Saturday, August 17, 2013

Be still my soul

Why do ghosts wear clothes?

This is a sarcastic question that debunkers like to ask to ridicule belief in ghosts. After all, if ghosts really exist, they don't need to wear clothes. So ghosts are imaginary.
Keep in mind that the Bible affirms the existence of ghosts (i.e. postmortem appearances of Samuel, Moses, Elijah). And even though those are rare, exceptional instances, angelic apparitions raise the equivalent question. So this is a question Christians should have some answers for.
i) To begin with, we might ask why the living wear clothes. Many of us don't wear clothes because we have to. Clothing isn't always necessary to stay warm. Not if you go outside on a hot day.
And even on a chilly day, most of us live and work in buildings with artificial heating. And our cars have heaters. 
ii) We wear clothing for reasons of modesty. Nudity is distracting. Nudity can be provocative or repulsive. Clothing can take the focus away from the body, although some types of clothing are designed to have the opposite effect.
iii) In addition, characteristic clothing is part of what makes someone recognizable. It reflects when and where they lived, before they died. It's part of their life history. Their personal continuity.  
Same thing with hair, or make-up. A particular haircut or hairdo. Or hair color. Or beard. Or pigmentation (eyes, skin). 
Same thing with age. We know people when they were a certain age. Sometimes when they were young, or middle-aged, or elderly. Depends on how long we knew them. But they were always some age.

Life in the snow globe

32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Mt 10:32-38).
This text operates at several levels:
i) There's the metaphor of martyrdom. Figurative self-martyrdom. Dying to self, as a vivid metaphor for self-denial. 
This isn't self-denial in a masochistic sense. This isn't self-denial in the Buddhist sense of altruistic detachment, whereby you can be more compassionate towards everyone because you're less attached to friends and relatives. And this isn't self-denial in the Catholic sense of performing supererogatory works to accrue surplus congruent merit. 
Rather, this is dying to self in the sense of living for another. And not just any other–but living for Jesus. You put your life at his disposal.
ii) This also means you must be prepared to face emotional and financial deprivation for the faith. Be disowned by your friends and relatives. Lose your job. Have your business boycotted.
iii) Finally, it means you must be prepared to die for your faith. Literal martyrdom.
iv) Apropos (iii), Christians often debate the differences between the old covenant and the new covenant. Some Christian traditions stress more continuity while others stress more discontinuity. But here's a neglected difference between the old and new covenants. 
Because ancient Israel was a theocratic state, there was less occasion to be martyred for your faith. Although that was still a possibility, when a syncretistic king or queen was on the throne, that was in spite of how the state was constituted under the old covenant. Under the old covenant, the state was explicitly constituted to protect true believers.
In the Roman Empire, by contrast, both the Jewish establishment and the imperial establishment were hostile to the Christian faith. This sometimes put Christians in a position where they had a duty to choose death over life. To choose martyrdom over self-preservation.
For many people, this world is their snow globe. They cling to life for dear life, because they think this life is all there is. You've only got one life to live, so make the most of it. There's nothing on the other side. No heaven. No world to come. Just the here-and-now. Life in the snow globe. 
They will survive by any means necessary. Commit murder. Practice cannibalism. Harvest someone's organs. Whatever it takes to live another day.  
They pass the time with trivia. Ephemeral diversions. Overindulgence. Life as a game show.
Christianity has a radically different perspective. Even life in a fallen world is God's gift. But sometimes we're required to opt for death over life. The world we know is not a snow globe. There's a larger, better, greater reality. A reality external to our snow global experience. 

Was Jesus a universalist?

32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Mt 10:32-38).
Critics of universalism typically quote and exegete the hellish passages. And I think that's an adequate disproof of universalism. But now I'd like to comment on a neglected disproof of universalism. For if universalism is true, then what Jesus says here posits two false dilemmas:
i) If universalism is true, then a would-be apostate is at zero risk of damnation if he publicly renounces the faith to avoid persecution or martyrdom. Yet Jesus boils it down to two stark alternatives: either save your skin in this life at the cost of losing out in the afterlife, or face martyrdom in this life to gain eternal life in the world to come. But if universalism is true, then it's a win/win situation for the apostate. 
ii) If universalism is true, then it never comes down to choosing between Jesus or your relatives. You will have it all. 

