Saturday, January 02, 2016

Will worshiping just any God do?

Worship, reference, and existence

Includes a good comment by Lydia McGrew:

The papacy and the death penalty

I believe that at least since John-Paul II, the papacy has been backpedaling on the death penalty. This is yet another example where Catholicism is a blueprint for anarchy:

Is Calvinism pantheistic?

Although I posted two discussions of this, I didn't comment on it myself:

One preliminary remark I'd make is how unethical Arminians typically are when they attempt to critique Calvinism. Their animus towards Calvinism often disarms their critical judgment. Due to confirmation bias, they are suckers for any bad objection to Calvinism. They don't pause to consider if that's an accurate representation of Calvinism. They don't stop to consider if the objection is logical. Because this is what they what to hear, because they are predisposed to believe the worst about Calvinism, they nod their head in agreement. So McKnight unquestioningly hosts this hatchet job by Walker, which, predictably, is plugged by SEA. 

“To say that God’s goodness may be different in kind from man’s goodness, what is it but saying, with a slight change of phraseology, that God may possibly not be good?” asked philosopher John Stuart Mill. 

God's goodness can be different in one respect, but analogous in another respect. For instance, God's goodness can be the exemplar of man's goodness, but man's goodness is never the exemplar of God's goodness. So there's that fundamental asymmetry. 

Unfortunately, this redefinition of God’s nature occurs as the logical consequence of Calvinistic theology. The case can be made quite clear from comparing Calvinism with pantheism.
Before detailing these points of connection, it is important to define the terms. Calvinism refers to Christian theological movements which seeks to emphasize the concept of “sovereignty,” thereby reducing God to what Eastern Orthodox theologian and philosopher David Bentley Hart calls, “a pure exertion of will.” 

Consider Hart's alternative:

Hart has no theodicy. He labors to make a virtue of having no solution to the problem of evil. 

Pantheism is the belief that the entire universe is an expression of God.

An accurate definition of pantheism is a key assumption of Walker's argument. But where does Walker come up with this definition? It seems to be a definition he invented to attack Calvinism.

I suppose you could say that according to pantheism, the entire universe is an expression of God. That's because, according to pantheism, God and the universe are identical (or at least overlap).

However, the converse doesn't follow. If the entire universe is an expression of God, that doesn't entail pantheism. For one thing, "expression" is vague. That suggests intention rather than constitution. 

Consider some standard definitions of pantheism: 

At its most general, pantheism may be understood positively as the view that God is identical with the cosmos, the view that there exists nothing which is outside of God, or else negatively as the rejection of any view that considers God as distinct from the universe.
We might understand God as proper part of nature, we might take nature as a proper part of God, we might regard the two domains as partially overlapping, or else we might hold that they are strictly identical.
For Spinoza the claim that God is the same as the cosmos is spelled out as the thesis that there exists one and only one particular substance which he refers to as ‘God or nature’; the individual thing referred to as ‘God’ is one and the same object as the complex unit referred to as ‘nature’ or ‘the cosmos.’ On such a scheme the finite things of the world are thought of as something like parts of the one great substance, although the terminology of parts is somewhat problematic. Parts are relatively autonomous from the whole and from each other, and Spinoza's preferred terminology of modes, which are to be understood as more like properties, is chosen to rectify this.
Notice that these are quite different from Walker's definition. Does Walker's argument still go through on a standard definition? 

I am not the first to associate Calvinism and pantheism. Jonathan Edwards, preacher of the deterministic sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” was accused of being a pantheist. 

Yes, it's true that Edwards may have been a pantheist. But Walker fails to explain why that's the case. Is that because Walker doesn't know?

i) If Edwards was a pantheist, that's not because he was a Calvinist, but because he was an ontological idealist. You could just as well say that Berkeley was a pantheist, but that doesn't make him a Calvinist. 

ii) In addition, some pantheists are physicalists rather than idealists. Furthermore, many pantheists deny the existence of a personal God. But both are antithetical to Calvinism, which affirms dualism and a personal God. 

iii) In mainstream Calvinism, The creation is categorically different than God. God objectives his idea of creation in time and space. God himself is not temporal or spatial. God is a se, the creation is contingent. In addition, you have a doctrine of second causes. 

