Saturday, August 02, 2014


i) Recently I've run across criticisms of Joyce Meyer, Beth Moore, and Sarah Young. This is framed in terms of the perennial cessationist/continuationist debate. I'll have more to say on that shortly.

I do think it's good that these people are scrutinized. Unfortunately, those who need to hear it aren't listening while those who listen don't need to hear it. It would be more effective if more of their critics were coming from the charismatic movement, rather than outside the movement. That's a typical failing of the charismatic movement. 

I myself only know them by reputation. I haven't read them or read much about them. I'm happy to delegate the evaluation to countercult ministries. A few years ago, I listened to Joyce Meyer for a few minutes, just to see if I could figure out the basis of her appeal. She struck the pose of a stand-up comedienne. Maybe that's what her fans like about her.

ii) There seem to be a number of women in this general vein. In addition to Young, Meyer, and Moore, you also have Gloria Copeland, Cindy Jacobs, and Paula White. One question is whether there's a distinctively charismatic component to their following. 

From what I can tell, it's more about gender than theology. Female bonding. Some women like to listen to other women. Some female speakers (and authors) have a strong following among women. I daresay their followers almost exclusively female. And it doesn't have to have a religious component, much less a charismatic component. Take Oprah Winfrey, Ann Landers, "Dear Abby," Joyce Brothers, or Laura Schlessinger. 

Likewise, you have popular women in the culture wars, like Janet Parshall, Sandy Rios, Beverley LaHaye. You also have popular women who are evangelical, but not charismatic, viz. Catherine Marshall, Elizabeth Elliot, Elizabeth Schaeffer, Jill Briscoe, Joni Tada, Anne Graham Lotz. On the Catholic side there's Mother Teresa and Mother Angelica.  On the "progressive" side there's Rachel Held Evans. Cori ten Boom had a following. She was charismatic, but she also had an inspiring personal story about hiding Jews from Nazis. 

So, from what I can tell, the religious or charismatic factor seems to be pretty incidental. It's mainly about gender. Women of no particular religious persuasion gravitate to women like Oprah. Evangelical fans gravitate to evangelical speakers. Catholic fans gravitate to Catholic speakers. Charismatic fans gravitate to charismatic speakers. The common denominator is gender. Women are fans of a woman who happens to be evangelical, happens to be Catholic, happens to be charismatic. They seem to be draw to women they can relate to, woman to woman. Women who "speak" to their situation. Women who understand what it's like to be a wife, mother, &c. The religious identity is accessory to that baseline appeal. A collective sense of sisterhood. 

It's like the way women are the market niche for soap operas and Harlequin romance novels. Not all women, of course, but hardly any men. By contrast, I don't think most men read or listen to other men because the writer or speaker is a man. More that he usually happens to be a man. Someone like Greg Laurie might be an exception. 

iii) On one level, cessationism has a simple way of winnowing the wheat from the chaff. If God no longer speaks to people, then, by definition, a modern-day prophetess is a false prophetess. 

iv) However, critics often discredit them for heresy, mispredictions, or demonstrably false claims. That's independent of cessationism. 

v) Although the cessationist criterion is practical, it lacks a basis in principle inasmuch as you had prophetesses in the NT church (cf. Acts 21:9; 1 Cor 11). Christians during the NT era did have to evaluate their claims (e.g. 1 Jn 4:1ff.). They couldn't invoke cessationism, for even if cessationism is true, the canon wasn't closed at that juncture.

vi) Cessationist critics say that if God still speaks to Christians, then the canon is open. Given continuing revelation, we should add that to Scripture.

One problem with that argument is the conspicuous fact that the NT church didn't draw that inference. For instance, Paul talks about prophetesses in 1 Cor 11, but he doesn't record their revelations. Luke talks about daughters of Philip, but he doesn't record their prophecies.  The reason, presumably, is that most of these prophecies were ephemeral. Addressing a particular individual, in his particular circumstances, with his particular needs. Not for Christians in general. Not for all time. 

vii) Apropos (vi), cessationist critics say that if God still speaks to Christians, then we must submit to Joyce Meyer, Beth Moore, et al. But by parity of argument, that would mean 1C Christians ought to submit to Jezebel (Rev 2:20ff.). That objection is far too indiscriminate. 

For instance, the fact that Sarah Young says Jesus speaks to her doesn't give me the slightest reason to think Jesus speaks to her. It's not as if Jesus told me that he speaks to her. Indeed, I have reason to think God is not speaking to these women. From what I've read about her, Joyce Meyer bears an uncanny resemblance to a savvy, shady businesswoman whose found a lucrative market niche among gullible customers. 

One thing I notice in pop charismatic circles is that people who have no particular competence find it convenient to claim direct revelation. That's a substitute for what's clearly lacking in terms of acuity, judgment, and expertise. 

viii) There's also an ironic tension in followers who look to modern-day prophets for spiritual guidance. Based on their prooftexts (Jn 5:45; Acts 2:17; 1 Jn 2:20,27), isn't a special class of prophets or prophetesses redundant? Given the charismatic premise, why would Jesus speak to Sarah Young but not to her fans? Given the charismatic premise, Christians should not be dependent on a priestly caste of prophets and prophetesses, for isn't every Christian a prophet in the making? 

ix) However, irony can be a two-way street. In the case of women, cessationism intersects with complementarianism. But that also exposes certain tensions in the coalition. Joni Tada was a speaker at the Strange Fire Conference. How is that consistent with the prohibition against female preachers, in mixed company?  

Moreover, does she have a female fan base for essentially different reasons than Joyce Meyer, Sarah Young et al.? Aren't the psychological dynamics very much the same? 

