Saturday, November 23, 2013

Swinging at the piñata

Ed Dingess treats us to yet another round of his trademark confusions:

When God speaks, men must listen.

Pity Ed doesn't take his own advice and heed Jas 5:14.

Steve Hays and other Continuationists have repeatedly made no distinction between the acts of God in Scripture and the claims about God’s actions outside of Scripture.

To the contrary, we can certainly distinguish between acts of God in Scripture and claims about God's actions outside of Scripture. 

In other words, my dream cannot be distinguished from Joseph’s dream in Scripture. 

Keep in mind that Joseph's dream didn't originate in Scripture. He had that dream centuries before Moses wrote it down. 

Steve Hays holds to the view that the continuation of revelation and personal prophecy do nothing to detract from the principle of Sola Scriptura. However, I contend that Hays could not be more wrong for one very simple and easy to understand reason: God’s word, regardless of its form is always authoritative. Man is obligated to do whatever God has directed him to do without regard for the form of that direction. 

The fails on several counts:

i) A dream is not the same thing as "God's word." A dream is an essentially visual medium rather than a propositional medium. 

ii) By the same token, there's nothing essentially directive about a revelatory dream. A dream is not synonymous with a command. It's not something you do. It may be descriptive or predictive rather than prescriptive of proscriptive. 

Now, the idea of additional revelation today, be it personal prophecy, or dreams or visions, is in direct conflict with the principle of Sola Scriptura. Suppose you walk into Church today and one of your elders prophecies that you are to leave your current job and accept another job, which requires relocation. The elder says that God has plans for you to do some particular work in a specific city. You walk out of church that day and discuss this “word from God” with your wife and family. You really don’t want to go. You don’t like the company or the man to whom you would report. Is it up to you? Can you inform God that you really don’t want to take that job and simply ignore His word? In so doing, have you sinned against God? Should your church family begin the disciplinary process outlined in Matthew 18? How can we hold to the position that refusing to submit to this prophecy is nothing short of an act of blatant sin? And if it is sin, then discipline must follow.

Let's compare this to something else Ed said just day ago:

When was the last time you actually witnessed a genuine miracle? I don't mean you heard of someone who knew someone that told you about this person that got healed. 

Notice that yesterday, Ed was making firsthand experience the litmus test. Unless you personally witness a miracle, you should withhold assent. But today, he's saying secondhand information would be binding:

Suppose you walk into Church today and one of your elders prophesies that you are to leave your current job and accept another job, which requires relocation. The elder says that God has plans for you to do some particular work in a specific city.

So what is Ed's evidentiary standard? Firsthand information or secondhand information? 

Ed poses a specious dilemma. If an elder says God has plans for you, it is not a fact that God has plans for you. The elder's assertion that God spoke to him carries no presumption that God spoke to him. Is there any evidence that God spoke to the elder? The elder's say-so doesn't make it so. 

Why is Ed unable to draw that rudimentary distinction? For instance, there was ongoing revelation in OT times. That doesn't mean anyone claiming to be a divine spokesman was what he claimed to be.  

The rejoinder might be that such prophecies are not dependable. Therefore, we cannot be morally compelled to acquiesce to them. But this position impales God on the spear of obscurity. God is perceived to be unable to clearly communicate His plan to His followers.

As far as that goes, if God wanted to communicate his plan to one of his followers, he could reveal himself directly to the interested party. Not tell an elder to tell you his plan for your life. 

It also places Continuationists in the position of needing more from God to be able to walk more perfectly in His will. The more perfect will of God is the will of God that is beyond Scripture and customized specifically to you. And you are responsible for growing to a place in Christ where God can reveal this will to you so that you can be a super-Christian, walking perfectly in God’s will for your life, marrying the right person, living in the right home, and working at the right company and in the perfect field.

No, it's not a matter of seeking a revelation. You could go your whole life without God giving you a revelatory dream. That may never happen to you. Not something you plan on or count on. The default method of decision-making is to learn what is obligatory, prohibitory, or permissible in Scripture. Where Scripture is silent, that's an area of liberty. 

