Saturday, February 09, 2013

Do ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’?

Cavin’s case against the resurrection

Viewing the future

26 In the eleventh year, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, because Tyre said concerning Jerusalem, ‘Aha, the gate of the peoples is broken; it has swung open to me. I shall be replenished, now that she is laid waste,’ 3 therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. 4 They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers, and I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock. 5 She shall be in the midst of the sea a place for the spreading of nets, for I have spoken, declares the Lord God. And she shall become plunder for the nations, 6 and her daughters on the mainland shall be killed by the sword. Then they will know that I am the Lord.

7 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will bring against Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, and with horsemen and a host of many soldiers. 8 He will kill with the sword your daughters on the mainland. He will set up a siege wall against you and throw up a mound against you, and raise a roof of shields against you. 9 He will direct the shock of his battering rams against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers. 10 His horses will be so many that their dust will cover you. Your walls will shake at the noise of the horsemen and wagons and chariots, when he enters your gates as men enter a city that has been breached. 11 With the hoofs of his horses he will trample all your streets. He will kill your people with the sword, and your mighty pillars will fall to the ground. 12 They will plunder your riches and loot your merchandise. They will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses. Your stones and timber and soil they will cast into the midst of the waters. 13 And I will stop the music of your songs, and the sound of your lyres shall be heard no more. 14 I will make you a bare rock. You shall be a place for the spreading of nets. You shall never be rebuilt, for I am the Lord; I have spoken, declares the Lord God (Ezk 26:1-14).

Liberals regard this prophecy as a textbook case of failed prophecy. The prima facie problem is that, according to historical sources, Nebuchadnezzar never did what Ezekiel foretells.

In addition, Ezk 29:17-21 is often thought to be a defensive acknowledgement on Ezekiel’s part that the actual outcome fell short of the prediction.

Scholars have different ways of finessing the issue. In general, I think most of the proposed solutions have merit. After reviewing them, I’m going to offer my own solution, as well as some concluding thoughts. My own solution isn’t necessarily an alternative to the others, but a way of integrating and grounding other solutions within a broader framework.

i) Allen doesn’t think there’s a real problem:

It was to some extent a carping criticism: the siege was successful and Tyre did pass into Babylonian control. In a list of royal hostages at Nebuchadnezzar’s court, to be dated to about 570 BC, the king of Tyre has the initial place. About 564 BC, Baal, Ethbaal’s successor as king of Tyre, was replaced by a Babylonian High Commissioner. L. Allen, Ezekiel 20-48 (Word 1990), 109.

On this view, although Ezk 26 wasn’t literally fulfilled, it was effectively or substantially fulfilled. Tyre surrendered. Paid tribute. Became a vassal state.

This interpretation is interesting, in part, because Allen is not committed to the inerrancy of Scripture. In fact, he thinks Ezekiel mispredicted 40-48. Therefore, he’s not defending Ezekiel at this point due to a precommitment to Ezekiel’s inspiration. 

In addition, the coastal side of Tyre was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.

ii) Some scholars appeal to hyperbole, stock imagery, and mythopoetic imagery. And there’s certainly some truth to that appeal.

iii) Some scholars appeal to the conditional nature of prophecy. If, say, the king of Tyre sued for terms of peace to spare Tyre from further devastation, that would be consistent with Bible prophecy. Whether that general principle is the correct explanation in this particular case is harder to determine. It was a war of attribution. Both sides had ample incentive to cut their loses.

iv) According to another scholar:

Richard Bauckham expressed it like this:

Biblical prophecy always both addressed the prophet’s contemporaries about their own present and the future immediately impending for them and raised hopes which proved able to transcend their immediate relevance to the prophet’s contemporaries and to continue to direct later readers to God’s purpose for their future.153

In other words, a certain element of non-fulfilment is characteristic for biblical prophecy and is an indication that biblical prophecy usually expresses God’s larger plan as well as his purpose for a specific situation. Even a prophecy that has been fulfilled remains open for further fulfilment.154 This possibility of reinterpreting and reapplying prophecies is given because God’s purposes in history are consistent and his past acts can serve as models for the future.

For those who trust God, the partial fulfilment of the prediction is a pledge that the promise will come true.

Thomas Renz, “Proclaiming the Future: History And Theology in Prophecies Against Tyre,” TynB 51.1 (2000). 

I think that’s generally valid, although “reinterpretation” may not be the best category. The paradigmatic character of prophecy would account for the alternation between specifics and generalities in prophetic discourse. Specific enough to be recognizably fulfilled, but general enough to be fulfilled on more than one occasion.

v) Renz also says:

A prophetic prediction rests on the claim to have stood in the council of God rather than the claim to have travelled into the future.8 It is a claim of having insight into God’s plan rather than of having had a preview of the future. Yahweh revealed what he was going to do rather than simply what was going to happen. He is praised not for his passive foreknowledge of events, but his active intervention to bring about his purpose. The fulfilment of things previously announced is not so much a proof of Yahweh’s knowledge but of his sovereignty in historical events.

Up to a point, distinguishing between direct foresight and indirect foresight via insight into God’s plan is a potentially useful distinction. However, that’s not an antithetical relation. One could know the future by knowing God’s plan for the future. The distinction presumably involves the level of generality. Knowing God’s agenda is less specific than “seeing” the future. It’s the difference between ends and means.

vi) Renz also says:

Mickelsen rightly emphasised that prophecy is…not ‘simply history written beforehand’.151  Prophecy does not gives us a picture of events similar to a historian’s account.

I’m more dubious about that contention:

a) On the face of it, this begs the question. For there’s a sense in which prophecy is history written beforehand.

b) Moreover, this exaggerates the difference between prophetic discourse and historical discourse. Both prophets and historians can use the same literary or rhetorical conventions. History written after the fact can resemble history written before the fact.

c) Michelsen’s claim also runs the risk of special pleading. Couldn’t any false prophecy invoke the same distinction?

vii) Some scholars appeal to Alexander the Great’s subsequent conquest of Tyre, which literally approximates the depiction given in Ezekiel’s prophecy.

Having reviewed some scholarly harmonizations, I’ll say a few things on my own:

viii) There’s not simply a prima facie conflict between the oracle and the actual campaign. Rather, there’s a prima facie incongruity in terms of the oracle itself. We don’t have to compare the oracle to the outcome to see that, for that goes back to the wording of the oracle itself.

On the one hand, the oracle describes Tyre in terms of its actual insular setting:

12 Your stones and timber and soil they will cast into the midst of the waters…14 I will make you a bare rock. You shall be a place for the spreading of nets.

So Ezekiel was aware of the fact that Tyre was an offshore city.

On the other hand, Ezekiel also describes the campaign in terms of siege warfare against a fortified city on the mainland.

But therein lies the incongruity. Normally, it wouldn’t be possible to deploy battering rams against an offshore city, for Tyre was surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. Battering rams don’t float.

Therefore, the fact that Nebuchadnezzar’s campaign didn’t literally correspond to Ezekiel’s description is not surprising or embarrassing, for that prima facie tension was initially present in the oracle. It’s not merely subsequent events which introduce the apparent discrepancy. How, exactly, the oracle was meant to be fulfilled was always enigmatic. It may well have been puzzling to Ezekiel.

