Saturday, July 13, 2013

"Because it hadn't rained"

I'm going to briefly evaluate a supporting argument for the framework hypothesis:

"Because It Had Not Rained" (Gen. 2:5)Although the above considerations make the framework interpretation a plausible understanding of the days of creation, we recognize that we have not yet demonstrated the impossibility of a sequential understanding of the creation days. One might still argue that day four need not be taken as a recapitulation of day one, proposing instead that God could have sustained day and night for the first three days by supernatural means prior to the creation of the sun, moon and stars. But Gen. 2:5 rules out such an explanation and further strengthens the link between days one and four in a figurative framework.Gen. 2:5a states that "no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted," and verse 5b provides a very logical and natural explanation for this situation: "for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground" (NASB). Then, in verses 6-7, we are told how God dealt with these exigencies. In verse 6, the absence of rain is overcome by the divine provision of a rain cloud ("a rain cloud began to arise from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground"); and in verse 7, the absence of a cultivator is overcome by the creation of man. [7]Notice that Moses offers his audience (ca. 1400 BC, long after the creation period) a perfectly natural explanation for the absence of vegetation. The Israelites would have been familiar with the idea that some form of water supply is necessary for plant growth - whether God-sent rain or man-made irrigation. So when Moses states that God didn't create vegetation until He had established the natural means of sustaining that vegetation, i.e., the rain cloud (verse 6), he is assuming that the Israelites would recognize the logic of this situation based on their own experience. The very fact that Moses would venture to give such an explanation indicates the presence of an unargued presupposition, namely, that the mode of providence in operation during the creation period and that is currently in operation (and which Moses' audience would have recognized) are the same. Since the mere giving of a natural explanation presupposes providential continuity between the creation period and the post-creation world, we may infer a general principle, applicable beyond the case of vegetation, that "God ordered the sequence of creation acts so that the continuance and development of the earth and its creatures could proceed by natural means." [8] In other words, during the creation period, God did not rely on supernatural means to preserve and sustain His creatures once they were created.With this principle in hand, we now return to the problem of daylight, and evenings and mornings, prior to the sun. Although the sequential view attempts to explain this problem by hypothesizing that God sustained these natural phenomena by some non-ordinary means for the first three days, this speculation of human reason is contradicted by the disclosure of divine revelation that God employed ordinary means during the creation period to sustain His creatures. Thus, we are cast back upon our original suggestion that the fourth day is an instance of temporal recapitulation, narrating the creation of the normal physical mechanism God established to sustain the daylight/night phenomenon throughout the creation period and beyond. Gen. 2:5 necessitates a non-sequential interpretation of the creation account, and non-sequentialism in turn demonstrates that the week of days comprises a figurative framework.  

i) This posits a false dichotomy between fiat creation and ordinary providence. Assuming for the sake of argument that the calendar-day interpretation is correct, it would still be the case that after each subsequent day of the creation week, God must conserve the creative results of the previous day. Day 2 will build on day 1. Day 3 will build on day 2. And so on. A chronological sequence of divine fiats is entirely consistent with the operation of providence.

ii) I don't think Gen 2 is conterminous with day 6 of Gen 1. Gen 2 isn't describing the "earth" in general, but the "land" of Eden in particular. Keep in mind that eretz can either mean "earth" or "land." Context determines which sense fits. This interpretation is complemented by the term adama (ground, soil, arable land). 

iii) Gen 2 isn't reiterating the general creation of flora in Gen 1, on day 3. Rather, it refers to two specific types of flora. As one scholar explains:

The word for "shrub" in the expression "shrub of the field" occurs only a few times elsewhere; specifically, in Gen 21:15 and Job 30:4,7. In all its occurrences it refers to plants that grow in desolate wastelands (e.g. the bush under which Hagar placed Ishmael in Gen 21:15). The term "plant of the field" in the next clause is the same as that used in Gen 3:18 for the crops people would have to cultivate by the sweat of the brow because of the fall into sin. 
The remainder of vv5 and 6 expands on this by explaining the conditions under which the earth was functioning at the time. First, "the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth [or land," and second, "there was no man to cultivate the ground" (v5b). How could these particular categories of plants exist if there was no rain, and especially if there was no man to cultivate the crops that would require cultivation (cf. Gen 2:15-17 with 3:17-19)? The point is this: There were already plants and trees on the earth with all the day 3 varieties (Gen 1:11-13), but no wilderness or weed versus cultivated crop conditions existed. That is what Gen 2:5-6 is telling us.
The terms for plants here are not the same as those used for the plants on day 3 (Gen 1:11-12; eseb ["plant"] occurs there, but not eseb hassadeh [lit., "plant/crop of the  field"]). The terms for vegetation in v 5 refer to desert wilderness shrubs (siah hassadeh [lit., "shrub of the field"); see only elsewhere in Gen 21:15; Job 30:4,7) and cultivated crops (see, e.g. Gen 3:18; the plants man will need to cultivate for food in order to survive), respectively.

