Saturday, September 01, 2012

Why Transubstantiation is nonsense

Taking the moribund pulse of Arminian theology

I often comment on Roger Olson, but Scot McKnight is another Arminian scholar with a big footprint. Notice his book of the year. This is a barometer for the state of contemporary Arminianism:

Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture. In spite of being panned by a few notable evangelicals, Smith is one of America’s finest scholars of evangelicalism, knows theology, and has poked populist evangelicalism in the eye — both eyes in fact. He has laid down a challenge that must be met: How to read the Bible in a way that does not lead to pervasive pluralism but leads to conclusions on which we can agree enough to say “Thus saith the Lord.” Until that happens, we’ve got too many lone rangers claiming “Thus saith the Lord.” What good is it to say we’ve got the very Word of God if we can’t agree on what the Word says?

This corroborates what I’ve said elsewhere: the Arminian tradition is more liberal than the Reformed tradition. Arminians typically list to the left of Calvinists. In this case, far to the left of Calvinists.

McKnight’s objection is also hypocritical. His own theological position (Arminian/Anabaptist) is hardly something all (or even most) Christians agree with. 

Smith’s own solution is no solution. He’s a convert to Roman Catholic. But, of course, Christians don’t agree on Roman Catholicism. So that’s just one more pluralistic option. Even Catholics don’t agree on Catholicism.

Flinty Clint

A Preview for the Undecided

Five Things You'll Learn From “No Easy Day” [Language alert]
The level of detail Owen provides is amazing, from mopping blood from bin Laden’s face before he snapped forensic photos of the corpse of the most wanted man in the world, to the meticulous planning that went into the assault. The book goes on sale next week, but if you can’t wait that long, here are a few more tidbits to tide you over.

Chick lit for guys
Forget the Manolos and Chanel handbags -- this book is fully loaded with real-life gear porn. Read this and you’ll know what kind of boots Owen prefers, the types of knives he packs when heading out, the various firearms he uses to ventilate terrorists, and how much more awesome his gear is compared to anything you’ll ever get to strap on. His night-vision goggles alone run $65,000. His helmet can stop a 9mm slug. A page-long rundown of Owen’s personal armory includes lines like, “I also set up my fourteen-inch H&K 416 with an infrared laser and clip-on thermal sight that allowed for more precise night shooting.”

Osama was [vain and wimpy]
Owen’s account of the raid confirms Peter L. Bergen’s report in Manhunt, that bin Laden used Just For Men hair dye to color his beard, and apparently had just done a color treatment before the raid: the SEALs had a hard time recognizing bin Laden at first, as he looked too young. Also, the two guns found in bin Laden’s room were unloaded, and he didn’t even try to get a shot off at the approaching commandos, prompting this observation: “In all of my deployments, we routinely saw this phenomenon. The higher up the food chain the targeted individual was, the bigger a [wimp] he was.”

SEALs: They’re just like us
“Dude” shows up so often you’d think Jeff Spicoli polished the dialogue. Upon returning to the states after the historic mission, one SEAL mowed his lawn. Another slipped straight back into domestic routines with his wife and young child. Owen treated himself to a Taco Bell dinner and ate it in his truck in the parking lot on the way home. Also, they’re not the clean-shaven, high-and-tight types these days. One looked like “a taller version of Gimli, the angry dwarf in The Lord of the Rings.” Another like “an Amish guy with a bowl haircut and a patchy beard that never seemed to grow together.”

Mark Owen -- bookish
What made Owen, who pumped a few rounds into a dying bin Laden’s chest, want to become a SEAL? A novel, Men in Green Faces by Gene Wentz, about a group of SEALs operating in Vietnam. Owen wrote a book report on it in junior high and knew from “page one” that he wanted to be a SEAL.

Mission: Set the Record Straight
Every public account of the raid has been inaccurate, Owen writes, “even reports claiming to have the inside story.” He retired less than a year after bin Laden’s death, and, disgusted with the misconceptions about and the politicization of the raid, got to work on the book. While it details his life story -- his childhood in Alaska, his SEAL training and missions (including the rescue of captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates) -- Owen says the book is about the team: “I only used my life as a way to describe what it is like to be part of such a special unit,” he writes. And, yes, he is being paid for his story, but most of the book’s proceeds are being donated to charity.

The book will be released on September 4, 2012. My wife has already asked me to preorder a copy.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Eastwood And The Divide Between Americans And The Ruling Class

Major development in the culture wars

On “Finding Your Inner Luther”

Five hundred years ago, the church was in ... desperate, desperate need of reform. Then, in to the rescue galloped a posse of the most talented individuals of the day. They had among their number the very finest scholars, they shared a heartfelt passion for the renewing of the church – and they accomplished virtually nothing towards that goal. The rescue failed.

That was the sad story of the sixteenth-century humanists (nothing to do with later atheistic humanists!). But where did it all go wrong? They were absolutely sincere in wanting people to live whole-heartedly for Jesus; they were unstinting in their efforts. The problem was, they never thought they needed to bother with theology. They thought that more devotion would do the trick. And so they never questioned the theology of medieval Roman Catholicism. As a result they were doomed ever to remain prisoners of where the church was at, never able to achieve more than cosmetic changes.

It was only when Martin Luther dug into the theological foundations of the church that it was really reformed.
And what a Reformation! When gospel-theology led the way, the church was renewed beyond all recognition.

* * *

The historical reality of the Reformation is that it was a theological event. True, there were moral consequences, but the Reformation wasn’t first of all about moral self-improvement and tidying the ecclesiastical house. It was about aligning the church's doctrines with Biblical teaching.

It was this that prompted Martin Luther later to comment:
Life is bad among us as among the papists. Hence, we do not fight and damn them because of their bad lives …. I do not consider myself to be pious. But when it comes to whether one teaches correctly about the word of God, there I take my stand and fight. That is my calling. To contest doctrine has never happened until now. Others have fought over life; but to take on doctrine—that is to grab the goose by the neck! … When the word of God remains pure, even if the quality of life fails us, life is placed in a position to become what it ought. That is why everything hinges on the purity of the Word. I have succeeded only if I have taught correctly. (Cited by Steven Ozment, "The Age of Reform, 1250–1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe" (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1980), pgs 315-316 (emphasis added).

A reminder about Luther’s “Wise Turk” quote

Now that a Mormon is running for president and tends to be favored by Christian conservatives over his Christian liberal opponent, we are hearing more and more that famous quotation from Martin Luther: “I’d rather be ruled by a wise Turk than by a foolish Christian.” The problem is, non [sic] one has been able to find that famous quotation in any of the voluminous works of Luther. It appears that the quotation is apocryphal. I suspect it may have originated as an attempt to explain the implications of Luther’s doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, as in, “Luther would have rather been ruled by a wise Turk. . .” which then was recalled as “Luther said he would rather have been. . . .” At any rate, I would love to identify the earliest occurrence of that quotation in print….

Let’s be clear. The “wise Turk” quote is an urban legend, an old wives’ tale, just like the oft-repeated fairy tales that Luther threw an inkwell at the devil (or vice versa), or invented the Christmas tree, or that Billy Graham referred to Lutherans (or the Lutheran Church, or the Missouri Synod) as “a sleeping giant.”

This article is yet another Sisyphean attempt to drive a spike through this urban legend non-quote, and specifically to address the erroneous claim that the alleged quote is a loose paraphrase of the following excerpt from Martin Luther’s “An Open Letter to the Nobility of the German Nation”:

“It is said that there is no better temporal rule anywhere than among the Turks, who have neither spiritual nor temporal law, but only their Koran; and we must confess that there is no more shameful rule than among us, with our spiritual and temporal law, so that there is no estate which lives according to the light of nature, still less according to Holy Scripture.”

