Saturday, August 24, 2013

Where was Eden?

Human longevity

On the one hand, many moderate to liberal Bible scholars don't take the longevity of the prediluvians seriously. They think that must be hyperbolic or legendary, since humans can't really live that long.

On the other hand, it's become a scholarly fad to reject dualism for physicalism. To ground eternal life in the resurrection of the body rather than the immortality of the soul. 

But if embodied humans can't even live for 1000 years, how can they live forever? Do scholars who doubt the longevity of the prediluvians really believe in the resurrection of the body? 

East of Eden

Friday, August 23, 2013

Very good

Dan Wallace on cessationism

Since some readers had problems with my first link had problems, let's try again with a different link:

Is “Called to Communion” cannibalizing “Catholic Answers”?

I got the following email yesterday:

Maybe the more sophisticated of the Catholic Answers readers have migrated to CTC in search of something that’s at least more well-reasoned (and doesn’t beg for money?)

Who knows, maybe Catholic Answers will go out of business?

“One God almighty” in Irenaeus

Over at Old Life, Darryl Hart continues to hammer away at “the Callers” (Jason Stellman and the “Called to Communion” gang); meanwhile, an atheistic chap who goes by the name of “CD-Host” is taking great interest in the discussion for some reason, wasting what little is left of his pitiable naturalistic life trying to persuade the Reformed brethren that they too should become little atheists.

I responded to one of his comments:

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A black pundit on crime

"The uneasy conscience of a noncharismatic evangelical"

I don't necessarily agree with this, but it's interesting:

National insecurity

MacArthurite preterists

I'm going to comment on this post:

Notice the position which Frank imputes to critics of MacArthurite cessationists. Notice how he frames the issue. How he assigns the burden of proof. 

1996 was a very good year for the Charismatic, since that is the year Wayne Grudem came out with his book, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?  However: I have been recently told that this book is actually far inferior to D.A. Carson's book, and refuting it is rather a pedestrian effort.  The real academic cherry is to prove that Carson may be toppled from his as yet unassailable position because let's face it: D.A. Carson.
So in 1996, Carson also published a lengthy treatise on 1 Cor 12-14, entitled Showing the Spirit. Over the last 3 weeks, it has found new life among those who demand the necessity of the apostolic spiritual gifts, and the word on the street is that this book has never properly been reviewed or refuted by anyone of a Cessationist disposition, therefore Check and Mate: start speaking in tongues.  Roll into that the fact that the book is still in print (in Kindle format no less), and that Carson has never offered a revision, and perhaps the rest of us -- the ones who think that miraculous signs and wonders are not pedestrian but exceptional, and that God is not a blatherer who predates Twitter with his affinity for daily murmurings but in fact speaks first through the Prophets and then through His Son -- ought to simply apologize for our impertinence for raising an eyebrow, and the occasional meat chub.
…I think what Carson does for/to charismaticism in this book is far worse for them than the people waving this book around would admit (methinks: if they had read it themselves).
One thing Carson refuses to do is to settle the question of continuation vs. cessation. 
  • The last hope for the modern Charismatic is Carson's treatment of what Paul means by the relationship between "perfection" and the "imperfect."  Carson concludes that Paul must mean that all things will be made perfect at the parousia -- that is, the return of Christ.  Therefore, Carson is saying, the sign gifts will not cease until the return of Christ.  He says it this way:
  • "Two conclusions follow from this exposition. The first is obvious: there does not appear to be biblical warrant, at least from this chapter, for banning contemporary tongues and prophecies on the grounds that Scripture anticipates their early demise. This does not mean, of course, that everything that passes for prophecy or the gift of tongues is genuine. I shall say more about the nature of these gifts in the next chapter.
  • After all his justifications of so-called spirit gifts today, Carson lays out quite a devastating historical critique of such a thing:
  • "What can be safely concluded from the historical evidence? First, there is enough evidence that some form of “charismatic” gifts continued sporadically across the centuries of church history that it is futile to insist on doctrinaire grounds that every report is spurious or the fruit of demonic activity or psychological aberration.

Here's my rebuttal: if this is the best you can do -- that is, a book that agrees with any tenable natural reading of 1 Cor 12-14, leaves open the door to the possibility that daGifts still exist, but somehow downplays the entire operation for the sake of good order, maturity, and the defining virtue of Love -- then you had better reassess what you think you're trying to convince the rest of us to agree with.
If this is your go-to book, explain to me how it justifies any of the things Dan and I have been objecting to for the last 8 weeks.
And: keep it civil.  Those who simply want to cast me off as a bomb-throwing waste of time should simply go do something else rather than waste their time, and mine.  

Now, let's compare Frank's imputation with how I myself have actually stated my position:

If you're going to make an honest case against charismatic theology, you need to critique the best representatives as well as the worst representatives. And you need to critique arguments. It's morally and intellectually incumbent on you to engage the best exegetical case for charismatic theology, viz.  Craig Keener, The Spirit in the Gospels and Acts: Divine Purity and Power; The Gift and the Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today; Gordon Fee, God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul.
Likewise, you need to engage important mediating positions, viz. D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians, 12-14.And this brings us back to the burden of proof. Dan's cessationism involves a universal negative. That means he's assuming a very high burden of proof. For it would only take a single exception, just one credible counterexample, to disprove his ironclad cessationism. All you'd need is one bona fide prophet or healer or miracle worker between the death of St. John and today, to disprove his contention. 
iv) There are credible reported cases of modern xenoglossy. Cf. Craig Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: Introduction and 1:1–2:47 (Baker 2012), 829. So that would be consistent with continuationism. Denying cessationism doesn't entail the belief that every Christian throughout church history must be a miracle worker. This isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. 
The problem with Fred's analogy is whether a position that's espoused by scholars of the caliber of Craig Keener, Gordon Fee, Graham Twelftree, and Max Turner (among others) can be honestly compared to Ghost Hunters
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. 
v) If glossolalia isn't xenoglossy, then we can't say if modern tongues in the same as Corinthian tongues. We have no recordings of 1C Corinthian tongues to furnish a comparative sample. 
vi) By the same token, if glossolalia isn't xenoglossy, then it may resist linguistic analysis. It may be incommensurable with human language. You also have the code language explanation of Vern Poythress.
Now, I happen to think the modern practice of speaking in tongues is generally bogus. It's usually the result of coaching or crowd psychology. 
Put another way, what's the logical alternative to cessationism? Dan seems to think the logical alternative is a regular occurrence of miracles, miracles of a certain kind occurring at a certain rate. But that's not the logical alternative to cessationism. Logically, the alternative to cessationism doesn't select or predict for any particular outcome. Minimally, it simply allows for exceptions to Dan's universal negative. These could be few or many. Frequent or infrequent. Clustered or isolated.
Moreover,  why is is necessary to predict what kinds of miracles may or may not occur in the course of church history? Why do we have to stake out a position on that in advance of the facts? Why can't we take a wait-and-see attitude? Is that something we need to prescribe ahead of time? Why can't we discover what God is prepared to do? 
The debate between cessationists and charismatics is typically polarized between two absolute, opposing positions:i) On the one hand, cessationists take a proscriptive position. The "spiritual gifts" don't continue at all during the church age. There are no genuine Christian healers, prophets, exorcists, or thaumaturges during the church age. God may still work miracles, but not through human agents.ii) On the other hand, charismatics take a prescriptive position. The "spiritual gifts" ought to continue throughout the church age. The "spiritual gifts" are available to every Christian. Every Christian ought to have one or more of the "spiritual gifts."Both sides hammer the Bible to squeeze out their position. Both sides standardize the divine modus operandi. iii) I'd simply point out that, logically speaking, that's a false dichotomy. For these two options don't exhaust the logical alternatives. On the face of it, there's a mediating position. A Christian could say the NT is open-ended on the status of the "spiritual gifts." It doesn't prescribe or proscribe what God is prepared to do in the future. It's largely silent about the course of church history in that respect. Maybe God raises up a healer at a particular time and place, but doesn't do so on a regular basis. Perhaps we don't know in advance if Christians can still exorcise demoniacs. Maybe that's something we have to discover. Maybe God is not as predictable as we'd like to make him. Perhaps he resists our efforts to domesticate his field of action. Now, a logical alternative may not be correct. It's something we have to test against Scripture and church history. But this rather obvious mediating position seems to be totally overlooked by both sides. 

i) If you compare Frank's characterization of what we say with what we actually say, Frank's characterization is a tissue of blatant falsehoods from start to finish. I never made the exclusive claims for Carson that Frank imputes to critics of MacArthurite cessationism. I never placed the burden of proof where Frank alleges that critics of his position assign it. 

Now, Frank doesn't name his targets. It's quite possible that  his "rebuttal" wasn't meant to single me out in particular. However, it's hard to avoid the assumption that he's including me in his diatribe. I hardly think he's talking about every critic except me. But if I'm one of his unnamed targets, then his characterization of my position is systematically false. 

I just wonder why it's so hard for Frank to be truthful. Frank may not be a theoretical antinomian, but to judge by his hit piece, Frank is a practical antinomian. In practice, Frank feels no moral obligation to truthfully represent what the critics actually say. 

Now let's make a few substantive observations:

ii) In his chapter on 1 Cor 13, Carson says (quoting from my 1987 edition):

If this point is located at the parousia, then there is nothing in this passage to preclude a valid gift of tongues or prophecy today. This would not necessarily mean, of course, that each contemporary claim of a particular gift is valid. Nor would it necessarily mean that a charismatic gift or gifts could not have been withdrawn earlier than the parousia. But it does mean that Scripture offers no shelter to those who wish to rule out all claims of charismatic gifts today (70).
None of this, of course, suggests Paul is interested in establishing the ideal relative frequency of prophecy in the church; nor have we yet mentioned historical objections that argue the gifts of prophecy and tongues actually did cease. At the moment, such matters are irrelevant. In these verses Paul establishes the end of the age as the time when these gifts must finally be abolished (72).
Under this [third] interpretation, there is no reason why gifts such as prophecy and tongues cannot be thought to continue in principle until the parouisa. In  my view, the third interpretation is largely right and may be supported and slightly modified by the following considerations (73).
Two conclusions follow from this exposition. The first is obvious: there does not appear to be biblical warrant, at least from this chapter [1 Cor 13], for banning contemporary tongues and prophecies on the grounds that Scripture anticipates their early demise. This does not mean, of course, that everything that passes for prophecy or the gift of tongues is genuine (75).

iii) Now, if Carson's interpretation of 1 Cor 13 is correct, then that automatically falsifies cessationism on exegetical grounds. Paul allows for what MacArthurites disallows. And observe that in his "review," Frank doesn't take issue with Carson's exegesis. Frank doesn't show, or even attempt to show, that Carson's exegesis is mistaken. 