Laying the foundation

My exchange with Justin has outgrown the confines of the combos, so I'll post it here:

"If the function of the apostles and prophets are revelatory, that is, they were inspired witnesses of Christ and the mystery revealed in the gospel, then v.20 does teach a one time laying of a foundation, as the thought doesn't end there. It continues through v.21 and 22 into 3:1-6."

i) In terms of the "revelation" of the "mystery" in Ephesians, that has reference to event-revelation, where the age of fulfillment unpacks the place of the Gentiles in the new covenant. Although there are intimations of that in the OT, how that was to play out awaited the first advent of Christ, and Pentecost. In context, that's less about God inspiring individuals than revealing himself through the historical process. 

ii) By the same token, the apostles–especially the Twelve (minus Judas), function as historical witnesses to the life and ministry of Christ. (And Paul is the exception that proves the rule.) In Ephesians, it's less about what God revealed to them and more about what they saw, heard, and bore witness to. That's the context.

iii) Unlike apostles, NT prophets aren't needn't be "witnesses." They don't have to have that direct connection to the historical Christ.

"If the foundation isn't laid once for all in the coming of Christ and the establishment of His church in the apostles, then you have a continual revelatory function in the Church outside of Scripture."

You're failing to draw an elementary distinction between "This verse doesn't teach X" and "This verse teaches against X."

Did I say the foundation is laid more than once? No. Rather, what I said is that Eph 2:20 doesn't say whether or not laying the foundation is repeatable. That idea isn't broached one way or the other.

Sure, you can say on other grounds that the foundation is laid once for all time, but that doesn't mean this verse speaks to that particular issue. It doesn't affirm or deny it.

Complaining about the consequences is exegetically irrelevant. For instance, it's true that God made the world. And denying that truth has dire consequences.

It doesn't follow that Eph 2:20 says God made the world. You can't make a verse say more than it does just because you want it to. And just because something is true doesn't mean a given verse of Scripture teaches that particular truth.

"No one use the word 'fundamental' until you did. Nor is there any reason that I"m aware of to translate it with those implications."

I'm discussing synonyms. Look it up.

"Pastors and elders aren't mentioned in v.20 ."

I didn't say or imply that they were.

"Prophets, apostles are the foundational offices here with Christ as the cornerstone. Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers aren't mention until Eph 4."

And there's nothing in 4:11 to indicate apostles and prophets are temporary while the other three positions are permanent.

Yes, one can make an argument for the cessation of the apostolate, but that's a separate argument.

"From what I can tell the cessationist argument is simply focusing on the way Paul is employing the metaphor, along the lines that he does so. So the structure is laid, yet Paul makes room for more growth (v.21) and more building by the Spirit in Christ (v.22). Your comment on a 'finished product' is alien to Paul's metaphor."

You're a careless reader. Paul uses mixed metaphors. He alternates between different metaphors to suit the immediate needs of his argument. In 2:19, he begins with a household metaphor. In v20 he shifts to an architectural (i.e. building) metaphor. In v21, he sharpens the building metaphor to make it specifically a temple metaphor, but he also includes a biological metaphor about "growth." In 4:13-16, he makes more extensive use of the biological metaphor.

"Room for growth" isn't part of the architectural metaphor (e.g. "foundation"). Rather, that's part of the biological metaphor (i.e. physical maturation of a human body).

Cessationists arbitrarily separate the "foundational" aspect of the architectural metaphor from the overall image of a temple. Keep in mind, too, that Solomon's temple, which is the template for Paul's metaphor, was a finished product, not a work in progress.

"In context it's both. Apostles, Prophets, and Christ had one thing in common, and that is their revelatory office."

i) One of your defective methodological habits is to disregard the specifics of a passage. You try to invoke your understanding of systematic theology to flatten what a passage specifies. You're the one who brought up Eph 3. Well, in what sense was the "mystery" revealed? There's already a general sense in which 3:6 was intimated in the OT. So what's new?

What's new is the age of fulfillment. The historical fulfillment pencils in details you can't find in OT prophecies. BTW, that's how commentators (e.g. Arnold, O'Brien, Thielman) understand the "mystery" in Eph 3. So my interpretation is pretty mainstream.

ii) Paul doesn't say much about what NT prophets do. He usually gives functional descriptions. The effect of NT prophecy rather than the content. As a result, Pauline scholars resort to word-studies or comparative studies on the nature of prophecy in the Greco-Roman world, Second Temple Judaism, and/or the OT. 

Acts is a more informative source on the nature of NT prophecy, because Acts gives concrete examples. Making vague claims about a "revelatory office" fails to delineate in what sense that was "revelatory"–especially in the context of a particular passage of Scripture. 

"The NT has a progressing revelatory feature as well, and the NT implies that this feature has a goal in founding the Church."

Well, it's not just about founding "the Church." Paul talks about prophets in relation to church planting. Founding local churches. That's ongoing. 

