Saturday, July 28, 2012

Misdirecting the flock

Both on his own blog as well as the aomin site, Jamin Hubner plugged recent Gareth Cockerill’s commentary on Hebrews. I find that a little strange inasmuch as Cockerill is Arminian.

I’m not suggesting that we should never read Arminian commentaries. Arminian scholars can produce fine exegesis. And it’s important to know how they interpret their prooftexts.

Nevertheless, the apostasy passages Hebrews are the Arminian locus classicus against the perseverance of the saints. What’s more, those passages are a controlling feature of Hebrews. How you interpret those passages will impact your general reading of Hebrews. So I wouldn’t recommend Cockerill’s commentary as a “great” exegetical “resource.” And you don’t have to buy a whole commentary to find out how he deals with the apostasy passages. He contributed to one of the Four Views series on that very topic.

Surely there are better available commentaries on Hebrews, such as Peter O’Brien’s 2010 commentary. Moreover, Buist Fanning, Douglas Moo, and D. A. Carson all have commentaries on Hebrews in the pipeline which ought to be preferable to Cockerill’s.

Conquest accounts

Nevertheless, there were likely only a few small battles in a few places (like Hazor). The stories of mass extermination of Canaanites that God ordered (Deuteronomy 7:1-5 and 20:10-20) do not depict brute historical events, but Israel’s culturally influenced way of making an important theological statement (see #5). If that is true, it complicates Piper’s assumption that one can point to the book of Joshua and say “God is like this.”

5. It is not at all clear that these biblical stories were even written to depict “what God did.” Recent work has made the case that the book of Joshua is not a “conquest narrative.” Rather, using conquest as a narrative setting, Joshua is a statement about what it means to be an insider or an outsider to their community. The conquest stories are symbolic narratives that point to a theological truth.

i) Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the OT conquest accounts are hyperbolic. Even so, that wouldn’t make them symbolic.

For instance, suppose that Egyptian, Assyrian, and Neo-Babylonian court historians exaggerate the military exploits of their respective empires. But even if we make allowance for inflated claims, does that mean the Egyptians, Assyrian, and Neo-Babylonian empires never actually conquered anyone? Never subjugated surrounding nations?

ii) I’m sure we can expect an increasing number of monographs that “rethink” OT conquest accounts. That labor to take the sting out of the offending narratives.

But whether or not you believe in the inspiration of the OT, that’s hardly plausible. Rather, that’s a politically correct attempt to domesticate these intractable “texts of terror.” That reflects the ethical sensibilities of the modern churchmen or academics who write them. But there’s no evidence that the OT narrators share their embarrassment. Rather, that’s projecting modern scruples on ancient conquest accounts.

Imagine applying that hermeneutic to Egyptians, Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, or Roman conquest accounts or royal reliefs. Is there any reason to think court historians felt moral compunction about the military exploits of they celebrating in their public art and conquest accounts?

The new Marcionites

I’m going to make some comments on this post:

Before commenting on a few specific statements, I wish to make a general observation. Increasingly, objections to Calvinism are bundled with objections to the OT. You see this with Arminians like Randal Rauser and Roger Olson. And we see this same thing with Peter Enns. In this post, his criticisms of the OT run in tandem with criticisms of Calvinism.

Yahweh is too much like the God of Calvinism to separate them in principle or practice. The family resemblance is uncanny. Increasingly, those who attack the morality of Calvinism attack the morality of the OT, and vice versa. These are parallel objections.

There is some logic to this development. But this attack on Calvinism admits that Calvinism is too Biblical for its own good. Calvinism is faulty because Scripture is faulty.

To some extent this represents a dramatic shift from traditional objections to Calvinism. Traditionally, Arminians try to argue that Calvinism is unscriptural. Now, however, they are using the opposite argument: that Calvinism is scriptural to a fault. That it’s too wedded to a false view of God we find in Scripture.

All pretense of honoring the authority of Scripture is openly and brazenly abandoned. Critics of Calvinism used to maintain the appearance of deferring to Scripture, but Scripture itself is now in the crosshairs.

They attempt to put Calvinists on the defensive for believing the Bible. How dare you believe what the Bible says about the Canaanites! What kind of person are you!

The approach is indistinguishable from militant unbelievers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

But then he would need to address squarely Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount that “death to our enemies” is no longer valid.

Several problems with that appeal:

i) Jesus doesn’t share his view of the OT. Jesus ranged all over the OT to prooftext his mission.

ii) The Sermon on the Mount is telling Christians how to treat their enemies. It’s not telling us how Jesus will treat his enemies.

In that respect, Enns is ignoring what Jesus says about eschatological judgment in Matthew. Jesus, as the eschatological judge, will consign his enemies to everlasting punishment.

Far from softening the OT, that ups the ante. Executing the Canaanites pales in comparison with eternal damnation.

iii) Increasingly, the critics of Calvinism are resorting to a Marcionite dichotomy between the evil God of the OT and the good God of the NT. But that’s alien to the NT use of the OT. Alien to the viewpoint of Jesus, the apostles, and other NT writers.

It is not at all clear that these biblical stories were even written to depict “what God did.” Recent work has made the case that the book of Joshua is not a “conquest narrative.” Rather, using conquest as a narrative setting, Joshua is a statement about what it means to be an insider or an outsider to their community. The conquest stories are symbolic narratives that point to a theological truth.

Even if we accept that claim for the sake of argument, these narratives symbolically depict the character of God. A God who symbolically orders the wholesale execution of the Canaanites. Even if (ex hypothesi) that’s a symbolic illustration of God’s character, the “theological truth” which that (allegedly) symbolic narrative illustrates is just as antithetical to Enns’s kinder gentler understanding of God as a literally depiction. Increasingly, the critics of Calvinism are resorting to a Marcionite dichotomy between the evil God of the OT and the good God of the NT.

Methodological self-refutation

The major reason unbelievers say they reject Gen 1 is because Gen 1 is said to be unscientific, or contrary to science. We know from modern cosmology, geology, botany, and zoology that that’s not how it happened.