Yet cessationism posits a universal negative with respect to postapostolic era charismata. And it only takes one exception to falsify that blanket denial. What cessationism predicts for is diametrically opposed to what 1 Cor 13 predicts for. Cessationism predicts for the total discontinuance of any and all charismata after the apostolic age whereas 1 Cor 13 predicts for their total discontinuance at the end of the church age. If anything, Carson has understated the problem which this text poses for cessationists. 

iv) So this generates a dilemma for MacArthurite cessationists. If they insist that church history in fact falsifies the reoccurrence of the charismatic to any degree, then that logically commits them to saying that church history falsifies Paul's expectation to the contrary. They can salvage their cessationism by ditching inerrancy.

One other fallback position would be to renounce their premillennialism for preterism. They could then say the charismata terminated in the 1C because Christ returned in the 1C, appearances to the contrary not withstanding. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Hopeless Matzke

The cure that killed the patient

From first day to fourth day

Ben Stein Nails Piers Morgan

Now, will Mr. Obama get on TV and say that Chris Lane could have been his son or anyone’s son, that the real race problem in this country is not racism against blacks, but an astounding epidemic of violence among blacks, especially black youth? Will the media superstars start talking about the sickening worship of violence in the rap culture? Will anyone ever tell the truth again? Or is the fear of even a hint of an accusation of racism going to make us keep our blinders on?

There are virtually no murders of blacks by whites (not none — just very few). There are thousands of murders of blacks by blacks each year, far more in one year than the Ku Klux Klan ever did. Will anyone ever tell the truth again? Yes, Pat Buchanan will. But anyone else?

And can a society which lies to itself about its most basic problems survive? This is a crisis. Absent parents. The gang control of thought. The scourge of drugs. These have created a catastrophe for the black community. That is an immense part of the youth of this nation. Occasionally the flood jumps its bounds, goes over the river banks, and kills a white person — and then it’s new — but we blame it on guns. Our media and our leaders just cannot tell the truth.

We really are doomed in so many ways it’s blood curdling. I think I’ll just stay here in North Idaho.

Cessationism and selective standards

Dan Phillips and Fred Butler like to use Acts 4:16 as their paradigm-case of what a modern miracle has to be like to qualify as a genuine miracle. But there are obvious problems with their criterion.

i) The Bible contains many types of miracles. It's arbitrary to single out this particular miracle as the paradigm. 

ii) Apropos (i), not only is that arbitrary as a standard of comparison for modern miracles, it's arbitrary in reference to Biblical miracles, given the variety of Biblical miracles.

iii) Apropos (ii), Biblical miracles are not all of a kind. Even Warfield, a classic cessationist, distinguishes between miracles of healing, miracles of speech, miracles of knowledge, and miracles of power. For instance, Acts contains revelatory dreams and visions. But those aren't directly comparable to a miracle of healing–are they? 

iv) Apropos (i-iii), in their effort to screen out modern miracles, Fred and Dan have a criterion that screens out many Biblical miracles. For there are Biblical miracles which don't "measure up" (as it were) to their chosen yardstick. For instance:

a) Philip was an exorcist (Acts 8:6-13). But is that an "Acts 4:16-level miracle"? 

b) What about the burning bush (Exod 3)? Surely that's a paradigmatic miracle. It involves both a nature miracle and an angelic apparition. Yet it's an essentially private miracle, for Moses is the only witness to this event. Likewise, the fate of Lot's wife was only witnessed by Lot and his daughters. And we don't have their testimony. We only have the testimony of the narrator. 

What about the talking donkey (Num 22)? Surely that's a remarkable miracle. That involves both a nature miracle and an angelic apparition. Yet it's an essentially private miracle, for Balaam is the only witness to this event. And we don't even have his own testimony. We only have the testimony of the narrator. 

Other examples include the rod of Moses changing into a snake (Exod 4), Elijah fed by ravens (1 Kgs 17), the widow's food replenished (1 Kgs 17), her son revived (1 Kgs 17), and the Translation of Elijah (2 Kgs 2). We could add the bears that attack Elijah's hecklers (2 Kgs 2), Naaman's cure (2 Kgs 5), and the blinding of Elymas (Acts 13). There are very few eyewitnesses to these events. In many cases we're dependent on the secondhand report of the omniscient narrator.  

c) Keep in mind, too, that many of these are miracles of power. But how is a miracle of power directly analogous to a miracle of knowledge? Take Joseph's premonitory dream (Gen 37), or Pharaoh's premonitory dreams (Gen 41). Are those "Acts 4:16-level" miracles? How do you measure a miracle of knowledge by a miracle of healing? What's the common denominator? 

d) Or take glossolalia. Fred and Dan construe all cases of glossolalia in Acts and 1 Corinthians as xenoglossy. But even if we accept their disputatious identification, is xenoglossy an "Acts 4:16-level miracle"? In what respect is xenoglossy analogous to healing? 

e) Or take the apparitions of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration. Is that an "Acts 4:16-level miracle"? If so, in what respect? 

Fred and Dan aren't really using a Scriptural standard, for their singular example from Acts filters out many other Biblical examples. If they were really using the Bible as their template, they'd say that modern supernatural claims must generally correspond to Biblical supernatural examples. Their sample would include all types of Biblical miracles as a reference class. 