But as a prophet, his duty was to report whatever God told him or showed him, even if he found that nonsensical. As it turns out, this was only counterintuitive looking ahead. With the benefit of hindsight, it all makes perfect sense. 

ix) Ezekiel was a seer. He saw what God showed him in visions. His oracles describe what he foresaw.

In his inspired imagination, he may well have seen a city under attack by battering rams and other accoutrements of siege warfare. Ezekiel isn’t wrong to write down what he saw.

The oracle is representational at two different levels. At one level it represents what he foresaw. A visual description of the images which God disclosed to him. At another level, it represents a future event or events.

Considered in isolation, images aren’t about any time or place in particular. Images aren’t inherently past, present, or future. Likewise, an image of a city could be an image of an actual city, or it could be an image of a generic city. Since we aren’t privy to Ezekiel’s psychological experience, we don’t know what he saw. All we have is the record of what he saw. 

As a result, prophetic images can sustain a one-to-many correspondence. The same image can stand for different times and places. The intended referent is ascriptive rather than intrinsic.

x) Alexander’s destruction of Tyre was totally unexpected, precisely because Alexander was able to adapt siege warfare to a fortified island. No one thought of doing that before. It was his tactical genius that made it possible. He had a wide causeway built, connecting Tyre to the mainland, which enabled Alexander to ramp up the battering rams against Tyre’s defensive walls.

How could anyone anticipate that eventuality? Short of inspiration, how could Ezekiel see that coming, centuries later? Viewed in retrospect, Ezekiel’s incongruous oracle, coupled with Alexander’s ingenuity, literally fulfills the prophecy in a completely unexpected way. A way that was naturally unforeseeable. Far from casting doubt on his inspired foresight, this is a confirmation made all the more remarkable by the natural barriers to its realization.

xi) Unbelievers dismiss Bible history by telling us that history is written by the winners. But if that’s the case, then why didn’t scribes and redactors edit out Ezekiel’s dissonant prophecy? If the Bible was written by the winners, why did the winners preserve “failed” prophecies in Scripture–especially when unbelievers assure us that Bible writers impersonate dead prophets and fabricate backdated prophecies. 

xii) Paradoxically, Ezekiel lived long enough to see his oracle evidently fall short, but not long enough to see it completely fulfilled. He had to live with apparent failure. With his credibility diminished rather than vindicated.

Christians sometimes envy the prophets. We live with God’s silence, whereas God spoke to them or appeared to them.

Yet God left Ezekiel hanging out to dry. And he’s not the only prophet who felt that way, viz. Elijah, Jeremiah. It’s very frustrating to be right, when you’re in no position to prove you are right. When events conspire against you. When you’re tempted to doubt your calling.

Ezekiel had to stay faithful in the face of apparent failure and public derision. When even the Lord seemed to let him down. Like so many ordinary Christians, Ezekiel had to await postmortem vindication.

The Life Of George Herbert

At a Desiring God conference earlier this week, John Piper gave a biographical address on the poet George Herbert. And here's an archive of previous biographies he's done, in video, audio, and written format. I highly recommend them. We live in a secularizing and trivializing age, and Piper's biographies run contrary to that spirit.

Speaking the truth to power

Dr. Benjamin Carson Addresses the National Prayer Breakfast

Friday, February 08, 2013

Overview of Origins

How many temples are there?

I’m going to comment on this post:

On his accounting I ought to doubt my salvation.

Why does Henebury react this way? He said that if amils are right, then God is guilty of prevarication. I inferred from his statement that he doesn’t think God is trustworthy if amils are right. Isn’t that a logical inference? Why does he object when I measure him by his own yardstick? Is that a mature reaction?

My duty is to stick to the argument.

The problem is that when your opponent refuses to argue in good faith, it’s impossible to just stick to the issues. For you must constantly backtrack to correct your opponent’s evasions and misrepresentations.

But I will say this: I had no intention of attacking Steve’s character when I wrote the offending preamble to my link to Fred Butler’s post.  Yet upon reflection, the parts of the quote which he highlighted do sound a little proud, and for that I apologize to Steve Hays and any others who found my words offensive.  I didn’t mean them to come across like that, but I can see how someone like Steve could have taken umbrage.

I appreciate that. However, I never indicated that I took personal offense, and I never demanded an apology. I didn’t mention myself. Rather, I mentioned how Henebury’s aspersions were unjust to amil commentators like Hummel and Block. It’s not what his invidious comparisons said about amils, but what they unwittingly said about himself. But let’s try to put that behind us.

Built in to this position is Hays’s opinion that the understanding of the original hearers (and those who came after) was in agreement with his non-literal view.  He thinks they couldn’t divine a future glorious kingdom where Israel is regenerate and Messiah reigns in justice and righteousness from Jerusalem, and where priests serve him in a new sanctuary. In fact they could do this from say, Num. 25:10-13; Deut. 30:6f., or Psa. 2, 89, 105, 106, Isa. 2, 11, 26-27, 35, 43, 44, 45, 51, 62; Jer. 23, 30, 31, 33, or Hos. 2:16f. or Mic. 4, or Zeph. 3, or indeed from Ezek. 34, 36-37.  It seems Ezekiel’s near contemporary Zechariah (6:12-13, 8:1-3; 14:16f.) and Malachi (3:2-3) believed it too.  Zechariah predicts a future temple built after Jerusalem has been changed topographically where the King is worshiped at the temple.

i) Let’s cut the dead wood. The question at issue is whether Ezk 40ff. is referring to a physical endtime temple. Dispensationalists think many prophecies about Israel were not fulfilled during the first advent of Christ. Therefore, they cast about for some place to stick these outstanding prophecies. And they settle on Rev 20:4-6. They use three verses in Rev 20 as an empty container to stuff full of outstanding prophecies about Israel. 

However, Rev 20:4-6 doesn’t say anything about a temple, physical or otherwise. The only explicit reference to a temple in the Apocalypse is Rev 11:1-2. John’s vision of the New Jerusalem adapts temple imagery, but that’s in reference to the final state, not a temporary millennium. 

ii) Rev 20:4-6 does contain some literary allusions to OT prophecy: Dan 7:9-11,22 & Ezk 37:10. That’s it.

iii) The obvious problem with Henebury’s appeal to Zechariah is that, in context, Zechariah is referring to the Second Temple. The temple built by Zerubbabel (Zech 4:6-10). Same thing with Haggai (2:2-4).

That’s the dilemma for dispensationalists like Henebury. Yes, they can find prophecies about a new physical temple. Unfortunately for them, when you study the context, these refer to the Second Temple.

Yes, the restoration community expected a new physical temple to replace Solomon’s temple. And that would be the Second Temple. Zerubbabel’s temple.

iv) Now someone might object that the Second Temple fell far short of Haggai’s grandiose description. How do we harmonize the historical context with the end-result?

a) In principle, you could say that Haggai was literally wrong. He sincerely expected the Second Temple to match his description, but he was shortsighted. That would be a liberal interpretation. But it would be consistent with a physical temple. And it would be consistent with the original setting.

b) We could say Haggai was using hyperbolic language. Certainly there’s ample precedent for hyperbole in prophetic discourse.

c) Or we could say the Second Temple was a prefigural placeholder for the world to come. After all, Haggai talks about a cosmic earthquake which destroys the old order and ushers in a new world order. That, however, can’t very well denote a temporary millennium, which would still be part of the old order. Rather, that refers to a new creation. The final state.

v) Henebury’s contention is deceptively simple, but let’s unpack it. This is what his claim actually amounts to:

Ezekiel had a vision of a new temple. A physical temple to replace Solomon’s temple.

