Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Godawa reviews Unbroken

Rome, authority and argumentum ad infinitum

"Genocide" in the OT

Backgrounds to the current Israeli conflict

Dispatches from the other One True Church®

The other One True Church® is having a hard time making up its mind:

I'm waiting for the Mormon hierarchy to break new ground by advocating polygamous same-sex marriage

Synoptic sources

An oft-made claim is that Matthew and Luke got much of their information from Mark. And it's certainly possible that Luke got some of his information from Mark. 

But I'd simply point out that the inference is fallacious. The fact that Matthew and Luke copy (and edit) Mark doesn't imply that Mark was their source of information.

A historian may copy a source, not become that's where he got his information, but because that's a respected source. 

Likewise, if Mark already covered many key events in the life and ministry of Christ, If Matthew and Luke agree with his reportage, then it's convenient to pick up where he left off rather than starting from scratch. If, in the nature of the case, they'd be recounting many of the same events, why not incorporate this preexisting material into their own biographies, which they proceed to supplement with additional, distinctive material?

If Mark was well-received by the NT church, why not build on that foundation? This doesn't imply that they got their information from Mark.

For instance, a Civil War historian may have multiple sources of information for the same event, yet he may only quote from one primary source to make his point. He might quote an eyewitness like Lee, Sherman, or Grant, because that's a credible source. That doesn't mean the Civil War historian is dependent on that particular source–as if that's his only source of information concerning that particular incident. 

The Synoptic Resurrection accounts

i) Because Mark, which is commonly thought to be the earliest canonical Gospel, doesn't have an account of the risen Christ, some unbelievers think the Resurrection narratives in Matthew and Luke represent a legendary embellishment of Mark. 

ii) A few scholars surmise that the original ending of Mark was lost. If so, then the original ending presumably reported the Resurrection. Of course, that theory can't be proven or disproven. 

iii) Textual criticism aside, Mark contains predictions of the Resurrection (Mk 8:31; 9:9,31; 10:34). He records the empty tomb, along with the angelic confirmation of the Resurrection, and prediction of a post-resurrection appearance in Galilee (16:4-7). Therefore, the Resurrection narratives in Matthew and Luke aren't simply tacked onto Mark, in spite of Mark. Mark itself had that expectation, as well as a terse fulfillment. 

iv) If our extant MSS of Mark did contain a Resurrection appearances (or appearances), then unbelievers would discount the Synoptical parallels in Matthew and Luke. They'd say Matthew and Luke simply copied their Resurrection narratives from Mark. They'd say Matthew and Luke simply got their information from Mark. 

As it stands, the absence of a Resurrection appearance in Mark means that Matthew and Luke provide independent, multiple-attestation. Absent a Markan precedent, that's what we're left with. They didn't get it from Mark, and they didn't get it from each other. So Matthew and Luke each had his own, separate sources of information on that score. 

v) And, of course, the Resurrection of Jesus is one of the most widely-attested events in the NT. It isn't confined to the Gospels. 

The graves were opened

52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many (Mt 27:52-53).
Many otherwise conservative (or fairly conservative) scholars are skittish when they come to this incident. 
i) This incident is anomalous in the sense that this is the only place where it's recorded. However, in terms of biblical theology, it's not anomalous. 
This is a microcosm of the resurrection of the just. That's a fundamental hope and expectation in biblical eschatology. 
ii) I don't think it's coincidental that this takes place right after the death of Christ. This is God's way of showing that the death of the Redeemer made atonement for the sins of his people. Here's some graphic evidence. Ever since Adam and Eve were banished from access to the tree of life, death has been the fate of all mankind, including God's people. Here we have a token reversal, keyed to the vicarious atonement of Christ. 
iii) The incident in Mt 27:52-53 is a foretaste and pledge for what the future holds. 
iv) Although this passage has no direct parallel in other Gospels, the raising of Lazarus is roughly analogous (Jn 11).
v) If the Bible is to be trusted, then this incident is exactly what will happen on a massive, worldwide scale when Jesus returns. 
If you happen to be walking through a cemetery at the time Jesus returns, that's what you will see. Graves will open and the dead in Christ will rise. This is a picture we need to take seriously, for this is what the resurrection of the just entails. If Christian scholars balk at that, they have failed to take to heart and think through the implications of biblical eschatology in this respect. That's how it cashes out in concrete terms. It will be a very physical, dramatic, hair-raising event.
(Some premil positions view the effects of the Parousia as multistaged rather than simultaneous. But even if it's a delayed effect, that's still the effect when it happens.)
vi) Admittedly, the object of glorification ranges along on continuum. At one end are Christians alive at the time Jesus returns. They will be instantly transformed.
At the other end are Christians whose bodies have disintegrated. God will reconstitute the unique molecular pattern of their bodies, and reunite their souls to their bodies. But where the body is intact, this is what will happen.
vii) Some readers have been conditioned by horror flicks about the zombie apocalypse to superimpose a false image on the text. But this doesn't describe rotting corpses which lumber around. To the contrary, they will be restored to life, youth, and health. Healthier than they were in the mortal prime of life.
viii) Mt 27:52-53 raises more questions than it answers, but that's a mark of historicity. If this was fiction, it would be easy for Matthew to tie up the loose ends. Fiction is tidy, reality is messy. 
ix) Some critics think it's legendary because, if it really happened, it would be a famous event. However:
a) The only people in a position to recognize that these were former decedents would be contemporary friends and relatives living in Jerusalem. And that might come down to just a handful of witnesses.
b) Jerusalem suffered two devastating attacks by the Romans, resulting in massive casualties, massive dislocation of survivors, as well as massive destruction of written records. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Gary Shogren on 1 Corinthians

Here's a popular commentary by a noted charismatic NT scholar on 1 Corinthians:

The Numbers Don't Lie

In 2010, the Southern Baptist Convention conducted a survey of 7,000 evangelicals and found that 41 percent of evangelicals had attempted suicide at some point in their life. While the CDC does not keep track of suicide attempts (largely due to the fact that it is often impossible to differentiate between an accident and an intentional suicide attempt), this is clearly the group of individuals most at risk for suicide.

“We don’t yet know whether evangelicalism attracts people with depression or other mental health issues, or if evangelicalism may in fact cause this behavior,” SBC spokesman Walter Montgomery said. “Clearly, these numbers show beyond doubt there is an underlying disorder, and society does a disservice when we look the other way.”

Many mental health advisors suggest that medication and therapy are needed to help evangelicals, but the most effective method is for evangelicals to convert to other religions. “We don’t see any of these types of numbers in Jewish, Mormon, Catholic, or even Islamic groups,” Montgomery said. “Literally any other belief system is better for the mental health of the adherent. To pretend otherwise is not only ignorant, but willfully harmful.”

Clearly, religion, but especially evangelicalism, is harmful to society.