And it isn't just about "founding." In 1 Cor 12-14, it's also about worship. Your analysis is reductionistic. 

"Paul specifically mentions Christ and His Apostles and Prophets here and their purpose for the office. You separate the revelation from the historical process, and you have an ongoing revelatory feature of the church, instead of a building on of what's already there."

Maybe you just lack reading ability. I did the opposite of separating revelation from the historical process. Rather, I pointed out that in Eph 3, the historical process is revelatory. Try to track the actual argument.

"By the way, just because the office has ceased doesn't rule out miraculous healings. It just rules out that no one person has that kind of power at their disposal. Like pulling the Holy Spirit out of their hat. It seems like an unnecessary exercise to attack cessationists here."

i) This is another one of your characteristically sloppy accusations. I'm the one who's repeatedly pointed out that MacArthurite cessationists drive a wedge between mediate and immediate miracles. How did you miss that? I've also pointed out that, having made that dichotomy, they proceed to ignore it. And I've also demonstrated that the distinction is artificial. 

ii) In addition, allowing for the possibility that God still gifts some people with healing power doesn't mean healers have a monopoly on healing. God could still heal people directly.

"According to the NT, the NT prophets were connected to Christ via the Apostles."

i) "Connected" is a weasel word. Many things are connected to the apostles. Church-planting is connected to the apostles. So by your logic, church-planting would cease when the apostolate ceased. Same thing with evangelists.

ii) Elders are more tightly connected to apostles than prophets. The apostles appointed elders, whereas the apostles didn't appoint prophets. Prophets received their revelations direct from the Holy Spirit. So your line of reasoning would be a stronger argument for the cessation of church officers (eldership) rather than charismatics (NT prophets). 

"Whether they were witnesses to Him historically isn't an issue, the issue is whether they have a continuing function."

Of course that's the issue. To be an eyewitness is inherently timebound in a way that prophecy is not. 

"Given that they were side by side with the apostles, with Christ being the cornerstone, with their offices being revelatory."

Elders and evangelists worked side-by-side with the apostles. So by your logic, evangelism ceased with the cessation of the apostolate.

This is your problem. You're trying to invoke a general principle to short-circuit continuationism. But your principle is too general to rule out the continuance of the charismata without ruling out other things you think continue.

"One would need to come up with something better than 'it doesn't have to be like that' because Paul is connecting those offices with that function."

Did I merely say "It doesn't have to be like that"? No. 

"You said the idea isn't there, which is false. The idea is there, and the implication of that idea is that the offices had temporary functions."

Your assertions don't make it true. Wanting it to be there doesn't make it so. 

You can't get that from the actual wording of the verse. Paul says they were foundational, period. Whether or not the foundation was laid "once for all" isn't something that verse states either way. Rather, that's an idea you keep imposing on the text, despite the silence of the text in that regard.

"Unrepeatable, once for all, just like Christ's earthly ministry. There are continuing features, but the Messianic, prophetic, and apostolic offices are closed. That was what I was saying. "

i) I don't deny the unrepeatability of the foundation. But Eph 2:20 doesn't say that. There's no sentence, no word or set of words, which states that or means that. You can't get everything you want from a single verse. 

ii) In addition, your further inference is fallacious. An unrepeatable foundation doesn't entail the rapid cessation of what's founded. For instance, Deut 18:16 marks the formal institution of the prophetic office. But once instituted, it didn't end anytime soon. That institution continued in the life of Israel for centuries. From the Mosaic era through the postexilic era. 

"Well, it isn't affirmed or denied if eph 2:20 is seen standing unrelated to the rest of Paul's thought (in eph 3 and 4)."

Been there, done that.

"If you're a continualist, then I implore you to continue to eph 3! :)"

I'm not a continuationist. Try to occasionally pay attention to my stated position, if you presume to critique it.

"That is their role as holy apostles and prophets. In light of this, would you say that there is a continuing feature in this office? Something that extends beyond Paul's description of the role in the context?"

No, that is one of their roles. For instance, Paul was also a healer.

Likewise, Paul was a church-planter. So should we stop planting new churches after the death of the apostles? 

"But Paul isn't making that point. The translation of foundational is used because Paul's teaching stresses a 'once for all"ness of their office.'"

No, "foundational" is used because that's the metaphor Paul is using: an architectural metaphor.

I know you're stuck on the notion of the 'once for all"ness of their office,' but you're substituting that for what the text actually says, and how that plays into Paul's new temple analogy. Your interpretation becomes an exercise in misdirection, as you shift focus away from Paul's real point to something you desperately want him to say.

