Saturday, December 28, 2013

The three Martini pope

I think it's premature to draw final lessons on where this pontificate is heading. It's still too early to say. But there seems to be an emerging pattern. Only time will tell. 

A feminist defense of masculine virtues

"Camille Paglia: A Feminist Defense of Masculine Virtues"

The domino effect

So A&E blinked first. That was predictable. Indeed, what's striking about this whole debacle is how predictable it was, yet A&E and the homosexual lobby couldn't see it coming. It's like watching a row of dominoes.

i) It was predictable that Phil Robertson would answer the question the way he did. He's an elder at a fundamentalist church. He's said the same thing back in 2010, only that time he quoted/paraphrased Rom 1 rather than 1 Cor 6.

It's predictable that he'd express himself in blunt, lowbrow terms. That's in character.

ii) It was predictable that the homosexual lobby would go ballistic. In the past, the homosexual lobby has been pretty successful in stifling dissent. And with Obama in office, they feel the wind to their back.

iii) It was predictable that out-of-touch TV execs would react they way they did. Among the cultural elite, that's the reflexive response. They imagine that's how you're supposed to respond.

And they expect celebrities who've committed a politically incorrect faux pas to contritely retract the statement, go on the talkshow circuit and grovel for absolution.

It's possible they feared the loss of advertisers. They had their sights set on everyone except the…audience. That's a problem when corporate execs don't buy the product. When they forget it's the audience, not pressure groups, who sign the paycheck.

A problem when they belong to the social class of the power elite rather than the audience.

iv) It was predictable that Phil wouldn't back down. That would be out of character. He has too much self-respect. Although he cares about his reputation, the people whose opinion he values aren't TV execs or GLAAD.

At 67, he's not climbing the career ladder. And he doesn't need the supplementary income.

v) It was predictable that his sons would back him up. It's my impression that working class Southerners have a strong sense of kith and kin. If, moreover, his sons turned their back on their dad, Duck Dynasty fans would turn their back on the sons.

vi) In the end, it was predictable that A&E would fold. Phil held all the high cards. A&E had far more to lose by canceling Duck Dynasty than losing GLAAD. The Robertsons had far less to lose.

GLAAD failed to learn the Chick-Fil-A lesson.

You can pick on something small and popular. You can bully a small Christian business. Even if it's popular, it lacks the resources to fight back.

You can occasionally pick on something big and unpopular. Pressure groups have had some success with the tobacco industry.

They've been less successful with oil companies. Although oil companies are unpopular, their product is necessary–unlike cigarettes. Nobody has to light up, but most folks have to tank up–like it or not.

What you can't expect to do is to intimidate something big and popular.

GLAAD miscalculated. It's become overconfident.

I've read that occasionally a Roman senator would propose a dress code for slaves. Put slaves in their place. Make it clear who's who.

But that proposal was shot down. Why? Because slaves outnumbered Roman aristocrats and plebs by 10-1. A dress code for slaves would suddenly expose the fact that the ruling class was dangerously outnumbered.

The homosexual lobby has clout out of all proportion to its numbers. When it takes on something big and popular, it reveals its essential impotence for all the world to see.

You can bluff people into surrendering if they think you have a vast army just over the hill. The illusion only works as long as you don't let them see how weak you really are.

Mind you, this is just a temporary win for Christians. The homosexual lobby will regroup. It's been bloodied, but not defeated.

Christians need to build on this win, not revert to complacency.

Bearing false witness to our fine feathered neighbors

Well, if you ask me, this raises serious ethical questions. Surely it's a flagrant violation of the 9th Commandment to deceive a mallard by using duck call? 

Duck Commander ~ Triple Threat ~ Duck Hunting Call New by Duck Commander

Duck Dynasty - A&E‎ 
Check out Duck Dynasty, a show about the family that runs the duck call fabrication business. 

My cult's better than your cult!

Dale says: 
There are many theological, ethical, and practical problems with the JWs, as testified to be an endless stream of thoughtful, God-fearing people leaving that group, often at great cost…If you google around, you’ll find them talking about leaving. I do encourage you to leave the Watchtower behind. They are just one of many cultish groups who gain credibility by pointing out that the Trinity, and other things common in various catholic groups, are not taught in the Bible...Beware of various legalists, like those who try to go quasi-Jewish...

It's gratifying to see that anti-Trinitarian apostate Dale Tuggy hasn't lost his theological standards. You see, for Dale, it's not good enough to belong to just any ol' Christ-denying cult. You gotta belong to the right Christ-denying cult. The One True Christ-denying cult. Thankfully, we have Dale to separate the sheepish cult-members from the goatish cult-members. Heresy has its own outcasts. 