As will be shown below the urban legend quote has absolutely nothing to do with this quoted excerpt from “An Open Letter to the Nobility” and any such claimed paraphrase is quite unlikely to have been even loosely uttered (in German or Latin) by Dr. Luther elsewhere. The key points, as they should be for all phrases bandied about as being uttered by (or paraphrased from) Luther, are context, context, context. …

A bit later he says:

“But as the pope is Antichrist, so the Turk is the very devil. The prayer of Christendom is against both. Both shall go down to hell, even though it may take the Last Day to send them there; and I hope it will not be long.”

An update to the original Gene Veith article

An earlier version of it here

Do you feel lucky?

I admit I didn’t watch the GOP convention. The only thing I bothered to tune into was Clint Eastwood’s speech. This left the pundit class perplexed.

It often sounded as if Eastwood was a doddering 82-year-old. Yet the seeming offhandedness was punctured by calculated jabs, with a comedian’s sense of timing. There was a studied unstudiedness to the performance. Catching the audience off-guard by appearing to ramble, which left the listener unprepared for the surprise attack in the next line. The very unpredictability made it suspenseful. What’s he going to say next?

In the age of YouTube, this is bound to be a hit, in a way the carefully scripted, focus group vetted speeches of the other speakers will never be. 

Wooden probabilities

Thus, the alleged resurrection of Jesus is an "extraordinary claim" in the sense that it has an extremely low prior probability, i.e., Pr(R | B) <= 10-11. In other words, even if God exists, R has an extremely low prior probability for the simple reason that God has an extremely weak tendency to resurrect people from the dead.[3] To be precise, He resurrects from the dead less than one human in every 100 billion.

i) That’s a false premise. According to the Biblical doctrine of the general resurrection, God will resurrect everyone who ever lived. The only folks he won’t raise from the dead are those who happen to be alive at the time of the Parousia. And even they will be immortalized.

ii) In addition, this reflects Jeff’s wooden grasp of probability. Even if God hasn’t raised anyone else from the dead, this doesn’t tell you anything about the likelihood that he raised Jesus from the dead. It all depends on what reason he has for raising Jesus, but not raising others.

To take a comparison, suppose I ask if it’s extraordinary to find fallen leaves stacked in neat piles. That depends. It would be extraordinary if fallen leaves arranged themselves into neat piles on the lawn. If, however, a gardener raked the yard, that’s pretty ordinary. 

The answer depends on the presence or absence of personal agency, as well as the particular intent of the agent. That’s not something you can calculate in the abstract, from raw frequency.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida

Tremendously inspiring.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Typology Preserves Biblical Inerrancy Against Ehrman’s Mistake

Is Jesus a Democrat?

The Professor Who Thought He Knew Bigotry When He Saw It

A Public Service Announcement from your Good Friends at Triablogue

For those of you who may be inclined to be on the lookout for various ad hominems that you can avoid in discussions, I’ve noted that Bryan Cross has exhibited a severe dislike for the phrase “the boys at Called to Communion”. This is from a while back at Tim Prussic’s blog:

One thing that Mr. Stellman wants to make clear is that he was REFORMED before his move to Rome. This is, or course, part of the polemic. Protestant Christian, rest assured that Jason Stellman KNOWS your position better than you do. HE WAS TOTALLY REFORMED. In Mr. Stellman’s words:

… blather here, etc., etc., ...

This is the uniform pitch from the boys at Called to Communion. They were more Reformed than you. After all, did you graduate from Westminster… the bastion of Reformed verity?! You might think you know the Bible and Reformed theology, but these boys at CTC know Reformed better than you do, cuz they were totally Reformed.

Bryan, as is frequently the case, provides the first comment on the blog post:


“Boys”? I’m 43. How old are you? Are your arguments and evidence so poor that you have to resort to this sort of patronizing name-calling?

In your opinion, what, exactly, about Reformed theology did those of at CTC not know?

After several denials on Tim’s part that any harm was intended, Bryan helpfully explained (as he often does):

Here’s what I see quite commonly among Reformed pastors. Men who agree with you are called men. Men with whom you disagree strongly are called boys. That’s why the federal vision defenders are frequently referred to (by those who disagree with them) as “FV-boys.” There is a reason for this selective use of the term ‘boys.’ It is derogatory. If it weren’t, they would use it equally of men with whom they agree, and men with whom they disagree. When called on their use of it, they can, of course, always claim that they meant it as “fellows.” But, their selective use of it only in reference to those with whom they disagree shows otherwise.

In all, the word “boys” was use some 38 times in this post and comment string, a testimony to the truly offensive nature of this moniker.

Now, I myself have aroused some ire using the phrase “the Jason Stellman gang”, in a March 1, 2009 email, with that subject line. It began:

Subject: "The Jason Stellman Gang"

From: John Bugay
To: [names withheld]
Date: Sun, Mar 1, 2009 at 10:36 AM

Hi all -- This email is to introduce you to the "Called to Communion" website, .

I apologize for being provocative in my subject line, but I can't help but be provoked by the roll call of names that have put this together:

# Andrew Preslar
# Bryan Cross *
# Jonathan Deane (?)
# Matt Yonke *
# Neal Judisch *
# Sean Patrick *
# Taylor Marshall
# Tim Troutman *
# Tom Brown *
# Tom Riello

These individuals say, “We arrived in the Catholic Church in diverse ways but through a similar path involving spiritual formation within the Reformed tradition of confessional Protestantism.”

An Asterisk (*) denotes those who also arrived on this website via Jason Stellman’s blog.

Now, this was my own email to somebodys other than Jason. Of course, I was asked for some proof that these individuals didn’t know each other before they started communing on Jason’s blog. Which I was not able to produce. But Jason caught wind of it, and it really seemed to have raised his ire at the time.

If you wish to avoid the charge of ad hominem when dealing with the stalwart defenders of Roman Catholicism over at Called to Communion, I urge you to avoid using the phrases “the boys at Called to Communion” and “the Jason Stellman gang”.

Thank you.

The fly in the ointment

Republicans have a good chance of winning the presidential election this year. Romney is a respectable man with a respectable economic plan, and Paul Ryan adds a kind of excitement that Republicans haven't seen for years.

But I was greatly disappointed when I read this:

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will deliver the invocation. And Grant Bennett, a longtime friend who has served in Mormon leadership roles with Mr. Romney, will speak to the Republican convention here....

... both Mr. Romney and his wife, Ann, recently have begun to share a little more about their religious life, even allowing a small group of reporters to attend church with them earlier this month. Mr. Robinson supports the move, saying that understanding the Romneys' faith is central to understanding them.

"This is just the fabric of their being," he said....

During the current campaign, the most notable issue related to religion is how it has all but ceased to be an issue. It was almost a year ago when Robert Jeffress, a Baptist pastor in Dallas, called Mormonism a cult. Since then, religion seldom has come up in the campaign.

But polls show Mr. Romney's support still lags among evangelical Christians, a key group within his party. In the latest Wall Street Journal/ NBC News poll, only 55% of evangelicals said they have very positive or somewhat positive feelings about Mr. Romney. Among all Republicans, 74% had positive feelings.

Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, acknowledged that some evangelical voters may shun Mr. Romney because of his faith, but said most of them reside in heavily Republican states, such as Arkansas, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

"We don't need 'em," he said.

As one Reformed writer said:

Senator Hatch says of Mitt Romney: “He literally lives his religion.” That’s the problem, and it’s an expected one. Romney’s demonic religion has a massive influence in his life and decision-making. Should that cause anxiety to the Christian voter? Is that anxiety such a problem that a Bible-believing person could not, in good conscience, vote for Mitt Romney or any other Mormon?

I'll vote for Romney. But I'll be holding my nose while I do it.

Understanding Mormonism

This is a fabulous and easy-to-understand overview of Mormonism by Dr. James White.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Apocryphal gospels

Christless Arminianism

jesse says:
August 29, 2012 at 1:55 am

    Roger, any chance you could deal with some of the verses Piper quotes and give the Arminian perspective?

 rogereolson says:
 August 29, 2012 at 12:31 pm

        You missed it, so I’ll say it again: No need to, as IF those scriptures mean what Piper says they mean, then Jesus Christ was not the perfect revelation of God and the Bible itself is not worthy of our trust because God is not good and thus not to be trusted.