Ezekiel’s vision is both predictive and prescriptive. Not only is this prophetic, but God is commanding Jews to build a temple according to this blueprint.

However, postexilic Jews were not supposed to build this temple. Jews are supposed to delay construction of this temple. Appearances notwithstanding, Jews would be disobeying God’s command to build the temple by building the temple. You see, Ezekiel really meant for Jews to postpone construction of this temple, even though he doesn’t say that.

This is the actual order of events:

a) Zerubbabel is not supposed to build a temple according to Ezekiel’s blueprint. Ezra is not supposed to build a temple according to Ezekiel’s blueprint. That would wreak havoc with God’s eschatological timetable.

b) Before Ezekiel’s temple can be built, the Second Temple must be built.

c) Then Herod must remodel Zerubbabel’s temple.

d) Then the Second Temple must be razed by the Romans in 70 AD.

e) Then the Jews must undergo a second exile when the Romans banish them from Palestine after the Bar Kochba revolt.

f) Then, after the second temple is destroyed, but before Ezekiel’s temple can be built, a third, Tribulation temple must be built, just before the Parousia, which the Antichrist will desecrate (Dan 9:27; 12:11; 2 Thes 2:4; Rev 11:1-2; 13:14-15). Cf. L. Cooper, Ezekiel (B&H 1994), 354; R. Thomas, Revelation 8-22 (Moody 1995), 81-82.

g) Then, when Jesus returns, the stop-work order will be rescinded, and builders who have no historical connection with Ezekiel’s contemporaries or the Jewish returnees in 6C BC, will finally erect Ezekiel’s temple, after two unspecified temples have come and gone. And that’s taking Ezk 40-48 at “face value.” That’s how the original audience was meant to understand Ezk 40-48. Sure.

Yes, I know Steve will ignore these references (he has done so consistently), or that he will make them all metaphorical, but I’m not writing for Steve.  He’s too entrenched in his views to consider these texts seriously at face value.

Unlike Henebury, who’s not entrenched in his views.

Most of passages Henebury cites are quite generic. And he cites them without exegeting them. Let’s just touch on two of the more significant passages:

I think Mal 3:1-4 mainly envisions the first advent of Christ and the Second Temple. And, indeed, Jesus frequented the Second Temple.

The passage does contain some eschatological imagery which might also point to the second advent of Christ. That would be a case of prophetic foreshortening. Messianic prophecies often don’t bother to distinguish between the two advents. They are differentiated by subsequent events.

I don’t think God is going to renew the Mosaic cultus, which would be retrograde. But because this oracle is written by and for Jews, it uses idiomatic Jewish imagery.

I think Isa 2:1-4 envisions the new world order, brought about by the return of Christ. It, too, uses stock OT imagery. 

White is Right vs Wright on the NPP

In his Dividing Line show yesterday, Dr. James White talked about an radio broadcast that he shared with N.T. Wright, of “New Perspective on Paul” (NPP) fame.

In the course of the show, Dr. White mentioned that he believes he must spend more time on this topic, and for this I’m grateful. Noting that the NPP (rather, NPPs) have been a bridge for people into Roman Catholicism (and through the related Reformed phenomenon, the Federal Vision), he especially points to the fact that the people who most know what they’re talking about, E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, and “Tom” Wright himself, have not moved into Roman Catholicism.

Citing a JETS paper that Wright published in 2011 (and I didn’t get the specifics, but I believe it was March 2011), Dr. White made the point of clarifying what N.T. Wright actually says on certain issues.

In what follows, I’ll try to blockquote his direct citations of Wright, and I’ll try to transcribe (or tightly paraphrase) what Dr. White is saying.


The point is not that “the Reformers had a faulty hermeneutic, therefore the Catholics must be right. If you get the hermeneutic right, and you will see that the critique [of Roman Catholicism] is all the stronger. Just because they used a faulty hermeneutic to attack Rome, that does not mean there was nothing to attack, or that a better hermeneutic would not have done the job better”.

Dr. White goes on to say that NT Wright believes that he, and almost he alone, but that he is defending Sola Scriptura, and that we who hold to what he would call the Old Perspective, are not being consistent. He believes that he is defending Sola Scriptura against us.

“And folks, if I am going to be sensitive to anything, it’s that I am going to be sensitive to the charge that I am not practicing Sola Scriptura. Scripture always has to be the norm that norms all others.”

Dr. White quotes Wright as saying:

“On this underlying question, I am standing firm with the great Reformers against those who, however Baptist their official theology, are in fact “neo-Catholics”.

Dr. White then surmises that he is talking about D.A. Carson (?). Following from this, it is always important to remember that the New Testament Scriptures, the original first-century apostolic testimony to the great, one-off [“unique”] fact of Jesus himself, the doctrine of the authority of the Scripture itself is part of the belief that the living God acted uniquely and decisively in, through, and as Jesus of Nazareth as Israel’s Messiah to die for sins and to rise again to launch the New Creation. Again, [this is] a central Protestant insight that has happened once for all, “ἐφάπαξ”, right out of the book of Hebrews.

It does not have to happen again and again.

He says that Wright notes that in the 16th century, “some Roman Catholics were asserting that Jesus had to be sacrificed at every Mass”, perhaps because official Roman doctrine is that Christ’s sacrifice is “re-presented” in the Mass, or if he was saying that was one stream of thought.

“It is true that some people in the first century were asking some questions that were analogous to the things that Luther was asking. The rich young ruler wants to know how to inherit the age to come. Not ‘how to go to heaven’ by the way. Jesus does not answer as Luther would have done. He sends him back to the commandments, and tops it off by telling him to sell [everything] and become a disciple. Part of the problem is that Luther’s question was conceived in thoroughly Medieval terms, about God, grace, and righteousness. Put the question that way, and Luther’s answer was the right one. The fact that the words are biblical words does not mean that theologians in the 1500’s meant the same things that biblical writers in AD 50 meant by them, or rather by their Greek antecedents.”

Dr. White then says, “you’ve got to accurately represent the guy, or he will rip your lips off”.

What follows, now, is really important:

“One word in particular about the big story of Scripture, the story that is presupposed throughout the New Testament: the Big Story is about the Creator’s plan for the world, and this plan always envisaged human beings being God’s agent in that plan, human sin, that’s their problem, but God’s problem is bigger, his plan for the world is thwarted, so God calls Abraham to be the means of rescuing humankind, then Israel rebels, that’s their problem, but God’s problem is bigger, namely that his plan to rescue humans, and thereby the world, is thwarted. So God sends Israel in person, Jesus the Messiah to rescue Israel, to perform Israel’s task on behalf of Adam, and Adam’s on behalf of the whole world …”

This is where you get a sense of his narrative interpretation. Wright wants to talk about “the big picture”, the big purpose from beginning to end.

We [Reformed] talk about covenants, and the concepts that are woven throughout the text of Scripture.

Wright’s presentation is thoroughly Israel-centric, or as Dr. White puts it, “Israel-dominated”.

