Saturday, February 01, 2014

Naturalism and Nihilism

Games scientists play

Ecclesiastes and the New Testament

"Ecclesiastes and the New Testament" by Paul Helm.

The bootstrap paradox

The “living organism” of “the faith of all ages”?

I’ve posted a new comment in the discussion I’m having with Andrew Preslar. I have some hope that this will continue and bring us to what some of the more fundamental issues are in these kinds of debates.

One selling point is that the Roman Catholic position is not the default position – it must be argued for – and he has said he’d like to try to do that. I’ve already outlined some of the core of my disagreement with him. And he seems interested in hanging in and having an honest discussion. I’m not going to make any promises, but he seems to have found “some common ground”, and so I’m willing to go with it.

So please, if you’re inclined, feel free to take a look and offer any questions you might have as things go forward.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Spotting charlatans

When dealing with reputed healers and other reported miracles, how should we weed out the charlatans? I'm going to briefly discuss some criteria:

i) Let's begin by distinguishing ad hoc criteria from objective criteria. Here are some ad hoc criteria for assessing miraculous healings: complete, immediate, permanent, undeniable.

ii) The Bible has some classic criteria for distinguishing true prophets from false prophets (Deut 13:1-5; 18:15-21). This has some bearing on modern claims or claimants. Is the reported miracle in character with God's revealed nature? Is it a purposeful miracle or a stunt? Is it consistent with God's wisdom? Is the reported miracle consistent with prior revelation? 

iii) Does the report meet minimal standards of prior plausibility? Does it conflict with our understanding of how the world works? Of what's possible or implausible?

Obviously, our plausibility structure is indexed to our worldview. What's credible for a Christian may be incredible for an atheist.

iv) Is the claim consistent with other known facts at the time and place of the alleged event?

v) What's the source of information? Firsthand? Secondhand? Is there a reliable chain of testimonial custody? 

vi) Is this a memorable event? Is it the kind of event that observers normally remember? 

vii) Does the witness have an incentive to be truthful or untruthful? 

viii) Is the witness forthcoming or evasive? 

ix) Does the witness belong to small community and/or honor/shame culture where his livelihood depends on his reputation for honesty? 

x) Does the report enjoy multiple attestation? Is there medical verification? Is there a reasonable expectation that medical records would be available? 

Is it the kind of ailment that requires medical verification to confirm the diagnosis and cure, or is the ailment of a clearly public nature? 

Corroboration is useful, but not always necessary. We justifiably believe many things on the testimony of a trusted informant. 

xi) Finally, here's a useful analysis:

Science & Healing

Candy Gunther Brown. Testing Prayer: Science and Healing.  (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012).  
Brown’s research is organized around five questions: (1) why are biomedical tests of prayer controversial; (2) are healing claims documented; (3) how do sufferers perceive healing prayer; (4) can health outcomes of prayer be measured; and (5) do healing experiences produce lasting effects?  
Chapter two introduces the history of testing prayer including a discussion of recent major studies of distant intercessory prayer. Brown discusses the fact that a major difference between studies yielding positive versus negative outcomes was the difference in the characteristics of the intercessors. Of  the studies she discusses, studies with positive outcomes used intercessors who were “born again” (88) or who were believers “in a personal God who hears and answers prayer” (88), while studies with negative outcomes used many intercessors who would not meet either criterion. 
Chapter three discusses the use of medical records in documenting healing claims, their strengths and weaknesses as evidence…Brown concludes that while medical records cannot give evidence as to the cause of a given medical recovery, they do provide a “scientifically informed perspective” (154) regarding whether an individual actually exhibited improved health.  
The sixth chapter explores whether prayer produces lasting effects through a series of narratives constructed using ethnographic and textual analysis.

Craig Keener On Luke And Acts

Acts' Genre
Acts' Historicity
Acts' Authorship
Luke's Use Of Sources
Should A Work Of History Refer To People's Thoughts And Emotions, Advocate Theology, Etc.?
Acts And The Criterion Of Embarrassment
Christian Miracles Through The Centuries
The "We" Passages In Acts

“Talking past one another”? Or is it being evasive?

If you look pained, and close your eyes more
tightly, are you any closer to knowing what the
early church was like?
I’ve responded to Andrew Preslar at some length about the early church and “arguments from silence”.

Andrew –
First off, I appreciate the opportunity to comment on your blog. Thank you

If you are truly grateful, I would appreciate it if you would make some attempt to honestly respond to my questions below.

Regarding arguments from silence, I think that we might be talking past one another. You are referring to times when the extant record is silent on points which you believe would have been explicitly mentioned in those records at those times, if the papacy were something willed by Christ. Responding to such arguments from silence, as Catholics have often done, does not constitute arguing from silence.

