Saturday, July 19, 2014

Caught between a rock and a hard place

From wrath to grace

There's been a public dustup between Scott Oliphint and Paul Helm on classical theism. As a rule, I prefer Helm's understanding of God's relation to time and space. But I think both men are making some mistakes in this particular dispute:

So the truth about atonement, about reconciliation to God, has to be represented to us as if it implied a change in God, and so an inconsistency, an apparent contradiction, in his actions towards us. But in fact there is no change in God; he loves us from eternity. There is however, a change in us, a change that occurs as by faith Christ's work is appropriated. The change is not from wrath to grace, but from our belief that we are under wrath to our belief that we are under grace (Paul Helm, John Calvin's Ideas, 395).
Does Helm mean to say (or does he argue that Calvin says) that when Scripture says that God's people were under wrath prior to their conversion (e.g., Eph. 2:3), that what we're meant to think is only that we believed we were under wrath? And are we then meant to read Scripture so that, at conversion, our belief changed to thinking we are under grace? We are surely not to think, says Helm, that God's disposition toward us has changed from wrath to grace.

i) One source of confusion is equivocation over the nature of God's "wrath." Do we understand God's "wrath" as a particular kind of divine emotion (or attitude)? If so, does God become angry, then cease to be angry?

Speaking for myself, I think Scripture uses divine wrath as a colorful synonym for divine judgment. Take this example:

Behold, the name of the Lord comes from afar, burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke; his lips are full of fury, and his tongue is like a devouring fire (Isa 30:27).

Here the "wrath" of God represents God visiting judgment on sinners. Divine "wrath" is manifestation of divine judgment. God's impending wrath is equivalent to his impending judgment. It's not that he has an emotional state which comes and goes, within himself; rather, judgment comes and goes, outside himself. Judgment coming or falling upon sinners.

ii) This brings us to the next point. We need to distinguish between "God's disposition toward us" and the objective expression of his disposition. The expression of his disposition can change without a corresponding change in God himself. Judgment takes place in time, in history. 

What does it mean to be "under God's wrath"? What does it mean to be "under God's grace"? 

The "transition from wrath to grace" paraphrases a passage from Ephesians. Paul is writing to converts from raw paganism. And in chaps. 2 & 4, he vividly describes the before and after. Their mindset and lifestyle before God saved them. In that sense, they were living under God's wrath before he saved them. That was an objective experience. And that stands in contrast to their experience of spiritual renewal. Living under God's grace. For instance: 

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:1-6). 
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity (Eph 4:17-19). 
3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Tit 3:3-5).
This is perfectly consistent with predestination. A predestined change from unregenerate and vile to regenerate and sanctified. It's not a change to the decree, but a change within the decree. God intended all along to save these heathen Gentiles. But he didn't regenerate or sanctify them from the moment of conception. He didn't raise them in the church. Until adulthood, he left them in a state of internal and external depravity. 

God didn't change his mind or disposition. He had this in mind from all eternity. Rather, God willed a change in their condition. 

Reformed statecraft

In assessing the influence of Calvinism in the development of modern democracy, we must give our attention, first of all, to the twin pillars upon which democracy rests: (1) the idea of limited sovereignty, of a government under law, of limits beyond which government cannot go and to which it must conform; (2) the right of resistance when these limits are exceeded. These two concepts do not constitute the length and breadth of democracy, but they are the foundation stones upon which democracy rests. Winthrop S. Hudson, "Democratic Freedom and Religious Faith in the Reformed Tradition," Church History 15, no. 3 (1946): 181-2.

HT: Andrew Fulford

Guiding light

Some of the depositions spoke of miraculous sightings, of lights appearing in the sky to guide the Camisards through the dark of night past Catholic troops, and other supernatural phenomena. Claude Arnassan from Montel recounted that he had spent three years in Marseille as a galley slave, the penalty for having fought in Rolland Cavalier's troop. While soldiering, he had witnessed lights like torches in the sky, which appeared fortuitously on occasion: "He was no sooner on his knees, than there appeared in the air a light, like a large star, which advanced, pointing to the place where the assembly was met." As he was leaving, a young inspiré told Arnassan of a vision he had experienced, in which he saw that Arnassan would be imprisoned unless he immediately put himself back under Cavalier's leadership. Shortly after, he was jailed in Nîmes until 1704, Jacques Du Bois, who made his way from Montpellier to Geneva and then to London, witnessed "balls of fire fall from heaven to dazzle the eyes of their enemies" on several occasions. Similarly, Guillaume Bruguier, who had been captured at Usez, incarcerated for three months, then impressed into the king's service in Spain before deserting near Portugal, was guided in his flight by "Le Ciel": "I saw, as it were, stars directing toward the place, where it was, which I always looked upon as a guide, and never failed to find it true."C. Randall, From a Far Country: Camisards and Huguenots in the Atlantic World (University of Georgia Press 2011), 53.

French Protestants suffering intense persecution and martyrdom for their faith from the Catholic authorities. Although I certainly allow for the possibility that some of these accounts are fanciful or legendary, I think they're plausible. I find it believable that God would perform miracles like this to encourage Christians suffering severe persecution for the faith. 

These reported miracles are interesting in part because they evoke Biblical parallels. For instance, God using astronomical portents and prodigies to confound enemy troops. Likewise, functional similarities with the Star of Bethlehem. 

Liberal Bible scholars dismiss astronomical miracles as mythical or rhetorical, so it's striking to read about prima facie corroborative evidence in the annals of church history. 

What would happen if we could arrange the atoms one by one the way we want them?