"You made a comparison based on a weak translation of 'foundational' to connote a continual feature of the apostolic and prophetic office the same way elders and pastors are. Pastors and Elders, while essential to the Church, don't play the same role as apostles and prophets even though they are essential as well."

No, I didn't use that to connote a continual feature. Rather, I'm simply pointed out that cessationists are arbitrary in their choice of synonyms. 

"Nope, because you are skipping what Ephesians 3 is teaching about prophets and apostles. If there is some other feature of the office, feel free to demonstrate it in light of Paul's teaching."

Been there, done that.

"Both offices were revelatory given the teaching of these texts. So it isn't separate."

You keep using the word "revelatory" as if that's a monolithic concept. But that's simplistic. The oracles in Acts 11:28 and 21:10-11were revelatory, but there's nothing "foundational" about the content of those oracles. Rather, they were topical, ad hoc messages. 

Likewise, prophetic insight in 1 Cor 14:24-25 isn't "foundational." That doesn't establish "the Church." Rather, that facilitates the conversion of ordinary individuals. 

"I don't think the separation is arbitrary Paul mentions Apostles and Prophets in Eph 2:20 as architectural. He mentions them all later as biological, but that doesn't mean all of their offices are open."

i) You can't draw inferences from one metaphor to a different metaphor. Each metaphor has potential connotations internal to the imagery. 

ii) "Offices" typically outlast any particular office-holder. If you're going to cast the issue in terms of "office," that undercuts cessationism. 

A mere tissue of miracles

"Miracles of healing in Anglo-Celtic Northumbria as recorded by the venerable Bede and his contemporaries: a reappraisal in the light of twentieth century experience" (PDF) by Dr. Rex Gardner.

The Supernatural in Medicine

By Dr David Martyn Lloyd-Jones

(An address to the Annual Conference of the Christian Medical Fellowship at Bournemouth, May 1971.)

Christian doctors are constantly questioned about this matter whether by a patient or a relative or some interested person. Someone is desperately ill and medical science, or art as you may like to call it, has done its utmost; but the patient is getting worse and someone suggests the possibility of 'faith healing'. So the Christian practitioner is confronted with the problem and forced to make a decision about it.

J. Steve Miller on Near-Death Experiences

"Interview: J. Steve Miller on Near-Death Experiences"

Sociology, Scripture, and the Supernatural

Medine Keener's father

Is this an immediate or a mediate miracle?

I suppose the MacArthurites would say it's God healing directly (in response to prayer), so therefore an immediate miracle. But would God have healed Medine if her father hadn't prayed (and/or Medine hadn't trusted him)?

On the face of it, it seems Medine's father's prayer is effective in a way in which the prayers of most other Christians aren't. If so, then it would appear the MacArthurites' distinction between the mediate and immediate doesn't quite hold up in Medine's father's case.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Will the real Dan Phillips please stand up?

Case studies matter!

Dan Phillips @BibChr 

Ppl supposedly have been spkg in tongues all over for 100 yrs. Still, EVERY study has failed to find ONE verified NT-type case 

1:52 PM - 15 Aug 13

Case studies don't matter!

Dan Phillips ‏@BibChr 

There's always a latest-greatest-book-you've-just-gotta-read trying to put some error on life-support. ALWAYS. 

6:49 AM - 16 Aug 13

Reporting miracles

I'd like to spend a little more time on this example:

When people were healed, it was an undeniable, extraordinary work of the Spirit healing an individual (Acts 4:16). Something the “Amazing” Randi could not deny. Think Iraqi war veterans getting their limbs back completely whole or the late Christopher Reeves having his spinal cord injury reversed. When we MacArthurite cessationists ask for evidence of such occurrences, it is not because we deny God can heal. It is that the track record for such testimonies has been consistently tarnished with the exaggerations of eager enthusiasts or outright fabricated all together by flimflam artists. The reality is that none of those kind of miracles are happening, because if they were, everyone would certainly know about it, including the most militant critics of Christianity.

i) For starters, Acts 4:16 refers back to this incident:

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
ii) I'm tempted to think Fred must be waxing hyperbolic when he says this is the kind of miracle that even Randi or the "most militant critics of Christianity" could not deny. Surely Fred isn't serious. If he is serious, then that just confirms my earlier contention that MacArthurites like Fred don't seem to have much experience with secular debunkers. 