Humans have minds. Every human has his own first-person viewpoint. That's not equivalent to God's first-person viewpoint, or God's third-person viewpoint of humans. These are irreducible perspectives.

Why is Walker so sloppy? Is he just ignorant? Does he lack the competence to draw elementary distinctions? 

Many critics, Christian and non-Christian, have launched attacks on Calvinistic modes of theology using similar lines of thought, including one of the foundational theologians of the Unitarian Universalist movement, William Ellery Channing.

Is that supposed to be an argument from authority? How does the opinion of a manifest heretic like Channing carry any weight just because he said it? 

In a Calvinistic worldview, everything is as God wills it to be. For the sake of consistency, those with Reformed positions have to believe the world exists the way it does because God wills it to bring himself as much glory as possible. Therefore, in this system, the definition of “good” is relegated to whatever is because whatever is somehow brings glory to God.

This is another key assumption of Walker's argument. And it's confused. Even an Arminian theologian like Randal Rauser appreciates the nature of the popular misrepresentation. Here's his corrective:

To begin with, the phrase “for the sake of one’s glory” is deeply misleading here. After all, it conveys the sense of a person perversely seeking to gratify themselves through the suffering of others. Frankly, this is a caricature if not a rank perversion of the Reformed position. Certainly it is a caricature of the Reformed position that I’ve adumbrated several times in the discussion threads precipitated by my initial argument. 
The point of God’s issuing decrees of election and reprobation is not to glorify God for God’s sake but rather for the cumulative benefit of creation. Any Reformed theologian will tell you that God exists a se and his glory is infinite independent of creation. His glory is already infinite and cannot be increased. What can be increased, however, is the creature’s grasp of God’s glory. And since God is perfect, he always acts to maximize the creature’s grasp of his glory, not for his own benefit but rather for that of the creature.

Back to Walker:

In a similar manner, the Calvinist cannot say disease or natural disasters are objectively bad because they are an expression of God’s will, designed to bring him the most glory possible.

That's simplistic. The same thing can both be bad in itself, but be a source of good. Murder is bad. Taking innocent life is bad. But that can result in good. Because their child was murdered, parents may have another child to take its place. That's a second-order good. A good that would not obtain apart from the prior evil. 

This problem is exemplified in Calvin's own writing. While he attempts to shield God from any moral culpability for sin and evil, he also admits, “What Satan does, Scripture affirms to be from another point of view the work of God.” Works and events which seem antithetical to God’s commands and nature are automatically grafted into his will.

Yes, Calvin struggles with this issue. That's because Calvin is faithful to Scripture. He honors whatever God reveals in Scripture, even if he finds that perplexing. 

In fact, Calvinism’s framework bears a striking semblance to the yin and yang. This Chinese symbol is meant to show that everything is interdependent and complimentary [sic.] 

Walker now indulges in full-blown parallelomania. 

This concept is “Christianized” by Edwards when he argued, “There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from.” Both extremes are necessary for God to receive his due glory.

The contrast theodicy is not a Reformed distinctive. 

The alternative to this problem created by these worldviews is to recognize evil as the logical consequence of sin. It is entirely separate from God on an ontological level. The opportunity to sin is a necessary condition for a meaningful relationship grounded in mutual love. The responsibility for sin lies with one who committed it and the consequences of sin are separation from God.

Notice that Walker is committed to the necessity of evil, as a necessary condition and necessary consequence of libertarian freedom. Yet he rejects the conditional teleological necessity of evil in a Reformed theodicy.

The reprobate are in a sense “good” because their condemnation is a prerequisite to the demonstration of God’s grace.

Once again, that's simplistic. Consider the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. The Joker is a classic foil character. The villain exists to establish a point of contrast between good and evil. That doesn't make the villain good, even though the director uses his villainy to illustrate moral heroism in the face of evil. 