You apply Scriptural norms to the providential opportunities God has given you, acting on the best information you have at the time. You don't wait for a revelatory dream. It's only if God intervenes that you change your plans. I daresay many, perhaps most Christians, lead lives in which nothing out of the ordinary ever happens. We should be content with that. 

This is why Pentecostals are obsessed with discovering God’s secret will.

In which case they should read Bruce Waltke's monograph on Finding God's Will:

Continuationists argue that modern prophecy is different. It is not binding like prophecy was in Scripture. This is nothing less than special pleading. Hays wants to apply a stricter standard to the word of God as written or to prophecy within Scripture than he does to prophecy today.

Ed is like a blindfolded boy swinging at a piñata. He doesn't bother to inform himself on my actual position. He just swings blindly at the imaginary piñata. 

In the view of Steve Hays and others, there is nothing really any more special about Scripture than there is about modern prophecy and revelation. They are just as much the special revelation of God as is Scripture. The fact that it did not become written down is little more than an afterthought. 

Many prophecies in OT and NT times were never written down. Is that just an afterthought? 

The concept of open revelation at best gives sovereignty and Sola Scriptura nothing more than a wink and a nod. If open revelation is true, Scripture is not the only source by which we know God’s will. In fact, we know more of God’s will through dreams, and visions and personal prophecy. 

This is silly on the face of it. Ed is so fixated on the imagery piñata that he doesn't stop to consider obvious counterexamples. But divine providence is often a way of discovering God's will. 

Jimbo and Juno plan to marry right after high school graduation. But June dies in tragic boating accident when she is 16. Now he knows that it wasn't God's will for them to marry after high school graduation.

Reggie plans to be a pro football player. But he suffers a traumatic knee injury. Now he knows it wasn't God's will for him to be a pro football player. 

Dilbert plans to attend MIT on a full scholarship. But in his senior year of high school, his dad is crippled in freeway pile up, forcing the boy to drop out of high school to work full time so that he can help support the family. Now he knows it wasn't God's will for him to go to MIT. 

Does discerning God's will from providential events like that negate sola Scriptura? 

Token faith in miracles

Back to Ed Dingess:

Hume argues that we simply don’t have enough reliable witnesses, of good moral character, who testify to a miraculous event. Hume also noted that human beings love bizarre tales. Finally, Hume notices that miracles are usually reported among unenlightened people groups…Now, what Steve Hays attempts to do is extend Hume’s argument against human testimony to the cessationist. Hume argues that the particular reports of miracles should not be believed because these men have questionable character, or, they love the bizarre, or they are simply unenlightened. 

Which is exactly how MacArthurites dismiss reported Third World miracles. Thanks for proving my point. 

You may be asking where Hays is wrong in his accusation that cessationists are skeptics in sheep’s clothing. Hays is wrong on several accounts. First of all, cessationism does not deny the possibility of modern miracles. We believe God can perform miracles today. In fact, when presented with the right kind of evidence, rather than rejecting a miracle claim and resorting to some far-fetched naturalistic explanation, we will rejoice that God has performed a miracle. Suppose a person was cured of terminal cancer. The skeptic would conclude that mistake took place in the diagnosis or that something strange had indeed taken place but the cause must have been naturalistic even if we don’t understand it. The believer will not resort to such outlandish and foolish explanations. The cessationist will rejoice in the Lord. 

Except for the awkward little fact that what Ed Dingess specifically affirms, Mike Riccardi specifically denies:

If someone has cancer, the church prays for him, and the cancer vanishes without medical explanation, MacArthur would certainly rejoice in that as an answer to prayer. But he might put it in the category of "extraordinary providence," rather than "miracle." The kind of miracles that we see in the NT, like Lazarus being raised from the dead, a lame man walking, a blind man seeing, etc., are properly understood to be miracles -- where the natural order is suspended in some way. But the mysterious absence of cancer after much prayer may not involve any suspension of the natural order, and can simply be that God chose to work in an extraordinary way through His providential guidance over all things.I guess that would be a good distinction to keep in mind. God doesn't have to work something "supernatural," in the strict sense of the term, in order for that thing to be extraordinary, awe-inspiring, and praiseworthy.
Taking his cue from MacArthur, Riccardi expressly disallows the miraculous character of a healing like that. 
Hays continues to attempt to tie cessationists to the arguments of naturalism. He knows full well that we believe in the miraculous. He knows we insist on the legitimacy and factuality of biblical miracles.