Likewise, notice how these same staunch complementarians praise Janet Mefferd for reproving a male pastor (Mark Driscoll). But doesn't that upend their stated position on Biblical manhood and womanhood? We witness some cynical role reversals when it furthers their own agenda. The message clashes with the messenger. 

More Jewish than Jews

Schlessinger began her August 5 program by noting that, prior to each broadcast, she spends an hour reading faxes from fans and listeners. “By and large the faxes from Christians have been very loving, very supportive,” she said. “From my own religion, I have either gotten nothing, which is 99% of it, or two of the nastiest letters I have gotten in a long time. I guess that’s my point — I don’t get much back. Not much warmth coming back.”

This exposes a paradox in contemporary Judaism. On the one hand, I assume the primary constituency for right-wing Jewish talk-show hosts like Michael Medved and Dennis Prager comes from the evangelical community. Conversely, you have rampant anti-Semitism within Jewish ranks. For instance:

Ironically, there's a sense in which many evangelicals are more Jewish than many Jews. 

Friday, August 01, 2014

The difference between minds and computers

Illustrates a challenge for AI researchers:

The mountain of the house of the Lord

There are some striking parallels between Eden and the temple in Ezekiel. To begin with, both Eden and the temple are situated on mountains:
40 In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me to the city. 2 In visions of God he brought me to the land of Israel, and set me down on a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city to the south (Ezk 40:1-2). 
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God;
    every precious stone was your covering,
sardius, topaz, and diamond,
    beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;
    and crafted in gold were your settings
    and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
    they were prepared.
14 You were an anointed guardian cherub.
    I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
    in the midst of the stones of fire you walked (Ezk 28:13-15).

So Eden is a type of shrine or sanctuary. A prototype of the temple. 

Here's a different parallel:

47 Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar (Ezk 47:1). 
A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers (Gen 2:10). 
Although Ezekiel's imagery is mainly symbolic, it probably has a basis in fact. It's natural to view the rivers or tributaries of Eden as mountain streams. 
In addition, the temple was erected on a hill: "Mt Zion." In prophetic imagery, this assumes a hyperbolic elevation:

It shall come to pass in the latter days    that the mountain of the house of the Lordshall be established as the highest of the mountains,    and shall be lifted up above the hills;and all the nations shall flow to it (Isa 2:2).

Here's another parallel:

Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it (Exod 25:9). 
11 Then David gave Solomon his son the plan of the vestibule of the temple, and of its houses, its treasuries, its upper rooms, and its inner chambers, and of the room for the mercy seat; 12 and the plan of all that he had in mind for the courts of the house of the Lord, all the surrounding chambers, the treasuries of the house of God, and the treasuries for dedicated gifts (1 Chron 28:11-12).
Commentators generally agree that the word "pattern" denotes, not a set of verbal instructions, but a replica. That would dovetail with God "showing" Mosaic what to do. 
In other words, God gave Moses a vision of tabernacle. An archetypal tabernacle, on which the earthly tabernacle was modeled. 
This might suggest vertical typology, where the terrestrial tabernacle and temple copy celestial exemplars. Earthly counterparts to heavenly archetypes. And, indeed, the Bible uses that imagery:
2 Hear, you peoples, all of you;    pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it,and let the Lord God be a witness against you,    the Lord from his holy temple.3 For behold, the Lord is coming out of his place,    and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth (Micah 1:2-3).
They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain” (Heb 8:5; cf. 9:23-24). 
i) This doesn't mean Bible writers thought there was a physical temple in the sky or above the sky. To some extent, the sky itself is the temple. The earthly tabernacle or temple is, in part, a symbolic representation of the vast, illuminated cosmos. 
Bible writers view God as essentially bodiless. So it's not as if they thought God really dwelt in a heavenly temple. 
So what did Moses and Ezekiel see? Presumably, they saw God's idea of the tabernacle and temple. God has ideas of everything. He showed them his idea. In a way, he let them peer into his own mind. 
ii) In that sense, Ezekiel vision of the temple is not, in the first instance, about the future, but the present or the past. About what's always been, and always will be. What already exists. Forever subsisting in God's eternal mind. Existing in God's timeless imagination. 
If you could look into God's mind, what would you see? You'd see the history of the world. You'd see alternate histories. Ideas of unexemplified possibilities. What might have been, but never was. God's infinite mind is the ultimate source of all possibilities and actualities. In that sense, Ezekiel's vision is retrospective rather than prospective–which doesn't preclude a future realization in time and space.
iii) This may also explain how the Genesis narrator got some of his information about primordial or prediluvian history: by direct revelation. If God gave Moses a vision of the tabernacle, why not a vision of Gen 1, or Gen 2-3, &c.? 

By the same token, revelatory dreams figure frequently and prominently in Genesis (e.g. Abimelech, Jacob, Joseph, Egyptian baker, cupbearer, Pharaoh).
That doesn't rule out Moses using ancestral records for some of the material in Genesis. But in some cases, visionary revelation would be a simpler explanation. 

One potential objection to this explanation is that visionary accounts typically say the speaker or writer saw this in a dream or vision. 

However, that objection overlooks the fact that a Biblical narrator typically recounts events from a third-person perspective. Even if he was an active participant, he assumes the detached voice of a third-person reporter. He doesn't break that literary convention with first-person interjections.