There’s a reason why Christianity is called…Christianity. There’s a reason why Christians call themselves…Christians (cf. Acts 11:26). Our theology is Christocentric. Our piety is Christocentric. It all comes down to Jesus. Total devotion to Jesus.

Of course, none of us loves Jesus as much as we should. That’s something we need to work on everyday. Reminding ourselves of what he did for us, does for us, will do for us. Adoring his character.

Christian faith means living for Jesus, living with Jesus, dying with Jesus, and sometimes dying for Jesus (martyrdom). As Paul says, our life is hidden with Christ (Col 3:3).

For Christians, Jesus is the touchstone of all that’s right and true. They don’t measure Jesus by what is good; rather, they measure what is good by Jesus.

Compare this with Roger Olson. Olson lacks total devotion to Jesus. If Jesus doesn’t measure up to Olson’s preconceived ideals, then Olson is prepared to flip him off and go his own way. Olson hates Calvinism more than he loves Jesus.

Olson is more important than Jesus. Jesus is only good if Olson says he’s good. Olson doesn’t measure himself by Jesus. Rather, Olson measures Jesus by himself. If by that yardstick, Jesus comes up short, then so much the better for Olson and so much the worse for Jesus. 

Of course, this is nothing knew. Many Jews were looking for the Messiah, but Jesus wasn’t the Messiah they were looking for. He didn’t live up to their expectations. He wasn't their kind of Messiah.

Olson likes to draw lines in the sand. He draws the line with Calvinists. But now he’s drawn the line with Jesus. He’s prepared to draw a line that puts Jesus on one side of the line, and Olson on the other side of the line. Of course, when you draw the line that way, you may find yourself backing into outer darkness.

Keep in mind that Olson is the star player over at the Society of Evangelical Arminians. Although I haven’t kept count, it’s my off-the-cuff impression that his stuff is reposted there more often than anyone else.

Given a choice between Roger Olson and Jesus Christ, I think I’ll take my chances with Jesus.

To hell with Jesus

jesse says:
August 29, 2012 at 1:55 am

Roger, any chance you could deal with some of the verses Piper quotes and give the Arminian perspective?

 rogereolson says:
 August 29, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    You missed it, so I’ll say it again: No need to, as IF those scriptures mean what Piper says they mean, then Jesus Christ was not the perfect revelation of God and the Bible itself is not worthy of our trust because God is not good and thus not to be trusted.

Where have I heard that before?

60  When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 66  After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him (Jn 6:60-66).

Apostolic Succession in the First Generation

Bryan Cross said

The whole idea that Jesus must give up His claim to infallibility in order to have a ‘fair’ discussion with men presupposes that there can be no fair or just discussions between an infallible God and a fallible man. In other words, it presupposes atheism. But that’s not something a theist should concede in the first place, because it is a question-begging presupposition against the theist. So likewise, and for the same reason, the notion that one cannot have a ‘fair’ or ‘just’ discussion with a Church that claims to be infallible under certain conditions, is also a question-begging presupposition against the Catholic.

Bryan has back-handedly equated “a Church that claims to be infallible under certain conditions” with Jesus himself. This is a huge stretch, and it assumes very many things that ought not to be assumed.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cowed by Political Correctness

The Age of Reason

As all enlightened people know, religion is the root cause of violence. We cannot hope to have peace on our war-torn planet until we douse the embers of Christian superstition. But don't take my word for it. See for yourself how atheism cultivates the nectar of sweet reason and the milk of human kindness:

My idea of gun control: disarm policemen and rearm citizens

Coming down squarely on both sides of the fence

Reminds me of the quip about a politician who was asked which side of the issue he came down on, to which he replied: “Some of my constituents take one side of the issue, some of my constituents take the other side of the issue, and I always side with my constituents.”

Muslims and atheists

In a post entitled “Benjamin Netanyahu on Communists vs. Theistic Terrorists,” Jeff Lowder quotes Bibi Netanyahu as saying:

To understand the true dangers of Islamic militancy, we can compare it to another ideology which sought world domination - communism. Both movements pursued irrational goals, but the communists at least pursued theirs in a rational way.

Anytime they had to choose between ideology and their own survival, as in Cuba or Berlin, they backed off and chose survival.

Not so for the Islamic militants. They pursue an irrational ideology irrationally - with no apparent regard for human life, neither their own lives nor the lives of their enemies. The Communists seldom, if ever, produced suicide bombers, while Islamic militancy produces hordes of them, glorifying them and promising them that their dastardly deeds will earn them a glorious afterlife.

This highly pathological aspect of Islamic militancy is what makes it so deadly for mankind.

Jeff then glosses his statement as follows:

As Netanyahu shows, sometimes it will be in the self-interest of some theists to sacrifice their own life while committing evil acts. As Netanyahu says, when the Communists had to choose between ideology and their own survival, they chose survival. In contrast, Islamic terrorists do not have to choose between ideology and survival; they are able to consistently act as suicide bombers in support of their irrational ideology.

Two problems:

i) Jeff is smearing theists when he uses “theist” as a synonym for “Muslim.”

a) “Theist” is a more general term than “Muslim.” Therefore, the title of his post is misleading and defamatory. When he's referring to Muslims, why not consistently use the specific designation?

b) In addition, it’s questionable whether all Muslims are even theists. To my knowledge, you’re considered a Muslim if you’re born to Muslims, and you practice Islam rather than repudiate Islam. But that’s not the same thing as believing in the existence of Allah or the revelatory status of the Koran.

ii) Jeff misstates the point of contrast. Netanyahu didn’t suggest that communists had to choose between ideology and survival whereas Muslims weren’t confronted with that dilemma. Rather, Netanyahu’s point is that both groups have to choose, but they choose different horns of the dilemma. When push comes to shove, Communists opt for survival at the expense of their ideology whereas Muslims opt for ideology at the expense of their survival. Muslims sacrifice their lives for the sake of their ideology whereas communists sacrifice their ideology for the sake of their lives. Both groups must pay a price, but the cost is not the same.

Jeff also says:

Netanyahu made a very interesting comparison of the behavior of atheistic communists vs. the behavior of theistic terrorists. Ever since watching that interview, I have been trying to track down the exact quotation as I think it would be useful in the context of theistic complaints that if there is no God, there is no reason for someone not to behave according to pure self-interest.

This is unclear. Perhaps Jeff was tripped up by his own double negation. To say “if there is no God, there is no reason for someone not to behave according to pure self-interest” is equivalent to saying if there is no God, there is a reason for someone to behave according to pure self-interest. At least in standard English.

Critics of atheism don’t deny that atheists have a reason to behave according to pure self-interest. The conventional criticism is just the opposite: atheists have no reason to act contrary to pure self-interest. No reason to be altruistic.

If it’s a choice between acting in your self-interest and putting yourself at risk for the benefit of another, or others, an atheist has no reason to be heroically self-sacrificial.

That’s also borne out by Jeff’s example of “atheistic communists” (his adjective), who put self-preservation ahead of ideological purity. Communist leaders wouldn’t risk being nuked.

"A Patent Mediocrity with a Totally Contrived Past"

Only the paranoid survive

 Sheep dog conspiracy

I'm not a big fan of conspiracy theories. However, the Obama administration is a conspiracy theorist's dream (or nightmare) come true. Hollywood screenwriter's would have a hard time keeping up.

Race and Romney's Birther Joke


Amnesia (especially retrograde amnesia) is a popular theme in movies. A character wakes up in a hospital bed. Doesn’t remember who he is, where he lives, where he grew up. Doesn’t remember his friends and family. Then his memory returns in sudden flashbacks.

I don’t know how realistic this is from a psychiatric standpoint. But it can make for good drama.

Dreams are somewhat analogous. In dreams we may not be conscious of who we are. We may find ourselves in strange places, surrounded by strangers. We don’t remember how to get home.

