, they called it a drunken party (Acts 2:13). When Peter interprets what was happening, he says this:
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;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17–18) ….
Many matters took decades, if not generations, to settle out—including the matter of which writings were to be included in the canon to help settle these matters! In other words, there was no magisterium in the early church, but only Christians who lived and argued together at the prodding of the Holy Spirit. Yes, there were bishops and councils who attempted to settle disputes that arose, but many of those bishops were simply wrong on key points, and many of the councils had to be reversed by another council. The full sweep of church history suggests that the Holy Spirit has, in fact, led us into all truth through no other way than men and women, slave and free, Jew and Gentile wrestling with one another about whatever issue is at hand until, in the Spirit's good time, a consensus emerges….

This is the church the Holy Spirit birthed at Pentecost, and this is the church in which the Holy Spirit raises up all manner of people to say one thing or another we all need to hear. One way we adjudicate these issues is by listening to one another today. Just as important is to listen to the church historic, our great tradition of creeds and confessions and great theologians of the past. And yes, more than anything, we continue to mine the Scriptures to discover the truth the Holy Spirit is leading us into, which is always an old truth we've not been able to hear until today….

The common critique of evangelicalism is that "the center will not hold." Bah. Humbug. Of course the center will hold, because at the center is not a doctrine, nor some human authority figure, nor a complete and inerrant statement of faith. There is only the Center, Jesus Christ. We don't need a magisterium. We already have a Lord, who told us that not even the gates of Hades (whose landlord loves to sows confusion in the church!) will prevail against the church.
His response leaves a lot to be desired, but he’s fundamentally right. We don’t need the Roman Magisterium. The Roman Magisterium is a contrived thing. It’s a counterfeit. The Holy Spirit does lead the church. And this question, asked very publicly, and his answer, is one that’s going to help to continue to draw the lines that need to be drawn. It’s going to help a lot more Evangalicals (especially those who have left Rome) to begin to focus on what the right answers are.

How the Church of Sexual Abuse™ Can Still Call Itself “The Church that Christ Founded®”

While the topic of the Roman Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal is fresh on our minds, it’s important to understand how Rome, and its apologists, look at “the Roman Catholic Church”. Not long ago Steve wrote a post entitled The Invisible Church of Rome. In this context, it’s important to look at in its entirety:
Roman Catholics constantly attack the Protestant distinction between the visible and invisible aspects of the church. For a classic statement of the Protestant distinction, see chap. 5 of the Westminster Confession.

Bryan Cross has coined the phrase “Ecclesial “Docetism” to designate this altogether appalling distinction.

But what’s ironic about all this is that Catholic epologists like Bryan have a conception of The One True Church® which is at least as dualistic or “Docetic” as the Protestant conception (or their caricature of the Protestant conception). Catholic apologists constantly alternate between two One [True] Church(es). They dichotomize The One True Church® into the functional equivalent of the visible/invisible church.

Let’s take some examples. In the same breath as Bryan touts the “visible Body” of Christ, he also touts the “Mystical Body” of Christ. Yet, on the face of it, a “Mystical Body” is conspicuous for its lack of empirical properties. Has anyone ever seen a “Mystical Body”? What color is a “Mystical Body”?

But that’s just for starters. Catholic epologists bifurcate The One True Church® into a phenomenal church and a noumenal church. They conveniently relegate all the bad stuff to the phenomenal church. That’s just a shell. A simulacrum.

No matter how bad the church becomes, that can never impinge on the real church. For the real church is an inner, ethereal, indetectible, unfalsifiable quintessence of one true churchliness.

The real church is a suprahistorical entity which requires no historical evidence commensurate with the scope of its historical claims. The real church is impervious to historical counterevidence. The real church is a timeless, spaceless, airtight ideal.

For instance, the True church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. However, under no circumstances should the marks of the True church be confused with concrete, identifiable properties.

It doesn’t matter how much actual disunity you have in the church of Rome. That can never count as evidence against the unity of the church. Rather, any degree of disunity, however, wide and deep, is shunted off to the phenomenal shell of the church. That can never penetrate the essence of what makes the church “one.”

Likewise, it doesn’t matter how unholy the Roman church may be in practice. However corrupt, in time and space, from top to bottom, that only pertains to the outer shell of the church. For the True church remains spotless underneath the accumulated layers of turpitude.

Even though no amount of turpentine will ever be able to peel away the accumulated layers of turpitude to expose the hidden holiness of the church, buried beneath centuries of corruption, the faithful know in their heart of hearts that at the inaccessible core of the church there resides a pristine essence of sanctity.

