Saturday, February 22, 2014

Wartick v. Anderson

I'm going to quote James Anderson's responses to J. W. Wartick:

Hi J.W.,
I think if your readers take the time to read my entire post and my subsequent interaction with Greg Welty in the comments, they’ll find that I don’t import a Calvinist understanding of foreknowledge and foreordination into Molinism and I don’t confuse middle knowledge with free knowledge.
My response to your comment highlighted the distinction between God’s decree and God’s foreknowledge for this reason: the decree is an active willing rather than a passive knowing. According to Molinism, God acts so as to ensure that S chooses A in C. So the issue I’m raising is this: given that God’s has decreed that S will choose A in C is it possible for S not to choose A in C? If it is, then God’s decree must be fallible. If it isn’t, then it’s far from clear how Molinism really preserves libertarian free will; S is free only in a very qualified sense (with respect to C but not with respect to God’s decree).
It doesn’t do to say, “If S were to choose otherwise then God would have decreed otherwise,” because that’s dodging the issue. It’s answering a different question than the one I’ve posed. None of this presupposes Calvinist understandings of terms or confuses middle and free knowledge.
“Your argument is that molinism entails a fallible God. Thus, your argument is that molinism–on molinism’s terms–entails a fallible God.”
If you read the comments under my original post — as I’m sure you have done — you’ll see that I conceded that my original argument needed to be modified to take into account how the LFW of creatures is characterized (specifically, whether or not the divine decree is taken into account as part of the circumstances in which the creatures make their free choices). I’m arguing that the Molinist faces a dilemma depending on how the conditions for LFW are cashed out: as I observed in my previous comment (above) either the Molinist has to concede the fallibility of the divine decree or he fails to preserve the LFW of the creatures. That’s still an internal critique of Molinism. It doesn’t depend on any Calvinist presuppositions.
“First, you misstate the actual premise, which is not that God would have decreed otherwise but that God would have foreknown otherwise; again, this leads me to think you’re not taking molinism on molinism’s terms. Instead, it seems you continue to conflate foreknowledge and the decree.”
With all respect, this comment makes clear that you are the one who is failing to do justice to Molinism, and thus failing to seriously engage with my argument.
Molinism is not primarily a theory about divine foreknowledge, although it does address that issue. Rather, it’s a primarily theory about divine providence (as the title to Thomas Flint’s book indicates; likewise William Lane Craig’s contribution to the book Four Views on Divine Providence). Molinism accounts for divine foreknowledge partly by way of the divine decree (i.e., God deciding to create particular creatures and place them in particular circumstances so that they will act in foreseeable ways).
Consider, for example, Craig’s essay in the Four Views book. He begins by talking about the post-Reformation debates over God’s decrees; specifically, whether or not God’s hypothetical knowledge of creaturely free decisions is logically prior to his creative decree. Both the Dominicans and the Molinists affirmed that God had an eternal decree that encompassed all events, but they disagreed over the logical relationship of God’s decree to his free knowledge.
Craig makes clear that the divine decree is more fundamental than divine foreknowledge, since the latter is dependent on the former: “Given middle knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom and the divine decree, foreknowledge follows automatically as a result, without any need of God’s peering into the future, as detractors of divine foreknowledge imagine.” (p. 85) In other words, God foreknows what will happen because God decrees what will happen (partly on the basis of his middleknowledge).
Listen again to the discussion between Craig and Helm. Craig makes a point of saying how he could affirm most of what the WCF says about God’s eternal decree and divine providence. (He has made the same point in other venues.) Note how he explicitly says that God ‘preordains’ all things — not merely foreknows, but foreordains.
So when you say that the “actual premise” of Molinism “is not that God would have decreed otherwise but that God would have foreknown otherwise” if S were not to choose A in C, you are the one misrepresenting Molinism. You’re underselling it! Yes, God would have foreknown otherwise, but that’s precisely because God would have decreed otherwise, since his foreknowledge follows from his decree (as Flint and Craig make clear in their expositions of Molinism).
If you don’t recognize this distinctive Molinism view of the divine decree, it’s little wonder you aren’t impressed by my argument.:)
I’m not sure how restating the Molinist view, and pointing out things I already grant, addresses my objection. Yes, if S to had chosen otherwise in C, the counterfactuals would have been different and God’s middle knowledge would have been different. But how does that preserve S’s libertarian freedom post-decree? How does that explain S’s ability to choose not-A given that God has already decreed that S choose A?
By the way, it’s worth noting that the following two propositions are just as true on Calvinism as they are on Molinism:
(1) If S had chosen otherwise, God would have decreed otherwise.
(2) If S had chosen otherwise, God would have foreknown otherwise.
In other words, these aren’t distinctive to Molinism, and since they’re consistent with determinism they do nothing to show that Molinism avoids determinism. A theistic compatibilist can happily affirm (1) and (2).
“This is why Craig often says molinism has a rather robust view of sovereignty, because once God actualizes a world, whatever God brought about to happen in that world will happen, period. One cannot bring it about that the world God brought into existence will fail to be the world God brought about.”
Right — and that’s precisely the basis for my objection. If S cannot bring it about that God’s decree fails, then S is not really free (in the libertarian sense) to choose not-A given that God has decreed that S will choose A. As I’ve pointed out, the Molinist wants to have his cake and eat it. But he cannot preserve both divine infallibility and human libertarian freedom.
“They don’t bring it about that God’s decree fails; they bring it about that the decree’s content would have been different.”
I don’t see how that addresses the issue, since it confuses the factual (what God has actually decreed) with the counterfactual (what God would have decreed).
Let me ask the question as directly as I can. If God has actually decreed that S will choose A, does S have the power not to choose A? It won’t do to answer, “Yes, because S can bring it about that God would have decreed otherwise,” because ex hypothesi God hasn’t decreed otherwise.