New Job

In March, I made the announcement that I had lost my job. It’s been an instructive six months for me, in several ways, and at another time, I’d like to share a bit more about how things all came about. But for now, I wanted to let you know that I’ve gotten a new job.

A small (but technical) consulting firm, 4Thought Marketing, has hired me as a project manager and account manager. They are an Oracle/Eloqua partner and they offer some of the more technical, data-intensive services surrounding Eloqua (a fairly hot “marketing automation”, or “MA” technology), including data integration services, data cleansing, and an overall “health-check” of Eloqua data and operations.

I’ll be their contact person for all Eloqua users in the eastern US. And so if you happen to be an Eloqua or “marketing automation” person, please feel free to get in touch with me.

Marketing automation is a genuine growth industry in our economy. One observer has commented that while some 20% of companies were using a marketing automation platform in 2012, 50% are projected to use one in 2015. That’s a significant growth rate in the next few years. Even if the estimate is off a bit, things still promise to be on the upswing.

Plus, there’s been quite a bit of consolidation in the industry. For example, Oracle purchased Eloqua this year for about $870 million. purchased Exact Target (and the MA platform Pardot) for more than $2 billion. And Adobe (makers of Photoshop and others) purchased Neolane.

All of these are positioning themselves as leaders in the “data management” or “database marketing” fields. I’m just very happy to have landed, for now, in an area of the economy where there is a bit of a tailwind.

I’m glad these last six months are behind me, and I’m looking forward to a period of fruitful and useful employment with 4Thought Marketing.

Thank you for your prayers and encouragement during this difficult time.

What is a miracle?

"What is a miracle?" (pdf) by Daniel P. Sulmasy.

NB: I don't agree with everything in the paper.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Animals In The Afterlife

Greg Koukl recently posted a video on the subject. He makes some good points, but I largely disagree with him. Some commenters there made some good points in response, and I added a reply of my own. I address the issue in more depth in the thread here.

Introduction to Genesis

Skewed polling on sodomite marriage

It's often said, even by Christians, that there's been a sea change in public opinion about homosexual marriage. Perhaps so. But we need to cautious about polling data. Polling is politicized:

“Axis of Reason” vs Muslim Brotherhood

Photo: NPR
Israel has allied itself with some of the more “moderate” middle eastern states, and indeed, with the Egyptian government that is “cracking down” on the Muslim Brotherhood protests. The members of this alliance are calling themselves the “axis of reason”. Apparently they have come to the conclusion that the best or only way to deal with Islamists is to crush them with military power:

The U.S.'s closest Middle East allies are undercutting American policy in Egypt, encouraging the military to confront the Muslim Brotherhood rather than reconcile, U.S. and Arab officials said.

The parallel efforts by Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have blunted U.S. influence with Egypt's military leadership and underscored how the chaos there has pulled Israel into ever-closer alignment with those Gulf states, officials said.

A senior Israeli official called the anti-Muslim Brotherhood nations "the axis of reason."

The Obama administration first had sought to persuade Egyptian military leader Gen. Abdel Fattah Al Sisi not to overthrow the elected government of President Mohammed Morsi and then to reconcile with his Muslim Brotherhood base.

Gen. Sisi has done the opposite
—orchestrating the president's overthrow and a crackdown in which over 900 people have been killed since Wednesday—reflecting his apparent confidence in the Egyptian government's ability to weather an American backlash, U.S. and Arab officials said….

Israel is pushing Washington not to cut off military support to Egypt, arguing that would jeopardize counterterrorism cooperation and the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace accords.

"Only after stability is restored, only after law and order is enforced, only then can you start to talk about launching a process that leads to more democratic processes," said the senior Israeli official….

Saudi King Abdullah has stepped up the Kingdom's support for what he called Egypt's fight against "terrorism and extremism." President Barack Obama has criticized the crackdown, a message repeated by Mr. Hagel on Monday….

Read more: (Subscription required)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Not many were wise

A fine post from Prof. James Anderson.

"Acts 4:16-level miracles"