Richard Averbeck in Reading Genesis 1-2 (Hendrickson 2013), 28-29,94.

iv) Given the Mesopotamian setting of the Garden (2:10-14), I assume the naturally available source of irrigation would be river water. River valleys can exist in otherwise arid regions (e.g. the Rio Grande) They may have lush growth along the river banks, but vegetation dries up beyond the green line, during the dry season–absent rainfall, flash-flooding, or farming. 

In sum, even if we take both Gen 1 and Gen 2 to be internally sequential, there's no chronological conflict between the two narratives. 

v) Although this consideration is secondary to the immediate issue at hand, I think it would probably be more accurate to render the Gen 1 refrain as "dusk and dawn" rather than "evening and morning." In context, I think the refrain refers to what demarcates night and day rather than periods of the day or night. 

Maker of heaven and earth

I read both Mohler's article and Evan's response with interest. I must say it seems rather poor form to try and denigrate Dr Evan's position on the Bible or pull someone like Enns in the argument.

Not false…just bad form. 

i) I'm less concerned with denigrating Evans' position on the Bible than how his position denigrates the word of God. People who are more concerned with protecting Evans' reputation than the Bible's betray the fact that God is less real to them than their fellow man.

ii) Walton said Gen 1 reflects an obsolete cosmology. God didn't correct the narrator's misconception. Evans agreed with Walton. It's striking that some defenders of Evans are so blasé about that. 

iii) Walton takes the same position as Enns in his notorious Inspiration & Inerrancy, pp54-55.

 Thankfully amongst the ranks of YECs, Dr Mohler acknowledges that adhering to an old earth doesn’t preclude one from being an inerrantist in regard to Scripture.

My review of Evans didn't suggest that OEC is incompatible with inerrancy. 

 More positively I, as an undogmatic old earth creationist who is willing to concede some place to evolution, though at the micro level, willingly, gladly affirm an inerrant Bible and in particular an historical Adam and Eve, even though tidying up all the aspects of this lies beyond any of us whether trying to understand how death came to be prior to the Fall, or how for that matter Adam could name all the animals in a single 24 hr day.

In context, Adam didn't name every animal on earth. Rather, he named every animal in the Garden of Eden. 

…and just how many animals did Noah fit into the Ark given 5 million known species today (though you may take out the fish).

Young-earth-creationists don't claim the ark contained "5 million known species today." Rather, they claim the ark contained all the natural kinds of land animals extant at the time of the flood. A natural kind is broader than a species. They aren't using the current status quo as their frame of reference. They attribute the "5 million known species today" to the subsequent microevolution of the ark's survivors. So Palmer's characterization is either an ignorant misstatement of the YEC position or else a malicious caricature of the YEC position.  

 Yes I know YECs people have explanations how these things might happen, but it is conjecture, certainly not explained in the Word, and I wish they would acknowledge that with at least a modicum of humility (I'm reflecting here on past conversations!).

Both young-earth and old-earth creationists have to resort to a certain amount of conjecture. So does anyone who attempts to reconstruct the distant past.

I think without being terrible certain about it that the framework view of the creation days is the best understanding on offer. I note Dr Mohler wants to argue that according to the framework view the sequence of the days doesn’t matter – that’s not the way I learnt it from Henri Blocher: Days 1, 2 and 3 are clearly sequential matched in a clear movement through Days 4,5,6.

According to the framework hypothesis, the numbered days are nonsequential. But why are they numbered 1-7 if they are really two simultaneous pairs?

Against the necessity of linking Biblical fidelity to the YEC - I'll revert to naming YEC as the 6 day/24 hr interpretation.

The current term for that interpretation is the calendar-day interpretation. 

…the classical Reformed view on the place of the Scriptures is that the sufficiency of Scripture is for “faith and life” (WCF 1.6). More particularly regarding life in the world and its right understanding, Scripture establishes the general theological principles (e.g. the divine attributes, the Creator/creature distinction, the cultural mandate, love of God and neighbour) that become the lens through which we interpret and apply the knowledge found in general revelation. General revelation provides the scientific particulars that enable us to better understand the world in order that we might fulfil the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:26f.