But let’s hold that thought for a moment and compare that to another consideration. For many of the same unbelievers who reject Gen 1 on scientific grounds also subscribe to methodological naturalism. Here’s a representative statement of methodological naturalism:

There are two basic principles of science that creationism violates. First, science is an attempt to explain the natural world in terms of natural processes, not supernatural ones. This principle is sometimes referred to as methodological naturalism…Nonmaterial causes are disallowed.

When a creationist says, “God did it”, we can confidently say that he is not doing science. Scientists do not allow explanations that include supernatural or mystical powers for a very important reason. To explain something scientifically requires that we test explanations against the natural world. A common denominator for testing a scientific idea is to hold constant (“control”) at least some of the variables influencing what you are trying to explain. Testing can take many forms, and although the most familiar test is the direct experiment, there exist many research designs involving indirect experimentation, or natural or statistical control of variables.

Science’s concern for testing and control rules out supernatural causation. Supporters of the “God did it” argument hold that God is omnipotent. If there are omnipotent forces in the universe, by definition, it is impossible to hold their influences constant; one cannot “control” such powers. Lacking the possibility of control of supernatural forces, scientists forgo them in explanation. Only natural explanations are used. No one yet has invented a theometer, so we will just have to muddle along with material explanations.

For reasons I’ve given elsewhere, I think methodological naturalism is unscientific. But for the sake of argument, let’s play along with methodological naturalism.

If we take that methodology for granted, then what does it mean to say Gen 1 is unscientific? If would mean that things didn’t happen that way if you leave God out of the picture.

But this also means that if you do take God into account, then you’re in no position to say it didn’t happen that way. In fact, Eugenie Scott’s explicit justification for methodological naturalism is that If there are omnipotent forces in the universe, by definition, it is impossible to hold their influences constant; one cannot “control” such powers.

But in that event, she can’t rule out the possibility (or even probability) that Gen 1 is factual. Moreover, she can’t say Gen 1 has been falsified by the scientific evidence, for on her definition, scientific evidence can’t take divine agency into account. Therefore, it would be viciously circular for her to appeal to the scientific evidence against Gen 1 if, by definition, her method disallows supernatural causes. For in that case, she’s preemptively excluded potential counterevidence. By her own admission, allowing for the possibility of divine agency introduces uncontrollable variables into the process. But if science can’t make allowance for divine agency, then science can’t say what God would or would not have done in that situation. Indeed, on that definition, science can’t even say that divine agency is improbable in that situation. She’s disqualified science from making judgments about divine agency one way or the other. But that leaves the question open-ended.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Playing chicken with the Constitution


The God particle

The media has been hyping the discovery of the “God particle,” more prosaically called the Higgs boson–which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

This is a good occasion to discuss what makes some scientific discoveries interesting and others less interesting. And that, in turn, is germane to the future of science.

Finding a new elementary particle is mighty exciting if you’re a particle physicist. But unless that’s your profession, discovering what things are made of is less thrilling than other types of findings. Some answers are more interesting because some questions are more interesting.

For instance, I think we generally find the question of how things work more interesting than what they’re made of. Likewise, we’re curious in where things came from. The origin of the universe. The origin of life. As well as the future.

This may be due, in part, to the fact that we’re timebound creatures. We don’t directly experience the distant past. So we wonder how we got here. What happened before we were here that led up to this point? Why does the world exist? Why does this world exist? Why do I exist. That’s part of why a lot of folks find history interesting. Or genealogy.

The theory of special relativity is interesting because, if true, it presents a counterintuitive view of time and space (i.e. time dilation, length contraction). And we find that intriguing because we’re timebound, spacebound creatures. Time and space condition human experience. How we perceive reality.

And they also affect what we value. Take nostalgia. The present slipping away before we want it to go.

Likewise, quantum mechanics, if true, is interesting because it presents a counterintuitive view of causality (e.g. nonlocality, action at a distance). And we find that intriguing because causality (or what we take to be causal relations) is a pervasive and fundamental feature of human experience. It’s bound up with the arrow of time, where the direction of time mirrors the direction of cause and effect. Consider those time-travel scenarios.

Moreover, on one interpretation of quantum mechanics, there are alternate timelines. Parallel worlds.

If true, that’s interesting because it’s natural to ask ourselves, if we had more than one life, what the road not taken would look like. Imagine if we could immersively explore alternate routes and see how they came out. Although quantum mechanics can’t actually put us in touch with alternate timelines, it lends reality to those imaginative speculations (assuming that’s the correct interpretation of quantum mechanics, which is hotly contested).

Furthermore, on one interpretation of quantum mechanics (e.g. Eugene Wigner), the observer can influence what he observes. Mind over matter. If true, that would be very intriguing.

But this, in turn, raises the question of whether the most interesting scientific theories have already been proposed. Is there anything currently on the docket, or in the foreseeable future, of scientific theorizing, to match the inherent interest generated by quantum mechanics and special relativity? Or are we now down to the nuts and bolts?  It’s hard to gin up the same level of interest in theories or discoveries that are more mundane. In that sense, are the best days of science behind us? Has it already told us the best stories it had to offer?

Psychosomatic Miracles?

Critics of the supernatural often speculate that alleged miraculous healings are instead naturalistic healings of a psychosomatic nature. But many types of healing and recipients of healing are poor candidates for that hypothesis. Craig Keener gives many examples in his book, Miracles (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011).

They'll be Bach

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cutting for stone

Several weeks back Bnonn and Sarah Tennant, Steve, and I were respectfully discussing the medical aspects of circumcision.

Snake in the grass

Bryan CrossNo Gravatar July 20th, 2012 4:13 am :

Well, John, you know what I would say in response to this. It is your own indictment, that you think you know better than the Church. This was the stance of Naaman too, that he knew better than Elisha. It was the stance of Eve too, in the Garden. It was the stance of Judas too, that he knew better than Christ. This is the most fundamental choice we face as humans: faith, or autonomy. If Christ founded a Church, and gave her authority, then even though she will look from the outside like a very human and earthy institution, and even though there will be many tares among the wheat, yet, to trust her is to trust Christ. That’s the test… That’s the choice that lies before us. Faith in Christ (which involves trusting His Church), or remaining on the road of autonomy. Liberals are just one more step down that road; atheists are two steps down that road.