I'm going to comment on this post:
Steve Hays and his boys continue with this befuddling defense of modern day claims of the miraculous among charismatics and Pentecostals.
i) I by no means assume that miracles are confined to charismatics and Pentecostals. 
ii) Moreover, it should be unnecessary to correct Fred's misstatement of my position. I haven't been defending the Pentecostal/charismatic position. I take a mediating position on this issue. 
This is one of the persistent problems with the MacArthurites. They are so conditioned to debate the issue in binary terms that even if you present a third alternative, they automatically reassign you to the usual suspects. This reflects a lack of critical detachment on their part, which is ironic given how they attack the lack of critical judgment on the part of Pentecostals and charismatics.
Jason Engwer left similar sentiments in the combox under my previous post
Well, I can't speak for Jason.
They both seem to be bothered about my insistence that miracles, in order to even be considered genuine, have to be in the category of undeniable by such debunkers like James Randi.  We could also add other similar men like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett.
And in my response to Fred, I will hold him to that self-imposed standard.
To insist that any claims of the miraculous must be in that category demonstrates a profound ignorance of atheist debunkers on my part, or at least according the Steve and his friends.
As we shall see.
I had initially cited Acts 4:16 in reference to my claim about atheist debunkers. That verse says,  What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.A few important observations about that verse are in order.First, the statement is being made by the religious leaders. In fact, Acts 4:1 says it is the liberal religious leaders, the Sadducees. You know them. They’re the guys who consistently denied any supernatural workings by God, and yet they were among the ones who could “not deny” the miracle. 
Several problems. Just for starters:
i) Not all members of the Sanhedrin were Sadducees. Remember Nicodemus? He was a Pharisee. Likewise, remember how Paul played both sides off against the middle (Acts 23:6)?
ii) The Sadducees were liberal in denying the existence of discarnate spirits and the resurrection of the body. But they were conservative in denying the oral Torah.
iii) What is Fred's evidence that the Sadducees "consistently denied any supernatural workings by God"? Doesn't that go considerably beyond the extant record? 
Keep in mind that these aren't just my objections. It's not as if secular debunks are going to cut Fred any slack.
iv) For them to say it's "undeniable" is ambiguous. "Undeniable" to whom? In context, this is a PR issue. Damage control. They can't publicly deny the miracle without loss of face. To discredit the miracle would discredit them in the eyes of their constituency.
So there's no reason to assume it was undeniable to them. Rather, it's undeniable vis-a-vis public opinion. In context, that's the frame of reference. 
And even if Fred doesn't think that's the best interpretation of the statement, it doesn't matter what he thinks–since he's not the standard of comparison. Rather, he's made secular debunkers the standard of comparison. When in doubt, they are not going to give his interpretation the benefit of the doubt.
Second, the miracle was evident, meaning that is was undeniable. In other words, it was just clear that a seriously crippled individual was made whole. 
Up until now I withheld the biggest problem with Fred's appeal. The biggest problem is that secular debunkers won't grant his source of information. As Fred himself has framed the terms of the debate, that evidence (Acts 4:16) is inadmissible. That's not public information. Secular debunkers won't grant that Luke was privy to the closed-door deliberations of the Sanhedrin. The only information that Fred can appeal to within the confines of his own challenge is information in the public domain. What a debunker could see and hear with his own eyes and ears if he were living in Jerusalem when that happened. By contrast, a debunker would say that Acts 4:16 is, at best, hearsay. After all, the narrator (Luke?) wasn't a member of the Sanhedrin.
And third, it was made evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, so everyone was talking about it. The miracle wasn’t confined to a small number of witnesses, or a small congregation of people, or to the subjective evaluation of two sets of X-rays.
I find Fred's argument odd. Supposedly he's responding to me, yet as I already pointed out in the post he's responding to, that appeal violates Fred's own rules of evidence. For Fred is skeptical of "hearsay" evidence (to use his own term). "Everyone" in Jerusalem was talking about it due to word-of-mouth dissemination. Yet Fred dismisses "hearsay" evidence of modern miracles.
Moreover, it doesn't even matter what Fred thinks, since, by his own admission, his judgment is not the standard of comparison. A secular debunker would say this is a prime example of how quickly rumors become legendary. 
First, we see that this guy was a regular outside the gate leading into the temple. Thus, all the religious leaders would have been familiar with the man and his physical situation. They would have seen him there day in and day out, probably one among many crippled people, and perhaps even given him alms every once in a while.
So Fred is already shifting away from those who saw the miracle take place. Rather, he's appealing to the before and after condition of the man. 
Secondly, this man was born without the use of his legs, “from his mother’s womb.” Hence, he was seriously malformed and had never walked in his life… Acts 4:22 says this man was over 40 years in age, so he had been in that condition for over 40 years.
Notice how Fred treats the details of the account as unquestionably accurate. Problem is, that reflects his viewpoint, not the viewpoint of a secular debunker. 
Once again, Fred is appealing to inadmissible evidence. A secular debunker will ask, How do we know that the cripple was congenitally disabled? You can't appeal to the narrator's claim. How is the narrator in a position to know that? Did he interview the parents? Even if he did, a debunker will say, What's more likely: that parents lie or that miracles happen? 
As Fred has framed the issue, the only admissible evidence would be what a debunker could observe for himself, had he been on the scene at the time. Not Luke's record of the event, but the event itself. 
When the religious leaders passed him by every day, they would have seen his atrophied legs and his otherwise frail body because of his physical condition. 
i) Why assume that his body was generally frail? What if he developed his upper body musculature as compensation?
ii) But that's not the main thing. Notice how Fred tacitly assumes a Southern Californian dress code, as if the cripple was wearing shorts. But isn't it more likely that Palestinian Jew was wearing an ankle-length tunic? And it's not as if debunkers are going to give Fred the benefit of the doubt on how the cripple was dressed. 
Third, it is clear from the text that he was completely made whole. Luke wants his readers to know this guy was utterly incurable by human means and in an instant, his ankle bones were strengthened and he jumped up and began walking about.
Once again, Fred isn't even beginning to project himself into the mindset of a secular debunker. Yes, that's what "Luke wants his readers to know." And therein lies the problem, a debunker would say. Religious propaganda. Fred has implicit faith in the minute accuracy of Luke's account. By contrast, a debunker is prepared to relegate the entire story to pious fiction. 
Additionally, since the man had been living in that condition for over 40 years, the muscle tissue to his atrophied legs had to have been restored and he knew how to walk immediately apart from any physical therapy. That is an undeniable miracle and one that James Randi could “not deny.”
i) First of all, this piggybacks on a string of assumptions which, as I just noted, a secular debunker would never concede. 
ii) Secondly, Fred apparently has no inkling of how creative debunkers can be. In principle, a debunker could stipulated to just about everything Fred has claimed thus far, and still have an out. 
He could say, Yes, the man they saw everyday at the gate was congenitally crippled. But the "miraculously healed" man wasn't the same individual. Rather, that was his able-bodied identical twin! 
Think I'm making that up? Think again. That is Robert Greg Cavin's fallback position for the apparent resurrection of Christ. The man who died on the cross wasn't the man who reappeared on Easter. Jesus had a twin brother!
A secular debunker will say the existence of a twin brother is infinitely more likely than a healing miracle.
Consider the following fantasy scenario in the context of modern day miracles and what I am talking about…That’s a miracle that cannot be denied. Obviously something happened to this guy that is not explainable by the means of normal medical procedure.
I don't see how floating a hypothetically undeniable miracle is supposed to prove anything.
My point with recounting that little make-believe scenario is to say if people with the gift of healing are exercising that gift with regularity in churches as continuationists claim they are, then I wouldn’t have to research medical records and the like. The reality of the miracles would testify of themselves. A person with significant deformities or other serious medical issues would testify about his healing. His friends would testify to me about his healing.  Neighbors and townsfolk who knew the guy before he was healed would tell me of his healing. And most importantly, those who reject miracles, but would refuse to believe God’s healing in spite of him being healed, would testify about his healing, because it is “undeniable.”
i) Notice how Fred is conceding that secondhand evidence can be compelling evidence. But in that case, why did he previously say:
I too have read many accounts of modern miracles. I find them to be mostly hearsay and apocryphal.