Fulfilling the cultural mandate doesn't require scientific realism or direct realism. 

 In other words, the Scriptures, while being the infallible and inerrant revelation of God’s saving work in human history, are not a textbook for the various disciplines of botany, zoology, geology, astronomy, mathematical computation nor a manual for architects, parents, mechanics or school teachers. 

That's a popular straw man. The question is not whether Gen 1 is "scientific" in the technical sense of the word, but whether it's factual

To learn the age of the universe is properly the study of geology, astronomy and cosmology. The unequivocal testimony of such study is that the universe and the earth are very old, even billions of years old. (I know some creation scientists are trying scientifically to demonstrate a young earth, and good for them trying: the point I make is that it does indicate some at least in the YEC camp acknowledge that natural/general and special revelation must be brought into harmony).

i) I already addressed that claim in my response to Evans. The fact that Palmer blows right past by counterargument goes to show that he's not arguing in good faith. 

ii) Palmer also seems to be oblivious to some of the challenges facing OEC. For instance:

A couple of other points: first the failure of proponents of the 6 day/24 hr view to acknowledge the way God accommodates himself to the immediate audience being addressed. In this regard there is the more general point as Calvin expresses it that the mode of accommodation that God employs in His Word is for Him to represent Himself not as He is in Himself, but as He seems to us (Institutes I.XVII.13) or even more to the point Calvin likening God’s speech to us as ‘lisping’ much as a mother to her child, by which Calvin means God in His Word finds it necessary to accommodate the knowledge of Him (including by extension His creative work) to our slight capacity – to do this, says Calvin, He must descend far beneath His loftiness (Institutes I.XII.1).

The interpretation of Gen 1-2 is less about what God is like, in himself, and more about what the world is like, when he made it. Let's assume that OEC is true. Why would God have to accommodate himself to human capacities to describe how he made the world by that process? Can't an OEC creation narrative be expressed in popular language? 

Second, Dr Mohler’s statement that the 6 day/24 hr view was “the untroubled consensus of the Christian church until early in the 19th century” glosses over the considerable discussion that existed over Genesis 1&2 in the early and later church. To point to Calvin again, it is worth noting that in the one chapter in Calvin’s Institutes (Institutes 1.14) where Calvin references God’s work of creation “in six days” and an age of the world extending back 6,000 years, he also states that God “could have made (the world) very many millenniums earlier”.

Historical theology is secondary to exegetical theology.

Not only so, but Calvin offers a very positive view of human competence in art and science: “…if the Lord has willed that we be helped in physics, dialectics, mathematics, and other like disciplines, by the work and ministry of the ungodly, let us use this assistance. For if we neglect God’s gift freely offered in these arts, we ought to suffer just punishment for our sloths”. (Institutes 2.2.16)
The very least we can say is that whilst Calvin affirmed creation in six days and 6,000 years for the age of the world during his lifetime, we are not entitled to say that would be his view if he lived today.

Calvin is not our rule of faith. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

DOJ in collusion with George Zimmerman protesters

Ecclesiology and AHA

I'd like to comment on a recent statement that Frank Turk made about Abolish Human Abortion.

Second: they have removed themselves from Gospel accountability.  That is to say, it seems obvious that there is no one with a mature view of Scripture out in front.  Yesterday we saw at least two significant errors in theology and in the meaning of the Gospel; there are more to be found on their website.  Those errors are replicated as this organization goes about its business.  It stems from failing to have a local church accountable for and accounting for their actions, and overseeing their work to make sure both that it is wholesome and godly and also that it is not a scandal.

Frank takes for granted a certain ecclesiology. If members of AHA don't share his ecclesiology, in principle or practice, then that must mean they lack a "mature view of Scripture." 

Now, I don't have any opinion about AHA in general. For one thing, I don't know much about the organization. For another thing, to the extent that AHA is a national organization with many members, it's not possible to generalize about their ecclesiastical views or ecclesiastical affiliations. That said, I'd like to cite a few counterexamples:

F. F. Bruce was Plymouth Brethren. Frank presumably thinks the Plymouth Brethren have a deficient ecclesiology.

In answer to the question: 

Is it correct to say that no local company of Christians has the right to the designation "church" unless and until elders and deacons are in evidence?

Bruce replied:

No; elders and deacons are necessary for the well-being of a local church, but not for its being. When Paul and Barnabas appointed "elders in every church" of South Galatia (Acts 14:23), the implication of that language is that the churches were there before elders were appointed in them. Answers to Questions (Zondervan 1974), 183.