Wait a minute. It appears I was looking at this incorrectly…

In 2010, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force conducted a survey of 7,000 transgender people and found that 41 percent of transgenders had attempted suicide at some point in their life. While the CDC does not keep track of suicide attempts (largely due to the fact that it is often impossible to differentiate between an accident and an intentional suicide attempt), this is clearly the group of individuals most at risk for suicide.

Transgenders who experienced rejection by evangelical family and friends have a higher risk of attempting suicide, the ACLU reported. Spokesman Montgomery Walters said, “Clearly, these numbers show that evangelicals do a disservice when we they not accept transgenders as they are.”

Many mental health advisors suggest that acceptance, especially of religion people, is needed for transgenders to live a normal life. “The bullying of transgenders needs to stop,” Walter said. “If we do not accept a person’s idea of their sex, then the suicides will continue. We cannot pretend that the problem is theirs to bear. And the unfortunate reality is that evangelicals are the most likely to bully transgenders.”

Clearly, religion, but especially evangelicalism, is harmful to society.

Note: the quotes above are fictional, as are the people quoted. However, the 2010 study of transgender people really was conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force with the results listed: 41 percent of the 7,000 transgender people surveyed reported they had attempted suicide. Any other group of people that had nearly half of its members attempting suicide would be considered an abnormal, unhealthy group. Thank goodness we have political correctness to save us from that here.

Taking out the trash

I'm going to make a few comments on this:
I've already left a number of comments on Mike Kruger's initial takedown (part 1). In addition, Eichenwald rehashes many stock "contradictions" which I've often dealt with elsewhere. So I'll just confine myself to a few:
To illustrate how even seemingly trivial contradictions can have profound consequences, let’s recount the story of Christmas.Jesus was born in a house in Bethlehem. His father, Joseph, had been planning to divorce Mary until he dreamed that she’d conceived a child through the Holy Spirit. No wise men showed up for the birth, and no brilliant star shone overhead. Joseph and his family then fled to Egypt, where they remained for years. Later, they returned to Israel, hoping to live in Judea, but that proved problematic, so they settled in a small town called Nazareth.Not the version you are familiar with? No angel appearing to Mary? Not born in a manger? No one saying there was no room at the inn? No gold, frankincense or myrrh? Fleeing to Egypt? First living in Nazareth when Jesus was a child, not before he was born?You may not recognize this version, but it is a story of Jesus’s birth found in the Gospels. Two Gospels—Matthew and Luke—tell the story of when Jesus was born, but in quite different ways. Contradictions abound. In creating the familiar Christmas tale, Christians took a little bit of one story, mixed it with a little bit of the other and ignored all of the contradictions in the two.
It's true that popular Christmas traditions combine Matthew and Luke. However, Eichenwald commits a very elementary blunder. The nativity accounts of Matthew and Luke only contradict each other on the assumption that they are reporting events which happened at the very same time and place. It's trivially easy to create a bogus contradiction by acting as though two accounts have the identical timeframe.
Indeed, a difference of just one day can dissolve a chronological contradiction. What can't happen in one day can happen in two days, or spread over weeks or months. 
If, moreover, you read Matthew carefully, it's clear that the Magi arrived on the scene about six months to a year after the birth of Christ. Just by spacing things out over the course of a few weeks or months, the contradictions disappear. 
We may still scratch our heads about how to coordinate these two accounts in a relative chronology, but that's because we lack the intervening details. 
Paul in 1 Corinthians is even clearer; he states, “The time is short.” He then instructs other Christians, given that the end is coming, to live as if they had no wives, and, if they buy things, to treat them as if they were not their own.
Here Eichenwald is alluding to Paul's cryptic statement in 1 Cor 7:29:
i) Paul doesn't say in reference to what the time is short. 
ii) This comes on the heels of his reference to "the present crisis"–which is probably topical. Some scholars think that alludes to famine conditions in the Roman Empire at the time.
iii) Paul uses the word kairos rather than chronos. Chronos denotes quantitative time, linear time, an interval of time. By contrast, kairos denotes qualitative time, epochal time, eschatological time. 
Because of where Christians stand in redemptive history, they should assume a Christian perspective on life. They live after the cross, after the Resurrection, but before the world to come. An in-between time. As Paul says in his follow-up letter: "We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor 4:18). 
iv) Notice that in v31, Paul doesn't say the world itself is passing away, but the world in its "present form" is passing away. Once again, that's a matter of viewing the significance of life from a Christian perspective. Our relative position in redemptive history. 
We need to distinguish between appearance and reality. Life is short. The world carries on without us. What's ultimately significant is what is taking place behind-the-scenes. Where we are headed. Where the world is headed.
In fact, the Bible has three creation models, and some experts maintain there are four. In addition to the two in Genesis, there is one referenced in the Books of Isaiah, Psalms and Job. In this version, the world is created in the aftermath of a great battle between God and what theologians say is a dragon in the waters called Rahab. And Rahab is not the only mythical creature that either coexisted with God or was created by him. God plays with a sea monster named Leviathan. 
That's deeply confused:
i) In Isaiah and the Psalms, it's using new creation imagery as a metaphor for the Exodus. Using chaos monsters as a political metaphor for Egypt. These are not alternative creation accounts. Rather, these have reference to the history of the Exodus. 
Likewise, Job 41 is not an alternative creation account. Leviathan is a creature. God made him. That's the point. Leviathan is not a preexistent, rival power who coexisted with God before God made the present world.  
ii) We also need to differentiate the speakers in Job. When God speaks, that's ipso facto normative in a way that statements by the human characters are not. 
Unicorns appear in the King James Bible (although that wasn’t the correct translation of the mythical creature’s Hebrew name).
Notice what he asserts in the first clause he retracts in the parenthetical. 
There are fiery serpents and flying serpents and cockatrices—a two-legged dragon with a rooster’s head (that word was later changed to “viper” in some English-language Bibles).
i) To begin with, he offers no evidence to justify his identification.
ii) More to the point, this is poetry. Figurative imagery. A political allegory. 
And in Exodus, magicians who work for the Pharaoh of Egypt are able to change staffs into snakes and water into blood.  
Yes, witchcraft is real. 

Attesting the virgin birth

Unbelievers sometimes say they reject the virgin birth because it's only attested in two Gospels. 

i) Since unbelievers typically reject miracles a priori–since, indeed, unbelievers regard an account containing miracles as automatically discrediting the historical reliability of the account–this objection is duplicitous.

ii) We wouldn't expect the virgin birth to be attested outside the Gospels. The NT letters aren't histories or biographies. They contain only occasional references to the life of Christ. Same thing with Revelation. Acts is a history of the establishment of the NT church. 

iii) Because John's Gospel is generally considered to be the latest Gospel and the most theologically "advanced," unbelievers regard it as the least historical. If, therefore, it reported the virgin birth, they'd discount that in the same way they discount John's high Christology, the miracles of Christ in his Gospel, as well as the speeches and dialogues of Christ in his Gospel.