Corduan on the Chicago Statement

Win Corduan provides an insider account and defense of the much maligned and often ridiculed Chicago Statement on inerrancy:
I have made the point that Protestants, in considering the traditions of the church and the statements issued by councils, accept them as potentially very helpful ways of coming to terms with doctrines based on the Bible, but they do not consider them to be of equal authority with the Bible. On the other hand, this approach doesn’t entail that they are merely suggestions that can be ignored at a whim if one should be so inclined because, as I have stated, they are unparalleled ways of structuring the doctrines in question. Not to consider them is not an indication of freedom, let alone creativity, but an indication of ignorance or sloth.

Of course, once an organization has established certain creeds or doctrines as requirements for membership, they are binding for those who want to be a part of it. Else, there would probably be not much of a point in having the organization. This assertion is not theological in nature; it just has to do with one’s commitment and with one’s sincerity in honoring the commitments one has made to a certain group. So, for example, if I were to join a Reformed Church, and their requirement would include accepting the Heidelberg Confession and the Canons of Dort, then I should subscribe to them, and if I didn’t, I should neither join up, or, if I changed my mind later, remain I should not remain within the group. (I was going to ask rhetorically whether any group would ever pass a declaration that pronounced, “On the whole, we’re not sure about this"? But, come to think of it, the fifth article of the Remonstrance reads that way, which has no bearing, of course, on its truth or falsehood). These considerations apply to both Church and para-Church organizations. Church groups are under a little bit more pressure because, after all, most of them contend that they represent true biblical Christianity. Para-church organizations, even though an arm of the church, have more freedom to establish their statements of faith because they will be geared to fit their calling (and perhaps the comfort of participating individuals).

Which brings us to ICBI, ETS, and ISCA. The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) was formed by a group of theologians and pastors in order to restore to prominence what they perceived to be the proper understanding of the nature of the Bible. Please understand here, that the word “council" in this context refers to a relatively small group of self-selected evangelical leaders, such as J.I. Packer, Norman L. Geisler, Gleason Archer, James Boyce, etc., and that they agreed that after accomplishing what they were trying to do, they would dissolve themselves—as they did. As a rookie, so to speak, I was not on the council, but I was there for the first two “summits" as participant and signatory.) The group was not ecumenical, and it did not intend to be so. From the beginning, it had a very specific agenda, namely, to promote a clear understanding of the inspiration of the Bible and its entailment of inerrancy.

One of the things that they did in order to further that end was to hold larger “summit" meetings that would come up with a lengthy statement expounding on the doctrine. It was not intended to be a large-scale forum for debate where fundamentalists, evangelicals, neo-orthodox, modernists, and so forth would get together and hammer out their differences in order to arrive at a nothing-burger statement, which would be mutually acceptable to all of them. The intent right from the beginning was to defend the view that was held by people who had a commitment to biblical inerrancy and to deny positions that were incompatible with it. Of course, there is (and should be) an ongoing dialogue with other Christian traditions, but this was not one of them. The official statement was intended to say, “Okay, we represent this view of the Bible and biblical inerrancy, which we believe is the correct one; this is what we mean by it." In the future evangelical Christians could then consult this document stating what this group of evangelicals leaders, both scholars and pastors, defined as the best understanding of “biblical inerrancy." It could not be binding on any person or any organization except by choice.

At the first summit in 1978, the council invited a larger number of representatives from the evangelical community who would be in sympathy with their goals. Your bloggist had the privilege of being present at this, the first of three “summits." I was still definitely feeling like a rookie, probably because I was, as I was mingling among these evangelical leaders (“those who seemed to be ‘pillars,’"). This larger group had no more ecclesiastical authority than the small core; it cannot even be defined as a “Council" in the same sense as Nicaea or Chalcedon, and the ICBI statement made that point right from the beginning. Leaders of some denominations were present, but their attendance and later implementations in their denominations, if any, was up to them and their churches. We spent several days listening to different people address various aspects of the topic of inerrancy and working on refining it. At the outset of the meeting, a prepared statement was circulated, to which everyone, in large and small groups, could make comments and suggest changes. (By the way, this is the method that other large groups also have used, for example Vatican II or the World’s Parliament of Religions; what comes out in the end is often very different from the original draft.)

The result was the celebrated “Chicago Statement," though I, for one, had no idea at how “celebrated" it would eventually become; viz. I wasn’t sure how many people would actually pay any attention to it. Having been present at the meeting, I can vouch for the fact that we did not see ourselves as bishops or prelates but as evangelicals who were working together on an important matter. I remember somebody remarking somewhere along the line, perhaps in an elevator, that if the folks who put together the Westminster Confession were called the “Westminster Divines," we should be called the “Chicago Divines." But that was meant as a joke. We were serious, but not sanctimonious. I suspect that the folks at Vatican II, despite the necessary glorious self-references in the documents, felt the same way.

Obviously, the statements should not and cannot be interpreted as de fide, nor would the council even have dreamed of coming up with anathemas. How could a consultation of this sort, which was not a church, anathematize anyone? The statements of denial are simply statements of “that’s not what we mean." They were indictments of ideas as false in the light of our conviction of truth. In fact, we stressed in the discussions, as well as made a point in the document, that people who did not accept the statement were not, ipso facto, non-Christians. Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of negative feedback from those who did not share our understanding on Scripture because a) they were not consulted; and b) they did not get to write the rules, c) the standards were published even though they disagreed with them, and d) they didn't like anything evangelicals did.