The True church is indefectible. But not for a minute should that be connected with the actual performance of the church. No matter how error-ridden the Roman church may be in the actual administration of its internal affairs, each and every declension, however large or small, is automatically reassigned to the accidental shell of the church, while the unseen substance of The One True Church® remains intact and inviolate.
You may think Steve was joking about this, but serious Roman Catholics are very serious about this distinction. It’s the only way that an organization so obviously corrupt as the Roman Catholic Church can, with a straight face, say it is “the Church that Christ Founded®”.

Now, I myself grew up as a “Cradle Catholic” – I grew up devoutly Roman Catholic; I left as a teenager, for what I thought were all the right reasons. I drifted back “home to Rome” as an adult in part, because of a story like this one. But the more you look at it, the more you look at the particulars, the more stretched and strained this notion becomes.

This is one reason why I continue to have hope for even the most hardened Roman Catholic apologists. It’s one thing to submit your will to “the Church that Christ Founded®”. It’s quite another thing to use the brain that Christ gave you.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Craig Keener's Work On Miracles Is Out

For those who don't know, Craig Keener's two-volume work on miracles recently came out. It's more than a thousand pages long, and I'm not far into it yet. It appears to be a great treatment of the subject, and the endorsements are impressive. You can read them at the site linked above.

Debating the death penalty

My argument is actually somewhat different from what you are describing. As the death penalty is now practiced in America, we take extra precautions with it, in virtue of its irreversibility. As a result, two advantages of the death penalty over life imprisonment are compromised. First, while most people think the state pays less by using the death penalty than it does in life imprisonment, the fact is that when litigation costs are factored in, execution is more expensive. Second, the deterrent effect is diminished, since not only does the criminal expect to get away with it (otherwise, he wouldn't commit the crime), but also, should someone actually be tried and convicted and sentence to death, death is hardly immanent, because the murderer can expect a long appeals process which is going to delay the execution for many years, assuming the execution occurs at all. This is probably the reason why crime statistics in states without the death penalty are no worse than in states with it. Having the death penalty just means that you might be sentenced to death, and then after 20 years or so, after your appeals run out, you may get executed, unless, of course, they decide not to execute you, which they might very well do.

i) Actually, I think that exposes the duplicity of death-penalty opponents. They raise inconsistent objections.

On the one hand they object to capital punishment because the appellate process diminishes the deterrent effect of capital punishment.

On the other hand they object to capital punishment given the risk of executing the innocent.

Yet the point of the appellate process is to minimize the risk of executing the innocent. So if this is a dilemma for death-penalty proponents, it is also a dilemma for death-penalty opponents.

ii) And this is a false dilemma for death-penalty proponents who support capital punishment primarily on grounds of retribution rather than deterrence.

Of course, the irreversibility of the death penalty is an argument against its very existence.

i) But, as I pointed out in my post, our society condones many hazardous activities. Those consequences are equally irreversible. So Reppert will need to modify his argument.

ii) A life sentence is also irreversible for innocent convicts who die in prison.. And even if their conviction is reversed 40 years later, they can’t get those years back. You go in young, you come out old. Your kids are grown. Your wife remarried. Your mojo is gone. 

However, where we do practice the death penalty, we seem to concede an important point to its opponents, namely, that there should be a lot more appeals when we execute than when we imprison, because we can release exonerated prisoners, but not people we have executed.  

i) Actually, I see no reason why we shouldn’t take the same precautions in case of life imprisonment.

ii) Keep in mind, though, that under our current system, the point of appealing the verdict is not to confirm or disconfirm the actual guilt of the defendant, but to confirm or disconfirm whether he received a “fair” trial. Were his due process rights violated at any point? Should he be acquitted on a technicality, even if he’s guilty? So we could streamline the process without upping the risk of executing the innocent. 

iii) Also keep in mind that death-penalty opponents don’t necessarily view life imprisonment as a morally acceptable alternative. They may offer that as part of their incremental strategy to phase out the death penalty, but they may also view life imprisonment as harsh, vindictive, and pointless.

If, say, they reject retributive punishment in favor of remedial punishment, they are just as likely to oppose life imprisonment for murder. Consider how Norway punishes murder–even mass murder.

Ecclesiastical Text

WSJ Small Business Forecast

Small Business Forecast [Video opens in new window.]

The Roman Catholic Sex Abuse Enablement Network

This is a topic that’s always going to be as current as the latest news story.

Yesterday, Christianity Today’s her-meneutics blog carried a story entitled Success, Honor, and the Legacy of Joe Paterno. It was subtitled “Why the world should never forget the football coach after the sex abuse scandal at Penn State”.