An Arminian bedtime story

Jerry Walls 
“Imagine a parent who is able to control each and every action of his children, and furthermore, is able to do so by controlling their thoughts and inclinations. He is thus able to determine each and all actions taken by those children. He is also able to guarantee that they desire to do everything that they do, and this is exactly what he does. He puts them in a special playroom that contains not only toys but also gasoline and matches, and then gives them explicit instructions (with severe warnings) to avoid touching the gasoline and matches. Stepping out of sight, he determines that the children indeed begin to play with the matches. When the playroom is ablaze and the situation desperate, he rushes in to save them (well, some of them). He breaks through the wall, grabs three of the seven children, and carries them to safety. When the rescued children calm down, they ask about their four siblings. They want to know about the others trapped inside, awaiting their inevitable fate. More importantly, they want to know if he can do something to rescue them as well. 
“When they ask about the situation, their father tells them that this tragic occurrence had been determined by him, and indeed, that it was a smashing success—it had worked out in exact accordance with his plan. He then reminds them of his instructions and warnings, and he reminds them further that they willingly violated his commands. They should be grateful for their rescue, and they should understand that the others got what they deserved. When they begin to sob, he weeps with them; he tells them that he too has compassion on the doomed children (indeed, the compassion of the children for their siblings only dimly reflects his own). The children are puzzled by this, and one wants to know why such a compassionate father does not rescue the others (when it is clearly within his power to do so). His answer is this: this has happened so that everyone could see how smart he is (for being able to know how to do all this), how powerful he is (for being able to control everything and then effectively rescue them), how merciful he is (for rescuing the children who broke his rules), and how just he is (for leaving the others to their fate in the burning playroom). And, he says, ‘This is the righteous thing for me to do, because it allows me to look as good as I should look.’”  
From Thomas H. McCall, “We Believe in God’s Sovereign Goodness: A Rejoinder to John Piper” Trinity Journal 29NS (2008): 241-242. 
It’s hard to imagine a better story for Piperian Calvinists who have a passion for their theology and want to convey its true glory to children and other neophytes in the faith.

i) To begin with, this trades on the emotional connotations of small, clueless, helpless children. That triggers our protective instincts. Yet that's hardly analogous to adults or sinners. 

ii) Perhaps even more to the point, It's striking that Arminians like Walls and McCall find this persuasive when it's trivially easy to tell a parallel bedtime story by substituting Arminian assumptions. 

Assuming divine foreknowledge or middle knowledge, God knowingly puts them in a special playroom that contains not only toys but also gasoline and matches. God knows that by putting them in that situation, they will set the play room on fire. God knows that by putting them in that situation, some of them will burn to death. God could prevent that tragic outcome by not putting them in that situation in the first place. And that wouldn't violate their freewill. 

Even assuming that God doesn't know the outcome, a parent is negligent for placing small children in a play room with matches and gasoline. Indeed, the legal term is "depraved indifference." If they die in a house fire as a result of those initial conditions, the parent is culpable for exposing them to such a risky situation. 

Riddle me this!