Some may already be familiar with Richard Feynman's classic lecture on nanotechnology (1959), which, by the way, contains assumptions as well as ideas overlapping with ID:

"There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom"

Thinking like engineers

"Systems Biology as a Research Program for Intelligent Design" by David Snoke.

Modern-day Huguenot

Guillaume Bignon's written testimony is here.

You can follow him on his weblog as well as Twitter.

BTW, William Lane Craig did a brief podcast on Bignon.

Friday, July 18, 2014

From Newman to Vatican II

Putting the blame where it belongs

Let God Arise

Claude Arnassan recalled accompanying some men from Cavalier's troop to a place where they expected to find an assembly, but getting lost along the way. One of their number urged them: "My bothers, pray God and he will guide us." No sooner had they fallen to their knees "when there appeared a light in the air, like a large star, which moved toward the place where the Assembly was, a half league from there. As soon as this celestial flame disappeared, we heard the signing of psalms and joined our brothers." 
This was nowhere more clearly demonstrated than by the most famous miracle of the entire period, in August 1703, when Pierre Claris repeated the miracle described in the OT book of Daniel (3:23-8) by placing himself in a fire and emerging unscathed. Several historians have discussed this particular event… [e.g. Georgia Cosmos, "Trial by fire at Sérignan: an apocalyptic event in the Cévennes war and its echoes abroad," Proceedings of the Huguenot Society, 27/5 (2002), 642-58]. 
Pine cones and other combustibles were gathered and lit, and Claris stepped into the fire, continuing to prophesy until the fire had burned itself out…All of the prophets who were present and who later testified for Misson's Théâtre sacre left behind vivid accounts of his miracle, and Antoine Court remarked that "this event had a large impact in the providence and was attested by a large number of witnesses." 
Court, the Protestant historian whom Joutard credited with writing the first "modern" history of the conflict, had considerable doubts. "But," he wrote, "by the information I have gathered, the truth is here altered: first, Claris did not stay in the fire; second, he entered it twice; third, he burned his arm and was obliged to stop in Pierredon and put on a dressing." Court, the rationalist pastor who fought much of his life against the prophetism that had fired the rebellion, was a concerned to show its fallacies as the witnesses in the Théâtre sacre were to show its accuracy. W. Gregory Monahan. Let God Arise: The War and Rebellion of the Camisards (Oxford 2014), 98-99. 

The English translation of Le Théâtre sacré des Cévennes, accomplished by John Lacy, was entitled A Cry from the Desart. The most serious omission of the work, in terms of its English readership, is the collector of testimony’s preface, “Au Lecteur.” This piece is an integral part of the original which describes the aims of the work, its historical significance and the immediate context in which the depositions were collected in London. Contemporary reactions to désert prophecy (traced in chapter seven),[1] are central for an understanding of the circumstances which compelled Misson to undertake the collection of sworn evidence from former inhabitants from the region who claimed to have witnessed miraculous phenomena in the Cévennes. Witnesses who came forward between November 1706 and March 1707 to give testimony were cautioned against making false or inaccurate statements; they were to report “la vérité pure et simple” speaking only of events they could distinctly remember (pp. 24-7). 
The texts of the Théâtre sacré confirm earlier contemporary reports documenting the occurrence of prophesying in adjacent provinces: the phenomenon had first appeared after the Revocation in 1688 in the Dauphiné, after which it spread to the Vivarais and Velay. The outbreak of prophesying in the Cévennes after 1700 was perceived by believers to be of a similar nature to the “miracles” which had occurred earlier in these provinces. Witnesses’ accounts of these events in their depositions reflect understandings of unified dimensions of time (pp. 34-6). 
The depositions of the Théâtre sacré are distinct from records of interrogation held in archival repositories in France (p. 2). They are voluntary testimonies given by French exiles in London. It should be emphasized that most were collected after the act proclaimed against the Camisard inspirés in the Savoy church in January 1707. In all probability, witnesses were not unaware of the action taken against the three men by the ministry of this church. At the time of the collection of the depositions, it is unlikely that any of the witnesses could have imagined that they would later be summoned to verify their statements many of which were given under oath before Masters in Chancery (p. 166). 
Only five out of the total number of witnesses who gave depositions for the Théâtre sacré gave declarations in support of assertions in the Examen du Théâtre sacre, a pamphlet published anonymously in London in 1708 (p. 170). Denial of former testimony was prompted by the very real fear of reprisal by the consistory. Evidence in consistorial records, for example, reveals that action was taken against persons who continued to attend the inspirés’ meetings after their denunciation by the ministry of the refugee churches (p. 168). It is also not inconceivable that witnesses could have denied their former statements so as to avoid further involvement in this controversial affair. 
In my account of this event in Huguenot Prophecy, I locate this story within the context of the apocalyptic piety of the désert and also show how its reception in London provoked requests for verification of the miracle.

This is a good example of how to sift testimonial evidence for modern miracles:

i) Both Gregory Monahan and Georgia Cosmos are historians who specialize in this period. Their monographs have been published by prestigious academic publishing houses, which certainly have no bias in favor of miracles. Their studies are based on primary source material and eyewitness accounts.

ii) I don't think it's coincidental that we have reported miracles among the Huguenots and the Covenanters. I think it's antecedently more likely that God will perform encouraging miracles for Christians facing dire persecution.

iii) Cosmos discusses both the disincentive to lie under oath as well as the incentive to recant former testimony if the witness feels threatened by the escalating controversy.

iv) Monahan records the reservations of a skeptic.  But he doesn't state Antoine Court's source of information. We should take those objections into account in assessing the credibility of the reported miracle. By the same token, we should take his hostile agenda into account. 