However, this does have a rough real-life counterpart. Those who suffer from progressive dementia begin to lose their memories. Forget where they are. Forget folks they used to know. Forget things that happened to them. The circle of people they remember gradually contracts. They may forget their spouse. Their children. They may even forget who they are. It’s sad to see people who are so lost. So disoriented.

They now depend on the memories of others. Others who remember them. Others who remember for them. Remember who they are. Their very identity is now in the repository of someone else’s mind.

And such is our relationship to God. God is like the friend who comes to the hospital to identify the amnesiac. Who takes him home. He must be his guide. He must remind him of who he is. Take him to familiar places. Reintroduce him to the life he used to know.

Without God we are utterly lost–even in this life. We don’t know who we are, where we came from, why we’re here, or where we’re headed. Like someone with dementia, we rely on God to remember us, on our behalf, as the custodian of our forgotten identity.

Contextual theology

My answer to a question about contextual theology.


Seems to me that this is something of a fad.

1. On the one hand it's obviously important to distinguish between Biblical teaching and historical theology or tradition. I find it bit painful to read Brainerd's description of how he tried to catechize the American Indians. He doesn't make any allowance for cultural differences.

2. One danger of contextual theology is that it tends to be patronizing. Unless a missionary or church-planter really is bicultural, then he is an outsider to the culture in which or to which he ministers. So he's not really in a position to inculturate the message. He doesn't know enough about the foreign culture. The effort can be rather condescending, as if he's explaining to the natives what their culture means.

3. It can also shift focus away from teaching the Bible to trying to master the new culture, and relate to the new culture on its own terms. It's no longer Bible-centered. It becomes less about teaching the Gospel than learning about the new culture. Less about teaching and more about listening. It can also lead to a very self-conscious preaching style, where you constantly second-guess whether you've successfully cross-contextualized the message.

One might appeal to Paul's statement about becoming all things to all men, but that misses the point. Because of Paul's cosmopolitan background, Paul already moved freely between more than one culture. That was second nature to him. He was a diaspora Jew as well as a Roman citizen, who studied in Jerusalem. So that's not something he had to think about.

4. Ultimately it's up to the natives, not the missionary, to inculturate the gospel.

5. In addition, many third-world cultures have already been influenced by American culture. It's not a totally alien experience to them.

6. There's also the danger of stereotyping, such as the simplistic cliché about how American culture is individualistic whereas Asian culture is collective. But that's clearly overdrawn, and it's prejudicial. You'd be prejudging the natives before you really get to know them.

7. To take an illustration, suppose a PCA missionary plants a church in Asia. After a few years, when he has an established congregation, it might be useful for him to give them a historical overview of Presbyterian theology. It begins with the early Latin Church, then cycles through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Then you have the Protestant Reformation, which is basically a N. European phenomenon. In part a reaction to the church of Rome. Then you have the Westminster Standards, which are the product of Puritanism and Anglicanism. Then you have the Great Awakening. Then you have Old Princeton. Then you have the founding of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philly.

That distinguishes Biblical teaching in itself from its inculturation in a particular theological tradition. It's important for us to mentally distinguish the two so that we can compare and contrast them.

8. There's a difference between the Bible and historical theology. It's striking how NT writers expect Gentile converts to jump right into the OT. To play catch-up. Clearly they think it's possible for converts from a very different cultural background (gentile pagans) to come up to speed pretty fast.

9. And our ancestors had to do the same thing. My forebears (on my father's side) were Vikings. The missionaries who evangelized my savage pagan forebears so many centuries ago, weren't really into contextual theology. But my Viking ancestors were able to catch on.

10. To a great extent the Protestant Reformation was an exercise in decontextualizing Latin theology from Western European church history and attempting to recontextualize theology in the original source (the Bible).

What’s at stake

At our house, today is the last day of summer. My older three sons have already started their various college programs, and the younger three kids start school tomorrow.

And what goes along with that, of course, are the speeches and admonitions about doing your best and what kinds of things are at stake.

At times like these, I’m reminded of something that Alister McGrath said at the beginning of his work, “Christian Theology: An Introduction”. (I have the third edition; McGrath is famous for re-writing earlier versions of his work, and re-issuing them at a higher price. Currently, I believe, he is on the fifth edition of this work.). My edition begins with these words “To the Student”:

Christian theology is one of the most fascinating subjects it is possible to study.

Over the years, I have come to agree with that statement. My own study began as a response to a generalized feeling of creepiness that I experienced while going to Mass every week; it led first of all, to my search for reasons why I should go or stay; it led further to discussions with Roman Catholics to the effect “how could you leave”, and the need to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”.

What began as a deeply personal struggle has introduced me to this absolutely fascinating world of church history and Christian theology.

I am of course, not a professional theologian. Many of you will have noticed this (and I appreciate your kindness not to say so… :-)

But I am deeply committed to the search for truth in this “sphere”, the sphere of church history and Christian theology. I am so for its own sake, and I am so because I believe that truth in this sphere will enable us to understand and better deal with the world going forward – a world that seems as if it will always have larger and larger challenges.

(And I’m getting older, so it would seem easy for me simply to avoid those challenges, and leave them for “the next generation”, except that “the next generation” involves children whose lives and well-being I care for more deeply than my own).

That’s why I do what I do, and while things may get difficult at times, there are always reasons for hope.

* * *

In that vein, a discussion between Jeff Cagle and Bryan Cross at Darryl Hart’s “Old Life” site merits a look.

Jeff seems really to have gotten Bryan’s number in that discussion. But what I find more hopeful are some of Hart’s comments.

For example, Hart is (if even metaphorically) incited to war:

Bryan, the peace of Christ may be war.

He identifies the problem:

Bryan, your response to Jeff begs the question. You define faith a certain way and so Jeff’s claims don’t follow. But since you are the great dictionary in all these matters, these discussions always must run through your paradigmatic definitions.

Is it possible to find a definition of faith on which you and Jeff agree? I doubt it. It seems that your understanding of reason ends when you cross the Tiber. At that point, you have reasons for your reason, but you have no capacity to show someone else they are wrong if they don’t accept your definitions.

This is no call. This is a demand for submission.

In this, he identifies (as Turretin did in his time) that Rome seeks to win by defining itself as the winner (see the first few pages of Turretin’s third volume). He correctly has identified that the “call to communion” is really a call to “bend the knee to Rome”. Later he clarifies:

It is good to be reminded of what Roman Catholicism was before Vatican 2. For all of the human face that John Paul 2 put on Rome, the same impenetrable and unreformable foundation exists. I don’t think many evangelicals would actually go to Rome if they thought the church was so inflexible and defensive. Of course, your problem is that Rome is not nearly as air tight — there are the Jesuits and the nuns after all. Still, it is good for potential converts to receive a dose of reality from the incomparable logician and dogmatician, Bryan Cross.

And when Bryan “bows out” of the discussion, Hart vows to carry on the fight:

Bryan, you may withdraw but you cannot hide. CTC will be an object of future posts.

At this point, I am very grateful that notable blogs like Green Baggins and Hart’s Old Life are taking up this issue, and determining to re-examine the issues that marked the Reformation.

My wife asks me why its better for Christians to fight among themselves than, say, for us all to call a truce and focus our energies on something like Islam.

I agree with her that Islam is an important factor in our world, and it needs to be addressed. But a large portion of Christianity (i.e. Roman Catholicism) has crumbling foundations built on falsehoods, and it is not is not going to be able to the world with the Gospel, and it’s ultimately doomed to fail.

That, again, is why I do what I do. The Reformation brought up issues that haven’t been solved for 500 years. But that doesn’t render them unsolvable. We are closer today to resolving those issues than at any time in the last five hundred years.

Sure, it’s a long-term project. But we have tremendous resources at our disposal. And more and more people are beginning to see what’s at stake.

Monday, August 27, 2012


I saw Tombstone recently. I remember the trailers when it first came out, almost 20 years ago. It’s a good Western, although I’ve seen better. It has an excellent cast, led by the ever-fine Kurt Russell. It’s also nice to see the late great Charlton Heston in a cameo role.