The council was very much aware of the potential gap between believing that what the Bible says as true and trustworthy and understanding its content. Thus, a few years after the first large meeting, they held Summit II (1982), which specifically dealt with hermeneutics, the theory of how to understand a text, or, more specifically in this case, the text of the Bible. Once again, papers were read, debated, and discussed. At times the conversation got just a little heated. The outcome was another statement, again including affirmations and denials, on the consensus that could be established on hermeneutics among those who subscribed to biblical inerrancy. Once again, your bloggist had the privilege of being there, presenting a paper, and participating in the discussion. Seriously, I am pleased that I was invited and was allowed to be a part of something that turned out to be far more significant than I had imagined at the time.
Fast-forward to the twenty years or so, to the time when the Evangelical Theological Society was debating the topic of “open theism." The society had only two points of doctrine in their statement of faith, namely, a commitment to the inerrancy of the 66 books of the biblical canon and a statement affirming the Trinity. For a while, already prior to the discussion on open theism (the belief that God has chosen not to know the future), some people had raised questioned how exactly inerrancy should be interpreted. Others told me that they felt free to sign the statement affirming inerrancy while giving themselves quite a bit of latitude in how they understood the term. I remember a brief discussion with a seminary teacher who quipped that, well, he was signing the statement every year, but he was pretty sure that what he meant by “inerrancy" was most likely not what most other members of the society meant by the term. Most everyone around the table chuckled at this juvenile “school-boy-defies-headmaster" attitude. It was not a good moment for me to bring up the topic of personal integrity, let alone the not-so-revolutionary idea that, rightly interpreted, the Bible is, in fact, true in all that it affirms. I doubt that this professor allowed his students to cheat on his exams, but he was cheating them.

Now, I like to think that maybe I may have had a teensy-weensy little part in what ensued. The context of the discussion at ETS in the early 2000’s was the debate on “open theism." The main question came down to whether two members who held to the view of “open theism" could remain a part of the society. Underneath that matter was a theological issue, namely, whether open theism, according to which God does not know the future, is compatible with biblical inerrancy. One of the difficulties is that one cannot reconcile a God who is less than omniscient with predictive prophecies, those that have already been fulfilled and those that are still outstanding.

During that debate, one of the gentlemen whose membership was in question declared that the idea of biblical inerrancy was so ambiguous or vague that it really could not provide a solid standard against which we could measure the correctness of what he was teaching and writing. His own statement to that effect was followed up by other people chiming in that they, too, were really confused about the meaning of biblical inerrancy. I availed myself of the opportunity of making a speech of no longer than five minutes (though I’m sure I did not even take that long), which I concluded by asking: “If you’re not clear on the meaning of ’inerrancy,’ what in the world are you signing every year?" There was a little bit of giggling and just a smattering of applause, which the president of the society immediately gaveled down. Bill Craig, who was sitting right next to me, grinned as he complimented me on my “little rhetorical flourish," though I'm pretty sure I didn't change his mind on the larger subject.

So, since the meaning of inerrancy had been raised within ETS, it received official action. I’m don't know precisely what the ensuing process was because right about then I stopped attending ETS for various unrelated reasons. I do know this: the society responded to the criticism that the idea of “inerrancy" was too vague, and that it needed to spell out in more rigorous terms exactly what should be entailed by it. And so it did. The society voted that the operative more precise understanding was the Chicago Statement. Thus, theoretically, the alleged ambiguity should have been resolved. (I believe, though, that a number of people who had claimed to be befuddled by the term a few years ago are now complaining that it is too restricted and narrow, and that, consequently, it is legitimate for them to circumvent it.)

Nobody (to my knowledge) is making any claim that the Chicago Statement has been divinely revealed, that it is inspired, that it bears intrinsic authority, or anything else that one may associate with creedal statements in some churches. Nevertheless, it did become the official reference point for the Evangelical Theological Society, who as I said, is not a church nor claims to be an arbiter over the Church. Now, I must add, lest I create a wrong impression, that I don’t think that the Chicago Statement was totally arbitrary or just an opinion, or that anybody else’s formulation would be just as good as that one. Just as with the Nicaean and Chalcedonian creeds did with their topics (though on a different scale), I think that it expressed the meaning of biblical inerrancy in a very solid and rigorous way, one which can easily withstand the opposition to inerrancy by self-appointed judges who believe that it is wrong for a group to establish membership criteria that excludes them.

Now, most of the foregoing was, as I said, yet another stack. So, let’s pop back to where we’re supposed to be and remember that our main issue here is neither the question of inerrancy per se nor the question of any one particular person’s stand on the issue of biblical authority. My point is the nature of the Chicago Statement, and how it is useable for the church in general. It is an affirmation that anyone who takes the inspiration of the Bible seriously should take into account. After all, if you don’t believe in the full truth of the Bible, on which our doctrines are supposed to be based, how can you justify your particular doctrines — unless you resort once again to tradition and a magisterium? As to the societies that have adopted the Chicago Statement as a part of their statement of faith, they have not added another authoritative creed alongside the Bible, but have committed themselves to an interpretation that suits their identity. For Protestants, creeds are only as authoritative as we allow them to be, and the same thing applies to the Chicago Statement.

Thus, there is absolutely no inconsistency, let alone contradiction, in a Christian organization such as ISCA (International Society of Apoogetics) making reference to the creeds in clarifying its doctrinal basis. It is not thereby violating its avowed beliefs concerning the value of external traditions and authorities.

The hero with a thousand faces

I disagree with Marshall's skepticism regarding the nativity accounts. That aside, this is a good critique of Richard Carrier's parallelomania and mythicism:

Hope for the hurting

Can Lister keep the balance?