My cult's bigger than your cult,
My cult's purer than yours.
My cult's better 'cause he gets Tuggy Ration,
My cult's better than yours.

"How Jesus Became God"

Apostate atheist Bart Ehrman has a forthcoming book. Since it hasn't been published yet, I'll just comment on the blurbs:

“How did ancient monotheism allow the One God to have a ‘son’? Bart Ehrman tells this story, introducing the reader to a Jewish world thick with angels, cosmic powers, and numberless semi-divinities. How Jesus Became God provides a lively overview of Nicea’s prequel.”
“ In this lively and provocative book, Ehrman gives a nuanced and wide-ranging discussion of early Christian Christology. Tracing the developing understanding of Jesus, Ehrman shows his skills as an interpreter of both biblical and nonbiblical texts. This is an important, accessible work by a scholar of the first rank.”

This suggests that Ehrman is basing his conclusions on Second Temple Jewish literature and Hellenistic Judaism. If so, that's not Ehrman's field of expertise. 

Also, is Ehrman a "scholar of the first rank"? Due to his association with the late Bruce Metzger, and I think some people treat him as Metzger's successor. But he's certainly not in Metzger's league. 

Finally, Paula Fredriksen has her own ax to grind. For instance, she was an outspoke critic of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Cutting Jesus down to size suits her interfaith agenda. 

The Fruit Of Neglecting Apologetics

There have been some news stories lately about polling showing a decline in belief in the historicity of the infancy narratives. A local newspaper interviewed some pastors about how they address such doubts:

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Jehovah's Witnesses and Jesus Christ: A Biblical and Theological Appraisal

Classic article by the late Bruce Metzger:

To tatt or not to tatt

I kept forgetting what all six reasons were, so I had them tattooed on my arm as a mnemonic device to help me remember the six reasons not to tattoo the six reasons on my arm as a mnemonic device.

Back to normal

I appreciate the distinction that Todd makes in this post:

And I appreciate his taking a public stance, as well as coming down on the right side of this issue.  But I would like to comment on one statement:

We have brothers and sisters in Christ who, while struggling with same sex attraction, persevere faithfully in God-honoring chastity recognizing that homosexuality is a sin. 

This creates the impression, whether intentional or not, that celibacy is the only option for Christians who struggle with homosexual impulses. Here I think we need to avoid two extremes:

One extreme is giving such people false hope. Assuring them of an instant or total cure if they just pray enough, receiving the baptism of the Spirit, or undergo reparative therapy. God will take away their homosexual urges. That typically leads to bitter disillusionment and apostasy. They are worse off than before, because false assurance has made them cynical. 

The other extreme is to give them no hope of recovery in this life. Seems to me that we should be encouraging them to work towards heterosexual marriage. Make that their goal, rather than lifelong celibacy. Of course, celibacy is a moral requirement for every single Christian. And there are circumstances under which a life of self-denial is the only option. 

But there is evidence that some homosexuals can recover their natural heterosexual impulses:

Holding out that possibility spares them from falling into despair. 

Seems to me that we should treat homosexuality like any other addiction. Addictions can be notoriously difficult to break. Yet society is extremely sympathetic when it comes to drug rehab, despite the rate of recidivism. Why should we demand a higher success rate for homosexuals? When recovering alcoholics fall off the wagon, we don't say that's a reason to stop treating alcoholism. 

Catholicism and suicide

The church of Rome has reversed its position on a number of very significant issues. These include salvation outside the church, capital punishment, and biblical inerrancy. Here's another example:

In earlier times a person who committed suicide would often be denied funeral rites and even burial in a Church cemetery.  
Canon law no longer specifically mentions suicide as an impediment to funeral rites or religious sepulture. 
In most cases, however, the progress made in the study of the underlying causes of self-destruction shows that the vast majority are consequences of an accumulation of psychological factors that impede making a free and deliberative act of the will. 
Thus the general tendency is to see this extreme gesture as almost always resulting from the effects of an imbalanced mental state and, as a consequence, it is no longer forbidden to hold a funeral rite for a person who has committed this gesture although each case must still be studied on its merits.

How can you trust a denomination to be a safe spiritual guide when it reverses itself on such fundamental issues? If it changes it's position, then that means either of two things: if it got it right now, it got it wrong then; if it got it right then, it got it wrong now.

Also, why has Rome changed its policy? People commit suicide for the same reasons they always committed suicide. It's not like we've discovered new evidence. 

