Saturday, March 10, 2012

Voting For A Mormon

A poster in a recent thread linked to a video from the 2008 presidential campaign, in which Mitt Romney discussed his Mormonism and some other issues. Here’s what I wrote in response:

Reefer madness

Pat Robertson recently supported legalizing weed. That might explain his many erratic statements over the years.

Theodore Beale's murderous God

Piper’s Jesus is a serial killer. He is a murderer, a slayer of children...if Piper worships the god that he believes is responsible for committing such havoc throughout history for its own mysterious reasons, how can one possibly conclude that the man is anything other than a grievously deceived Satan worshipper?

i) One basic problem with this outburst is that Theodore Beale completely ignores the prima facie evidence from Scripture which Piper cited to warrant Piper’s conclusions. Now, in principle, Beale could try to challenge Piper on three grounds:

a) Argue that Piper misinterpreted his prooftexts.

b) Argue that Piper misapplied his prooftexts.

c) Argue that Scripture is simply wrong when it attributes natural disasters to God.

But all Beale does is to emote.

ii) To my knowledge, Beale is an open theist (or neotheist). But how does that exonerate his own God from complicity in deadly natural disasters? 

i) If, according to open theism, God initiates a stochastic natural process that takes on a life of its own, God is still responsible for exposing humans to harm. Even if any particular casualty is unpredictable, it’s predictable that there will be casualties. Odds are, men, women, and children will killed sometime, somewhere–by autonomous natural forces.

ii) Moreover, many natural disasters are even humanly predictable. Surely the neotheist God can forecast where a hurricane will make landfall at least as well as the National Weather Service. Since he can see it coming, he can take countermeasures. Even if the neotheist God didn’t know ten days in advance what was going to happen, yet as the weather event approaches, it becomes more predictable.

Why didn’t the neotheist God at least forewarn victims before the age of meteorology? Or miraculously evacuate potential victims from the kill zone? 

Even if some natural disasters are harder to predict than others, why doesn’t the neotheist God do something in the case of fairly foreseeable catastrophes? Why not err on the side of safety? An early warning system doesn’t interfere with nature.

iii) Likewise, if I slap a parachute on an unarmed man, and drop him into the middle of the Serengeti, there are many different ways he might die. He might die from thirst. Or snakebite. He might be killed by leopards or lions, hyenas or Cape Hunting dogs. He might be killed by a crocodile if he goes down to the watering hole to drink.

I didn’t personally kill him. And I couldn’t predict how he’d die. Does that let me off the hook? How does Theodore Beale’s neotheist alternative improve on what he finds so diabolical in Calvinism?

God "permitted" the tornado

So when Piper says that God did not merely foresee or permit the terrorist attacks of 9/11 but designed and governed them and when he says that a tornado was not merely permitted by God but sent by God, he is simply saying what conservative Calvinists (not necessarily all Reformed people) have always said.

Is Olson suggesting that God merely “permitted” the tornado? What’s that supposed to mean? Is he ascribing freewill to the tornado? Is the tornado a sentient being with a mind of its own?

Arminius held to the doctrine of concurrence. Concurrence simply means God allows whatever happens.

Is that all it means? That’s not how Olson used to define it. Here’s what he used to say:

Arminius was puzzled about the accusation that he held corrupt opinions respecting the providence of God, because he went out of his way to affirm it. He even went so far as to say that every human act, including sin, is impossible without God's cooperation! This is simply part of divine concurrence, and Arminius was not willing to regard God as a spectator.
According to this, God does not permit sin as a spectator; God is never in the spectator mode. Rather, God not only allows sin and evil designedly and willingly, although not approvingly or efficaciously, but he cooperates with the creature in sinning without being stained by the guilt of sin.
God both permits and effects a sinful act, such as the rebellion of Adam, because no creature can act apart from God's help. In several of his writings Arminius carefully explained divine concurrence, which is without doubt the most subtle aspect of his doctrine of sovereignty and providence. For him God is the first cause of whatever happens; even a sinful act cannot occur without God as its first cause, because creatures have no ability to act without their Creator, who is their supreme cause for existence...

 R. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (IVP 2006), 121-23.

So by Olson’s own definition (summarizing Arminius), God didn’t merely permit the tornado. Rather, God is the ultimate cause of the tornado.

Clearly Calvin understood everything as foreordained and rendered certain by God which, for him, probably also for Piper, does not rule out secondary causes. But secondary cause (which is what I assume you mean by “double effect”) doesn’t get God off the hook. Ultimate responsibility lies with ultimate cause.