Roman Catholic Priests, Sex Abuse, and Cover-Up: They’re Still At It

Under oath, whistleblower challenges Archbishop Nienstedt over abuse testimony

The former top canon lawyer for the Roman Catholic diocese of Minneapolis/St. Paul has filed an affidavit with the court suggesting that the Archbishop of that Diocese was not truthful under oath. The charges were made in a 107-page affidavit filed as part of an abuse lawsuit earlier this week. The attorney who’s filing the lawsuit said “We've never seen or had revealed to us the inner-workings of an archdiocese and top officials in real time”.

This is not “old news”. It’s current news, as recent as this week, about the secretive activities of bishops to protect pedophile priests, even today. This one is an accusation of cover-up from an insider.

The affidavit comes at a critical time in a massive clergy sexual abuse lawsuit filed against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona by attorney Jeff Anderson….

The case has already forced the depositions of [current Archbishop] Nienstedt, former Archbishop Harry Flynn, St. Louis archbishop Robert Carlson, and other top officials. It's also required church officials to turn over more than 60,000 pages of internal documents. Van de North had ordered church officials in December to disclose the names of abusive priests, as well.

Haselberger's sweeping account offers an unprecedented look at how Catholic leaders handled clergy sexual abuse from 2008 to 2013. It appears to provide key evidence to back up Anderson's claim that the archdiocese has continued to put children at risk of sexual assault. And it comes as the archdiocese considers whether to file for bankruptcy as it faces an onslaught of abuse cases allowed under a state law that gives victims more time to sue.

Read more

Learn more about how they do it:
Rome’s Institutionally Sanctioned Lying
The Official Roman Catholic Policy of Obstruction of Justice

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Religious support for Israel

Religious support for the modern state of Israel typically involves a commitment to dispensationalism. However, that can distract us from the fact that a religious motivation for supporting Israel isn't confined to dispensationalism. There are, in principle, more generic religious reasons, independent of dispensationalism.
i) Religious Jews and Christians share a fundamental theological solidarity. Both groups believe in the OT. And, of course, Christians inherited the OT from the Jews. So we have that basic common ground. That common foundation. 
ii) Moreover, there are Messianic Jews, some of whom live in Israel. As fellow Christians, that's stronger that solidarity–that's identity. That's supporting persecuted Christians. 
iii) Furthermore, you don't have to be a dispensationalist to believe in a future Christian revival within Judaism. Amils, postmils, and historic premils can (and sometime do) believe that.
iv) Of course, the religious angle isn't limited to Jewish/Christian relations. We should also be concerned about the plight of indigenous Christians (e.g. Arab Christians) in the Mideast. They have a claim, too. I'll admit, however, that I'm put off by how often Arab Christians side with Muslims against Israel. 
Now, perhaps some of that is explicable due to the fact that Arab Christians aren't at liberty to express their true feelings about Islam. Even so, there's a difference between not saying what you believe and saying what you don't believe.
Finally, the church should maintain a vigorous missionary outreach to Muslims. Unfortunately, many Muslims and Muslim regimes make that extremely difficult. 

Muslims leading Muslims to Christ

An audible voice

I'm going to comment on part of a Facebook discussion:

Todd Pruitt One error we must avoid is making normative what is never intended to be. In other words, I must not expect to be given special direct revelation as the prophets and apostles were. If God speaks to me in the way he spoke to his chosen prophets and apostles then we would need to add to the Scriptures. Of course, that is exactly what the Mormons did. 
Todd Pruitt Does God every speak in a way that is not fully authoritative, unerring, and binding? 
Todd Pruitt What I'm getting at is does God ever speak to us with such clarity, authority, and accuracy that we are able to say with certainty: "Thus says The Lord"? 
Todd Pruitt This is a huge, and I believe insurmountable problem for those who believe in continuing revelation. I can never get an answer to the question I have posted here. I think it is because they know there is a fatal flaw in their understanding of how God continues to speak to his people. They desire to affirm continuing direct speech from God but they want it to somehow be not entirely binding or clear. I simply cannot find a category for God speaking in an unclear, less than inerrant, and less than binding way. 
Todd Pruitt Part of our difference is perhaps the way we are defining the words "revelation" and "reveal." I lean on the way theologians historically have tended to define those terms. Theologically speaking there is a huge difference between "revelation" and "guidance." Revelation is that direct, authoritative and clear speech from God whereby He actively reveals himself. He did this in a special way for the prophets and apostles at various times (Heb 1). I do not believe He provides that sort of direct, special revelation anymore. If He were then we would certainly need to add to the Bible (a la Mormonism). So I do not use the phrase "God revealed to me," or "God said to me."  
Now, since you do not believe that God speaks to people as he did to Isaiah and Paul, for example, why is that? How does God's speech differ today and why does it differ?

