Saturday, November 02, 2013

Breaking Bad: blood, meth, and tears

An excellent review of the TV show Breaking Bad. It seems the author isn't religious let alone Christian, at least judging by what he says in his post. Warning: some bad language; spoilers.

Christianity Today has a couple of reviews as well.

Steve has already posted Brian Godawa's fine review.

The prayer of faith will save the sick

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit (Jas 5:13-18).
How does this passage fit into the cessationist paradigm? 
i) One strategy would be to say it represents miraculous healing, and, as such, this promise was confined to the apostolic age. We've retired this passage from our practical canon of Scripture. 
Remember, cessationists distinguish between miraculous healers and miraculous healing. They deny the ongoing existence for the former, but allow for the ongoing occurrence of the latter. Yet this passage clearly involves human intermediaries. So is it past or present? 
ii) Another strategy is to say this represents non-miraculous healing. Ordinary providence, or maybe a "remarkable" providence. 
In order for it to be miraculous, the elders would have to exercise the "gift of healing" (1 Cor 12:9). We know that elders lack the gift of healing since not every one they minister to is healed. If they had the gift of healing, this exercise would be uniformly successful. 
What are we to make of that explanation?
iii) If it's non-miraculous, then is a homeopathic remedy? It just a cheap alternative to modern medicine? Would the patient have the same results if he went to the doctor? Took a pill? Had a shot? 
That explanation makes cessationism indistinguishable from a naturalistic, rationalistic interpretation. 
iv) What about contemporary Christians who turn to Jas 5:14-15 because modern medicine has failed them? This is their last resort. They have terminal cancer, or some incurable chronic or degenerative illness. A debilitating or life-threatening condition which medical science is unable to cure. 
If Jas 5:14-15 represents nonmiraculous healing, then there's no point in medically hopeless patients resorting to this promise. Is that the position cessationists take?
iv) Did James expect the prayer of faith to be a fail-safe? Or does v15 presume an implied proviso, which is made explicit in Jas 4:15? 
v) Is the "prayer of faith" in Jas 5:15 categorically different from the "gift of healing" in 1 Cor 12:9? Paul prefaces the gift of healing with the gift of faith (v8). The gift of faith evidently refers to a wonderworking faith. The "mountain-moving" faith of 13:2. 
In other words, faith that works miracles. A miracle-effecting faith, of which miraculous healing is a special case. The gift of healing and the gift of faith go together, where the latter depends on the former. 
But isn't that precisely what Jas 5:15 has in view? The prayer of faith effects the cure. The prayer of faith heals the sick. The same linkage we find in 1 Cor 12:8-9. 
vi) Does the gift of faith ensure healing? Paul was a healer (Acts 14:8-10; 19:11-12; 28:7-9), yet he didn't heal Trophimus (2 Tim 4:20). Did he leave Torphimus uncured because he was able, but unwilling to heal Trophimus, or willing but unable to heal Trophimus? It's hard to see why he'd refuse to heal a valued coworker if it lay within his power to do so. Likewise, why didn't Paul heal Timothy (1 Tim 5:23)?
If, then, the gift of healing doesn't guarantee success, the fact that Jas 5:14-15 isn't uniformly successful doesn't mean it's non-miraculus. Hence, (iv) & (vi) disprove (i). 
vii) What about the parallel with Elijah (vv17-18)? James uses that to illustrate the prayer of faith. Elijah was a wonderworking prophet–second only to Moses. Although rain and drought are natural conditions, in the narrative, these are the natural effect of a supernatural cause. God answering his prayer. Isn't the reader supposed to view that as something miraculous? A nature miracle? Controlling the forces of nature? Nature acting at your bidding? 
viii) Incidentally, in James, the prayer of faith refers to the faith of the elders, not the patient. If the patient remains ill, that doesn't represent a deficiency of faith on his part. He exercises faith by calling in the reinforcements to add their faith to his. 