The film got mixed reviews. But from what little I know about 19C American history, this is a fairly accurate film, with a build-up to the iconic Gunfight at O.K. Corral, followed by Wyatt Earp’s remorseless vendetta.

Aside from the great casting, that’s accounts for the film’s strengths and weaknesses. What makes it more interesting than many Westerns (or other films) is that this movie is based on a real event, involving real individuals. Indeed, a cast of characters who passed into American folklore.

As such, the director and screenwriters don’t have the same unfettered artistic freedom they’d enjoy if this were fictitious. To a great extent they’re constrained by what actually happened.

Hence, it lacks the artificially taut cohesion of some other films in the Western genre. But that’s offset by reality. Most of the characters are based on men who really existed. Not imaginary characters, but men who lived and died, who came before us, just as others will come after us. So we’re reconnecting with the past. Like us, they had their hopes and fears. Their moral choices and consequences. Like us, they were thrown into the maelstrom of a fallen world.

For instance, you have the doomed figure of Doc Holliday. He’s dying of TB, and he knows it. So he doesn’t take life very seriously. He has nothing to gain and nothing to lose. Indeed, he died at 36. No doubt he hastened the process by heavy drinking.

A Christian parable of the damned. Someone with nothing to live for. Nothing to look forward to.

Contrary choice

I’m going to make a few comments on this article: Paul Himes, “When a Christian Sins: 1 Corinthians 10:13 and the Power of Contrary Choice in Relation to the Compatibilist-Libertarian Debate.” JETS 54 (June 2011): 329-344.

A couple of general observations before I delve into the details:

i) Himes is more comfortable with exegesis than philosophy.

ii) Apropos (i), his philosophical foils consist of guys like Ware, Nash, and Edwards. But Edwards hardly represents state-of-the-art determinism, while Nash and Ware are scarcely the most astute exponents of determinism.

Ware isn’t even a real Calvinist, although I appreciate his critique of open theism. And he’s better at the destructive task than the reconstructive task.

What, then, does 1 Cor 10:13 have to do with the compatibilist-libertarian debate? To begin with, one must stress the limits that 1 Cor 10:13 places on the nature of temptation. The verse indicates that the Christian is not forced to succumb to temptation and possesses the capability to resist. In other words, the temptation has its limits and does not possess the power to force the Christian to succumb to it (or, more accurately, it does not possess the power to render the Christian unable to endure). In other words, the temptation is such that not succumbing to it is possible.

i) To equate predestination with “force” is a popular canard. “Force” suggests that we are acting against our will. That we consciously wish to do one thing, but are made to do something else. However, predestination (or determinism) would generally operate at a subconscious level. We don’t consciously resist what we’re predestined to do, for all our thoughts, feelings, and actions are the seamless effect of predestination. We’re not directly aware of what’s causing them. We lack that detachment or objectivity.

ii) In addition, if predestination is true, then it’s not the temptation that “forces” us to succumb to temptation. Rather, it’s predestination which ensures our succumbence to temptation. If predestination is true, then temptation is not a sufficient condition to ensure succumbence to temptation, for God could predestine that we either resist or give in to the same temptation.

No doubt Himes would not regard that as an improvement over the version he’s attacking. However, his argument isn’t calibrated to the actual position he’s attacking. So that doesn’t derive from his exegesis, even if his exegesis were sound. At the very least he’d need to restructure his argument, assuming his original argument can be salvaged.

Thus, if this paper’s interpretation of 1 Cor 10:13 is correct, one must assert that a believer, no matter what the situation, has the ability to choose not to sin (since God does not allow the temptation to get to the point where the end result is, by necessity, sin).

i) This assumes that the verse is dealing with temptation in general, rather than a specific type of temptation. But it’s arguable that Paul has specific reference to divine protection against apostasy or sins which lead to apostasy.

ii) If we accept his interpretation, then that’s an argument for perfectionism. It’s possible that a Christian can lead a sinless life. But is that either Scriptural or empirically plausible?

Furthermore, by “possible,” we must mean “a legitimate possibility.” One could argue that resisting sin is physically or mentally possible, but that the Christian’s pre-set scale of values has already decreed that he or she will not resist the temptation to sin. Yet this would seem to miss the whole point of the passage and allow the Corinthian believers the very excuse that Paul seeks to deny them. In other words, the Corinthians could simply argue that their scale of values has been set such that they naturally value the city’s social life over their own sanctification. Since their own scale of values were set by things outside of their control (including their own character), they could legitimately say, according to a compatibilist scheme, that the temptation was too strong for them at that particular situation, the very point that 1 Corinthians 10 denies.

i) Actually, the notion that our character may preselect our choices is consistent with libertarianism. Prior choices can shape character, which–in turn–conditions subsequent choices.

ii) If a Christian were predestined to sin, would he cite predestination to excuse his sin? But that presents something of a psychological paradox. For, as I already noted, the fact of predestination doesn’t imply an awareness of predestination. That’s normally subliminal. We don’t directly experience predestination. Rather, we experience the result. We’re on the receiving end of the process. Our experience would feel the same if our choices and actions were randomly produced.

The relevance of Daniel

Conservatives have often argued that the critical position rests on a dogmatic, rationalistic denial of the possibility of predictive prophecy. For the critical scholar, however the issue is one or probability. That Daniel’s predictions have particular relevance to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes is not in dispute…There is no apparent reason, however, why a prophet of the sixth century should focus minute attention on the events in the second century. J. Collins, Daniel (Fortress Press 1993), 26.

There are some basic problems with the way Collins has framed the issue:

i) Prophecy is designed to benefit posterity–as well as the prophet’s contemporaries. It prepares the faithful for adversities to come. Shows them what lies on the other side of their adversities. Gives them hope. In the midst of suffering, one is tempted to despair. It’s hard to see beyond the present persecution.

ii) Daniel’s perspective is by no means confined to the 2C BC. On a traditional interpretation, the four kingdoms span the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the Medo-Persian Empire, Alexander and his successors (Ptolemies & Seleucids), leading up to Rome (and beyond). Collins may deny that interpretation, but he’s begging the question.

iii) If Antiochus Epiphanes is a type of the Antichrist, then there’s good reason for Daniel to develop that motif. Of course, liberals might chalk that up to conservative special pleading–an effort to save appearances. However, Collins himself admits that Antiochus becomes a larger-than-life figure in Dan 11:

The passage (11:40ff.) does however, recall other eschatological oracles that speak of a final invasion of Israel, where the aggressor is indefinite (Psalm 2) or is a mythic figure (God in Ezekiel 38-39). In short, Antiochus is assimilated to a mythic pattern that underlies later Christian traditions about the Antichrist. Ibid. 389.

How did Antiochus die?

Unbelievers date Daniel to the Maccabean era for two major reasons. One is their general belief that our world is a closed system. God, if there is a God, doesn’t reveal the future to man.

The other is their specific belief that Daniel 11:40-45 is historically inaccurate. They think the depiction of Antiochus is accurate in the verses leading up to v40, but loses accuracy thereafter. They chalk this up to their claim that the author is recounting history under the guise of prophecy prior to v40, but shifts to actual prediction in 40-45. He’s accurate when he’s writing about his own times. About the immediate past. But when he must speculate about the future, he gets it wrong. He didn’t know how Antiochus actually died. And they think Daniel is inaccurate at this juncture because his version of events is contradicted by extrabiblical sources.

I’ve discussed this allegation before. Now I’d like to approach it from a different angle. Let’s compare it to the following statements:

The theme de mortibus persecutorum (Lactantius), the deaths of persecutors and other bad characters, is a very common one…2 Macc. 9:5-12 (Antiochus Epiphanes…

C. K. Barrett, Acts I-XIV (T. & T. Clark, 1994), 591.

All the different forms of the story of Judas’s death are folkloric elaborations recounting his death in a stereotypical literary form, otherwise know as the horrible death of a notorious persecutor. It can be compared with the story of the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (2 Macc 9:7-12).