Friday, January 01, 2016

One body

Catholic apologists make the following assumptions:
i) There is one true church
ii) All Christians ought to belong to the one true church
iii) The Roman church is the one true church
Admittedly, this is less clear-cut than it used to be. Vatican II took a more ecumenical approach. Rome no longer wants to say Protestants or Orthodox Christians are "outside" the church. So the relationship is parsed in terms of the "fullness" of grace and truth in the Roman church, or variations thereof.
It's striking that the NT never says there is "one church". The NT uses the metaphor of the temple. The significance of this metaphor is that what makes a building a temple is the divine presence within the temple. As Paul adapts this metaphor, a Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
That, however, means whoever has the Spirit ipso facto belongs to the church. 
Another corporate metaphor is a flock of sheep. That isn't called the "church". Rather, it's a collective metaphor for Christians. But if we use it as a synonym for the church, then whoever has Jesus as their shepherd belongs to the church.
Finally, the Paul uses the "body" as a metaphor for the church. And he says there is "one body." That's the closest you get to a "one church" formula in the NT. 
If there's one body, and the body is a synonym for the church, doesn't that mean there's one church? 
i) In a sense. However, this is a flexible metaphor which Paul uses to illustrate diversity as well as unity or unicity. He alternates between the one and the many.
ii) In addition, Paul says:
so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another (Rom 12:5).
To be in Christ makes you a member of his body. That's the constitutive relationship. That's what makes all believers belong to one and the same body.Christians have a corporate identity by virtue of their incorporation in Christ. 
But in that event, each and every Christian already belongs to the "one church" in virtue of their union with Christ. 

Happy new year!

Should nothing of our efforts stand
No legacy survive
Unless the Lord does raise the house
In vain its builders strive

To you who boast tomorrow’s gain
Tell me what is your life
A mist that vanishes at dawn
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign will ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

His kingdom come
His will be done
On earth as is above
Who is himself our daily bread
Praise him the Lord of love

Let living water satisfy
The thirsty without price
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign will ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

When on the day the great I Am
The faithful and the true
The Lamb who was for sinners slain
Is making all things new.

Behold our God shall live with us
And be our steadfast light
And we shall ere his people be
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign will ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

HT: Justin Taylor.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

I’m writing my wife’s life story in 2016

Hi all – this is a personal note. I know, it’s New Year’s Eve – everybody’s probably making plans for 2016. I’ve made my own plans (fully aware of Proverbs 16:9). I’ve set up a new blog ( that’s going to be devoted to a project that will involve writing first of all my wife’s life story, and also, our life together.

Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice is that the names don’t match up (Bethany Bugay vs DelNita Airel). Well, we struggled with that the whole time, and I think I explain it (and thanks to Alan Kurshner for help with the Hebrew). Another thing you’ll notice is that there’s some cussing involved. Well, my wife was a Soldier. The first word I ever heard come out of her mouth was “Goddammit!” – I intend to be as honest as I can about the whole thing.

Steve said something a while ago about a Christian marriage being counter-cultural in our day. At one point in her life, Beth saw “a Christian marriage” as almost a kind of salvation from the kind of hell that her life had become, almost from the outset. I think it’s a story that needs to be told today.

Here is the first chapter.

Here is the Facebook page I’ve set up:

If anyone’s interested, please help me out by visiting the Facebook page – liking it, sharing it, talking it up. I hope to publish on a semi-regular schedule there, so please check back and like, share, and talk up those future chapters as well.

I know some of y’all probably miss me grousing about Roman Catholicism. I’ve got plenty of that left in me, I assure you. But this is, in my view, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (that I have) to tell an extraordinarily moving story of Christ’s redemption (Spoiler alert for those who like to read ahead: my wife, a life-long though nominal Roman Catholic, made a credible profession of faith before she died).

I couldn’t write it any earlier than this because it was just too painful. But now, with some distance, the grief has subsided a bit, but the project is still fresh in my mind, and I have a sense that if I don’t do it now, I won’t get back to it later.

So here it is, warts and all. My cousin (who is 70) read the first chapter, and she said “I read your first draft with tears falling down”. There is a saying by the poet Robert Frost – “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader”. Well, there have been plenty of tears on this end, and as I work through this, I expect that there will be many more.

Is the "Lutheran" view of justification warranted?

Extra-ecclesiastical tiebreaker

i) A stock objection to the Protestant faith is the proliferation of denominations. Sometimes this involves the specific allegation that sola Scriptura is self-refuting. We need something outside Scripture itself to determine the boundaries of Scripture. I've addressed that objection on more than one occasion. For instance:

ii) Mind you, that objection overlooks the intertextuality of Scripture. The case for the canon of Scripture isn't confined to external evidence.

iii) But let's move to a new point: if the multiplicity of denominations is a problem for the Protestant faith (which I don't concede), it's no less a problem for Catholicism. 