Putting God in a box

I'm going to quote and comment on some statements by Phil Johnson from these three sources:
Let's begin with common ground:
Those claims, that God is routinely doing miracles and He is still revealing new truth, those claims constitute the whole gist of the Charismatic movementBut nothing in Scripture teaches us to expect or believe that miracles should be the normal experience of all Christians. That’s not the case, even in the biblical record.That’s because, the only way the typical charismatic can envision God as active and personal is if He is constantly displaying His presence in creation by miraculous means; through constant, direct, extra-biblical revelation; or with supernatural signs and wonders in the heavens.
Notice how Phil frames the alternative: God is routinely or constantly doing miracles; miracles should be the normal experience of all Christians.
To that extent, I agree with Phil. I think cessationists and charismatics are both guilty of putting God in a box. They put God in two different boxes. Charismatics are cocksure of what God will do while cessationists are cocksure of what God won't do. That's why I disagree with both positions.
Cessationism and charismaticism represent opposite extremes, opposite errors. The cessationist argument is easier to make by targeting the opposite extreme. Cessationists make things easy on themselves by ignoring any mediating positions. 
Miracles are extremely rare—extraordinary. Miracles are not common, everyday experiences. And that is true by definition.
i) It's true by definition if you define it that way, but, of course, that's circular. That begs the question. 
To say any alternative to cessationism is false by definition smacks of special pleading. At best, that shifts the debate back a step. It then becomes an argument about how we ought to define a miracle. 
ii) Phil's framework presents a false antithesis:
Miracles are either
a) common, constant, routine, normal, everyday experiences
b) extremely rare
That positions miracles on either end of the spectrum. But why can't miracles range somewhere along the middle of the spectrum?  "Extremely rare" is not a synonym for uncommon. If something doesn't happen every day, that doesn't make it extremely rare, or even rare. 
iii) The reason Phil says miracles are "extremely rare" by "definition" is that cessationism needs miracles to be extremely rare in order to tightly correlate miracles with revelation. Cessationism requires that definition. But to say that definition is a requirement of cessationism is only compelling on the prior assumption that cessationism is true–which is the very issue in dispute. (In fairness, the truth of contiuationism is also in dispute. It cuts both ways.)
iv) Are miracles "extremely rare"? In Scripture, God is not the only supernatural agent. You also have angels and demons. Perhaps even ghosts (e.g. necromancy). They generally operate behind the scenes. Yet their invisible actions have real-world effects. That would usually be indetectable. 
In fact, here’s a proper definition: A miracle is an extraordinary work of God that transcends or contravenes the ordinary laws of nature. 
i) That's certainly a popular definition. One problem with that definition is that before Phil is entitled to use that definition to defend cessationism, he needs to show that that's how NT writers understood the charismata. It's illicit for Phil to begin with an a priori definition of miracles, slap that onto the NT, then declare cessationism true by definition. He needs to demonstrate that NT writers shared his definition of a miracle. 
ii) Another problem is that many Biblical events which are customarily classified as miraculous–indeed, paradigmatic miracles–would be disqualified by that narrow definition. For instance, in what sense do natural disasters like the flood (Gen 7), destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19), plague of boils (Exod 9), plague of hail (Exod 9), and plague of locusts (Exod 10) transcends or contravenes the ordinary laws of nature? 
That's a problem when cessationists begin with an a prior definition of miracles, rather than beginning with Biblical miracles, then deriving their definition from those examples. In fairness, Pentecostals often begin with their experience, then define Biblical terms according to their experience. 
iii) How does Phil classify Jas 5:14-16? Is that natural or supernatural? If a sick Christian is healed by that means, is it miraculous? Or is it equivalent to homeopathic medicine? 
Likewise, it is not technically a miracle when you pray for some need and get an unexpected check in the mail in exactly the right amount.And there are unusual providences as well. The Puritans used to refer to them as “remarkable providences”—startling coincidences; amazing and timely events that rescue people from destruction (or sometimes sweep them into disaster); natural phenomena that seem to have cosmic significance. These aren’t miracles, and we need to be cautious about what kind of significance we read into them.
i) This claim suffers from the same problem. He's drawing a bright line between miracles and "remarkable providences" without first showing that NT writers draw the same line. But if he's going to use that definition, then he needs to take the preliminary step of demonstrating that Bible writers operated with that hard and fast distinction. 
ii) In addition, his own claim is "technically" false, for there's more than one technical definition of miracles. In fact, one type of miracle is a coincidence miracle. For instance:
R.F. Holland (1965) has suggested that a religiously significant coincidence may qualify as a miracle. Suppose a child who is riding a toy motor-car gets stuck on the track at a train crossing. A train is approaching from around a curve, and the engineer who is driving it will not be able to see the child until it is too late to stop. By coincidence, the engineer faints at just the right moment, releasing his hand on the control lever, which causes the train to stop automatically. The child, against all expectations, is saved, and his mother thanks God for his providence; she continues to insist that a miracle has occurred even after hearing the explanation of how the train came to stop when it did. Interestingly, when the mother attributes the stopping of the train to God she is not identifying God as its cause; the cause of the train’s stopping is the engineer’s fainting. Nor is she, in any obvious way, offering an explanation for the event—at least none that is intended to compete with the naturalistic explanation made possible by reference to the engineer’s medical condition. What makes this event a miracle, if it is, is its significance, which is given at least in part by its being an apparent response to a human need. 
Like a violation miracle, such a coincidence occurs contrary to our expectations, yet it does this without standing in opposition to our understanding of natural law. To conceive of such an event as a miracle does seem to satisfy the notion of a miracle as an event that elicits wonder, though the object of our wonder seems not so much to be how the train came to stop as the simple fact that it should stop when it did, when we had every reason to think it would not.
On the face of it, a number of Biblical events which are customarily classified as miracles are better covered by this definition. Take the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. That's a natural disaster. It employs natural forces. What makes it miraculous is the specificity of the event in time and place. It singles out that particular locality for divine judgment. 
Same thing with the coin in the mouth of the fish (Mt 17:27). That's a miracle of timing. 
These events reflect divine intentionality. Inanimate nature, operating mechanically, wouldn't be that discriminating. The opportune conjunction of highly improbable, causally independent events reflects a divinely orchestrated outcome.  The miraculous element is covert rather than overt: the evidence of a guiding intelligence behind the scenes.
If miracles include coincidence miracles, then miracles are not necessarily rare, much less "extremely rare." Many answered prayers would be coincidence miracles. 
iii) A further problem if you define or redefine providence so broadly as to include "remarkable providences"—startling coincidences, amazing and timely answers to prayer and other suchlike, then you've only scored a semantic victory. You definition is so expansive that it fails to exclude modern charismatic phenomena. For Pentecostals could change the label, but retain the same phenomena.
But miracles almost totally disappear from the biblical record after Acts 20, when Paul restores Eutychus to life. The final eight chapters of Acts record no miracles, except for two incidents in Malta, where Paul casually shakes off a poisonous viper, and then he heals the father of Publius. For the rest of the New Testament (excluding the book of Revelation) no specific miracles are described…In fact, after the gospels and the book of Acts, no other New Testament writer gives miraculous phenomena any significant mention whatsoever.
I don't know if Phil is making a statement about the canonical order or the chronological order. Is he suggesting that even in NT times, miracles begin to dissipate? 
In any case, his inference is fallacious. We expect the Gospels and Acts to record more miracles because these are historical narratives. The epistolary genre doesn't focus on recording historical events–whether natural or supernatural. 
That's how liberals often pit the historicity of the Gospels against the epistles. Well, if the epistles are silent on something in the Gospels, that's suspect. But, of course, it's not. 
In a Biblical sense “a miracle is an extraordinary work of God that involves His immediate and unmistakable intervention in the physical realm in a way that contravenes natural processes.”Let me make one more distinction: There are two kinds of miracles noted in Scripture.1. Some are remarkable works of God apart from any human agency.2. The other kind of miracle involves a human agent, who from the human perspective is the instrument through which the miracle comes.
There are several problems with that definition:
i) He has given two contradictory, back-to-back definitions of a miracle:
a) On the one hand he defines a miracle in terms of God's immediate intervention which contravenes natural processes.
b) On the other hand, he defines one of the two kinds of miracles in terms of instrumental human agency.
But these two definitions are mutually contradictory. If, by definition, a miracle involves God's immediate agency, which contravenes natural media, you can't turn around and say, by definition, a miracle may employ a human intermediary to facilitate the result. 
ii) In addition, he sets up a false dichotomy between immediate divine agency and mediate human agency. For Biblical miracles somemties employ physical agencies, viz. inanimate natural forces or processes. Personal agency, be it human or divine, is not the only miraculous category. 
Nonetheless, every true evangelical holds to some form of cessationism. We all believe that the canon of Scripture is closed, right? 