Indeed, Andrew Lincoln, who's penned a critique of the virgin birth, also penned a commentary on John's Gospel, and he doesn't put much stock in the historicity of John's Gospel. So, for critics like him, it wouldn't matter if John recorded the virgin birth.

iv) Finally, if all three Synoptic gospels attested the virgin birth, unbelievers would regard that as even less impressive than if only Matthew and Luke attest the virgin birth.

Assuming Markan priority, if all three Synoptic Gospels attested the virgin birth, unbelievers would discount the testimony of Matthew and Luke because they'd say Matthew and Luke simply copied that from Mark. Rather than multiple-attestation, they'd say that boils down to just one Gospel. 

Conversely, since Mark doesn't record the virgin birth, that means the witness of Matthew and Luke does constitute independent corroboration. Since, in this case, Mark is not the lynchpin connecting Matthew and Luke (vis-à-vis the virgin birth), they didn't get that information from Mark, or from each other. 

So we have two Gospel authors, writing independently of each other, bearing historical witness to the virgin birth.

Kruger on Newsweek hit-piece

Patristic exegesis

Monday, December 29, 2014


Taking the Lord's name in vain

The issue of the 3rd commandment cropped up on David Wood's Facebook wall. Wood recommend the new movie Unbroken.
A commenter asked if characters in the film took the Lord's name in vain. He said he'd walk out on a movie where that happened. 
This raises several issues. What does the 3rd commandment actually prohibit?
i) One popular interpretation considers this a taboo against using "God," "Christ," or "Jesus" as an expletive, or using the Lord's name flippantly (e.g. "OMG). 
No doubt that's a misuse of God's name. An irreverent use of God's name. 
However, it trivializes the prohibition to think that's the only thing or primary thing it forbids. 
ii) Even if the 3rd commandment is a prohibition against profanity, it would be a prohibition against speaking profanity, not hearing profanity. 
iii) Another traditional interpretation, both in Jewish circles and Reformed circles, is to construe it as a prohibition against breaking a religious oath. There are, however, two possible problems with that interpretation:
a) We already have a prohibition against perjury in the 9th commandment. If the 3rd commandment is similar, that's redundant. Likewise, why would two related prohibitions be separated by several other prohibitions? Why not combine them? 
b) Coming in the heels of the first two commands, which concern with false worship, it would be logical if the 3rd commandment is conceptually related to false worship.
iv) Apropos (iii-b), the prohibition may well have specific reference to the occultic use of God's name. In the ancient world it was customary to invoke the name of a deity in witchcraft and divination, as a way of summoning the deity's power and authority. 
That's not an interpretation which occurs to most modern western readers, because that's not a feature of our common experience. However, in parts of Africa and Brazil (to name two examples), where black magic is prevalent, that's very much a live issue.
Apropos (iv), the incident in Acts 19:13 is a good illustration of what the 3rd commandment prohibits: 
Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims” (Acts 19:13).
There a Jewish exorcist invokes the name of Jesus to conjure his authority. That's a misuse of the name, because the exorcist is not a Christian. 

A neglected prooftext for the deity of Christ

Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims” (Acts 19:13).
There are many stock prooftexts for the deity of Christ. However, here's a neglected prooftext. 
In the ancient world it was commonplace to invoke the name of a deity in oaths, incantations, imprecations, and so forth. 
This passage follows that pattern. What's interesting is that it hails from a hostile source. This appropriation assumes that Jesus was reputedly a divine figure even in Jewish circles, so that invoking his name would summon his power and authority to expel demons. 
At one level it's clearly inconsistent or syncretistic for a Jewish exorcist to use the name of Jesus this fashion. But by the same token, it bears witness, from a hostile source, to Christ's reputation as a divine figure.

Gregg Allison on Roman Catholicism: Front Matter

I’m walking through various parts of Gregg Allison’s work on Roman Catholicism, “Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment”. I’d like to take a look at the “front matter”.

What I’m calling the “front matter” encompasses what Allison calls the “Preface” (pgs 17-20) and the “Introduction” (pgs 23-30). It seems to me as if this work may have been rushed a bit, and that with a little bit of effort these could have been combined into one unit.

In the Preface, Allison is careful to thank a number of Roman Catholic contributors for “personal counsel, guidance, inspiration, suggestions, editorial help, corrections, and the like:

Specific contributions from Catholics came from Father James Keleher, my professor for “The Documents of Vatican II” course at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary; Don Pio Iorg, with whom I worked in Lugano, Switzerland; Father Slider Steurnol, who contributed to my Catholic theology classes at Western Seminary; and various priests, monks, and deacons who have contributed to my Catholic theology classes at Southern Seminary.

The semantics of "torture"

Here's a follow-up to an earlier post. I'm struck by how many critics of "torture," including some Christians, think they can win the argument by definition. 
i) There's nothing wrong with defining your terms. Indeed, some opponents of "torture" never define what they mean. 
ii) At the same time, we need to avoid the danger of tendentious definitions. Take Hume's definition of miracles. Or the claim that, "by definition," the scientific method must be atheistic. Or the claim that, "by definition," faith is belief without evidence. 
iii) Apropos (ii), definitions are typically descriptive, not prescriptive or proscriptive. They simply give the meaning of a word, based on popular or specialized usage. Definitions don't typically determine what ought to be the case. 
iv) The problem with asserting that some interrogative technique is immoral "by definition" is that your claim is purely semantic. The ethics of "torture" or coercive interrogation is a normative question, not a semantic question. 
Here's the fallacy:

a) Exploiting a terrorist's nyctophobia is torture

b) Electroshocking a terrorist is torture

c) Ergo, (a) is morally equivalent to (b)