In which case, God is ultimately responsible for the tornado, and the resultant fatalities. 

But even more: I’d like to hear one of them (Calvinists or anyone who believes God foreordains and designs and renders certain everything that happens) say publicly that it was God who caused a predator to kidnap, torture, rape and murder a child. I seldom hear or read them saying so. And yet, it would seem that, too, must be included in God’s meticulous providence AS IT IS BELIEVED BY THEM.

But according to Olson, God didn’t merely “permit” the assailant to rape, torture, and murder. God “cooperated” with the sadistic, murderous rapist. God "willingly" and "designedly" “helped” the sadistic, murderous rapist. God is the “effecter” of the rapist’s sadistic, murderous deeds. God is the “first cause” or the “supreme cause” of the outcome. And “ultimate responsibility lies with ultimate cause.”

The Cause And Cure Of Earthquakes

It’s striking to compare contemporary Arminian theodicy with old-fashioned Arminian theodicy before it became so politically correct. This is how Arminians used to address natural evil:

And here’s how they respond today:

Perhaps their judgment is clouded by grief. That’s understandable. Yet Charles Wesley was no stranger to sorrow. For instance, he lost five of his kids, as well as many of his siblings.

What happened between then and now? When did Arminian theology domesticate God–and why? Which Arminian God represents the true Arminian God? 

Rick Santorum, The Overrated Underdog

Some of you will be voting in the Republican primaries in the coming months. The race is often framed as a contest between Romney and Santorum as the two frontrunners. In the comments section of a thread from earlier this week, I've been discussing why I think Romney should be preferred. Much of what I say there would be applicable to a choice between Romney and Gingrich or Romney and Paul, but my focus is on a choice between Romney and Santorum.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Charles Wesley's murderous God

To paraphrase Theodore Beale, if you aren't convinced that Arminians worship the god of this world rather than the genuine Christian God, you're probably not paying attention to their words:  

Wesley's Jesus is a serial killer. He is a murderer, a slayer of children. The more I read of what Charles Wesley has written, the more I am convinced that he worships Satan in the cloak of Jesus, the more it is readily apparent that he worships an antichrist. If Wesley worships the god that he believes is responsible for committing such havoc throughout history for its own mysterious reasons, how can one possibly conclude that the man is anything other than a grievously deceived Satan worshipper?

The Apostolic Church Interpreted Matthew 24:31 to Refer to the Resurrection

All biblical arguments aside, I want to note a historical fact that the very first interpretation in church history understood Matthew 24:31 to refer to the resurrection.The Didache expounding on Matthew 24 writes:

CHAPTER 16 Warning that the end is at hand

1 "Watch" over your life: "let your lamps" be not quenched "and your loins" be not ungirded, but be "ready," for ye know not "the hour in which our Lord cometh." 2 But be frequently gathered together seeking the things which are profitable for your souls, for the whole time of your faith shall not profit you except ye be found perfect at the last time; 3 for in the last days the false prophets and the corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall change to hate; 4 for as lawlessness increaseth they shall hate one another and persecute and betray, and then shall appear the deceiver of the world as a Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders and the earth shall be given over into his hands and he shall commit iniquities which have never been since the world began.
5 Then shall the creation of mankind come to the fiery trial and "many shall be offended" and be lost, but "they who endure" in their faith "shall be saved" by the curse itself.  6 And "then shall appear the signs" of the truth. First the sign spread out in Heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet, and thirdly the resurrection of the dead: 7 but not of all the dead, but as it was said, "The Lord shall come and all his saints with him." 8 Then shall the world "see the Lord coming on the clouds of Heaven."

Postmillennial preterism

Here's a representative definition of postmillennialism:

We have defined Postmillennialism as that view of the last things which holds that the Kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the Gospel and the saving work ok the Holy Spirit in the hearts of individuals, that the world eventually is to be Christianized, and that the return of Christ is to occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace commonly called the 'Millennium.' It should be added that on postmillennial principles the second coming of Christ will be followed immediately by the general resurrection, the general judgment, and the introduction of heaven and hell in their fullness.
The Millennium to which the Postmillennialist looks forward is thus a golden age of spiritual prosperity during this present dispensation, that is, during the Church age, and is to be brought about through forces now active in the world. It is an indefinitely long period of time, perhaps much longer than a literal one thousand years. The changed character of individuals will be reflected in an uplifted social, economic, political and cultural life of mankind. The world at large will then enjoy a state of righteousness such as at the present time has been seen only in relatively small and isolated groups, as for example in some family circles, some local church groups and kindred organizations.