For all these same reasons, the world should never forget the Roman Catholic Church’s response to a sex-abuse scandal that is now well-documented and that lasted for decades, if not longer.

The author wrote:
Last week, years after his decision not to protect innocent boys was revealed, Paterno said he regretted this decision. "This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

Not doing more will be his legacy. The wins on the field will mean little compared to this one big loss. The meal of a lifetime will fail to satisfy this man hungry for success with honor.

Ironically, because Paterno will be remembered for what he didn’t do—adequately report child abuse—his “great sorrow” may do more to change the world than his entire 46-year record as Penn State’s head football coach. Because of his reputation, the world will always remember Paterno as the man who failed to report child abuse. For the 33 victims of [the serial killer John Wayne] Gacy and those who escaped with their lives, and the thousands of children who have been victims of clergy abuse and those who continue to suffer in silence, and the millions of children who have been abused and the millions more who will be, Penn State’s scandal is a moment in history that has changed everything.

Because of Paterno, we all now know that we have an obligation to protect kids by speaking up to legal authorities when we learn—or even suspect—that abuse has occurred. … This week, the Big Ten announced that it was taking Paterno’s name off the trophy for the conference champion. The statue on Penn State’s campus may come down too, and some day they will probably remove his name from the library.

I have been chided for suggesting that certain Roman Catholic apologists stop defending Rome’s practices [well documented over the years, by the way], by trying to deflect attention, by saying “oh yeah, well everybody else is doing it too … etc.” A typical response is to accuse others of “pretending that sexual abuse is not a society-wide problem that is rampant in many Protestant and other circles as well”. But let’s get this off the table. I grant, here, now and forever: “SEXUAL ABUSE IS A SOCIETY-WIDE PROBLEM THAT IS RAMPANT IN MANY PROTESTANT AND OTHER CIRCLES AS WELL”.

But to say that is to miss the point that we have been making all along.

If you Google the phrase, “taking responsibility for your own actions”, or “being accountable for your own actions”, you’ll find any number of people and groups and organizations espousing that concepts – parents groups, pop psychologists, sales trainers, and on and on.

The organization is working to assure that, just as Penn State and the Big 10 are removing reasons to celebrate Joe Paterno, people will remember, understand, and see the actions of the Roman hierarchy for what they truly are. Here’s how they put it:
It is a matter of public record that U.S. bishops have knowingly transferred thousands of abusive priests into unsuspecting parishes and dioceses, placing fear of "scandal" ahead of the welfare of children. The bishops themselves have apologized for what they call their "mistake," but they say nothing about the crucial actions that constitute accountability.

For true "bishop accountability" to occur, two things must happen: 1) there must be a full "account" of the bishops' responsibility for the sexual abuse crisis, both individually and collectively, and 2) bishops who have caused the abuse of children and vulnerable adults must be "held accountable."
Of course, there are networks upon networks of people who are working to deflect attention from these efforts.

Anyone who has dealt with an alcoholic or drug addict knows that, wittingly or unwittingly, it is possible to “enable” the addict to continue his harmful behavior.
Many times when family and friends try to "help" alcoholics, they are actually making it easier for them to continue in the progression of the disease. This baffling phenomenon is called enabling, which takes many forms, all of which have the same effect -- allowing the alcoholic to avoid the consequences of his actions [emphasis added]. This in turn allows the alcoholic to continue merrily along his (or her) drinking ways, secure in the knowledge that no matter how much he screws up, somebody will always be there to rescue him from his mistakes….

Simply, enabling creates a[n] atmosphere in which the alcoholic can comfortably continue his unacceptable behavior.
So simply put, Roman Catholic apologists who constantly seek to deflect attention from the Roman hierarchy – these folks foster and enable the atmosphere in which the many Cardinal Bernard Laws in that hierarchy can comfortably and peacefully avoid having to deal with the real evil they have perpetrated upon the world.

Penn State and the Big 10 are removing Paterno – making the effort to remember him for the evil he enabled, not for his “wins”. As the Christianity Today writer noted, remembering Paterno’s failures is about remembering “the double-injury inflicted when our trusted institutions fail in their duty to report allegations of child sexual abuse”

On the other hand, Rome continues to celebrate its worst offenders. Here are a couple of news flashes: whatever he may have said, you can watch what he did: an infallible Pope whisked Cardinal Law away to Rome. And Rome itself produced the Cardinal Law video. This is an organization that continues to evade responsibility for its actions. And this is one of those things we should never forget.

See also: Cardinal Law’s Birthday Party

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Disaster prevention

Even if the freewill defense were a successful theodicy to account for moral evil, that still leaves the familiar conundrum of natural evil unaccounted for. A backup defense is the stable environment theodicy. We can’t make meaningful decisions unless our choices have predictable consequences.