Now Frank might disagree with Bruce's ecclesiology, but I hope he wouldn't accuse Bruce of lacking a "mature view of Scripture." Bruce was the doyen of Evangelical Bible scholars.

Walter Liefeld challenges the traditional category of church office:

If one obstacle to understanding the nature of ministry as servanthood is a wrong concept of and preoccupation with authority, another obstacle is our confusion of the English terms "ministry" and "office."…the word "ministry" today has come to signify something far more than service. Ministry has become "the ministry," a class of persons, the clergy. 

This misconception is further fostered by the KJV translation of Rom 11:13: "I magnify mine office." This mistranslation has been used more than once to bolster the status of a pastor. The word is diakonia, "service" or "ministry." The idea of "office" is absent. In Rom 12:4 the KJV reads: "All members have not the same office." Here the word is praxis, "function." A similar unfortunate translation has had a corresponding effect with regard to ecclesiastical leadership. That is the rendering "office of a a bishop" in 1 Tim 3:1. As in Rom 11:13; 12:4, the word "office" is introduced into the text by the translation…It is easy to see how the KJV with its ecclesiastical terminology has greatly affected thinking on the subject.  

We must ask, therefore, whether there was such a concept as "office" in the NT. "Office" in contemporary English can denote a duty or service, but it more commonly denotes a specific position, often with authority. One simple way to illustrate the difference between "office" and "ministry" is that an office exists even when there is no incumbent. No such term exists in early Christian literature before the time of Cyprian. 

Most of the passages that do refer to authority have nothing to do, as we have just seen, with teaching or pastoral ministry. Unless one accepts the idea of apostolic succession and a teaching magisterium in the Church… JETS 30/1 (March 1987), 49-61.

Now Frank might disagree with Liefeld's ecclesiology, but I hope he wouldn't accuse Liefeld of lacking a "mature view of Scripture." Liefeld is a seasoned NT scholar. 

Harold Hoehner distinguishes between church office and spiritual gifts: a distinction that might be germane to the debate over AHA. Among other things, he says:

Scripture consistently maintains a distinction between the office and the gift. Eldership is an office, whereas pastor- teacher is a gift…Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders to shepherd the flock (Acts 20:28), an indication that elders might have the gift of caring as well (1 Cor 12:28; Rom 12:7–8). 
On the other hand, it may be that Paul was encouraging elders to care for believers in Ephesus in the more general way that all Christians are to care for one another rather than their having that specific gift. Timothy, for instance, was exhorted to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim 4:5); this does not necessitate that he had the gift of an evangelist (Eph 4:11) but that he was to spread the gospel as all believers are exhorted to do. 

Another confusing factor is ordination. Since the gift of pastor-teacher is often equated with the office of elder, ordination, often performed by the laying on of hands, is seen as the church’s recognition solely of an office. JETS 50/4 (December 2007) 761–71.

Now Frank might disagree with Hoehner's ecclesiology, but I hope he wouldn't accuse Hoehner of lacking a "mature view of Scripture." Hoehner was a premier NT scholar. 

Frank Turk on AHA

I'm going to comment on some of Frank Turk's recent statements about Abolish Human Abortion. Keep in mind that I'm not a member of AHA. And I don't have an in-depth knowledge of AHA. I don't have a fully formed opinion of AHA. 

For example, since 1982, the number of abortion providers has fallen by 37%.  That didn't happen because the pro-life movement is merely a statement of opinion -- and for anyone to say otherwise is, frankly, sly at best.  The advance of partial-birth abortion laws in this country is a function of pro-life activism; the advance of limiting abortion to prior to the 20th week is a function of pro-life activism.
The problem, of course, is that none of these actions are seen by the folks at AHA as advances: they are seen as some kind of ethical syncretism is which some losses are acceptable for minor gains. 
it's not wrong to pass a law to stop immoral acts even though it cannot be enforced 100% and some will still be victims of crime.  Murder is already illegal in our nation - yet people are murdered every day. That doesn't make us immoral people for supporting the laws we already have.
So my first complaint against AHA is this: it is utterly unfair toward those who, frankly, share their ultimate goals but see the social  and political methods to achieving the goals as a longer process which takes back the law in steps.  It is unfair to their past accomplishments, and unwise in assessing the moral victories of the pro-life movement.

i) I agree with Frank that a 37% reduction is progress. I also think an incrementalist strategy is a valid political strategy.

ii) The extent to which AHA disagrees I will leave to spokesmen for AHA. 

iii) There's also the question of whether we can directly attribute the 37% to prolife activism. Other sociological dynamics or demographics may be a factor in the reduction. 