But that's a semantic ruse. In reality, the two actions are hardly interchangeable. You may choose to condemn both, but if so, don't pretend that by subsuming them under a common definition you have made them equivalent actions. You may say they mean the same thing because you say both are cases of "torture," but that's a verbal gimmick. A horse and a dog are both quadrupeds, but that doesn't make a horse a dog. And that doesn't mean what's appropriate for a horse is appropriate for a dog. 
v) Another example of winning by definition is when opponents of "torture" say it's immoral because it violates human "dignity." Once again, this reduces a moral issue to a semantic debate. It detours us into a disquisition on what constitutes human dignity. 
vi) Incidentally, I notice that's how Catholic ethicists frame the issue. However, evangelicals shouldn't rubberstamp a Catholic framework, as if that's a given.
"Personal integrity" is another category that's used to leverage the answer. 
vi) Apropos (iv), you can't begin with a definition as a normative claim. Although it may be useful for you to define your terms at the outset, you're not entitled to preemptively classify a particular method as "torture." You need to take the preliminary step of justifying your classification. 
vii) Apropos (vi), since "torture" has invidious connotations, many proponents of coercive interrogation will reject your circular usage inasmuch as they don't think the techniques in question are invidious in this particular context. In other words, if you use "torture" as synonymous with something abhorrent, the opposing side will automatically reject your prejudicial definition.  
ix) If you're going to mount an intellectually serious argument against torture or coercive interrogation, you should discuss various techniques on a case-by-case basis. If you think waterboarding a high-value terrorist is immoral, give specific reasons for why that specific method is wrong. Don't take intellectual shortcuts. That's only persuasive for people who already agree with you. 
I don't necessarily object to saying that some things are wrong "by definition" (although I don't think that's the best way of putting it). Rather, I object to disputants who shirk their burden of proof. If they have already made an effort to establish their presuppositions, then they can reenter the discussion at a later stage in the argument. But they need to have the earlier stage of the argument to back up their starting point. 
x) And, of course, there are other considerations. For instance, does the moral status of a terrorist affect the treatment he's entitled to receive? 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Newsweek’s Tirade against the Bible

"The Human Faces of God"

Prima facie rights

Critics of "torture" routinely complain that the popular warrant for "torture" is ends-justify-the-means reasoning. And they consider that morally indefensible. 
One problem with their complaint is that, on the face of it, some ends do justify some means. That's not equivalent to saying any end justifies any means. Critics of "torture" are very slopping in that regard. 
But now I'd like to make a different point. 
(2) the terrorist has forfeited his right to life and his dignity by his own evil actions; and (3) the innocent lives that can be saved are of higher value than any moral claims by the terrorist who has committed atrocities. 
While forgiveness and mercy are a matter for individuals, it is the role of the government to protect and punish. When it comes to protection, innocent lives that can be saved are of higher value than any moral claims by the terrorist who has and will commit atrocities. Guilt and innocence matters. If government officials have a known terrorist in custody, and it is certain that he has information needed to save lives, it is morally justified for them to use interrogative torture to get the information necessary to protect innocent life.
i) Notice that McAllister isn't using an end-justifies-the means argument here. Rather, she's distinguishing between lesser and greater values. In addition, she's distinguishing between prima facie rights and the forfeiture of prima facie rights. That's not equivalent to, or reducible to, an end-justifies-the means argument. Critics of "torture" will have to use attempt a different objection.
ii) It would be more accurate to speak of coercive interrogation rather than torture. Torture and coercion are not equivalent. "Torture" has connotations that have no relevance to interrogation. 

Atheism, oblivion, and torture

From a secular perspective, killing a terrorist is worse for the terrorist than temporarily torturing him to extract information. If you kill him, he ceases to exist. If you temporarily torture him, he recovers. He suffers far less harm from temporary torture than death–which is permanent and total harm.  Yet secularists don't generally think it's ipso facto wrong to kill a person.

War is hell

Paul Helm raise this potential objection to "torture":
But we might wonder even more at an army who will train some of its soldiers in the slow and intentional infliction of frightening pain on the enemy, to wrest information from them. What psychological scars will using this procedure as a routine leave on them, as well as on their victims? 
Fisher emphasises the morally corrosive consequences of training people to be effective torturers:
Torture adversely affects the character of those involved in the process; both the torturers and the tortured. We are, therefore, rightly concerned over the sort of people that the public officials, whom we appoint to conduct special interrogations on our behalf, may become through their practice of torture. Virtues are crucial to our moral lives. We want our public servants to be men and women of virtue. Yet we need our special interrogators to be – professionally – men or women of vice. If they are to excel in their profession, they will need to learn to become in the exercise of their official duties, at best, indifferent to the pain of those whom they are interrogating and, at worst, adept in the vice of cruelty.[22]
Several issues:
i) If we're dealing with a terrorist, then I really don't care about the psychological scars he will suffer.
ii) This also depends on the definition of "torture." What about painless techniques like sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, or exploiting phobias?
iii) Finally, this argument proves too much. Suppose coercive interrogation has a hardening effect on the interrogator. Suppose that makes him morally or emotionally callous to some degree. No doubt that's bad for the interrogator.
But unless you're a pacifist, that's equally true for soldiers in combat. Take the infantry. Take soldiers who shoot people, toss grenades, then see the mangled bodies. After a while, they become desensitized. 
Same thing with field medics. Patching up maimed soldiers week after week and month after month has a numbing effect. 
Warfare can be psychologically damaging to soldiers. But if you believe in the right of self-defense, then that's a necessary evil. Likewise, law enforcement can make policemen very cynical. Does that mean we should disband the police? 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

An Arminian Dilemma

Steve Hays recently pointed to a statement from Roger Olson which said:
The original plan (to speak mythically) did not include the cross, but it became part of the plan when humanity rebelled (emphasis original).
More fully, in the paragraph Steve quoted, Olson says that he believes that the incarnation would have happened no matter what, but that it “became a rescue mission (emphasis original)” due to man’s fall into sin. Indeed, Olson speaks elsewhere in the post of Christ’s incarnation as “not merely a ‘Plan B’”—wording which indicates that it is still at least a Plan B, (for one cannot “merely” be something without being that something.)

When I commented on Steve’s post, I pointed out that this type of thinking demonstrates to me that someone who believes in this manner must jettison the immutability of God at some point. Olson seems to be fine with that, saying: “It is sad that so many Christians…prefer instead a philosophical idea of God as glorious according to human conceptions of glory—immutable, impassible, apathetic, self-enclosed, infinite (in the sense of incapable of limitations).”

Olson already should not be seriously quoted by any Arminian in the first place as he is essentially already an Open Theist. Nevertheless, certain Arminian organizations still hold him in high esteem. The viewpoint of God having a Plan B is also relatively common among Arminians I’ve met, but it holds quite a dilemma for a consistent-minded person.

First, it requires God to change. This is what is meant by mutability. An immutable God is an unchanging God (Malachi 3:6a, ESV— “For I the LORD do not change”) . One who is the same from day to day (Hebrews 13:8, ESV – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”). One who does not vary: “James 1:17b, ESV – “…with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”). Clearly, to deny the immutability of God, you must deny many Scriptural passages (a problem Olson doesn’t mind, since he denies the inerrancy of Scripture in the first place—again I ask why any Arminian still quotes this guy).

But if God had to come up with a Plan B, then the Arminian is faced with a problem. Either God had to change and invent a new Plan B, or God knew Plan A would fail all along. The problem with the first prong stretches beyond just the immutability of God, but also runs straight into the omniscience of God. How would it be possible for God not to know Plan A would fail if God is omniscient? Indeed, if God did not know if Plan A would work or not, then He had to learn that information. It would mean that when God implemented Plan A, He didn’t know what would happen, putting God on equal footing with man.

