Saturday, August 18, 2012

Obamacare Mandate: Sterilize 15-Year-Old Girls for Free--Without Parental Consent

Atheists at prayer

Atheists routinely attempt to skewer the efficacy of prayer. However, there’s another side to this issue that doesn’t receive the same attention:

In January 2004 the independent opinion research company ICM conducted a survey of 10,000 people in 10 different nations for the BBC programme What the World Thinks of God.

The countries surveyed were the USA, UK, Israel, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Nigeria, Russia, Mexico and Lebanon.

The poll did reveal however that nearly 30% of all atheists polled admitted they prayed sometimes.

I suspect this figure underreports the percentage of atheists who sometimes pray. After all, if a pollster asks you about your religious affiliation, and you tell him you’re an atheist, then you have a disincentive to admit in the very same poll that you pray. That’s obviously inconsistent. An admitted atheist who says he sometimes prays is going to lose face. So he’s motivated to keep up appearances by denying that he ever prays, even if his denial is false.

Although a praying atheist is clearly incongruous, it’s not surprising. First of all, it tells you that a lot of atheists are not as confident about their atheism as they advertise.

Moreover, unbelievers have the same emotional makeup as believers. The same hopes and fears, needs and yearnings. Yet, they, like the rest of us, have the least control over what they most cherish. For all their pride and boasted self-sufficiency, they know very well how helpless they often are. How vulnerable they and their loved ones are. They get desperate, too. They despair.

Furthermore, they can pray in private. Their lapses from the gospel of godlessness go undetected.

A $4.5 million jury award for “anti-gay” blog comments

A jury on Thursday awarded a gay University of Michigan student body president $4.5 million in his lawsuit against a former Michigan assistant attorney general who posted about him in an anti-gay blog.

The U.S. District Court jury ruled in favor of Christopher Armstrong, who claimed he suffered distress after a blog created by Andrew Shirvell accused him of enticing minors with alcohol and recruiting people to become homosexual...

Shirvell, who was representing himself, said the jury award was "grossly excessive" for what was "clearly protected speech ... and activity."

Following one man over the cliff

It’s remarkable to think that when you dig down to bedrock, Islam is founded on the self-testimony of a single man. Muhammad’s claim that God spoke to him through the angel Gabriel. That’s it. The angel Gabriel supposedly appeared to him and spoke to him. That’s what it all comes down to.

Now, I have no objection, in principle, to divine revelation via angelic apparition. But Islam comes down to one man’s self-witness to his religious experience. Hundreds of millions of Muslims are counting on one man’s credibility. Hundreds of millions of Muslims have staked their eternal destiny on one man’s testimony. That’s all they have to go on. That’s all there ever was. Muhammad’s bare claim that an angel spoke to him. That singular conduit.

At the end of the day, Islam is one man wide, one man deep. The case for Islam is only as good as one man’s self character witness. Hundreds of millions of followers following that one man. Just one man. One man’s alleged experience. Nothing more. No one else.

I wonder if hell for Mormons and Muslims includes a vivid instant replay of what really happened to Muhammad or Joseph Smith. Will they get to see for themselves what actually did–or more to the point, what didn’t–take place?

Is prayer redundant?

Over at the Secular Outpost, Jeff Lowder reposed an alleged dilemma involving the futility or the redundancy of prayer:

Why does Jeff imagine that that’s a trenchant critique of prayer? If the “something” we pray for is in God’s plan, how does that render prayer “redundant”?

If what we pray for is in God’s plan, then his plan didn't begin and end with what we pray for. Rather, his plan includes our prayer as well as his answer. The whole package is part of God’s plan. Jeff is artificially isolating what we pray for from the rest of God’s plan. But being planned, all of the interrelated elements of the plan are carefully coordinated. Jeff is confusing a planned outcome with fatalism. But that's fallacious.

To take a comparison: suppose I plan to give my son a present. Indeed, I know ahead of time what he intends to ask for. Still, I’m will wait for him to ask me before I give him the present. It’s important that the request comes from him. I don’t give him the present apart from his request. It’s important to involve him in the process to some degree. If I do everything for him, if he’s passive from start to finish, then the gift will mean less to him. He needs to think through what he needs and wants. Express himself. Exercise a bit of initiative.

Jeff has been an atheist for at least 20 years. And he’s had more ongoing interaction with Christians than many atheists. So it’s striking that he has such a philosophically and theologically simplistic, superficial grasp of prayer.

Queen of Heaven

Angels and Demons is periodically rerun on TV. The plot involves a preposterous conspiracy theory (although it got a pass from both the USCCB and L’Osservatore Romano), but it’s fairly accurate in depicting the physical trappings of a conclave.

Watching the solemn procession of elderly becostumed cardinals–which we’ve also seen in real life (most recently with the death of John-Paul II and the election of his successor), I couldn’t help considering the irony of the situation: what if lay Catholic apologists are zealously defending a church run by a cabal of old closeted queens? Imagine the “Divine Teaching Office” of the One True Church® in the hands of geriatric homosexuals in vestments? Lends new meaning to the phrase Queen of Heaven. Vatican City on the outside, San Francisco on the inside. What a racket!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Does the Church of Rome present a united front?

Pray with heart and mind

Paul Helm recently did a helpful post on petitionary prayer:

I’d like to augment something he said. Because God is omniscient, it’s true that when we pray for someone or something, we don’t have to inform God or convince God. However, I think there’s some value in prayers that explain our request, not merely state our request.

Here I’d draw a distinction between short-term and long-term prayers. In Christian life there are various topical concerns that crop up. These will resolve themselves one way or another in a short time.

In contrast, some petitions are a long-term investment. Praying for the salvation for a friend or relative. This may go on for years. Indeed, it may last a lifetime.

I think in long-term petitions there’s more value in reasoning with God. The process of explaining to God why we want something isn’t for God’s benefit, but our own. It’s an occasion to take stock of our priorities. Reflect on what makes this petition important. What is there to gain? What is there to lose? 

How much does this mean to us? Why does it mean so much to us? Does it mean too much to us? Or should it mean even more to us?

It’s an exercise in spiritual self-examination. Why do we care? What makes life worthwhile–for our loved ones and ourselves? What does life distill down to? What can we take with us? What should we take with us?

There are some things we pray for out of duty, but other things we pray for out of affection. Both petitions can be legitimate.

In addition, our prayers may evolve over the course of a lifetime. God puts us in circumstances that change us. Change our perspective. Things we thought were good at the time may see less good in retrospect. Things we thought were bad at the time may seem better in retrospect.

As life wears on we ought to become more aware of how vulnerable we are. How dependent we are on God. How utterly lost we’d be, even in this life, without God’s word, grace, and providence.

Among other things, prayer is a way we remind ourselves of what ultimately matters. Life is a winnowing process. Things we leave behind which we’re grateful to put behind us, as well as things we miss. We can plow the aging process into our prayer life. S

o there’s a value in explaining our petitions to God, not because he doesn’t already know what we need better than we do, and not because we can cajole God through our powers of persuasion, but because it’s a way of thinking aloud and thinking through, not merely what we want, but why we want it, or whether we should.