Why are so many Catholic oblivious to how this renders their denomination unreliable? Several reasons suggest themselves:

i) Ignorance. For younger Catholics and converts, the new policy may be the only policy they ever knew. We know the present better than the past. We experience the present, whereas we must study the past. 

ii) We're not inclined to criticize a change if we think it's a change for the better. If that's an improvement, then we think the change is a good thing.

But that misses the point. What does that tell you about the lack of institutional foresight?

iii) And, of course, you have a lot of Catholics who just don't think. 

iv) There's always the out of saying Rome never addressed the issue authoritatively. For instance, Limbo for unbaptized infants was never dogma. Yet, for centuries, Rome left Catholics to believe that was the fate of unbaptized infants. Even if that's not a formal error, it is misleading the faithful. Misdirecting them rather than guiding them into the truth. 

Giving the devil his due

Dale Tuggy:

Ye olde qua-move. Sigh. Just pushes the bump (contradiction) under the carpet. It would seem that what can die as/because it is X, can die (full stop). So, he can and he can't. :-( 

Tuggy's committing the fallacy of the complex question. 

We should be afraid to foist that kind of view onto Mark.

To the contrary, I'm just letting Mark speak for himself. He depicts Jesus as both human and divine.

Right. So, one and the same Jesus has divinity, and properties incompatible with divinity. (Ditto with humanity.) D'oh!

It's not inherently contradictory to say the same thing can and can't be. Black can't be white, or vice versa. But black and white can inhere in the same subject, viz. a black cat with white spots or a white at with black spots. It's contradictory to ascribe the property of blackness to the property of whiteness, and vice versa, but not contradictory to ascribe both properties to a common property-bearer.

You might try positing two different subjects in Christ, one which, e.g. is omniscient, the other not. But that seems a disastrous read of the gospels, I think you'll agree. Another option would be to say the features are, respectively, omniscient-as-divine and omniscient-as-human - Jesus has the first, lacks the second. Such features, one may think, are not obviously contrary. But those are wierd features, and besides, why don't they entail plain old omniscience and non-omniscience (in this one subject who's both divine and human)?
Unless you can spell out how it helps, I'm afraid the qua-dodge is just a dodge. 

Notice that Dale oscillates between two opposing criteria. On the one hand he says we should just read Mark on his own terms. On the other hand, he says we must be able to philosophically harmonize Mark's complex representations of Jesus. 

The Incarnation is unique. As far as philosophy goes, we may be able to gain some insight through analogies. Of course, analogies are only partial models. 

As far as analogies available to Mark, you have the category of Spirit-possession, where (in the case of OT prophets) the Spirit takes psychological control of a human host. Consider visionary revelation, like an inspired dream, where the seer or dreamer's mind is the vehicle, yet he's processing information from another mind. In that altered state of consciousness, the visionary is both aware and self-aware, his own (human) mind is operative, yet another (divine) mind is accessing his mind, and vice versa. 

On a related note is the phenomenon of telepathy or mind-reading, where you have the mingling of two minds. In principle, this can either be unilateral (where one mind accesses another without tipping off the subject who's mind is being monitored) or bilateral. That, too, has biblical precedents, including the Gospels.

These are analogies or partial models which would be available to Mark and his readers. The Markan Jesus exceeds those paradigms. But it's a bridge. 

If you're going to say it's a holy mystery, just go straight for that - bite the bullet without delay. 

A mystery is not synonymous with a contradiction. 

Problem is, though, you now have to insist that what seems a self-contradictory reading of Mark is overall the best one. 

That begs the question. 

Mark is just a reporter. He's reporting what Jesus said and did. 

I'd also add that if Tuggy demands a reductive harmonization, that doesn't single out a unitarian harmonization. As far as reductionism goes, it could just as well be a Docetic harmonization, viz. Jesus as a divine epiphany. That would be familiar to Mark's gentile audience.   

Is Jesus just a man with godlike traits? Or is Jesus just a God slumming as a man, like a king who plays a peasant to catch his subjects off-guard? There's OT precedent for that "entertaining angels unawares" motif (e.g. Gen 18; Judg 13). And that has counterparts in Greco-Roman mythology (e.g. Baucis and Philemon), which would be recognizable to Mark's Hellenistic audience. 

Do I think that's correct? No. I'm just responding to Tuggy on his own grounds. 

Yes, in your view, Chalcedonian language "summarizes" points not grapsed for hundreds of years by mainstream Christians. Looks anachronistic. 

It's no more anachronistic to speak of a divine nature and a human nature than to speak of divine omniscience or divine omnipotence. So, no, I didn't read the Chalcedonian formulation (which is fairly extensive) back into Mark. 