i) Actually, based on their reactionary definition of a miracle, MacArthurites deny that many biblical events traditionally classified as miracles are in fact miraculous. The list keeps getting shorter as they take a pair of scissors to biblical miracles.  

ii) The other problem is that MacArthurites are wholly inconsistent in what miracles they affirm or deny. 

John 14:12: Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 
Clearly this verse makes no such promise. Jesus is speaking to His disciples who are with Him at the time. The key phrase is "because I go to the Father."

i) Regarding the scope of the promise, the key phrase is "whoever believes in me." Although Jesus was speaking to the Eleven, he wasn't speaking about the Eleven in particular. Rather, he was speaking about "whoever believes in me." 

ii) In addition, by Ed's logic, the promise doesn't apply to NT prophets and miracle-workers like Agabus, Stephen, Philip, and St. Paul inasmuch as Jesus wasn't speaking to them at the time. 

Acts 2:17-18: And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 
There is nothing in this verse that promises the CONTINUATION of miracles throughout the Church age.

Of course there is. It contrasts how God operated under the old covenant with how God will operate under the new covenant. It applies the promise to every demographic group–not Apostles only. It indexes the promise to the "last days." The last days will be characterized by this type of phenomena. Unless Dingess is a preterist, we're still living in the last days. Does Ed think we're living after the last days? 

In addition, v39 projects the promise into succeeding generations. Not merely for the historical audience on the day of Pentecost, but for posterity. 

1 Cor. 13:8-12: Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 
Once again, there is no promise in this text that miracles will continue throughout the Church age. There is only the acknowledgement that these things are among the imperfect but that they are inferior the perfect state of every regenerate Christian will show this to be the case.

There's nothing in the text about perfect and imperfect people. Rather, it's a contrast between partial, mediate knowledge in the here-and-now and full, unmediated knowledge when we come "face to face" with God. Either that refers to death or the Parousia. If the Parousia, this promise is for the duration of the church age. If death, this promise is for the duration of the church age inasmuch as Christians die throughout the interadventual period.  

James 5:13-16: Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 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. 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. 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. 
And again, there is nothing in this text that promises the continuation of miracles or healings throughout the Church age.

James doesn't say, if anyone is sick, let him call for the apostles, but the elders. Does Ed believe, not only in the cessation of apostleship, but the cessation of eldership? 

If Hays is correct and these are in fact promises, then why aren't they happening? 

They are. One of Ed's many problems is that he acts as if these divine promises operate with mechanical uniformity. But that confuses a natural process with personal agency. Natural processes are uniform because they are mindless. Inanimate. They simply do whatever they were programmed to do. There's no capacity for rational discrimination. 

But God is a personal agent, not a machine. Moreover, Christian theism isn't deism. God doesn't abdicate the throne. He determines whether or when a miracle occurs. He doesn't hand someone a blank check. 

When was the last time you actually witnessed a genuine miracle? I don't mean you heard of someone who knew someone that told you about this person that got healed. 

Actually, I could give personal examples. But Ed is promoting a subversive rule of evidence, as if secondhand testimony is ipso facto suspect. 

Moreover, how often do the elders in your church pray over someone and witness the cancer drying up and going away? Do our elders even believe in God? Why aren't people getting healed? When was the last time Steve Hays laid his hands on a blind man and prayed for him and healed him? 

Ed is foisting his own interpretation of Jas 5:13-16 onto me, then taking issue with the consequences. But, of course, I don't share his interpretation. I've presented and defended my own interpretation, which he conveniently ignores:

Why isn't Steve Hays down at the hospital working these miracles like Jesus and the apostles did? Hays must not have much faith.

So by Ed's logic, Jesus didn't work many miracles in Nazareth because Jesus was faithless or powerless  (Mt 13:58; Mk 6:5-6). 