I believe that this question here could very well be the distinction between Arminians and Open Theists, because Open Theists will just acknowledge, “Yeah, God learned something. He doesn’t know everything.” But Arminians do not want to jettison Omniscience and Immutability, and therefore will conclude that God knew that Plan A would fail all along.

But here’s the question. If I know that a plan isn’t going to work, but I do it anyway, what does that say about my intelligence? Let me give a concrete example to play with. I work an IT Help Desk job during the day. If someone called up and said that they can’t connect to the internet, I know that telling them to turn off all the power in their house will not fix the solution. It would be foolish for me to offer that as a suggestion. Instead, I offer suggestions about things that might be causing the problem. “Have you tried resetting your router? Can you connect with a different browser than your default browser? Are you getting malicious popup advertisements that might indicate a virus?” Etc. Now, to be sure I do rank those in order of which is most likely to be occurring with a given customer, and if the first suggestion fails I move on to the next one. Thus, I do engage in Plan B behavior. But that’s sort of the whole point. Since I’m not omniscience and I don’t know what the problem is until I’ve investigated it, then I’m forced to offer Plan A, Plan B, all the way up to, “Buy a Mac so you can call me back and hear me say, ‘I’m sorry, we only support PCs here.’”

But if we are insisting that God knew that Plan A—testing Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden—was going to fail, requiring Him to move to Plan B, and God did what He knew would fail anyway, then that doesn’t speak much for the intelligence of God. In point of fact, we have to realize that if God knew that Plan A would fail, the only rational option left is to conclude that what we are calling Plan B was God’s Plan A all along.

Returning to the Help Desk analogy: if I’m working with someone who is completely unknowledgeable about computers and I know that rebooting his computer will fix the issue, having him turn off all the power to his house may not be so crazy after all. Instead, the point of turning off the power is so that the actual plan—Plan B—is put into effect. The computer powers down and must be restarted.

Granted, that example is extremely forced, but it should make the logical structure obvious. If God knew that Plan A couldn’t help but fail, then Plan B was His genuine Plan A all along. The only reason Plan A would be put into effect is so that Plan B happens. Thus, Plan A failing is the first step of Plan B. Plan B is the genuine plan and Plan A is the mere prelude. But if that is the case, then we can jettison the whole language of Plan B, because it just simply is the only plan that exists.

So it seems to me that Arminians are stuck in an uncomfortable position here. Either they must side with the Open Theists in believing that God is not omniscient or immutable, or they must side with the Calvinists in agreeing that God planned the fall of man in some sense so that He would redeem mankind. The only other option is to say God does things He knows must fail in the hope that it would succeed anyway, which seems to me to be pretty close to a certain definition of insanity that’s thrown around….

Fruitless or fruitful?

In one respect, debates over ecclesiology and church polity are all-important, but in another respect, pretty unimportant. Is that contradictory? No. It depends on the frame of reference. In comparing Roman Catholicism (and to a great extent Eastern Orthodoxy) to Protestant polity, the issue is all-important. That's because the Roman polity is a rule of faith in itself. Rome requires an authoritarian church to underwrite dogmas and duties that have no basis in revelation. Indeed, dogmas and duties which often contradict and contradict revelation. 
But when it comes to comparing Lutheran, Anglican, Baptist, or Presbyterian polity (to take a few examples), there's nothing much at stake. At that level, what matters is not what your church polity is, but what your church polity does. What does it have to show for itself? Not polity in theory, but polity in practice. Is it fruitless or fruitful? That's really all that counts. 
11:30 AM I see that yet another book on New Testament ecclesiology is about to be published. I'm all for that. Every tradition of the church needs to be tested by every new generation of Christians. Does this mean that your church, or mine, can go back to the beginning and start all over again, ab initio? Hardly. Truth always comes to us in vessels of clay. That's why, regardless of what our convictions are on "how to do church the right way" (and I have some very strong convictions, as you know), the structures themselves will always be relative. Some will scrap the institutional church completely. (I did this back in the 60s when I was part of the Jesus Movement.) Others will seek renewal within their churches. (This is my current stance on the matter.) But the tabula rasa approach is, in my view, utterly unrealistic. Christians can never build a new church from scratch, no matter how hard they try and regardless of how many times they assert that they are following "the" New Testament pattern. Right structure does not always result in proper functioning. "Simple" churches can easily turn inward, relativizing the importance of the Great Commission. Worse, they can become lifted up with pride, belittling the institutionality of the church. I'm reminded of the old German saw, "Operation glänzend gelungen. Patient leider tot." There is no reason why churches of the Reformation should not be open to the possibility of rethinking the wineskins that Jesus talked about so much. My own local church has made tremendous strides in recent years to adopt what we consider to be a more biblical form of church structure and practice. But that's not the real issue. By their fruits we will know whether a congregation is practicing the Gospel. The crisis in world missions today is not due to faulty structures alone. Rather, what lies at the root of the trouble is confusion about our priorities. 
The Lord has much to say to us today. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches" (Rev. 2:7). Does my heart respond, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening"? Does your heart respond like that? We Christians ought to be setting the world on fire. Alas, it's so easy to go from fire to frost, and one of the easiest ways to do this is to pat ourselves on the back over our ecclesiology.
[Tuesday, November 25]