That's fundamentally at odds with a preterist timetable:

In this slim volume, Edward E. Stevens clearly and convincingly demonstrates that our Lord Jesus Christ predicted His Return within the lifetime of His first-century hearers. That fact presents Christians with a dilemma: If Jesus was wrong in His prediction (as theological liberals have been saying for many years), we have a much bigger problem than an academic theological issue regarding the doctrine of Eschatology - it means we can't rely on Jesus for salvation, either! If we can't trust Jesus in Matthew 24, we certainly can't trust Him in John 3:16! As a well-known theologian recently said, "If Jesus is a false prophet, my faith is in vain."

But Mr. Stevens shows that Jesus fulfilled His promise, explicitly and to the letter, in the "great tribulation" of A.D.70, in which God unleashed His covenant wrath against Israel, which had been threatened for centuries throughout the Old Testament Law and Prophets, and specifically applied to first-century Israel in the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament.

I am particularly impressed by two arguments: First, Stevens provides a chart showing the harmony of Christ's two separate discourses recorded in Matthew 24 and Luke 17 - demonstrating that any proposed division of Matthew 24 into two different "comings" is illegitimate, nugatory, and gossamer. Scripture foretells a Second Coming (Heb.9:28) - not a third!

Second, Stevens presses Christ's declaration in Luke 21:22 to its limit: "Jesus said that all Old Testament prophecy would be fulfilled by the time Jerusalem was destroyed." The more I pondered the awesome implications of Jesus' words, the more I realized their truly revolutionary significance for eschatology. Without exception, every event foretold by the Biblical prophets was fulfilled within that generation, as Jesus had said (Matt. 16:27-28; 24:34).

Obama’s First Priority: Stop Israel

Paul’s letters as our best source for information of earliest Christianity (in the 30’s and 40’s)

I’m continuing to work through Larry Hurtado’s Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, ©2003). Hurtado notes that Paul provides the best source we have for looking at Palestinian Jewish Christianity of the 30s and 40s, prior to Paul’s missionary journeys, and prior to the writing of his letters.

He talks about Paul’s qualifications:

Paul’s Jewishness
In chronological terms, and in terms of its pervasive relevance, the first factor to take very seriously is Paul’s Jewish religious background and its continuing effect in his Christian beliefs and life… precisely because Paul is remembered mainly for his efforts to win believers among Gentiles, it is important to recognize that the formative religious tradition for him was Judaism of the Roman period.

It is clear that even in his role to the apostle to the Gentiles Paul’s motives and conceptions were heavily indebted to biblical and Jewish categories. For example, he likened his apostolic appointment to a prophetic calling (Gal 1:15, echoing Isa. 49:1), and he seems to have seen his mission to the Gentiles in terms of passages in Isaiah about the nations coming to worship the God of Israel (e.g., Rom 15:21, quoting Isa. 52:15) (87).

Jewish Monotheism
Jewish insistence on the uniqueness of the God of Israel and the exclusive validity of worship offered to their God made them unique (and in the eyes of some, notorious) among the ethnic groups of the Roman Empire. Their religious exclusivity provoked significant questions and difficulties as well, for virtually all aspects of Roman-era life were linked to the gods and were charged with a certain religious character.

Two features of Jewish monotheism are especially important for appreciating the historical significance of the devotion to Christ that is reflected in Paul’s letters. First, in addition to refusing to accept and worship any of the other deities of the Roman religious environment, conscientious Jews also maintained a distinction between the God of Israel and any of the exalted figures who could be seen as prominent in God’s entourage, such as principal angels or revered human figures like Moses or Enoch. This distinction was most clearly maintained in discouraging the worship of these figures; and devoted Jews insisted that worship was to be given to God alone. In light of this attitude, the level of reverence for Christ reflected in Paul’s letters is historically remarkable …

Second, the Jewish monotheistic stance forbade apotheosis, the divinization of human figures, and thus clashed with a major theme in pagan religion of the time. Philo’s quip about Gaius Caligula’s claim to divinity aptly illustrates Jewish attitudes, and is all the more important in coming from a diaspora Jew who in some other respects shows a cosmopolitan attitude: “Sooner could God change into a man than a man into God” (91-92).