Of course we are talking past each other. I am not just referring to something that “may have been willed by Christ”. Or let me ask you, how can you know what is “willed by Christ”?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Proximal prayer

Weeding out charlatans

MacArthurites take aim at charlatans. I share their concern. It's important to have objective standards for assessing modern miracle claims. A way of weeding out the charlatans.

My problem with MacArthurites is that they don't have real standards. Rather, they begin with cessationism, then concoct ad hoc criteria to protect cessationism. 

But that's inadequate to meet the challenge. If we're serious about weeding out the charlatans, then we need objective standards, not ad hoc standards.  

Is Molinism falsifiable?

One of the challenges in disproving Molinism is whether Molinism is even falsifable. There are certain theories or thought experiments which are resistant to or even impervious to falsification, viz. string theory, Berkeleyan idealism, the multiverse, Last Thursdayism, Monadology, the brain-in-vat. 

In general, there are two ways to disprove a claim. One is empirical falsification. But suppose a claim doesn't even impinge on empirical reality? 

The alternative is logical falsification. Is the claim coherent? 

Take Monadology. From what I can tell, that's impervious to empirical disproof. But suppose, as Leibniz originally formulated his claim, that Monadology suffers from subtle internal inconsistencies. Would that disprove it? It may not be that simple.

If Monadology is an imaginary construct to begin with, then it may be easy for an ingenious defender to make it coherent by adding some imaginary refinement. Because an imaginary construct has so much play, it's open to considerable modification. 

A critic raises an internal objection to Monadology. A defender fixes it. The critics raises a new objection. The defender introduces a new fix. For every objection, the defender can add another refinement.

Molinism may be too flexible to disprove. But if so, that poses a different kind of problem for Molinism. It's unfalsifiable at the expense of being unverifiable. If it's ultimately unfalsifiable, that's because it's an imaginary construct, which is subject to endless imaginary refinements. 

But that makes it unreal to begin with. And every subsequent refinement is ever further removed from reality. Like a literary tradition which is fictional to begin with, then subsequent authors keep rewriting the story. Each fictional variant gives rise to another fictional variant, like the many permutations of the Star Trek canon. 

Complete healing

I'm going to discussed a reported miracle. This presents an interesting test-case for cessationism/continuationism: Here's the account:

J. P. Moreland once told me, when I asked him why God does not heal amputees, a story that is continually in my mind when these kind of things are on the table. He said he once witnessed a guy who was missing an ear (there was just skin where the ear should be) and saw it grow back as people (including Moreland) prayed for him. He said they watched as there was a break in his skin, blood came out, and a slight “ear” formed. What is interesting about this story is that the ear did not grow completely back. When the miracle was over, he just had a hole there, a bit of an ear, and could hear out of it.
And here's a brief exchange between Fred Butler and his interlocutor:

Butler's response raises a number of questions about cessationism.
i) MacArthurites typically assure us that they don't deny the possibility or actuality that God miraculously heals people today. What they deny is the "gift of healing." They don't believe in genuine faith-healers. That terminated with the apostles and their immediate disciples. MacArthurites are quick to correct a critic who insinuates that they deny modern miracles. 
As Phil Johnson put it:
Answers to our prayers usually come by means of providence, through acts of providence, not by miracles. There are two kinds of miracles noted in Scripture. Some are remarkable works of God apart from any human agency. The other kind of miracle involves a human agent, who from the human perspective is the instrument through which the miracle comes.
One of the oddities of Fred's debelief is that the incident which Moreland witnessed seems to be consistent with cessationism. It happened in response to prayer, rather than a faith-healer laying hands on the individual and curing him. Isn't that the kind of miracle MacArthurites inform us that cessationism allows for? Direct divine healing in response to prayer?
So it seems as though, even when a continuationist cites an example that meets their criteria, they up the ante.  
ii) What does Fred mean by saying he doesn't believe it? Does he mean he doesn't believe it happened? Or he doesn't believe God made it happen?
If the former, does he mean Moreland (or Patton) is a liar? Although we can't rule out that possibility, I don't think that's the most plausible explanation. For one thing, Moreland made his reputation as a Christian apologist, not a faith-healer. And he's a tenured professor at a top-tier Christian college. He doesn't make his living as a faith-healer. So I don't see why he'd be motivated to lie. 
I can understand why an atheist would find it more plausible to believe he lied than believe a miracle happened, but is that the first explanation a Christian should reach for?
Or does Fred mean Moreland didn't actually he what he thought he saw? He misperceived the incident? Strikes me as special pleading.
iii) One reason Fred gives is that the man wasn't completely restored. It was  "just a hole. We can do better than that, right?"
So is his criterion that since God could do better than that, God didn't do it? But how many Biblical miracles measure up to that standard? For instance, Jesus raised Lazarus from the death. Yet that didn't prevent Lazarus from dying a second time. The process repeated itself. Lazarus died of old age.
Jesus could have done "better" than that by making Lazarus immortal. 
iv) A related reason Fred gives is that "partial" healing isn't "real" healing. Only "complete" healing is real healing. But is that a valid criterion?
I take it from the account that the man suffered from congenital deafness in one ear. The miracle restored his healing in that ear by instantly creating an inner ear, middle ear, and part of the outer ear. Since that restored the function of the ear, why doesn't that count as a "real" healing? It's a purposeful miracle. That's then function of the ear. To hear and discriminate sounds. 
v) Fred's objection is that it wasn't "complete," because the outer ear wasn't fully restored. But isn't that an aesthetic criterion for miracles? The result wouldn't please a cosmetic surgeon. But so what? 
vi) Finally, let's explore Fred's criterion of "complete" healing or "complete" restoration. How much does that involve? 
Let's take a comparison. Sherrill Milnes was the best Verdi baritone of his generation. But he suffered a vocal crisis in 1980. Here's a description: 
Mr. Milnes said he could not pinpoint when the problems started. But a 1980 concert performance of "Hamlet," conducted by Robert Lawrence at Carnegie Hall, may have done serious damage."The role of Hamlet is a huge sing," he said, "a tour de force. I had specified that the dress rehearsal must be other than the day of the concert. But at the last minute, due to union rules, scheduling difficulties, Bob called and said that the dress rehearsal would have to be the same day as the evening performance. Even marking my part during an over-three-hour piece was terribly demanding. By the end of the performance that night I was vocally distraught." 
Mr. Milnes found a specialist who offered a plausible diagnosis: basically, that he had developed leaks in the capillaries of his vocal cords." 
Vocal cords have to have equal mass," Mr. Milnes explained. "If you have tiny amounts of fluid leaking, one is thicker." The doctor described exactly a set of associated symptoms that Mr. Milnes had in fact been experiencing. 
Milnes had developed a rupture at the base of one of his vocal cords that went unnoticed by his doctors for months. As he continued to sing, without giving the injured tissue a chance to heal, the inflammation and hoarseness grew worse, until he could hardly talk, let alone sing.After several months of blood tests and physical exams, his condition was diagnosed as a burst capillary caused by an allergic reaction to aspirin.
Although Milnes underwent vocal surgery, he was never the same. 
i) Milnes was 45 at the time of his vocal crisis. Suppose, in 2010, some Christians prayed to God to heal or restore his damaged vocal chords. What would a "complete" healing or restoration require? 
Would he still have a 75-year-old pair of vocal cords? Would that mean repairing the damage, so that his vocal chords would now be in the condition they would have been at 75 had he not injured them at 45? 
But fixing a pair of 75-year-old vocal chords would not restore him to what he sounded like before his vocal crisis. And undamaged pair of 75-year old vocal chords won't produce the same sound as an undamaged pair of 44-year old vocal chords. Repairing the damage doesn't turn back the clock.
ii) Does that mean "complete healing" requires God to restore his vocal chords to the condition they were in at 44, before is vocal crisis? But putting 44-year-old vocal chords in the body of a 75-year-old baritone won't make his sound like a 44-year old baritone. As Joan Sutherland once explained: 
MONICA ATTARD:So does your voice age, I mean, is that the way it works? 
DAME JOAN SUTHERLAND:You don't only just use your voice, you use support form the lungs and diaphragm and everything gets old, whether you like it or not. You don't only have heart problems or any sort of digestive problems or anything like that. I mean the body gradually disintegrates whether you like it or not and I was not having the response with my organs, liver, lungs, heart etc. I had a slight heart problem anyway but it was time to stop, I'd been there for over forty years.
So does "completely healing" mean, not only restoring his vocal cords to their physical condition when he was 44, but restoring his body to the condition it was in at 44?
iii) But it's arguable that by age 44, even before his vocal crisis, he was already past his prime. So does "complete healing" require God to rejuvenate his vocal chords to their pristine condition at, say, 25 years of age? And what about a 25-year-old pulmonary system and cardiovascular system to match? 
Where does Fred draw the line? Does he have some definition for "complete healing and/or restoration" that isn't ad hoc? 