But notice this: if you acknowledge that the canon is closed and the gift of apostleship has ceased, you have already conceded the heart of the cessationist argument.

Unfortunately, that line of argument proves too much. Compare:

I contend that we are both cessationists. I just believe in fewer miracles than you do. When you understand why you dismiss modern apostles, you will understand why I dismiss modern charismata.

I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer kind of miracle than you do. When you understand why you dismiss modern charismata you will understand why I dismiss all miracles.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Testing the spirits

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already (1 Jn 4:1-3).
Cessationists like to play it safe. Cessationism simplifies the issue. If you say prophecy terminated around the 1C AD, then you don't have to deal with the messy situation envisioned by John.
When I say cessationism is the safe, risk-averse position, I don't mean that as a put-down. That's not necessary wrong. I say that as a description rather than a value-judgment.
Now, for cessationists, the issue raised by 1 Jn 4:1-3 is moot. Christians are no longer confronted with that issue. Our lives are simpler. 
Cessationists pepper charismatics with questions about how and where they draw the line. Charismatics like Wayne Grudem have difficulty formulating an entirely satisfactory position.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that cessationists are right. 1 Jn 4:1-3 no longer applies to us. If cessationism is true, then there is no distinction between true and false modern prophecy. By definition, all modern prophecy is false.
Let's grant that for the sake of argument. Even if that's true for us, even if we find ourselves in that enviable position, that wasn't the case for Christians John was addressing back then. They did have to draw lines. They did have to sort it out–as best they could. 
John offers them a criterion. However, it's a fairly limited criterion. If a "prophet" utters a heretical prophecy, then he's a false prophet. 
And that's useful as far as it goes. But it doesn't go very far. At best, it tells you who is not a prophet. It eliminates certain contenders in the first round. A negative criterion. If you say something like that, then you're not a true prophet.
But it's not a positive criterion. It doesn't tell you who is a prophet. It's not a sufficient condition. For surely there's more to a true prophet than refraining from heresy. 
John's criterion doesn't tie up every loose end into a neat little bow. It's easy for us to imagine hypothetical situations that aren't covered by his criterion. In theory, it would be easy to level stock cessationist objections to John's criterion. 
This also parallels Catholic objections to sola Scriptura. Catholics ask questions that Scripture doesn't answer, and they cite the silence of Scripture to prove the insufficiency of Scripture. 
Sola Scriptura is untenable, Catholics say, because it generates unacceptable consequences. It leaves too many loose ends.
1 Jn 4:1-3 doesn't address every conceivable situation. Of course, 1 Jn 4:1-3 isn't the only Biblical datum that's pertinent to the issue. It can be supplemented by other considerations. 
But at the end of the day, hypotheticals only pose a practical problem if God translates hypothetical scenarios into real scenarios. It only becomes a problem for us if God makes it a problem for us. 
Ultimately, this is out of our hands. It's up to God what he reveals, when and where he reveals it. What would you do if God allowed this to happen? What would you do if God allowed that to happen?
We can spend a lot of time devising hypothetical solutions to hypothetical problems. And if God wanted to, he could tie us up in Gordian Knots. We're no match for God. 
But by the same token, it's unhealthy to let yourself be terrorized by artificial dilemmas. At the end of the day, we must trust God to steer us clear of no-win situations.  

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The latter day drought

Once upon a time, it rained a few days a week and it shined a few days a week, week after week, month after month–for as long as anyone could remember. 

Then Chief Rainmaker appeared. He prophesied that a year from now, there would be a six-month monsoon. He had many followers. They were the Latter-Day Rainers. In preparation, they stocked up on umbrellas, galoshes, inflatable boats, and rain slickers. Stores sold out.

Then Chief Dryspell appeared. He prophesied that a year from now, there would be a six-month dry season. He had many followers. They were the Latter-Day Droughters. In preparation, they bought convertibles and stopped building houses with roofs. They threw away their umbrellas, galoshes, inflatable boats, and rain slickers. 

A year later, the day of reckoning arrived. Both factions got up at first light to scan the skies for clouds. But it didn't rain that day. It didn't rain that week. Or the next. Or the next.

The Latter-Day Rainers were disillusioned. The Latter-Day Droughters accused Chief Rainmaker of being a false prophet. Chief Rainmaker went into hiding. 

A month later, it began to rain…and rain…and rain. It rained for five months straight.

The Latter-Day Droughters were disillusioned. The Latter-Day Rainers accused Chief Dryspell of being a false prophet. Chief Dryspell went into hiding. 

The Latter Day Droughters were all wet all the time. They tried to borrow umbrellas, galoshes, inflatable boats, and rain slickers from the Latter Day Rainers. But the Latter Day Rainers had thrown them all away. 

Critical thinking on modern miracles

Name one that is biblical. To claim that false healings and miracles and gibberish are the works of the Holy Spirit is a dangerous practice. That is MacArthur's point. Produce one person that has been healed of congenial blindness, one amputee who's limb has grown back, one legitimate resurrection...just one. Show me someone who speaks in the tongues Luke describes in Acts 2...just one. 
All of that to say, if contiuationists are correct that signs and wonders are a part of the normal Christian experience and they are happening with regularity among God’s people, then there should be gifted individuals who should do extraordinary signs and wonders with their laying on of hands.  Their ministry should be public — I would suggest a children’s cancer hospital or special ministries department at a local church.  And their ministry should be witnessed by believers and unbelievers alike and those signs and wonders should be both undeniable and verifiable.

i) It's striking that MacArthurites like Ed and Fred are utterly oblivious to the fact that their objection to modern charismata parrots the atheist objection to God's existence. If there is a God, why doesn't he heal amputees? If God exists, why doesn't he cure every patient in a cancer ward?