Paul as a Convert
It is necessary to appreciate the nature of Paul’s zealous preconversion stance in order to grasp the significance of the change in his religious convictions. Study of the Phineas-zeal tradition in ancient Jewish sources has provided us with valuable help in catching the force of Paul’s allusion in his references to his religious “zeal.” The offenses mentioned in ancient Jewish sources as justifying (even demanding) “zeal” of the type associated with Phineas were serious: idolatry, perjury, sorcery and poisoning. Against fellow Jews publicly committing such offenses, the devout Jew was authorized to take vigorous action, which could even involve the death of the offender. The rationale seems to have been that the religious integrity of the Jewish people, the collective Jewish responsibility to exhibit faithfulness to the God of Israel was at stake. If, as seems likely from his references to his own preconversion actions, Paul saw himself as carrying out this sort of firm disciplinary effort, then he was responding to something he found deeply offensive, even dangerous, in the beliefs and practices of the unfortunate Jewish Christians on the receiving end of his zeal Consequently Paul’s shift from this attitude to an enthusiastic participation in the Christian movement is remarkable, and must have involved profound changes in his religious views.

As a convert, especially having moved from opposition against the Christian movement to being an adherent, Paul had to undertake a rather thorough reformulation of his religious views, indeed his whole religious “self.” As anyone acquainted with political or religious converts (or even with smokers who become nonsmokers!) will know, a radical shift in commitment often involves a more enthusiastic and also a more thoroughly thought-out appropriation of the views to which one converts than may be characteristic of those whose acceptance of the position came less traumatically.

This is part of the reason why we sense in Paul’s letters that we are dealing with both an enthusiast and a “thinker,” or at least with someone who has given a good deal of consideration to his religious views; and it makes Paul’s letters all the more valuable as historical sources. In them we have affirmations of Christian beliefs and practices that are accompanied by, or give indications of, a rationale for them. Having worked out his understanding of his Christian beliefs in various Christian communities of the very earliest years of Christianity, he gives us at least a glimpse of the sorts of reflections going on in such groups.

Moreover it is reasonable to think that the basic Christological views that he embraced and espouses in his epistles reflect the beliefs he had previously found objectionable and had opposed so vigorously. In fact, in a number of places Paul recites traditional formulations that likely illustrate the beliefs of those he persecuted, beliefs he that accepted as a convert (e.g., Rom. 4:24-25; 1 Cor 15:1-7; 1 Thess 1:10) (94-96).

Paul’s Gentile Mission
Another distinctive feature of Paul, and the third key factor to bear in mind in considering Paul’s letters, is his mission to the Gentiles…Over against some other Jewish Christians, Paul insisted that faith in Christ was sufficient basis for the full inclusion of Gentiles as partakers in God’s salvation, fellow members of the ekklesia, and fellow heirs of Abraham (e.g., Gal 2:1-5, 11-18; Rom 4:13-17). And he insisted that the Holy Spirit-empowered obedience to Christ was the defining content of their ethical obligation (e.g., Gal 5:6, 13-26)…

Paul includes the belief that “Christ died for our sins” among the traditions that he received and among the beliefs common to him and the other Jewish Christian leaders he refers to in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. But Paul’s mission required him to develop the rich implications of Christ’s redemptive death that he presents in passages such as Galatians 3:1-29 and Romans 3:9-31. In these passages Paul seems to be presenting his own reflections [or “revelation”] rather than simply reciting Christological tradition. Particularly in his views of how Christ is to be understood in relation to the Torah, it is likely that Paul’s Christology shows the effects of his special mission to the Gentiles.

Nevertheless, given Paul’s concern to maintain links with, and acceptance of his mission in, the Jerusalem church, and given also his need to present arguments for his own views with premises that could command the assent of those with whom he disagreed, we should be careful about attributing too much originality and distinctiveness to him. Though he drew practical inferences that were apparently not shared by all, specifically as to Gentile Christian obligations and the proper Jewish Christian attitude toward Gentile converts, it is not at all clear that in other respects the beliefs about Christ and the devotional practices reflected in his letters constitute a major departure from prior Christian tradition (96-98).

Thursday, March 08, 2012

“The best argument the GOP nominee will have for a win in November”

This article by Daniel Henninger speaks not only of the “electability” of Rick Santorum, but suggests he should stay in the race because the force of his argument against Obamacare/Romneycare is “the best argument the GOP nominee will have for a win in November”.