Antony Flew penned a famous parable about the invisible gardner. His parable is somewhat self-defeating. After all, since gardens don't prune or weed themselves, even if the gardner was empirically indetectable, we'd be required to infer a powerful intelligence who was acting as a gardner behind-the-scenes. Left untended, gardens revert to the wild.
Perhaps, though, Flew intended the identity of the garden to be ambiguous. Was it really a garden, or a meadow with wildflowers that looked like a garden? 
Be that as it may, Basil Mitchell countered Flew with a little parable of his own. Mitchell was a Christian philosopher and apologist. Here's his counter parable:
In time of war in an occupied country, a member of the resistance meets one night a Stranger who deeply impresses him... The partisan is utterly convinced at that meeting of the Stranger’s sincerity and constancy and undertakes to trust him. They never meet in conditions of intimacy again. But sometimes the Stranger is seen helping members of the resistance, and the partisan is grateful and says to his friends, ‘He is on our side.’ Sometimes he is seen in the uniform of the police handling over patriots to the occupying power. On these occasions his friends murmur against him: but the partisan still says, ‘He is on our side.’ He still believes that, in spite of appearances, the Stranger did not deceive him... Sometimes his friends, in exasperation, say, ‘Well, what would he have to do for you to admit that you were wrong and that he is not on our side?’ But the partisan refuses to answer.
i) Although it's hypothetical, it would have some concrete resonance for Mitchell and Flew, as Englishmen who lived through World War II. That's clearly the tacit background for the parable. Even though it's fictional, it's realistic. Things like that probably happened during the war. 
ii) What's interesting about Mitchell's parable is that the Stranger is morally ambiguous. His actions are open to two opposing interpretations. Whose side is he on? He is trying to infiltrate the resistance or the occupation force? Is he a bad guy impersonating a good guy, or a good guy impersonating a bad guy? 
Suppose you had a Jewish scientist or military intelligence officer serving in the Third Reich or the Vichy regime. That might seem counterintuitive, but not necessarily. 
Perhaps he can pass for an Aryan. They don't suspect he's Jewish. He can do more damage on the inside than the outside. He can be an informant to the allies or the resistance. 
But there's a catch. He must be a convincing Nazi. So he has to go through the motions. Feign enthusiasm for the cause.
iii) This is a common plot motif in police dramas. An undercover cop tries to infiltrate the mob. But there's a catch. The rite of initiation involves having the new recruit carry out a hit. That's a test of his bona fides. 
The new recruit is brought to an abandoned warehouse or industrial garage. The Don is there with his goons. There's a blindfolded man kneeling on the floor. Turns out, he's a snitch. A police informant. The Don orders the new recruit to cap the snitch. 
That's a dilemma for the undercover cop, but a win-win for the Don. If, on the one hand, the cop refuses, then the Don has blown his cover. If, on the other hand, he caps the snitch, then he's crossed over. He's become one of them. He can never go back to being a policeman. They have the goods on him. He's morally and legally compromised. 
How far is the cop prepared to go to maintain his cover? This is usually where you have a commercial break, to keep the audience in suspense. How will the screenwriters extricate their character from the bind they put him in?
There are two conventional solutions. One is the deus ex machine. They have a timely intervention. Perhaps, at the very last moment, just before the cop has to refuse or pull the trigger, the Don receives a phone call requiring his presence elsewhere. 
Or perhaps the cop is wearing a wire. His team comes storming in right in the nick of time. 
The other solution is for the cop to say, "No, boss, he's more useful to us alive. The police don't know we know he's a snitch. So we can use him to feed them disinformation. Throw them off the scent."
The Don nods at this ingenious plan. 
Screenwriters typically won't allow the hero to cross that line of no return. What made 24 bracing in the first season or so is that Jack Bauer played against the conventions. He was idealistic, but a ruthless idealist. A utilitarian. He was prepared to do whatever it took for the common good. Defeat the enemy by any means necessary.

TV viewers weren't use to that. After a while, they come to expect it–but not at first. 
iv) What's interesting about Mitchell's parable is that you can have a good guy who appears to be morally ambiguous. By analogy, God could do things which seem to make him morally ambiguous, even though he's benevolent. Do things which are obviously benevoent, but do other things which call into question his benevolence. 
Of course, God is in a very different situation than a double agent. So we'd have to consider what, if anything, would be analogous. 
v) In the argument from evil, atheists typically cite large-scale events to illustrate moral or natural evils, like the Holocaust or the Boxing Day tsunami. However, it's pretty easy to come up with a theodicy to account for such events. Precisely because they are such massive events, their occurrence or nonoccurrence has enormous consequences for good or ill. Both good and bad consequences ensue as a result of their occurrence. Both good and bad consequences would ensue as a result of their nonoccurence. That's the stuff of alternate histories. Preventing the moral or natural evil would eliminate the evil at the cost of eliminating some resultant goods as well as causing some other evils in its place. 
What's harder to account for are little evils. Private evils. Self-contained evils that seem to have no beneficial consequences. They appear to be truly gratuitous. 
Mitchell's parable, and variations thereon, does illustrate the principle that an agent can appear to be morally ambiguous even when he's acting morally. 
vi) Of course, even if we don't have a theodicy, the argument from evil is toothless. Absent God, there is no evil. Absent God, we feel compassion for victims because natural selection conditions us to feel that way. But humans have no objective value. 
Since there's abundant evidence for God's existence, what we have is, at most, a riddle. 
It may be that some evils need to be humanly inexplicable to furnish a test of faith. If we could explain every evil, then we wouldn't need to trust God. That, itself, may be the explanation. 

Birth control and the Christian

Friday, February 21, 2014

Justification: A Guide for the Perplexed

Prof. James Anderson reviews Justification: A Guide for the Perplexed by Alan J. Spence.