“For N.T. Wright, THE KEY narrative concept for the interpretation of all the Bible, and especially the New Testament, is the concept of the exile. Israel in exile. That is for him what gives cohesion to the interpretation of everything else. I don’t agree with that, I don’t necessarily think that Daniel 9 is what’s in the background of Paul’s thinking everywhere, but that’s one of the main issues that comes up.”

Citing Wright again:

“The point of the covenant with Israel in the whole of Scripture is that it is the means by which God is rescuing the children of Adam and so restoring the world”

That is N.T. Wright’s understanding of covenant theology.

He notes that Wright claims to have spent more time distancing himself from Sanders than agreeing with him – and he points out that there are as many variations within the “new perspective” as there are scholars writing on the subject.

He claims of Romans 10:3, indicating that:

Paul’s critique of his fellow Jews was not that Israel were legalists, trying to earn merit, but nationalists, trying to keep God’s blessing for themselves, instead of being the conduit of those blessing to flow to the Gentiles.”

Dr. White then criticizes that view, saying “you can’t cut apart the motivations of the Jews, so that they have solely a nationalistic issue going on, and that they do not have a works-righteousness issue going on. It just flattens Paul out too much to try to make the Wright paradigm fit. You have to flatten too many terms out, [and we those of us involved in Biblical interpretation can tend to fall into that error when we don’t think through what all these terms mean], … and so we’ve got to be consistent, and recognize that we’re doing that, but it also requires the reading of particular texts in a very unusual way. In facts, sometimes [Wright] suggests that the reading that he suggests, has never been suggested by anyone else before. And that got us into some interesting discussion.

He qualifies that Wright is pointing out true things; the problem is giving them a proper weight or emphasis. Wrights emphases are far outside the mainstream of historical “weighting” of these texts.

Wright’s suggests that it is wrong of thinking of the Jews as thinking of “old Pelagianism”, that man can pull himself up by his boot-straps, without the need for grace at all.

Dr. White re-asserts that the issue of the Reformation was never the necessity of grace. It was the sufficiency of grace. “And I did get to mention, that New Perspectivism as a whole, and even N.T. Wright’s position individually makes me wonder how he can avoid a synergistic compromise of sovereign grace in salvation. He will say he doesn’t, but I did raise the issue.”

Dr. White believes that one of the attractions to Wright comes from people who reject the “me and my bible” kinds of evangelicalism that is very widely manifested today. But he asserts that we need to know God’s greater plans, and to understand the meaning of God’s grace. “Only God’s people are looking for the gracious God. It all goes together”.

One of biggest problems with Wright’s viewpoint, he says, is that Wright’s “paradigm” in Romans 8 it is a two-party law court: God and sinner, whereas clearly, in Paul’s mind, it is a three-party law court: God, sinner, and Jesus the intermediary, interceding for the sinner.

He says: “This is the newness of the New Covenant”, which Wright misses.

At this point, we are more than half way through the DL broadcast, and I’ll leave that to those interested to follow up with it. But I’ll be watching closely for follow-ups on this topic.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Debates Announcement!

"Marriage equality"

White guilt

Note from KBJ: The most powerful force in the world today is white guilt. It got Barack Obama elected (twice); it prevents us from winning wars; it generates affirmative action, which harms both blacks and whites; it leads to the dumbing down of education (so that nobody is made to feel inferior); and it leads to repatriation (hence destruction) of precious antiquities.

Confessionalism & continuationism

Cessationism can refer to one of both of the following propositions: there is no postbiblical public or private revelation; there are no postbiblical miracles.

The Westminster Confession is often cited as a cessationist document due to a clause in chapter 1:

The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture (WCF 1.10).

However, the interpretation of this clause is controversial because some Westminster Divines, and other Reformed luminaries, reputedly believed in private revelation. Whether or not the position attributed to them is correct is a matter of ongoing scholarly dispute. For instance:

However, I’d like to approach the issue from a different angle. Indeed, I’ve discussed this before, but I’ll like to make an additional point. The Confessional also says:

There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God (WCF 25.6).

Although this article has been redacted out of some modern editions of the Confession, for now I’m simply interested in the viewpoint of the Westminster Divines.

The prooftexts given for this identification are Mt 23, 2 Thes 2, and Rev 13. In his exposition of Rev 13, John Gill furnishes a more detailed illustration of this exegetical tradition. For instance:

speaking great things, and blasphemies; great swelling words of vanity; calling himself by high and lofty titles, as Christ's vicar, Peter's successor, head of the church, universal bishop, &c. promising great things to his followers, riches, honours, pleasures, pardons, and heaven itself; and uttering things of a blasphemous kind, or great blasphemies, the particulars of which are mentioned in Revelation 13:6; so the little horn, who is the same with the Romish antichrist, is said to have a mouth speaking great things, very great things, and his look more stout than his fellows, Daniel 7:8.

And I beheld another beast,.... The same with the first, only in another form; the same for being and person, but under a different consideration; the same antichrist, but appearing in another light and view: the first beast is the pope of Rome, at the head of the ten kingdoms, of which the Roman empire consisted; this other beast is the same pope of Rome, with his clergy, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, &c. before he is described as a temporal monarch, now as a spiritual lord; there he is represented in his secular character, as having the seat, power, and authority of the dragon, of Rome Pagan, engaging the attention and wonder of the whole world, and striking terror into them, and as making war with the saints, and ruling over all nations and tongues; here in his ecclesiastic character, pretending great humility and holiness, showing signs and lying wonders, obliging to idolatry, and exercising tyranny and cruelty on all that will not profess his religion: that this is the same beast with the first in substance, though not in show, appears from his exercising the same power, causing all to worship the first beast, or himself as a temporal lord, by which he is supported in his spiritual dignity; and by mention being made only of one beast, at the close of this account, and of his mark, name, and number being but one; nor is there any other but one hereafter spoken, of in this book, either as ruling, or as conquered, and as taken, and as going into perdition, and as cast into the lake…

My point is not to assess the merits of this interpretation. Rather, I’m discussing the issue from the standpoint of historical theology.

One implication of this interpretation is that it cuts against cessationism. If the pope is the Antichrist, and the papacy has the powers ascribed to the Beast in Rev 13, then ecclesiastical miracles are to be expected. Thus far, these would be confined to the Roman communion, and they would be occultic miracles.

But if we operate within this exegetical framework, then this seems to undercut cessationism on another front. If the Beast represents the papacy, what do the two witnesses (Rev 11) represent? Continuing with Gill:

And I will give power unto my two witnesses,.... By whom are meant, not Enoch and Elias, as some of the ancient fathers thought, who, they supposed, would come before the appearance of Christ, and oppose antichrist, and be slain by him, which sense the Papists greedily catch at; nor are the Scriptures, the two Testaments, Old and New, designed, though their name and number agree, and also their office, which is to testify of Christ; but then to be clothed in sackcloth, to be killed, and rise again, and ascend to heaven, are things that cannot so well be accommodated to them: but these witnesses intend the ministers of the Gospel and churches of Christ, who have bore testimony for Christ, and against antichrist, ever since he appeared in the world; and particularly the churches and ministers in Piedmont bid fair for this character; who were upon the spot when antichrist arose, always bore their protest against him, and were ever independent of the church of Rome, and subsisted in the midst of the darkness of the apostasy; and suffered much, and very great persecutions, from the Papists; and have stood their ground, and continue to this day; and have been like olive trees and candlesticks, imparting oil and light to others. Though they ought not to be considered exclusive of other ministers and churches, who also have bore, and still do bear a witness for Christ, and against the idolatries of the church of Rome: no two individual persons can be meant, since these witnesses were to prophesy 1260 days, that is, so many years, but a succession of ministers and churches…

So there’s a sense in which the two witnesses are the counterpart to the Beast. If the Beast represents the false church (i.e. Rome), then the two witnesses represent the true church. If the Antichrist of Rev 13 is the pope, then the two witnesses of Rev 11 are the godly remnant, who stand opposed to the apostate church of Rome.