Here are a few selections:
America's long-slog presidential campaigns are a process of discovery. Candidates, voters and the press criss-cross a complex nation trying to discover where the public mind will be the first Tuesday in November. No candidate has had a more interesting journey through 2012's campaign frontier than Rick Santorum.
Few are going to forget Sen. Santorum in the early debates, stuck in the left-field bleachers, begging to be heard over such center-ring heavyweights as Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain. In August, no one thought this guy would be toe-to-toe with the Romney machine in March. What happened?
I went to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Monday to find out….
He's doing something right, and what one learned in Cuyahoga Falls, an Akron suburb, is that it doesn't have much to do with the famous Santorum controversies over social issues. It's about ObamaCare. And it's about the idea of freedom.
What Mr. Santorum has discovered in this campaign is that for a large number of voters, a connection has surfaced between Barack Obama's economic policies and the issue of personal freedom. The potency of the latter is what's new, and a vulnerability for this presidency.
 Rick Santorum has linked these concerns about the status of personal freedom directly to ObamaCare and beyond that to the broader policy legacy of Obama administration.
His 35-minute speech in Cuyahoga Falls touched an array of subjects that drew applause. But at the halfway point, when he tore into ObamaCare, his mostly working-class audience exploded into applause and cries of "Rick! Rick! Rick!"
Mr. Santorum didn't get this response by discussing health-insurance exchanges and guaranteed issue. He told these people that ObamaCare "is usurping your rights. It is creating a culture of dependency. Every single American will be dependent on government, thanks to ObamaCare. There is no more important issue in this race. It magnifies all that is wrong with what this president is trying to do." His call for repeal produced the explosion.
Does it make upper-middle class, suburban independents uncomfortable to see that Mr. Santorum's working-class audiences push back by yelling "freedom"? Perhaps, but maybe it's also true that upscale voters have their own way of describing the Obama-era unease.
Their less rustic version is finding its way into votes for Mitt Romney. Alas, Mr. Romney is the only GOP candidate who won't or can't deploy on his own behalf that one powerful, damning word Barack Obama doesn't want to hear: mandate.
Rick Santorum should stay in the race, repeating from now till summer the perverse link between the ObamaCare mandate and the American idea of freedom. It looks like the best argument the GOP nominee will have for a win in November.

The Self-Reported Moral Behavior of Ethics Professors

The Psalms: yesterday and today

Gordon Wenham discusses the imprecatory psalms in his new book on the Psalter, Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically (Baker 2012). I’m going to quote some passages. My only caveat is that he uses the word “poor” indiscriminately. But Scripture distinguishes between those who are poor through no fault of their own, and those who are poor through imprudent or sinful lifestyle choices