Correcting Fred's falsehoods

I'm going to briefly comment on some accusations Fred Butler made on Facebook:
  • Fred Butler I know Phil has interacted with Steve via personal email on this. Steve is getting his info filtered through the ramblings of a notorious JMac critic/troll.
  • But let's say JMac does make 2 million a year. Ummm. So what, exactly? How is his salary have any bearing on the reputation of his ministry? How exactly would his salary of such an amount keep him from honestly criticizing the emperor decadence of the charismatic tv preachers? I happen to know someone who is extremely close to Benny Hinn, and he doesn't live modestly at all and the criticism about the money he fleeces from his followers is spot on. 
  • BTW, do all of us who actually work for the guy, who have been watching him pastor for now 20 years (as for me) Phil who has been working for the guy 30 plus year have any credibility when we say the nonsense that Steve raises is grossly exaggerated? Or are we part of the money machine covering our treasure box? That of course would then cast dispersion on our own Christian reputation,
  • Fred Butler You're not reading the documents accurately. Phil explained this all to Steve when they corresponded.
  • Fred Butler He doesn't make 2 million a year. Stop embarrassing yourself. Steve has been told this stop parroting his nonsense. I thought you all didn't believe in vows of poverty.
  • Fred Butler John doesn't make 2 million a year.
  • Brian Wagnon Ok. What does he make? If there is nothing wrong with it then it shouldn't be a problem disclosing it, right?
  • Fred Butler I have no idea. His salary is set by the board of directors of the various ministries in which he serves. I just know the man gives away a lot of it. My family has been blessed by his generosity.
i) I never put a figure on JMac's total income. I never said JMac makes 2 million a year. Can Fred quote me saying that? No. 

ii) I'm not getting my info "filtered through the ramblings of a notorious JMac critic/troll." My primary source of info. is Phil Johnson. Phil contacted me, and I asked him some questions. I then posted my correspondence. 

iii) One of the basic problems is that Phil doesn't know how much JMac makes from the combined ministries (or book royalties). And Phil doesn't want to know. He doesn't think that's anybody's business. And Fred admits that he doesn't know how much JMac makes. 

Needless to say, they're in no position to say how much he doesn't make if they don't even know how much he does make. 

iv) I realize Fred is playing the role of the loyal employee who sticks up for the boss. Like the White House press secretary who defends whatever the boss says or does. A company man. A classic apparatchik. But that's no excuse for Fred to level demonstrably false allegations and misattributions. 

The mathematicians and the NSA

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Huguenot miracles

Following Louis XIV's revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, French protestants faced the stark choice of abandoning their religion, or defying the law. Many fled abroad, whilst others continued to meet clandestinely for worship and to organise resistance to government policy, culminating in the bloody Camisard rebellion of 1702-10. During this period of conflict and repression, a distinct culture of prophecy and divine inspiration grew up, which was to become a defining characteristic of the dispersed protestant communities in southern France.

Drawing on a wide range of printed and manuscript material, this study, examines the nature of Huguenot prophesying in the Cévennes during the early years of the eighteenth century. As well as looking at events in France, the book also explores the reactions of the Huguenot community of London, which became caught up in the prophesying controversy with the publication in 1707 of Le Théatre sacré des Cévennes. This book, which recounted the stories of exiles who had witnessed prophesying and miraculous events in the Cévennes, not only provided a first hand account of an outlawed religion, but became the centre of a heated debate in London concerning 'false-prophets'. 
Georgia Cosmos, Huguenot Prophecy and Clandestine Worship in the Eighteenth Century. 
Chapter six is drawn almost entirely from the author’s article on a particular miracle near the village of Sérignan in August 1703, when the prophet Pierre Claris appeared to be consumed by fire, then walked miraculously out of it without any effect at all.[8] There were, in fact, a number of apparent miracles performed by prophets before and during the Camisard war, though this one was certainly among the more dramatic.

My Vat, Myself

Wendy Sanford, feminist coauthor of Our Body, Ourselves, was driving on the freeway when a car a few lanes ahead of her abruptly changed lanes, causing a pile up. Next thing she knew, she woke up on a beach. She had no idea how she got there. She walked up and down the beach, which circled a small island. It was a nice sandy beach with palm trees. Odd thing, the sun never went down. It's like she was living inside a loop tape. It was pleasant, but boring. She lost track of time. This continued for however long until someone broke in:
Technician: Hello, Wendy.
Wendy: Who are you?
Technician: I'm a medical technician.
Wendy: What are you doing on my beach?
Technician: Strictly speaking, you're in a hospital. 
Wendy: What do you mean?
Technician: You remember the traffic accident?
Wendy: It's coming back to me.
Technician: You were wheeled into the E.R. with multiple organ failure. The only way they could save you was to transfer your brain into a vat. 
Wendy: A vat?
Technician: Yes. The beach is just a simulation. Piped into your brain via the neurointerface. 
Wendy: I don't believe you!
Technician: You can see for yourself. This is you...or what's left of you (pointing the camera at the vat).
Wendy: How long have I been here?
Technician: 23 years.
Wendy: That long? What's the life expectancy of a brain-in-a-vat.
Technician: Barring accidents, longer than the average lifespan.
Wendy: What kind of accidents?
Technician: Sometimes vats spring a leak. We call that Vatileaks (laughing).
Wendy: I don't get it.
Technician: Sorry–it's a pun on the Vatican leaks scandal. I guess you don't have a neuro-news feed. 
Wendy: What else. 
Technician: There was the time one of our interns got a little confused about the difference between Fahrenheit and Celsius, inadvertently boiling a patient's brain alive.  Then there was the time a nurse accidentally dropped a crash cart paddle into a vat, electrocuting another patient's brain. But in general, it's pretty safe–barring the occasional prank.
Wendy: What kind of pranks? 
Technician: Well, there was the time an intern put a lab rat in one of the vats. It gnawed on the parietal lob until an orderly fished it out. Some interns have a mischievous sense of humor, you know. 
Wendy: Now that you've shattered the illusion, the least you can do is change the scenary. Can't you simulate Venice or Paris?
Technician: We've done that for some patients in your situation. 
Wendy: Why did you break in to speak with me, anyway?
Technician: I'm afraid I have a bit of bad news for you.
Wendy: What's that.
Technician: Due to a budget shortfall, the hospital will be closing this wing.
Wendy: What does that mean?
Technician: It means we're pulling the plug on the vats. 
Wendy: You mean you're terminating us?
Technician: That's a rather tactless way of putting it. 
Wendy: You can't do that to me!
Technician: Why not?
Wendy: It's my body! I take full ownership of my body. You have no right to violate my bodily integrity.
Technician: My dear, I think you've forgotten something: you don't have a body anymore. That's long gone. I know it's a hard feeling to shake. But you're just a disembodied brain swimming in a puddle of nutritious, oxygenated blood. 
Wendy: Well, it's my vat!
Technician: Actually, the vat is hospital property.
Wendy: You have a duty to keep me alive!
Technician: That would be imposing on my autonomy. 
Wendy: What will happen to me?
Technician: It's a painless procedure. After we disconnect the vat, we put the brains in ziplock bags and toss them in the dumpster. You're never know what hit you. 