Karma and free will

From the IEP:

Another difficulty for the karma/rebirth solution has to do with free will. An initial advantage of this solution to the problem of evil is that real moral agency is preserved. In fact, moral agency is central to the karma/rebirth solution: our moral decisions self-determine our future experiences, making us responsible for our own destiny. Upon further reflection, the view seems to run contrary to free moral agency. Consider the example of a man contemplating the rape and murder of a woman. Suppose he has done so before, and has thus far not been caught. He is considering redirecting his life by turning himself in to the authorities and receiving the consequences of his actions. But just as he is pondering this option, a woman strolls by and his mad passions for rape and murder begin to burn within him. He now has the choice to continue down the path of destruction or put a stop to it. If he decides to attack the woman and does so, then on the karmic account the woman was not completely innocent after all; she is paying the price for her former evil actions. In that case, the rapist is not truly free to act as he does, for he is simply following mechanistically the effects of karmic justice. He is merely the instrumental means for meting out the justice requisite for this woman’s previous moral failings. If, however, the woman does not deserve such moral recompense, then karmic justice will ensure that she does not receive it. In that case, the rapist will be unable to engage in the attack.

The problem that arises has to do with locating the moral freedom in this system. If the rapist is deterministically carrying out justice on his victim, then it seems that he is not truly a free moral agent after all. He is simply a cog in the karmic justice machine. It is disconcerting to affirm a moral system in which we understand raped and murdered victims to be themselves morally culpable for such acts of brutality against them. On the other hand, suppose the rapist really is free to attack the woman. If she was not deserving of such an act, this would be a serious violation of the law of karma whereby suffering occurs only because of one’s previous evil actions. If in attempting to justify such actions, the defender of the karmic system replied that the woman would in a future life receive a reward for such a morally gratuitous act, this does not appear to be consistent with karma, for this would run counter to the central principle of karma in which evil and suffering are the effects of one's previous deeds.


Is God rolling the dice?

I'm going to post a brief email exchange I had with a friend. His statement is indented:

i) I could see a freewill theist saying God can instantiate the circumstances, but not the free choice. That's because the circumstances don't select for any particular choice. LFW severs any causal link between circumstances and choices. If Peter is free to either accept or reject Christ under the same circumstances, then the choice is independent of the circumstances. In that sense, what the agent will or would do is beyond God's control. 

If, however, that's the case, then we seem to have the following consequences:

ii) Since the circumstances lack predictive value, God can't know in advance what world he's getting when he instantiates the circumstances. It's a shot in the dark. How it turns out is unforeseeable. 

iii) God doesn't really instantiate worlds. He doesn't have a catalogue of feasible worlds to choose from. Rather, he can only instantiate circumstances. For worlds are more than circumstances. Worlds include the choices of agents in worlds. 

iv) The distinction between circumstances and choices is somewhat arbitrary, for choices can also be circumstances. For instance, the prior choices of parents create circumstances for their children. But that generates a regressive impediment to God instantiating circumstances. Some of my circumstances were created by my parents' past choices. Some of their circumstances were created by my grandparents' past choices. You can't have some present or future circumstances without the past choices, but the intertwining of free choices with resultant circumstances extends backwards indefinitely.

The circumstances lack predictive value," but only in the sense that knowledge of circumstances by itself doesn't give God knowledge of what the agent would do. Middle-knowledge is knowledge of conditionals, where the antecedent specifies the circumstances and the consequent specifies the choice. God knows the whole conditional, and gets 'predictive value' from that. God's lacking control over the truth-value of these conditionals doesn't deprive God of the ability to know the conditionals, and that's all he needs to exercise meticulous Molinist providence.

Since there's no causal link between antecedent circumstances and subsequent choices, how does knowing the conditional confer knowledge of the outcome? 

Put another way, although the conditional by posit a logical (if/then) relation between the antecedent and the consequence, what makes that a valid implication? Since the circumstances don't pick out one choice rather than another, the conditional seems to be an arbitrary stipulation. 

Tracing “the nonexistent early papacy” using evidence that we have

Andrew Preslar said:

You raise a new claim here, [that with respect to the early papacy and indeed with respect to the founding of the church], Catholics are the ones arguing from silence. I have no idea what this means, especially since the non-silence, in fact the explicit claims, of Ignatius and Irenaeus regarding bishops in the early church, and bishops of Rome in particular, factor so largely in Catholic (as well as Orthodox and some Anglican) arguments about early Roman Christianity.

I responded:

Thinking about becoming Roman Catholic?