By way of reply:

i) This theodicy doesn’t single out Arminianism. A Calvinist can help himself to the same argument.

ii) Arminians aren’t deists. They believe in miracles. So they don’t think the uniformity of nature is absolute. That being the case, what is their threshold for too much divine intervention in nature?

iii) Assuming (arguendo), that divine prevention of natural disasters would be too destabilizing, how does that hinder God from warning prospective victims of impending disaster?

After all, scientists try to devise early warning systems. We’re fairly good at predicting hurricanes.

In fact, don’t stability and predictability go hand-in-hand? If natural disasters were predictable, humans could plan accordingly. That wouldn’t make their lives less stable, but more so.

Suppose oceanographers learn to predict tsunamis, volcanologists learn to predict eruptions, meteorologists learn to predict tornadoes, seismologists learn to predict earthquakes, and so on.  Would Arminians oppose this early warning system on the grounds that it destabilizes human society?

But if it’s okay for scientists to give us advance warning of impending natural disasters, why hinders the Arminian God from doing the same?

iv) Yet we can take this a step further. How does preventing natural disaster render human existence less stable? For instance, don’t we have flood control technology to protect communities from a catastrophic deluge?

Suppose seismologists figure out how to prevent cataclysmic earthquakes by releasing a little pressure at a time. Wouldn’t that make human life more stable rather than less stable? Would Arminians oppose that technology?

Freewill theodicy

Scenario #1

Drake is a recovering heroin addict. It was a real struggle at first. He relapsed a few times. But over the succeeded months the craving has atrophied. He still feels the occasional urge, but it’s not overpowering. He’s kicked the habit. Turned a corner. He can now resume dating, get married, have kids–in a nice suburban home with the white picket fence, the hybrid car, and the Golden Retriever.

But his roommate Gerald is determined to get Drake hooked all over again. He straps Drake to a chair and prepares to inject him with heroine. Drake resists with every fiber of his being. Strains every muscle to break free. He begs Gerald not to do it. But Gerald plunges the needle into the arm of his unwilling roommate.

Scenario #2

Jake is a recovering heroin addict. It’s a constant struggle. He’s on a knife-edge everyday.

His roommate Gerald is determined to get Jake hooked all over again. Gerald senses the fact that Jake is at a tipping point. He catches Jake at a weak moment.

He offers Jake heroin. Jake easily succumbs to the temptation.

But Gerald didn’t force him or pressure him. Didn’t give him the craving. Didn’t make him stick the syringe into his arm, against his will. Jake was more than willing.

Gerald merely made it available to Jake. Gerald merely let Jake inject himself. Did nothing to stand in his way.