The invisible navigator

But how do we know that evolution is nonteleological or that any teleology in it must be scientifically unascertainable. Imagine you are on an ancient ship and observe a steersman at the helm. The ship traverses difficult waters and reaches port. You conclude that the vessel’s trajectory at sea was teleological. Why? Two things: you see a steersman controlling the ship’s rudder who, on independent grounds, you know to be a teleological agent; also, you witness the goal-directed behavior of the ship in finding its way home. 
Now imagine a variation on this story. An ancient sailor comes on board a twenty-first century ship that is completely automated so that a computer directly controls the rudder and guides the vessel to port. No humans are on board other than this sailor. Being technologically challenged, he will have no direct evidence of a teleological agent guiding the ship—no steersman of the sort that he is used to will be evident. And yet, by seeing the ship traverse difficult channels and find its way home by exactly the same routes he took with ancient ships guided by human steersmen, he will be in his rights to conclude that a purpose is guiding the ship even if he cannot uncover direct empirical evidence of an embodied teleological agent at the helm.

Sin is lawlessness

Explaining the sense in which a Christian can't sin according to 1 Jn 3:9, Karen Jobes says:

When "sin" is first mentioned in this passage in 3:4, it is identified there with anomia [lawlessness]…The [definite} article functions to designate a category of sin that is identified with lawlessness ("and sin is lawlessness"). This suggests that John is not referring to every sin as anomia, but is concerned with the sin that leads to eschatological judgment (i.e., apostasy). John will later say in 5:16-17 that there is sin that does not lead to death. 
But what sin is not anomia? It is sin that has been confessed and cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ (1:9; 2:1-2). The sin of a believer who acknowledges and confesses it is of a different type than the sin of those who refuse to confess and submit to God's authority. It is the anomia sin that leads to death that the one born of God is not able to commit because God's seed remains in them and they have been born of God. 1, 2, & 3 John (Zondervan 2014), 147-48.

The savior of the world

Exegeting 1 Jn 2:2 in her recent commentary on 1 John, Karen Jobes says:

If here it is a reference to the whole planet, consideration of the historical context in which John wrote makes a more likely interpretation to be the universal scope of Christ's sacrifice in the sense that no one's race, nationality, or any other trait will keep that person from receiving the full benefit of Christ's sacrifice if and when they come to faith. 
In the ancient world, the gods were parochial and had geographically limited jurisdictions. In the mountnains, one sought the favor of the mountain gods; on the sea, of the sea gods. Ancient warfare was waged in the belief that the gods of the opposing nations were fighting as well, and the outcome would be determined by whose god was strongest. Against that kind of pagan mentality, John asserts the efficacy of Jesus Christ's sacrifice is valid everywhere, for people everywhere, that is "the whole world." 
But "world" in John's writings is often used to refer not to the planet or all its inhabitants, but to the system of fallen human culture, with its values, morals, and ethics as a whole. Lieu explains it as that which  is totally opposed to God and all the belongs to him. It is almost always associated with the side of darkness in the Johannine duality, and people are characterized in John's writings as being either "of God" or "of the world" (Jn 8:23; 15:19; 176,14,16; 18:36; 1 Jn 2:16; 4:5). Those who have been born of God are taken out of that spiritual sphere, though not out of the geographical place or physical population that is concurrent with it (Jn 13:1; 17:15: see "In Depth: The "world" in John's Letters" at 2:16). 
Rather than teaching universalism, John here instead announces the exclusivity of the Christian gospel. Since Christ's atonement is efficacious for the "whole world," there is no other form of atonement available to other peoples, cultures, and religions apart from Jesus Christ. 1, 2, & 3 John (Zondervan 2014), 80.

Has anyone seen this?

Might be worth a response or two on Twitter.

Rooting for the home team

Jonathan Merritt has done a post defending the incendiary comparison between Jim Crow laws and laws protecting religious liberty against the homosexual lobby. Merritt has less excuse than Kirsten Powers. For instance, he has an MDiv from SEBTS. 

However, considering the fact that Merritt is apparently homosexual himself, his sympathies are not surprising:

Klan cakes

There is in this sad world such a thing as a Ku Klux Klan wedding — should the management of Harlem’s famous Sylvia’s Restaurant be prosecuted under civil-rights law if the establishment should decline to cater such a wedding? It is impossible for me to imagine that that should be the case.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

Barring unforeseen developments, this will be my final response to Tom Chantry's screed against John Frame. I'll alternate between Chantry's original post and his sequel:

I call Frame’s approach to knowledge “relativistic” because it elevates personal interpretation to the same level as the thing interpreted.

To the contrary, Frame explicitly distinguishes our interpretation of Scripture from Scripture itself. 

Saying that the normative perspective is our understanding of the Word and not the Word itself does not help.

Notice that Chantry is now chiding Frame for distinguishing between Scripture and our understanding of Scripture, when just a sentence before he chided Frame putting them on a par. You can't get more confused than that! So Chantry's allegation is self-contradictory on the face of it.