You know that I agree that God has spoken in the Scriptures. But sola scriptura and “solo scriptura” are much more than the claim that God has spoken in the Scriptures. They declare in essence that every man’s interpretation of Scripture is no less authoritative than that of the Church’s magisterium, and are in this way a denial of Church authority.

Several basic problems:

i) As usual, we’re getting a purely hypothetical argument from Bryan. If this, then that. But when does he ever get around to proving the antecedent? Where is his argument for the conditional premise? 

What if the church of Rome is the serpent in the Garden? What if Bryan is heeding a serpent in vestments?

ii) He sets up a false dichotomy. We’re not limited to choosing between autonomy or Rome. What about the word of God (e.g. Scripture)?

iii) And, of course, he equivocates over the identity of “the Church.”

iv) Sola scriptura does not make every man’s interpretation equally “authoritative.” It’s tendentious to recast the issue in terms of “authority.”

The fundamental distinction is not between authoritative and unauthoritative interpretations, but between right and wrong interpretations.

In addition, some interpretations are better reasoned than others.

v) Finally, the church of Rome has liberalized quite a bit since the days of Pius IX and Leo XIII.

Bryan CrossNo Gravatar July 19th, 2012 3:53 pm :

I explained in “The Tradition and the Lexicon” how the lexical method, when used to determine concepts or positions against which the Church Fathers are then judged to be biblical or unbiblical, presupposes “solo scriptura,” by presupposing that Tradition has no authority to which our interpretation of Scripture is subject. I also explained in that post how the lexical method presupposes that the Church failed to preserve Tradition, and in this way presupposes the falsehood of the Catholic Church. For this reason the lexical method is not a theologically or ecclesiologically neutral methodology. Per Fr. Kimel’s third law, it fails to read Scripture through the Fathers. So instead of allowing St. Clement to inform our understanding of the New Testament conception of grace, it uses our [present paradigm informed] interpretation of Scripture as the standard against which the Fathers (including St. Clement) are measured. And so the question-begging presupposition underlying the methodology is doing all the work. Of course there is nothing wrong with using a lexicon; the theological question-begging arises when we use the lexical definition as the theological norm against which Tradition is judged.

Michael LiccioneNo Gravatar July 20th, 2012 12:18 pm :

In addition to all that Bryan just said in #543, I suggest that you simply don’t grasp the significance of the concept of an interpretive paradigm (IP). Everybody brings an IP to the data whether they admit it or not; even Keith Mathison and Michael Horton recognize as much. The foundational question at issue between us at CTC and Protestants of your sort is: “How to determine which IP is rationally preferable”? In other words, which way of giving theological significance to the raw data is best suited to distinguishing divine revelation from human opinion? It is no answer to that question to just continue applying your IP to the data and presenting the results as if they were rationally unassailable. They aren’t, and if they were, then those who disagree with you after due study would be either illiterate or willfully blind. I don’t think even you are prepared to embrace that consequence. Good thing too–because it would be absurd.

So we aren’t “hiding behind” anything. Rather, instead of proceeding as if your IP were the only one, we insist that you stop begging the question and instead approach the issues at the level I’ve been talking about. To object that IPs are “unfalsifiable” is simply irrelevant. Most Christian doctrines, on either your account or the Catholic, are unfalsifiable, but that doesn’t make them unworthy of belief; it simply leaves open the question how good are the reasons for accepting the Christian claim to have received, transmitted, and interpreted divine revelation. Similarly, no IP–whether yours or ours–is falsifiable by the data it interprets; but that leaves open the question which IP is rationally preferable. To insist that admitting as much, and addressing the basic questions accordingly, is “hiding’ is itself hiding from the basic questions.

i) This is the blocking maneuver that Liccione and Cross both resort to to deflect counterevidence. Now, I’ve already discussed some basic problems with Liccione’s appeal. Notice his habit of stipulating the “foundational question,” stipulating the level at which the issue ought to be met. Liccione is begging the question by his nakedly stipulative demands.

ii) But beyond that there’s another basic problem. Both Bryan and Liccione act as if they are contrasting “the Catholic” paradigm with the Protestant paradigm. As if there’s an official Catholic paradigm, with which they operate.

But let’s compare their approach to another Catholic philosopher: Merold Westphal. Here’s his CV:

Westphal has at least as much claim to represent a Catholic interpretive paradigm as Liccione or Cross. Well, here’s something he recently wrote:

Finally, Wall says that interpretation–presumably both as exegesis and as application insofar as the two are distinguished–is subject to the rule of faith, going back to Irenaeus. However, why should any churchly summary of the gospel, an extracanonical interpretation, be the norm for subsequent interpretation?…Should not our creeds be subject to Scripture and revisable in light of our growing, or at least changing, understanding of biblical teaching?…Appeal to any creed or rule of faith needs to be conscious of its human, fallible character.

Stanley Porter & Beth Stovell, eds., Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views (IVP Academic, 2012), 173.

Liccione and Cross are both begging the question of what constitutes “the Catholic” interpretive paradigm. 

Paul and law

Nanos also rightly emphasizes that Paul was not against Jewish believers following the Torah. It is likely the case, especially in Israel, that most Jews who believed in Jesus continued to circumcise their children, followed purity laws, and even offered sacrifices (cf. Acts 21:20-26).

Furthermore, in Rom 14:1-15:6 Paul defends the right of the weak (who were probably mainly Jewish Christians) to observe days and eat foods that were clean. Paul almost certainly thinks here of the Sabbath and of the food laws of the Old Testament. He forbids those who are strong to impose their convictions on the weak. Instead they must love and accept those who differ with them.

Thomas Schreiner in Four Views on The Apostle Paul, Gundry/Bird, eds. (Zondervan 2012), 194.

Does Theism Foster Scepticism?