ii) Notice how Fred rigs the answer: "If people with the gift of healing are exercising that gift with regularity in churches as continuationists claim they are…"
I haven't make that claim. To my knowledge, Jason Engwer hasn't make that claim. I haven't make any claim about the frequency of healers. 
iii) Why do MacArthurites chronically repeat the same fallacy? To say that "Acts 4:16-level miracles" aren't happening all the time doesn't imply that "Acts 4:16-level miracles" never happen. Why do MacArthurites keep making the illogical leap from "unless it happens all the time, it doesn't happen any  time"?
iv) Apropos (iii), for the umpteenth time, we have a MacArthurite reject an empirical claim a priori.  

Election in Action

John records for us in chapter five of his Gospel an interaction that I think sums up the nature of election perfectly. We begin with mention of a pool in Bethesda.

Now the pool in Bethesda was presumed to have healing power, such that it was believed that an angel would touch the surface of the water causing a ripple. The first person into the pool would be healed. For that reason, there was "a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed" (John 5:3, ESV) waiting there.

But Jesus focused on one person: "One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, 'Do you want to be healed?'" (verses 5-6).

At no point did the man request of Jesus, "Please save me." Jesus Himself initiated the contact, having seen the man there. This one, lone man amongst the multitude.

We of course know how the story ends:

Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked (verses 8-9).
This single individual out of a multitude was chosen by Christ to be healed. Christ had the power to heal everyone there. He could have approached anyone.

But instead, He approached the man who had been invalid for thirty-eight years. He chose that man specifically and He healed that man specifically.

Furthermore, we can note that this healing was not based upon a condition the man met, not even in the man's response to Christ's question. For while it is true that Jesus asked him, "Do you want to be healed?" the man did not respond in the affirmative, but rather responded: "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me" (verse 7). In short, the man said, "I cannot be healed because I cannot get to the water."

But the water was not what could heal the man. Jesus could, and Jesus did. The man did not fulfill a condition in order to be healed. Christ simply healed him.

This is the doctrine of election in action.