So Luke describes the demise of Herod Agrippa I, using a genre well known in Greek literature. Compare 2 Macc 9:5-28 (death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes)…

J. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles (Doubleday 1998), 220, 491.

Here the skepticism is directed at the historicity of Luke rather than Daniel. However, this is a case of competing skepticisms. For if the death of Antiochus in extrabiblical sources follows a stock fictitious genre regarding the demise of a notorious infidel or infamous enemy of the faith, then you can’t turn around and use that as a benchmark to measure the historicity of Dan 11:40-45. Rather, that would be like the cinematic convention of the Western genre, where the man in the black hat dies in a hail of bullets at the end of the film. A stereotypical ending that doesn’t pretend to match reality.


All the different forms of the story of Judas’s death are folkloric elaborations recounting his death in a stereotypical literary form, otherwise know as the horrible death of a notorious persecutor.

So Luke describes the demise of Herod Agrippa I, using a genre well known in Greek literature…The gruesome details are supposed to enhance the account of the death deserved by those who despite God (or the gods).

J. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles (Doubleday 1998), 220, 491.

There are some basic problems with Fitzmyer’s skeptical assessment:

i) The Bible is not like a classic Western where the villain automatically receives his comeuppance in his life. Indeed, the Bible often portrays the wicked prospering in this life. Their just deserts await the afterlife.

ii) Even if Luke used a standard literary genre to depict the ignominious deaths of Judas and Herod Agrippa, that doesn’t reduce it to folkloric legend. That would only mean he depicted their actual death according to stock literary conventions. They still died an ignominious death, reflecting divine judgment.

iii) Finally, sometimes the bad guys do come to a bad end. Sometimes a notorious infidel dies a gruesome death. That can happen in real life. For instance:

AUSTIN, Tex., March 15— The five-year hunt for the atheist leader Madalyn Murray O'Hair is over, a forensics expert hired by the government said today, confirming that bones dug up at a remote ranch were those of Ms. O'Hair and two of her family members.

Ms. O'Hair, 76, who played an important role in one of two 1960's United States Supreme Court decisions banning mandatory prayer in public schools, disappeared in 1995 with her son Jon Garth Murray, 40, and her granddaughter, Robin Murray O'Hair, 30.

Officials said they believed the three were killed and dismembered in an Austin storage locker and their bodies dumped at a remote ranch in Real County, 90 miles west of San Antonio. One of the men suspected of involvement in the case, David R. Waters, 53, accompanied the authorities to the grave site in January as part of a plea bargain.

At a news conference today at the United States attorney's office here, David M. Glassman, chairman of the anthropology department at Southwest Texas State University, described a grisly scene at the ranch, with bodies burned and stacked haphazardly across each other after the legs had been removed. Based on anthropological, medical and dental studies of those remains, he said, Ms. O'Hair and her family members had been identified.

How Ms. O'Hair and her granddaughter died could not be determined, Dr. Glassman said, but Mr. Murray, who was found with his arms tied and a plastic bag around his head, showed signs of blunt force trauma to the skull that might have led to his death.

Evidence presented at his trial indicated that the authorities believed Mr. Karr, Mr. Waters and a third man, Danny Fry, kidnapped Ms. O'Hair and her family in September 1995 and extorted $610,000 from them over a month before they were killed.

If the fate of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, replete with lurid tabloid details, were recorded in the Bible, doubters like Fitzmyer would chalk that up to legendary embellishment.

To Jason Stellman on “the Catholic paradigm”

Jason Stellman wrote about “the Catholic paradigm” having more “explanatory” power than the Reformed paradigm, in terms of study of the earliest church. There are a couple of things to note.

1. Cor. 10:13 Redux

I assume most readers are familiar with the debate surrounding the claim that 1. Cor. 10:13 somehow demands "libertarian free will." I'll quote the relevant passage and raise a new objection to libertarian readings of the text.
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
The argument is, roughly, that the passage speaks about the live possibility of a Christian either succumbing to or resisting temptation to sin. That's what "way out" apparently means, and thus we have confirmation of live alternative possibilities that could both obtain even given identical world-histories up to the succumbing or resisting.

There's been several responses to this argument. One is to simply engage in exegesis and show that the passage does not intend to teach, instruct, or otherwise endorse exotic metaphysical views such as libertarianism. Another is to engage in exegesis and argue that the text actually supports perseverance of the saints, a key Calvinist tenet. Another is to point out that the metaphysical interpretation is redundant and silly, for if metaphysical libertarianism is true, then Paul's claim is curious given that he says God provides the "alternative possibilities." For on (most forms of) libertarianism, open futures and forking paths are simply part of the structure of what is required of the view; hence, God is not needed to create alternative possibilities (whatever that means, anyway), and "God will provide a way out" becomes otiose.

But here's another wrench to throw into the mix. Arminians typically view the temptations as fairly expansive, covering many different cases of temptation to sin. Himes says
[I]f this paper’s interpretation of 1 Cor 10:13 is correct, one must assert that a believer, no matter what the situation, has the ability to choose not to sin (since God does not allow the temptation to get to the point where the end result is, by necessity, sin). Since Christians sin, if they have the power/ ability not to sin at any given situation (regardless of their current value scale), then they must possess the power of contrary choice. In other words, Christians, in the face of temptation, possess libertarian freedom. ("When a Christian Sins," JETS 54.2 (June 2011) 329–44, emphasis mine)
I assume this is rather standard Arminian fare. Here's a problem (a big problem to my mind) such an interpretation raises. In order to avoid making their position look completely ridiculous and out of touch with empirical reality, sophisticated libertarians admit that there are cases when agents "can't do otherwise," even on libertarianism. Here's a paradigm case: Drinker Dale occasionally gets drunk. When he does, he cannot avoid the temptation to pass by a strip club if he drives by one and sees it. His will is weakened, and he gives into his baser desires. When drunk, he lacks the relevant control to avoid his akratic action, and thus cannot avoid the temptation. Dale is morally blameworthy, though.

The above is consistent with libertarianism. How so? They appeal to the concept of "tracing" and "will-setting." That is, Dale is responsible in the above scenario if and only if we can trace his decision to get drunk to some prior free and morally responsible choice. Suppose he's also a drunk. It's his character, and he cannot will otherwise (if things remain the same, sans interventions, etc). He's responsible for this character just in case he made a prior free and responsible decision (or set of decisions) that set his will this way. Thus, while he does not have the relevant control needed for making a free and responsible decision when drunk, he is responsible if and only if we can trace his character and action back to a prior free and responsible libertarian choice.

Cases like Dale's are so ubiquitous that all libertarians admit them and offer something like the above analysis to maintain a hold on responsibility. And we do not need cases of alcoholism or drug use to make the point. Someone could render themselves literally unable to do otherwise given certain current reasons and character traits he has (Robert Kane likes to speak of Martin Luther's claim that "He could do no other"). But for this to be consistent with the metaphysical apparatuses required by libertarianism, they appeal to a similar story as above. As libertarian Robert Kane says of someone like this:
If his act did issue from his existing character, then his moral accountability for it would depend on whether he was responsible by virtue of earlier choices and actions for being the sort of person he had become at that time. . . .Often we act from a will already formed, but it is 'our own free will' by virtue of the fact that we formed it by other choices and actions in our past for which we could have done otherwise" (A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (Oxford, 2006), p. 82, emphasis original).
That the above is standard libertarian fare could easily be substantiated beyond Kane. I'll cite two more libertarians to this effect, but I'll kill two birds with one stone since both of them authored the same paper! Kevin Timpe and Tim Pawl discuss the problem of libertarian free will in conjunction with our inability to sin in heaven. They offer what I take to be the most plausible route for the libertarian to take, i.e., the above tracing and will-setting approach. In the course of the paper they discuss Sennett's position, characterizing it thus,
Agents can, however, use their free will [on earth] to form their moral characters in such a way that they are determined to act in certain ways. So long as the moral character that determines them was itself freely formed, Sennett does not think that this sort of self-imposed determinism rules out free will. In fact, it is along precisely these lines that Sennett understands heavenly freedom. After death, the redeemed in heaven are determined by their own freely formed character in such a way that certain choices and actions are no longer possible.
They remark on Sennett's position thus,
It seems reasonable to think that there are some actions that are determined, but have not always been determined. For instance, given the moral character of a person—let’s call her Teresa—it might be true that she is determined not to swindle money from a homeless shelter in order to pay for a luxurious vacation for herself insofar as she sees no good or motivating reason for engaging in such behavior. She hasn’t always had that character, however; perhaps at some earlier time she would have been open to embezzling. And, on the assumption of incompatibilism, she wasn’t causally determined to have the kind of moral character that sees no good reason to take funds from the homeless shelter to finance a luxury. She could have formed her character such that swindling money from the poor to finance a vacation wouldn’t sound half bad to her. We could say in this case that, while it hasn’t always been the case that she is determined not to swindle the money from the homeless shelter, it is now the case that she is determined not to do so. We might also say that, while she once was undetermined with respect to swindling the money from the homeless shelter, it is no longer the case that she is undetermined with respect to this particular action. ("Incompatibilism and Sin in Heaven," Faith and Philosophy, Vol. 26 No. 4 October 2009, pp.396-417; p. 404 for both quotes)
The purposes of these quotes is to establish the libertarian bona fides of the common place (Kane says, "often") occurrence of our acting in ways that are presently-but-not-ultimately determined (Timpe and Pawl refer to this as proximately-but-not-remotely determined). This contingent determinism is compatible with global or remote indeterminism, as well as libertarian freedom and responsibility.