But I think there is a more-human, more-analogous example in the Bible which the AHA statements overlook: the body of the church.  The church is a holy thing for God (for the sake of the purists, see Eph 5:27), but it is also a mixture of wheats and weeds until the end of the final judgment (purists: Mat 13).  In God's view of it, something salvifically-necessary can be, from a human perspective, a mixed bag and still achieve what it is meant to do in this world.
So the objection from concerned citizens in and around AHA is this: The parable in Mat 13 is not about the church, but about the world -- so I am off the reservation.  My objection is nullified.  "WORLD!"
OK - first of all, the standard reading of that passage is that Jesus is talking about the church in the world.  If my reading is flawed, so is the reading of a boat-load of reliable and faithful men from almost every age in church history.

i) If Frank cited the parable of the wheat and tares to prooftext his objection, and his appeal is exegetically mistaken, then, yes, that does nullify his objection–on his own terms, for that's how he framed his objection.

ii) I'm puzzled by his confident appeal to the history of interpretation. Glancing at my commentaries on Matthew, every commentator I checked (e.g. Craig Blomberg, D. A. Carson, Knox Chamblin, C. A. Evans, R. T. France, Donald Hagner, Craig Keener, Leon Morris, John Nolland, Grant Osborne, Herman Ridderbos, David Turner, Davies/Allison) denies the identification of the "world" with the church in Christ's parable. 

iii) Frank's interpretation is counterintuitive in another respect. I believe Frank is a Baptist. From what I've read, Baptists typically deny the ecclesiastical interpretation of this parable. Baptists typically think the visible church ought to approximate the invisible church. The visible church ought to be composed of born-again Christians. A credible profession of faith ought to be a condition of membership. Baptists typically think the ecclesiastical interpretation ("the field"=the church) is used to excuse lax standards of church membership and church discipline.

But: I'll go you one better -- maybe 2 better: I'll utterly concede that the parable of the wheats and tares is a parable about the whole WORLD!  If the whole WORLD is a mixed bag of wheats and tares until the end of the world, and the point of the parable is that God is doing what he's doing and allows there to be a mixed bag, how can God be doing what he means to do in this WORLD! except by some kind of incremental change?

I agree with Frank that this parable suggests a rather pessimistic view of moral progress. 

That said, over the last two days I have been, due to some odd interactions I have had over the last week or so, examining the organization which calls itself "Abolish Human Abortion," or "AHA."  We have covered their version of absolutism, and also their view of being "biblical" about their endeavor, and I find myself left with one other complaint that seems glaringly-obvious to me but maybe not so much to them.

One problem with that statement is that when I click on the "their view of being 'biblical' about their endeavor," it takes me to:

Sorry, the page you were looking for in this blog does not exist.

Is that just a computer glitch, or does that mean Frank deleted his original post? If the latter, he seems to be backtracking 

OK: so...maybe they aren't as absolutist as they claim to be -- but so what? 

I find that puzzling. If AHA is not as "absolutist" as Frank initially alleged, then that concession weakens his original argument. Far from being "so what," that would be germane to the state of the argument. 

Specifically: they forget that the church is the place where the authority of the Gospel is located.

I don't know what that's supposed to mean? Doesn't the Gospel have authority in its own right? Independent authority. Authority because it is true? Authority because Christ mandated the Gospel? 

So in what sense is the authority of the Gospel tied to "the church"? 

Don't think so?  Review Mat 16:16-19.  Here's what Calvin says about this passage:Here Christ begins now to speak of the public office, that is, of the Apostleship, which he dignifies with a twofold title. First, he says that the ministers of the Gospel are porters, so to speak, of the kingdom of heaven, because they carry its keys; and, secondly, he adds, that they are invested with a power of binding and loosing, which is ratified in heaven. ... We know that there is no other way in which the gate of life is opened to us than by the word of God; and hence it follows that the key is placed, as it were, in the hands of the ministers of the word. [Emph Added]

i) I don't know why Frank is appealing to Calvin. Is that an argument from authority? That we should defer to that interpretation just because that's how Calvin construed it? But as a Baptist, Frank's theology isn't conterminous with Calvin's. 

ii) With all due respect to Calvin, Mt 16:16-19 does not entrust the "keys" to pastors or elders. The text says nothing about pastors or elders. 

iii) Keep in mind, too, that what is mean by "binding and loosing" is disputed. By analogy with Lk 11:52, one interpretation is that this metaphor refers to evangelism.

iv) Finally, Evangelical commentators normally coordinate 16:19 with 18:18. However, the scope of 18:18 isn't confined to church officers. 