To begin with, a multiplicity of denominations is only essentially problematic on the assumption that there is one true church to which all Christians ought to belong. But of course that assumption begs the question in favor of Catholicism. If, however, there is no one true church, then there's nothing intrinsically wrong with having more than one Christian denomination (or independent church). So the Catholic objection only has traction on the assumption that the church of Rome is the one true church. But that's the very issue in dispute! 

After all, the NT itself can speak of the church in both singular and plural terms. One church and many churches. 

iv) In addition, even assuming there's one true church, the church alone can't determine what's the one true church, for this involves a comparison between rival claimants to that distinction. The one true church can't be the standard of comparison for determining which candidate qualifies, because you first need to determine which candidate is the one true church before it could be the benchmark. In a contest between ecclesiastical competitors, you will need an extra-ecclesiastical criterion. An aspirant can't very well be the referee. 

Ironically, when Catholics object to sola Scriptura, it's easy to contrast a parallel concerning the one true church. When there are two or more contestants for that honor, you need an extra-ecclesiastical tiebreaker. Something over and above the church to point to us to the rightful claimant. 

Even if there were one true church, you don't have access to that criterion before you establish which claimant is, in fact, the one true church. At best, that's something you can only adduce after the fact, and not in advance. 

Seneca guns

A common tactic of atheists is to change the subject. Instead of engaging the actual evidence for a particular claim, like evidence for God's existence, or Biblical miracles, they create a diversion by shifting the discussion to an alleged parallel. They try to turn this into a debate over the possibility, probability, credibility, or falsifiability of Russell's celestial teapot, Mackie's invisible gardener, Sagan's garage dragon, and the FSM. Or they compare post-Resurrection appearances to alien abductions. 

The tactic is to stipulate that these are analogous to God or Biblical miracles. There's rarely a supporting argument to demonstrate that these are, indeed, analogous. 

I notice that Sean Gerety resorts to the same tactic when it comes to possible evidence for occult entities (e.g. ghosts, shapeshifters). Instead of discussing the cases I cite, instead of engaging the evidence in those cases, he trots out Bigfoot and The Amityville Horror. That, however, is a decoy.

i) To begin with, citing a weaker case, a case that's less well-attested, a case that may be less inherently credible, does nothing to prejudge a stronger case. Each example needs to be assessed individually. You can't validly use one to judge another. 

ii) In addition, it's not my epistemic duty to have informed opinions about Bigfoot, The Amityville Horror, Loch Ness Monster, Yeti, friar's lantern, Seneca guns, &c. For instance, there are cases where I might reasonably suspend judgment, because I haven't studied that issue in sufficient detail. 

iii) Furthermore, withholding judgment in some cases hardly entails that I ought to withhold judgement in all cases. Likewise, I might deem one case to be better attested than another. It would be irrational to adopt a uniform position without considering the evidence, which varies from one case to another. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Finding the Bible

Since Scripturalist Sean Gerety took issue with my appeal to extrabiblical evidence, I'd like to point out that his rejection of extrabiblical evidence generates a dilemma–dare I say, "paradox"–for his position.

You see, Sean needs extrabiblical evidence to locate Scripture. A particular copy of Scripture. 

Suppose Sean reads the Bible in translation. Suppose it's the NKJV. But how does Sean know he's reading the NKJV rather than the NRSV? Well, both versions are labeled. But the titles and labels are editorial additions to Scripture. It's not as if the original Bible identifies itself as the "NKJV" rather than the "NRSV". Editorial additions are extrabiblical evidence. Sean relies on extrabiblical evidence to determine which version of Scripture he's reading. 

The Bible alone can't determine that, because he's comparing one version of Scripture with another version of Scripture. Which one is Scripture? Both? He needs something over and above the Bible alone to compare and contrast the relationship between one version of Scripture and another. 

And that's not all. Translations of the Bible depend on a preliminary decision regarding what text to translate. Take the NT. Will it be an eclectic text? Will it be the Byzantine text-type? Will it be supplemented by early papyri?