(Incidentally, most modern scholars agree with Gill that the two witnesses represent the church.)

But this, in turn, requires another parallel. Both the Beast and the two witnesses perform miracles. If we literally ascribe lying wonders to the Antichrist, which we equate with the papacy, then, by parity of argument, we should literally ascribe counter-miracles to representatives of the Protestant church.

Once again, my immediate point is not to evaluate this exegetical tradition, but to analyse the text of the Confession on its own terms, including the exegetical traditional undergirding the Confession. Within that framework, the Confession seems to commit adherents to continuationism.

Earliest Christian Manuscripts project

Larry Hurtado writes about A Substantial Study of Early Christian Manuscripts that is attempting “to provide a well-founded answer to some key questions about how earliest Christian Greek manuscripts were copied”:

More specifically, his question was how much these manuscripts were copied ad hoc (so to speak) and “in house” informally, by amateur/inexperienced copyists, and how much by trained/experienced copyists. The larger issues involve the culture and setting of earliest Christian book-production, how they regarded, handled, and transmitted their scriptural texts. To answer these questions, Mugridge examined with impressive care the physical and visual features of 516 manuscripts, which amount to every published copy of a Christian literary text from the first four centuries CE.

In the heart of his thesis (“Part B”), Mugridge analyses the 516 manuscripts according to a very wide list of features, showing that the great majority exhibit features that reflect trained, experienced and skilled copyists….

His key conclusion is that the great majority of early Christian literary texts were copied by experienced, trained copyists, although often not those of highest calligraphic abilities. This is not really a new view, but Mugridge provides by far the most thorough-going accumulation of data in defence of it.

Liccione Quixote

Erick wrote, in response to Paul Bassett:

The problem remains however that the universal church for 15 centuries did not understand the last word on any issue, doctrinal or disciplinary, to be in one’s individual interpretation of Scripture, or even a collective interpretation by a huge community in schism (Presbyterian, Baptist, etc). Obviously, reading the Scripture is very important to Catholics, and many Catholics are willing to go toe to toe with protestants in exegesis; however the solutions that are written down for the problems going on in the NT era are not always applicable since, as time goes on, there arises new problems which are not addressed by the NT.

The Papacy is not an ever-present over-lord on the whole Church, it is a referee there needed for sacerdotal unity. If you read the opening words of certain councils, there are pronouncements that the Bishop of Rome is the occupant of a chair wherein the rock of Church remains. And this went uncontested for a very long time.

But even if you were to show how this was contested, what group, besides your own community of theological thought, even agrees with your positive application of how to do Church and worship, despite their agreement with you on the negative towards the Papacy?

The problem with your comment, Erick, is that “the universal church” did not ever “understand” anything at all with one voice. There never was “a last word” from “the universal church” on anything – not even the Council of Chalcedon [which was “reinterpreted” by later councils].

The quest to find such a thing is a meaningless one. A Quixotic one. There is no “there” there.

To provide just one [fairly big] example: In the fifth century, the Alexandrians (Monophysites) as followers of Cyril, and the Antiochians (Nestorians) as followers of Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius, both, with their “successions of bishops”, both split with the Greeks and Romans [“the Orthdox”] over the issue of whether Mary was Theotokos or Christotokos. This was the heart and soul of the Nestorian heresy, at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD.

But consider the Common Christological Declaration that JPII signed with the “Assyrian Church of the East” in 1994 – which you may have otherwise known as the “Nestorian” church. This declaration says The controversies of the past led to anathemas, bearing on persons and on formulas. The Lord's Spirit permits us to understand better today that the divisions brought about in this way were due in large part to misunderstandings.

This is a “misunderstanding” that directly relates to a “doctrinal” issue:

the Assyrian Church of the East is praying the Virgin Mary as "the Mother of Christ our God and Saviour". In the light of this same faith the Catholic tradition addresses the Virgin Mary as "the Mother of God" and also as "the Mother of Christ". We both recognize the legitimacy and rightness of these expressions of the same faith and we both respect the preference of each Church in her liturgical life and piety.

This is the Theotokos vs Christotokos issue that was the very reason for “the Council of Ephesus” (431 AD). It was Cyril’s condemnation of Nestorius for this very issue.

Note the following OLTV video in which the Orthodox bishop Timothy "Kallistos" Ware just comes right out and says "Nestorius was not guilty of the Nestorian heresy". You can see the video here: (Look at "Plenary 1", Clip 1, beginning approximately 2:20)…

…and read more about the dispute here:

Your premise that “the universal church” did anything at all for 15 centuries is a false one. The “Nestorian” church never was not part of the universal church. Even though it had “bishops” in “succession”. The universal church had a mixed voice on this issue.

And it was mixed because of misunderstanding. Yes, doctrinal misunderstanding.

…the last word on any issue, doctrinal or disciplinary, to be in one’s individual interpretation of Scripture, or even a collective interpretation by a huge community in schism (Presbyterian, Baptist, etc)….

There never has been a “last word”. So the question “whose interpretation” really provides an answer that is far more convoluted than the answer you will receive at CTC. The very quest for alast word is a Quixotic one. Do you not see this?

Liccione’s “IP” which he finds “preferable” – because it offers a “a principled as opposed to an ad hoc way to distinguish the formal, proximate object of faith from fallible human opinions”, has no correspondence whatsoever with the actual course of church history. The universal church, not anywhere, ever, has identified [except by Roman fiat] this “formal, proximate object of faith” for which you are seeking. Even by his own standard of “papal ratifications of dogmatic canons issued by general councils meant to bind the whole Church”, you have, in the words of JPII, “a misunderstanding” which led to “anathemas” and schism.

This is an issue that is far older than Protestantism.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Answering the greatest question of our time

Suicide: "You've got to go back"

Gog and Magog

Richard Hess has made a case for the dispensational (or at least premillennial) interpretation of Ezekiel’s temple. Cf. “The Future Written in the Past: The Old Testament and the Millennium,” A Case for Historical Premillennialism, C. Blomberg and S. Chung, eds. (Baker 2009)), chap. 2.

Hess is a fine evangelical scholar. It’s always a pleasure to read his material. That said, there are some pretty basic problems with his argument.

i) He compares Ezekiel’s temple to descriptions of the tabernacle in Exod 24-40 as well as Solomon’s temple in 1 Kgs 6-8 & 2 Chron 2-7. Since these are literal, that creates a presumption in favor of taking Ezekiel’s description literally.

However, his analogy overlooks an obvious counter: Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Ezekiel wanted to describe a symbolic temple. If that was his intention, wouldn’t we expect the architectural style of the symbolic temple to resemble Biblical paradigms in various respects? Would it not be natural for a symbolic temple to be literarily allusive of other, well-known sanctuaries? To be, in some measure, a literary composite of other well-known sanctuaries–like we find in Rev 21-22?