How to write a commentary

What should a commentator comment on? A good commentary needs to include different kinds of information. And this isn't easily reducible to a single body of text. 
i) Commentaries, especially commentaries on the Greek and Hebrew text, need to define words and parse sentences. However, this level of analysis leads to a very choppy writing style. So it's best to put that in a separate section.
ii) Verse-by-verse analysis. Commentaries need to explain the meaning of every verse. However, that's ambiguous. For one thing, versification is a modern editorial addition or imposition on the text. It's basically for ease reference, since the Bible is a reference work in Protestant theology.
Versification may be arbitrary. It may artificially break up the text. Traditional versification may not correspond to the author's own units of thought–where the author's unit of thought begins and ends. So one of a commentator's responsibilities is to determine, as best he can, the author's minimal units of thought, and transitions from one unit to another. In that sense, a commentator should write a verse-by-verse commentary, but not necessarily in terms of the traditional versification of Scripture.
Also, many verses many be self-explanatory. The commentator is basically paraphrasing what the verse says. In that respect, a commentator could skip over verses which don't require explanation. 
However, that would lose the connection between one verse and another. So even if a verse doesn't demand interpretation, it's necessary for the commentator to say something about each verse to maintain continuity. 
This also applies to chapter divisions. These are sometimes arbitrary. So a commentator must determine, as best he can, how the author subdivides his own material. Where one section ends and another begins. A new argument, new episode, new scene, new pericope. 
iii) A problem with verse-by-verse commentaries is that this microscopic level of analysis breaks up the linearity of passage. The narrative flow or train of thought (depending on the genre). Therefore, a commentator ought to separate verse-by-verse analysis from another section that outlines the macroscopic flow of the text. 
iv) Commentators often compare and contrast their own interpretation with opposing views. They arrive at their own interpretation through process of elimination. This is necessary to justify their own interpretation. However, it means the reader has to wade through a lengthy digression before he finds out what the commentator thinks the text means. It would be more readable if a commentator began with his conclusion, then worked back through the competing views to explain how he arrived at his conclusion, by evaluating the interpretive options. 
Another way to handle this would be to give his own interpretation in a separate section that outlines the basic flow of the text (see above). In summarizing the text he'd be simultaneously summarizing his own interpretation.
v) Where possible, commentators should reconstruct the original setting. Who wrote it? To whom? When? From where? To where? What occasioned the document?
Depending on the genre, this may be a general question to be answered in the introduction. But it may recur at various points within the document. If it's a law code, a commentator needs to explain the purpose of each law. If it's an epistle, the commentator needs to explain why the author is leaving one point to address another. Where are we at what stage of the argument? How does this follow from what went before? Does this break new ground?
That might be a separate section, or that might be incorporated in the summary. 
vi) Exegesis isn't theologically neutral. A commentator must be clear at the outset on whether he submits to the viewpoint of Bible writer, or assumes a posture independent of the Bible writer. For instance, some commentators, especially in narrative criticism, treat the text as a self-contained story without an external referents. Like a mural rather than a window. Unlike a window, through which you can see the outside world, a mural doesn't point beyond itself. If, however, the narrator is situating his "story" in a real world setting, as the narrator views the world, then it's incumbent on the part of the commentator to try to identify the real world setting, from the narrator's standpoint. That may or may not correspond to what the commentator thinks the world is really like, but the objective of exegesis is to mirror the outlook of the Bible writer–regardless of the commentator's personal opinions. His duty, as an interpreter, is to assume the viewpoint of the author, for the sake of argument, even if he is personally at odds with the author's perspective. 
Of course, from a Christian standpoint, a commentator ought to share the worldview of Scripture. And, frankly, it's a waste of time to exegete the Bible if you don't believe the Bible. 
Some commentators deliberately reinterpret the text at variance with authorial intent. They offer a reading against the text because they have a political or ecclesiastical agenda to change social policy or church policy by reinterpreting the Bible. An obvious problem with this tactic is that if you reject the authority of Scripture, then it's silly to reinterpret Scripture. Just say Scripture is wrong and move on. At the same time, drop the pretense to be a Christian.  If theological liberals are really getting their views from John Rawls, Jerry Coyne, et al., why not drop the charade of using Scripture? 
vii) Traditionally, the aim of exegesis, especially Protestant exegesis, is to ascertain authorial intent. The text basically means what the author meant it to mean. 
This is sometimes dismissed as the "intentional fallacy." However, that label is prejudicial. Whether or not grounding the sense of the text in authorial intent is "fallacious" isn't something a critic is entitled to preemptive brand fallacious. That's a rhetorically clever first strike, but question-begging. 
It also depends on how we define "authorial intention." In terms of exegesis, this doesn't mean the commentator is trying to read the mind of the author. It's not about the author's private state of mind, but how he has objectified his intentions by what he wrote. We're not inferring the sense of the text from his state of mind, but inferring his state of mind from the sense of the text. 
viii) The primacy of authorial intent is qualified in a couple of respects:
a) The meaning of the text includes the logical implications of the propositions. These may go beyond what the author consciously intended. Indeed, it's unlikely that an author, even an inspired author, had in mind all the logical implications of his statements. But these would be consistent with authorial intent.
b) Since authors normally write to be understood by their target audience, making allowance for what the target audience was able to understand is also germane to interpretation. To a great extent, what the author meant is linked to what that ought to mean to the immediate audience. Of course, the audience is capable of misunderstanding the author. But our interpretation shouldn't be at variance with what the audience was capable of grasping. Taking the cultural preunderstanding of the original audience into account gives us a bead on original intent. 
c) In historical narratives, it's often important to distinguish between the narrative audience and the reader. For instance, the Bread of Life discourse was originally delivered to Jews during the public ministry of Christ. That's the narrative audience. The narrator records that discourse for the benefit of his Christian readers. When we ask what it means, the narrative audience supplies the proper frame of reference. 
d) Apropos (b-c), the relevant "interpretive community" isn't the modern church or medieval church or patristic church or Magisterium, but the target audience or narrative audience. Moreover, the interpretive community has no interpretive authority. It's role is evidentiary. 
e) Divine intent fuses with authorial intent. The Bible writer intends what God intends for him. 
In principle, God can override human intent. Sometimes speakers are quoted in Scripture (Balaam, Caiaphas) who speak the truth in spite of themselves. But that's different from Bible writers. 
ix) Apropos (viii), the aim of exegesis isn't theologically neutral. For instance, canonical criticism treats liberal Bible criticism as a given. It takes the position that books of the Bible passed through a long editorial process before arriving at the "final form." This basically erases the distinction between authorial intent and the reception history of the text–for on this view, there's a dialectical relationship between authorship and "interpretive communities," where the text is continuously rewritten. Interpretive communities contribute to the final form of the text. This also makes the finalization of the text an arbitrary cut-off point. That simply represents the end-stage of the last interpretive community to redact or canonize the text. To some extent, this is congenial to Roman Catholicism.  
There's nothing inherently wrong with saying the Bible, or books of the Bible, were edited. The problem is when an editorial process is postulated in the teeth of a canonical book's self-witness. 
x) Apropos (ix), source criticism and redaction criticism underwrite canonical criticism. Once again, there's nothing inherently wrong with saying Bible writers used sources. The problem is when speculative source criticism overrides the final form of the text by postulating hypothetical sources, often in defiance of the authorial viewpoint. 
Likewise, there's nothing inherently wrong with redaction criticism. For instance, there's a sense in which Chronicles is an intertextual commentary on Samuel and Kings. Although it doesn't directly redact Samuel and Kings, it editorializes on those prior canonical histories. Likewise, if the conventional solution to the Synoptic Problem is true, then there's a sense in which Matthew and Luke "redact" Mark by incorporating Mark into their own Gospels, and adapting Mark to their own theological agenda and target audience. Of course, Mark itself is left intact. And their very use of Mark shows their esteem for Mark. 
The problem is when Bible critics conjecture that books of the Bible underwent a lengthy redactional process before reaching the final form of the text. They try to take a book apart, reconstructing the process of composition. Their conjectures are very imaginative–based on dubious assumptions, lacking controls, and grossly underdetermined by the textual and historical evidence.
An extreme example is when a commentator disassembles a book of the Bible according to his source critical theories, rearranges the sections, then comments on his own creative edition of text. However, this radically changes the meaning of the text. 
Imagine if you took a Shakespeare play, like the Tempest, broke it down into Shakespeare's real or alleged sources, rearranged the sections, then commented on the play. Your interpretation would no longer be an interpretation of the Tempest. 
xi) From a Christian standpoint, the ultimate aim of exegesis isn't to yield information for information's sake, but to inform the reader on how to live according to God's word. Therefore, there ought to be a section on application.
Unfortunately, the application often has a tacked-on feel. Application ought to begin with what the text meant, under what circumstances it was written, for whose immediate benefit. The exegesis of the text should form the preliminary basis for application. Application then analogizes from the situation of the original author and the original audience to a comparable situation for the current reader. Their experience is exemplary for posterity. What things in our experience parallel things in the experience of the original author and his immediate audience? How does that set an example for you and me?
In sum, I think a commentary ought to be organized thusly:

i) A summary of the passage, which gives the reader an overview of the plot, argument–or whatever (depending on the genre).

This reflects the commentator's interpretation. At this preliminary stage, he doesn't argue for his interpretation. 

The commentator may also preface the summary by setting the stage. 

ii) Followed by verse-by-verse analysis.

iii) Followed by semantic and syntactical analysis.

iv) Followed by sifting through the major interpretive alternatives.

v) Followed by the application, which ought to grow out of the exegesis, as an argument from analogy.

These five sections should be color-coded, to let the reader go straight to whatever section he needs. 

Beyond the organization of the commentary, the commentator should:

i) Take the viewpoint of the Bible writer for granted. 

ii) By the same token, his interpretation should respect authorial intent. Taking the cultural understanding of the target audience into account will also help to hone in on original intent.

iii) A commentator shouldn't go behind the text to tell us what "really" happened, as if the text is an impediment to be excised. 

iv) By the same token, a commentator shouldn't shift attention away from the final text to hypothetical sources underlying the text. Of course, if the text contains literary allusions, it's proper to discuss those.

A commentator should never rearrange the text. 

Free for Logos Users: Hurtado’s Commentary on Mark

Until the end of the day, Tuesday August 20 you can get the Understanding the Bible Commentary: Mark, absolutely free! The Understanding the Bible Commentary: Mark transports modern readers back to the days of Mark’s original audience and helps us understand and apply his unique writings.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Skeptical Scandals

I saw Michael Prescott link something I thought I'd pass along. Here's a post by Greg Taylor, concerning recent scandals involving some high-level skeptics (charges of rape, sexual harassment, etc.).

Presuppositions in exegesis

This nicely illustrates the decisive role of presuppositions in Biblical exegesis, as well as the value and the limitations of background data:
Swete acknowledges the relevance of R. H. Charles's research with Jewish apocalyptic texts when interpreting Revelation. Yet, Swete does not want to say that the key to understanding Revelation can be found among those earlier apocalyptic texts. Instead,  at most, Swete concedes that these additional texts help the exegete understand the stock images and symbols that were common among the persecuted followers of God at the end of the first century. Even then, however, Swete argues that these apocalyptic "phrases and imagery" belong "to the scenery of the book rather than the essence of the revelation." 
Most importantly, Swete, against the majority of NT scholars in his day, charted a new direction when he attempted to read the book of Revelation as a literary unity rather than a composite text that was pieced together from various sources In part because he believed the author received the entire message from God by direct revelation, Swete perceived a unified structure of visions in Revelation that fit neatly together…Swete did not want to say that John depended on these texts as sources or that John modeled the book of Revelation after these generically similar texts. A. Arterbury, "Swete, Henry Barclay," D. McKim, ed. Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters (IVP 2007), 958-59. 

Why churches matter more than ever

As the power elite is increasingly imposes godlessness on the general cultures, churches are more important than ever. Churches are God's sleeper cells. Although some megachurches are prominent, most churches are pretty inconspicuous. The impact they have on the neighborhood usually eludes the apparatus of the surveillance state–leaving a moral, spiritual, and intellectual footprint rather than a digital footprint. 
By the same token, Christians are God's sleeper agents, like spies behind enemy lies. God has them embedded throughout the culture, in the public and private sector. Once, when I was at the hospital, by the bedside of an ailing relative, I got into a conversation with a nurse's aid, who was a Christian. Not a glamorous job. But the kind of job you'd expect a Christian with a heart for service to take.
The power elite can try to stamp out the overtly public symbols of Christianity, but like a tree with a deep root system, what's most influential about Christianity lies underground rather than above ground. 

Robot treats brain clots with steerable needles

Pretty cool stuff:

HT: David Murray.

O love of God