Or take the OT text. Will that be based on the MT alone, or will it be supplemented by the DDS, LXX, &c.? Sean relies on scholars to produce a critical edition of the Greek and Hebrew text that forms the basis of the subsequent translation. So that's another layer of extabiblical evidence. That requires extensive editorial activity.

Or suppose, for the sake of argument, that Sean wishes to bypass reconstructed texts and read an extant MS like the Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, or the Leningrad Codex. But how does he know where to locate these codices? How does he identify them? How does he distinguish the Codex Vaticanus from the Codex Sinaiticus? How does he know their dates? 

That requires extrabiblical evidence. Scholarly evidence about these MSS of Scripture. 

Now, that's not a problem for mainstream Calvinists. We subscribe to God's meticulous providence. God can orchestrate the variables. But you have to start from the outside to get inside. You can't start from the inside unless you know where the inside is, which requires extrabiblical evidence. 

"Sola Scriptura" was never meant to rule out extrabiblical evidence. It rules out an illicit appeal to church authority. It rules out a religious authority that's coequal to Scripture. But sola Scripture certainly allows for sense knowledge, without which Scripture can't be located in the first place. Sola Scriptura allows for critical editions of the Bible.  

The evidential value of undesigned coincidences

Victor Reppert did a post on undesigned coincidences that attracted some atheist halfwits:

I'm often struck by the chasm separating their intellectual pride from their intellectual ineptitude. They think just being an atheist adds 50 points to their IQ. 

They also act as if the McGrews concocted the category of undesigned coincidences to prop up the rickety historicity of the Gospels. Seems to me, though, that the McGrews are simply applying a general principle to the special case of the Gospels.

For instance, when I was young, my maternal grandmother and all but one of her 9 children were still alive. My mother had childhood memories that sometimes left her with questions. Loose ends. So she'd ask her mother or one of her older siblings if they remembered the incident. They'd sometimes fill in crucial background details. Comparing independent memories of the same incident. Mutually supplementary memories. Things my mother found curious fell into place when her mother or an older sibling added some context to the incident. 

None of this was planned in advance.   

If you have two or more independent fictional stories, you wouldn't expect their narrative to interlock at any point. On the rare occasion that might occur, it would be sheer coincidence. Because two or more independent fictional stories aren't based on a common event, there's no reason their plots and characters would ever intersect. 

Conversely, if two or more independent accounts cross over into each other with any frequency, that implies a common underlying event. 

Confusion over Calvinism at McKnight's Blog

Upending the good?

On Facebook, Christian philosopher Jeremy Pierce commented on a post by (or hosted by) Arminian/Anabaptist NT scholar Scot McKnight:

Pierce responded:

This is utterly weird. Scot McKnight issues a challenge to a view he keeps calling Calvinism, but it's a particular version of divine command theory that he turns out to be criticizing, not anything to do with Calvinism. 
The issues are not tied together in any way. They're about different things. One is about God's relationship with the events that take place in creation. The other is about God's relationship with moral truths. Calvinists hold that God is sovereign over every event that occurs, even our free choices. Divine command theorists hold that God's commands are what make moral truths true. You can be a divine command theorist without being a Calvinist (as John Locke was), and you can be a Calvinist without being a divine command theorist (as Gottfried Leibniz was). 
And not even every version of divine command theory would be subject to McKnight's objection. Robert Adams and Bill Alston's versions of divine command theory wouldn't be, since they ground God's commands ultimately in God's nature and not in arbitrary, groundless commands. So it's just a mistake to think that these are arguments that are even about Calvinism, never mind serious criticisms of it.

The Death Of Acharya S

Ironically, she died on December 25. Roger Pearse wrote about her death on his blog.

Lazarus and Dives

Because the parable of Lazarus and Dives (Lk 16:19-31) contains one of the more detailed depictions of the afterlife that you find in Scripture, it's been strip-mined by some Christian theologians to reconstruct the nature of the afterlife. 