But perhaps Fred is serious. It may well be that his cessationism commits him to position.

iii) The cardinal rule of secular debunkers (e.g. Hume, Bart Ehrman, Richard Lewontin, Richard Carrier) is that any naturalistic explanation, however implausible, is more plausible than any miraculous explanation. 

iv) It's child's play to imagine how secular debunkers would dismiss Fred's paradigm-case:

a) There's no scientific evidence that the man was really disabled, much less than he was miraculously healed. We'd need before-and-after medical records. What's more likely, that parents lie or that miracles happen?

b) Even if we had medical records,  what's more likely: that doctors lie or that miracles happen? What's more likely: that a technician mislabeled the x-rays (putting the wrong patient's name on the x-rays), or that miracles happen? 

c) This could clearly be a financial scam. He conspires with a couple of friends to fake his disability in order to collect alms, which he splits with his coconspirators. Easy money. 

d) Secular debunkers think some cures are easier to fake than others. It's a lot easier to fake the healing of someone allegedly lame from birth than to fake the regeneration of limbs. So Fred's comparison backfires.

v) What of Fred's further claim that "none of those kind of miracles are happening, because if they were, everyone would certainly know about it, including the most militant critics of Christianity"? Well, has Fred really give that much thought? What about his test-case?

a) For staters, this was a public miracle. It happened in an urban setting. It happened near a national shrine, frequented by locals and pilgrims. 

But some biblical miracles occur in more private settings, like someone's home. Take Jesus reviving the daughter of Jairus, or Elisha reviving the Shunammite's child. 

By the same token, in the past, as well as many Third-World countries, a greater percentage of people live in isolated rural areas rather than urban population centers. So you'd have fewer witnesses.

b) Even though Peter's miracle took place in a public setting, would this be widely known? This event occurred around the Temple precincts of Jerusalem in the early 30s of the 1C. You have however many spectators who happened to be there in the minute or so it happened. But who else would know about it?

Well, there's word-of-mouth. Not doubt the eyewitnesses told their friends and relatives. But Fred is very dismissive of second-hand testimony. As he said recently:

I too have read many accounts of modern miracles. I find them to be mostly hearsay and apocryphal.

But beyond the circle of the actual eyewitnesses, how else would others learn about it except by "hearsay"?

c) Even if the miracle became well-known in Jerusalem, was it well-known in the Roman Empire? 

d) We know about this particular miracle because Luke recorded it, and Christian scribes copied and recopied the NT down through the ages. But what about a miracle that doesn't enjoy that kind of official patronage? 

Suppose miracles like that happen every so often in the course of church history. Surely some or most of those would occur among illiterate spectators. 

Of the faction that occur among literate spectators, what fraction of a fraction would be written down (e.g. diaries, private letters)?

Of the fraction that are written down, what fraction of a fraction of written reports would survive the ravages of time? 

Of the fraction that survive, what fraction of a fraction are published and/or translated?

A Fundamentalist Makes A Rare Appearance

A commenter on a Skeptiko forum recently mentioned that "a fundamentalist has in fact appeared at the Skeptiko site". You get the impression that a fundamentalist is some sort of rare species that's seldom seen in those regions. He's referring to me. If anybody is interested, here's the thread where I posted. The discussion is primarily about near-death experiences and exclusivism, but some other topics came up as well. The poster who referred to me as a fundamentalist, even though I described myself as a conservative Christian instead, probably wouldn't want a derisive term like fundamentalist applied to him. Notice, too, how much of my argument he ignores and how he distorts the portion he responds to. But those aren't the issues I want to focus on here.

I recently wrote about the neglect of paranormal issues among Christians. Why don't Evangelicals, conservative Catholics, conservative Eastern Orthodox, and other conservative professing Christians have far more of a presence at places like Skeptiko?

And now for something completely different ...

Found this video of riots in Egypt via NYTimes via Drudge.

No sense of direction whatever.

Clueless in MacArthurville


"So, who exactly is doing this stuff? Dan Phillips? Frank Turk? Phil Johnson? Fred Butler? Myself? Who dismisses miracle reports from the third world BECAUSE they're from the third world? Nobody that I'm aware of."

Perhaps you need to turn up your hearing aid:

Dan Phillips ‏@BibChr 21h 

EVERY time someone challenges this, the story starts, "I knew/heard about someone who was in the Philippines/Mexico/Uganda once, and..." 

1:53 PM - 15 Aug 13 

Newsweek's Irresponsible Article On James Randi And The Skeptic Movement

Newsweek just published a story on James Randi and the skeptic movement surrounding him. The author describes himself as "largely on board with Randi’s worldview". Too bad Newsweek doesn't get more people "largely on board with a traditional Christian worldview" to write its stories on Easter, Christmas, and other such issues.