Gingrich made $1.6-1.8 million in consulting for Freddie Mac

Randal Rauser v. Jag Levak

Jag Levak says:
Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 2:52pm
Regarding the second red herring, I’ve seen you make the limited perspective appeal when punting on the matter of reconciling apparent evil with God’s ultimate goodness (eg. your example of the child’s perspective of the doctor who rebreaks a bone that is not healing properly). So if it’s okay for you, why isn’t it okay for Calvinists?
And I don’t see why your arguments would favor Arminianism over Calvinism. As I understand it, the Calvinist position is that anybody may be among the elect, while the Arminian position constrains the grace of God, making it conditional on belief (which is just tough for those who never got to hear the word). The Calvinist position is that grace is enduring and irresistable–once saved, always saved–while the Arminian position is that anyone can fall from grace (a notion which would appear to be incompatible with belief in God’s perfect foreknowledge).
To me, it looks like all your arguments from benevolence would favor Calvinism over Arminianism. It would also appear your arguments much more strongly favor universalism over either Calvinism or Arminianism, but if that’s your position, I have to wonder what sort of weird sect of Baptism you belong to which preaches universalism while simultaneously excluding people who haven’t had the right sort of baptism.
randal says:
Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 3:50pm
“So if it’s okay for you, why isn’t it okay for Calvinists?”
Limited perspective is not a plausible appeal to explain just anything. For example, I have consistently spoken out against biblical genocide. I don’t buy for a second claims that genocide can sometimes be a good thing and we just lack the perspective to see how. On the contrary, the evidence strikes me as overwhelming that genocide is always a supremely wicked act.
I agree that the Calvinist can make an appeal to God’s ways being higher than ours. But I don’t find that appeal plausible at all. There is simply no reason at all to think that damning some people to the utmost horrific tortures for eternity is necessary for the rest of us to grasp God’s glory more fully. That is horrendous, disgusting and stupifyingly implausible. So while I can see the plausibility of the evil allowed for greater good that you reference, I find no initial plausibility to the Calvinistic claim.
Jag Levak says:
Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 4:36pm
So, you would say the limited perspective argument is entirely reasonable and plausible in cases like where God pops the cork on a volcano and wipes out cities or even an entire civilization (eg. Minoan Crete) –no problem for the omnibenevolence of God there–but you think it unimaginable that God could ever have condoned genocide because you find the evidence overwhelming that it is always a supremely wicked act.
I don’t really see the basis of your distinction, other than your view that you find one plausible and the other not. But if you are justifying what you believe on the basis of what you find plausible, then it looks like that would leave the door wide open for anyone to believe anything they find plausible. Even Calvinists.
randal says:
Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 5:11pm
There is a difference between God foreknowing that certain natural events will lead to suffering and God commanding people to engage in acts of butchering entire populations of non-combatants. Here’s one obvious difference: God importunes human agents to engage in genocide, but God does not importune human agents to engage in acts of volcano erupting.
Jag Levak says:
Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 7:39pm
“There is a difference between God foreknowing that certain natural events will lead to suffering and God commanding people to engage in acts of butchering entire populations of non-combatants.”
One difference, at least, seems clear. If God rains millions of tons of searing hot pyroclastic death down on the heads of people, the outcome is certain and irresistible, whereas delegating the job of mass killings to supposedly freewill humans could result in a failure to do the job, and would give those marked for death at least some chance of fighting back. But presumably, in both cases, God would have foreseen and approved the slaughter as part of his grand plan (unless you want to posit that “certain natural events” happen which are contrary to what God wanted). And in both cases, the doomed wind up equally dead. So really, it looks like the biggest moral difference would be the possible psychological distress which the poor butchers might suffer as a result of all their killing, pillaging, and general mayhem. But it isn’t clear why a God who can approve of mass death could not similarly approve of mass discomfort.
“Here’s one obvious difference: God importunes human agents to engage in genocide, but God does not importune human agents to engage in acts of volcano erupting.”
That was humor, right? From the outside, it all looks rather silly, so sometimes it’s hard to tell what bits were meant seriously.

"A Vesuvius of ideas"

The one-armed man did it!

The question is whether it is the extent we are going to allow the risk of executing an innocent person.  I think that that is a horrible side effect of our system. While the system is run by human beings, I think it will remain fallible. If there is a death penalty, then you can't eliminate the possibility of it being used on an innocent person.
To really have a death penalty that does for us what most death penalty advocates would get from it, what you have to do is accept a higher risk than we already have of executing innocent people.

That’s a stock objection to the death penalty. An obvious counterexample to his objection is the fact that there are many situations in modern life where we routinely risk the lives of innocent people. Policemen and firemen have dangerous jobs. Roofers have dangerous jobs. Electricians have dangerous jobs. Sharing the same road with cars, bicycles, and motorcycles is hazardous to bikers. The list is long.

Much of modern life involves a comparative risk assessment. You can’t eliminate the possibility that innocent people will be killed. Indeed, that’s inevitable.

So there’s a cost/benefit tradeoff. That may sound callous, but that’s a tradeoff we readily accept in many walks of life. Life isn’t risk-free. You take reasonable precautions. But that’s not foolproof.   

First they came for...

Here is Rauser's chilling narrative. 

First they came for the universalists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a universalist;
Then they came for the neo-Darwinist, and I did not speak out – because I was not a neo-Darwinist;
Then they came for the inclusivist, and I  did not speak out – because I was not an inclusivist;
Then they came for the biblical errantist, and I did not speak out – because I was not a biblical errantist;

And what's wrong with that?

Spring melt

I’ll make two quick comments on Rauser’s latest anti-Calvinist screed:

i) He’s raising an objection that’s been dealt with by Oliver Crisp:

“Is universalism a problem for particularists?” Scottish Journal of Theology 63.1 (2010): 1-23.

In fairness to Rauser, maybe he was just too busy giving Princeton seminarians advice on condoms to keep up with relevant literature in philosophical theology.

ii) Ultimately, though, whether we should be Calvinists, Arminians, or universalists is an exegetical question. Only divine revelation (i.e. Scripture) can authorize our position. It’s not as if we have independent access to the mind of God.

Of course, Rauser spurns the authority of Scripture. He recapitulates the stereotypical narrative of the kid who grew up in a conservative church, then took a hard left turn. The poor guy is currently ice-skating during the Spring thaw. Makes for a very insecure existence. 