The hard work is now behind me. At this point, I now raise the possibility of a Christian rendering herself unable to do otherwise when faced with some 1-Cor.-13:10-temptation. Notice that for Himes, these cases are fairly expansive. There are no situations when a believer, B, is 1-Cor.-10:13-tempted to X and B cannot do other than X. Thinking up examples doesn't require being a brain surgeon. I'll trust the reader can easily come up with examples (fanciful or not). All you need are prior libertarian choices by B that set B's will a certain way such that B cannot avoid a type-X temptation. You might posit a pill, the "Rx Mangia 40mg," that renders those who take it incapable of avoiding a temptation to gluttonously overeat when tempted with an Italian food buffet. Carmine Scagnetti takes such a pill. If Carmine cannot avoid said temptation, but we can trace his decision to pop the "Rx Mangia 40mg" back to a prior libertarian free choice on his end, then he acts freely and responsibly when he gluttonously partakes of the relevant spread. If you don't like that example, come up with your own.

So here's the upshot: The overreaching (I say!) Arminian interpretation of 1 Cor. 13 seems to require either the impossibility of libertarian freely setting your will in such a way that there is some relevant 1-Cor.-10:13-temptation you can't avoid due to above tracing/will-setting considerations (placing a strong dialectical burden on the Arminian), that the above accepted proximate-determinism is impossible per se, perhaps requiring the belief that drunk or "Rx Mangia 40mg" subjects can simply will themselves to act in ways effectively negating the effects of the drugs (another strong position). Another option is to say that 1. Cor. 10:13 isn't talking about there not existing a temptation that a believer can, in the heat of the temptation, either succumb to or resist. Rather, what it really means is this: If one's will isn't set in the above way, then one can succumb to or resist any temptation; but, if one's will is so set, then, while one cannot resist the temptation, one could have resisted the temptation had one not previously set one's will in such a way that one wouldn't be unable to resist future temptations, and at that prior time of will-setting the believer was able to do otherwise. Of course, this is strained, to say the least (and makes "there is no (particular) temptation" read odd). It seems only a prior commitment to libertarianism could account for such a strange and forced and ad hoc reading. 

One might say that the set of temptation cases being referred to in 1 Cor. 10 is very small (perhaps just any temptation that would lead to apostatizing), and that when it comes to this set of temptations, and only this set, the believer will not have been able to at any prior time have set his will in a way that he would not be unable to resist these specific temptations. But then we should ask why this should be so and how it is consistent with libertarianism. Moreover, it demands that one always be perseverance not be guaranteed, but this is not at all clear even on Arminianism (let alone biblically). So I conclude that, apart from the other fine responses to the Arminian argument from 1. Cor. 10:13, these considerations make assenting to the overreaching and austere Arminian interpretation of the text simply fantastical, exegetically improbable, and doxastically unlikely for anyone not insistent that 1 Cor. 10:13 just has to be a silver bullet against Calvinism.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

Yet a provocative point emerges in the long denouement: Was Wyatt Earp psychic? Was there indeed a guardian angle hoveling over one of the West's most involved gunslingers? One brother was maimed, another assassinated in Tombstone. Yet in gunfight after gunfight from Wichita and Dodge city to Tombstone and after, Wyatt was never as much as nicked, though shot at plenty. Many time he wound up with bullet holes in his clothing.

For some reason, Flood concentrates on this particularly in the episode of the assassination of Morgan Earp. In several instances, Wyatt vividly recalls being warned away or urged to action by some presence around him—when he is on the street, when is is alone in his room in the Cosmopolitan Hotel, and later at Bob Hatch's Pool Hall, where he goes moments before his brother is gunned down.

Later, during the weeks of vendetta, Wyatt senses another warning out of the blue as his six-man posse approaches Iron prings, where Curly Bill Brocius is killed by Wyatt while cooking a meal. When most of Earp's posse deserts him, he and Texas Jack Vermillion take on the balance of Curly Bill's gang, a firefight that clearly exceeded the O.K. Corral in intensity and then some, according to Flood.

Trophy child

The real war on women

In a desperate bid to get Obama reelected, Democrats have trumped on a Republican "war on women." Ironically though, it's the Democrats who are prosecuting the real war on women:


I’m going to comment on Lydia McGrew’s case for the real presence:

What I do believe is that Jesus is specially, spiritually present in the elements of Communion in the sense that they are spiritual food.

I don’t see the connection. In principle, something could be spiritual food without requiring the spiritual presence of Christ. For instance, God could simply assign a particular effect to a particular practice. Or you could have the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit.

 God has so ordained that those of us who, as the Prayer Book says, have "duly received" Communion are objectively spiritually nourished thereby. In this sense Jesus objectively comes down to us in the bread and wine and gives himself, his life and spiritual strength, aka grace, to us when we rightly receive.

But the ascended Savior has a physical body. For him to “objectively come down” would be analogous to his appearing to the disciples after the Resurrection. Not hidden in a wafer, but as a visible, tangible man (e.g. Jn 21).

(And if we don't rightly receive, we could be in big trouble for profaning this Sacrament which has been rendered holy by God's intention that it should be a means of grace to us.)

Profanation doesn’t require objective presence. To take a comparison, desecrating a grave is a classic way of dishonoring your enemies (e.g. Amos 2:1; 2 Kgs 23:15-16). Yet that’s symbolic. You can’t actually harm your enemies at that point. They are gone. Although their mortal remains are physically present, your enemies aren’t really there. But the grave has emblematic significance. To desecrate a grave symbolically disrespects the dead.  

When the consecrated Host is reserved on the altar, because the Host is that divinely ordained physical meeting point between our Lord Jesus Christ and ourselves, the place where it is reserved becomes a literally holy space, a place where we come before Christ, who is present there in a special way in which he is not present everywhere else.

That may well follow from the premise, but the premise is the very issue in dispute.

Now, since I of course believe in the omnipresence of God, and since all Christians believe in the omnipresence of God, and since the Bible expressly says that God dwells not in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48), it might be asked whether such a view is not either a) theological nonsense, meaningless,  b) biblically utterly unprecedented prior to the controverted passages about the Lord's Supper, or even c) positively anti-biblical.

Depends on what we mean. Does Lydian think God is literally omnipresence? That God pervades or occupies physical space, like ether or subtle matter? Or is this a spatial metaphor for God’s omniscience and omnipotence?