As a Protestant, you would be more wary of such errors.

As a philosopher, Dale should be more wary of his semantic fallacies.

Thanks - I see you concede my point that the reader of Mark reasonably assumes that Satan is tempting Jesus to sin, as in the other gospels. 

You don't get belated credit for my distinction. I drew a distinction you failed to draw. I'm hardly conceding your point when you adopt my point after the fact. Nice try. Try again.

Now, is Satan that dumb - to try to tempt a being to sin, who he ought to know, can't possibly have a motive to sin? That'd be like trying to find the corner of a perfect sphere, or trying to find the fourth side of a triangle. It's conceivable, to be sure, but strange to think about a foe who is supposed to be a fearsome adversary. In your view, does Satan somehow fail to see that Jesus is God (making his temping activity pointless), or does he fail to know that God can't sin (making Satan an idiot)?

Well, I realize that as a hellbound Christ-denier, Dale naturally takes umbrage at aspersions cast on the wisdom of his infernal Master. That said:

i) Smart people can believe dumb things. The list is long. Paul Krugman comes to mind. 

ii) Brilliant individuals, even geniuses, can suffer from mental illness, viz.  Swedenborg, Kurt Gödel, Georg Cantor, Virginia Woolf, Bobby Fischer, Ted Kaczynski.

Satan is a good candidate for criminal insanity. 

iii) Brilliant minds are susceptible to certain intellectual obsessions. Conspiracy theories are a snare for smart guys, viz. Ray Griffin is a 9/11 Truther. Likewise, numerology or gematria is a snare for great minds. For instance, Isaac Newton was obsessed with Biblical numerology. The quest to crack a hidden Bible code. 

iv) Revenge is often taken to irrational lengths, where the obsessed avenger is prepared to destroy himself in hope's of destroying the object of his vengeance in the process. Satan is a good candidate for a crazed avenger.

v) You also have twisted idealists who find something noble about fighting for lost causes. It's very futility is heroic. They think that has a supreme purity of motives because their supererogatory efforts will go unrewarded.

vi) Tuggy's objection doesn't even make sense on unitarian grounds. Even if Jesus were merely human, he's a proxy for God. Satan's guerrilla warfare against God is doomed to fail.

vii) And there's a fatalistic quality to Satan's opposition. The means by which he labors to scuttle God's plan is the divinely-appointed means by which God's plan is realized. Divine irony. Poetic justice. 

Do Non-Christians Need To Cite Christians Who Agree With Them?

I was recently involved in a discussion with a non-Christian at another web site. He told me that I can't cite Biblical sources in support of my view of Christianity, apparently because of the bias of those sources. They're believers. I was told that I can't cite Christian scholars either. Even if a Christian scholar argues for his position and cites supporting evidence, the arguments and evidence don't matter. He's a Christian scholar, so he can't be cited. He's biased.


"Geometry is one and eternal shining in the mind of God. That share in it accorded to humans is one of the reasons that humanity is the image of God." - Johannes Kepler

The astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler was born on this day, Dec. 27, 1571.

By Confession Alone?

In response to this comment, I attempted to post the following at Scott Clark’s Heidelblog. (My comment was “awaiting modification” for some time today, but as of the last time I checked, it has been removed):

* * *

Scott – of course I still believe in Sola Scriptura, justification Sola Fide. And no popes, anywhere.

I’d like to preface my comment here by saying that I believe that the Reformation was absolutely a movement of the Holy Spirit, and that the fruitful period of theological study that followed the Reformation (for 100 years and more) was absolutely the richest and most profitable period of study in the 2000 year history of the church. The many confessions of faith that came out of that period are absolutely worthy of our study and reverence.

I also can’t fail to comment on the tendency, which has historically been manifested among Christians, to the effect that “if you believe A, therefore you believe B. Since you believe B, and B is heretical, you’re a heretic”. I believe that tendency to be both unChristian and unhelpful.

You defend biblicism, in this case, you defend the apparently even more radical biblicism of Frame’s lieutenant. In every case of biblicism someone is still interpreting Scripture. That interpretation leads to some confession, whether formal or informal. In this case, it’s his reading of Scripture that trumps all. There’s your pope.

First, I would urge you to re-think your comment here that Hays is anyone’s “lieutenant”. He is a clear thinker in his own right, and he has no problem to challenge anyone, including Frame.