 If he did, then he would stop being such a windbag and start actually doing some of these things the Bible supposedly promises. If Steve Hays' exegesis is accurate, then none of us have genuine faith because we simply don't see these miracles in any of our churches. 

"In any of our churches"? How does Ed know what is happening in every church around the world? Or every church in the last 2000 years? Or in Christian homes? 

There is one other possibility I suppose. If Hays' exegesis is accurate, and Hays really does believe, then the Bible must be false.

Ed isn't engaging my exegesis. Rather, Ed is taking his own exegesis for granted, which he imputes to me. One of Ed's problems is that he's an ex-Pentecostal, and he still interprets Jas 5:13-16 the way he did in his Pentecostal days.  

Since Hays isn't healing anyone or working any miracles or doing anything that the Bible promises he could do if he believed it, then the Bible must be a farce.

Ed keeps burning straw men, as if every Christian must have the same abilities. But as Paul explains, the body has different members. 

Oh, I almost forgot; there is one more possibility. Maybe Steve Hays' exegesis and argumentation is a farce. If Hays' exegesis is a farce, then that would explain why the Bible can be fully reliable and why we simply don't see these amazing miracles in modern times. I don't know which option you will choose, but as for me and my house, we choose to believe the Bible and reject the foolish abstractions of a man who has never worked a miracle in his life and yet expects us to just take him at his word that he can. After all, this is the logical conclusion of his argument.

Except that Ed doesn't believe the Bible. He doesn't begin with the promises of Scripture. By his own admission, he begins with what he thinks really happens, then reinterprets the Bible to conform to his notion of reality. Ed has the same hermeneutic as Peter Enns. Retrofit the Bible to agree with your extrabiblical understanding of the real world. 

Open theism implodes

I'm struck by Greg Boyd "new hermeneutic." To my knowledge, open theism has two pillars: radical commitment to libertarian freedom and a face-value reading of Scripture (esp. narrative theology). The first pillar is philosophical while the second pillar is hermeneutical.

Open theists accuse orthodox Christians of dismissing certain Biblical representations of God as anthropomorphic. They think orthodox Christians are too beholden to Greek philosophy. 

But now open theists like Boyd find themselves caught in a dilemma of their own making. They don't believe the morally offensive actions and statements attributed to God in the OT are true. Suddenly, they can't  stomach the face value reading of some OT commands and narratives. So Boyd is now proposing that God condescended to allow OT writers to falsely depict his true character. But in that event, doesn't open theism jettison its prooftexts–which was based on the surface meaning of the texts:

It’s interesting that Church theologians throughout history have been very willing to reinterpret large portions of Scripture that were considered problematic for one reason or another. For example, consider how much Scripture must be reinterpreted to get Scripture to conform to the classical conception of God as atemporal, immutable and impassible!  While I don’t accept this conception of God, my project is standing in line with this long theological tradition. It’s just that, instead of reinterpreting Scripture to get it to align with the metaphysical attributes of God, I’m reinterpreting it to get it to align with the moral attributes of God. More specifically, I’m attempting to interpret it in a way that allows us to see how even the most horrific portraits of God are not only consistent with, but actually bear witness to, the enemy-loving, non-violent, self-sacrificial character of God revealed in the crucified Christ. - See more at:
The criteria for distinguishing the degree to which any passage reflects the true nature of God versus the degree to which it reflects God stooping to identify with our sin and curse is, of course, Jesus. As we read Scripture knowing who God truly is in the crucified Christ, we can accept in a straight-forward way all depictions of God to the degree that the character the passage ascribes to God conforms to what Jesus reveals about God. Seeing these portraits as revelatory still involve us exercising a cruciform faith, for we must yet look through the surface of the text to discern in its depths the humble Creator stooping to accommodate himself to the limitations of our fallen humanity.  Only by faith can we discern anything in Scripture to be “God’s Word.” Yet, like most of the teachings and actions of Jesus, these Christ-like depictions of God require no special faith-interpretation to understand them. The “voice” at the surface of the text may, to this degree, be accepted as a reflection of the ultimate “voice” of the text. To this degree, the “God of the text” can be assessed as accurately reflecting “the actual God,” to use Eric Seibert’s categories.[4]
By contrast, to the degree that any portrait of God in Scripture falls short of the loving character revealed in Christ, the cruciform hermeneutic would lead us to distinguish the “voice” at the surface of the text from the ultimate, revelatory “voice” of the text.  Interpreting violent portraits of God through the lens of the cross would lead us to identify the surface of these portraits as mirroring the sin and cultural conditioning of those whom God is identifying with rather than accurately reflecting the true nature of God. To this degree, we must discern a gulf between the “God of the text” and the “actual God,” who is fully revealed in the crucified Christ. What rather reflects the true nature of God in these portraits is something only a cross-informed faith could discern. Knowing that the God who “breathed” all Scripture is a God who sometimes reveals his love and covenantal faithfulness by identifying with the sin and cursed state of his people, we are empowered to look through the ugly surface of these portraits and discern this same cruciform God stooping out of love in the depths of these texts.
And now -  and (so far as I can see) only now – can we begin to understand how grizzly portraits of God causing parents to eat their babies and commanding his people to slaughter women, children and babies can bear witness to the enemy-embracing, non-violent, self-sacrificial love of God revealed on Calvary. As we interpret the inspired record of God’s faithful covenantal activity from the vantage point of its culmination on the cross, we can discern times when God’s faithfulness is recorded in a straightforward way, but other times when it’s displayed in indirect ways, bearing witness to the truth that God has always been the sin-and-curse-bearing God he reveals himself to be on Calvary.- See more at:

Friday, November 22, 2013

The road not taken

Not surprisingly, there have been a flurry of tributes to C. S. Lewis on the 50th anniversary of his death. I'm going to quote from part of one:

Clive Staples Lewis (“Jack” to his friends) was born on 29 November 1898 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the second son of Albert Lewis, a promising attorney and his wife, Florence (“Flora”), daughter of an Anglican clergyman and one of the earliest female graduates (in Mathematics and Logic) from what is now Queen’s University, Belfast. She was probably the sharper of the parents, although “Jack” did not inherit her mathematical gifts.  
Flora died of abdominal cancer in 1908. Lewis was a motherless son. Sent off to boarding school, his teenage years were generally miserable.  
The two women whose lives were intertwined with Lewis’ were very different indeed. The first was Jane Moore, the mother of “Paddy” Moore, a young cadet with whom Lewis had trained for the army. They apparently promised to look after each other’s parent in the event of the other’s death. Moore was killed.

This is like the domino effect. Imagine how differently his life might well have turned out with a few crucial changes early on. Suppose his mother hadn't died when he was about 10. Suppose he hadn't been sent off to boarding school. Suppose his best friend hadn't died in battle? One thing leads to another. 

Suppose, instead, he had a normal home-life with a loving mother. Suppose he didn't leave home until he was college age. Suppose he didn't volunteer for the army. Suppose he didn't have an alcoholic brother. 

Under those circumstances, it's likely that he would have married at a normal age, had kids, had a normal family life. Had a happy childhood. Had a happy marriage. Been a fulfilled father and husband. In all likelihood, he would have lived and died in pleasant obscurity. A man of unsuspected promise and mediocre attainments. 

Instead, because of his blighted boyhood and other traumas, he threw himself into his work. He devoted himself to the life of the mind. He cultivated his abilities and pursued his interests. 

So there's a tradeoff. His deprivations spurred him to greatness, but at the cost of happiness. And the bitterness of his early years undoubted predisposed him to atheism. 

A fork in the road with two divergent paths: a happy, but ordinary life–or a lonely, but extraordinary life. Forgettable or famous. A contented underachiever or a discontented genius.   

Which path would you take? 

Don't tread on me

There are many reasons men turn to violence. In some cases it's the lack of a live-in father. In some cases the father is a loser. In some cases it's due to schools that suppress masculinity. 

In addition, I think a certain percentage of men will never be suited to a suit and tie. This interview is a good illustration:

There are men who just aren't cut out for life in the city or the suburbs. They aren't designed for a prefabricated existence. Back in the bygone days of the British Empire, you had young Englishmen who ran off to Africa or India and never returned. Never looked back.