Submit yourselves to God

11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve (2 Tim 2:12-13).
A few preliminaries before I get to the main point:
i) It's not my intention to exegete this text. But I'll make the following thumbnail observations. I suspect the background for this is a house-church setting where wealthy women opened their doors to host Christian gatherings. In the NT, we see some examples of affluent women who patronized the church. In itself, that's a good thing.
However, it carries the potential for abuse. Since it takes place under her roof, there's a sense in which she's in charge. Likewise, upperclass women outranked many male Christians on the social ladder. Whenever one person has power over another or others, there's the temptation to abuse their power. To throw their weight around. 
ii) Nowadays, many women rankle at this text. And you have some husbands who abuse their authority. You also have situations where irresponsible husbands can put the wife in an untenable situation. 1 Sam 25 is a case in point. So there can be some understandable resentment.
iii) That said, there's a sense in which we've come full circle. Just as some men abuse their authority, some women abuse their authority. In our own culture, you have men who find themeslves on the receiving end. For instance, in the current education system, you have female teachers or professors who discriminate against male students. Likewise, you have gov't officials (e.g. Kathleen Sebelius, Justice Sotomayor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mayor Annise Parker) who abuse their authority. Just as there are women who suffer injustice at the hands of men, there are men who suffer injustice at the hands of women. 
iv) Getting to my main point, submission is a universal principle. By that I don't mean mutual submission in the faux egalitarian sense. Rather, I mean that even–or especially–in the case of male headship, men must be submissive to the will of God. There are Christian men who've had to endure hard providences. Christian men who've had to persevere in the face of a crushing loss or setback. Yet they soldier on as best they can. That's a submissive attitude. This isn't just a feminine virtue, but a masculine virtue. Not just a feminine duty, but a masculine duty. For instance:
Samuel Rutherford
His wife, Euphame, died in 1630 after suffering intensely for thirteen months. With the exception of one daughter, all the children she and Rutherford had died at an early age. Rutherford himself fell seriously ill with a high fever about this time. Then, in 1635, Rutherford’s mother, who had come to live with them, also died. 
In 1640, Rutherford married Jean M‘Math, described as “a woman of great worth and piety.” He had one daughter, Agnes, from his previous marriage, and six more from the second marriage, all of whom died before Rutherford. Two of them died as infants before Rutherford left to attend the Westminster Assembly. Two more died while he and his wife were in London.
Robert Lewis Dabney
Dabney was to eventually have six children - all boys. In 1855 tragedy struck his household. In November - his second son died of diphtheria in his arms. It is a terrible disease of the throat - where your throat slowly swells to where you can't talk - then swells more to your can't breathe. Dr. Dabney held his small boy in his arms and helplessly watched him die of suffocation. The next month his oldest son Bobby died of the same disease. He had lost two out of - at that time - three of his children within a few weeks. 
In the late 1880's, Dr. Dabney developed an astigmatism and eventually glaucoma. Surgery at Baltimore in 1886 proved unsuccessful. From 1886 to 1889 his sight became dimmer and dimmer until the light went out absolutely. 
He did not give up on life. He employed a private secretary to write at his dictation and to read for him that he might continue his studies.
Win Corduan
Thanks for beginning with this personal question; I just hope that readers will not be put off by my answer and that they will continue to the next item. To be perfectly honest, life has been challenging. If I hadn’t been experiencing the limitations associated with my condition (Parkinson’s disease), I wouldn’t have needed to retire on disability. So, I have had to learn to attempt to live with much greater restrictions on how much energy I have and what I can produce than I had expected. Furthermore, continuing to speak with embarrassing honesty, our financial situation has been disastrous. I will spare you any further details, except to say that, when you go on disability due to a health condition, and you lose all forms of health insurance, and your income is reduced to about 50% of what it was previously, life gets a bit uncomfortable. I’m not totally sure why I’m telling you all of this, but these last two years have been nothing like what I had hoped for. I had thought in terms of settling in, spending my days basically devoted to studying and writing, enjoying the ideal life of the Christian scholar, but it’s been anything but that. Nevertheless, the Lord is bearing us through this time; June and I are rejoicing daily in the love and relationship he has given to us; and there is a certain amount of light on the horizon. It takes two and a half years on disability to become eligible for Medicare, and that is supposed to set in this coming January, which will hopefully ease the financial burden. In the meantime, I have been plodding on with various writing and research projects; I have had the chance to fill in  a couple of small slots at Taylor; I am determined to keep my blog going; and recently spending a week at Veritas Evangelical Seminary, teaching a module on world religions, has been a real shot in the arm.
David Alan Black
For 37 years God broke me on the wheel of another's love. She was my hermitage, my dwelling place, and I was her hermit. Her body led through a glorious forest and her heart shot arrows into my own. Two rocking chairs on a porch, a voice on the other end of the phone, laughter squealing around the door from the kitchen. Just to touch her face was more powerful than life itself, and in her arms I could safely die. 
My love, all my searching found its end in you. Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, I had no one like you. You were the best, the cream of the crop. That I knew you intimately still makes me feel thunderstruck. But all this joy, all this light, was nothing more than looking through a glass darkly. Something more breathtaking awaited us when we said our "I dos" those many years ago. "Today you will be with Me in Paradise" has taken on new meaning for you -- and for me. I can tell you, it's mighty painful, but I would not have you back for the world. He gives. Hallelujah! He takes away. Hallelujah! His Name is blessed forever. Hallelujah! And so it will remain for all of eternity. Hallelujah! 
But I miss you no less because of it.
8:45 AM It was late last night and I was reading in bed when I suddenly felt overwhelmed, felt something rising deep within me and clawing its way to the surface, loud and painful. Once again God was challenging me, offering me another opportunity to trust Him viscerally. My mind went to the passage in Philippians we had studied this week in my Greek 3 class, the passage about a man named Epaphroditus. He had ministered to Paul in prison, had gotten desperately ill, but God had healed him miraculously, thus sparing Paul "sorrow upon sorrow." All I can tell you is that, had Epaphroditus died, Paul would have been overwhelmed with grief, wave after wave of sorrow assaulting him mercilessly. 
Well, God in His love and sovereignty allowed Becky to become desperately ill. For four and a half years we battled cancer together. But unlike Epaphroditus, her illness was unto death. It's common for a major loss in life to trigger the memory of previous losses, and if those losses weren't grieved over, the pain begins to pile up, it accumulates and is added to your current pain. The result is often emotional trauma. Paul's honesty in Philippians is refreshing. "God had mercy on him, and not only on him, but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow." This verse is the counterpoint to all the verses in Philippians that speak about joy. To rejoice in the Lord does not mean that you deny the reality of your loss. When a person loses someone precious to them, you needn't admonish them, "Don't be sorrowful. Death is nothing but the entrance into eternal life, into the very presence of Jesus. We are to be content even when someone precious to us dies." At some point during the process of recovery, you will hear those words from well-meaning friends. What they fail to realize is that when someone close to you dies, part of you also dies. You grieve not only for them but also for yourself. You are forever "without" that other person. You feel frustrated, hurt, helpless, and afraid. Sometimes you may even become angry or depressed. Neither emotion represents a lack of faith. They are simply responses to loss. Grief is that 30-feet wave I surfed at the Banzai Pipeline when I was a teenager. It moved over me and broke against me and there was nothing in the world I could do about it except yield to its force and let it carry me to a new place until it ran out of energy. 
Last night, as I sat in my bed, overcome with emotion, I asked myself, What caused this sudden sorrow? What triggered it? And then it became clear to me. I had been checking the national weather map on my iPad, moving from the East Coast to the West Coast, and as I moved into the deserts of Arizona my mind blew a gasket. Before me, staring at me unforgivably on the map, were the places Becky and I had vacationed with our family while we were living in California. Memories began to race through my mind -- Bryce, Zion, the Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater, Winslow, Canyon de Chelly. I suddenly felt empty, depressed, sad, withdrawn. I felt like Lee at Chancellorsville: outmanned, outgunned, outsupplied. For a brief moment I forgot that I was not alone, that Jesus Himself, the Man of Sorrows, the one who was "acquainted with grief," was sitting right next to me, holding my hand, understanding my loss, weeping and mourning with me like He did at the tomb of Lazarus, not trying to rush me through the sadness but letting it accomplish its perfect work, teaching me how to embrace my grief, and the steps to recovery. Raw and fragile, I receded into self pity. 
And then it happened. I heard the ring on my iPad telling me an email had just arrived. This is what I read:
Dear Dave, 
Just wanted you to know that I am especially praying for you this week.  I have followed your blogs about Becky now for a year and have appreciated them so much.  I don’t pretend to understand your journey but I have been going on one of my own since my dad died a year ago Oct 31.  I know it doesn’t come close to the pain of losing a spouse but he was still my dad for 58 years and I have terribly missed his voice and words of encouragement.  Your willingness to openly blog your pain and your healing process has helped me through mine this past year and I am truly grateful to God  and to you for that. May the Lord comfort and encourage you through His Holy Spirit’s ministry over the coming days. 
Love in Him,
Your brother in Christ.
The sky suddenly lightened. The wind subsided. The dust settled. The wave released me. God, who had seemed so distance, now felt so close that I thought I could touch Him. Tell me it isn't so, I said to myself. How did this friend of mine, who lives 7,000 miles away on another continent, know that he needed to send me that email at that precise moment in time? This is not normal. It is inexplicable -- unless you believe in a God who sees your vulnerability, sees that something has been ripped away from you, and yet still loves and cares for you. It's as if He was saying to me, "Dave, your grief is okay. It is a statement that you loved someone very much." 
And what of this morning? The disruption, the confusion, the sorrow is still with me to a degree. I learned long ago that I can't just hang up my pain like I hang up my shirt in my closet at the end of a work day. Grief is my constant companion, though sometimes it is more blatant, more in-your-face than at other times. Often, when I least expect it, the grief returns, sometimes like the crashing wave at Pipeline, sometimes like the oozing lava that is bearing down upon Pahoa on the Big Island today. I know that some of you feel the way I do about Becky's loss. You share with me my pain, my grief. I have spoken with many of you. You have your own pain, too, some of you do. You lost a child or a parent this past year. There was a miscarriage or a stillbirth. That infant, though dead, still fills the bleachers of your mind. Loss is not natural, normal, predictable. I want you to know that I grieve for you too. Enter fully into your sorrow. Weep like I did last night. Go ahead and feel the pain of your loneliness (even though you are never really alone). Something absolutely life-changing has occurred in your life. Face it head-on, learn from it, let it do its work. Expect your feelings to intensify in the months ahead. And when deep within you those memories trigger the sights, sounds, and even smells of the past, when your pain overrides your ability to pray even, when all you can do is sit there and mutter over and over again, as I did last night, "Dear God, Lord Jesus," remember that Christianity embraces both real tears and real hope.
"Two are better than one," wrote Solomon, "because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up." For 37 years Becky lifted me up when I fell. And now that is no more. This is an excruciating truth. There is something bitter and painful about it, yet also something peaceful and acquiescent. This truth must be grasped, must be embraced as passionately as when Becky and I first put our mouths and bodies together. There is no escaping the grief and the sense of utter loss and abandonment. Like the brown leaves I see outside on this fall day, marriage is a temporary pleasure, something that is soon swept away. There was once a woman in bed right beside me. She was more beautiful to me than life itself. "Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." She was mine to have and to hold, till death do us part. And yet she was never truly mine. She was His. That is a comforting thought. As a result, my grief has begun to subside. Hope is replacing despair. I'm learning to rest in the knowledge that I will see her again someday, enjoy her radiant smile, and together we will breathe the air of pure grace. By the mercy of God in Jesus Christ, her death will be transformed into a victory song, and we will bow at His feet in humble adoration, just as we did when we took our vows those many years ago -- this time as brother and sister, caught up in the wonder of our God. 
This Saturday will be a star in a dark night, a reminder that dawn is coming, a harbinger that "rejoicing comes in the morning" (Ps. 30:5). As we gather one last time to honor Becky's memory, I will tell her again that I love her, that I miss her, that she will never be forgotten. I will cry buckets of tears. I will say goodbye for the billionth time. And I will thank God for my Florence Nightingale. I will thank Him for His kindness in entrusting her to me and, now that she is gone, for His grace in holding me close and filling my emptiness. 
And then life will return to taking one step, and then another ....