What the psalmist asks of God is the application of the talionic principle. We bridle at the bluntness of the “eye for an eye” formula, but we applaud the principle of proportionate justice (170).
This is the so-called lex talionis, which, although it has sometimes been decried, actually spells out a principle of universal justice: the punishment should fit the crime (112).
It seems probable that the list of curses in Ps 109:6-20 reflects the actions, or at least the accusations, of the psalmist’s oppressors. In either case, his prayer is that they be punished in the way they have afflicted or intended to afflict him. The psalmist is asking for justice, not revenge. This will demonstrate to others that God hears prayer and intervenes on behalf of the poor and oppressed (171).
 “His [the psalmist’s] sole concern is the credibility of God…The truth of this God is at stake. If the speaker of the psalm fails as a witness to these traditions about God, the groups who…orient themselves to him as their ‘model,’ and who join him in opposing the…‘ridiculing of God’ will also be disappointed and ashamed.” Thus, it is not merely his own discomfort that drives the psalmist’s prayer, but the honor of God’s name and the perseverance of those who trust in him (172).
The prayer is thus an expression of the lex talionis, in that Yahweh is asked to place back upon the enemies the experiences that they had themselves generated for the psalmist (173).
But when his prayers are answered, then God’s goodness and righteousness will be vindicated, and the humble seekers after God will be glad: “For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners” (v33). The psalmist “trusts that in the conflict between the powerful and the weak, the persecutors and the persecuted, the exploiters and the poor, Yahweh will in principle take the part of the victims.” (173).
J. Clinton McCann remarks,
The psalmist’s request is in accordance with what most persons, then and now, would say is only fair–the punishment should fit the crime…In particular, the enemy deserves no kindness (v12, or “steadfast love”), because he showed no kindness (v16). The enemy deserves to be impoverished (vv8-11), because he mistreated the poor and the needy (v16; see Ps 10:2). The enemy deserves to be cursed because he cursed others (vv17-19,28-29; see Ps 62:4). In short, the enemy deserves to die (v8), because he pursued others to their death (vv16,31)…God’s steadfast love means judgment upon victimizers for the sake of the victims–the poor and the needy (174-75).
In this perspective, the imprecations against the psalmist’s enemies are comparable to the oracles against the nations in Isa 13-23; Jer 46-51.
First, the psalmists see God’s honor and reputation being at risk if the wicked get away with their misdeeds. Second, the psalmists ask only that justice be done. Third, the psalmists’ persecutors should suffer in the way they have made others suffer. Fourth, in praying for retribution to fall on their enemies the psalmists are surrendering their case to God instead of plotting to take vengeance on their own (175-76).
Zenger argues that much criticism of these psalms is essentially Marcionite–that is, the idea that the Old Testament portrays an essentially Jewish God of wrath and judgment, whereas the New Testament reveals the Christian God of love and mercy. Zenger points out that the passion in these psalms is based on a conviction of God’s steadfast love for his people…We note that the idea that God is judge runs through the New Testament, from the parables of Jesus to the book of Revelation. The second coming, when Christ will judge the living and the dead, is the great hope of the early church (176).
Within the Psalter, Zenger observes, disbelief in divine judgment is one of the marks that distinguish the wicked from the righteous. The wicked ridicule the idea that God will intervene on behalf of the poor and oppressed (176).
“These psalms are expressions of a longing that evil, and evil people, may not have the last word in history, for this world and its history belong to God” (177).
And this commitment has at least three ethical implications for those who pray the psalms. First, by praying them, worshipers express deep sympathy with the feelings of those who suffer. “With their concrete expressions of fear and pain, they bring pain to the center of ordinary religious and social life. They are the expression of that sensitivity to suffering that is constitutive for biblical piety, and for any way of life that is shaped by the Bible” (178).
“As we pray and reflect upon Psalm 137,” McCann adds, “we remember and are retaught the pain of exile, the horror of war, the terror of despair and death, the loneliness of the cross” (178).
Those who pray these psalms today may be taken aback by their directness, but could that reflect our own sheltered existence and the blandness of the piety tha we were raised in and have continued in? These psalms shatter our illusions and make us face life in the raw and make us ask if we really believe in a sovereign, loving God (179).


Since my recent comment on preterism occasioned some confusion, I’ll say a bit more.

i) Traditionally, preterism is the view that NT writers thought the end of the world would come in their lifetime. Since it didn’t, they were wrong.

Obviously that entails a liberal view of Scripture. The proverbial prophet who failed.

ii) More recently, N.T. Wright’s mentor, G. B. Caird, construed certain prophecies preterisiticly on the grounds that Scripture sometimes depicts the present in terms of the future. It uses stock, eschatological language to portray historical judgments.

And there’s some truth to this, although the reverse is also true: Scripture sometimes depicts the future in terms of the present.

I’m not entirely clear on what Caird’s own eschatological position amounted to. His commentary on Revelation seems to oscillate between preterism and idealism, universalism and annihilationism.

iii) In any event, his protégé, N. T. Wright, has done much to popularize this type of preteristic hermeneutics.

I’m also not clear on Wright’s eschatology. From what I’ve read, he seems to be rather coy about spelling out his overall position.

iii) The late R. T. France’s interpretation of the Olivet Discourse (and related passages) is also preteristic, based on how he relates the Olivet Discourse to the Ascension of Christ, vis-à-vis Dan 7.

iv) In a different connection, R. C. Sproul has helped to popularized partial preterism.

v) Using the hermeneutical strategies of France, Wright, and Caird, it’s possible to present a more conservative version of preterism. NT writers thought the end of the world would come in their lifetime–and they were right! It’s just that, on this view, the endtime imagery is purely symbolic. It stands for the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

vi) Of course, if you’re a “full” or “consistent” preterist, then you believe that this is as good as it gets. Christ returned, but we still have sin, disease, and death. His return makes no discernible difference. Before and after are indistinguishable. The world is just as evil as it ever was, and ever will be.

vii) Within one strand of theonomy you also have postmillennial preterism. Seems to me that preterism and postmillennialism are diametrically opposed.