Called to Kitsch


Called to Kitsch
Schlock meets Schmaltz

Bella Swan’s Conversion Story

In this exclusive interview, TMZ reporter Bryan Cross talks to Bella Swan about her conversion to the One.

Bryan: Bella, can you briefly recount your conversion to the One?

Bella: I used to be hopelessly in love with Edward Cullen. He was the One True Boyfriend for me.

Bryan: What changed?

Bella: Well, for one thing, there’s the age differential. When you date a dude who came of age way back in the 1920s, that’s just so yesterday. I mean, who wants to hear about Calvin Coolidge over a candlelit dinner?

Bryan: What else?

Bella: It’s hard to commune with a corpse. Edward is dashing at a distance, but when he puts his cold clammy arms around you and tries to kiss you with his thin leathery cadaverous lips, it’s a major turn-off.

Bryan: Is that what drew you to Jake?

Bella: Lycan boys have that raw animal passion that schoolgirls yearn for. And I could spend hours just gazing into his glowing red eyes, or watching him pose in the rain with his awesome abs. It’s what every adolescent girl dreams of.

Bryan: Isn’t there the risk that he’d rip your throat out in the heat of the moment?

Bella: But it’s so romantic, don’t you think?

Bryan: So that’s when you knew you made the journey home?

Bella: When I beheld his long white fangs, I knew that I’d entered into the fullness of tooth.

Can singles cheat?

I haven’t actually bothered to watch this viral video:

–but to judge by what others are saying:

i) As I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion, a lot of teenagers have been nurtured on the romantic illusion that boyfriends and girlfriends can cheat on each other. But that fails to distinguish between dating and marriage. One of the defining features of marriage is monogamous commitment. “Forsaking all others” is a marriage vow. Only spouses can cheat on each other. The notion that singles can cheat on each other has become a deeply engrained myth in the popular culture.

Dating isn’t marriage. Going steady isn’t marriage. Even engagement isn’t marriage. At most, these constitute a prelude to marriage. This confusion occurs when social mores are defined by high school or Hollywood rather than God.

Of course, in a culture where many young people shack up rather than tying the knot, cohabitation becomes substitute marriage. But, of course, the original motivation for cohabitation (in distinction to marriage) is that it’s not the same as marital commitment.

ii) The poor girl can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Just because two movie stars play devoted lovers in a film or TV series doesn’t make them devoted lovers in real life. And promiscuity among movie stars is hardly unprecedented.

iii) Finally, and most importantly, this is what happens when girls lack a Biblically-defined identity. When they have no identity beyond their social circle, beyond social expectations. A Christian girl who’s properly grounded in the Bible wouldn’t be so emotionally invested in vicarious identity. She has a sense of self-worth and self-identity which comes from knowing who she is in relation to God. Biblical manhood and womanhood matters.

Of course, many teenagers are levelheaded. This isn’t necessarily representative of the younger generation.

And it’s not uncommon (or so I’ve heard) for adolescent girls to go through phases and mood swings.

Discussion on the papacy at Green Baggins

Lane Keister has started another discussion on the papacy over at Green Baggins. He says,

I have been recently contemplating the nature of the evidence concerning the claims of Rome, and asking myself this question: what is the linchpin of Romanist claims? Surely, it is the Petrine succession argument for the Popes. Without an ironshod succession from Peter to Benedict XVI, there is no sacramental magisterial authority at all. It does no good at this point to claim that the apostolic succession can be legitimated without the Papal succession, since the Papal succession is what legitimates all the rest of the succession down to the ordination of priests. If the Papal claims are void, then so are the ordinations that come from a false Papacy.

Bryan Cross and Jason Stellman are taking up the Roman cause. Turretinfan is there, as well as Bob S (RPV). For anyone who is interested, I have joined in the discussion at this point. I bring up two points (which I’ve made here in the past). First, that the “lynchpin” argument of the papacy was made by “Pope Leo the Great”, using arguments drawn first from the relationship between Jesus Jesus and Peter (and the rest of the apostles), in conjunction with Roman adoption laws, and second, that the eastern churches never accepted that argument, preferring, instead, to understand Roman “primacy” as a political primacy.

Book Review: ‘A Theology of Luke and Acts’, by Darrell Bock

What in the world is God doing? If you’ve ever asked that question, a good place to start looking for answers is in the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. There’s a reason for this. Together these two works, both written by Luke, tell a “theological story in which one cannot see Jesus without understanding the story of the community that he was responsible for launching”.

And if you’re diving in to Luke and Acts, one of the best places to start is the new work from Darrell Bock, “A Theology of Luke and Acts,” (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, ©2012), the second title released in the “Biblical Theology of the New Testament” series.

It may not be well known, but as Bock says, Luke-Acts comprises the largest portion of the New Testament. “Of the 7,947 verses in the NT, Luke-Acts comprises 2,157 verses, or 27.1 percent. By comparison, the Pauline letters have 2,032 verses and the Johannine writings have 1,407”. By another standard, Luke-Acts takes up 184 pages in the NA-27 (Greek) text, including 96 for Luke and 88 for Acts. The gospel of Matthew is 87 pages long; Paul’s letters are 153 pages of text (pg 27).

These two works together give us the clearest Scriptural interpretation that we have of “the church that Christ founded”.

[It’s true that Paul’s letters give us the earliest view into the church and its beliefs and worship, but Luke-Acts together are a sustained narrative, the stated purpose of which is “to write an orderly account … that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4)].

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"Jesus is neither a Democrat nor a Republican"

As is quite often the case, Michael J. Kruger has an incisive post titled "Postmodernity and Politics: Moving Beyond 'Jesus Is Neither a Democrat nor a Republican'."

Peeling the onion

I notice that Jared Wilson is catching flack from both sides for his retraction. Some critics are acting as if he betrayed the cause. Sold us out.

It’s important to keep a sense of perspective. Complementarianism is a hill to die on, but a particular post on complementarianism is not a hill to die on. Complementarianism is a point of principle, but the wording of a post on complementarianism is a tactical and pastoral question.