The story about the skeptic movement says nothing about how Randi and his colleagues have been debunked on so many occasions. Here's the closing line:

"And it occurs to me that Randi’s [same-sex] marriage, long prevented by a legal adherence to religious dogma and superstition, is something of a victory for skepticism."

Search the Triablogue archives for our posts about Randi's homosexual partner and his legal troubles. Newsweek says nothing about the subject. And you can search our archives for many arguments against same-sex marriage that aren't "religious dogma and superstition".

Here's a recent post by a critic of Randi who was interviewed by the Newsweek reporter. As far as I can tell, nothing significant that was said by the critic made it into the story.

Something else that stood out to me was how the skeptic movement comes across as so angry, disrespectful, and overconfident. The story is laced with profanity, including from the author himself. At the same time, some skeptics are cited expressing their concern that the movement needs to be more friendly, that it needs to watch its tone. And they use profanity in the process of expressing that concern.

Don't bother me with the facts!

Fred Butler has sort of responded to some critics:

However, they don’t represent the best of the continuationists. We need to consider the sound arguments made by continuationist/charismatics like DA Carson, John Piper, Craig Keener, and Wayne Grudem.
i) I'm curious as to how Carson got classified as a "continuationist/cessationist." This is the second time I've run across that designation applied to Carson from a MacArthurite. Yet in his contribution to Power Religion, Carson was extremely critical of Third Wave theology (a la John Wimber and the Vineyard Church)–as he understood it. So why do some MacArthurites (e.g. Fred Butler, Nathan Busenitz) classify him as a continuationist/charismatic rather than a critic thereof? This appears to be a legend that's taking on a life of its own.
ii) Speaking for myself, I haven't said the MacArthurites need to engage Piper or Grudem. I typically mention Fee and Keener. I've also mentioned Carson, as an important representative of a mediating position. And I've made passing reference to two other distinguished charismatic scholars: Graham Twelftree and Max Turner. 
My commenter seems to think no one from our “camp” has offered any meaningful critique. Though if one were to do a simple search you could find a number of articles.
There's an equivocation here. I, for one, have specified members of the "MacArthur" circle. Fred seems to be switching to cessationists in general rather than MacArthurites in particular. Now, there's nothing wrong with his citing general cessationist scholarship. But it's deceptive for him to cite that as a counterexample to my contention, when I was very specific about what "camp" I had in mind. Perhaps, though, Fred has someone else in mind.
For example. Wayne Grudem: HERE, HERE, and HERE
I myself haven't cited Grudem as a standard of comparison. 
DA Carson: HERE and HERE
The second analysis that Fred links to isn't really a "critique" of Carson. Rather, it seems to agree with Carson's premise, but uses that to argue for cessationism. So Fred's characterization is misleading.
Gordon Fee: HERE
That's a critique of Fee's egalitarianism, not a sustained critique of his supporting arguments for charismatic theology. 
So Fred's links amount to a token, scattershot response. Something cobbled together as an afterthought, in belated response to critics. That fails to meet the challenge. 
Those who identify with Grudem-Carson-Piper-Keener consider themselves to be “open, but cautious.”  I honestly never understood that description. Either spiritual gifts as described in the NT documents function among Christians in today’s church or they don’t. It’s that simple.
Once again, I'm puzzled by Fred's classification scheme. To my knowledge, the "open, but cautious" designation was first coined by Wayne Grudem when he edited a "Four Views" book. Progressive Dispensationalist Robert Saucy was the spokesman for that view. And that represents the viewpoint of those who are noncommittal. By contrast, Grudem and Keener are squarely in the charismatic camp, while Carson tries to strike a balance. 
However, as long as Fred is redefining the term, we might as well consider three different ways in which a Christian might be "open, but cautious."
i) He might be noncommittal on the cessationist/continuationist debate. He may think both positions are underdetermined by Scripture and extrabiblical evidence. He withholds judgment.
ii) He might be open to modern charismatic phenomena in principle, without presuming that any particular claim is true. He judges each report on a case-by-case basis. 
iii) He may think that, in all likelihood, the charismata still happen, but he doesn't presume a stereotypical pattern, trend, or trejectory. It's not predictable. It's up to God's sovereign discretion when or where that happens.
The very description, “open” implies you believe spiritual gifts function in today’s church just like in the NT…
How does mere use of the word "open" imply any such thing?
…but the addition of “cautious” means you are not so sure. In fact, if you think about it, the two terms cancel each other out. To say you are “cautious” puts you in the same camp as me, the spirit-quenching MacArthurite cessationist.  The term “cautious” means you’re skeptical about the so-called healing or whatever supernatural manifestation may have taken place, at least until you can evaluate the authenticity of such a claim. Indeed, if you are are skeptical, by Steve Hays’s standards, you’re thinking like Richard Dawkins and other new atheists.
Unfortunately, Fred is misrepresenting both his position and mine:
i) By definition, cessationism rules out the charismata in advance. That doesn't involve an initially negative presumption about any reported example, a presumption which can be overcome by adequate evidence. Rather, cessationism stipulates, at the outset, that as a matter of principle, the charismata were time-indexed to the establishment of the NT church. 
ii) In addition, cessationists in the MacArthur circle try to draw a line between mediate and immediate miracles. They say they don't rule out modern miracle where God is acting directly. Rather, they rule out modern miracles where God is acting through a human agent. (BTW, I've pointed out that they can't consistently maintain that distinction in the case of prophecy.)
So this isn't a case of being "skeptical" that modern prophets or healers exist, "at least until you can evaluate the authenticity of such a claim." Rather, they deny that eventuality apart from any reports or evidence or counterevidence. 
Certainly it doesn’t mean an “open, but cautious” person is “open” to, or even “cautious” about, Benny Hinn whipping alleged deaf people with his suit coat. He’s automatically discounted at the outset of this discussion per my commenter’s comment.
Depends on what is meant by "automatically discounted at the outset." Every debate takes certain facts for granted going in. It's not because Benny Hinn is discounted by definition. Rather, there are preexisting exposés of Benny Hinn. His reputation precedes him. 
So. Are the “open, but cautious” then saying they are cautious about those claims of healing coming from among the proponents of the “open, but cautious”? If that is the case, then what exactly is the criteria that makes a claim of healing genuine? Or perhaps I should ask, what is lacking in the testimony about the claim of healing that would make an “open, but cautious” proponent cautious of the claim?If the claim is dubious, and the “open, but cautious” person is skeptically cautious of the claim, then why doesn’t that dubious claim place that person making it along side Benny Hinn? Additionally, what if a like-minded “open, but cautious” friend believes the claim is genuine, but you are still cautious? How would we determine which person is right? One could say Scripture is the final arbiter in those cases, but each person can equally appeal to Scripture.
i) It looks like Fred is trying to generates a dilemma. But that suffers from his idiosyncratic and equivocal definition of "open and cautious" (see above).
ii) In addition, the question of criteria for miraculous healings or prophecies doesn't suddenly become an issue for the post-apostolic church. The same issues crop up in Bible times. 
iii) There's also the question of consistency. Didn't Fred just tell us that to be a "MacArthurite cessationist means you’re skeptical about the so-called healing or whatever supernatural manifestation may have taken place, at least until you can evaluate the authenticity of such a claim"? If so, why doesn't that implicate his own camp in the same dilemma? Doesn't he have some criteria in mind to "evaluate the authenticity of such a claim"?
That subjectivity would be especially true in regards to alleged prophetic announcements. At least according to Grudem’s paradigm, a prophecy can be fallible. 
I agree with Fred that Grudem's paradigm is unstable. But that's not the only paradigm.
Checking the biblical record, I see no case of tongues being nonsensical gibberish done either in public or private. It was a genuine human language that operated according to the normal rules of linguistic grammar that the person speaking that language had never learned.
Of course, there are exegetes of 1 Cor 12-14 who don't see it that way. And you don't have to be a charismatic or Pentecostal scholar to reject the notion that 1 Cor 12-14 refers to xenoglossy. 
The reality is that 100 percent of the “tongues” practiced among Christians in churches or in private, even among the “open, but cautious” is fake. Perhaps I am being over the top to say 100 percent. Maybe 98.92 percent; but I have yet to come across that fraction of a percent.
Unfortunately, this seems to be one of those overly familiar situations where a MacArthurite hasn't seen the evidence because he has his back turned to the evidence. Even if we define glossolalia as xenoglossy, Keener cites modern examples of that in the first volume of his commentary on Acts. Now, Fred might not find the examples convincing, but the problem seems to be that Fred isn't even aware of the ostensible evidence because he gets his information from pulp sources like Charisma magazine. Like Richard Dawkins, MacArthurites keep insulating their pronouncements from correction by refusing to do their homework. 
When people were healed, it was an undeniable, extraordinary work of the Spirit healing an individual (Acts 4:16). Something the “Amazing” Randi could not deny. Think Iraqi war veterans getting their limbs back completely whole or the late Christopher Reeves having his spinal cord injury reversed.When we MacArthurite cessationists ask for evidence of such occurrences, it is not because we deny God can heal. It is that the track record for such testimonies has been consistently tarnished with the exaggerations of eager enthusiasts or outright fabricated all together by flim-flam artists. The reality is that none of those kind of miracles are happening, because if they were, everyone would certainly know about it, including the most militant critics of Christianity.
i) It's striking that Fred has so much faith in the integrity of secular debunkers. He seems to be blithely unaware of how debunkers have been debunked. 
ii) Fred is trying to take a short-cut. He doesn't have to examine the evidence, because if these kinds of miracles were happening, "everyone would certainly know about it, including the most militant critics of Christianity."
That's a classic armchair denial. "Don't bother me with the facts. I don't need to peer into your telescope. I know ahead of time that there's nothing to see!"
The echo chamber of the MacArthur circle must be pretty deafening. 