Put another way, if Ezekiel meant to depict a symbolic temple, would we expect him to start from scratch, with a structure that doesn’t bear any recognizable connection with other sanctuaries in Scripture? To the contrary, would we not expect a symbolic temple to have some precedent in the sanctioned examples given in Scripture? An imaginative construct that makes creative use of those hallowed examples? Arguably, isn’t that what we find in Rev 21-22?

ii) Hess has another argument from analogy:

Ezekiel 38 and 39 refer to the people of Gog, probably a Semitic word related to the roof of a house or, in this case, the roof of the world, that is, the high mountain range of Lebanon and especially Ararat, far to the north of Israel. From this region fierce hordes would come, as they had in the past, and threaten Israel. This could refer to the Assyrians and Babylonians as well as other historical groups named in this chapter. It could also refer to the Scythians and others emerging from central Asian and threatening God’s people. Certainly Israel did not see this as allegorical, and there is no X is Y” formula in these chapters, ibid. 31.

But an obvious problem with his analogy is how anachronistic it would be to literally project this description into the far future. For, as Hess himself summarizes the data, this has reference to the ancient enemies of Israel. Is God going to resurrect the armies of Assyria and Babylonia? Will Scythian archers come riding down from the north? Surely antique military technology is no match for modern Israel’s arsenal.

This goes to a basic tension in dispensational hermeneutics. As one scholar put it:

If a literal interpretation is demanded, it must be admitted that a literal fulfillment has become impossible. In Ezekiel’s prophecy, Gog and his allies fight on horses with swords, shields, and helmets (Ezk 38:4-5,15,21; 39:20). In “literalist” interpretations of the Gog prophecy which anticipate a future invasion of Gog and Magog by a northern alliance, horses become horsepower, arrows become guided missiles or atomic weapons,

More recent end-time writes (such as Rosenberg, Epicenter) identify Gog and his allies with an alliance of Islamic nations who invade Israel, introducing a religious element that is entirely absent from Ezekiel’s prophecy.

One cannot have it both ways: either the fulfillment of Gog’s invasion is “literal” in the literal sense of Ezekiel’s description, complete with horses and swords and shields, or it is not intended to be taken literally. In this case, a fulfillment of the prophecy has to be sought in a historical period before the invention of gunpowder. Or, Ezekiel conveys a symbolic vision of God’s ultimate victory over the enemies of his people.

E. Schnabel, 40 Questions About the End Times (Kregel 2011), 223-24.

Where is Satan?

20 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea (Rev 20:1-8).

This is a dispensational prooftext. The sequence of events is cited as evidence for a dispensational timetable. First Satan is bound. This creates breathing space for the millennium. Then he’s released. The question then is, what does this interval correspond to in church history?

However, the premil interpretation is deceptively simple:

i) A sequence of visions is not a sequence of events. Moreover, in writing down his visions, John has to put them in some sort of order. Writing is a linear medium.

ii) But there’s a deeper issue. The text describes Satan in spatial and temporal terms. Satan is confined to a subterranean prison. But dispensational scholars don’t accept that at face value. They don’t think Satan is a physical dragon, whom the angel bound with a metal chain, and confined to the Netherworld, under lock-and-key.

This raises a question: why do they think the spatial markers are figurative, but the temporal markers are literal? Why is the “where” symbolic or metaphorical, but the “when” is literal or chronological? If you can’t find Satan on a map, why assume you can find him on a calendar? Why is the address figurative, but the date is literal?

Would it not be more consistent to either interpret both spatial and temporal representations literally or interpret both symbolically? If John is using spatial metaphors, isn’t that a literary clue to the fact that John is using temporal metaphors? A unified spatiotemporal word-picture? 

Cf. Craig Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things (Eerdmans 2001), 181.

The Boys at the Back

Disambiguating miracles

It seems to me that the stock objection to miracles conflates two ideas:

i) A miracle is an extraordinary event

ii) It’s extraordinary that a miracle would ever happen

It seems to me that these are two distinct ideas. They aren’t interchangeable claims. Moreover, I think the move from (i) to (ii) is illicit.

One problem is the notorious ambiguity of the adjective (“extraordinary”). What does that mean?

On one interpretation, “extraordinary” is a synonym for “unnatural.” Miracles are unnatural. But if we plug that definition into the objection, it either generates a tautology or an equivocation:

i) It would be unnatural for an unnatural event to occur.

That’s tautologically true, but that says nothing one way or the other about the plausibility of unnatural events happening. The skeptic needs more than a tautology. He needs to show the implausibility of unnatural events occurring.

After all, a theist could accept the definition and say that just means unnatural events occur unnaturally–not that unnatural events don’t occur. Rather, they occur, but not by natural means.


ii) It would be unlikely for an unnatural event to transpire

But that reformulation introduces an equivocation of terms into the objection, since the adjective (“extraordinary”) no longer means the same thing in both occurrences. It has one sense when it modifies “claims” or “evidence,” but a different definition when it modifies “events.”

An alternative is to use the same definition in both cases, where “extraordinary” always means unlikely:

i) A miracle is an unlikely event

ii) It’s unlikely that a miracle would ever happen

However, it seems to me that that definition highlights the fact that these are two distinct claims. Moreover, that it is illicit to infer (ii) from (i).

At first blush, it might seem to be obviously or definitionally true that it’s unlikely that an unlikely event will ever happen. But that’s specious, since it’s easy to come up with counterexamples.

The statement is ambiguous. On the one hand, it may be unlikely that an unlikely event will occur at any particular time and place. It may be unlikely that unlikely events will bunch up. Will occur in rapid succession. A series of unlikely events.

On the other hand, it may not only be likely, but inevitable that an unlikely event will occur sooner or later. Given the odds, unlikely events are bound to happen at some time or another, even if they are rare. 

Of course, that’s not the best definition of a miracle, since miracles would involve personal agency. Purpose. Rational discretion. Teleology. But for now I’m just dealing with the typical objection.

One might take another comparison:

i) A coincidence is an unlikely event

ii) It’s unlikely that a coincidence will happen

But, of course, coincidences do happen, so we can’t infer the implausibility of a coincidence from its improbability.

Permit me to illustrate the principle with a personal anecdote. Many years ago my parents went to the Seattle bus station at night. I no longer remember the reason.

When we got there, we bumped into my Aunt Ruth, who was sitting in the bus station. That was coincidental. And it was highly unlikely.

i) My aunt lived in Seattle. My parents did not. My parents lived in a bedroom community across the lake.

ii) Although my parents often drove into town, they rare drove to downtown Seattle at night–where the bus station was located.

iii) As I recall, this was the only time we ever went to the Seattle bus station. We almost never had occasion to go there, much less go there at night.

iv) I doubt my aunt went there very often. You went to the bus station to get a ticket to take a bus out of town, like taking a bus from Seattle to Yakima (in E. Washington). You used a bus stop to catch a bus from one part of Seattle to another part of Seattle. I doubt my aunt, who was an older woman at the time, took bus trips out of town very often.

v) We didn’t make prior arrangements to meet her there. She was there for a different reason. The encounter was fortuitous.

This coincidence involves nested improbabilities. An improbable conjunction of independent variables. Increasing improbabilities, as the specificity of the conditions increases.