Exponents of this view include Greg Bahnsen, as well as popularizers like Gary DeMar and David Chilton. Ken Gentry is their best scholar–although that’s damning by faint praise.

If push came to shove, I prefer historical premillennialism or progressive dispensationalism to the permutations of preterism. 


I’m going to comment on this article:

For the sake of argument, I will assume in this essay the worst possible case: namely, that the Iranian government is intent on pursuing the creation of nuclear weapons, and that there is a significant likelihood that Iran would either use these weapons directly against the United States or Israel, or give them to hostile terrorist groups such as Hamas or Hezbollah. Since a good end, no matter how important, cannot justify evil means, we must look to the just war theory for guidance in discerning what means for self-defense are permissible.

That begs the question of whether just-war theory should furnish the frame of reference. Just-war theory is a human construct, devised by fallible, shortsighted mortals like you and me. Just-war theorists were born ignorant, like you and me. They had to learn by experience, during their brief, provincial lives. They had to make things up on the fly.

Just-war theorists aren’t prophets. Just-war theory is entitled to a respectful hearing, but it’s not a given.

If the justification for the attack were simply Iran’s imminent possession of nuclear weapons, then clearly neither the United States nor Israel would be in a position of comparative justice, since both have nuclear weapons as well. Even if the cause for war were the likely use of Iranian nuclear weapons against innocent civilians, this situation is a murky one, since the United States is the one nation that has actually used nuclear weapons against an enemy and, in at least one case (Nagasaki), against a civilian population center with no significant military installations. In addition, the United States has never officially apologized for the nuclear attack on Japan nor disavowed the future use of its nuclear weapons in such an indiscriminate fashion. Until both the United States and Israel renounce such unjust use of nuclear weapons and make such institutional reforms as are needed to prevent it, we cannot claim that the comparative justice condition has been met.

i) That begs the question of whether nuking Japan was unjust.

ii) Moreover, the “United States” is just an abstraction. Even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that what the Truman administration did was morally wrong, Truman and his advisors are long gone. You can’t facilely assume collective guilt, as if what one generation did automatically implicates a later generation. That requires far more argument.

The application of the last resort and the competent authority conditions are connected. War, even when there is a just cause, must always be the last resort, used only when all just and peaceful attempts to prevent aggression with an appropriate chance of success have failed.

Is the last-resort condition reasonable? In risk assessment you need to draw an elementary distinction between a lesser probability of greater harm and a greater probability of lesser harm.

For instance, even if there’s a high probability of a trivial harm, we might not bother to take any precautions inasmuch as the potential harm is trivial.

Conversely, if there’s a low probability of catastrophic harm, we might take elaborate precautionary measures, even though the worst-case scenario is highly unlikely, because we can’t afford to be wrong. If the cost of being mistaken is too costly, then we must observe extraordinary safeguards even though that’s quite unlikely.

High-risk isn’t equivalent to high-probability. High-risk also includes the potential for serious harm. The potential of a potential risk involves both the potential likelihood as well as the potential harm. Does a lower risk of a greater harm outweigh a higher risk of a lesser harm? The threat-level considers the level of harm as well as the level of likelihood.

Just war theory resolutely opposes any surprise attack, such as that of the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, precisely because such an unanticipated action can never be a last resort. Sneak attacks do not provide the prospective enemy with an ultimatum that it can meet and thereby avert the catastrophe of war.

i) Yet the element of surprise can be crucial to the success or failure of the operation. If you tip off the enemy, then enemy can forearm itself against the attack. Ruling out a “sneak attack” may entail much greater loss of life. A successful first strike can win the war at the outset, thereby preventing a long drawn-out conflict.

The condition of last resort does not rule out the permissibility of a preemptive strike against a potential enemy, so long as the enemy is committed in a practically irrevocable way to launching an unjust attack—that is, so long as the unjust attack is “imminent” in this narrow sense. However, it is hard to believe that an attack involving the use of nuclear weapons could truly be imminent before a single one of those weapons has actually been built.

i) Imminence is hard to assess. Iran is a closed society. Moreover, most countries try to shroud their WMD programs in secrecy. That’s generally classified.

iii) Furthermore, if you wait until the threat is imminent, it may be too late. You blew your best options by allowing the enemy to stall for time. Now you're stuck with whatever options are left over. Whatever options the enemy left at your disposal. 

iii) This goes back to the question of risk assessment. What’s your margin for error? What are the consequences if you underestimate the threat? What are the consequences if you’re caught off-guard?

iv) Koons acts as if the rules are ends in themselves rather than means to an end. As if we should follow the rules for the sake of rule-keeping, even if the rules endanger us. We trap ourselves in a set of manmade rules–like a man who’s superstitious about stepping on cracks in the sidewalk. We see danger approaching, danger encroaching, but we’re frozen in place because it would go against the rules to escape.