WSCal Grad Brandon Addison
WSCal Grad Brandon Addison
Brandon Addison, a WSCal grad who has spent a lot of time at the Called to Communion site has posted this comment over at in response to a reader, which I think is a great piece of advice to anyone who is looking at Roman Catholicism as an option:

If you are considering Rome, I think you are asking the most important questions [asking for works about the early papacy]. Speaking biographically, I was initially intrigued by the notion that Jesus founded the RCC. I was reading some of the theological/philosophical problems posed at various conservative Catholic blogs where they pressed that Sola Scriptura only allowed us to have an opinion with no principled means to distinguish my opinion from someone else’s. The principle means proposed was to follow the Church that Jesus founded--and he founded a visible church after all. As a disciple of Christ it made perfect sense to join the institution that Jesus founded, and it would make it much easier to know that the Church could not err (emphasis added).

But then I started digging into the major premise of these claims.

Christian Miracles Through The Centuries

A couple of years ago, I wrote a series of posts about a book Craig Keener published on the subject of miracles. In that series, I mostly addressed miracles in the modern world. And Keener makes some comments about modern miracles in his commentary on Acts. He refers to some individuals who provided him with eyewitness reports of nature miracles (n. 396 on 363). He discusses modern miracles done specifically in Jesus' name (367-8, 370). He mentions some miracle reports he received after the publication of his book on miracles (n. 505 on 375). "Moreover, even some investigators who use the most stringent criterion (i.e., of no possible alternative natural explanation) have noted a few cases that meet it." (379) But I've already written a lot about Keener's material on modern miracles, so I want to focus here on some of his comments about miracles in the ancient world:

"The Fallible God of Molinism"

Prof. James Anderson has weighed in on the recent radio debate or discussion between Craig and Helm.

Is Hitler a rock?

Karma and reincarnation are central to religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. At least in some of their incarnations.

Let's say karma and reincarnation are true. As I understand it, one can be reincarnated higher up or lower down the karmic chain primarily depending on one's moral actions in this life, or failure thereof. Karma is largely based on conduct.

However, for religions that accept reincarnation into inorganic objects and suchlike, what happens if one ends up reincarnated as a rock or mineral or some other object that can't think or feel or experience? An object which can't act let alone act morally or immorally? Is this a karmic dead end? Karmic hell? Is Hitler a rock?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Richard Carrier - Wrong About History Again

Smokey and the Bandit

The frightening thing is, this will be taken seriously in some quarters

Matches in the dark

What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.
– Virginian Woolf, To the Lighthouse
Some impressive testimonial evidence from Keener and Moreland:
That said, I'd like to segue from this to make a different point:
i) Cases like this can be both encouraging and discouraging. It can be encouraging to have corroborative evidence of Biblical promises. Examples of God's active presence is the present as well as the past.
ii) But cases like this can also be discouraging. I imagine many Christians read accounts like this and say to themselves, "Why does God do that for some believers, but not others? Why did God to that for him, but not for me, or my loved one?" "Why did God answer my prayer at one point in life, but turns his back on me during the low point of my life, when I need him more than ever?"
A danger of charismatic theology, especially among its more enthusiastic proponents, is the failure to counterbalance credible reports of modern miracles with the recalcitrant mystery of providence. 
As a rule, it's easier for us to explain why God did something than why he didn't. If he does something remarkable, we can usually think of plausible reasons for how that makes things better. But the seemingly haphazard character of God's miraculous intercession is more resistant to easy explanations. It's hard to discern a pattern to such intermittent miracles. 
Like using a matchbook to light your way home in the dark, you must use them sparingly. There's just enough to keep you from getting lost, but not enough to keep you from stumbling. 

The Science Guy

The upcoming debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham is being much touted in some quarters. I don't think this debate will prove anything one way or the other. It's a debate between two lessers. Two hacks. 

The Gospel Sound

I'm going to comment on this post:
i) One of my concerns with very race-conscious pastors like Leon Brown and Randy Nabors is what they see when they look out over their congregation. Do they see sheep? Or do they see colors? Their obsession with race makes them see colors rather than sheep. And that's not just the first thing they notice. That dominates how they look at people. It's literally skin deep. What could be more superficial?
ii) Let's shift the comparison. Suppose "social justice" pastors inveighed against the fact that many churches are "segregated" by blood type. In some churches, most parishioners have type O blood. In other churches, most have type A blood. In still other churches, most have type B blood. Or imagine if they inveighed against the fact that many churches are "segregated" by lactose tolerate parishioners over against other churches with lactose intolerant parishioners. 
Imagine if they decried this "scandalous" homogeneity. They made it a moor priority to test every Christian's blood type or lactase enzyme. They then crusaded for integrated churches based on lactase or blood type. 
Wouldn't that be absurd? But what, exactly, is so different about race? 
Leon then quotes (with approval) a passage from Randy's post:
[T]here is a reason people don't jump ethnic lines to go some other ethnic church. They feel comfortable with what they know, there [sic] family and friends are still in their home church.