The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic 2

Luke 14:7-11: Now [Jesus] told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

You might think that, given that this is a teaching of Jesus, this type of thing would be axiomatic. Disciples of Christ should just understand that they should behave this way. In any event, putting yourself in a place that’s higher than you ought to be is a bad thing.

In discussing The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic, one verse that I’ve singled out over the years is 1 Timothy 3:15. Paul says to Timothy, I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness …

This is a verse that appears in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, in the following context:
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,…
Rome takes a verse that has nothing to do with Rome – and is putting itself at the head of a table, so to speak, to which it has not been invited. That is, Paul is speaking to Timothy and the role which he is reminding the elders that Timothy will appoint: “Tell these leaders that their behavior at the head of the church is what supports the truth of the Gospel that we preach”.

In simple English, it is clear here that the phrase “the church of the living God” is a mere modifier of “the household of the living God”. A subsequent question for the exegete is, to what does the phrase “a pillar and buttress of the truth” refer?

In a discussion of 1 Tim 3:15, Pete Holter makes this comment below:
In terms of 1 Timothy 3:15, all I’m saying is that “the Church of the living God” is the pillar and foundation of the Truth, and that “how one ought to behave” is not the pillar and foundation of Truth. I’m also saying that the members of the Church are not the full concept of Church in this verse, but are in the Church as being members of something that is larger than themselves. I do not deny that our moral life lends credibility to our truth claims, but I am denying that Paul is calling our moral lives “a pillar and buttress of truth” in this verse.
Consider that the concept of “something that is larger than themselves”, which Pete introduces (and which Rome introduced first) does not appear anywhere in sight.

In the original article to which I had linked, I had provided extensive documentation of exegesis of this verse. Exactly what is it that is the “pillar and buttress of the truth”? The Protestant exegete George Knight, after a thorough analysis of the Greek text, says “Timothy and the church will conduct their lives appropriately if they remember that they are the home built and owned by God and indwelt by him as the living one, and also remember that they are called on to undergird and hold aloft God’s truth in word and deed.” (182)

The Roman Catholic commentator L.T. Johnson says, “The issue for the translator is not the meaning of the terms [“pillar and buttress”], but their referent.” What’s important is what they are referring to. And he says, the particular construction he sees – “pillar and buttress” refer back to the phrase “how one ought to behave”. “Are “pillar and support” to be read as in apposition to “church of the living God” or in delayed apposition to “how it is necessary to behave”? Such a delayed appositional phrase [already] appears elsewhere in the letter (1:7). 1 Tim 1:7 says “Certain persons, by swerving from these [“love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith”], have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” So Johnson provides grammatical, structural case for what he is saying.

But he also is careful to align the message with other messages within Paul’s writings in general. He says, “It also makes better sense of the metaphorical point: the community is the oikos, and the members should behave so as to be supports and pillars for it. Such an understanding fits Paul’s other use of stylos [“pillars”] for leaders of the Jerusalem community in Gal 2:9.”

This message coheres even more broadly with such New Testament concepts as Matt 5:16 “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” and James 2:18: “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works”. The good behavior that you exhibit in the household of God, the good behavior exhibited by “the church”, is what supports “the truth”.

Philip Towner, whose commentary on this letter is perhaps the most recent, takes this conclusion more thoroughly, and he concludes his discussion of these verses saying, “the imagery here is not designed to present the church as a permanent historical institution in the world …. It is, however, permanence in the sense of the assurance of immovability that comes through God’s promise (cf. 2 Tim 2:20); this immovability is the mark of the new people of God, and it assures the church that apostasy and heresy will not bring the church to ruin. ”

Towner says that the imagery of permanence assured because God rules in the world: “the fulfillment of God’s plan for the church in history and eternity is assured because of his promises.”

On the other hand, it is characteristic of Roman Catholicism to simply hijack this verse, and to claims that Rome’s own church governmental structure is what’s in view here – a hierarchical church structure whose sole mission it is to provide some form of doctrinal protection.

It is so important to note that Rome isn’t in the original verse. But Rome wants to place itself squarely between Christ and the believer everywhere it can, and it has in fact created official policies of looking for ways to inject itself in there. Rome wants Rome to be “the pillar and buttress of the truth”. In doing so, it has taken a place of honor that it was not given. This is a usurpation and a self-exaltation on Rome’s part, taking a place to which it was not invited.