Here we stand.

Turretinfan and James Swan recently tag-teamed the saying that justification is the article upon which the Protestant Reformation stands or falls.

T-Fan, for example, cites the Smalcald Articles (an early Lutheran confessions) to the effect that:

nothing can be yielded or surrendered [nor can anything be granted or permitted contrary to the same], even though heaven and earth, and whatever will not abide, should sink to ruin. For there is none other name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved, says Peter, Acts 4:12. And with His stripes we are healed, Is. 53:5. And upon this article all things depend which we teach and practice in opposition to the Pope, the devil, and the [whole] world. Therefore, we must be sure concerning this doctrine, and not doubt; for otherwise all is lost, and the Pope and devil and all things gain the victory and suit over us.

Steve recently called attention to the fact that Bryan Cross has crossed over into a foreign land when he decided to bring up the doctrine of justification on a confessional Presbyterian discussion board:

Bryan Cross normally plays it safe by taking refuge in the never-never land of hypotheticals. “Can’t catch me!” However, this time around he slipped up. He's drawn Lane Keister into a debate over justification. Even as a general proposition, whenever the issue turns to exegesis, Pastor Lane can run circles around Bryan. But it gets worse for Bryan. Pastor Lane has become a specialist on the doctrine of justification. This is going to end very badly for Bryan:

One result of this has become evident, and I’ve used something else that Steve said to draw attention to the flip-flopping and dilemma that Bryan and his called-to-confusion crowd have gotten themselves into:

Bryan #9, you have a problem.

I keep asking you, “how do you know what ‘the Church that Christ Founded’ looked like?” And of course, you keep ignoring the question.

The obvious response at that point would be for you to say, “we look at Scripture. The New Testament offers the best source of information about what the earliest Christian church was like”.

When Protestants argue directly from Scripture and the church fathers to rebut the claims of Rome, you say that’s not allowed: it’s “question-begging” because our interpretations of the historical evidence are paradigm-dependent – dependent on “sola Scriptura”.

But if you are going to go that route in response to Protestant critics, to disallow Scriptural and historical evidence, then you have engaged in a double standard now in lodging evidentiary appeals to Scripture regarding Justification. In invoking the Greek of Galatians, you have taken your “interpretive paradigm” off the table, and have now, in effect, begun to argue “sola Scriptura” in favor of your view of justification. Interesting twist.

This is a dilemma that you have created for yourself: Until now, you won’t discuss the [lack of] biblical and historical evidence of the early papacy, but here, now, you have just brought this type of evidence back onto the table.

If you can cite direct evidence in favor of your view of justification, and I don’t have any doubts that the Greek scholars on this site are more than up to the task of addressing you on this issue, then you certainly must also cite your direct evidence for the papacy, as and you have now committed yourself to interact with our direct counterevidence.

Now that they’ve tossed their “Catholic IP” aside, the smokescreen behind which they have typically hidden to avoid inconvenient historical facts, they are rolling in the mud, so to speak, and having to deal with real evidence.

They have taken themselves out from behind the smokescreen, and into an exegetical and historical discussion they are bound to lose.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Prayer & groaning

From Paul Helm.

Martial law?

OPSEC blasts Obama

Bryan Cross: Fingerpainting your way through church history

Bryan helpfully said:

We identify the true Church by going back to Jesus. We know that Jesus founded a Church. Now the key is to keep your finger on that thing that Jesus founded, and move forward through history, century by century, until you reach the present day. Don't go quickly. Read the writings of the fathers of the first century, then the second century, and then third century, and then the fourth century, and then the fifth century. Now, whenever there is a schism, you have to determine which is the split off (at least in some respect), and which is the continuation of the Church that Christ founded. How did the fathers determine which is the continuation of the Church Christ founded, and which is the schism from that Church? Notice the roles of the Ecumenical Councils. Notice also the role of the Pope in the authority of the Ecumenical Councils. (I'm not trying to be patronizing in this paragraph -- I'm simply laying out how I think the true Church is to be found. I'd be interested in how you agree/disagree with that general methodology, and where in history our 'fingers' part ways, so to speak, and at that very point where our fingers part ways, why your finger goes away from mine.)

A question for Bryan Cross: How do you "go back to Jesus"? Where is that "Church that Christ founded" to be found?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

This priest was pastor of the church I attended for years

We found the story linked here because there was another story about him on the 11:00 news tonight.

He was the "administrator" of the parish, while the previous priest of the parish, Rev John Wellinger, was removed from the priesthood in 2003, based on accusations in 1995, for abuse in the late 1980's. Wellinger performed the marriage ceremony for my wife and me.

So Rev. Valentine was the "safe" guy. He had been a chaplain in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Together, these two men baptized all of my six children.

A Big Bang Theory of Homo

Sleeping with the enemy

Unused brain for sale

Keith Parsons

We have a student at my university who is a young Christian woman who was born in Pakistan. She was still living in Pakistan as a teenager and was working in a small shop when a man entered the shop and noticed that she was wearing a cross. He began to furiously berate her and accused her of insulting Islam. He stormed out and came back in a few minutes with an accomplice. They proceeded to douse her with battery acid, which burned down to the bone in many places. She now lives in this country, and, though having had to endure many reconstructive surgeries; she is accomplishing a great deal and exudes optimism.

What a shame, then, that this country, with its remarkable traditions of tolerance, still has people whose attitudes are hardly different from thugs who throw acid in a young girl's face because she is a Christian. The brainless bigotry displayed by the Islamophobes in Tennessee shows that the recrudescence of religious hatred is always a threat, even in a society founded on Enlightenment ideals of tolerance. Fanatics in Pakistan can point to Murfreesboro, TN to justify their own attitudes.

Keith Parsons is a philosophy prof. Here’s his educational background:

Ph.D., History and Philosophy of Science, The University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Ph.D., Philosophy, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
M.A., Philosophy, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA
Master of Theological Studies, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia; awarded cum laude
B.A., Religion and Philosophy, Berry College, Rome, Georgia; awarded magna cum laude

Impressive, huh? You’d think a philosophy prof. with two masters and two doctorates would be pretty smart. Maybe he is. But he certainly illustrates the difference between wisdom and IQ–not to mention the difference between being highly educated and well educated.

In the first paragraph he describes two Muslim men who douse a Christian woman with battery acid. And this is typical. Islam is contemptuous of women and Christians alike.

Notice, moreover, nothing was said about their being prosecuted. Pakistan is a Muslim country. Indeed, that’s Pakistan’s raison d’être. You can get away with that in Pakistan.

So the victim moves to America. Why do you think she migrated to America? I think it’s safe to say she came here to get away from Muslims. To seek asylum in a country where she doesn’t have to face the persecution that left her maimed for life in Pakistan.

So what is Parsons’s take? He rallies to the defense of Muslim-Americans! But isn’t that the very thing she was trying to escape? 

Do we really want to turn pockets of America into Little Islamabad or Little Mogadishu? Do we really want to transplant that culture to American soil?

Why is Parsons so thick-headed that he can’t see the glaring incongruity of his criticism? His atheism has lobotomized his common sense.