To back down on the issue of complementarianism would be a moral and theological compromise, but retracting a post is just a judgment call. Complementarianism isn’t defined by the precise words that Jared quoted from Doug Wilson. And there’s no reason why Jared’s entire ministry should be defined by a single post.

In a worldly sense, Rachel Evans scored a win when Jared retracted his post, but that’s a pyrrhic victory. As long as God is on your side, it doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says. There’s no correlation between Rachel’s self-importance and her actual importance.

We need to retain a sense of proportion. Distinguish principle from tactics. Otherwise, we end up like the late Carl McIntire, who broke with Machen, then squandered the rest of his life peeling the onion until nothing was left.

Already, and not yet

This seems to have been announced on Facebook, and then sent back to editing or something. Stay tuned:

Hostile Corroboration Of Modern Miracles

I've written a lot in the past about hostile corroboration of the claims made by the earliest Christians, including their miracle accounts. Craig Keener's Miracles (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011) provides many modern examples.

Tough targets

"Tough Targets: When Criminals Face Armed Resistance from Citizens"

"Media Underplays Successful Defensive Gun Use"

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Peas in a pod

In the wake of the Aurora massacre, Ben Witherington, Roger Olson, and Scot McKnight all jumped on the gun-control wagon. To my knowledge, these three are the three most prominent bloggers in the Arminian blogosphere.

That raises a question: does their theology select for their politics, or vice versa?

Blame America Firsters

Ben Witherington says:
July 24, 2012 at 2:55 pm

I must say, as we draw this interesting discussion to a close, that it would be well if the more ardent American gun advocates who commented on this post would actually listen to what some of the international bloggers said on this post. America, when it comes to gun control, is an aberration compared to most civilized or highly developed nations. And yet with the plethora of weapons we have in the U.S. it has not made us any safer at all than other nations. Rather, it appears to have just poured gasoline on the fire of our being one of the most violent cultures in all of human history, both at home and abroad, both in war, and in peace.

Well, to take one comparison, Peter Hitchens isn’t very pleased with the state of law and order (or lack thereof) in contemporary England. For instance:

The Price of Gun Control

Pauline style

Over on his Facebook wall, Jeremy Pierce recently defended the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals. One of Jeremy’s arguments is that it’s not unusual for a writer’s style to change over time, to develop as he ages.

In that regard, the evolution of John Ruskin’s prose style provides a concrete comparison. For instance:

The DOJ is watching you

Ban fertilizer

We should ban fertilizer. Tim McVeigh used fertilizer to build a bomb. We should also ban airplanes. The 9/11 terrorists used airplanes.

Moral charlatanry

Ben Witherington has been giving waffling answers on gun ownership. Sometimes he takes a hardline pacifist position:

Me personally I don’t think Christians should ever use lethal force against another human being, but that’s just my view. 

At other times he denies that he was advocating a total ban on the private ownership of guns.

But here’s another plot twist:

Hi Ray: I am indeed saying no gun toting of concealed weapons in public. I’m saying fine to have them at home, but not in a public place, not in a restaurant, not in a theater, not at the car wash etc. Why not?…Secondly, I don’t believe in public deception, which is what this amounts to, and is not a Christian position.

Several issues:

i) Deception and concealment are not interchangeable. Sometimes concealment is deceptive, but sometimes not.

If the window in my bathroom is opaque, is that deceptive? If I have curtains in my bedroom, is that deceptive? Is privacy deceptive?

ii) BW3 is also assuming, w/o argument, that deception is not a Christian position. But that’s disputable. For instance:

iii) What about off-duty policemen who carries a concealed revolver. Is that unchristian? What about an FBI agent who carries a revolver under his suit jacket. Is that unchristian? What about sky marshals who dress like civilians and carry concealed revolvers. The whole point is to blend in with the other passengers. Is that unchristian? What about an unmarked police unit. Is that unchristian?

iv) Moreover, there’s such a thing as military deception. For instance:

If BW3 takes the position that deception is never a Christian position, then this is a supporting argument for pacifism. But in that case he needs to come clean about his wholesale objection to self-defense.

BW3 has a habit of speaking off-the-cuff with great confidence. He makes snap judgments without considering the counterarguments. He speaks with great moral conviction, but he doesn’t put the intellectual effort into acquainting himself with the issues or thinking through his position. He’s a moral charlatan. Think before you speak. Do a little research. Anticipate counterexamples.

The fixer

Crude7/24/2012 2:19 AM

This is one more reason not to be Catholic. The church of Rome can’t provide basic moral guidance on an issue this basic. Indeed, it is giving the wrong advice.

You shouldn't be a Catholic, because a Jesuit favors gun control? Really, this is a reason?

Steve, c'mon. Is it impossible for some particular Catholic to do something wrong or hold a wrong opinion, and for that not to somehow work into a "and THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is one more reason not to be Catholic" move? I mean, would a pro-gun-rights Catholic count as a reason to BE Catholic?

At this point I half expect you to pull something like "Conan O'Brien isn't very funny. Is he Catholic? Because if so, ONE MORE REASON NOT TO BE CATHOLIC." And to mean it! That level of insanity.

i) Fr. Martin’s position is hardly idiosyncratic. For instance, the USCCB takes a similar position. Where do you think the Fr. Martins of the world get their views in the first place? They are parroting the party line:

ii) From you we’re getting the stereotypical reaction of the loyal Catholic layman. The fixer. Catholic laymen often assume the role of fixer. Whenever an official representative of their denomination makes an embarrassing public statement, the fixer makes a bunny-ears hand sign behind the head of the foolish Catholic cleric or prelate, assuring us, with a wink and a nod, that that doesn’t count.

The lay Catholic fixer is typically a guy with far more sensible views than the views of the institution he serves. He agrees with us that of course the priest/monsignor/bishop/cardinal/pope is spouting nonsense, but somehow we shouldn’t hold that against The One True Church®

But this is upside down. The folks at the bottom are wiser than the folks at the top. So why not make Bill Donohue (i.e. The Catholic League) the next pope? Wouldn’t that be a signal improvement on the status quo?