i) I agree with Pastor Pruitt that charismatics (e.g. Grudem, Moreland) often muddy the waters. I think both sides of the debate frequently lack clarity in how they formulate the issues. 
ii) I agree with him that Christians shouldn't "expect" special direct revelation. I think that's unpredictable. 
iii) One problem is the artificially restrictive definition of "revelation" as divine speech. Yet Scripture contains many examples of nonverbal revelation. For instance:
5 Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: 7 Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. 
9 Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me” (Gen 37:5-8). 
9 So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, 10 and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh's cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup and placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand.” 12 Then Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days.  
16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head, 17 and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” 18 And Joseph answered and said, “This is its interpretation… (Gen 40:9-12,16-18). 
After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, 2 and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. 3 And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. 4 And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And Pharaoh awoke. 5 And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. 6 And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. 7 And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. 8 So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh (Gen 41:1-8).
i) These are revelatory dreams, yet they utilize nonverbal communication. Revelation is frequently a case of what God shows someone rather than what God tells someone. 
ii) Because these are allegorical dreams, there's a sense in which they lack clarity. What they refer to may be ambiguous. That's why they require interpretation. At least, they require interpretation in advance of the fact. After the fact, the passage of time may clarify their meaning, even apart from interpretation. A premonition might be unclear until it comes true. We may not know how it will come true until it comes to pass. Interpretation and retrospection can clarify the import.
iii) Revelatory allegorical dreams are inerrant in an analogical sense. The imagery stands for something. Of course, every analogy has an element of disanalogy. An allegorical dream is true according to the intended scope of the comparison. 
Not all revelatory dreams are allegorical. I'm just quoting some samples, some counterexamples, to illustrate the inadequacy of defining revelation as divine speech. 
iv) Is this "binding"? "Binding" for whom
a) At most, it's only binding for the intended recipient. The baker's dream was given to and for the baker, no one else. The cupbearers dream was given to and for the cupbearer, no one else.
b) There's also the question of verification. Is this a revelatory dream or an ordinary dream? Take a premonition. In the nature of the case, you may not know ahead of time if that's a premonition. That may only become evident in hindsight. 
c) Likewise, only the dreamer knows what he dreamt. He may share his dream with a second party, but a second party didn't experience that dream. It isn't "binding" on the second party, since he's in no position to verify the claim. 
Let's shift to a different example:
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot” (Acts 8:26-29).
That's verbal revelation. But is it "binding," "authoritative," "normative"? If God spoke to me the way he spoke to Philip, would we need to add that to the canon?
But the revelation which Philip received wasn't for everyone. Wasn't for all time. It was given to Philip for the Eunuch's benefit. Very topical and timebound. An unrepeatable circumstance. 
Let's take an extracanonical example:
A few years ago before my mother moved out of the house she had lived in for over fit years and into a retirement community, she was starting to go out her back door and walk to the alley behind her garage one cold winter's day, to put out garbage for the trash collector. Unlike any experience she had ever had in her life, and although she was entirely alone in her house, she heard an audible voice telling her, "Take your cane." Startled, but assuming it was God, she grabbed her cane. Just before closing the backdoor behind her, she heard the voice again say, "Now take your cell phone." Again, nothing like this had ever happened to her before, nor has it happened since. As she was walking on the sidewalk through the backyard, she realized that there was a think layer of ice she hadn't seen from the house, and the cane became quite important to keep her from falling. After emptying the trash, she realized that she was poised precariously between larger sections of snow and ice, so that she didn't want to try to navigate the walk even with the cane. So she used her phone to call for help and was able to get back to the house with assistance. My mother acknowledged that she would have been quite frightened otherwise,  having recently had knee surgery, if she had tried to get back on her own, and she felt sure there was a good chance she would have fallen. Craig Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible? (Brazos Press 2014),182-83.

If true, that would be a case of God speaking to a Christian in a direct, audible voice. But how does that kind of revelation rival the canon of Scripture? It's not a command to Christians in general. God hasn't told every Christian to bring a cane or cell phone when they take out the garbage. And only Blomberg's mother knows what she heard.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Mt 23:29-37).
i) Mt 23:37 is an Arminian prooftext. There's the contrast between "I would" but "you wouldn't."
ii) One question is the sense in which God/Jesus "would have" gathered them. What's the nature of this divine action? How is that expressed? Likewise, in what sense is this rebuffed?  
One problem is that editions of the Bible typically separate v37 from the preceding verses. That formatting breaks up the flow of argument. But in context, v37 continues the theme of God sending prophets to Israel. So the way in which God "would have" is by sending prophets. And the way in which "you wouldn't" is by rejecting God's prophets. 
However, rejecting the prophetic word is perfectly consistent with predestination. Indeed, we have explicit Biblical examples of God hardening the audience to ensure their lack of receptivity.
iii) There's also a striking parallel between Mt 11 & and Mt 23. In both cases, Christ reprimands cities for their refusal to accept prophetic correction:
20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (11:20-24).
Yet their refusal is ultimately attributed to divine agency:
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (11:25-27).
There's a distinction between seeing and perceiving. They all saw his miracles, yet not all responded accordingly. Human perceiving is a result of divine revealing, whereas human seeing without perceiving is a result of divine concealing. Absent inner illumination, external evidence doesn't yield belief. The favorable or unfavorable response is traceable to divine action. 
The complement to Mt 23:37 is Lk 19:41. 
41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes (Lk 19:41-42).
As I've already pointed out, v41 is problematic for Arminians:
But the difficulty (for Arminians) is intensified by v42. The use of the divine passive and the motif of divine hardening. As one commentator explains:
(The meaning is probably "God has hidden") from Jerusalem's (spiritual) sight; and this will be made evident by her destruction (for, v43, is hoti = "because"). In a typical biblical combination of thought the Jews are held responsible for the city's fall (they could have known), while at the same time it is the result of divine decree. C. F. Evans, St. Luke (Trinity Press 1990), 684. 

Arminianism = open theism

I have been warning fellow Arminians for a long time that the Calvinist attacks on open theism will come around to haunt us. I knew that because all the evangelical books attacking open theism include arguments that, if valid, would also rule out Arminianism (e.g., that the open theist God cannot guarantee such-and-such in history because he allegedly lacks the knowledge necessary for that).

Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age: A Book Review

Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age: A review by Jacob Aitken:

This book was one of the earliest salvos into the postmodern situation, at least from a semi-“conservative” Christian position. The authors (hereafter MW) highlight the collapse of the “modern” project, examine the postmodern response, and then offer their own Christian response....