Isn't it normal for churches to be largely composed of families? Is there something wrong with the family being the normal unit of church attendance?

I often tell white pastors that black folks in this country were forced to create a unique cultural kind of worship service since they were shut out of white churches. 

i) Is that historically correct? Seems to me that's simplistic. For instance, in the Antebellum South you used to have integrated churches with segregated seating. It wasn't segregated between white churches and black churches, but segregated within multiracial churches. I'm not condoning that. But it's a different picture than Randy is drawing.

ii) And the seating wasn't just segregated by race. It was segregated by socioeconomic status. You had rented pew boxes. That effectively segregated "poor white trash" from upperclass whites. So it's more complex than race. 

iii) Or take the case of John Lafayette Girardeau, who pastored a black congregation before the Civil War. He was a gifted preacher. Very popular. And he loved his black parishioners, although it was probably a paternalistic love. 

But after the war, when the slaves were free, they wanted to form their own churches with their own pastors. They weren't "forced" to do that. They chose to do that. It was their preference. It's patronizing to suggest they were forced to do that.

Without going into a commentary on ethnomusicality  let me just say that most black folks who come from the traditional or even contemporary black church find most white churches to be utterly boring.  Most black folks don't like stilted or even Celtic music styles, they don't get into lectures that pose as sermons, they don't appreciate a worship that seems to stifle emotions and is almost martial in approach. 

I expect that's generally true. But is it historically accurate to say the stereotypical black worship style is the result of segregation? 

That suggests their worship style is purely reactionary. But for black slaves, wasn't there some cultural carryover from Africa? 

Also, to my knowledge, the black worship style isn't monolithic. From what I've read, black pentecostalism introduced a shift in black worship styles. It incorporated music influenced by blues and jazz musicians. Traditional black churches originally objected to the worship style of "sanctified" churches. That was the "devil's music." This is documented in Tony Heilbut's classic monograph on The Gospel Sound.

It's tiresome of have guys like Randy and Leon presume to lecture white Christians on the history of race relations when they themselves seem to be pretty ignorant of the actual history. They indulge in these very schematic reconstructions, which disregard the complexity of the past, and the many glaring counterexamples to their breezy thesis. 

It's also my impression that black Penteocstalism has had a tremendous impact on the worship style of white Pentecostalism, both in music and preaching. Out of morbid curiosity, I occasionally listen to TBN televangelists. For instance, when I hear Rod Parsley, I can't help thinking to myself, this is a white guy trying very hard to sound like a black preacher. Doing a bad imitation of a black preacher.

Finally, we once again see this fixation on the black/white paradigm. Why does it not occur to Randy and Leon that their own myopic focus is very provincial and ethnocentric? They think white Christians suffer from tunnel vision, yet Randy and Leon exhibit their own tunnel vision in the very process of lecturing white Christians. 

To take a comparison: years ago I attended a Messianic congregation. It had its own worship style. There was a segment with sacred dance, accompanied by traditional Eastern European folk melodies. 

Acts And The Criterion Of Embarrassment

It's often noted that some of the claims made by the early Christians are embarrassing to them in some significant way, so that it's unlikely that they fabricated the claims. Given the status of women in the ancient world and the higher status of Jesus' closest male disciples, for example, why portray women as the first witnesses of the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus while portraying Jesus' closest male disciples as being in a state of unbelief and hiding at the time? In his commentary on Acts, Craig Keener gives some examples of incidents in Acts that seem to meet the criterion of embarrassment. I want to cite some examples I noticed in the introduction to his commentary. He probably gives other examples elsewhere, but here are some I took note of while reading his introduction:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Moral squatters