RR Returns

The Morbid Martyrdom of Ignatius of Antioch

Philip Schaff (1858): “But although he was a man of apostolic character, and governed the church with great care, he was personally not satisfied, until he could be counted worthy of sealing is testimony with his blood, and thereby attaining to the highest seat of honor. The coveted crown came to him at last, and his eager and morbid desire for martyrdom was gratified.”

Henry Chadwick (Oxford/Cambridge, 1967): “… the conviction that martyrdom granted immediate admission to paradise and conferred a victor’s crown, combined with a somber evaluation of the Roman empire as a political institution, led to a tendency towards acts of provocation on the part of over-enthusiastic believers … Hotheads who provoked the authorities were soon censured by the church as mere suicides deserving no recognition. As, from the middle of the third century onwards, the private commemorations of the martyrs began to pass into the official and public liturgy of the church, control had to be exercised and the claims of an individual martyr were subjected to examination and scrutiny. Even so there were difficulties, mainly because there were different interpretations of what constituted provocation. Ignatius of Antioch, martyred at Rome before AD 117, was a man of intense devotion; his warnings that the influential Roman Christians should not try to obtain his release so as to deprive him of suffering in union with his Lord, could easily pass into an attitude that would appear provocative to a magistrate. His friend Polycarp, … was held up as a model on the specific ground that he did nothing to provoke the authorities but quietly waited for them to come and arrest him.”

Paul Johnson, Catholic Historian (1972): “Ignatius, martyred at Rome around 117, begged his influential friends not to intervene and deprive him of suffering in the Lord; this attitude would have been regarded as heretical later in the century, when the saintly Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, set the pattern by doing nothing to provoke the authorities. The Church would not compromise on the matter of emperor-worship or the divinity of Christ, but otherwise it did not look for trouble.”

To Jason Stellman: “Time to Go Dark…”

Just in case you didn't see it over at Old Life, Dr Alan Strange writes:

Given the kind of interchanges that Jason had over at CTC and given where he is now headed (not yet in the RCC, as I understand it), it would seem to me that it would behoove Jason to be a bit quieter about these things. It seemed on his blog–”Creed Code Cult”–that he might be heading in that direction when he wrote two months ago (in June), that it was “time to go dark” and to “fade to black.” I realize that he meant that specifically with respect to his aforementioned blog, but it seems like a good general principle, if I may say so sincerely and without rancor.

Jason, you’ve been trained as and have been a Presbyterian minister. You’ve publicly defended the Reformed faith and have questioned Rome, to which you’ve now gone over. Does it not become you, at least for now, to retire from the public eye? If you’ve come to regard what you formerly taught as in error, should you now immediately become the teacher of the opposite (though not appointed in any way by the magisterium that you have come to revere)? While the folk at CTC appear as self-appointed, in typical American religious fashion, you especially should not be over-eager to become a spokesman for what you so recently openly opposed.

I suppose that there is no way to soften my view any further, but I think it unseemly for you to be doing what you are now doing. Perhaps no one else thinks it improper for former Presbyterian ministers to become aggressive apologists for Rome while barely having arrived there, but I do. Your flip-flop and open advocacy of a church in which you hold no teaching office, over against the doctrines of one in which you did, seems out of place and a bit like whistling in the dark, as if trying to convince yourself by talking to us. Jason, I don’t know you personally, but thank God for the evident gifts that He has given you and urge you to think about backing off your forceful internet advocacy of something that you’ve scarcely embraced and arguing against that tradition of which you were so recently a minister.

Jason Stellman Forgets Who God Is

Jason Stellman said:

After all, what is God by his very nature? Not a judge, not a creator, but a Father. And what do fathers do? They beget sons and daughters, reproducing their own image in their offspring.

Darrell Hart responded

… your math gets ahead of you when you say that God is by his “very” nature Father. Is that all the persons or just the father? What about saying God is essentially son or spirit? And when you mention spirit you may recall the Shorter Catechism on the attributes of God which don’t mention father as an attribute but do mention holiness and righteousness.

But what kind of father do you think God is? One slip in the garden and he casts his children out of paradise. Sorry but the forensic makes a whole lot more sense of Christ’s passion and God’s love than does your view of God as the ur-breeder. A son without law is a bastard. A father who doesn’t set rules and punish his children is an absentee parent.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What does the Secular Outpost stand for?

New Mosque opens in Dogpatch
Posted by Keith Parsons . . at 8/14/2012 07:59:00 AM
I see that after much opposition, including vandalism and arson--committed by "good Christians" I'm sure--a new mosque has finally opened in Dogpatch, er, Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

How does Parsons know that the acts of arson and vandalism were perpetrated by Christians, much less “good Christians”? He refers the reader to this following article:

However, all the article says is:

Since then they have had to deal with public protests, vandalism, arson of a construction vehicle and a bomb threat.

Unless I’m missing something, the article says nothing about the identity of the perps. Doesn’t say if any perp was apprehended, much less convicted. Doesn’t say anything about the religious affiliation of the alleged perps. So where his Parsons getting his information?

Parsons goes on to say:

The article notes that the ambient idiots did hire some lawyers (I guess they paid them with chickens and jugs of moonshine).

Once again, what makes him think Murfreesboro is populated by hillbillies? Here are some stats:

Doesn’t sound like a shack in Appalachia.

What are the editorial standards for the Secular Outpost? Why does Jeff Lowder tolerate this blatant bigotry from one of his contributors?

Jesus Tradition in Paul

Hurtado on mythicists

The Secular Guttermost

New Mosque opens in Dogpatch
Posted by Keith Parsons . . at 8/14/2012 07:59:00 AM
I see that after much opposition, including vandalism and arson--committed by "good Christians" I'm sure--a new mosque has finally opened in Dogpatch, er, Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The article notes that the ambient idiots did hire some lawyers (I guess they paid them with chickens and jugs of moonshine).

It’s always revealing to see what counts as acceptable prejudice among those who pride themselves on their superior enlightenment. Notice how Parsons indulges in the crudest knee-jerk stereotyping of Southerners. Imagine if he did that to blacks, Jews, or Latinos. but it’s okay to be a bigot as long as you’re an atheist bigot.   

BTW, why is the Secular Outpost so often running interference for Islam? Why does the Secular Outpost routinely attack Christians and routinely defend Muslims? Atheism takes a backseat to fawning political correctness. 

Baptists, John the Baptist, and the two kingdoms

Both the Chic-fil-a kerfuffle and the campaign season generally raise the question of Christian political activism. Among some Baptists, as well as Presbyterians of the 2k variety, Christian political activism is often frowned upon. In that vein, here’s a striking comparison:

3For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, 4 because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her” (Mt 14:3-4).

Here John the Baptist speaks out against the sexual immorality of a public figure. A powerful politician.

Wellhausen's letter of resignation

Wellhausen has a deservedly negative reputation among Bible-believing Christians. But to his credit, he had more integrity than many liberals like Peter Enns. Here’s his letter of resignation (widely circulated on the internet):

I became a theologian because the scientific treatment of the Bible interested me; only gradually did I come to understand that a professor of theology also has the practical task of preparing the students for service in the Protestant Church, and that I am not adequate to this practical task, but that instead despite all caution on my own part I make my hearers unfit for their office. Since then my theological professorship has been weighing heavily on my conscience.