The violinist

Judith Jarvis Thomson went in for her routine quarterly checkup. Next thing she knew, she woke up in the operating room, as the anesthesiologist was prepping her surgery. 

Thomson: What am I doing here? (looking confused and afraid)
Surgeon: We're prepping you for your organ transplant.
Thomson: No one told me I needed an organ transplant.
Surgeon: Oh, it's not for you. It's for him (gesturing to a patient on the operating table beside her)
Thomson: Who's that?
Surgeon: Don't you recognize him? That's Jascha Heifetz. The world-renown virtuoso violinist. He needs a new heart. And you're the lucky donor!
Thomson: That's outrageous. I didn't consent to this!
Surgeon: It's for the common good. 
Thomson: I'm a famous bioethicist. The hospital ethics committee would never agree to this.
Surgeon: Actually, the ethics committee was convinced that the life of a great violinist outweighed the life of a philosophy prof. With all due respect, philosophy profs. are a dime a dozen, but Heifetz is unique and irreplaceable. Speaking for myself, I'm much rather hear him play the Brahms violin concerto than read one of your essays.
Thomson: That's subjective.
Surgeon: Well, there's a fringe benefit: your liver, lungs, kidneys, and pancreas will be parceled out to other needy patients. That's five for the price of one. Quite a deal, if you ask me. 

Hard or soft determinism?

The zero sum game

The Godmakers

it's kind of funny what odds and ends collect dust in the attic of our memory. When I was a kid I saw a science fiction novel on display in the window of a bookstore. I only saw it once. I didn't buy the book or read the book. But it had a catchy title and a catchy picture on the cover. Before the advent of CGI, publishers relied on graphic artists to create alien landscapes. Some of these were striking. Evocative. 

Recently, out of curiosity, I decided to follow up on my memory. I typed in my recollection of the title. Turns out, there is, indeed, a science fiction novel by that title. And it's by a famous SF writer: Frank Herbert. Of course, some of you already knew that. 

To judge by the synopsis, it's about an individual who acquires "godlike" paranormal powers. But I never read it. 

Have you ever read the title of a book, then mentally sketched a story to go with the title? Created your own story, in your own imagination, to go with the title?

What struck me at the time when I saw it as a kid was the paradoxical connotations of the title. How can God have a maker if God is the Maker? The implication of the title is that there's something more ultimate than "God." Something that stands behind "God." 

That's redefining "God." Perhaps, according to the story, "God" is the product of advanced alien technology. That's what I thought as I allowed my mind to roam free and toy with the possibilities suggested by the provocative title. 

Which brings me to freewill theism. There's a sense in which, in freewill theism, human creatures are the Godmakers. 

To begin with, in freewill theism, God didn't make us. God really isn't our Creator. In freewill theism, God never intended your existence, as the particular man or woman you are. God didn't decide if, when, or where you'd be born. Rather, individual humans exist because a human male choose to mate with a human female, or vice versa. And God does't determine that choice. That's an exercise of our libertarian freedom.

At most, God made humans with a natural capacity to reproduce. After that, it's out of his hands. If freewill theism is true, we really don't have much occasion to thank God for our individual existence. That wasn't up to him. We don't own it to him. (In Molinism, God merely ratifies our choice.)

In addition, freewill theists are adamant on the fact that we can influence God. They consider that a precondition of petitionary prayer. 

On that view, either God hadn't decided what to do before we ask, or he was planning to do something else until we talked him out of it. We persuaded him to grant our request, or dissuaded him doing something else. Even on simple foreknowledge, his answer is the effect of our request. 

On this view, we have the ability to change God. To change God's mind. Or give him a new sense of purpose. 

On this view, the creative relation circles back around. God made humans with the ability to reproduce. But, for their part, humans can (and do) remake God. To influence God is to change God. We make God more like ourselves. In prayer, we bring him around to our own way of thinking. At least some of the time. 

If freewill theism is true, then we are rather like the alien "Godmakers" who are more ultimate than God. A terrifying thought. 