Mike Huckabee got into hot water recently by making a politically incorrect statement about how Democrats demean women. Within minutes, the liberal media twisted his comments into the polar opposite of what he actually meant and said. For a good clarification:
But it wasn't just the liberal media that pounced. His comment was panned by Charles Krauthammer as well as RNC chairman Reince Priebus. Now, in fairness to Priebus, his job is to help get GOP candidates get elected, and he thinks Huckabee's comment hurts the Republican brand. That said, Huckabee's center-right critics are dead wrong. 
i) To begin with, at present, Huckabee is a pundit, not a politician. He can afford to make impolitic statements. It's not his job to be politically correct.
Now, if he throws his hat into the presidential ring, his comment may come back to haunt him, not because he said anything wrong, but because he will have to spend time explaining himself, and the liberal media will misrepresent his comment, to preemptive discredit him. But for now, that's not his concern. 
ii) Liberals are moral squatters. They invade someone else's land, fence it off, then stick a no-trespassing sign in the ground. Yesterday's morally unthinkable position becomes today's trial balloon and tomorrow's new dogma.   
Liberals succeed by creating legendary narratives. Allowed to go unchallenged, these attain the status of truth. And these, in turn, become the false premise on which to build further moral and factual falsehoods. 
Liberals are thugs who win by trying to bully dissenters into silence on pain of violating liberal speech codes. Break the code and you will be fired, fined, and/or incarcerated. They unilaterally declare certain positions off-limits. 
Huckabee's statement was so intolerable because it put liberals on the defensive. It turned the tables. That's not something they're used to. And they can't stand it.
iii) Now, it may be that GOP candidates won't be politically viable if they are too outspoken on some issues. Maybe that makes them unelectable.
If so, that's all the more reason why we need Christian social critics who will say what they dare not say. Someone needs to challenge liberal squatters. There needs to be some people who are prepared to speak "offensive" truths which correct entrenched falsehoods. Take the battle to the enemy. We need pastors and pundits who are not afraid to do that. Liberal pressure tactics require counter-pressure.  We can't unilaterally disarm. Unilaterally surrender major fronts on the culture wars to liberal rioters.  

Seducer or seductress?

Every so often the news reports a case of junior high or high school student seducing a student. I don't keep a tally, and I don't watch the news anymore (nowadays I get all my news from the Internet), but by my informal recollection, these stories usually report a female teacher seducing a teenage boy, rather than a male teacher seducing a female student. Although a male teacher is sometimes the reported perpetrator, it seems much more frequent for the reported perpetrator to be a female teacher.
I wonder if that's actually representative. Are female teachers seducing students at significantly higher rates than males teachers? 
If so, that cuts against the feminist stereotype of men as sexual predators. 
Perhaps, though, the tabloid media just prefers to report cases involving female teachers and male students. If a male teacher is caught, the news will report the arrest and conviction, but it doesn't cover the trial. If a female teacher is caught, the media loves to cover the trial. 
To some extent this reflects a reverse double standard. If the defendant is a male teacher, that's automatically coercive. An abuse of power. Taking advantage of a minor. Statutory rape. 
But if the defendant is a female teacher, the coverage is often more sympathetic. It's about "love." It's consensual. The boy got lucky. 
However, assuming that female teachers are doing this significantly more often than male teachers (which I don't know for a fact), is there something about how our culture is raising girls which results in a percentage of grown women who are too psychologically immature to have an adult relationship with a man their own age? 

An Interview You Should Listen To And How It Reflects Academia

I recommend listening to a remarkable interview Alex Tsakiris recently did with Patricia Churchland. Why would such a prominent scholar make such dubious claims, argue so poorly, and behave so irresponsibly? Churchland reflects some common problems in academia. Many scholars know significantly less than they suggest they do, don't respond well when challenged, and are astonishingly lacking in their ethical standards.

Parsing theological metaphors

At the dual risk of stating the obvious as well as beating a dead equine, I'd like to make a further point about Eph 2:20. Metaphors are open-textured. They often have a wide range of potential connotations. So we need to distinguish between potential connotations and actual connotations, which are a subset of the potential connotations. The actual connotations are determined by the author. 
A theological metaphor is a figurative analogy. And a theological metaphor is a controlled analogy. 
What the metaphor means depends on how it functions in the author's poem or argument. Sometimes that can be determined by context. Oftentimes a Bible writer is recycling a stock metaphor. He takes for granted the idiomatic force of that metaphor in established usage. 
Cessationists infer chronology from the foundational metaphor in Eph 2:20. In a construction project, the foundation is laid first and laid once. But there are several problems with that inference. I'll focus on two (i've discuss a third in another recent post):
i) You cann't treat a metaphor as an autonomous unit of meaning, where all the potential connotations are in play. An author doesn't intend all of the potential connotations. He trades on some connotations while suppressing others.
ii) The tactic backfires, because it's child's play for a continuationist to do the same thing. He can easily turn the cessationist prooftext into a charismatic prooftext by simply developing a different connotation of the same metaphor. In this case, he infers from the relationship between the foundation and the superstructure that the apostles and/or prophets continue in perpetuity for the duration of the church age. After all, the foundation supports the upper stories. If apostles and/or prophets are temporary, that means the foundation in temporary, in which case the superstructure will collapse. This inference is no more or less legitimate than the cessationist inference. And cessationists are blindsided by this countermove. 
To take a comparison, suppose a Mormon apologist or Muslim polemicist treated the Fatherhood of God with the same freedom as cessationists treat the foundation of the church. Fathers come into being. Fathers have mothers and fathers. Fathers have wives. Fathers are physical. Fathers are finite in knowledge and power. Fathers grow old and die.
Orthodox cessationists have no difficulty understanding what's illicit about that inference when it comes to the Fatherhood of God, but their reflexive animosity to continuationism disarms their critical judgment when it comes to Eph 2:20.
BTW, taking Eph 2:20 off the table is not a decisive win for continuationism. It's just one less prooftext for cessationism. Your case is pretty weak if it can't survive the loss of one prooftext. 