Like anyone who suffers from loss, I feel a need to redeem the experience, to leverage the loss for something good, to use it to bless others. 
In 37 years of marriage, we grew more and more like each other. Now if that isn't scary! Even today I find myself saying things that Becky would have said or counseling my daughters in words that Becky would have uttered. Marriage evens out our differences and draws us into an odd, otherworldly kind of togetherness where you really do become "one." This is an overwhelming reality that I've had to come to grips with since Becky's passing. No, I am no longer married to Becky. But I live as though I am, in many ways...I still wear my wedding ring. It is this unrelenting personalness of marriage that one cannot escape. Just as marriage gives face to unspeakable joy, so it also gives face to unbelievable suffering. Not only does marriage fail to mitigate the struggles of life, it exacerbates them. And just because your spouse is no longer living doesn't mean that you have stopped being delimited and informed by that other person. Marriage always involves a drastic course of action, not least when one of the spouses dies. It cannot succeed without a compete and utter attitude of acceptance. Death is the fate of all of us, and should your spouse die before you do, you dare not harden your heart or let your love grow cold. There are still many others who depend on your loving faithfulness, your constancy, your selflessness, your support, and your resources.
As I ate my dinner today, alone, I kept thinking about all the dinners Becky and I ate together at my table, this same piece of furniture, and I knew we would grow old and gray together and sit on the front porch and talk about all the things happening in the lives of our grandkids and thinking about all the adventures we still had left in life. Those days are no more, but I am not depressed. I have a roof over my head. I have food to eat. I have a family who spends time with me. That's more than Saeed can say as he wastes away in a prison in Iran.

Gregg Allison on Roman Catholicism: Introduction

I’m a big fan of Gregg Allison. Two of his works, “Historical Theology”, which topically explores all the major doctrines of Christianity from a historical perspective, and “Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church”, are among my favorites.

So I was delighted to see that he was coming out with this over-arching work on Roman Catholicism, “Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment”. This work does not disappoint.

I have to say, from a personal perspective, I’ve not looked forward to a book, nor enjoyed reading one, so much as I’ve enjoyed this one. There are a lot of works on Roman Catholicism, and many of them are bad, or incomplete. As Leonard De Chirico has pointed out, they fail to look at Roman Catholicism from a “systematic” perspective.

That’s De Chirico’s message in his 2003 work, “Evangelical Theological Perspectives on post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism”. Essentially a minor revision of his doctoral dissertation, De Chirico focuses on his one core lament:

The Evangelical perspectives on post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism share a vivid concern for historical developments and doctrinal themes related to Roman Catholicism itself, but broadly speaking, must be judged to be deficient in theological insight, especially as far as the recognition of the systemic nature of Roman Catholicism and the theological core of the problem between Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism are concerned (De Chirico, 303).