This makes the Word something other than perspicuous.  It may only be guessed at, never truly apprehended.  That is the essential character of relativism.

i) I think this is the source of Chantry's muddleheaded objection: you can't say in the abstract whether our interpretation is on a par with Scripture because that's not a fact-free claim. Rather, it depends on whether or not our interpretation is correct. If our understanding of Scripture is correct, then we could say our understanding of Scripture coincides with the meaning of Scripture. There would be "identity" at that level.

ii) But, of course, Christians can misinterpret Scripture, so it's necessary to distinguish between the meaning of Scripture and our understanding of Scripture. Sometimes that distinction is bridged, and sometimes not.

iii) It would be "relativistic" to say Scripture has no objective meaning. It would be relativistic to say Scripture has objective meaning, but that meaning is humanly inaccessible. But Chantry doesn't quote Frame saying that. 

iv) While we're on the subject, here's Darryl Hart's stated position on the regulative principle:

[The] distinction between the historical and normative definitions is not so easy to pull off, since the historical and the normative will naturally overlap.  The way I come to understand the normative will be affected by the historical if I have subscribed to it, and the way I come to subscribe to the historical will be affected by how I read the normative.  In other words, interpreting the Bible is a whole lot more complicated in a Calvinistic psychology than the distinction between the historical and normative senses of the RPW allows.

Why is triperspectivalism "relativistic" but Hart's position is not? Remember, Hart is on the faculty of WSC. The institution that Chantry is vouching for.  

v) Finally, there's a persistent air of unreality to Chantry's objection. Frame has an enormously long paper trail in theology and ethics. That's a concrete illustration of how Frame himself understands triperspectivalism. How he actually goes about doing theology and ethics. There's nothing "relativistic" about Frame's positions in theology and ethics. You may disagree with some of his positions, but they aren't relativistic. If you want to see relativism, try John Hick. 

It is possible to reject one’s confessional commitments in a forthright and honest way.  One critic complained that I did not similarly attack Meredith Kline.  In the first place, I have not seen Kline’s approach invading Reformed Baptist discussions, and this continues to be my main concern.  I didn’t care for Kline’s view on a number of points, but I’ll tell you what I did appreciate: where he differed with the Westminster Standards, he stood in class and said plainly, “I take exception to the standards at this point.”  You can debate whether or not he ought to have been allowed to do this at Westminster, but at no point did he, for instance, pretend to be Sabbatarian while redefining Sabbatarianism.  Instead, he said, “I no longer hold the confessional doctrine on Sabbath.”
i) Was that Chantry's "main concern"? No doubt that's one of Chantry's professed concerns. But didn't Chantry emphatically lay down a firm principle:
At Nicea the churches recognized the orthodox truth regarding the nature of Christ and formulated that teaching in a creed.  The result was to put an end to personal interpretations within the church – to distinguish between what was inside and what was outside the boundaries.  Anyone who wished to pursue a private interpretation would have to do so outside the boundaries of the communion defined at Nicea.  In other words, the church recognized early on that sinful tendency drives theology away from biblical truth – even where the Bible is quoted.  Corporate recognition of right interpretations put a brake on individual error.  The Eccumenical creeds did this for the entire church; in a more recent era the confessions have accomplished the same task for various segments of the church. 
To confessionalists – Presbyterian or Baptist – the confessional documents represent the settled corporate interpretations coming down to us from the ages.  They are not individual interpretations (no individual can authorize or adopt a confession), but rather the summary of the teaching of the church.  They are secondary standards under Scripture, but they create safe boundaries around our interpretation of Scripture.  To transgress those boundaries in favor of an individual or private interpretation is to tread on thin ice.  Whereas years or in some cases centuries of theological experience went into the language of the confession – often recognizing the dangers of certain misstatements – we live in an age in which far too many a Christian and even theologian is likely to stand alone with his Bible and say, “It seems to me…”  Confessionalism is intended to prevent this error.
Now, however, he actually "appreciates" the fact that Kline's individual interpretations sabotage "the settled corporate interpretations" handed down to us through the ages because he was brazen about it. So long as you openly tamper with the brakes, so long as you defiantly transgress the boundaries, then Chantry won't do two posts attacking you as "dangerous" and "disruptive."
ii) There's something else rather curious about Chantry's nonchalant response to Kline. Chantry touts the "supportive letter" he wrote to WSC in response to The Escondido Theology. Well, who was Chantry supporting? By opposing The Escondido Theology, wasn't he defending Frame's targets?
At a substantive level, Frame's primary target was Meredith Kline. That's because Frame regards Kline as the intellectual architect of the "Escondido theology." He was the brains behind the Escondido theology, whereas writers like Horton and Stellman are popularizers. 
So how can Chantry adopt such a laissez-faire attitude towards Kline? Is it because Chantry doesn't actually know what's in The Escondido Theology? Did he write that obsequious letter based on hostile rumors? Did he prejudge the book unread? Frame is "dangerous." Frame is the author. Therefore the book must be bad. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. 
The antiquity of a confession is necessarily distasteful to anyone who believes that the shifting situation changes our situational perspective, requiring new formulations.  Thus Frame has attacked the very practice of confessionalism – and with linguistic gymnastics as dishonest as anything he has said about the Regulative Principle.  Consider the following statement from Frame’s blog:
In Reformed circles, this tendency leads to a fervent traditionalism, in which, not only the Confessions, but also the extra-confessional practices of the Reformed tradition, in areas such as worship, evangelism, pastoral care, are placed beyond question. In an atmosphere of such traditionalism, it is not possible to consider further reform, beyond that accomplished in the Reformation period itself. There is no continuing reformation of the church’s standards and practices by comparing them with Scripture. Thus there is no way in which new practices, addressing needs of the present time, can be considered or evaluated theologically. This is ironic, because one of the most basic convictions of the Reformed tradition itself is sola Scriptura, which mandates continuing reformation, semper reformanda. At this point, Reformed traditionalism is profoundly anti-traditional.
Note Frame’s concern for “new practices, addressing needs of the present time.”  One can see in this the application of a shifting situational perspective. 
Let's compare this to another document:
Testimony to Our Time 
Teachers of Christ's church are called to "contend for the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3) by addressing the challenges to the faith that arise in each generation. The Board and Faculty of Westminster Seminary California (WSC) confess our faith in the Sovereign God who has revealed himself in his creation, in Christ the incarnate Word, and in Scripture the Word of God written.