Yet it happened. It would be unreasonable to demand extraordinary evidence for this coincidence. It would be unreasonable to doubt it or disbelieve it absent extraordinary corroboration. Coincidences are a commonplace of human experience.

I’m not saying miracles are equivalent to coincidences, although there are coincidence miracles. I’m just examining a stock objection to miracles from different angles

Scott Oliphint on “Contending for the Faith”

Jude 1:3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints….

The book of Jude is a tragedy of sorts. It reminds us that there will be times when those who appear closest to us will seek our demise. It reminds us that often in our own households, even in the church of Jesus Christ, we should "beware the Ides of March" because the day is not yet over. It reminds us to encourage one another, as we see the Day drawing near (Heb. 10:25). It reminds us that the faith is to be defended and commended even to and among the Lord's people, in the church.

When History and Philosophy Collide

Paul Bassett asks, “Will the real Council of Nicaea Stand Up? At issue are Roman claims that somehow “papal ratifications of dogmatic canons issued by general councils [are] meant to bind the whole Church”. Paul challenges this notion by providing some actual historical commentary.

On Nicaea, he quotes Bryan Cross as saying that Arianism had to give up its quest precisely because “the visible Church made this decision at that Council by way of the magisterium of bishops in communion with the episcopal successor of the Apostle Peter.”

I’ve already written about the laughable claim that any “episcopal successor of the Apostle Peter” had anything at all to do with this council.

Paul takes Bryan to task not only for his bad grammar, but for this notion:

I take his meaning to be this: the Arians at Nicaea were officially repudiated as a result of the decision of the unified “magisterium of bishops in communion with the episcopal successor of the Apostle Peter.” In other words, it was Rome’s authority that saved the day. Leaving aside the discussion about how the pope never attended the council and that his legates were minority figures there and the more important point that it was the secular emperor, Constantine, who ratified the whole thing the question I have is whether Catholics at the time of the Reformation would have come to the same conclusion using the same historical information.

And, indeed, they did not.

Citing accounts of kings of France and Spain at that time, he notes that the relationship between “church and state” was “precisely the opposite” of the account that Bryan gives. It was Constantine who ratified Nicaea, and it was the kings of Europe upon whose toes the popes stepped at the time of the Reformation:

”This new pretended Council has sought to deprive the King of France of his ancient honour by subjugating him and preferring another [the Pope] to him. This other was elevated to his position long after the institution of the Crown of France, which delivered him from the pagans and the Saracens and installed the Catholic faith by means of the succours and victories of Charlemagne and the Franks.”

The Spanish Inquisition was essentially an organ of royal power, one of whose functions was to ‘protect’ the Spanish Church from influence by outside agencies, including the papacy. Hence the domination of the Church by the crown was perhaps more comprehensive in Spain during the sixteenth century than in any other Europe state, including those with a Protestant, Erastian system.

Until that time, “Nobody looked to Rome for decisions on doctrine or ecclesiology and the Roman position held sway only in those cases where it happened to coincide with that of the secular ruler.”

The payoff:

But here we come to the interesting question: How are Catholics today to resolve the obvious contradiction between what Bryan Cross thinks the Magisterium is and how Catholics in the 16th century viewed it?

If we adopt Bryan’s view, we look to the Magisterium defined as the pope of Rome and the bishops in communion with him. But that system did not exist at all during the Reformation. The bishops of each country were beholden to their sovereign leader, not the pope. So a 16th century Catholic would have nowhere to go. But if we use the 16th century system of appealing first to the King, then the modern Roman Catholic is left with no court of appeal. So the Interpretive Paradigm [IP] of Bryan and his friends would disenfranchise large portions of their own sect depending on only the time in which it is applied!

So the irony is that Bryan Cross actually proves Mark Galli’s thesis. The “Catholic” church at the time of the Reformation did not, in fact, need a magisterium as defined by Bryan. And that is obvious because the Church existed and the Magisterium did not.

We don’t need no magisterium – indeed.

Soli Deo Gloria

When history and philosophy collide, the so-called “Catholic IP” loses.

“Catholic Social Teaching” and “The Popes Against the Jews”

Over at Old Life, a commenter asked: “At what point are we free to conclude that a corrupt hierarchy points to a false church?” In that regard, I see this phrase from Jesus as axiomatic: “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.” It is not as if “the sex abuse scandal” is the only corruption this hierarchy is involved in.

To be sure, in leaving Roman Catholicism, Rod Dreher made the claim “they all did it” (regarding the sex abuse scandals). But in looking at the issue of “Catholic Social Teaching”, you’ll find it doesn’t go back 2000 years, but maybe 120 years, if you consider some of the positive contributions. Prior to that, Catholic Social Teaching involved, in a significant way, “The Popes Against the Jews” – see especially Part 5. The “corrupt hierarchy” goes way back in history. They’ve just traded different kinds of corruptions.

This is not to say that there are not bad Protestant pastors. But the question rather is, “how can such a corrupt hierarchy claim, with a straight face, that a holy God will grant them doctrinal ‘infallibility’ under any circumstances at all, much less the ‘particular’ circumstances that they have narrowly defined?”

Bryan’s excellent adventure continues

Bryan Cross has been amply criticized in these pages for failing to disclose either the historical method or the factual basis for his claim that “the Roman Catholic Church” is “the Church that Christ Founded”.

Recently in a comment, he provided the first linkage I’ve seen that, in his mind, provides some kind of evidence that the Roman Catholic Church is what he always simply assumes it to be:

The motives of credibility indicate the location and identity of the Church Christ founded, and they are accessible to human reason.

Note the phrase “motives of credibility”. Here’s what that means, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

These testimonies are unanimous; they all point in one direction, they are of every age, they are clear and simple, and are within the grasp of the humblest intelligence. And, as the Vatican Council has said, "the Church herself, is, by her marvellous propagation, her wondrous sanctity, her inexhaustible fruitfulness in good works, her Catholic unity, and her enduring stability, a great and perpetual motive of credibility and an irrefragable witness to her Divine commission" (Const. Dei Filius) . "The Apostles", says St. Augustine, "saw the Head and believed in the Body; we see the Body let us believe in the Head" [Sermo ccxliii, 8 (al. cxliii), de temp., P.L., V 1143]. Every believer will echo the words of Richard of St. Victor, "Lord, if we are in error, by Thine own self we have been deceived—for these things have been confirmed by such signs and wonders in our midst as could only have been done by Thee!" (de Trinitate, 1, cap. ii).

Here the concept is found in CCC 156:

What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe "because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived". So "that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit." Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church's growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability "are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all"; they are "motives of credibility" (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is "by no means a blind impulse of the mind".

But these things “indicate the location and identity of the Church Christ founded”.