Some people find freewill theism liberating (pardon the pun). They feel emancipated from the "static" position of Calvinism or classical theism. Yet liberation movements have a way of starting optimistically, but ending nihilistically. Thrilling until the sun goes down and bandits roam the streets.

"How does God decide?"

Roger Olson
Your assertion does not answer the question. "According to his will" doesn't say HOW God chooses certain individuals. It leaves arbitrariness lingering over the doctrine of unconditional election. Try again. If God's selection of certain individuals is absolutely unconditional, as traditional Calvinism claims, then HOW does God decide "this one, not that one?" What criteria does he use? Once you say the selection is absolutely unconditional, that it has nothing to do with anything God "sees" in the individuals he selects, arbitrariness is already included in that assertion. There is no logical alternative.

In this post I'm going to expand on something I said in my previous post:

i) It isn't clear how Olson arrives at his definition. He seems to begin with the adjective ("unconditional"), then based on a dictionary definition of the adjective, concludes that "unconditional election" is synonymous with arbitrary election. 

If so, that's an inept way to define theological terms. The meaning of unconditional election is derived, in no small part, from what it stands in contrast to. In terms of historical theology, it stands in contrast to Arminianism, Molinism, and Roman Catholicism. Let's take a few brief definitions:

Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions (WCF 3:2). 
Election does not in any way depend on the foreseen faith or good works of man, as the Arminians teach, but exclusively on the sovereign good pleasure of God, who is also the originator of faith and good works (Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 115). 
There is no previously merit or condition in the creature, either present or foreseen, which determines the divine choice (Roger Nicole, Standing Forth, 430). 
So election to salvation is not based on anything we do. It is entirely gracious (John Frame, The Doctrine of God, 328).

So unconditional election is meant to exclude certain considerations, like merit (Roman Catholicism), foreseen faith (classical Arminianism), or the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (Molinism) as the basis of election. "Unconditional election" is "unconditional" in reference to specific positions to the contrary. 

This doesn't mean election is unconditional in the sense of being random, haphazard, or fortuitous. God can have a reason for why some individuals are elect and others reprobate. 

ii) Another problem is the misleading way Olson frames the issue. There's the specter of preexistence, as if these people came on the scene, and God must decide, after the fact, what to do with them. As if God is confronted with a bunch of people, to whom he subsequently assigns a destiny, for good or ill. 

But, of course, that's not a Calvinistic way of framing the issue. That seems to reflect Olson's subconsciously Arminian framework, where there are foreseen persons. Persons whose foreseeable existence is independent of God. 

From a Calvinist standpoint, Olson's question is like asking a novelist if he chose a character based on what he saw in the character. But that's backwards. For the character is the product of his own imagination. What he saw in the character is what he saw in his own imagination. The character has no individuality apart from the conception of the novelist. 

We're talking about God's idea of individuals. God's prior concept is the source of the individual. The individual has whatever personality, or life-experience that God mentally supplies for him. 

Election isn't contingent on what the individual is like, for what he's like is contingent on God's defining idea of what's he's like. The Reformed position is more radical than Olson appreciates. A creaturely mode of existence is entirely derivative. God "sees" in us what he puts in us–like a painter sees in a painting what he sees in his own mind and transfers to the canvass. 

Although election isn't conditioned on what God sees or foresees in the individual, that doesn't mean God has no reason for electing some and reprobating others–just as a novelist has a reason for making some characters heroes or heroines while making other characters villains. 

History is like a story in time and space. A concrete narrative. It's populated by individuals whose actions advance the plot. God's "criterion" for who's elect and reprobate is their contribution to the story. Human agents figure in historical causation. If God made Abraham reprobate rather than elect, that would change the course of world events. If Pilate was elect rather than reprobate, that would change the course of world events. God has a preferred timeline. What happens is based in part on what people are like, what they do, and that's based on the kinds of people God chooses to populate history. 

How does a novelist decide what characters to put in his story? That depends on the story he wants to tell. Plot and characters fit together. Change a character and you change the plot. You have a different outcome. By the same token, that's why God elects one individual but reprobates another. 

9 things you should know about Mormonism

Gospel and duty

"The Gospel and duty" by Paul Helm.

BBC: “Pope Francis: ‘About 2%’ of Catholic clergy are paedophiles”

Pope Francis has been quoted as saying that reliable data indicates that "about 2%" of clergy in the Catholic Church are paedophiles.

The Pope said that abuse of children was like "leprosy" infecting the Church, according to the Italian La Repubblica newspaper.

He vowed to "confront it with the severity it demands". …

In the interview, Pope Francis was quoted as saying that the 2% estimate came from advisers. It would represent around 8,000 priests out of a global number of about 414,000.

This seems low, based on “a church-sponsored report based on diocesan records” in which “4,392 Catholic priests in the United States have been accused since 1950 of sexually abusing minors. Updates have increased the USCCB's count to 6,275 priests accused through 2012”.

"Among the 2% who are paedophiles are priests, bishops and cardinals. Others, more numerous, know but keep quiet. They punish without giving the reason," Pope Francis was quoted as saying.

"I find this state of affairs intolerable," he went on.

This is one of the first articles I’ve seen that mentions “the Roman Catholic Sex Abuse Enablement Network” of bishops and higher-ups who enable these monsters to continue to be predators.

Will anything be done about it? The Vatican officially is denying that the pope was quoted accurately.