Our understanding of God's self-revelation is summarized in the Reformed confessions: the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort. In our time, as in the past, biblical faith faces particular challenges. Recognizing that faithfulness to Christ entails our readiness to speak his truth specifically at those points in which it is under attack in our day, we offer to the church this statement of our understanding of the Scriptures' teaching regarding issues now causing controversy among the people of God. The Board and Faculty of WSC have unanimously adopted this testimony.

It goes on to stake out positions on inerrancy, abortion, hermeneutics, homosexuality, and the ordination of women. 

Isn't that precisely the kind of thing Frame had in mind about going beyond the confessions to address modern challenges which weren't on the horizon when the confessions were framed? Yet this is a public statement by the then-faculty of WSC, around the time Chantry was a student. You know, the same institution he wrote that glowing letter about. So how can Frame be so wrong when WSC is so right if WSC was doing the very thing Chantry brands as "relativistic"? 

As a friend of mine wrote, “I don’t think some of the commenters fully understand that John Frame took sacred oaths before God and Men that he subscribes to the confessional standards of his Church.”  Very true, and rather than admit that he could no longer in good conscience maintain those oaths, Frame pretended that he made them on ‘opposite day’; much of the confession that he promised to uphold is eventually discover to mean the opposite of what the confessional words themselves appear to say.
Two basic problems:
i) Frame has already answered that question:
How can I claim to be a Presbyterian? I am a minister in good standing in a sound Presbyterian church. I have honestly subscribed to Presbyterian doctrinal standards, with a few exceptions which my Presbytery knows and accepts as no barrier to my good standing. I have never vowed to learn nothing from non-Reformed traditions, so my interest in learning from them does not constitute any barrier to my confession of Presbyterianism."

II) In addition, why doesn't Chantry ask the same question of Scott Clark? How can Clark honestly subscribe to the Westminster Standards when he repudiates the Westminster Standards on the days of creation and the civil duties of the magistrate?  

iii) Keep in mind that Kline, Clark, and Hart are all targets of The Escondido Theology, which Chantry deplored in his letter to WSC. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Jim Crow laws for gays and lesbians?"

Kirsten Powers recently published an op-ed entitled "Jim Crow laws for gays and lesbians?"–in reference to a proposed bill protecting the religious freedom of Kansas businesses and individuals to refuse services to homosexual "couples." I'll just comment on the Jim Crow comparison:
i) Her comparison presumes that homosexual behavior is moral equivalent to race. Needless to say, that begs the question. That's hardly something she's entitled to posit. That assumes the very thing she needs to prove. 
ii) The analogy is disanalogous in another key respect. Jim Crow laws restricted rather than protected the freedom of businesses. They didn't give businesses the freedom to refuse service to some customers. Rather, they denied businesses the freedom to serve everyone. 
Apparently, lawmakers felt too many white establishments were serving black customers, which is why lawmakers felt it necessary to rob white businesses of the right to serve black customers. So Jim Crow laws are nearly the polar opposite of what Powers insinuates. 
iii) Let's take a different comparison. Isaac Stern was one of the premier violinists of his generation. He wasn't the virtuoso that Heifetz was, but he was a greater interpreter. 
He gave concerts all around the world. But there was one county he boycotted: Germany. That's because Stern was Jewish, and he belonged to the generation that endured the Holocaust. He could never forgive Germany for what it did to his people.
Now, younger Jewish musicians like Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, and Daniel Baremboim didn't feel the same way. That's in part because they were a generation later. It didn't hit quite as close to home for them. 
Objectively speaking, Stern's reaction was unreasonable. But that's easy to say if you weren't a Jew of Stern's generation. 
Now, even if you disagree with Stern, does Powers think international law should require Stern to perform in Germany? Should he be fined or jailed for discriminating against Germans by refusing to concertize in Germany? Or is it his prerogative to boycott Germany, whether or not you agree with his motives?
iv) As a rule, I think private businesses should have the legal right to do business with whoever they wish, and refuse to do business with whoever they wish. 
An exception to the rule might be emergency medical care. 