Just-war theory isn’t the Decalogue. It wasn’t handed down from heaven. It’s just a human construct.

Rules ought to serve a purpose. But rules can outlive their usefulness. Or rules can be useful under ordinary circumstances, but counterproductive under emergency conditions. A general set of rules doesn’t anticipate every conceivable contingency.

Once a set of rules is put in place, folks tend to forget what the rules were for. They blindly follow the rules whether or not the rules make sense. They become gridlocked by a set of arbitrary rules. They can’t adapt to a crisis. They are overtaken by foreseeable disaster because they can’t bring themselves to break the rules–even though these were laws of utility rather than laws or morality.

Why is the condition of last resort so important, given that following this principle brings with it a significant risk of great harm? Last resort matters because when we go to war prematurely, we cannot act with the right intention. If war is something other than our last resort, we reveal our unjust disregard of the humanity of our enemies. The only justification for killing a human being (outside of capital punishment) is to prevent that person’s participation in some unjust killing of another, and to do so only after they have formed the firm intention to kill.

Many participants never form a personal intention to kill. They simply follow orders. Do what they’re told. It’s their superiors, the policymakers, who form the intention to kill.

I cannot legitimately shoot someone now in self-defense, simply because, given his wicked disposition, he will almost certainly intend to kill me at some time in the future.

Given the hypothetical that he just proposed, why can’t you legitimately shoot someone in self-defense under those circumstances? It would be illegal, but we’re discussing morality rather than legality. If he stipulates that you can know the assailant’s criminal intent in advance of the crime, then why not take preemptive measures?

One might also argue that the just war criteria are irrelevant, since we are intending merely to destroy Iran’s facilities (reactors and centrifuges), with the deaths of Iranian workers merely a foreseen but unintended consequence (appealing to the doctrine of “double effect”). However, the doctrine does not apply in this case: the presence of workers and scientists is a normal facet of the operations of these facilities, and so killing them is an integral part of the centers’ destruction, making the killings “intentional” in the relevant sense.

Koons has a habit of assuming what he needs to prove. Isn’t this a case where the distinction between combatant and noncombatant is artificial? Why is the man who drops the bomb fair game while the man who builds the bomb is off-limits?

Any response to this aggression, however, must be proportional to the actual harm suffered and the harm truly imminent (in the strict sense).

Why? What if the objective isn’t simply just reprisal, but eliminating the enemy’s military capacity to fall back, regroup, and fight you another day? 

In this post I’m not making a case for (or against) attacking Iran. We have to take into account the potential consequences of attacking Iran as well as the potential consequences of not attacking Iran.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The God wars

Is Romney really the more “electable” candidate in November?

Last Supper and Lord's Supper

Many denominations practice closed communion. One traditional rationale for "fencing the table" is 1 Cor 11:29, glossed in terms of the real presence (although that's a dubious interpretation).

Here's another argument for closed communion.

As baptists we're not denying that paedobaptists have a right to their own perspective, we are simply maintaining the integrity of our own convictions. Our consciences will not permit us to welcome into membership and communion those who have not obeyed Jesus at the point of baptism.
This is the whole reason there are Baptist churches at all. This is why baptists don't commune with Presbyterians, though it doesn't close down the possibility of cooperation in gospel efforts that are wider than local church ministry (such as T4G and TGC). If this issue were not big enough to divide over, to deny membership over, then why did the baptists ever separate from the presbyterians?

One question this raises is whether Jesus practiced closed communion:

14  And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it[b] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18  For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19  And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21  But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this. (Lk 22:14-23)
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper.
18  I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19  I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
21 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22  The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23  One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus' side,[e] 24 so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25  So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. Jn 13:2-4,18-30.

The Last Supper is the paradigmatic Lord's Supper. The exemplar of the Eucharist. Yet Jesus administers the "sacrament" to Judas, even though Judas is a closet unbeliever–something known to Jesus. On the face of it, Jesus is practicing open communion.