Same thing with atheists and prayer studies. If God answers prayer, then that ought to show up on double-blind experiments. 

Charismatics can respond to the cessationist objection in the same way cessationists respond to the atheist objection. If a cessationist defends himself by saying God doesn't heal amputees because it's not God's will to heal amputees, and God has a good reason for not doing so, then a charismatic can defend himself by saying God doesn't empower a modern-day Christian to heal amputees because it's not God's will to heal amputees, and God has a good reason for not doing so–either directly or indirectly. 

ii) Likewise, Jesus and the apostles didn't try to prove themselves by searching for sick people to heal. Rather, sick people came to them. 

iii) Now, bad arguments can be persuasive because they contain a grain of truth. The element of truth lends a specious plausibility to a bad argument. And that's the case here. 

I think Fred is calling the bluff of charismatics. And up to a point, there's nothing wrong with that. It's like calling a psychic's bluff by taking the psychic out of her controlled environment, where she can manipulate the variables, and putting her in a situation where she has to do cold readings. 

Notice how Fred prefaces the challenge:

if contiuationists are correct that signs and wonders are a part of the normal Christian experience and they are happening with regularity among God’s people, then there should be gifted individuals who should do extraordinary signs and wonders with their laying on of hands. 

And there are undoubtedly continuationists who claim that. So that's a fair challenge.

iv) However, there's no reason to think the alternative to cessationism must be believing that "signs and wonders are a part of the normal Christian experience and they are happening with regularity among God’s people."

v) For instance, how do cessationists define faith-healers? Let's take a comparison:

a) A Christian prays for a cancer patient. The next day, the cancer is gone.

b) A Christian lays hands on a cancer patient and prays over the patient. The next day, the cancer is gone.

Is (b) a faith-healer, but (a) is not? Is that the distinction? If not, is there some other differential factor?

vi) What if a Christian has the "gift of healing," but doesn't claim to be a faith-healer? Suppose he or she simply acquires a reputation for having the ability to heal, without doing anything to cultivate that image or advertise that fact? Is that Christian a faith-healer? 

vii) If a Christian is a healer, does that mean he or she must be able to heal anyone and everyone? If a serial killer with terminal cancer comes to her, and she lays hands on him or prays for him, and he still dies of cancer, does that mean she's a fraud? 

What if it wasn't God's will to heal the terminal serial killer? Unlike the faith-healer, God knows who this individual is. God knows what this individual will do if miraculously cured. Therefore, God blocks or withholds healing. 

viii) If someone claims to be a faith-healer or miracle-worker, then we have every right to demand evidence. That, however, is different from proposing an artificial litmus test. 

If Jesus heals a women who suffers from internal bleeding (Mt 9:18-26), but he doesn't heal someone dying of radiation sickness, the latter doesn't cancel out the former.  We should judge each case by the evidence for (or against) each case. The fact that nothing happened in one case isn't evidence that nothing happened in another case.    

ix) It's also illogical to prejudge the question of modern charismata by charismatic claims. Whether or not modern charismata occur is irrespective of what charismatics claim, one way or the other. It's undoubtedly the case that many charismatics make exaggerated claims or entertain exaggerated expectations. However, disproving exaggerating claims–which is a worthwhile exercise in itself–does nothing to disprove modern charismata. 

If a weather forecaster predicts that it will rain 5 days in a row, and it only rains 3 out of 5 days, his prediction was false. But his mistake doesn't falsify the reality that it rained 3 days out of 5. He was partially wrong, but he was partially right. The event is independent of his claims. Disproving his specific claims does nothing to disprove a weather event. 

Cessationists and charismatics can't prescribe or proscribe reality. It will be whatever it will be, regardless of their prognostications. 

Ultimately, you need to judge the question of modern miracles, not by what cessationists or charismatics claim, but by what really happens–or doesn't. If the incidence of miracles is lower than the rate which Pentecostals optimistically predict, the mismatch disproves Pentecostalism, but it does nothing to disprove the miracles which do occur–assuming they occur. It's unfortunate that so many cessationists fail to draw that fundamental distinction. 

Redeeming holidays

The 95 Theses

Concerning Halloween

Comical Ali

Ed Dingess has made some characteristically delusional comments:

Abstract arguments only serve to muddy the waters and cloud the issue. If you don’t think this is so, check out the haze manufactured by Steve Hays over at Triablogue. Steve offers nothing of any substance to support the claim that genuine miracles are still taking place in the church. Instead, he has latched onto what he considers to be an inferior argument from cessationism and like a Pit Bull, he refuses to let go. Somehow, Hays thinks this argument is confined to the abstract. It seems to slip his notice entirely that even if he were to construct a superior argument in the abstract, he still faces the uncomfortable and in my opinion, the unsurmountable burden of authentic documentation and evidence in support of his claim.

i) So it's unfair to judge cessationism by the quality of the arguments they offer in defense of their position. Does Ed apply that same excuse to failed Darwinian arguments? 

ii) I've suppled many documented examples. 

a) To begin with, there are entire monographs on the subject, viz. 