A little perspective

On the one hand

The God Delusion
Richard Dawkins

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

    #9 in Books > Religion & Spirituality > Spirituality > Atheism
    #68 in Books > Science & Math > History & Philosophy

As of January 2010, the English version of The God Delusion had sold over 2 million copies. It was ranked No.2 on the bestsellers' list in November 2006. In early December 2006, it reached No.4 in the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Best Seller list after nine weeks on the list. It remained on the list for 51 weeks until 30 September 2007. The German version, entitled Der Gotteswahn, had sold over 260,000 copies as of 28 January 2010.

On the other hand

Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #456 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

    #8 in Movies & TV > DVD > Romance
    #11 in Movies & TV > DVD > Fantasy
    #27 in Movies & TV > DVD > Action & Adventure

Twilight was theatrically released on November 21, 2008, grossing over US$392 million worldwide. It was released on DVD March 21, 2009, and became the most purchased DVD of the year.

Twilight grossed over $7 million in ticket sales from midnight showings alone on November 21, 2008. The film is fifth overall on online ticket service Fandango's list of top advance ticket sales, outranked only by its sequel the following year, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009). It grossed $35.7 million on its opening day. For its opening weekend in the United States and Canada, Twilight accumulated $69.6 million from 3,419 theaters at an average of $20,368 per theater. The film grossed $192,769,854 in the United States and Canada, and $199,846,771 in international territories for a total of $392,616,625. Its opening weekend gross was the highest ever of a female-directed film, surpassing that of Deep Impact (1998).

But what if it really did happen that way?

Hume notoriously argued that a naturalistic explanation is always preferable to a supernaturalistic explanation. Carl Sagan popularized Hume’s position in the slogan that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Bart Ehrman says that “by definition,” a miracle is the least likely explanation for a historical event. You also have atheists who attempt to deploy Bayesean probability theory to show that the prior probability of a miracle is so low that, practically speaking, no evidence can overcome the crushing presumption of its nonoccurrence.

The problem with all these related postures is the starting point. Suppose God really did call Abraham out of Ur? Suppose Christ really did change water into wine? Suppose the Father really did raise Jesus from the dead?

In sum, what if a reported miracle did happen? Then what?

The atheist can’t admit that something which happened…happened. Even if a miracle did, in fact, occur, I will never accept it! No matter what happened, I’m going to say in advance that I refuse to believe it!

But how is that reasonable? How is it reasonable to stake out a position that won’t allow you to acknowledge reality? Isn’t that the definition of a delusion? No matter what’s actually the case, you’re not prepared to believe it?

Shouldn’t we be open to the occurrence of something that occurred? It’s not something you’re in a position to rule out in advance of the fact. If you already knew that, you wouldn’t have to play the odds in the first place. That’s just a guess.

Is it not more reasonable to take as our starting point that if something occurs, we should acknowledge its occurrence? Shouldn’t probability theory defer to reality? Shouldn’t our starting point make room to let the real world inside?

In it’s approach to miracles, atheism seals itself off from acknowledging miracles even if they truly happen. But a position that’s so internalized, so closed in on itself, that it refuses to admit that something which happened…happened–is irrational and evasive. Atheists stick their fingers in their ears to avoid hearing an unwelcome truth.

Moreover, we only know what’s likely to happen by observing the kinds of things that happen. That’s not something we can know ahead of time. If a miracle happens, then that’s the kind of thing that happens. It would be viciously circular to assert that a reported miracle didn’t happen because events like that don’t happen.

Furthermore, personal agency affects predictability. It’s naturally improbable that orange trees grow in evenly spaced rows. But it’s not improbable if a gardener planted the orchard.

The Letter of Ignatius to the Church at Rome

I posted these selections from Ignatius’s letter to the Romans at Old Life yesterday, and again in comments at Green Baggins. There, Lane Keister said, “Neither side, therefore, can gain much fodder for their arguments”, but I think there is more to it than that. I think a closer reading of Ignatius, and an understanding of where he was going, what he was doing, and whom he was interacting with, provide some important clues as to why the second century church developed its “early catholic” flavor.

On the other hand, according to the Orthodox writer John Behr, “Ignatius goes far beyond the other writers of his period in exalting the role of the apostles.” It is important to understand this disjunction: “Ignatius repeatedly states that as a bishop he, unlike the apostles, is not in a position to give orders or to lay down the precepts or the teachings (δόγματα), which come from the Lord and the apostles alone (cf. Magnesians 13; Romans 4:3; Ephesians 3:1 etc.)”. According to Oscar Cullmann, this is part of the beginning of the end of the reliance on “oral tradition”, and the understanding of the need to further compile a canon of the New Testament.

According to Michael Kruger, “it is clear that Ignatius knows, and assumes his readers already know, about some collection of Paul’s letters”. He expressly mentions 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and 1 and 2 Timothy. “He also appears to know Romans, Philippians, and Galaians”, which “suggests that his Pauline letter collection might have been quite extensive” (Canon Revisited, pgs 214-215).

As for this letter to the church at Rome, Ignatius is, according to Adrian Fortescue (who gives what he claims to be that “Scriptural and historical argument for the papacy” that Lane had been looking for, and that Bryan Cross never provided), Ignatius’s mention of Rome, “presiding over love” (1:4) is one of the cornerstones of “Roman” primacy.

So while Rome’s “bishop” is not in view at all, the political connections of the church at Rome are repeatedly in view; this (rather than any other reason) is why the church at Rome “presides over love”. It is Rome’s role as “the capital of the empire” that gives them status, and for Ignatius, their ability to spare him from martyrdom, through their political connections, is the “love” in which they are presiding.

These selections are from the Michael Holmes translation:

1.1 For I am afraid of your love, in that it may do me wrong; for it is easy for you to do what you want, but it is difficult for me to reach God, unless you spare me. [There's that "love" that is, through its political connections, going to either save his life, or, if it holds its tongue, and fails to pull its political strings, along with Christ, going to be "bishop" of Antioch in his absence. So the place of love," has a reference to Rome's political connections.]

2.1 For I will never again have an opportunity such as this to reach God, nor can you, if you remain silent, be credited with a greater accomplishment. For if you remain silent and leave me alone, I will be a word of God, but if you love my flesh [and spare my life], then I will again be a mere voice. [There's Roman "love" again.]

2.2 Grant me nothing more than to be poured out as an offering to God while there is still an altar ready, so that in love you may form a chorus and sing to the Father in Jesus Christ, because God has judged the bishop from Syria worthy to be found in the west, having summoned from the east.

3.1-2 You have never envied anyone; you taught others. [Many believe this is a reference to 1 Clement.] And my wish is that those instructions that you issue when teaching disciples will remain in force. Just pray that I will have strength both outwardly and inwardly so that I may not just talk about it but want to do it, so that I may not merely be called a Christian but actually prove to be one. [That is, "teach self-sacrifice," and in doing so, "my death will confirm your "teaching" "in force"?]