MW call attention to legitimate postmodern critiques of the modern project (the latter which they date roughly from the time of the Renaissance until now). Modernism, which is usually–rightly or wrongly–defined as a variant of Western liberal capitalism, sought a narrative which gave a universal legitimatization of Modernity’s goal.... Postmodern thinkers–and even Christian premoderns–pointed out that any story they told was always conditioned by a certain community at a certain moment in history. “We can never get outside our knowledge to check it against objective reality” (MW 32). Further, this metanarrative is shown to be a highly contingent one which serves to legitimate power (a common, if overdone postmodern refrain). MW then continue with a lucid description of key postmodern thinkers....

Read more.

“As Christ said, ‘I will build my church. And the gates of hell shall not stand against it’ (Matt 16:18)”

Click here for first- and second-century examples.

Early Non-Christian Sources On The Empty Tomb

It's sometimes noted that a few early Christian sources tell us that Jewish opponents of Christianity acknowledged that Jesus' tomb was found empty shortly after the body had been placed there. It seems unlikely that all of these Christian sources would have been mistaken or lying. That's true as far as it goes, but much more could be said about what those Christian sources report. There are other reasons, which aren't often mentioned, for trusting the sources in question. It's very likely that the empty tomb was acknowledged by the Jewish opponents of Christianity, widely and persistently, for the first few generations of church history. Here's an article I wrote a few years ago on the subject.

The rising tide of Muslim converts to Christianity

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Jews and Christians under Islam

God is my co-pilot

I notice that atheists and cessationists are both making hay about Prionda HIll, who ran over a motorcyclist because “she was driving and out of no where God told her that he would take it from here and she let go of the wheel and let him take it.”

i) It's predictable that atheists would cite this incident to discredit Christians. It's the kind of opportunistic, unprincipled attack you'd expect from atheists. 

ii) But for the same reason, that's why it's foolish for cessationists to seize in this incident as a way to discredit charismatic theology. There are responsible ways to critique charismatic theology. You can raise exegetical objections. You can raise empirical objections. But this is not a responsible way to attack charismatic theology.

iii) To begin with, why assume there's a charismatic connection? You don't have to be charismatic to hear, or claim to hear, strange voices in your head. Psychotics hear voices. In principle, a psychotic cessationist might hear voices. Cessationists are not immune to mental illness. Does the fact that psychotics hear voices discredit mental illness? 

iv) I'm reminded of how atheists pounced on Anders Breivik as a Christian mass murderer. But as we learned more about him, he didn't even claim to be a believer. He admitted that he was just a cultural Christian. 

If you're going to comment on Prionda Hill, you should at least wait for more background details to emerge. Did a tox report reveal drugs in her system? Does she have a history of mental illness?

v) Suppose she is charismatic. If her example disproves charismatic theology, do Westboro Baptists disprove Baptist theology? There's the obvious fallacy of the hasty generalization. 

vi) Likewise, evangelic cessationists believe in demonic possession. Someone who's possessed can hear voices. He may act on that, with dire consequences. Does that discredit belief in demonic possession? Does that bring the Gospels into disrepute? 

vii) There's also an elementary difference between saying you hear a voice and hearing a voice.

viii) Perhaps the cessationist argument is not that she actually heard a voice. Perhaps it's an argument from analogy: If you believe God still speaks to Christians in an audible voice, how can you deny that God may have spoken to Prionda Hill?

If so, that argument backfires. An atheist can easily turn that argument against them:

"Abraham heard a voice telling him to kill his son. If you heard a voice telling you do to that, would you?"

"How do you know God spoke to Abraham, but God didn't speak to Prionda HIll?"

Both cessationists and charismatics need to be able to answer the same type of question. There are parallel objections. 

Should Israel be held to a higher standard?

I expect the current conflict between Israel and Gaza will burn out. The media will shift attention to other stories, like the latest celebrity scandal. However, the current conflict is worth discussing because it's a microcosm of perennial issues and perennial arguments. 

1) One thing I notice is that opponents of Israel hold Israel to a higher standard. In the case of evangelical or "progressive Christian" critics, they judge Israel's conduct by Christian standards (as they define it). 

What's striking about this is how one-sided they are. They don't hold Israel's Muslim adversaries to Christian standards. They may admit that jihadist tactics are inexcusable, but that's a throwaway concession which they admit or volunteer at the outset to get it out of the way so that they can ignore it and fixate on Israel. 

There's a racist quality to that double standard. "Well, that's just the way Muslims are. What did you expect?" But it's clearly unfair to hold Israel to a different, and higher standard, than the Muslims. 

2) But another problem is disagreement over Christian ethics. What is morally permissible in war? 

i) Generally, critics of Israel operate with one of two ethical paradigms. Some critics espouse a crude form of deontology in which circumstances or outcomes never affect the morality  of the action. Every action comes down to a choice between what's intrinsically good or intrinsically evil. They don't allow for the possibility that there are special situations in which something that's normally wrong might be permissible or even obligatory. 

ii) You also have critics who operate with an abstract pacifism, a la Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, Stanley Hauerwas, &c. 

In both cases, critics fail to offer workable guidelines on how a country like Israel can effectively defend its citizens. It's all about restrictions. What you're not allowed to do to defend yourself. 

3) Not surprisingly, these objections are typically raised by critics who are not in that position. And this can have profoundly ironic results. If you espouse the wrong ethical absolutes, then your position is inherently unstable. Today's moral absolutist can easily become tomorrow's moral relativist, if his ethical commitments are hypothetical and impractical. Today's pacifist can quickly become tomorrow's war criminal.