Rex Gardener, Healing Miracles: A Doctor Investigates (Darton, Longman and Todd, 1986)

Craig Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011)

b) I've cited specific candidates, viz., Peter Bide, Bernard of Clairvaux, Alexander Peden, George Müller, &c. 

c) I've cited specific cases, viz. 

Ed is fond of pulling his Comical Ali, Baghdad Bob impersonation. He turns a blind eye to documentation, as if no evidence was ever presented. Is he incorrigibly dishonest? Is that Ed's problem? 

d) Finally, I think Scripture itself encourages us to expect charismata in the course of church history (Acts 2:17ff; 1 Cor 13:8-10). And I've presented supporting exegesis for the prootexts. 
At the same time, that doesn't predict for when, where, or how often that will occur. So the pious attitude is to wait and see what God will do. 

Steve Hays continues his fascinating attempt to convince us that the Pentecostal-Charismatic miracles today are genuine. He has implied on numerous occasions that we are wrong not to take them at their word. According to Hays, if we dare not question the miracles of Scripture, then we must extend the same respect to the "Benny Hinns" of the world today and resist the evil temptation to examine modern claims of miracle workers. Steve Hays' argument continues to place modern phenomena on par with the divine revelation of Scripture. Whatever principle I have for doubting modern claims of miracle workers and faith healers, I must also apply to Scripture, according to Hays. If I doubt the claims of Benny Hinn, then for consistency's sake, I must also doubt the claims of Jesus. If I doubt that Oral Roberts actually raised people from the dead, something he claimed to have done, then I must be soul mates with the skeptic Gotthold Lessing.

i) Ed is misrepresenting his own argument. Ed staked out the principle that reported miracles are incredible unless you personally witness them. And, yes, that's Lessing's argument. 

ii) In addition, Ed imputes to me a position that I explicitly repudiate:

Is Ed incurably dishonest, or is he so blinded by his reactionary partisanship that he can't even see the truth? 

The problem with Hays' current rebuttal is that he once again thinks Scripture is on par with modern claims of supposed miracle workers. 

Is Ed incapable of following the actual argument, or does he purposely misunderstand his opponent's argument so that he can then falsely accuse them? As I already explained, I'm responding to cessationists on their own grounds. Cessationists contend that the charismata ceased because the charismata were miraculous signs designed to authenticate God's spokesmen. According to that cessationist argument, Scripture doesn't authenticate miracles; rather, miracles authenticate Scripture. So it's the cessationist argument which, as a matter of principle, places modern miracle claims on a par with Biblical miracle claims. 

Ed may demur, but in that event he's not taking issue with my argument, but with a key supporting argument for cessationism. My argument is a tu quoque argument. 

Hays points out that several miracles of Scripture are private events with no outside witnesses. He then says that we have no right to demand that the PC miracle workers perform the sort of miracles that we can verify. Why? Because no one can verify that God spoke to Moses from the burning bush but Moses. So if we take Scripture at face value, we must take Benny Hinn at face value as well. If we demand that Benny Hinn perform the sort of miracles that can be verified, then we must also make the same demand of Scripture. This is the basic thrust of Hays' argument. Now he does not use the name Benny Hinn and for good reason. It would be embarrassing. I use it for good reason: logically it is impossible not to make this conclusion if one accepts Hays' faulty premise. 

Once again, is Ed really that obtuse, or does he intentionally misunderstand his opponent's argument so that he can then falsely accuse them?

I was explicitly responding to Fred Butler on his own terms. That's how Fred framed the issue. Fred says things like:

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. 
When we turn to the NT, all of the miracles Jesus performed were done openly in view of the public. Everybody could verify their authenticity…Those were not miracles done in private or in the confines of a tent revival. They were done publicly, in full view of a great multitude of believers and unbelievers alike.
Observe that this isn't my argument, but Fred's argument. My argument is a tu quoque argument. 
I then documented from Scripture that if we apply Butler's criterion to Scripture, many Biblical miracles won't make the cut. Many Biblical miracles weren't "public" in the way Fred defines his own terms. Many Biblical miracles weren't witnessed by unbelievers. So Fred is using a filter which would screen out many Biblical miracles. 
In addition to the short rebuttal on Moses, we should also understand that no miracle of Scripture comes to us without a witness. The events of Scripture did not happen in isolation of a greater concern. They are included in Scripture for all of us. In other words, no miracle of Scripture is private. God has published them to us all. In every single case, the miracles of Scripture come with the witness of the Holy Spirit.