3.3 Nothing that is visible is good. [Did Ignatius believe in a “visible church” with a visible hierarchy? It seems not] “For our God Jesus Christ is more visible now that he is in the Father. The work is not a matter of persuasive rhetoric ; rather, Christianity is greatest when it is hated by the world.”

4.1 I am writing to all the churches and insisting to everyone that I die for God of my own free will–unless you hinder me [through your political connections]. I implore you; do not be unseasonably kind to me. Let me be food for the wild beasts; through whom I can reach God.

4.3 I do not give you orders like Peter and Paul: they were apostles, I am a convict; they were free, but I am even now still a slave. [It is important to note that here, as in other places, Ignatius does not see any kind of "succession" of apostolic authority. He acknowledges himself -- he has repeatedly said he is a bishop -- to be far, far less, in every way, than Peter and Paul.]

6.1 It is better for me to die for Jesus Christ than to rule over the ends of the earth. [Of course, the Roman government currently rules over the ends of the earth.]

6.2 Bear with me brothers and sisters: do not keep me from living; do not desire my death. Do not give to the world one who wants to belong to God or tempt him with material things.

7.1 The ruler of this age wants to take me captive and corrupt my godly intentions. Therefore none of you who are present must help him. [That is, you at Rome are eminently capable of doing the wrong thing.]

In this letter to the church at Rome, does Ignatius see even a bishop, much less someone who might be “the chief bishop, primate, and leader of the whole Church of Christ on earth?

When a bishop is mentioned here, that bishop is Christ (9.1). And the “love” of the Romans involves political connections that could either spare him the martyrdom he so desires, or confirm it.

When a “visible church” is in view, “nothing that is visible is good.” When “teaching” is in view, he fears the Romans will teach wrongly. When “apostles” are in view, there is no succession, but a great gulf between apostle and bishop.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Hitchens' irreligion

These consumer reviews at Amazon raise the question of whether Hitchens’ irreligion had an emotional source of origin in boyhood trauma and adolescent rebellion. 

4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating life March 24, 2010
By CGScammell TOP 500 REVIEWER

It's really quite fascinating that Christopher Hitchens had as normal a life as he had considering all the events he experienced early in life. He starts his memoir with the suicide-homicide of his mother and her lover in the first chapter, then continues on with his commander dad. His parents alone were quite a contrasting couple that only stayed together because divorce carried such a stigma. Then he experienced boarding schools where bullying was quite common and where boys experimented with their sexuality.

Enjoyable and Enlightening Memoir by a Complex Man April 15, 2010
By A Central Illinoisian in Chicago VINE™ VOICE

What I found most enlightening about his memoir is his memories of boarding school. Many reviews and articles about Hitch 22 will focus on the Hitchens' statements about the high degree of homosexual activity that he says existed in the boarding schools he attended. His claims (which I have no logical reason to doubt) seem pretty stunning to me, a small town boy from the Midwest, but what I find most interesting how his perspective on religion seems to have been shaped by his schools.

Most Americans "get religion" through their families, and in my experience, see God and Church as something personal, rather than public. Hitchens on the other hand experienced religion as something that forbade the sexual experiences that he says were common in his schools (an oppressor of feeling and emotion), the presence of the State (Church of England) and "one more obligation" in his curriculum (compulsory attendance). The "hitch" however, was that while Hitchens HAD to go to Church services, his teachers could not force the students to worship or kneel. It seems intriguing that Hitchens chose to "resist" religion by not kneeling, in emulation of an older boy that he admired.

Now, I could be completely off base about this, but it seems as though Hitchens' antipathy to religion, was first established not on a mature consideration of faith and reason, but as the only available tactic for resisting the ever-present authority of the school and teachers that many of his readers will never face. Resisting religion ~may~ have been either the wellspring of what became a history of resisting authority and defying convention wisdom, or the first indication of that character he already had in him.

Ecclesiastical miracles

In 3:114-115 of the Institutes (in Dennison’s edition), Turretin has a compact critique of ecclesiastical miracles, as Bellarmine’s 11th mark of the church. There’s a lot of sound sense in his brief critique. However, it’s unduly defensive.

Turretin is, of course, attempting to deflect or debunk the Roman church’s claim to be the church of miracles. Unlike the schismatic Protestant sect, Rome is verifiably the one true church because she enjoys miraculous attestation. So goes the argument.

One problem with this claim–a problem which has become more manifest since the Reformation–is the fact that Rome doesn’t enjoy a monopoly on reported miracles. There are reported Protestant miracles as well as reported Catholic miracles. Therefore, even if we grant for the sake of argument that Catholicism enjoys prima facie miraculous evidence, the same holds true for Protestantism.

Of course, this raise the question of how to sift the credibility of reputed miracles. My immediate point, however, is that Rome no longer enjoys any advantage over Protestants in that regard. Let’s take a few illustrative examples:

i) Although I haven’t researched the issue in depth, in Scottish church history, during the “Killing Times,” there were reported miracles involving the Covenanters.

ii) George Müller was famous for miraculous answers to prayer in support of his orphanage.

iii) Pioneering Chinese missionaries like John Sung and Pastor Hsi were renowned for their reputed miracles.

iv) Both in his letters as well as his Magnalia Christi Americana, Cotton Mather carefully documents area miracles.

v) Most notably, Pentecostalism has spawned a vast cache of reported miracles.

vi) Finally, we have Craig Keener’s magisterial survey of miracles, past and present, which is quite ecumenical in scope.

My point is not to vouch for any particular claim, but just to make the fairly obvious observation that this fixture of the traditional apologetic for Roman Catholicism now backfires. We can call your reputed miracles and raise you.

The Bohr-Einstein debates

The Roman Catholic reliance on anachronism

Andrew Preslar said:

You did not address Sobrino’s main criticism of Brown, Sullivan, Duffy, et al, which is their anachronistic definition of the term “bishop,” which confuses that which is accidental to the office with that which is essential, so to conclude that there were no bishops in the first century church.

Your use of the word "anachronism" would be funny if I didn't know how seriously you take all this. I certainly did address it, in the grammatical-historical way.

Aside from that, how in the world do you know what was "essential" to the office of bishop in the first century? I sincerely want to hear it from you. Because you can't know this except for two things: 1. a study of the history and linguistics, or 2. a ride in Bryan's magic phone booth. I'm convinced that for you, it's the latter.

And of course, you are here in all seriousness, reporting your fiction as if it were 100% historical fact.

This is a cautionary warning for any Reformed folks who may not be aware of this type of anachronistic usage among Andrew and his friends. Roman Catholics generally, but CTC folks particularly, are guilty of using contemporary concepts [for example, "that which is essential" to the bishop's office], and simply assuming that today's meaning of the word in Roman dogma was "in essence" the same as it was in the first century.

And here is the secret to their success: gullible people believe them.

It could have been that Peter was known to be away from Rome at the time that Paul wrote the Epistle. George Edmundson argues to that effect in The Church in Rome in the First Century, where he also argues that Peter was the first bishop of Rome.