Two Roman Catholic Claims you’ll always see; one of them is always false

Maybe THE stock assumption that a Roman Catholic apologist makes is that “the Church that Christ Founded®” has anything at all to do with what the Roman Catholic religion has become today. Following up on his previous post, “Roman Catholicism on Trial: Evidence and Assumptions”, Stephen Wolfe challenges that claim and has outlined “Two Roman Catholic claims that cannot both be true”:

When engaging Roman Catholic apologists one often encounters two claims: 1) Roman Catholicism is publicly verifiable, meaning that one can provide sufficient reasons for a nonbeliever to convert to Roman Catholicism, and 2) that any conclusion concerning the type of church Christ founded that does not secure a means of certainty (as defined by Roman Catholicism) can be rejected prima facie. In this article I will examine whether or not one can consistently hold both of these claims.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mental illness and the church

The Tonton Macoutes

In the past I've compared the Obama administration to Haiti under the rule of Papa Doc, Baby Doc, and the Tonton Macoutes. Here's another example: Holdler dispatches his goon squad to investigate and intimidate Constitutionally protected political dissent:

The U.S. Department of Justice has joined the discussions over a controversial float in the Norfolk Independence Day parade. The department sent a member of its Community Relations Service team, which gets involved in discrimination disputes, to a Thursday meeting about the issue.

What's next? Will giant posters of Obama be publicly displayed on Federal buildings, like Stalin, Mao, &c.? 

Israel is so unfair

Science & religion

What comes next?

When Christians predict the foreseeable consequences of social engineering, we're accused of alarmism or poisoning the well or whatever. After the prediction comes true, it's quickly forgotten (or somehow instantly irrelevant) that we were right:

Despicable Calvinists

Arminianism is becoming more polarized and radicalized in relation to Calvinism. Calvinism itself hasn't changed that much. It's undergone some refinements. But because Arminianism was always a reactionary movement, it's not surprising that it's become more self-aware of its core values and consistent with those values. Hence, developments like Purgatory, postmortem salvation, and open theism, as well as the amissibility of salvation. 

Proponents like Jerry Walls and Roger Olson have become so antagonistic towards Calvinism that they are often incapable of representing the most sophisticated version of Calvinism or considering counterexamples to their own position. 

Roger Olson
I wouldn't go quite that far. But I think some Calvinists' views of God are similar to some Muslims' views of God. The common element is nominalism/voluntarism--the belief that God has no eternal, unchanging moral character that governs his actions but that God is absolutely free to do whatever he decides to do unfettered by any moral character. The result of that, of course, is the possibility (!) that God could change his mind and decide NOT to keep his promises. Such a God is, IMHO, cannot be trusted but only feared.

i) One of Olson's tactics is his frequent allusion to nameless Calvinists who supposedly espouse what he alleges. No names or quotes. 

ii) Olson leaves it unclear whether he's evaluating Calvinism on external or internal grounds. When he says "God has no eternal, unchanging moral character that governs his actions but that God is absolutely free to do whatever he decides to do unfettered by any moral character," is that based on Arminian standards or Reformed standards?

iii) He doesn't quote any Reformed creeds or major Reformed theologians who say that "God has no eternal, unchanging moral character that governs his actions but that God is absolutely free to do whatever he decides to do unfettered by any moral character." And he doesn't attempt to demonstrate how that's an implication of Calvinism. So this is just a tendentious, defamatory accusation with nothing to back it up. 

iv) The claim that Reformed theism is voluntaristic is part of his routine. 

Roger Olson
Yes, most Calvinists deny, when pushed, that their view of God is voluntarist (i.e., that God has no eternal, unchanging moral character that governs his will). However, whenever I ask how God is loving and just in foreordaining some portion of human beings created in his own image and likeness and allegedly loved (in some sense) by him to eternal hell and consigns them there when he could save them (because salvation is unconditional except for the conditions God himself provides) they always fall back on "God is God and can do with creatures whatever pleases him." That removes God's character from anything knowable as moral and implies nominalism/voluntarism. I don't think most Calvinists understand this, but they have to do it when pressed to explain God's character. They won't say "He doesn't have one," but what they do say amounts to that.

i) Once again, his conveniently anonymous reference to Calvinists who supposedly say this. HIs self-serving summary of what they allegedly say. What Calvinists is he asking? Is he asking Greg Welty? James Anderson? Jeremy Pierce? Paul Helm? Bill Davis? John Frame? Or is it like those "man-on-the-street" interviews?

ii) Notice the question-begging way he frames the issue. It's a loaded question: "how God is loving and just in foreordaining some portion of human beings created in his own image and likeness and allegedly loved (in some sense) by him to eternal hell and consigns them there when he could save them?"

Notice how his question implicitly takes for granted the very issue in dispute: that it's unjust. The question places the onus on the Calvinist to explain how that's just and loving, as if it's obviously unjust or unloving, and it's up to the Calvinist to overcome that crushing presumption. 

Olson is shirking his own intellectual duties. He shoulders the burden of proof in showing why he thinks that is unloving or unjust. He's not entitled to posit the prima facie injustice of Calvinism, then demand that a Calvinist disprove his stipulation. 

iii) Notice how he bundles two questions in one: Is it loving? Is it unjust? These are distinct questions. How is it indicative of the fact that "God has no eternal, unchanging moral character that governs his actions but that God is absolutely free to do whatever he decides to do unfettered by any moral character" if God redeems some evildoers but punishes others? How is that unjust? And even if it's unloving, so what? 

iv) Notice how he conflates unconditional salvation with damnation. Yet damnation is not unconditional. Only the wicked are damned. 

Roger Olson
That God does this for some and not for others when he could do it for all (because it is not based on anything he sees in anyone) is a mystery with which I cannot live. It makes God monstrous.

What Olson presumes to call "monstrous" is precisely how the NT describes the saving grace of God. According to the NT, God doesn't save individuals based on anything he sees in them. 