That's the reductio ad absurdum of Ed's position. And notice that Ed is really taking issue with Fred's argument, not mine.

But there's a further irony. Joseph Smith would love Ed's principle. "Hey, seeing the Golden Tablets wasn't a private event. The Holy Spirit was there to witness the event!" Muhammad would love Ed's principle: "Hey, the angelic apparition wasn't a private event. The Holy Spirit was there to witness Gabriel speaking to me!" 

Place for Truth

Here is what looks to be a great resource.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Feminization of Christianity

The two witnesses

3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. 6 They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. 7 And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, 8 and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. 9 For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, 10 and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth (Rev 11:3-10).
Premillennial cessationists believe prophecy terminated around the end of the 1C AD (give or take). However, premils interpret Rev 11 futuristically rather than preteristically. The two witnesses are prophets of God. So premillennial cessationists are committed to the endtime revival of prophecy. 
This is also an issue for amil cessationists who think Rev 4-18 narrates certain kinds of events which recur throughout church history. Even on an amil  interpretation (of the modified idealistic variety), the two witnesses in Rev 11 aren't simply a thing of the past, but have counterparts distributed through the course of church history. And the same issue applies to classic postmils. 

Prophecies will pass away

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away (1 Cor 13:8-10).
One cessationist interpretation of this passage is to say the gift of prophecy expired when the church achieved maturity. Once the church was sufficiently mature, it no longer needed prophets. A motivation for this interpretation is to uphold the sufficiency of Scripture. 
However, a problem with that interpretation is that Paul doesn't say "prophets" will pass away, but "prophecies." If the spiritual maturation of the church renders prophecies unnecessary, then that would eliminate the need for biblical prophecies. OT and NT prophecies are passé. God has done away with prophecies. Now that we're mature, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and John the Revelator are defunct. That's old hat. That's for the childhood of the church. We've outgrown that. We are the illuminati. 
Indeed, to say this refers to the maturity of the church substitutes the sufficiency of the church for the sufficiency of Scripture
On the eschatological interpretation, by contrast, it makes sense to say the Parousia renders prophets and prophecies out-of-date. Once all things are fulfilled, the predictions have served their purpose. That's old news.  

NSA infiltrates links to Yahoo, Google data centers

Somehow this doesn't make me feel safer:

Halloween: Its Creation and Recreation

"A rebirth of 19th-century spiritualism"

God and chance

Is chance compatible with predestination? Depends in part on how we define our terms. 

Take a deck of cards. The order of the cards is random in the sense that the sequence is internally uncaused. The succeeding card isn't the effect of the preceding card. The cards are causally independent of each other. 

And that's what makes the outcome unpredictable. You can't know from last card dealt what the next card will be. For one is not the result of the other. 

But that doesn't mean the sequence is uncaused. Rather, it's caused by the dealer. Shuffling the deck causes the cards to occur in a particular sequence. Order is imposed from an outside force. 

By the same token, there's a sense in which the sequence of a stacked deck is random. For even though the card sequence is intentional, it's still the case that each card is causally independent of every other card. It's not like the domino effect. The cards are blind, but the cardsharp is not. 

Likewise, God can prearrange independent causal chains to converge at a particular point down the line. Two chains of events aren't directly linked. In that respect, their concurrence is a matter of "chance."But both can be dependent on a common, overarching factor. They reflect divine planning. 

That's the sense in which "random" events like 1 Kgs 22:34 and Lk 1:9 are predestined. 

Some freewill theists take the position that due to quantum indeterminacy, even God can't know the future. Because quantum events are inherently indeterminate, they are inherently unpredictable. 

How should a Calvinist respond? In at least three different ways:

i) There are deterministic as well as indeterminstic models of quantum mechanics. The many-worlds interpretation is deterministic. 

ii) To say quantum events are physically uncaused or physically indeterminate (even if that's true) doesn't mean God can't cause or determine them, for primary causation isn't physical. On one model of fiat creation, God doesn't make history through a series of incremental installments. It's not a series of discrete, creative fiats, one after another. Rather, God instantiates the entire timeline by a single creative fiat. 

iii) We could also say that if quantum indeterminacy is incompatible with predestination, and predestination is true, then predestination falsifies indeterministic models of quantum mechanics.  

Should Christians celebrate Halloween?