Your Effect On History

I recommend reading the recent post here by John Piper, titled "The Effect of Your Life in 1,400 Years". Here's part of it:

When I was in Ethiopia last November, I was told of an Ethiopian missionary who went to Pakistan. He entered a town with a view to evangelizing and planting a church, even though Pakistan is not open to this kind of missionary work.

But when he went before the town leaders and they found out that he was from Ethiopia they said something to the effect: “You may do your work here. We owe you the gift of openness and hospitality, because your people gave asylum to Mohammed’s family 1,400 years ago.”…

Since then I have tried to track down the history behind this amazing statement….

Our acts are like pebbles dropped in the pond of history. No matter how small our pebble, God rules the ripples. And he causes the design on the face of the waters to be exactly what he wills.

Your pebbles count. Drop them with daily faithfulness, and leave the ripples to God.

Modern xenoglossy

I'm going to quote a passage from a book by a noted missionary:

Now Motilones wanted to tell Yukos about Jesus. At that time they didn't understand that there were languages other than the Motilone language. They thought that the Yukos spoke just as they did. But the languages are totally different. I couldn't see how they would manage to communicate anything about Jesus.

But I wasn't going to try to restrain them. I suggested that they go to the lowland tribes, who hadn't heard about Jesus. A few days later they left. I prayed that it wouldn't be a shattering experience for them, that God would comfort them in any disappointment at being able to communicate.

They were gone for several weeks. When they got back I went to see Arabadoyca, curious about what had happened.

"How did it go?" I asked.

He was making arrows, and he looked up at me with his familiar crooked grin. "Wonderful," he said. "They had not known about Jesus before."

"And did they understand?" 

"Oh, yes, we told them a great many things about Jesus."

"You spoke to them?" 

Of course!" Arabadoyca was a little concerned about my surprise. "How would you have told them?"

"Oh…in the way way. But how do you know they understood?"

Again he looked perplexed. "Why, they told us that the did. They were very excited to hear the news, Bruchko."

"You mean you opened your mouth and spoke to the Yukos, and they understood you and talked to you, and you understood them?"

"Yes, of course."

The Yuko language is not a dialect of the Motilone language. It is a totally different language. You could never understand one from knowing the other. Yet I am sure that Arabadoyca and the others were not lying. Lying was almost unknown among the Motilones. And they had no reason to lie. There is also the fact that there now are Christians in the Yuko lowland where there were none before.

I can only conclude that God's Holy Spirit made the Motilones speak and understand Yuko. It was a miracle to me. But to the Motilones everything God does is a miracle.

Bruce Olson, Bruchko (Charisma House, updated ed., 1977), 140-42.

For more on the author's background:

Getting Judaism, and Jesus, Wrong

God of the living

31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living (Mt 22:31-32).
Commentators puzzle over this argument. How does Jesus infer the resurrection from God's statement to Moses (Exod 3:6)? I've discussed this before, but now I'd like to approach it from a different angle. 
The statement in Exodus alludes to the patriarchal narratives in Genesis. And that centers on God's promise to Abraham. For instance:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you” (Gen 12:1). 
for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever (Gen 13:15). 
 And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess” (Gen 15:7). 
 “8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God” (Gen 17:8).
But this creates a source of tension. For Abraham dies without taking possession of the land. It's already occupied. Indeed, Abraham's lifestyle is conspicuously nomadic. He's a drifter. 
Admittedly, the promise is not confined to Abraham. The promise extends to his posterity. But does the promise include his posterity to the exclusion of Abraham himself?
Moreover, it's not as if his immediate posterity take possession. Isaac never inherits the land. Jacob and Joseph die in Egypt. They effectively die in exile. 
So when does God make good on his promise to the patriarchs? Not during their lifetime. 
If, however, God resurrects them at a later date, then they will be in a position to take possession of the promised land.