Edmundson wrote in 1913; imagine going to a medical doctor who's most recent training was in 1913. He may get a few things right, but he's not going to be able to give you an x-ray or do a modern lab test. He has no antibiotics to prescribe.

It is remarkable that you would call Ignatius to witness while arguing against the Catholic understanding of the episcopacy.

I can do this because Ignatius doesn't mean the same thing by the word that you do; I am able to study this and know this and as a result, I do not have to be afraid of a single moment of history in the church. I do not need to look for reasons why contractictions may be "apparent" instead of "actual". I don't need to obediently submit my intellect to nonsensical, non-historical, non-Biblical dogmas like the Assumption of Mary.

I may embrace all of church history as my own.

Given Ignatius’ ecclesiology as expressed in these statements, he could not plausibly have written to a “church” in Rome that did not have episcopal leadership.

Given the unsettled leadership in Rome during those years, (evidence provided from Clement and Hermas, above, which you ignored), it doesn't surprise me at all that Ignatius didn't know who to write to over there.

Tim Troutman goes into more detail on the distinction between Orders in his article, “Holy Orders and the Sacrificial Priesthood.”

I go into more detail on the distinction between various orders in my article, Roman Bait-And-Switch on Orders.

Religious itch

No clear leadership in the first and early second century church at Rome

Andrew Preslar, regarding the Peter in Rome document, it is fascinating to see Sobrino citing Raymond Brown with such approval. I hope you did not show that article to Sean Patrick.

Nevertheless, the author takes disjointed snippets from what Brown says about the use of the words episcope and episkopos, and comes to conclusions that are very much at odds with the things that Brown actually said. And Sullivan actually cites Brown’s conclusions approvingly and pretty much verbatim, precisely to the effect that [as “most Catholic scholars agree”] that “the episcopate is the fruit of a post-New Testament development” (230).

Along the way, he makes an effort to look at “all five occurrences of episkopos, whether singular or plural, to derive a first century definition of bishop”. He says “The challenge is to compose a first century definition of a bishop, his office, and his function by considering all of these occurrences. This approach is quite different from the hyperanalytical method of much scholarly discussion. In other words, we are trying to construct a definition, not deconstruct the text into unrelated pieces.”

The problem is, there is no singular “definition” of “a bishop, his office, and his function”, neither in the New Testament, nor within the “tradition” which you cite. There are three things to consider when coming up with anything approaching a “definition of a bishop, his office, and his function”.

The first is to study the historical backgrounds of the terms. How they were used culturally. To do that, I’ve relied heavily on F.F. Bruce (“New Testament History”) and Roger Beckwith (“Elders in Every City”) to trace the backgrounds and development of “elders” (“presbyters”) and “overseers” (“bishops”) in first century Palestine, both in Jewish usage and in Christian usage. This is given here:

Elders Chairs Prologue Florilegia

Elders Teachers Chairs 1

Elders Teachers Chairs 2

Elders Teachers Chairs 3

Elders Teachers Chairs 4

New Testament Data
The New Testament data on the meaning of the word “bishop” is much broader than simply how that particular word is used. You must also take into account contexts, functions of the individuals who hold those “offices”, etc. Thus the meanings and functions of “overseers” and “elders” is interchangeable in New Testament usage, and “leadership” and “oversight” and “shepherding” are used in different ways.

Second Century Writers
This lack of a precise definition, especially in second century Rome, is clearly seen in two of the extant documents we have from that city, from that time period.

First Clement presupposes presbyterial governance:

1:3 – “submitting yourselves to your leaders (“πρεσβυτέροις”) and giving to the older men among you the honor due them…”

21:6 – “Let us respect our leaders (“πρεσβυτέρους”); let us honor the older men…”

44:5 –“Blessed are those presbyters (“πρεσβυτέροι”) who have gone on ahead …”

47:6 – “It is disgraceful … that it should be reported that the well-established and ancient church of the Corinthians … is rebelling against its presbyters (“πρεσβυτέρους”).”

54:2 – “Let the flock of Christ be at peace with its duly appointed presbyters (“πρεσβυτέρων”).”

57:1 – “You, therefore, who laid the foundation of the revolt must submit to the presbyters (“πρεσβυτέροις”).”

There is no “bishop” in the church of Corinth. It is the “presbyters” who exercise “oversight”:

42:4 “They appointed their first fruits … to be bishops (“ἐπισκοπους”) and deacons…”

44:1: “Our apostles likewise knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife over the bishop’s (“ἐπισκοπῆς”) office …”

44:4-5: “For it will be no small sin for us if we depose from the bishop’s (“ἐπισκοπῆς”) office those who have offered the gifts blamelessly and in holiness. Blessed are those presbyters (“πρεσβυτέροι”) who have gone on ahead…”

The words ἐπισκοπῆς and πρεσβυτέροι are used here interchangeably, and the presbyters (“πρεσβυτέροι”) exercise oversight (“ἐπισκοπῆ”)

Some time during the first half of the second century as well, maybe as many as 50 years later, in the “Shepherd of Hermas”, it is still presybters (“πρεσβυτέροις”) who preside (“προισταμένων”) – plural leadership) over the church (Vis 2.4)

There are more citations that I could provide, along these same lines, but these should be enough to show you the confusion, in Rome, among the concepts of “overseers”, “elders”, and “leadership”. To say that there was one “bishop” over all of this is to introduce a concept that is foreign to all these texts.

Finally, confirming this, are the two letters, spread some 50 years apart (Paul’s letter to the Romans and Ignatius’s letter to the Romans), neither of which can identify an individual who is leading the church at Rome. This is despite the fact that Paul names 23 separate people, with the intention of providing formal greetings to them, and Ignatius both identifies the concept of “bishop” and also names a number of other “bishops” in other cities.

All of these factors considered together should provide a picture of the leadership structure of the church at Rome that is totally at odds with the picture that your author (Sobrino) provides (“there could still have been the role of head bishop”).

Many years after the apostles appeared in Rome, there was confusion as to the leadership there.


Some environmentalists want to remove the O'Shaughnessy Dam:

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Moreland on Chick-fil-A

The “Spigot Paradigm” vs the “Ephesians Paradigm”

Lately it has become fashionable not to actually argue for a position. As Bryan Cross said, in order to avoid “question-begging arguments” as we “approach the task of Catholic-Protestant reconciliation, we have to step back, in a way, from in-house arguments, and attempt to understand the disagreement as paradigmatic in nature. This requires that we attempt, insofar as possible, to compare the paradigms themselves, and seek to avoid trading arguments that presuppose one paradigm or the other”.

With that said, I have a helpful paradigm for Zrim, as he seeks to have a discussion with Andrew Presslar on the topic of “why be Roman Catholic, when I can be saved as a Protestant.

Andrew Preslar said to Zrim:

If there were a greater means of participation in that life (greater than you currently make use of), and if it were ordinarily necessary for all Christians to make use of these means, and if you found that to be not enough incentive…, then you have chosen some created thing over God, and cannot be saved, so long as you persist in that choice. Additionally, for that and any other mortal sin committed after Baptism, you do not have recourse to the sacramental means appointed for forgiveness and reconciliation, which places you and all Protestants in a very dangerous situation, re eternal salvation.