The Gospel is not running around without a church. 

I'm afraid Frank sounds an awful lot like Charles Chauncy. As if he represents the Old Lights, who opposed the Great Awakening. During the 18C Evangelical Revival, freelance evangelists like George Whitfield, Howell Harris, Daniel Rowland, William Pantycelyn, and Gilbert Tennent got in hot water with their ecclesiastical superiors because they didn't receive ecclesiastical permission to preach the Gospel. Is Frank really going to take the establishment position on this? 

The rest of the New Testament testifies to this -- for example in Titus 1-2, 2 Tim 2, 2 Peter 3 and so on -- and demands that the Gospel come from the church under the good order of the body as protected by faithful men.  The fact is that all the people saved into Christ in the NT were saved into the church -- a local church, a physical body of people -- and worked together from the church into the world.

There's a difference between claiming that converts are "saved into the church" and claiming that the Gospel "comes from the church." Even if the former is true, how does that logically follow from the latter? The Gospel comes from the Bible. The church gets the Gospel from the Bible. And a church is no better than the Gospel it proclaims. 

In that: so-called "Gospel" ministries in which the workers and especially the leaders are outside of the protection of the church, and are not accountable to the church for their actions, are problematic.  It's not enough to say that they are members in good standing at their local church: if they are doing the work which is prescribed for the local church but they are not under the authority of the local church, they are either robbing the local church or scoffing at it, or both.

i) How is it "not enough to say that they are members in good standing at their local church"? If the allegation is that they "are outside of the protection of the church, and are not accountable to the church for their actions," but if "they are members in good standing at their local church,"then doesn't their membership place them within the "protection" and "accountability" system of the church? 

ii) Does sharing the Gospel demand a "leadership" structure? Was the Samaritan woman (Jn 4) wrong to witness to her neighbors? 

iii) How, exactly, are they "robbing" the local church? Does a local church own the Gospel? 

The problem, at its heart, is a failure to see that there is a need for all the parts of the body for the right function of the body -- in this case, the function of leadership over the function of social action.  This problem is present in spades in the AHA organization.

Why assume that social action even requires "leadership"? Is there something wrong with Christian individuals participating in social action? Is there something wrong with a few Christian friends who informally coordinate their social actions, without a designated leader? 

First: there is no visible, accountable leadership structure.  After inquiring with someone who knows, I was able to get a short list of fellows who are sort of running AHA, but that list is not readily visible to the public.  In the best case, that's AHA simply asking for grace that they aren't willing to give anyone else.  They are hell-bent to make sure the names of the people they find lacking are well-known and well-dunked in the shortcomings they have charged them with.  Imagine what AHA would do with a church that wouldn't list its leadership, or an outfit which funded abortions but shielded its leaders behind an anonymous "" e-mail address.  At best it puts them at risk of wandering around without any real purpose; at worst, it gives them a license, as they said in the '70's, to do until others, then split.

i) To begin with, some prominent figures in AHA have gone public, viz. Don Cooper, Russell Hunter, Alan Maricle, Matthew Martellus. 

ii) Frank's objection strikes me is inconsistent. If he thinks ADA ought to be accountable to a local church, then that wouldn't be public. Rather, their identity would be known to their elders. Insider information. To take a comparison, many churches have church directories, but those are normally accessible to members. They are not public directories. The only thing that's public is the church staff.

iii) I don't know for a fact that AHA lacks transparency. But let's assume for the sake of argument, that it lacks transparency. So what? 

Assuming that AHA lacks transparency, there could be good reasons for that. Maybe they don't want to have Theocracy Watch or the Southern Poverty Law Center snooping on them. Maybe they don't want the IRS or the DOJ snooping on them. Keep in mind that we're currently living under a surveillance state, where the administration targets conservative organizations as if they are domestic terrorists. Where the administration shares private information with leftwing pressure groups. Where the administration coordinates with leftwing pressure groups.

I've also read one AHA spokesman accuse some Catholics of colluding with the local police to harass AHA protesters. I can't vouch for that allegation. But, if true, there's a good reason why AHA members might wish to minimize their digital footprint.  

iv) Why is the identity of a prolife activist anyone's business? Suppose a Christian layman stands on the curb of an abortion clinic, passing out Bible tracts. Suppose the police question him. Demand that he show them his driver's license. The authorities are not entitled to that information. He's exercising his First Amendment rights. He's a private citizen, not a public figure. He's under no obligation to give his name or furnish contact information. 