Every year Halloween rolls around, there are competing posts on whether or not Christian parents should celebrate Halloween. (By "should," I don't mean to suggest that Christian parents have any sort of duty to celebrate Halloween. Rather, it's a question of whether that's morally or theologically permissible.)

i) Let's begin with a bad reason to oppose Halloween. Some opponents invariably resort to a history lesson. They contend that Halloween is discredited by its allegedly pagan or Catholic origins. 

Ironically, that's a superstitious objection to Halloween. Christians who deploy this objection act as though the historical origins of a current practice cast a spell over the practice. As if the modern-day observance of Halloween is hexed or cursed by something that happened in the distant past. They resort to a superstitious rationale to oppose superstition. Somehow the past exerts a malign, invisible influence on the present–reaching out from the grave. But if you think a jack-o'-lantern is demonic, aren't you yourself buying into a pagan outlook? If you allow yourself to be spooked (pun intended) by ancient associations, aren't you guilty of the same mentality you profess to deplore? The devil is real, but a pumpkin is not the devil in disguise. 

The only relevant consideration in assessing Halloween is how it's practiced and understood today. What it means to current celebrants, not long-dead celebrants. 

Incidentally, I notice that popular articles about the allegedly pagan roots of Halloween aren't written by historians. They lack documentation. Different articles reproduce the same catch phrases, same stock examples. So this is a thirdhand narrative that gets copied and recopied.  

ii) Some Christians oppose Halloween because of the occultic elements. They quote OT prohibitions against witches and necromancy. That objection has more potential merit, but it needs to be sifted.

a) We're dealing with Hollywood make-believe "ghosts" and "witches." Don't confuse fantasy with reality. Don't correlate OT prohibitions with something that isn't the same thing. 

b) At the same time, by glamorizing the occult, Hollywood is lowering resistance to the real thing. So it might be prudent to avoid Halloween costumes of ghosts and witches.

c) Horror films have also spawned vampires, werewolves, mummies, and zombies. Unlike witches, devils, and ghosts, this are purely fictional characters. It's "occultic" in the Hollywood sense, not the Biblical sense. You might object to it on the grounds that it's decadent. But that's a different kind of objection. Same thing with serial killer costumes. It's morally dubious, but not occultic. 

iii) Little boys dressing up as comic book superheroes, or little girls dressing up as a Disney princesses, has nothing to do with the occult. So let's be discriminating about different types of costumes.

iv) Some churches host Halloween parties, to preserve the celebration, but avoid the occultic detritus. That's one reasonable compromise. 

Some churches host Hell House mockups. but that's so campy that it backfires.

v) You could also oppose Halloween on economic grounds, viz. it's a waste of money to buy loads of overpriced candy. 

vi) Christian parents need to pick their battles with discernment. There are kids who turn their back on the faith because their parents were legalistic killjoys who refused harmless recreation. Make sure you draw the line where it matters. Don't mistake appearances with genuine piety. 


"The Myth of 'I'm Bad at Math': Basic ability in the subject isn't the product of good genes, but hard work."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Shooting themselves in the foot

Notice how, in their fanatical opposition to modern miracles, MacArthurites unwittingly sabotage the credibility of Biblical miracles. Fred Butler says:

I would even add, verified by unbelievers who knew the person before he or she was healed and now know of the person’s healing.

He's laying down the principle that a miraculous healing, to be credible, must be witnessed by unbelievers. Let's apply that principle to this claim:

New Testament healings were undeniable. The healing miracles of Jesus and the apostles could not be denied, even by the enemies of Jesus. 
The unbelieving Pharisees did not deny Jesus’ power, they simply distorted the truth in order to cast dispersion on the source of His power (Matt. 12:24). For example, in John 11:47-48, Christ raised Lazarus and “everyone, including His enemies, stood amazed, astounded, and unable to deny or discredit the miracles.” In Acts 4:16–17, after Peter healed a lame beggar (Acts 3:1-10), the Sanhedrin was unable to deny that such a miracle occurred.  In Acts 16, when Paul cast the demon out of the slave girl in Philippi, her angry owners did not deny what had happened. Rather, they dragged Paul before the city magistrates and had him thrown in jail.

But if we apply Butler's filter to the criterion of his fellow MacArthurite, Nathan Busenitz, those "undeniable" miracles become instantly deniable. Why? Because Busenitz is quoting believers. His source of information is Matthew, Luke, and John. These are not accounts by unbelievers, admitting the occurrence of a miracle. Rather, these are accounts by believers attributing that admission to unbelievers. So by Butler's standard, we don't have independent corroboration of the miracles from unbelievers. Rather, we have a biased, secondhand report. Hence, by Butler's standard, those reported miracles are eminently deniable.