That is, among the different Protestant writers who look at Roman Catholicism (especially in its post-Vatican II iteration), virtually all of them look at it “atomistically” – focusing on one aspect or another – or many of them – but they fail to look at its “core”.

What does this mean? Some authors look at Roman Catholicism from the perspective of its system of justification (having rejected and anathematized the Gospel at Trent). Yes, they’ve done that, but what’s the purpose of it? Where did Rome’s doctrine come from? What caused the difference?

Others look at the system of the papacy, or the sacerdotal priesthood, or transubstantiation, or devotion to Mary and the saints, or transubstantiation, or penance. All of these things are aberrations from New Testament and patristic Christianity. But what caused these aberrations? Where do they come from? Is there one grand theme or idea holding them all together?

De Chirico says, “yes”. In fact, he searches out and identifies what he calls Rome’s two “core doctrines” (very closely related, however), and almost without exception, Reformed and evangelical writers since Trent, and especially since Vatican II, have missed them.

Allison’s work picks up where De Chirico’s work leaves off, and while he does not do a perfect job of it, much of what follows then is Allison’s [quite substantial] attempt to remedy this deficiency.

In a way, Allison’s work is the flip-side of De Chirico’s work, the “other side of the coin” which completes what was lacking, and “filling in the blanks” for De Chirico’s lament. Here’s how I’d break them out:

De Chirico’s work essentially breaks out into three parts:

1. Discuss the problems defining “Evangelical Theology” (since about 1960).
2. Review the “Evangelical responses” to Vatican II and conclude that they don’t show the “core” of Roman Catholicism.
3. Identify the two-fold “core” of Roman Catholicism and suggest how a comprehensive Evangelical treatment might proceed.

Allison begins with those items in mind, and elaborates:

1. He presents an “Evangelical Theology” (which he largely identifies with his own Reformed Baptist beliefs).
2. He discusses the two-fold “core” of Post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism in some detail
3. He then works through the first ¾ of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” in light of his discussion of #2 (in his own list).

This is why De Chirico seems to love this book.

Over the next couple of days and weeks, I’m going to provide an occasional series looking at different aspects of the work. I wouldn’t call this a “review” in the technical sense, because I intend to bounce around and show different aspects of it.

Stay tuned.

NT ethics and war

Friday, December 26, 2014

Tickle apologists


Hacktivists have leaked John Yoo's Tickle Memos. These memos document shocking new incidents of CIA interrogators torturing high-value terrorists. 

In one case, interrogators strapped Faisal Shahzad to a table and tickled his bare feet with a feather-duster until he disclosed a plot to bomb Times Square.

In another case, interrogators discovered that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had a fear of clowns. A CIA interrogator then dressed up as a clown, causing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to lose bladder control and divulge pending plots. 

Christian spokesmen immediately denounced these brassknuckle tactics. 

Brian Zahnd said "You cannot be Christian and support tickling. I want to be utterly explicit on this point. There is no possibility of compromise. The support of tickling is off the table for a Christian. Tickling is demonic and it leads to hell. These evangelicals have reached a crisis of decision."
Steven Wedgeworth said: "Tickling is an offense against the image of God. Donning a clown outfit debases and degrades the clownish interrogator along with the terrorist.  The ends never justify exploiting a terrorist's coulrophobia. The good news, though, is that Jesus died for tickle apologists."

Atheism, consequentialism, and torture

I notice that a number of atheists have been crowing about a new Washington Post/ABC News poll. According to the poll, white evangelicals are the group most likely to support CIA "torture" whereas atheists are the group most likely to oppose CIA "torture." 

The atheists I've read treat that as empirical vindication that you can be good without God. Indeed, you can be more moral without God. They take it for granted that "torture" is morally indefensible. 

There are, however, some glaring gaps in their logic, even from–or especially from–a secular standpoint:

i) What about prominent secular Jews like Richard Posner, Alan Dershowitz, and Charles Krauthammer who support torture in extreme situations to extract intel from terrorists? Likewise, secular philosopher Keith Burgess-Jackson supports torture under those circumstances. 

ii) Atheists keep insisting that atheism is not a philosophy. It's just disbelief in God or gods.

On that definition, atheism is consistent with moral nihilism, moral fictionalism, or consequentialism. Peter Singer is a famous (or infamous) secular utilitarian. Likewise:

There are those who argue in the affirmative and point to so-called ticking bomb scenarios to support their case. These theorists often adhere to some form of consequentialism, such as utilitarianism. They include Allhoff (2003), and Bagaric and Clarke (2007).

iii) And this is more than anecdotal. According to a sweeping survey of philosophers, secular philosophers espouse consequentialism at 3-1 ratio compared to theists:

Normative ethics:consequentialism0.218
consequentialismnot consequentialism
Response pairs: 789   p-value: < 0.001

Surely there are situations where torture is justifiable on utilitarian grounds. The ticking timebomb scenario and other suchlike. For instance:

(1) The police reasonably believe that torturing the terrorist will probably save thousands of innocent lives; (2) the police know that there is no other way to save those lives; (3) the threat to life is more or less imminent; (4) the thousands about to be murdered are innocent—the terrorist has no good, let alone decisive, justificatory moral reason for murdering them; (5) the terrorist is known to be (jointly with the other terrorists) morally responsible for planning, transporting, and arming the nuclear device and, if it explodes, he will be (jointly with the other terrorists) morally responsible for the murder of thousands. 
In addition to the above set of moral considerations, consider the following points. The terrorist is culpable on two counts. Firstly, the terrorist is forcing the police to choose between two evils, namely, torturing the terrorist or allowing thousands of lives to be lost. Were the terrorist to do what he ought to do, namely, disclose the location of the ticking bomb, the police could refrain from torturing him. This would be true of the terrorist, even if he were not actively participating in the bombing project. Secondly, the terrorist is in the process of completing his (jointly undertaken) action of murdering thousands of innocent people. He has already undertaken his individual actions of, say, transporting and arming the nuclear device; he has performed these individual actions (in the context of other individual actions performed by the other members of the terrorist cell) in order to realise the end (shared by the other members of the cell) of murdering thousands of Londoners. In refusing to disclose the location of the device the terrorist is preventing the police from preventing him from completing his (joint) action of murdering thousands of innocent people.[14] To this extent the terrorist is in a different situation from a bystander who happens to know where the bomb is planted but will not reveal its whereabouts, and in a different situation from someone who might have inadvertently put life at risk (Miller (2005); Hill (2007)).
My point is not to say whether this is right or wrong. Rather, my point is that atheism doesn't preclude this position, or even incline an atheist to reject it. Therefore, even on atheistic grounds, opposition to torture (under special circumstances) is not ipso facto virtuous.