Roger Olson
Of course they wouldn't say that, but what's the alternative to it? Election is unconditional. How can God or anyone select individuals out of a group "unconditionally" but not arbitrarily? No Calvinist has ever explained that to me.
i) So for Olson, "arbitrary" is a synonym for "unconditional." Election is "arbitrary" unless it's based on something he sees in the elect. 
Yet humans are wicked. What God sees in us is evil. 
ii) And, once again, we're treated to his stock allusion to unnamed Calvinists. 
Roger Olson
Ah, but for Calvinists to become like the God their theory projects, they would be despicable people, moral monsters--going around rescuing some people and leaving others whom they could rescue in their horrible situations--arbitrarily. Thank God few Calvinists are like the God they claim to believe in.

Notice how Olson acts as though it's self-evidently true that Calvinists would be "despicable people, moral monsters--going around rescuing some people and leaving others whom they could rescue in their horrible situations--arbitrarily."

But doesn't that depend on the kind of people in need of rescuing? Is there a standing obligation to rescue someone no matter how evil he is? There's a fundamental difference between rescuing someone in spite of his evil and acting as if there's a moral obligation to rescue him if you can. 

Olson bandies the phrase "moral monsters." Does he think we are duty-bound to rescue moral monsters? What's wrong with letting a moral monster die? If a moral monster finds himself in a "horrible situation," isn't that poetic justice? How does Olson become so morally twisted that he lacks that elementary moral discrimination? 

Roger Olson
No, it is not an explanation. It is simply an appeal to "God's will." It doesn't say anything about HOW God selects individuals for election to salvation. Strangely, Calvinists think this answer answers the question; it doesn't even begin to. As for God being just in condemning some to hell while arbitrarily selecting others for salvation--that's a very strange kind of justice that makes God monstrous. In fact, it isn't justice at all.

Once more, Olson contents himself with these dictatorial assertions, as if that's indisputable. How is it "unjust" or "monstrous" to condemn some evildoers to hell? How is it unjust to redeem other evildoers through the atonement of Christ? Where is his argument? 

i) Let's consider the charge of "arbitrariness" from another angle. Unconditional election isn't "arbitrary" in the sense of God flipping a coin. Olson seems to operate with a mental picture of election and reprobation where you have a line of captives in single file. There's a guard who directs some people to the right and others to the left. Some people go free while others go to the firing squad. The choice is random. 

But in Calvinism, both elect and reprobate are sinners. If election were conditional (based on what God sees in us), no one would be saved, for we are evil absent God's justification and sanctification.

ii) To say election is unconditional doesn't mean God has no reason for whom he elects or reprobates. If God reprobated Abraham, that would change world history. If God elected Pilate, that would change world history. If God reprobated Paul, that would change world history.

One reason God elects some people and reprobates others is because God has a particular plan for the world. It's like a novel with a plot and characters. The characters drive the plot. If you had different characters, that would change the plot. If the novelist wants the story to go one way, he creates characters who move events in that direction.

Abraham has a role to play in God's story: a role that requires Abraham to be saved. Paul has a role to play: a role that requires Paul to be saved. 

Pilate has a role to play: a role that requires Pilate to be unsaved. If Pilate had been a God-fearer, he would have acquitted Jesus. But then, the plan of salvation would come to a screeching halt. The crucifixion had to be authorized by a Roman official. So Pilate's reprobation serves a purpose. 

God doesn't reprobate Pilate because of something he sees in Pilate. Rather, Pilate is a reprobate character. God created a villain to play the part of a villain. Reprobation is a character trait, just as saving Paul or saving Abraham is part of the package. They have a mission in God's plan which requires them to be saved. 

It's analogous to the organic theory of inspiration, where God providentially creates individuals with just the right personality, aptitude, education, and experience to become apostles, prophets, and/or Bible writers. God isn't picking some people for salvation and others for damnation at random. 

Moreover, it's not as if humans preexist in a neutral state (like Schrödinger's cat) before God either elects or reprobates them. Rather, God conceives of them with a particular destiny in mind. 

God is not a casting director, talent scout, or army recruiter who's on the lookout for what's needed. Rather, God creates the means as well as the ends. 

Roger Olson
This is a debate even among Calvinists--whether sanctification includes an element of synergism. Some Calvinists who are adamant about monergism in justification-regeneration allow an element of cooperation between the human will and God's grace in sanctification. Other Calvinists see that as a betrayal of the sovereignty of grace. As an Arminian I don't have that problem because, for me, it's synergism from beginning of salvation to its end. God provides all the ability (Philippians 2:13) but we decide to use it (2:12).

That's confused. "Cooperation" doesn't mean the same thing in Calvinism and freewill theism. In freewill theism, cooperation introduces an element of contingency or uncertainty into the outcome. It's a free variable that's not under God's control.

In Calvinism, by contrast, how much we cooperate with God is up to God. He controls the degree of cooperation. Sanctification can be deterministic without being monergistic. 