(Note: Pete emailed me last night that he had consulted Knight's commentary, which said, "I took a look at George Knight’s work and noticed that he says that “The house/church of God is further described with the structural terms… Here Paul describes the Church as the as the pillar or column”, etc. (The Pastoral Epistles: A commentary on the Greek Text, pg. 181). This would mean that Knight sees “pillar and support” in apposition with “the household of God” and “the Church of the living God,” and not with “how one ought to behave.” With that said, Knight's conclusion, as I reported it above, ("they are called on to undergird and hold aloft God’s truth in word and deed") still stands. The larger point I am making here, however, is that even if it refers to "the church" as "pillar and foundation", "the church" is "the local church" with leaders and members. And it is "by their behavior" that they "support" the truth. This analysis goes on for pages and pages, in all of these works, and it is difficult to convey all the aspects of everything that everyone is saying.

But my point is, Rome interjects its hierarchy, where it does not belong, and it falsely leads people to believe that the Roman hierarchy is "the pillar and support" simply because of some supposed "commission" of Christ to "direct with authority", and somehow, to be "infallible" because of this. Rome places itself at the head of a table where it has not been invited.)

The Bible at a Public University?

Polygamy and the Bible: A Literary Approach

Jason Engwer has discussed polygamy on exegetical and theological grounds.

I'd like to approach the topic from a different angle.

1) There's a basic distinction between showing and telling:

You can use words to explicitly render a judgment on an action. The use of direct speech or writing typically fills this role.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Theism and the Age of the Universe"

On a previous occasion, Paul Manata posted on "Theism and the Size of the Universe." Here's another post in the same vein titled "Theism and the Age of the Universe."

"The Young Christian's Guide to Sex at Seminary"

Timothy Dalrymple explains.

Parental authority and children’s rights

Footfalls of eternity

Many amateurs, as well as war historians or American historians, take a keen interest in the Civil War. In one fundamental respect, the Civil War is more interesting than, say, the Revolutionary War. And that’s because the Civil War was one of the first wars to be photographed.

Historical photography is the closest thing we have in this life to a time machine. It’s like an open door between the present and the past. You can’t step through the door, but you can see through the door. Looking back in time.

Take this photograph, from August, 1862:

Or this picture, from March 1864:

You can see what it actually looked like to be there, on that particular day, at that time of day. In the morning, or the afternoon. A day long ago. An unrepeatable day.

You can see the people. Some trees. Grass. Sunlight. Shadows.

It feels as though you could step right through the picture frame, like a doorjamb, and walk straight back into the past. To suddenly find yourself in 1862. Totally immersed in the past. The sights. The smells. The dirt under your feet. Blending in with men, women, boys and girls, who lived and died long before you were born.

Of course, we have paintings of the past. But that lacks the immediacy. You’re not seeing the past.

We, the living, sit in our chair, gazing at a photo of the once living. People who lived 150 years ago. Who died a 100 years ago.

And 100 years from now, somebody maybe sitting in a chair, gazing at our old photo the way we were gazing at these old photos. 

Death doesn’t end our existence, but it ends our opportunities. Ends the opportunity to make a difference in this life. Who will we take with us? What will carry over? What are we doing in the here-and-now to make a mark in the hereafter? What are we doing, while we breathe, to furnish eternity?

Is Jesus Olson's criterion?

rogereolson says:

Several have raised this question. My standard of goodness is the Bible itself and especially Jesus Christ who is the criterion of interpretation of the Bible (because he is God incarnate). I’ll ask you–would you worship a God who you believe to be evil?

i) This is viciously circular. Olson can’t very well make Jesus his criterion to presumptively adjudicate the Calvinist/Arminian debate, for if Arminianism is true, then Jesus incarnates Arminian theism–but if Calvinism is true, then Jesus incarnates Reformed theism.

You’d have to know which theism is true to know which theism Jesus incarnates.

ii) It’s also simplistic to say Jesus is his hermeneutical criterion. For even though there’s a sense in Jesus interprets Scripture, there’s another sense in which Scripture interprets Jesus. The only Jesus we have is a Biblically interpreted Jesus. 

The disappearance of Thanksgiving

A tale of two lost sons

11And he said, "There was a man who had two sons. 12And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.' And he divided his property between them. 13Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
 17"But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants."' 20And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to celebrate.
 25"Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.' 28But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29but he answered his father, 'Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!' 31And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'" (Lk 15:11-32).

The parable of the prodigal son may be the most popular of Jesus’ parables. But in my experience, preachers and commentators haven’t done it justice. Here’s an example of a scholar whose interpretation, in my opinion, goes seriously awry:

It is surely hard to find in the history of literature any man who so completely condemns himself with his own words as this older son…Amazingly, a small group of modern scholars find the older son’s attitudes perfectly natural and reasonable, K. Bailey, Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes (Eerdmans 1983), 196,200

There are certain distinctions we need to take into consideration

1. Point of View

This parable is complex inasmuch as it contains about four different viewpoints:

i) The viewpoint of the narrator

ii) The viewpoint of the father

iii) The viewpoint of the younger son

iv) The viewpoint of the older son

The father is basically the normative character. He represents the viewpoint of the narrator.