But actually, I think there are foreshadowings and, to some extent, precedents in the Old Testament. For example, the Ark of the Covenant was definitely a place where God was present in a special way. That was why it had to be handled only by certain people and why even a well-intentioned handling by the wrong person could result in death (2 Samuel 6). That was why it was carried before the people when they marched (Joshua 3, Joshua 6). And that is why the Psalmist and other Scriptures repeatedly say that God "dwells between the cherubim" (I Chronicles 13:6, Psalm 80:1, Psalm 99:1, etc.). Hence, too, the Psalmist's repeated expressions of joy at the opportunity to go into "the house of the Lord" and be in God's presence (Psalm 27:4, Psalm 122). That, too, was why when the Ark was taken in battle a child born at that time was given a name that meant "the glory is departed from Israel" (I Samuel 4:22).

Then, too, the Mercy Seat (between the cherubim) was a place where blood was spilled on the Day of Atonement, which somehow was especially able to bring forgiveness for the people's sins (Leviticus 16:14). So the Mercy Seat was, as I have said of the Sacrament, a place where God, by His own special choice and commandment, interacted in a special way with His people.

This appeal fails to take into account the nature of cultic holiness or symbolic presence. For instance, the statuary cherubim represent actual cherubim, who “stand” in God’s presence, as sentinels guarding holy space. But just as the statuary cherubim aren’t real angels, by analogy, God doesn’t literally dwell between the statuary cherubim.

Keep in mind, too, that this is based on the conventional imagery of a divine council or heavenly court. That, itself, is picture language. It depicts God in anthropomorphic terms, as a seated monarch on his throne, surrounded by royal courtiers. But that, too, is a picturesque metaphor, which is based, in large part, on the paraphernalia of ancient Near Eastern kings.

Another example would be the Shekinah, which was a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. God led His people in this way. It was evidently a physical entity in which God was in some special sense present so as to help His people. In one of the most harrowing passages of the Bible, Ezekiel actually sees a vision of the Shekinah glory departing gradually from the Temple, illustrating God's judgement on His people (Ezekiel 10:18-19).

That certainly goes beyond artistic depictions. But how we understand that depends on what we think God is actually like. If God is not a physical being, then his “presence” is indirect. He can manifest himself through physical means. A physical medium which stands for God.

Lydia mentions the theophany in Ezekiel, yet the prophet is at pains to distinguish the theophany from God in himself: “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezk 1:28). Notice that this is three steps removed from the God himself. Not the Lord, but the glory of the Lord. Not the glory of the Lord, but the likeness of the glory of the Lord. Not the likeness of the glory of the Lord, but the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. God himself remains untouchable.

I want to dispose at once of the argument that Jesus could not have been speaking here of Holy Communion on the grounds that he hadn't yet ordained it. In fact, to speak of something important ahead of time, sometimes cryptically, is exactly the sort of thing Jesus did not infrequently. To give just a few examples, he prophesied his own resurrection by saying, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19), which the disciples understood only after the fact. He told Nicodemus (John 3) that he had to be "born of water and of the Spirit" and went on a bit about being "born of the Spirit," which wouldn't make a whole lot of sense until after the day of Pentecost.

i) The question is not whether Jesus can refer to something ahead of time, but whether the original audience was responsible for grasping a proleptic reference.

ii) Comparison with Jn 3 is counterproductive. Nicodemus was supposed to understand what Jesus meant. That’s because there were OT oracles about spiritual renewal, involving similar imagery (wind and water, e.g. Ezk 36:25-27; 37:1-14).

The similarity between what Jesus says in John 6 and the words of institution (quoted below) is far too striking for coincidence. I would go so far as to say that, with the words of institution in hand, we can see that Jesus must have been foretelling Holy Communion in John 6. The two fit together exactly as prophecy and fulfillment do. Jesus first tells them, bafflingly, that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, and then later he hands them bread and wine and says, "This is my body; eat this" and "All of you drink this; this is my blood." What more do you want? The two things obviously refer to one another, which is to say that they refer to one and the same thing. It's just that, as with most prophecies, we only understand this fully after we see what the fulfillment looks like. Jesus must have known that his disciples would remember his earlier discourse when he spoke the words at the Last Supper. (Brief digression: John does not record the words of institution but does record the discourse on Jesus as the bread from heaven. The Synoptics record the words of institution but not the discourse. I believe that this is an instance of those undesigned coincidences that are the mark of eyewitness history, about which much has been said elsewhere. Were John writing an ahistorical literary work, he would very likely have included the words of institution.)

Several problems:

i) As Lydia herself admits, the imagery isn’t drawn from John’s account of the Last Supper.

ii) The contextual source of the imagery is threefold:

a) It’s not coincidental that this discourse comes on the heels of Jesus multiplying the fish and bread (Jn 6:1-15).

b) Christ’s opponents introduce the OT account of the manna in the wilderness, which Jesus picks up on and develops further.

c) The gruesome imagery foreshadows the account of the Crucifixion (Jn 19).

iii) It’s dissimilar to the words of institution. Jn 6 refers to “flesh” whereas the words of institution refer to the “body.”  Since the words of institution are stereotypical or formulaic, we’d expect Jn 6 to reproduce the same ritualistic wording if it prefigured the Last Supper. Liturgical language uses the same words, same imagery. Ritual is repetitious.

iv) Jesus promises eternal life to whoever “eats his flesh and drinks his blood.” But on the sacramental interpretation, this would mean every one-time communicant is guaranteed salvation, including apostates. Yet that’s not consistent with Johannine theology.

v) Jn 6 treats “eating and drinking” as equivalent to “believing and coming” (vv35,40,47). That suggests the consumptive imagery is a figurative for having faith in Christ.

Lydia then devotes several paragraphs to expounding on the implications of the sacramental interpretation. But even if that’s valid, it’s only as good as her underlying interpretation.

The first point in this passage [1 Cor 11:23-32] that sits oddly with a memorialist position is the command that one examine oneself before taking Communion. Christians, at least those who have been carefully instructed at all about Communion, are so used to this requirement that we may take it for granted and not recognize the argument it presents against memorialism. Prior to this Paul has been talking about what we might call liturgical abuses connected with the meal that was apparently eaten prior to the Communion rite itself. (He brings this up after the quoted passage as well.) It would be somewhat easy to take phrases like "eating and drinking unworthily" to mean simply "eating and drinking disrespectfully." But Paul is going farther than just telling people to knock it off with the gluttony and behave respectfully during Communion. He's telling the believers to engage in introspection and not to receive Holy Communion until they have examined themselves and, I think we can take it, confessed their sins to God and resolved not to do them again. Why, if Communion is only a memorial? Do we have to undertake a special self-examination before participating in a Holy Week play? Yet that, too, commemorates Jesus' death. We sing songs in which we proclaim, show forth, remember the cross and Jesus' death, yet we aren't expected to undertake searching self-examination before each of those. It would seem overblown in the highest to speak of doing these things "unworthily" because we had not undergone a special examination of conscience before them.

This fails to make allowance for Paul’s play on words, as well as the ecclesiastical context. Although the “body” can symbolize the person of Christ, it can also symbolize the church. And, indeed, Paul is faulting some communicants for dishonoring their fellow church members by how they conduct themselves at the agape feast. In addition, to dishonor a Christian can indirectly dishonor Christ. Cf. R. Ciampa & B. Rosner, The First Letter To the Corinthians (Eerdmans 2010), 554-55

One more point about the words of institution. When Jesus says that this is the new covenant (testament) in his blood, he is alluding to a crucial ceremony in Israel's history. Moses (Exodus 24:8) took the blood of oxen and sprinkled it over the people after they had agreed to do all the words that the Lord had commanded in the Law. Moses said while sprinkling the blood, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words." In instituting the Lord's Supper, Jesus institutes a new covenant between God and his people, and as blood was used for sealing the Old Covenant, so here, Jesus says that the cup is his blood which seals the new covenant. That seems to me, again, very strong language, and a rather surprising historical connection, for a bare memorial or symbol.

That’s because the cup signifies the death of Christ on the cross–which is perfectly attuned to a symbolic interpretation of the eucharist.