Or, to paraphrase the late William F. Buckley, it often seems as if picking the first ten names from the phonebook would yield better results than the USCCB.

Also, holy hell. You need some more hyperbole over there? I am strongly in favor of gun rights. I reject idiotic attempts to limit people's right to possess handguns, to force them to register, I'm in favor of stand your ground laws. But this sort of thing is just going over the edge.

Look at Australia. They passed some draconian gun control laws. They were a stupid plan, and haven't helped much with their crime situation, by their own records. But it didn't turn Australia into a Mad Max style place. It just trampled their rights. You'd be better off saying it's an open invitation to the government to wreak mayhem, if they see fit.

Really, the guy's argument was easy to take apart, but you blew it because you've got this whole "Man do I hate the Catholic Church" thing going on, to the point where it blinds you. Granted, not to the sociopathic levels it hits Bugay, but still.

Your objection results from a careless reading of what I wrote, as well as a careless reading of what Fr. Martin wrote. Fr. Martin’s position doesn’t reserve gun possession for law enforcement officers. According to his pacifist interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, no one should be allowed to have guns. Not private citizens. Not police. Not FBI. Not US soldiers.

Shoot to kill

I don’t know this for a fact, because it’s not the sort of information I’d expect people to volunteer, but I’m guessing that at least some homeowners shoot to kill when a houseburglar breaks into their home. If they did, it’s not the sort of thing they’d be apt to admit, since they’d be prosecuted for murder if they said so.

No doubt many a Christian ethicist would denounce that as immoral. Force should be proportional to the provocation or the threat. To deliberately kill the burglar unless you know he poses a mortal threat to you or your family is immoral. So goes the argument.

But I’m guessing that some homeowners shoot to kill that because they don’t trust the judicial system to protect them. They’re afraid that if they merely disable the perp, and he recovers, he will come back to avenge himself on the homeowner and his family.

If so, that’s a reasonable fear. There are many ways in which the judicial system can, and often does, let us down. The case might well be tossed on a technicality. Suppose the cops fail to Mirandize the perp. Or suppose the chain-of-custody is broken in the collection of evidence. Or suppose the judge refuses to admit “prejudicial” evidence. Because the jury doesn’t know the perp’s priors, they acquit. Or suppose, during the sentencing phase, a bleeding-heart judge gives the perp a slap on the wrist. Or maybe he’s 17, and goes to juvie until he’s 21.

Or the authorities may be less interested in prosecuting the perp than prosecuting the homeowner on a weapons violation. Indeed, that happens with some frequency. Ignore the actual assailant and focus on a technical violation, viz. the homeowner had an unregistered gun, or he flouted the local gun ban. The homeowner, who was defending himself and his family, is jailed while the perp is released.

At taxpayer’s expense, the perp was lovingly nursed back to health. Having recovered from the injuries he sustained in the prosecution of the crime, he now harbors a grudge against the homeowner who shot him. He’s spoiling for a chance to settle the score once he’s released. And it won’t be limited to hurting the man who shot him. Indeed, the best vengeance may be hurting the man’s wife or kids.

I’m using the example of a houseburglar, but I could just as well use the example of a neighborhood mugger.

As I say, there are no doubt some Christian ethicists who would deplore the preemptive actions of the homeowner, but the homeowner is in a genuine bind. Should he gamble on the judicial system doing the right thing, or should he put his family first? He has a right to protect himself as well as a duty to protect his kin. Should he risk the safety of his wife and kids by giving the judicial system the benefit of the doubt? Or should he eliminate the threat once-and-for-all?

The burden of proof and self-evident things

Michael Liccione (546):

The foundational question at issue between us at CTC and Protestants of your sort is: “How to determine which IP is rationally preferable”? In other words, which way of giving theological significance to the raw data is best suited to distinguishing divine revelation from human opinion?

What’s really “foundational”? Some things are, or ought to be, just simply self-evident. And it’s not at all self evident that “the foundational issue” is “how to determine which IP is rationally preferable”.

Consider these New Testament accounts:

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God … This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.

We are not telling you to believe things that you do not see as a “formal proximate object of faith”. We are confirming things to you that you already know.

Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense … “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.

What’s necessary to be known isn’t hidden, “implicit” in the Scriptures, waiting for some as-yet-unneeded “development”. True and rational words, things that don’t really “escape notice”.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life,

It’s all clear as a bell to us. We proclaim this eternal life to you, and our testimony is true.

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

And you have certainty simply through this orderly account, and there is no hint at all that anything else is required.

* * *

You said:

instead of proceeding as if your IP were the only one, we insist that you stop begging the question and instead approach the issues at the level I’ve been talking about. To object that IPs are “unfalsifiable” is simply irrelevant.

I’m not proceeding as if [my] IP were the only one. I’ve cited probably dozens of scholars on topics where they are the specialists, proceeding on an “IP” which they expect, if not completely perfect, will be seriously challenged, and their livelihoods depend on it.

In the same vein, Bryan said this of the “burden of proof”:

When a party goes out from the Catholic Church, as Protestants did in the sixteenth century on the basis of their own interpretation of Scripture, and that party seeks to justify its actions by making a case against the Catholic Church, that party has the burden of proof, just by the fact that they are the ones who went out from the Church.

Where, precisely, is it “self evident” that the Roman Catholic Church is somehow “The Church” that it says it is? Your own “begging the question” is prior in time to my supposed “begging the question”. You beg the question that “the Roman Catholic Church” is what it says it is.

You’ll no doubt say that Matthew 16:18 is some kind of “self-evident” proof that Christ founded a visible church, Peter was the first pope, etc.

But show me where some of these individual steps are quite so “self-evident”:

a) The promise of Mt 16:18 has reference to "Peter."
b) The promise of Mt 16:18 has "exclusive" reference to Peter.
c) The promise of Mt 16:18 has reference to a Petrine "office."
d) This office is "perpetual"
e) Peter resided in "Rome"
f) Peter was the "bishop" of Rome
g) Peter was the "first" bishop of Rome
h) There was only "one" bishop at a time
i) Peter was not a bishop "anywhere else."
j) Peter "ordained" a successor
k) This ceremony "transferred" his official prerogatives to a successor.
l) The succession has remained "unbroken" up to the present day.