There are men who need lots of room to stretch out. Men who need to build things and take things apart. Test themselves. Live on the edge. Figure out how to do things on their own. Start from scratch. They can't stand the bubble-wrapped existence in the nanny state. They can't stand having bureaucrats play the parent. 

And there were women who like men like that. Inventive. Adaptable. Decisive.  

I surmise that's part of the enduring appeal of the Western genre. The freedom. The challenge. A wide-open vistas of a virgin wilderness to be tamed, with all the attendant risks and rewards. 

As the culture elite continues to micromanage ever more of life, I expect there will be increasing violence. A vicious cycle of control, revolt, crack down, revolt, crack down. 

Fathoms of doubt

I'll comment on the latest rant by Ed Dingess:
Now, based on Steve Hays' arguments, what can we say? I suppose that we have to accept these claims at face value or else we are borrowing methods from skeptics and atheists. But then again, we are talking about someone that seems to be drifting more and more into the bizarre with his openness to paranormal activities, muslim dreams and visions about Jesus bringing the gospel to them, and who knows what else. This man presented four people that claimed to be dead for years, not days. And he supposedly raised them from the dead. Apparently you are not supposed to die before age 70 and if you do, he can raise you from the dead. Not only that, but any Christian should be able to do this, according to Gwajima. When you compromise on Sola Scriptura, and you permit just about any hermeneutical method to enter the camp, it becomes nearly impossible to stop the flow of rancid, putrid dogmas and ideas that enter the community passing themselves off as biblical, or cutting edge, or fresh ideas. 

Ed suffers from such mental confusion. One after another after another.

Let's begin with the larger issues:

i) I haven't been saying anything new, really. This is a continuation and extension of my longstanding critique of atheism. Take my critical reviews of books edited by atheists like Jeff Lowder and John Loftus. For instance, my review of the Lowder volume goes back to 2006. 

Atheists think reported miracles must overcome a standing presumption against their occurrence. Miracles are inherently improbable. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. A naturalistic explanation is the default explanation. If someone reports a miracle, that, in itself, impugns his credibility as a witness. 

I've argued against all that. When reading MacArthurites, it's deja vu. 

ii) What about the paranormal? What does Dingess even mean by "openness to paranormal activities"?

The "paranormal" is an umbrella term for phenomena which scientists committed to naturalism refuse to investigate. In that respect, it's a negative designation. It doesn't stand for anything in particular. Simply what the scientific establishment refuses to explore. Or what, at best, scientists investigate to debunk, on the prior assumption that it must be bunk. 

According to naturalism, everything that happens (at least above the subatomic level) is the result of physical causation. Physical effects of physical causes. That includes personal agency, for personal agents (e.g. humans) are deemed to be purely physical entities. 

Although naturalism isn't synonymous with physicalism, that's the ideal. Some naturalists grudgingly subscribe to Platonism (e.g. abstract objects), but naturalists usually labor to reduce everything to matter. 

Put another way, according to naturalism, everything that happens in the world is the result of one thing in the world effecting or affecting another thing in the world. A closed system. Nothing interrupts the continuum. No miracles. No discarnate spirits. No incorporeal minds. No intervention from the outside. 

The paranormal challenge those assumptions. Paranormal events, if they happen, seem to defy physical transmission. They bypass a causal chain that mediates the effect. 

Because they break the physicalist paradigm, that's why the scientific establishment, dominated by atheists, is so hostile to the paranormal. At most, it only sanctions research which presumes at the outset that this must be bogus.

iii) On a related note, a stock objection to biblical miracles is that in the "real" world, nothing happens that can't be explained naturalistically. That's our day-to-day experience. So they say. But the existence of the paranormal challenges that dogmatic claim.

iv) Those are metaphysical objections to the paranormal, which parallel metaphysical objections to biblical miracles. In addition, epistemological objections to the paranormal parallel epistemological objections to biblical miracles, viz. the reliability of testimonial evidence, the value of anecdotal evidence. 