Bryan’s excellent adventure continues.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Guilt-tripping men for being men

The Superbowl has garnered some Christian criticism. I’m going to quote and comment on the following two posts:

Calah at Barefoot and Pregnant, has written a very good post called “Slut-shaming and the Attractiveness Factor” about how we should not judge Beyonce’s performance, and women/girls in general, on whether or not we find their behaviors “attractive” or sexy, but rather we should judge the objective morality or immorality of those behaviors:

    “I do not want my daughter to grow up in a world where the boys and men around her constantly judge her morality in terms of physical attraction. I don’t want her to hear things like, “waiting till marriage is sexy” or “it’s a turn-off when girls smoke”. I want her to hear things like, “your virtue is worth too much to throw away on someone who is not going to commit his life to you.” I want her to hear someone say, “smoking damages your body, and you’re too precious to damage for recreation.” I want her to grow up in a world where men and women talk about issues of virtue and modesty in terms of objective truth, not in terms of sex appeal.”

i) I’m partially sympathetic to what Duffy (and Calah) are trying to say. However, her disapproval is conspicuously one-sided. Does she think the pecking order only applies to women and not to men? Take junior high and high school. Does she imagine that’s a level playing field for boys? Don’t a lot of girls judge boys by their appearance? Or the cars they drive? So why is she dumping on men and boys? Why is that the impulsive, reflexive reaction?

ii) Also, let’s not overreact by acting as if sex appeal is inherently unchristian. God designed us to find the opposite sex sexually attractive. Within bounds, there’s nothing wrong with that. That dynamic is normally present. Let’s not pretend that we either can or ought to turn this into a purely Platonic dialogue, divorced from our physicality. We’re not angels.

The problem with Beyonce’s performance is that it focused unjust attention on her sexuality. And yet, I suspect the performance did not portray “her” sexuality so much as a sexuality imposed on her, not only by culture at large, but by marketers, choreographers, costume designers–a team of people who had to agree on the image they wanted Beyonce to portray to America during the Super Bowl.

Once again, we’re treated to the blame-men-first mentality. This is ironically paternalistic. In also involves a degree of self-denial.

Duffy is casting Beyonce in the stereotypical role of the passive victim of sexual exploitation. Let’s get real. Does Duffy really think female pop stars like Beyonce don’t know what they want and how to get it? Does she think women can’t be calculating or take advantage of men (by mutual consent, to be sure)?

Nonetheless, teaching both Sociology of Religion and the Sociology of Sport, my attention is piqued when these two subjects intersect—when sport and religion combine in an almost seamless garment of praise. Putting on the full armour of Christ seems to include a helmet, shoulder pads, and a fierce sense of team loyalty during the early part of February—Super Bowl season.

What does Matthew Vos intend to accomplish with a snide comment like that?

And in my experience, theology can't touch the Super Bowl. Churches near where I live cancel evening services for it, and some even project the festivities on sanctuary screens. We're a far cry from theological forbears like Calvin, who, according to author Shirl James Hoffman, made quite a stir after soberly reflecting on what sort of recreations one might participate in on Sunday, and indulged in a game resembling bowling in his after-worship time on the Lord's day.

That’s a legitimate issue to raise. Keep in mind, though, that the Bible doesn’t command Christians to celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday according to the Gregorian calendar. That’s just an ecclesiastical custom.

First, women play minor roles in most parts of the Super Bowl, and when they are present and featured, they are usually eroticized. Their agency is not chiefly linked to their minds or the wholeness of their persons, but is unmistakably connected to their bodies.

i) Is the agency of football players chiefly linked to their minds and the wholeness of their persons? Isn’t their agency chiefly linked to their bodies? Their athletic performance? So why is Vos pedaling this politically correct double standard?

ii) Becoming a cheerleader is voluntary. And cheerleaders, along with jocks, are at or near the top of the pecking order in junior high and high school. The queen bees.

iii) In addition, for all I know, female fans who go to football games enjoy watching buff young men in spandex. Why are there no complaints about women objectifying male athletes? It’s not as if women don’t have an eye for hunky guys.

iv) Also, it seems to me that football players often play, in part, to impress female onlookers, like girlfriends or cheerleaders. So it’s not as if the cheerleaders are purely decorative. Men like to impress women with their athletic prowess. That inspires them to win.

v) In fact, aren’t there male cheerleaders? Don’t the girls need beefy guys to stand on or to catch them as the girls perform their acrobatic stunts?

Well-known Sport sociologist Jay Coakley explains that most sports coverage prioritizes the interests and concerns of male athletes in ways that reaffirm traditional gender ideologies—ideologies glamourizing violence, dominance, aggression, and social distance from women, that we Christians should probably be careful about endorsing.

Perhaps we might more soberly contemplate the meaning of our cavalier approval of brutal body hits (Coakley's term) during the game, and passive consumption of hyper-sexualized images of women between plays. What do we think of these things, and what is their spiritual meaning? Does a theology of the body—if we even acknowledge one—make any difference when it comes to sports?

i) What does Vos intend to accomplish? Is he sincerely trying to change social attitudes inside and outside the church? Of is he just using this issue as pretext to engage in moral posturing?

If, in addressing male readers, you begin your sociological analysis of football with the men-are-pigs spiel or make snooty comments about “glamourizing violence and aggression,” I think it’s safe to say the average guy in the audience will tune you out after the first or second sentence. That’s not persuasion–that’s moral grandstanding. It doesn’t convince–it repels.

ii) There’s also the unargued assumption that male aggression and rough-n-tumble sports are unchristian. This, in turn, is related to his evident egalitarianism.

Coakley concludes, "Women are seldom seen except when portrayed in sexual terms, or as cheerleaders, spectators, and supportive spouses and mothers on the sidelines."

Second, women are depicted in the Super Bowl and other televised mega-sports in ways that proclaim, "This world is for men, about men, and because of men. You women may participate, but only in forms that are pleasing to men."

As a matter of fact, football is primarily by and for men. So what? Men and women are psychologically and physiologically different. There are some things men like to do that most women don’t, just as there are some things women like to do that most men don’t.

One problem Shirl James Hoffman, author of the outstanding and sobering book, Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports, finds with practices like Tebowing (genuflecting after a successful play), sports evangelism, and prayer in the end-zone, is that they can help to make sacred some of the practices and postures with which we should take issue.

That raises a legitimate question. On the one hand, there’s the danger of sanctifying what might be something essentially worldly. On the other hand, shouldn’t we bring Christian influences to bear?

With prophetic acuity Hoffman writes that "as human experiences, our sport spectacles seem unlikely places to find God 'softly and tenderly calling'.

That takes for granted a disputable view of Christian theism. Is the God of the Bible a God who only calls softly and tenderly? For that matter, is he a God who only calls?

Rather than feeling sadness, we laugh when a woman’s body sells a car. Rather than outrage, we watch it again on YouTube.

i) As a matter of fact, yes, I do laugh it off. It’s laughable because it’s such a cliché, because it’s such a patent way of pandering to men. You know the advertiser is trying to manipulate you, and there’s something comical about anything that obvious, predictable, unoriginal.

ii) Why should I feel sad or outraged? I didn’t put the bikini on the model. I didn’t put the model on the hood of the car. I didn’t operate the camera. And I didn’t ask to see it. I’m not party to this transaction. It’s just one of those fleeting things in life.

Save your indignation for a worthy cause, like combating child prostitution in Asia.

And in the end, without many scruples about the ties between demeaning ads and supermarket products, we buy their wares.

If it’s a good product, why should I boycott the product because of some cheesy commercial?

Will we pretend that we can simply mentally dismiss particular components of the Super Bowl "package" and in this way resist its hegemonic control?

As a matter of fact, I, as a Christian, living in a fallen world, must often dismiss particular components of the package that’s foisted upon me. This is the world I have to live in. I can’t avoid everything that’s inappropriate to see or hear. So I do some mental sorting.