Not one of these little mini-steps is self-evident. In fact, I’ve published a tremendous amount of information that contests (not to being an outright logical proof, but history does not function that way) the Roman Catholic accounting of each of these steps. The cumulative effect of these things is an alternative history which, in the words of Carl Trueman just this month, is “what historians take for granted: the rise, consolidation and definition of papal power is an historically very complex issue; and, indeed, as scholarship advances, the story becomes more, not less, convoluted and subversive of papal claims.”

The phrase is used here, “through the eyes of the fathers”, as if somehow this “language” too, is self-evident, and that it self-evidently accepts the Roman Catholic story about itself. But Archbishop Roland Minnerath has admitted as much: “The East never shared the Petrine theology as elaborated in the West. It never accepted that the protos in the universal church could claim to be the unique successor or vicar of Peter.

So, if “the East” never even felt as if they were “going out” from the Roman Catholic Church, where, precisely, is “the burden of proof”?

You all here just simply “assume” the papacy; you take Newman at his [“incoherent”] word that “it’s not a violent assumption” to hold that this papal authority was somehow in authority from the beginning. I’m saying, (and others are saying), At the very least, "the East" considered it to be a violent assumption.

Consider the words of John Meier, a Roman Catholic biblical scholar whom you all dismiss, but who the Vatican permits to speak for Roman Catholicism in high-level ecumenical meetings, the papacy does not provide “a credible historical account of its own origins…” (“Petrine Ministry in the New Testament and in the Early Patristic Traditions,” in James F. Puglisi, ed., How Can the Petrine Ministry Be a Service to the Uity of the Universal Church?” Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, UK: William Be. Eerdmans Publishing Co., © 2010). Meier is one of those who believes in “God’s providential guidance of the church, leading by a series of steps to the emergence of the bishop of Rome,” but this is a far, far cry from the “divine institution” of the papacy – directly conferring it on Peter who directly conferred it, in “full power” directly to an unbroken chain of “successors.”

Up above you chided me for only giving Old Testament prophecies. Here I am with some pretty “foundational” New Testament “hermeneutics”.

The apostles are saying, “you can believe these things” first of all, because “you yourselves are eyewitnesses to some of these things”, and secondly, “our testimony is true”.

That, in itself, seems pretty foundational to me. Salvation does not depend on some “formally identified” “proximate object of faith” with very sharply-defined edges, defined by someone who us just “assumed” to be in authority.

The events that the writers of the New Testament were talking about are just as clear and self-evident to them as the noses on their faces.

In what way are these not “foundational issues”?

Where is the burden of proof in an environment where “as scholarship advances, the story becomes more, not less, convoluted and subversive of papal claims.”

Especially given some of the other context that we’ve seen.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Words of wisdom from The One True Church®

I’m going to comment on this post:

Here’s some background on the writer (from his Huffington Post profile):

The Rev. James Martin, S.J. is a Jesuit priest, the culture editor of America magazine and author of numerous books, including The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. He is also the author of My Life with the Saints (over 100,000 copies sold), which Publishers Weekly named one of the Best Books of 2006. Father Martin is a frequent commentator in the national and international media, and has appeared in such diverse venues as NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Fox TV’s The O’Reilly Factor, PBS’s The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, as well as in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, the History Channel, BBC and Vatican Radio. Before entering the Jesuits in 1988 he graduated from the Wharton School of Business and worked with General Electric for several years.

Now for his statements:

That is why I believe that gun control is a religious issue.

I agree. Everything is ultimately a religious issue.

 It is as much of a “life issue” or a “pro-life issue,” as some religious people say, as is abortion, euthanasia or the death penalty (all of which I am against), and programs that provide the poor with the same access to basic human needs as the wealthy (which I am for).  There is a "consistent ethic of life" that views all these issues as linked, because they are.

To say the death penalty is analogous to abortion and euthanasia is an argument from analogy minus the argument.

And, historically, the church of Rome supported the death penalty. As far as I know, it was only around the last quarter of the 20C that the church of Rome did an about-face on the death penalty.

All of these issues, at their heart, are about the sanctity of all human life, no matter who that person is, no matter at what stage of life that person is passing through, and no matter whether or not we think that the person is "deserving" of life.

i) That’s another argument from analogy minus the argument. To say killing an assailant in self-defense, or to protect innocents, is comparable to abortion or euthanasia, is morally obtuse. This erases the fundamental distinction between guilt and innocence.

ii) And even Catholicism permits the taking of innocent life in double effect cases­. How much more a homicidal assailant?

The Bible doesn’t treat every life as sacrosanct. Every human being does not deserve to live. You can forfeit your prima facie right to life by wrongfully endangering (or taking) the lives of others.

iii) BTW, this blind moral equivalence is probably one source of the priestly abuse scandal. Treating the sexual predator and his victim as equally deserving of our mercy and sympathy.

These shootings would not have happened if the shooter did not have such easy access to firearms and ammunition.

Is that true? The perpetrator is said to be an exceptionally intelligent, scientifically trained postgraduate student. Surely he’s quite resourceful.

So religious people need to be invited to meditate on the connection between the more traditional "life issues" and the overdue need for stricter gun control. The oft-cited argument, "Guns don't kill people, people do," seems unconvincing. Of course people kill people; as people also procure abortions, decide on euthanasia and administer the death penalty.

What overlooks the obvious fact that guns save lives as well as take lives.

The Christian outlook on this of course has less to do with self-defense and more to do with the defense of the other person. Jesus asks us to love our enemies, not to murder them; to pray for them, not to take vengeance; and he commends the peacemakers among us, not those advocating for more and more and more weapons.

i) Protecting the innocent isn’t vengeance.

ii) Jesus also said Christians have a duty to provide for their family. For instance, when the Pharisees gave Jews a loophole to avoid supporting their indigent parents, Jesus said that violated their solemn duty to honor their parents.