Mind you, I can think of examples where E.R. physicians would be morally justified in letting a patient die, viz. a convicted mass murderer who was shanked in prison.  But it would be difficult to make those distinctions as a matter of hospital policy. 

v) To take one more example, although I disagree with Rome's position on artificial contraception, I don't think Catholic institutions (e.g. hospitals) or Catholic individuals (e.g. pharmacists) should be forced to provide contraceptives. 

vi) I'd add that when a business refuses to provide a product or service that's in demand, that creates a business opportunity for an enterprising entrepreneur to supply the neglected market niche. 

Public accommodations

This issue crops up in the current debate over religious liberty:

Out of bounds

Tom Chantry has done a sequel post in which he digs in his heels:
A few quick observations:
i) Although Chantry pays lip-service to honesty, his behavior in this situation is conspicuous for its lack of honesty. For one thing, he's raised these objections before, and Frame patiently corrected his misunderstanding:
Yet Chantry brazenly disregards the factual corrections.
ii) If he was honest about critiquing Frame's triperspectivalism, the proper way to do that is not to rely on your 20-year-old recollection of an offhand answer Frame allegedly gave in class, but to analyze a careful, detailed, written exposition of Frame's position like this:
Likewise, the honest way to criticize Frame's position on contemporary Christian music is to engage his arguments. 
iii) And while we're on the subject of honesty, It's striking to me that Sam Waldron and Jason Delgado (who appears to be Waldron's familiar) simply rubberstamp Chantry's secondhand version of Frame's triperspectivalism. Is that a serious way to evaluate Frame's position? If you want a representative statement of Frame's position, you need to get that from Frame, not Chantry. 

Once again, if you're going to critique Frame's triperspectivalism, the honest way to do it is to take one of Frame's written expositions of triperspectivalism (such as his revised primer) as the point of reference. Begin with a recent primary source. Waldron should know that. 

iv) In his latest post, Chantry says:
Consider, prior to Nicea a great many preachers were all reading the same Bible and describing different Christs.  At Nicea the churches recognized the orthodox truth regarding the nature of Christ and formulated that teaching in a creed.  The result was to put an end to personal interpretations within the church – to distinguish between what was inside and what was outside the boundaries.  Anyone who wished to pursue a private interpretation would have to do so outside the boundaries of the communion defined at Nicea.  In other words, the church recognized early on that sinful tendency drives theology away from biblical truth – even where the Bible is quoted.  Corporate recognition of right interpretations put a brake on individual error.  The Eccumenical creeds did this for the entire church; in a more recent era the confessions have accomplished the same task for various segments of the church.
And where does that leave Reformed theologians like Calvin, Warfield, and Paul Helm who take issue with Nicene subordinationism? For instance:
Does Chantry take the position that Helm's analysis is inherently out-of-bounds? 
v) Chantry also has a simplistic view of creeds and confessions. Precisely because these become a standard of reference for denominations, seminaries, and Christian colleges, a history of interpretation grows up around them. It's not just the nude creed or confession that's meaningful, but a multilayered interpretive tradition. 

Frame on Chantry

John M. Frame said...
I'm delighted to hear of all the interest my works have generated on this blog. Thanks for the kind words of many. Nice to hear from Tom C. again, despite disagreements. I wish you had shared those with me during your student years. I honestly think we could have made progress toward resolving them. Just a few comments:

1. It's true that a number of students started questioning my positions in their second year of seminary at Westminster. I attribute that mainly to their studying with colleagues of mine who presented ideas inconsistent with mine and implicitly called my orthodoxy in question. That doesn't happen at RTS, where I currently teach.

2. Tom makes the mistake of many, thinking that I equate the normative perspective with Scripture. So then when I say that the normative perspective is equal to the other two, they think I am making Scripture relative. That is not the case. The normative perspective is not identical with Scripture. It is, rather, the sum total of divine revelation, in Scripture, nature, and in ourselves as the image of God. Within the normative perspective, Scripture plays a unique role: the covenant document (and therefore supreme authority) for God's people. Further, Scripture is not limited to the normative perspective. It is also situational: the fact that definitively illumines all other facts; and existential: the part of my experience that illumines all others. The three perspectives are equal because they are ultimately identical: everything is normative; everything is part of my situation; and everything is part of my experience. But Scripture is not identical with any other source of knowledge. It alone is the infallible, inerrant word of God.

3. On the regulative principle, see the treatment of the second commandment in my forthcoming Doctrine of the Christian Life. My view is not entirely traditional, but I believe it is biblical.

4. As for Shepherd, I do not agree with many of his distinctive teachings. What I do agree with, I agree with because his positions are biblical in my judgment, not because we are friends. If you read the accounts of faith and justification in Salvation Belongs to the Lord, you will find that they are entirely traditional.