God is the best explanation

"Does God Exist?" by William Lane Craig.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Yes, this is a Constitutional issue

I read several conservatives who support Phil Robertson, but don't think private employers discriminating against Christians violates the First Amendment. I disagree, and here's the source of their mistake.
To begin with, you have some conservative libertarians who think businesses have the right to hire or fire whoever they please. On a related note, conservatives who don't think this is a First Amendment issue are basing that on their own understanding of the First Amendment. Judging by original intent, the free speech, free exercise, and free assembly clauses only apply to the public sector, not the private sector.
Now, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with these arguments. In fact, I think they are right in principle.
Problem is, that's a paper theory. That's not how our current system actually works. In reality, state and Federal gov't has interjected itself into the private sector. For instance, there are laws which prohibit discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation, transgender identity or self-image.  "Hate" crimes (including "hate" speech) are another case in point. 
To say the First Amendment doesn't apply to cases like Phil Robertson would only be true if both sides were playing by the same rules (i.e. original intent, libertarianism). Since, however, the state is coercing private business on these very issues, it would be an act of unilateral disarmament for conservatives to play the game by a different set of rules. You will lose every time. 
It is, of course, worthwhile to challenge the current status quo. But as long as that's the operative framework, you can't have one side play by the rules while the other side is free to break the rules or unilaterally make new rules which overrule your rules. 
If, in a football game, your team plays by the rules while the other team has a portable goalpost which moves closer when its own team has the ball, but further away when the opposing team has the ball, that's not a fair fight. 


Cold comfort atheism

"Is that all there is?" by James Wood.

Despair begins on the other side of life

Atheism and its discontents

I don't necessarily agree with everything said, but Christian blogger rockingwithhawking has a post interacting with atheists here.

Topics covered include: atheism and the grounds of morality; modern evolutionary theory; comparative genomics and complexity; history and the (non)existence of Jesus; and genetics and behavior.

Solitary wasp

According to mathematician Howard Eves in his book In Mathematical Circles:

A striking instance of what may be number sense in insects is illustrated by the so-called solitary wasp. The mother wasp lays her eggs individually in separate cells and then provides each cell with a number of live caterpillars on which the young feed when they hatch. The remarkable thing is that the number of caterpillars is surprisingly uniform for a given species of wasp - some species provide five per cell, others twelve, and still others as many as twenty-four. Most surprising is the genus eumenus, a variety in which the female is much larger than the male. Somehow or other, the mother wasp knows whether the egg will produce a female or a male grub; if the egg is female she provides its cell with ten caterpillars, if the egg is male she provides its cell with five.

Counting katydid

Harvard physicist George W. Pierce studied insects:

There was a katydid in Dr. Pierce's laboratory that learned to count and thereby alter its usual two-beat rhythm. During an experiment, a laboratory assistant who could imitate the katydid's shrill "zeep-zeep," made the sound in three beats instead of two. The katydid answered with three beats. The assistant then tried four, and the katydid answered with four. Then the assistant tried five and the katydid answered with five. At the next stage, however, the insect lost count and, on its own, began to improvise on the numbers it had already learned.


Appearances can be deceiving

R. Scott Clark said:

This passage gets us closer to the heart of the problem, his apparent revision of the traditional Reformed doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God. As a matter of truth, God's essence is a dark, unrevealed entity. God, as he is in himself (in se) is hidden from us...We know that God's hidden essence is but we don't know what God's essence is. We're not capable of knowing or understanding that essence. We know what God has revealed of himself to us. God has given us pictures, illustrations, analogies, but he has not revealed himself as he is in himself...The Reformed want to affirm both the mystery of God's hiddenness and the utterly reliability of his self-revelation.

This seems to allow for the possibility that God could be a sort of chaotic evil God. More like the Norse god Loki who was a liar and a trickster than the God of the Bible. After all, we don't know God's true essence, and God has not revealed himself in Scripture "as he is in himself," so perhaps even what he's revealed to us doesn't necessarily reflect who he truly is.

On the one hand, we don't and can't know God's essence. But on the other hand, God doesn't reveal his essence to us except by "pictures, illustrations, analogies." So who's to say there's much truth in even the "pictures, illustrations, analogies" God has given us in Scripture? At best, it'd seem to be verisimilitude. The appearance of truth rather than truth itself. But we don't know to what degree, if any, the appearance is true to the truth.

As such, Clark's statement seems to allow for the possibility that God gave us half-true or even false pictures, illustrations, and analogies about himself in Scripture.