Second: they have removed themselves from Gospel accountability.  That is to say, it seems obvious that there is no one with a mature view of Scripture out in front. 

I don't know most of the folks affiliated with AHA. However, Alan Maricle has a "mature view of Scripture."  

Yesterday we saw at least two significant errors in theology and in the meaning of the Gospel; there are more to be found on their website.  Those errors are replicated as this organization goes about its business

Considering the fact that Frank bungled his appeal to the parable of the wheat and the tares, his accusation is a bit embarrassing. 

 It stems from failing to have a local church accountable for and accounting for their actions, and overseeing their work to make sure both that it is wholesome and godly and also that it is not a scandal.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that AHA has some "significant theological errors," it's completely illogical for Frank to conclude that this "stems from failing to have a local church accountable for and accounting for their actions, and overseeing their work…" Surely Frank thinks that many local churches suffer from significant theological errors. You can have significant theological errors with or without ecclesiastical oversight. Frank's inference is a blatant non sequitur. 

Think about this for a second: if they were a seminary that cropped up out of the wild blue yonder, or a publishing house, or a prison ministry with no means of maintaining confidence in the theology they were teaching and preaching, who would take them seriously?  But in this case, there is no visible means of doing that at all, and (not surprisingly) they have given themselves a free pass.

Does one need a "means" of maintaining confidence in their theology? What means would that be? There is no foolproof mechanism. Certainly church oversight is insufficient grounds to maintain confidence in someone's theology. Unless a local church is theologically trustworthy, trusting a local church as a means to maintain confidence in their theology is misguided and gullible. 

Indeed, don't we have to have prior theological standards to judge which local churches are theologically sound or unsound? 

Third and finally: they have inverted God's economy of the church.  Yesterday I linked to the "Church Repent" site to show how they are shaming churches they say are not living up to the standards these unaccountable fellows have established.  In the best possible case where these fellows are 100% correct and the churches they are shaming are 100% wrong, this activity is simply never found in the NT -- it's not even implied.

i) Once again, I don't see how the conclusion logically follows from the premise. Assuming that the NT is silent on this activity, does does that "invert" God's economy of the church? 

ii) If (ex hypothesis), ADA is 100% correct and the churches they censure are 100% wrong (keep in mind that this is Frank's own hypothetical), what's wrong with telling a church that's in the wrong that it's in the wrong? Do you need a special right to say what's right? 

Likewise, how is that different than OT prophets shaming wayward Israel? 

BTW, I'm not commenting of the "Church Repent" site. I'm just commenting on Frank's argument. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The pillar of fire

Exodus speaks of the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire. What is the reader supposed to visualize? Since the Bible records real events, it's useful for readers to enter into the accounts and imagine what the observers saw. 

At one level, this is a theophany. A visible symbol of God's presence and power. At another level, theophanies can be natural phenomena–like coincidence miracles.  

One question is whether the pillar(s) of cloud and fire represent two distinct phenomena or one. A fiery manifestation would be less luminous in sunlight. 

One the face of it, their descriptive names and functions suggest whirlwinds; specifically: a dust devil for the pillar of cloud and fire devil for the pillar of fire. Dust devils would be familiar sights to desert inhabitants. Fire devils would be rarer. These whirlwinds have a columnar appearance. They are mobile. A dust devil is darker while a fire devil is brighter–due to their respective composition. 

Normally, dust devils and fire devils are small, weak, momentary, aimless vortices. However, they can vary in size and intensity, sometimes rivaling tornadoes. 

In the case of the pillar(s) of cloud and fire, these are guided, durable phenomena. Unlike mindless, inanimate whirlwinds, they lead the Israelites in the trackless desert: 

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night (Exod 13:21).
They can also assume a protective role:
19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night (Exod 14:19-20).
This is a complex phenomenon. Since it's not a purely natural phenomenon, that's understandable. On the one hand, the "dark side" of the cloud might serve to conceal the Israelites from the Egyptian army. If, on the other hand, this is a tornadic fire devil, it would pose an impenetrable barrier–a wall of fire–shielding the Israelites from the Egyptian army. 
The fire devil identification may seem less suitable for the "cloud" that fills the tabernacle and the temple. For one thing, it would incinerate worshippers. In context, this is probably not a "pillar of cloud." A columnar shape seems less apt for filling rectilinear space. Also, it seems to emit light rather than heat.
Since this is not a purely natural phenomena, we'd expect that flexibility. God is manipulating natural forces. Bending nature to his will. 
At the same time, there may be something physically dangerous about the "cloud." Notice that the presence of the "cloud" is incompatible with human presence in temple dedication:
10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord (1 Kgs 8:10-11).
The "cloud" is inhospitable to human life. That, of course, reflects the holiness of God–where direct contact with sinners may be fatal.