From a Protestant point of view, it may be helpful to consider two different paradigms here regarding what it means to receive grace from God. Call one the spigot paradigm, and call the other the Ephesians paradigm.

Under the spigot paradigm, the Roman Catholic Church has authority over the Sacraments, which means you can only get God’s grace when an authorized official of the Roman Catholic Church opens the spigot and lets dribs and drabs of grace out. This is evidenced in the source and summit of God’s Grace in the Holy Eucharist, (to which Andrew helpfully has pointed us). However, as James White has noted, “the effect of the Mass is limited, and … a person can draw near to the Mass over and over again” and still die in mortal sin. And yet, this ineffective “re-presentation” of supposedly the “source and summit” of Christ’s grace is enough for the less-than-totally-committed Roman Catholic to have to constantly be worrying for his or her salvation.

Under the Ephesians paradigm, God, is far more generous with his grace. “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us….

So, from Zrim’s point of view, if his goal is to receive God’s grace, he’s definitely in a better position adhering to the Ephesians paradigm than the Spigot paradigm.

Excusing Sharia

One of the most novel items in recent political party platforms is in section 7.06 of the Iowa GOP platform: “We oppose any effort to implement Islamic Shariah law in this country.”

Section 7.06 of the platform, which is available online at, raises one crucial question: Why is there a need now to say that Shariah law should be opposed? Because the fear of Shariah law is part of the aftermath of 9/11, and the extension to America of the fears about the Islamization of Europe. In short, Islamophobia.

This is an example of how unscrupulous atheists can be. Avalos acts as though Islam doesn’t pose a real threat to life and liberty. Instead, he trains his guns on Christianity, pretending that Christianity is more dangerous than Islam. 

As an atheist, Avalos can’t really believe that. Not in 2012. But he cynically plays the “Islamophobia” card.

Such values, as expressed elsewhere in the platform, include being against gay marriage and abortion — just like Shariah. So shouldn’t the GOP platform be for Shariah law? Silly question, I know.

Yes, it’s a silly question inasmuch as the GOP platform doesn’t propose the same penalties.

Some of the most feared aspects of Shariah also derive almost directly from biblical values and laws.

Consider Beck’s fear about “honor killings,” which can refer to the killing of a family member who leaves Islam or departs from some crucial Muslim custom. Beck, for one, seems mystified by how family members can do this to each other. The answer may be found in Deuteronomy 13:6-11 (RSV):

If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son, or your daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, entices you secretly, saying, “Let us go and serve other gods,” which neither you nor your fathers have known …” You shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him; but you shall kill him … You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God … And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and never again do any such wickedness as this among you.

i) To say Sharia law derives this from Deuteronomy assumes that Muhammad or Muslim jurists modeled this on the OT. Does Avalos have any actual evidence for that claim?

ii) More to the point, Avalos is equivocating and prevaricating. In popular parlance, an “honor killing” involves executing a relative (usually a female) for shaming her kin even if the relative is innocent of wrongdoing. Indeed, even if the relative was the victim of the wrongdoing. That’s hardly comparable to the situation in Deut 13:6-11.

Of course, honor killings are not the norm among Muslims, especially in America.

i) Honor killings are illegal in America. So that’s a deterrent.

ii) Honor killings are underreported.

iii) As Muslim-Americans gain political clout, honor killings will proliferate.

At the same time, all Christian hermeneutics are ultimately faith-based. Therefore, Rushdoony’s faith-based claims about the applicability of biblical law today are no less valid than those of believers who disagree with him because, by definition, all faith-based claims are equally unverifiable.

i) That’s muddleheaded. Although the Bible is the object of Christian faith, that doesn’t mean the interpretation of Scripture is faith-based. All interpretations aren’t equally unverifiable. That’s self-refuting given the fact that Avalos must interpret the Bible to attack it.

ii) Moreover, to say a claim is faith-based doesn’t “by definition” mean it’s “unverifiable.” That’s Hector’s hostile, tendentious definition.

By his own admission, Avalos is a moral relativist, so it comes as no surprise that his so intellectually dishonest in his attacks on Christianity.

Making the most of a lost cause

This is an eloquent plea for atheism. Stace states his case about as well as possible, given the hand he dealt himself. The best case for the worst-case scenario.

But notice the insoluble tensions. The incongruous mix of stark realism and groundless idealism. The erratic oscillation between bleak candor and naïve nobility. The desperate attempt to shame the reader into submission when the argument can't deliver the goods. 

Speaking for the dead

Over at Green Baggins, Evangelical convert to Rome Andrew Preslar has tried to argue for the papacy by applying the theory of development to the church fathers. But there are some basic problems with that strategy:

i) Not all developments in Catholic theology are consistent with tradition. For instance, current papal opposition to the death penalty is hardly consistent with Catholic tradition. Likewise, for Vatican II to say Muslims and pagans (e.g. Hindus, Buddhists) can be saved is hardly consistent with the claim that no one can be saved unless he’s in submission to the pope (a la Unam Sanctam).

ii) In addition, the church fathers weren’t prophets. They couldn’t foresee how later theologians would develop their statements. Therefore, you can’t backdate subsequent developments to the church fathers, as if they’d rubberstamp those developments.

Indeed, people often make shortsighted claims which they later qualify or retract if they live long enough to witness the unforeseeable results. They could not anticipate all the contingencies or consequences.


A friend pointed me to this:

Several problems:

i) It’s hypocritical for Muslims to inveigh against autocratic government. Does the Saudi Arabian regime tolerate dissent? Were the Caliphs tolerant towards religious and political dissidents? Islamic regimes are highly autocratic.

ii) You can’t read Rom 13:1-7 in a vacuum. You need to do some reading between the lines. We know some things about Paul. He was a devout Jew, living in the Roman Empire.

iii) I doubt it’s coincidental that Paul wrote about the state in a letter addressed to Christians living in the capital of the Roman Empire.

iv) Apropos (iii), Rom 13:1-7 has an apologetic dimension. We’d expect Paul to be very tactful when he writes about the role of the state to Christians living in the imperial city. He’s not going to make seditious statements that would get them into trouble (if the letter were intercepted).

v) In vv3-4, Paul is obviously describing the ideal. That’s what rulers are supposed to do.

But it’s scarcely possible for Paul to dictate those verses without an acute sense of irony. As a Jew living under Roman rule, Paul was painfully aware of the glaring discrepancy between the ideal and the reality. This was a pagan regime. By definition, even the best Roman emperors (and their surrogates) were wicked men. Likewise, Paul’s audience was hardly less aware of the conspicuous contrast. Indeed, Paul is alluding to the onerous Roman tax system.

In addition to Paul’s personal experience, there was his background knowledge of OT history and Intertestamental history. Heathen idolatry and immorality. Indeed, Paul reviews that at length in the opening chapters of his letter. So Paul knew perfectly well that Roman magistrates were often evildoers who abused their power.

vi) Paul’s argument is implicitly conditional. Even heathen magistrates derive their authority from God. Because their authority is derivative, their authority is conditional.