Therefore, solid paranormal research is an ally in Christian apologetics.

v) Acknowledging the existence of the paranormal is not an endorsement of the paranormal. It's no different than the study of history or nature. Or even the study of the occult. If a discernment ministry studies the occult, that's not an endorsement of the occult. 

The Bible itself confirms the existence of paranormal or occultic agents and events. This is the sort of world God put us in. That's reality. 

vi) Ed takes the bizarre position that if you're not a cessationist, you must accept modern miraculous claims at face value. Is he really that undiscriminating? He has no standards whatsoever. For him, it's either total acceptance or total rejection.

The criteria for assessing testimonial evidence are the same for miraculous events as providential events. There are standard monographs that discuss the criteria. Cf. C. A. J. Coady, Testimony: A Philosophical Study.

vii) There's a basic difference between saying I don't believe that happened and saying I don't believe that kind of thing happens. I can grant that things like that happen without vouching for every reported instance. 

viii) There's a theological presupposition against raising the dead on a regular basis. Death is a standing penalty for original sin. That's the norm. The general resurrection awaits the Parousia. During the inter-adventual period, resurrections, if they occur at all, would be quite exceptional.

ix) I never said Jesus brings the gospel to Muslims in dreams and visions. For one thing, I only discussed the possibility of "preevangelism." Dreams and visions that might "prepare" a Muslim for the reception of the gospel. And that's analogous to the case of Cornelius. I also discussed it hypothetically. 

I have no antecedent objection to the possibility that Jesus appears to some people. Jesus lives. Jesus is sovereign. 

x) Since the Bible promises the occurrence of certain types of miracles for the duration of church history (e.g. Jn 14:12; Acts 2:17-18; 1 Cor 13:8-12; Jas 5:13-16), it hardly compromises sola Scriptura to expect what Scripture predicts. However, Scripture doesn't tell us how often that will happen. It may be quite intermittent. The distribution of postbiblical miracles is up to God's sovereign wisdom and discretion. That's not something we can anticipate or count on. It will happen when and where God makes it to happen–directly or indirectly. 

xi) Unfortunately, methodological atheism isn't confined to the Jesus Seminar or the Society of Biblical Literature. Many cessationists have a compartmentalized faith, where they say they believe in all the Biblical miracles, but when we switch to testimony for modern miracles, they suddenly assume the posture of David Hume or secular debunkers like James Randi, Martin Gardner, and Paul Kurtz. 

Professing belief in biblical miracles only seems to be a token film over a fiord of skepticism. They find it easy to believe in biblical miracles, while they find modern miracles simply incredible, because, for them, biblical miracles are safely unfalsifiable, due to their distance in time. A convenient abstraction. But when it comes to modern miracle claims, that hits much closer to home, and unfortunately, when that edges up to their own time and place, their default setting is reflexive, even defiant, disbelief. That's a unstable position, and it betrays a shallow belief in biblical miracles, like an oil slick thinly covering fathoms of doubt just underneath the shiny surface. 

Do you believe in miracles?