Someone who espouses a chic, pollyannaish code of conduct is, if anything, far more likely to commit atrocities than someone with a principled, but realistic code of conduct. Oftentimes, their pacifism or idealistic deontology goes up in a puff of smoke the moment it comes in contact with harsh, unyielding reality. Because their moral absolutism is so inflexible, they have nothing to fall back on if it fails to give them practical guidance in a real-world situation. Once they lose it, they are prepared to do anything to survive. 

I lived through the Vietnam War. I wasn't draft age, so I didn't serve. But I was exposed to the coverage. Due to the draft, you had many G.I.'s who were opposed to the war. Some of them were very pacifistic or idealistic before they were deployed. They couldn't imagine killing another human being. 

But when they suddenly found themselves thrust into a combat situation where they own life was on the line, they ditched their scruples. Raw instinct took over. 

I remember watching an interview with some Vietnam vets. They talked about their attitude before they were drafted. Then they talked about the kinds of things they ended up doing in theater. 

Not only would they kill the Viet Cong– they cut their ears off and wore thesevered ears around their neck, as a trophy. Mutilating the dead would have been inconceivable to them before they were drafted. But once they shuffled off their glib, pollyannaish code of conduct, there was no moral floor left. 

This is the danger of having a purely abstract, unworkable code of conduct. It's an exercise in self-flattery. But it can only survive so long as that's never put to the test. The moment it's gone, the former absolutist has no moral inhibitions whatsoever. He will do whatever it takes to stay alive, by any means necessary. Having crossed a certain line, there is no line he will not cross. 

That's why the ethics of war need to be principled, but practical. Otherwise, anything goes. Sheer pragmatism. 

4) Let's take the ticking time bomb scenario. Suppose a terrorist is nabbed after he planted a bomb on a passenger plane. If you find out where he hid it, the bomb can be ejected from the plane before it denotates

If necessary, is it wrong to torture the terrorist to extract that life-saving information? I'd say no. By his actions, he has forfeited the normal immunities. He has no right to endanger the passengers. And he has no right to withhold that information.  

But what if he doesn't break under torture. Suppose, however, his 4-year-old son was with him at the time he was nabbed. He will divulge the information if his son is tortured before his eyes.

Is that permissible? I'd say no. His son has done nothing to forfeit his normal immunities. That would be committing one wrong to prevent another wrong.

Sometimes, doing the right thing has deplorable consequences. All the passengers will die. 

We're not God. There are limits to what we can prevent, consistent with our moral parameters.  

The hermeneutic of the WCF vs the hermeneutic of Newman

Here is my look at a comment that is instructive because it seeks to show how “Roman Catholics and Protestants do the same thing”, but where really, they are doing something completely different...

You are not arriving at your concept of “visible teaching church” from “all of Scripture”. You are beginning with the concept “visible teaching church” and then mining “the fathers” for kinds of proof texts that suit your needs.

Finding something “implicit in” is in no way “deducing by good and necessary consequence”.

Read more.

So what about Arab Christians?

Double effect principle in warfare

Its posts like these that allow Israel to target innocent women and children while the world just stands back and watches.
i) I'm flattered that you think Triablogue is so influential. Has Netanyahu been quoting my post in interviews and press conferences? 
ii) Israel isn't "targeting" women and children. Rather, Hamas is using women and children as human shields. Jihadis are cowards who hide behind women and children in a game of chicken. They attack Israel, then dare Israel to retaliate. 
Israel's response is justified by the double effect principle. For instance:
The true evil lies, not in killing women and children under those circumstances, but in putting women and children in harm's way–thereby forcing Israel's hand. Hamas is culpable, not Israel. 
Remember the good Samaritan? Jews despised the Samaritans because they did not believe as he did. But the Samaritan did the Father's will. He put his faith into action by doing it.
That's a non sequitur. Israel isn't striking Gaza because Israelis hate Arabs. Although the Arabs are motived by religion, many Israelis, especially the policymakers, are secular Jews or nominal Jews. Rather, Israel is counterattacking. Defending itself. 
And when Paul spoke against the works of the law he was speaking of the ritualistic Mosaic laws, not acts of kindness and love.
Paul didn't speak against works of the law. Rather, he spoke against law-keeping as a means of justification.

Travel to a Muslim country, and you will find that there is more kindness there then you will find from your average American neighbor. Don't be deceived by Western propaganda.

My view of Islam isn't based on "Western propaganda." I get my view of Islam straight from the horse's mouth.

ISIS - the radical group we are seeing today - is the product of a joint effort by the CIA, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to overthrow Assad. 

Islamic aggression has been going on ever since Muhammad. Century after century. 
That failed, but now we have yet another radical group as an excuse to go to war yet again.
There's no evidence that we're going to wage another foreign war anytime soon.

Due to the fact that Islam destroyed idolatry, and returned many to monotheism, he was a sort of prophet.

Given your attachment to Swedenborg, I understand how one false prophet might pay tribute to another false prophet. Birds of a feather. 
False monotheism is no better than polytheism. Worshipping one false God (Allah) is just as idolatrous as worshipping many false gods. It simply consolidates idolatry into a single object of impiety. 
He was not given the same revelation as Christianity.
That's euphemistic. 
But it was a step in the right direction, for at that time the church began to fall away under the influence of the Catholic Church. 
Replacing one heresy with another is not a step in the right direction. 
Don't judge Islam by the radicals - its like Muslims judging Christianity from the crusades.
i) The Crusades were a counteroffensive to Muslim aggression. 
ii) I don't think there's anything wrong with judging Catholicism by the crusades (among other things).
iii) Radical Islam isn't the radical fringe, but the historic center.