It's striking to observe how apostates almost always go straight from Christianity to atheism, in one unbroken motion. Theoretically, there are lots of options in-between Christian theism and atheism. You could become a deist, or adopt some form of philosophical theism. The proverbial "God of the philosophers." 

But in their precipitous descent from Christianity to atheism, they don't pause to consider a fallback position. They don't stop to catch their breath or wipe their sweat. For almost all apostates, it comes down to a stark unyielding choice between two alternatives: Christian theism or atheism. They treat Christianity as theism's last best hope. Why settle for second best?

And I'd say they're half right–only they opt for the wrong half. It's like a classic tragedy, where a man with everything loses everything he has. 

Who watches the watchman?

American KJB

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Near-Death Experiences In The News

Here's a post by Greg Taylor on the recent news story about an experiment on rats and how it supposedly relates to near-death experiences. Read the comments section of the thread as well.

And here's an update on the Eben Alexander story I discussed in a previous post.

Scientism is not science

Bill Vallicella's post taking apart scientism is worth a read.

(As an aside, an appropriately conducted randomized controlled trial (RCT) would fit the "five characteristics of science in the strict and eminent sense." I haven't read the article Vallicella cites on these characteristics, but perhaps this is part of what's in mind as well.)

How to be good without God

Michael Shermer, as head of one of America’s leading skeptic organizations, and as a powerful activist and essayist in the service of this operational form of reason, is an important figure in American public life.
— Stephen Jay Gould 
Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the The Skeptics Society’s Distinguished Science Lecture Series, and Adjunct Professor at Claremont Graduate University and Chapman University. 
Dr. Shermer’s books include: The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Share Care, and Follow the Golden Rule (on the evolutionary origins of morality and how to be good without God).

But apparently it's harder to be good without God than he anticipated:

Rating Jesus

I'm going to briefly comment on this post:

Belief does not come easy for me. I have a little “unbeliever” who has set up camp in the back of my mind, and he has no idea when, or how, to shut up. He is always questioning everything, from the stories I hear to the beliefs which tie me down emotionally. (I borrowed this idea from Daniel Taylor’s The Skeptical Christian. Taylor is possibly the most profound and honest writer I have ever read.) This unbeliever’s goal is to make me less certain about my beliefs and, in doing so, render me spiritually impotent and sterile. I have found many ways to tame this unbelieving beast, but I have also come to the conclusion that he will never totally shut up.

Christians like Patton need to replace that chatty little unbeliever with a different unbeliever. Somebody like Daniel Dennett or Alex Rosenberg. If you think belief doesn't come easy, try unbelief. And I don't mean glib, superficial unbelief. I mean the kind of probing atheism that begins to consume itself from the inside out until nothing is left. 

Christians naturally focus on Christian issues. That can lead to a distorted emphasis on the perceived problems of the Christian faith. Try shifting your focus to the problems of the alternatives–like atheism. 

This way of thinking becomes even more beneficial when we place all of our beliefs along the scale. For example, I believe in the resurrection of Christ with less certitude than I do the existence of God.

How in the world is it supposed to be beneficial to rate belief in God higher than belief in Christ? Something has gone disastrously wrong with Patton's rating system.

Belief in God ought inseparable from belief in Christ. Speaking for myself, I barely thought about God until I became a Christian. 

If I were to lose my faith in Christianity, non-Christian theism wouldn't be my fallback position. Rather, at that point I'd be indifferent to the theist/atheist debate. I wouldn't care whether or not a non-Christian God existed. I wouldn't care about anything. 

Now, in fairness, Patton said "belief in the resurrection of Christ" rather than belief in Christ. And there are Jesus Questers who believe in a secularized "Jesus." But what's the point of that?