The Bible is the obstacle

What you win them with is what you win them to
Andy Stanley recently gave an interview that's getting some buzz:

In your book Deep & Wide, you suggest preachers should use more specific citations like "Jesus says" or "Paul says" rather than "The Bible says." What's at stake in using the phrase "the Bible says"?
In using phrases like "the Bible says," we assume a person is a Christian, because only a Christian takes the Old Testament and the New Testament as authoritative. So if I'm going to preach to people who aren't Christians, I have to leverage a different point of authority if I'm going to expect them to track along with me.
i) I'm unclear on the setting. Is he talking about a church setting or a gathering outside church? Normally, you're not going to find a group of unbelievers who are prepared to sit there and quietly listen to a Christian preacher. 
ii) Given the extent of biblical illiteracy in the general culture, many people don't know what the Bible says. It's useful to educate them on what the Bible says. For many of them, their knowledge of Scripture is based on hostile, thirdhand caricatures. Verses ripped out of context. Village atheist websites. So teaching them what "the Bible says" is a salutary corrective. 
iii) I agree with him that when dialoguing with an unbeliever, you can't simply quote Scripture, for the authority of Scripture is not a given (for the unbeliever). But that doesn't mean you can't quote Scripture. You can give him reasons for believing in Scripture. You can make a case for the authority of Scripture. 
iv) In addition, it's good for a pastor to include some apologetic content in his sermons. Or refer to apologetic resources on the church website. 
To get a person to the point where they believe the Bible is authoritative, they first have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. The reason Christians take the Old Testament seriously is because Jesus did. We don't think of it that way, because [most of us] didn't become a Christian by becoming Jewish first and then a Christian. But any Gentile who takes the Old Testament seriously does so because Jesus did.
But that's absurdly shortsighted. Jesus didn't write anything. Quoting what "Jesus says" in contrast to what the "Bible says" is deceptive, for what "Jesus says" comes down to what Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John say Jesus said. So, if you're going to be logical, you can't avoid the appeal to Scripture. We don't have direct access to what Jesus said. That's mediated by the Gospels (as well as a few quotes from 1 Corinthians and Revelation).
In my book, I explain that I believe Adam and Eve are real people, not because the Bible says so, but because Jesus believed they were. 
They don't have to believe Noah built an ark and put animals on it to get there. In fact, the reason I believe the Noah story is historical is because Jesus did. 
I've already pointed out one fundamental problems with that shortcut (see above). In addition, that's a very defective religious epistemology. Andy acts as if the OT has no intrinsic credibility. But although the NT lends credibility to the OT, the OT lends credibility to the NT. The NT needs OT backing. 
So my point is this: Why create an unnecessary obstacle—it's all or nothing; it's the Bible—when the real issue is Jesus.
Believing the Bible is an unnecessary obstacle? Andy's approach is completely at odds with the evangelistic and apologetic methodology of the apostles, NT missionaries, and NT writers. 
I get pushback on this approach. But the truth is no one had copies of the New Testament until the printing press. If you did, you were wealthy. We forget that for 1,500 years, people had only bits and pieces. They saw only a copy or heard portions of Scripture read. Nobody in A.D. 150 got up in church and said, "The Bible says." They leveraged the Old Testament and then talked about Jesus or read a copy of something Paul said. Using phrases like "The Bible says" is a modern phenomenon.
"Scripture says" is a stock NT quotation formula. 
A lady I know wrote an article about how she lost her faith because she found contradictions in Scripture. She somehow believed that the foundation of her Christian faith was a contradictory-less Scripture. So when she found contradictions in Scripture, her faith crumbled. That's so unfortunate because the foundation of the Christian faith is not a Scripture without contradictions. I think my approach actually runs around all of that.
Biblical revelation is a foundational element of the Christian faith. That's not something we can or should run around. We shouldn't pander to people's unbelief. The Christian faith isn't a stack of bargaining chips. An evangelist doesn't negotiate terms with the unbeliever. The unbeliever isn't doing God a favor. 
Andy means well, but I think he's in over his head. Being the scion of a famous SBC pastor gave him a launchpad. I doubt he would have risen that far on the merits, with an entry-level position. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The bitter fruits of feminism

A few weeks ago I was strolling through the parking lot to check on something at the drugstore. I saw an older woman in the parking lot, holding her keys, just standing there, at a loss. It seems obvious that she had forgotten where she parked her car.

Of course, that can happen to the best of us. However, this isn't some huge, sprawling parking lot at a shopping mall, or multistory parking tower at the airport. It's a fairly compact parking lot. Not that many places to look. 

It's possible that her eyesight is bad. Maybe she has macular degeneration. But I'm guessing she was having a senior moment.

Anyway, I was going to be in and out of the drugstore in a jiffy, so I figured that would give her an extra couple of minutes to find her car on her own, if she could. If she was still there when I emerged, I'd offer assistance.

Nowadays people are so suspicious that you're sometimes hesitant to volunteer help. 

Anyway, she was gone when I came back about 2 minutes later, so I assume she found her car. 

I say all that to say this: we have a generation of younger women who don't believe in motherhood. Dogs have taken the place of kids. Likewise, live-in boyfriends have taken the place of husbands.

A lot of these independent women are going to find themselves in the situation of this woman. They will become increasingly forgetful. Lose control. And they won't have any grown children to take up the slack. Cute pet dogs won't help them in that situation. Moreover, by that time, society will be increasingly intolerant of the elderly. 

It will be too late for them to make up for lost time. They imbibed feminism. Their biological clock struck midnight. That's a lost opportunity.   

I sometimes see the elderly in motorized wheelchairs go shopping on their own. Crossing busy intersections. They are so vulnerable. Easy pickings for a mugger. They are old enough to have grown children. Where are their kids? Are they childless? Are their kids estranged? The product of broken homes?

Monstrous grace

Roger Olson
That God does this for some and not for others when he could do it for all (because it is not based on anything he sees in anyone) is a mystery with which I cannot live. It makes God monstrous.

Olson has gotten to the point where he calls good evil. He looks grace square in the face and calls it morally monstrous. Frankly, Olson's theology is diabolical. 

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded (Rom 3:37)

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God (Rom 4:2)

28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being[a] might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him[b] you are in Christ Jesus (1 Cor 1:28-30).
7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Cor 4:7).
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness (2 Cor 11:30).

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8-9).
11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion,[b] but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Rom 9:11-22).