Well, if failing to provide financial support for your indigent parents breaks the commandment, then a fortiori, failing to protect them against a rapist, mugger, or murderer qualifies. And that surely applies to other dependents.

iii) Lethal force in self-defense, or to protect the innocent, isn’t “murder.” The priest is subverting fundamental principles of justice and morality.

iv) If I protect an old woman from a mugger, the mugger is her enemy, not mine.

Was Jesus naïve? I wonder about that. I often marvel how some Christians can say that in one breath, and proclaim him as the Son of God in the next. Apparently, some believe that the Second Person of the Trinity didn't know what he was talking about.

That’s just a defamatory and demagogical strawman argument.

But Jesus lived in a violent time himself, under the heel of Roman rule in an occupied land, when human life was seen as cheap. Jesus witnessed violence and was himself the victim of violence--the most famous person to suffer the death penalty. It was not only divine inspiration but also human experience that led him to say: Blessed are the peacemakers.

Unilateral disarmament wouldn’t save lives. To the contrary, that’s an act of mass suicide. An open invitation to the criminal element to wreak untold mayhem and bloodshed on the defenseless.

This is one more reason not to be Catholic. The church of Rome can’t provide basic moral guidance on an issue this basic. Indeed, it is giving the wrong advice.

We Need Tighter Automobile Laws

Today, there was a terrible automobile accident in Texas killing more individuals than the movie massacre, certainly do to carelessness. But there is not much political cash-value in it for liberal media outlets, so don't expect round-the-clock coverage:

To be honest, I am bored of the coverage of the movie theater massacre. Don't get me wrong, it is a tragedy, people died, and I believe it could have been prevented. But the media is only still covering it because it seeks to milk this story for its ratings, as well as liberal politics. So go tune into TMZ if you want to continue to be stimulated by this non-story story.

News used to be about how it affected your life, now it is about other people's lives.

Arminian jerks and knee-jerks

I’m going to comment on this post:

In the wake of the disaster at the Cineplex in Aurora Colorado it really is time for us to rethink entirely our gun (and ammo) control laws. Colorado has one of the most lax gun control laws in the country, in fact in the world.

I do not think it is any accident that both the Columbine killings and the Aurora killings took place in Colorado, which, as I have said, has some of the most lax gun control laws anywhere.

i) But BW3 is a pacifist. For instance:

So, in principle, he doesn’t even think the police should have guns. But if private citizens don’t have guns, or the police, or the FBI, or US soldiers, then by process of elimination, it’s only the criminal element that's packing heat.

Mind you, BW3 waffles a bit on this issue, but that illustrates his inability to stay consistent with his pacifist principles.

So he’s not laying his cards on the table. This isn’t about assault rifles or gun control. This is about total unilateral disarmament.

ii) Moreover, from what we’ve been told thus far, the shooter is a brilliant science student. Given his high IQ and scientific training, it seems to me that gun laws would be ineffective against someone like him. Someone that smart and knowledgeable can surely figure out a way to get around the law. Indeed, he might well enjoy the challenge. Someone that smart and knowledgeable could build his own weaponry.

He seems to be a Unabomber type. A brilliant sociopath. Laws can't stop a criminal genius. They are much too clever.

This illogic is dazzling. First of all, guns aren’t pencils. I’ve never heard of death by pencil. We don’t need pencil control laws because they are not that dangerous.

Although this is a side issue, as a matter of fact it doesn’t take much imagination to appreciate how a sharpened pencil could be a deadly weapon. Just plunge it into someone’s neck (e.g. carotid artery) and see what happens.

Being shot by a gun is another matter. The more dangerous the object the more legal control of it is necessary.

It’s true that guns are more dangerous than pencils. But that cuts both ways. They can be used for defense as well as offense. Guns are the greater leveler. What about a woman who carries a revolver in her purse (or on her nightstand) to protect herself against her stalker ex boyfriend?

There is a reason you can’t by a heat-seeking missile at Wal-Mart. The point is that guns can even accidentally be the instruments of death…. like when a child picks up a loaded gun left around in a home and shoots his sister.

A kitchen is a very dangerous place for kids. Lots of hazardous cutlery. Not to mention the blender, Cuisinart, oven, stove, tea kettle, garbage disposal, or cleaning agents under the sink. 


If you live in a crime-ridden neighborhood, you have good reason to fear what might happen in case you don’t have a gun. Not everyone can afford to live in a gated community with private security on call 24/7.

Likewise, BW3’s own reactionary position is driven by fear. Fear of what might happen if guns fall into the wrong hands.

I am entirely with you on that Zalo. It hardly makes much sense. The problem runs deep, and is partly caused by: 1) the superficial Biblical understanding of many Christians, and the even more superficial understanding of Jesus’ core teachings and their implications, and 2) the syncretism or sad amalgamation of American values with Christian values, as if there was never any contradiction or tension between the two. BW3

Let’s compare that claim with this man’s résumé:

Bob Hubbard joined the NPTS faculty in 1995 after teaching at Denver Seminary from 1976-1995. He served as an active duty chaplain in the U.S. Navy for four years and chaplain in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1974 to 2000. He is author of The Book of Ruth: New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 1988), which received the Christianity Today Critics Choice Award as the best commentary of 1989. He is also author and co-author of numerous other books and serves as general editor of several commentary series.

Professor Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. has served North Park Theological Seminary as Professor of Biblical Literature since 1995. Previously he taught at Denver Seminary in Colorado. He is a graduate of Wheaton College, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Claremont Graduate University (Ph.D.). He holds ordination in the Evangelical Free Church of America and is a retired chaplain in the Naval Reserve. He is author of The Book of Ruth (NICOT; Eerdmans, 1988) and co-authored Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Word; 2nd. ed., 2004) with William Klein and Craig Blomberg. He currently is general editor of the New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Eerdmans). His work on the Book of Joshua for the NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan) will appear in April, 2009.

I guess Prof. Hubbard must have a superficial understanding of the Bible,