Queer parenting and child abuse

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Darwin's Doubt

The sun, moon, and stars

It's common for liberals or outright unbelievers to claim that the Bible adopts or accommodates antiquated ANE beliefs. In addition to denying the inspiration of Scripture, this makes assumptions about what ancient Near Easterners believed. I'm going to state, then comment on three claims:

1. Ancient Near Easterners were geocentrists because it looks and feels like the earth is stationary while the sun, moon, and stars move around the earth.

2. Ancient Near Easterners thought the celestial luminaries were embedded in the firmament:

The terminology of KAR 307 33 suggests that the stars and constellations were thought to be etched directly onto the jasper surface of the Lower Heavens…A tradition that the fixed-stars were inscribed onto the surface of the heavens implies that this surface rotated every 24 hours, since inscribed stars could not move independently. This tradition is reasonable since stars and constellations maintained fixed positions relative to one another as if inscribed on a rotating sphere. The Sun, Moon, and planets do not maintain fixed positions in relation to the stars, leading later Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic astronomers to speculate that these heavenly bodies were located on different levels or spheres from the fixed stars. 

No text explains in detail how the stars, Sun, Moon, and planets move through the sky. In KAR 307, the stars are said to be inscribed upon the lower jasper heavens. As noted on p15, stars inscribed onto the stone floor of heaven would to have been able to move independently. Thus, the author of KAR 307 may have explained that stars appear to move in the night sky because the entire sky rotated. Such a cosmographic belief could not explain the independent motion of the Sun, Moon, planets, comets, or shooting stars, nor could it explain why circumpolar stars remained above the horizon throughout the year while other stars rose and set. 

W. Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography (Eisenbrauns 1998), 14-15,258.

3. Ancient Near Easterners believed the celestial luminaries were deities:

In ancient Mesopotamia both the sun and the moon were male deities. In Sumerian, the moon god was called Suen or Nanna (Nannar), and sometimes he was called by both names together, Nanna-Suen. In Akkadian, Suen was later pronounced Sin. 

Utu was the Sumerian sun God, whose Akkadian name was Shamash. 
Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary (U. of Texas 1997), 135,182.

Now let's evaluate these claims:

1. Geocentrism

i) It's quite possible that most ancient Near Easterners were geocentrists. From the standpoint of an earthbound observer, the celestial motion appears to be geocentric. 

ii) However, even if we assume most ancient Near Easterners were geocentrists, that doesn't mean most of them believed the sky was a solid dome, through which precipitation was emitted. Unlike the phenomenology of geocentrism, a solid dome is not an observational datum. Moreover, the postulate of a solid dome goes against observational data or inferences thereof (see below).

iii) We must also make allowance for the possibility that some ancient Near Easterners were not geocentrists. If you see celestial bodies circling around you, it's possible to analogize relative motion. All you need is a good head for mental geometry. Certainly Near Easterners were acquainted with relative motion. They would see one ox cart passing another, one boat passing another. 

Scientific breakthroughs often involve analogical thought-experiments, viz. Newton's cannonball or Einstein's train. So we shouldn't underestimate ancient Near Easterners. Some were undoubtedly brilliant and observant. 

2. Solid dome

As Horowitz himself points out, believing the sky is a solid dome is prima facie inconsistent with the apparent motion of the celestial luminaries. Horowitz conjectures a partial harmonization by suggesting that ancient Near Easterners through the sky itself rotated. However, that's just his speculation. He doesn't quote an ancient primary source that says that or shows that. Moreover, he admits that this expedient fails to reconcile the apparent motion of all celestial bodies. At most, it only works for the fixed stars. So it's quite possible that ancient Near Easterners never took the solid dome representation literally. It may just be architectural symbolism. 

3. Celestial deities

Another problem is the interrelation between (2) and (3). Did ancient Near Easterners think gods were etched onto the surface of the solid dome? That's difficult to visualize or comprehend. Even if they thought celestial luminaries were like gemstones embedded in metal castings, that's an odd way to think of gods. On the face of it, (2) and (3) are incompatible representations. 

In principle, there are different way of harmonizing the divergent representations: One or both representations might be figurative. Or these might reflect different conflicting traditions. If the former, there's nothing for Scripture to accommodate. If the latter, there's no common ANE tradition for Scripture to adopt.