Philosopher's stone

Modern evolutionary theory posits descent with modification. Moreover, genetic modification occurs through various mechanisms - natural selection, mutation, gene flow, genetic drift. Most of this could be more or less acceptable to critics of neo-Darwinism like the ID theorists.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Being as communion

In the past, it was somewhat easier for Arminians to attack Calvinists because universalism wasn't a live option. Now that "evangelical universalism" has made a comeback, the universalists are co-opting Arminian prooftexts. Moreover, universalists can accept these passages as they stand, without further qualification. So they have an advantage over Arminians.
Nicene subordinationists may find themselves in a similar quandary vis-a-vis unitarianism. That's because unitarianism is also making a comeback.  
Let's begin with a succinct and lucid statement of eternal generation:

The role of a father is “to beget,” just as the meaning of sonship is “to be begotten.” The Father, therefore, is unbegotten, but is origin and progenitor of the Son, who himself does not beget, for there is no “Son” in the Godhead other than himself. That is to say, the whole reality of the Father is to beget, to generate, to give all that he has, namely, his whole divine nature, to the Son. And the whole reality of the Son is to be begotten, to be generated, to receive all that he has, namely, his whole divine nature, from the Father…The life of the Father is an eternal giving of himself whole and entire to the Son. The life of the Son is an eternal receiving of the Father whole and entire.
That's a classic, Thomistic definition. Some theologians (e.g. Turretin) tweak it. 
Notice the radical ontological asymmetry between the Father and the Son. The asymmetry could not be more radical. The Son is purely and totally the effect of the Father's action. The Son's subsistence is completely contingent, completely derivative. The Son is like a shadow or echo of the Father. 
The Son exists only because the Father wills the Son to exist. If the Father momentarily ceased to will the Son's existence, the Son would instantly cease to exist. (Of course, Aquinas would hasten to add that the Father necessarily wills the Son's existence.) 
It's like Berkelean idealism, where the world is a divine projection. God is like a lucid dreamer in whose imagination the world subsists.
It reminds me of 2009 reboot of The Prisoner. In the reboot, the "Village" is a dream world. The Village exists in the mind of Helen. Most of the characters in the Village have real-world counterparts. Helen has a sedated, real-world counterpart. 
However, Helen and her husband have a son who was "born" in the Village. He can never leave The Village, because he has no real-world counterpart. If Helen ever awakens in the real world, their son will cease to be. 
Now I'm going to comment on a defense of eternal generation:
i) Not surprisingly, Lee handles the exegetical side of the argument pretty well. I'm sympathetic to his defense of "only-begotten" as the correct rendering of monogenes. However, that stops well short of his desired destination.
ii) For one thing, John uses several related designations for Christ: the Son, the "only-begotten" Son, the Son of God. Why assume that "only-begotten Son" is intended to emphasize  generation, rather than viewing this as a synonymous variant in Johannine usage?
iii) And at the end of the day, we're still dealing with a theological metaphor. Father and Son are theological metaphors. So what's the intended scope of the metaphor? Is it derivation of essence? What about community of essence? Like Father, like Son. 
First, it should be obvious that we are using an analogy from human experience to describe something about the eternal, immutable God. Clearly, then, the manner in which a human father begets a son differs significantly from the manner in which the Father begets the Son. For one thing, in human begetting, there is a time when the son does not exist; but in the divine original of which the human begetting is but a pale reflection, there never was a time when the Son did not exist (pace Arius).
Yes, there's a difference, but if you think about it, that's more a difference of degree than a difference in kind. For instance, there was never a time before God willed the creation of the world. Just as the Father always willed the generation of the Son, God always willed the creation of the world. So appealing to divine timelessness has limited value in differentiating a creature from the eternal generation of the Son, on this scheme.
And a human father's begetting is a free and voluntary act, while the Son's filiation is an eternal and necessary act. Otherwise, the Son would be a contingent being, but no contingent being is divine.
But on this paradigm the Son is a contingent being. His existence is contingent on the Father's will. It hangs by the thread of the Father's will. 
Also, what's the prooftext for the necessity of the Father willing the Son?
Calvin attempted to resolve the problem by claiming - as we have seen - that the eternal generation of the Son only implies a communication of the personal property of Sonship, not a communication of divine essence. If the latter were the case, then, Calvin assumed, the deity of Christ would be a derived deity and hence no true deity at all…Turretin agreed with Calvin that the true deity of Christ necessarily dictates that the Son be autotheos. Yet Turretin also taught that the eternal generation of the Son involved a communication of essence. Thus, Calvin's solution was not open to him. So Turretin resolved the problem by asserting that aseity is properly attributed to the Son's divine essence not to his person.
i) What's the Biblical warrant for these proposed distinctions?
ii) Shouldn't we consider the possibility that Nicene subordination creates an artificial problem? Instead of laboring to solve that problem within the confines of the Nicene framework, why not question the framework itself? 
iii) Apropos (ii), we'd be on further ground if we said the Trinity is a se. Aseity is a property of the Trinity, rather than the Father, or the three persons individually. 
Second, such language is unavoidable in any sound doctrine of the Trinity. For we do not maintain that there are three divine beings, but one God in three persons. Were we to argue that the three persons of the Godhead each had aseity in the sense that each had its own divine essence independently of the other two, would we not be committed to tritheism? If so, then we cannot escape the notion that these three hypostases must be related to one another in a way that involves dependence or derivation. But then derivation is the opposite of aseity.
Lee's argument depends on using dependence and derivation as interchangeable concepts. But on the face of it, these are different concepts. A triangle depends on having three sides. But that's not a derivative relationship, that I can see. 
May I remind you that this odd language is strikingly similar to the teaching of Jesus himself, "Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself" (John 5:26).
Does "life" in that verse refer to the inner life of the Godhead? In context, isn't that kind of life a communicable attribute? God grants eternal life to Christians? 
Eternal generation, far from detracting from the Son's ontological equality with the Father, actually provides its most profound logical ground.
Except that eternal generation clearly does detract from the Son's ontological equality with the Father. That ontological inequality is built into the radical asymmetry of the relation. 
As I've often argued, it would be better to scrap the Nicene subordinationist paradigm rather than tweaking it. I appreciate the way Frame, Warfield, and Helm have redirected the issue. 