The older son is the foil character. The viewpoint of the younger son changes. His perspective could be subdivided into  “before” and “after.” 

The servant (vv26-27) is basically a mouthpiece for the viewpoint of the father and the narrator.

2. Analogy

A parable involves an analogy between the fictitious world of the parable and something in the real world which the parable is meant to illustrate.

The parable is meant to invite a comparison. However, that can involve a point of contrast or disanalogy.

The parable of the unjust judge is a case in point. Who does he represent? God? If so, that comparison involves discontinuity as well as continuity. The unjust judge is like God in one respect (answering a petitioner), but unlike God in another respect (in terms of character).

In the parable of the prodigal son, the correspondence goes something like this:

i) The father stands for Jesus

ii) The younger son stands for penitent sinners who come to Jesus (v1).

iii) The older son stands for the judgmental scribes and Pharisees (v2).

It’s important to keep these two levels distinct. Although Jesus is the father’s analogue, the father isn’t Jesus in the parable. We need to be careful not to mix and match a parabolic character with his real world analogue. It’s not how Jesus relates to the two sons. Rather, Jesus is to x as the sons are two y and z.

The relationships in the parable have their own self-contained logic. Their own psychological integrity.

When we apply the parable to the real world, we need to apply whole to whole, not part to whole or whole to part. The whole parable to whatever it symbolizes.

3. Level-Confusion

Bailey vilifies the older son. But I think that commits a level-confusion. There’s no reason to cast the older son as the bad guy in the parable itself. I think that short-circuits the parable.

Bailey may be supposing that if the father represents Jesus, then we should side with Jesus. And, of course, there’s a roundabout sense in which that’s correct. But it’s also premature.

We need to arrive at what Jesus is teaching the reader by means of the story. Not subvert the exercise by jumping straight to the conclusion.

We can’t leave the parable unless we enter the parable. Until we inhabit the characters. I think the reader first needs to assume the viewpoint of each character, appreciate the perspective of each character, see the situation through the eyes of each character, before he’s in a position to identify with the viewpoint of the storyteller. 

Within the story of the parable, the older son has a legitimate grievance. He’s hurt. Dishonored. Unappreciated. Taken for granted.

His kid brother gets all the attention because his kid brother demands more attention. The older son is the responsible, reliable sibling. Yet his kid brother is treated better. He gets away with it. Indeed, he’s rewarded. And that’s unfair.

Indeed, equal treatment would be equally unfair when the older brother has been so dutiful and dependable while the younger son has been so thoughtless and rebellious.

I don’t think we can really appreciate the full force of the parable unless we take his complaint seriously. For many siblings have been in that very situation. Jesus is trading on the psychological plausibility of that reaction. He’s banking on the fact that some readers no doubt sympathize with the galling experience of the older son.

You can imagine servant’s tone of voice as he excitedly tells the older brother about what’s happened. And you can imagine how that would further enrage the older son, who’s been outside, doing his job–while all the while his ne’re-do-well brother is partying inside. And his pent-up rage is likely the cumulative effect of years in which he got the short end of the stick.

Moreover, the father’s response is fairly insensitive. To say “all that’s mine is yours” misses the point. To begin with, “all” is what’s left over after the younger son got his half upfront. And having returned, the younger son is now eating into the remainder of the older son’s share. With this lavish party thrown in his honor, the younger son is still squandering the estate–at the older son’s expense.

If you stop and think about it, Jesus is going out of his way to depict a thoroughly an outrageous contrast. To play on the natural indignation of the audience. How would you feel if you were put in that situation?

But this is also where we need to distinguish between the parabolic level and the application. For the scribes and Pharisees forgot a foundational truth about the history of Israel:

4 "Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, 'It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,' whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. 5 Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
 6"Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people (Deut 9:4-6).

The parable is designed to illustrate mercy over than justice. Grace over law.  

Within the world of the parable, the older son has a point. As a matter of strict justice, the older son is justifiably resentful.

But in the real world, the scribes and Pharisees were adoptees. God favored Israel, not because Israel deserved his favor, but in spite of the fact that Israel was no better than her pagan neighbors.

The sense of entitlement which the scribes and Pharisees nursed was unwarranted. And their conformity to the technicalities of the law, their adherence to the externals of the faith, blinded them to the depths of their own iniquity. To their own impenitence. And that, in turn, kept them from the Savior.