Christians ought to submit to the civil magistrate because he administers justice. But, of course, that argument contains a converse implication. If the rationale for civil obedience is the role of the magistrate as an agent of public justice, then in cases where the magistrate becomes an agent of injustice, you now have a rationale for civil disobedience. 

Paul doesn’t develop that implication since that would be impolitic. But that’s implicit in the argument.

And in the back of Paul’s mind are OT cases of civil disobedience (the Hebrew midwives, Daniel’s friends). There are even cases where godless monarchs were forcibly deposed (e.g. Athaliah). Moreover, the entire Exodus, which Paul alludes to in Rom 9:15-17, was an act of mass civil disobedience. 

vii) Likewise, Paul’s argument doesn’t envision modern democracy, where the governed are part of the government, through their elected representatives. Where the state answers to the citizenry, rather than vice versa.

Eye on the prize

I’ll make some comments on this review:

That is the situation—alas—and Enns is brave enough to begin a conversation (p. 112).

“Brave enough”? What has Enns done that’s notably courageous? It’s not like he’s gone undercover to infiltrate the mob.

I am grateful when he acknowledges that the book’s conclusions flow out of his own “Christian convictions” (p. xii).

Well, of course he’d say that.

In the debate about Adam, Enns is distinctive because he simply cuts the Gordian knot: we can remain fully committed to inerrancy but revise what we think Genesis and Paul are telling us about Adam. 9 Here we have a professed inerrantist (unlike classical liberals) who rejects concordism (unlike classical conservatives) and simply bites the bullet (by denying a historical Adam). As Enns concedes, most of what he is arguing is not new. What is new—and controversial—is that Enns defends his position as fully consistent with inerrancy and evangelicalism at its best.

But that’s just a ruse.

Thus Enns reminds the reader in his first thesis in the conclusion: “Literalism is not an option” (p. 137). He cites Augustine on how naive Christians should avoid making idiots of themselves by pitting the Bible against well-established cosmological views. “As this quote [from Augustine] indicates,” Enns remarks, “literalism can lead thoughtful, informed people to reject any semblance of the Christian faith” (p. 138).

But this reveals a tension in his approach, for it fails to distinguish between the sense of the text and the truth of the text. Is Enns saying literalism is not an option because that’s not what the text means? Or is he saying literalism is not an option, even if (or especially if) that’s what the text means, because that’s false, and that has detrimental consequences for the Christian faith?

But if that’s what the text really means, then, like it or not, we’re stuck with the consequences. At that point it’s too late to undo what he’s wrought. Hermeneutical legerdemain won’t salvage the situation, for his exegesis was what exposed the (alleged) problem.

On the other hand, those sympathetic with Enns are worried that old bugaboos like inerrancy are tearing apart the evangelical movement and bringing unnecessary disrepute to the Christian faith. This also places an unbearable strain on younger evangelicals who seek to cultivate the best Christian minds as they follow Christ: Are they to play the ostrich, bury their heads in the sand and deny what every sane, intelligent person believes in the twenty-first century?

But I sometimes wonder if, in the broader evangelical debate, Enns has unfairly become the fall guy. In my experience, a fair number of evangelical biblical scholars, socialized in the same guild, share many of Enns’s methodological commitments (it is not always clear why they would have strong disagreements with the ideas expressed in his latest book). Who knows how many evangelical scholars—both young and old—are privately sympathetic to Enns’s ideas but too afraid to come out of the closet?

That is why a growing number of evangelicals find Enns and his project so compelling. There is no need for spooks or conspiracy theories here: these are scholars who were raised as evangelicals; they self-identify as evangelicals; but they are seeking a better, bigger, broader vision than the perceived ideological myopia of conservative evangelicalism, a vision genuinely open to pursuing truth critically by engaging the best of modern learning.

Enns is worried that evangelicals will self-destruct if we keep denying what mainstream science is telling us. He is worried that our young people are growing up as intellectual schizophrenics, believing one thing in church and another thing in the lab—and suffering under the mental strain. Many are leaving the faith because they see only two choices, affirm Adam or abandon ship. And a number of emerging evangelical scholars are disillusioned and discouraged by the chilly reception their hard-earned views of Scripture have received from Mafioso, muscle-flexing evangelical gatekeepers. His book is an attempt to bring healing and to offer a different way.

i) It’s not as if Christians in the 21C unearthed an ancient spaceship which blew the cover on the true identity of Yahweh, Jesus, and the angel Gabriel. (Hint: they were really aliens from Alpha Centuri,) The ostensible conflict between science and Scripture has been around for generations now. It’s pretentious for Enns to act as if we’ve suddenly arrived at a crossroads.

ii) I do think it’s a problem when his critics confine themselves to pointing out that his position is unscriptural or contrary to Reformed tradition, and leave it at that. It is important to address the scientific objections head-on, to the best of our abilities.

Mind you, not every pastor, theologian, Bible scholar, or seminary prof. has that responsibility. As a rule, that’s best handled by Christian philosophers, apologists, and scientists.

iii) At the same time, if we don’t always have a prepackaged answer to some scientific objection, that’s not an excuse to disbelieve the Bible. The fact that God said something is sufficient reason to believe it. The Christian faith does require us to take some things on faith–appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. However, if we can remove intellectual impediments to the faith, we should do so.

iv) In fairness to his critics, when liberals like Enns try to obscure what the Bible really teaches, and replace it with a substitute teaching, then it is necessary to correct them and reaffirm Biblical teaching.

v) Although it’s tragic to see people abandon the faith, that’s a necessary possibility. The church doors swing in both directions. People come and people go. The integrity of the faith demands that possibility. The church must be open to that reaction.

For the Christian faith must stand for something. The Christian faith can’t be so flexible that Christian profession is consistent with everything and its contrary.

It can’t have a movable goalpost. “Do you want to begin at the 20-yard line? So be it! Would you rather start at the 40-yard line? So be it! Do you prefer to finish at the 80-yard line? So be it! Just tell us how much you’re prepared to believe, and we’ll adjust the goalpost to suit you.”

Christians are followers. Christ doesn’t follow us–we follow Christ. Enns never learned what it means to follow Jesus.

Although it’s sad to see some professing believers lose their faith, there’s a sense in which you can’t lose what you never had. If their faith evaporates like mist at the sight of any apparent evidence to the contrary, then what did their faith ever amount to in the first place? An untested, default belief just waiting to evaporate if it happens to make contact with intellectual challenges was just a placeholder in the absence of something else. An accidental faith.

Remember the parable of the pearl (Mt 13:45-46). The gospel is worth everything we have. Jesus should mean everything to a Christian. Christ isn’t just as accessory to life. We must cling to Jesus for dear life. When I’m on my deathbed, I will have no one else to turn to, nothing else to fall back on.

Likewise, the Bible compares the Christian faith to a race or a journey. All that matters is how you end. It matters not how fast you were out of the starting gate, or how well you were doing on the backstretch, or heading down the home stretch. If you make it 95% of the way, but drop out 10 yards before the finish line, you’re no better off than if you never entered the race. Indeed, there’s a sense in which you’re worse off. You came that close, only to miss out.