Gentlemen heretics


As I was going to Bethlehem-town,
Upon the earth I cast me down
All underneath a little tree
That whispered in this way to me:
"Oh, I shall stand on Calvary
And bear what burden saveth thee:
Oh, I shall stand on Calvary
And bear what burden saveth thee!"

As up I fared to Bethlehem-town,
I met a shepherd coming down,
And thus he said: "A wondrous sight
Hath spread before mine eyes this night—
An angel host most fair to see,
That sung full sweetly of a tree
That shall uplift on Calvary
What burden saveth you and me!"

And as I got to Bethlehem-town,
Lo! wise men came that bore a crown.
"Is there," cried I, "in Bethlehem
A King shall wear this diadem?"
"Most sure," they said, "and it is He
That shall be lifted on the tree
And freely shed on Calvary
What blood redeemeth us and thee!"

Unto a Child in Bethlehem-town
The wise men came and brought the crown;
And while the Infant smiling slept,
Upon their knees they fell and wept;
But, with her Babe upon her knee,
Naught recked that Mother of the tree,
That should uplift on Calvary
What burden saveth all and me.

Again I walk in Bethlehem-town
And think on Him that wears the crown.
I may not kiss His feet again,
Nor worship Him as did I then;
My King hath died upon the tree,
And hath outpoured on Calvary
What blood redeemeth you and me:
Outpoured for us on Calvary.
(Eugene Field, Bethlehem-Town)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Jesus’ Improbable Plan

The Woman, the Dragon, and the Baby Born King

A festival of nine lessons and carols

More info here.

Pious nonsense

This is my third installment:
Scott Clark recently said:
As a matter of truth, God’s essence is a dark, unrevealed entity. God, as he is in himself (in se) is hidden from us…We know that God’s hidden essence is but we don’t know what God’s essence is. We’re not capable of knowing or understanding that essence. 

Now, I don't deny that many Biblical statements about God are analogically true. But is that universal? Is God-talk intrinsically analogical? Does that pertain to every Scriptural statement about God? Let's consider two or three examples:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (Jn 1:1).
According to Clark, when John says the Word was God, that doesn't reveal the essential nature of the Son. That's just a "similitude."
If, so, I'd say Clark's understanding has more in common with John Hick than John Boanerges. 
God is not man, that he should lie,    or a son of man, that he should change his mind.Has he said, and will he not do it?    Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Num 23:19; cf. 1 Sam 15:29)

According to Clark, when Scripture denies that God is man, that is not to be taken univocally. Rather, something like that is true.  

nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything (Acts 17:25).
According to Clark, when Scripture denies that God needs anything, that doesn't reveal the essential nature of God. That's not a univocal truth. 
We could go down the list. Quote passages about God's knowledge of the future, &c. 