5. Sorry, Tom, that you hold the high grade on your paper against me! The fact is, I grade papers on the quality of thought displayed in them, not on their orthodoxy or traditional theological style. I've had some very bad papers that defended orthodox positions in traditional ways.

6. I have answered the relativism criticism a thousand times, probably scores of times when Tom was my student. If Tom doesn't buy my explanation after all that, I don't know what I can say. For the rest of you, please see the "Primer on Perspectivalism" that Mr. Mellen referred to. The main point is that the perspectives are perspectives on something objective, the real world as God has made it, and the objective revelation God has given to us. So truth is not relative, but absolute. What perspectivalism says is that only God's thought is perfect, always correct. If you're not God, you need to be humble, and to seek more and more perspectives. Usually when people call me a relativist, it is because they want to make some purely human document (a confession or a tradition) absolute.

Hope that is helpful.

John M. Frame said...
Tom, I'm not sure where you got that statement that "the normative perspective of Scripture is still our understanding of it." I doubt that I said that. If I did, I wouldn't say it today. I think it is confusing. But there is a problem in formulating the difference between truth and our understanding of it, whether you agree with perspectivalism or not. We don't have access to truth apart from our understanding. So every statement you or I make about the truth is a statement about our own understanding. The remedy for this seeming problem, of course, is to interact with perspectives broader than ours, and to be submissive (absolutely) to God's.

As for the rest of your comments, I take no offense. May God richly bless your labors for Jesus.

Andy Stanley's spinning moral compass

In a USA Today article, Kirsten Powers compared proposed legislation protecting the religious liberty of businesses and individuals to "Jim Crow" laws. Of course, that's a scurrilous comparison.
However, her opinion isn't terribly significant. She's just a layperson and newbie churchgoer. More significant is Andy Stanley's position. Although I've seen some Christians associate her position with Tim Keller, I also her deny that she's a member of his church. 
In her article, the pastor she cites in support of her position isn't Tim Keller but Andy Stanley. From what I've read, he's a 55-year-old graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary who pastors the second largest church in America–although the raw statistic is somewhat misleading inasmuch as the attendance figures are spread out over five different campuses. 
Powers quotes him saying:
He told me he finds it "offensive that Christians would leverage faith to support the Kansas law." He said, "Serving people we don't see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity. Jesus died for a world with which he didn't see eye to eye. If a bakery doesn't want to sell its products to a gay couple, it's their business. Literally. But leave Jesus out of it."
Stanley said, "Jesus taught that if a person is divorced and gets remarried, it's adultery. So if (Christians) don't have a problem doing business with people getting remarried, why refuse to do business with gays and lesbians."
A few comments are in order:
i) Jesus didn't make the unqualified statement that if somebody gets a divorce and remarries, that's adultery. To the contrary, Matthew includes infidelity as a legitimate ground for divorce. Stanley fails to draw an elementary distinction between the innocent party and the guilty party. Is he that biblically illiterate? 
ii) He also fails to distinguish between penitent and impenitent sinners. Likewise, someone might divorce and remarry prior to converting to Christianity.
iii) A Christian businessman doesn't automatically know a customer's marital history. By contrast, if homosexuals overtly indicate that they want a bakery to make a wedding cake for a homosexual marriage, then they've gone out of their way to make the business aware of the situation.
iv) There's nothing hypocritical about Christians picking their battles. The fact that you can't fight everything doesn't mean you shouldn't fight anything. 
v) Why does Stanley assume this is only about Christians? What about, say, Hassidic Jews?
vi) This isn't just a matter of doing business with sinners, where their sin is incidental to the transaction. A homosexual buying a loaf of bread and a homosexual ordering a wedding cake for a homosexual marriage are hardly equivalent. 
vii) Is a wedding cake for a homosexual marriage ceremony a Christian "service" for homosexuals. Christian service involves acting in the best interests of others. Acting on their behalf, for their well-being. Helping them. Attending to their needs. 
Let's take a few comparisons:
Suppose a child pornographer goes to a Christian photo print shop to process some pictures he downloaded of kiddy porn. Does Stanley think the Christian businessman should produce professional quality glossies of the customer's kiddy porn, because "serving people we don't see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity"?
Suppose the teenage daughter of a Muslim-American couple is gang-raped. Suppose her brother performs an honor-killing because his sister bought dishonor on her family by allowing herself to be gang-raped.
Suppose they approach a Christian defense attorney. Does Stanley think the lawyer has an obligation to take the case and get his client acquitted ("justified homicide") as a Christian service to those we don't see eye to eye with?
Suppose Hawaii legalized hard drugs. Suppose a junkie tried to order heroine or cocaine from a Christian pharmacist. Does Stanley think the pharmacist should fill the order because "serving people we don't see eye to eye with is the essence of Christianity"?
vii) What does Stanley even mean by saying "If a bakery doesn't want to sell its products to a gay couple, it's their business." Isn't that precisely what the proposed legislation was designed to protect? Isn't that precisely what homosexual activists reject?