What should we believe about modern miracles? 
i) Let's begin with Biblical miracles, which–in turn–implicates our position on Biblical authority. There are different positions you can take on that:
ii) If you believe in the presuppositional authority of Scripture, then you will have greater confidence (indeed, unconditional confidence) in Biblical miracles than you do in modern miracles, however well attested. According to the presuppositional authority of Scripture, the Bible is our ultimate standard of knowledge. 
The presuppositional authority of Scripture concerns religious epistemology. An a priori argument.
iii) Likewise, if you ground your confidence in the witness of the Spirit, that warrants a greater level of assurance than mere historical evidence. To take a classic statement: "Our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts" (WCF 1.5). This is the Puritan position (e.g. John Owen; WCF). 
It concerns religious experience. An a posteriori argument.
The presuppositional position and the Puritan position are not mutually exclusive. You can accept both. Indeed, it's advisable to accept both. 
iv) Because the Westminster Confession is a consensus document, it reflects certain internal tensions. As an essentially Puritan document, it appeals to the witness of the Spirit (see above). And there it carries that over from Calvin.
However, it also has a classic cessationist statement (1.1,6,10). That stands in tension with the continuationist experience of the John Knox and the Covenanters. It also stands in tension with the appeal to the infallible witness of the Spirit. 
The classic argument for cessationism denies the presuppositional authority of Scripture. Cessationism typically appeals to the argument from miracles. Before you're entitled to believe a prophetic claimant, he must evidence his divine mission through miracles. On that view, the authority of Scripture is contingent on miracles, which are–in turn–contingent on testimonial evidence. 
That's an evidentialist argument. That places Biblical testimony and extrabiblical testimony on an evidentiary par. That places Biblical miracles and extrabiblical miracles on an evidentiary par. 
In my observation, many contemporary cessationists fail to think through their position on this issue. They mash together Puritan, presuppositional,  and evidentialist arguments. They need to work out a consistent position. 
v) It's also useful to draw some further distinctions. There are degrees of belief or receptivity with respect to modern miracles. 
a) I believe it happened.
b) I believe something like that happened.
c) I'm inclined to believe it happened.
d) I'm prepared to believe it happened.
When we sift through reports of modern miracles, it's useful to keep these distinctions in mind.

This conversation never happened

All or nothing

  • Robbie Taylor
  • Fred Butler, I've enjoyed Steve hays criticisms very much so . They're spot on.

  • Fred Butler
  • @Robbie so you believe with Steve, ala Keener, that God is working mighty miracles among Catholics and the Bethel Redding cult? God regularly affirms the false teaching of Catholic charismatics and metaphysical cultists with healings and such? wondering...

It's a pity to witness Fred's moral decline. 

i) To begin with, observe how he falsely attributes to me a position I explicitly deny. Notice the steps. Fred begins with his own paradigm, according to which the only role of miracles is to affirm teaching. 

I reject that premise. I've argued against the claim that the exclusive function of miracles is to attest doctrine. 

Fred imputes that paradigm to me, then derives the conclusion that I think God affirms the teaching of cultists. At best, that's taking something I believe, taking something Fred believes, which I reject, then combing these premises, of which (at most) I only affirm one, to yield a conclusion. 

Is Fred deliberately cutting corners on the truth? Or is he so hardened in his position that he's lost the capacity to be an ethical disputant on this issue?

ii) In addition, this is become part of Fred's schtick. Keener published a 1050 page monograph on miracles. Fred tries to deflect the force of Keener's cumulative case by picking out some particular examples he thinks are poor examples. For instance, Fred thinks the Bethel Church in Redding is a shaman healing lodge rather than a Christian church.

Suppose Fred is right about that. How does showing that Keener picked a bad example automatically discredit all the other examples? Does Fred imagine that when I refer people to Keener's monograph, that's a blanket endorsement of every single example? Is Fred really that naive when it comes to sifting testimonial evidence?

Logically, each case has its own evidence. Each case is independent of every other case. Logically, you assess each case on the merits. 

To take a comparison, must I believe everything Josephus says to believe anything Josephus says? If Josephus gets some things wrong, does that mean Josephus gets everything wrong?

To take another comparison: Alistair McGrath recently published a biography of C. S. Lewis. One of his challenges was to date events in Lewis's life. Lewis was careless about dates. He often got the dates wrong. Does that mean Lewis is a historically worthless source of information regarding his own life? Of course not. The fact that Lewis didn't remember the dates of some events doesn't mean Lewis didn't remember the events. 

Fred isn't trying very hard. In fact, Fred's tactic is a tacit admission that he can't deal with most of Keener's examples. 

iii) As for Catholic miracles, I've discussed that objection on several occasions:

 Fred conveniently ignores the counterargument. 

In addition, this reflects an element of duplicity in the MacArthurite position. On the one hand, they say church history falsifies continuationism. They say charismatic miracles don't occur throughout church history. On the other hand, if you cite evidence from the Middle Ages, they discount the evidence because those miracles are too "Catholic."

Well, which is it? Is their demand for evidence sincere or insincere?   

When we witness the moral degeneration of good men committed to an indefensible cause, what does that say about their position? If Fred can't defend his position by honest means, what does that tell you?