Confessional Arians

Scott Clark responded to my statement that
If God’s essence is unknowable, then Scripture is not a divine self-revelation. God hasn’t revealed himself to us in Scripture. Rather, God has revealed something other than himself.
by saying:
His first conclusion is false. It doesn’t follow.
Asserting that my conclusion is false, asserting that it doesn't follow, is not an argument.
What is God if not his essence? The essence of God is God. That's what God actually is, right? If that's not what Clark means by God's essence, what could he possibly mean?
Well, if according to Clark, Scripture cannot reveal the essence of God, then Scripture doesn't disclose what God is really like. Rather, it reveals something other than God. 
If that's a fallacious inference, where is Clark's counterargument? 
 It is true that we don’t and can’t know God as he is, as I showed from Scripture...
He didn't show that from Scripture. Quoting Scripture doesn't show that your claim is Scriptural. You need to explain and defend your interpretation. You need to explain and defend your inferences from Scripture. 
…but apparently quoting Scripture doesn’t count if a confessionalist does so. Quoting Scripture only counts if a revisionist does it.
i) Everyone quotes Scripture to prove their respective position. I've had Scripture quoted to me by atheists, Anabaptists, annihilationists, Dispensationalists, Lutherans, Arminians, unitarians, universalists, Muslims, &c. So, no, just quoting Scripture doesn't count. You need to exegete your prooftext. And you need to argue for your application. 
ii) There are confessional Lutherans. There are confessional Baptists (e.g. the London Baptist Confession of Faith). What would Clark do if he got into a debate with a confessional Baptist? One confessionalist quotes paedobaptist prootexts while the other confessionalist quotes credobaptist prooftexts. Confessionalism won't adjudicate that disagreement, for both sides are confessional.
iii) Clark is not even entitled to drape himself in the mantle of a confessionalist. He's not a strict subscriptionist. He picks and chooses which parts of the Reformed creeds he prefers to espouse. When it comes to the days of creation or the duties of the civil magistrate, his confessionalism goes out the window. 
That’s the point of the Reformed doctrine of accommodation. God is pleased to reveal himself analogically, which includes the various forms of speech in Scripture. We do know God truly—to deny that is skepticism and to deny salvation—but we know him in the way that God wills.
I don't object to saying our knowledge of God is analogical knowledge. But how does that warrant treating what's analogical as an antonym for what's essential? He apparently assumes that an analogy can't show you what something is essentially like. Well, how does he justify that arbitrary dichotomy? 
I could use a boat to illustrate the principle of transportation. I could use an airplane to illustrate the principle of transportation. In that respect, a boat is analogous to an airplane, and vice versa.
Does that mean the analogy fails to show us what a boat or airplane is essentially for? No. Both are essentially for transportation. They are both modes of transportation. That's not just what they are like. That's what they are
The Reformed have NEVER thought that we must know God as he is in himself to be know him truly. That’s a rationalist premise. The Reformed faith isn’t rationalist. 
Ironically, Clark is the rationalist because he refuses to submit to the testimony of Scripture. His a priori commitments to his tradition gag the voice of Scripture. Take how he mishandles his prooftext:
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known (Jn 1:18, ESV).
He uses that to prove his assertion that:
As a matter of truth, God’s essence is a dark, unrevealed entity. God, as he is in himself (in se) is hidden from us…We know that God’s hidden essence is but we don’t know what God’s essence is. We’re not capable of knowing or understanding that essence. 
i) First of all, lets try to map that back onto his prooftext. How does Clark understand the contrast?
The Father is the archetype to the Son's ectype? Well, I guess that's good Arian Christology. But it's hardly Johannine Christology.
The Father is essentially God, whereas the Son is not essentially God? Again, that's good Arian Christology.
ii) Now let's exegete the text. Clark seems to begin and end with the first clause. Now the first clause states a principle that goes all the way back to Exodus. God is invisible. God is spirit. God is not an object of direct observation. Possibly, we might take that a step further, if divine invisibility is emblematic of divine transcendence. 
However, unless Clark is a radical empiricist, how can he assume that what's invisible is essentially unknowable? 
iii) Does Jn 1:18 say that God's essence is an "unrevealed entity"? No, just the opposite. 
God is inaccessible from our side. But God can make himself accessible. The Incarnation makes the empirically unknowable Father known to us in the person of his Son.  
Jn 1:18 involves a like knows like principle. Like reveals like principle. The Son is God made visible. Because the Father and the Son are two of a kind, if you've seen the Son, you've seen the unseen Father (Jn 14:9). This is one way that Jesus is intrinsically superior to Moses (1:17). 
In defiance of Jn 1:18, and other like passages, Clark makes the impious claim that the Incarnate Son does not and cannot reveal what God is truly like. 
As I keep saying, once the triperspectivalist magicians are done, they think they have God in a headlock. That’s why it’s near impossible to argue with them, which is why I generally don’t do so.
i) To begin with, there's no evidence that Clark even understands triperspectivalism. 
ii) More to the point, I didn't use triperspectivalism in my analysis. So he's burning a straw man.