Some people think this is an account of an actual event. Lazarus and Dives were real people. And this is what happened to them, in life and death. If, however, you take the story at face value, then this is what it teaches:

• Abraham is God's spokesman in the afterlife, assuming a role like Charon

• When poor Jews die, angels taxi them to the waiting arms of Abraham

• When rich Jews die, they suffer punishment

• The saints and the damned can see and hear each other–they have conversations with each other 

• The intermediate state has a geological barrier ("chasm") separating the two groups

• The chasm is wide enough so that denizens can't leap across it, but narrow enough so that denizens can see and hear people on the other side 

• The "heavenly" side has water while the "hellish" side has fire. Both groups have bodies with fingers, tongues, &c. 

To me, this is picture language. I think it's a fictional story combining elements of popular folklore to make one or more points. 

Some people think its about rich and poor. But that's simplistic. On the one hand, merely being poor isn't a ticket to heaven. On the other hand, Abraham was rich by the standards of the day. 

It's tricky to isolate the point of the story is, because it doesn't have much context. We don't know much about what Jesus was responding to. But the moral of the story would fall apart unless certain things were true:

• Departed souls are self-aware, conscious of their surroundings, and remember their former life. 

• Some people are punished when they die while others are rewarded.

• The afterlife rights the scales of justice.

• Death sometimes results in a reversal of fortunes

• There is no postmortem second chance. Death seals your fate.

• You can't escape eschatological judgment. Once you're sentenced, that's that. 

• Your postmortem status is forever fixed. You can't be promoted from "hades" to "heaven" or demoted from "heaven" to "hades." 

• What we do in this life queues us up for the afterlife. 

• People will be held accountable for how they respond to God's revelatory words and deeds (i.e. Scripture, the Resurrection). 

The road to the Holocaust

A feature of the debate about whether Muslims, Jews, and Christians worship the same God is the specter one-sided ecumenism. There are Christian ecumenists (I used the label advisedly) who unquestioningly assume that if you deny that Jews and Christians or Muslims and Christians worship and/or believe in the same God, then that's "bigoted" and demeaning to the other religions. 

This is a typical conceit of people who presume to speak on behalf of other groups, rather than stepping aside and letting them speak for themselves. It doesn't even occur to these Christian ecumenists that the religious groups on whose behalf they presume to speak might disagree, indeed, might resent Christians who take it upon themselves to lasso other religions into the same corral on the question of common worship or a common object of faith. For instance:

As a former full time missionary to Muslims, Muslims, conservative, orthodox or radicalized, do not hold to the belief that we worship the same God. In fact they firmly believe that Christians worshipping a triune God is blasphemous and idolatrous. 
Yes to your first question, Roy. I have had a number of Jewish scholars tell me "we don't worship the same God."

Now, my point is not to claim that all Muslims or Jews take that position. Likewise, the philosophical question can't be settled by opinion polling.

Nevertheless, it demonstrates how blinkered and presumptuous these Christian ecumenists are. And here's a truly extreme statement:

Roy E. Ciampa
And it cuts both ways. Jesus says the Jews/Judeans (and not just he) DO know what/who they worship. I'm reminded of your whole argument about whether or not Jesus preached the gospel or if, as others suggest, the gospel was only preached post Easter and by Paul, etc. So does Jesus worship and teach us to worship a different God from the Jews? Isn't that the road of (drum roll...) Marcionism (and the holocaust)?

Ciampa is a NT scholar (former Gordon-Conwell prof.) who coauthored a fine commentary on 1 Corinthians. But the "Holocaust" bit is just outlandish. 

If I deny that Christians, Hindus, folk Buddhists, Falun Gongers, or Raëlians worship the same God or believe in the same God, is that the road to a new holocaust? Must Christians affirm that they worship the same God to avoid a new holocaust? Are Chinese and Indian restaurants at risk of an American Kristallnacht unless we affirm that they worship the Christian Deity? 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Shahadah

The Shahadah is usually rendered one of two ways:

There is no God but God

That's virtually a tautology. Perhaps the only thing that spares it from pure tautology is the implicit monotheism in the singular formulation. That might be designed to rule out polytheism.

By by itself, it fails to say who God is. It doesn't distinguish the true God from rival claimants. What God does it refer to?

Perhaps, though, that lacuna is supplied by the next phrase: "and Muhammad is his prophet/messenger."

The other rendering is:

There is no God but Allah

That has greater specification. It pinpoints the God in question as Allah–to the exclusion of other named Gods. 

That might be what the sentence intends to convey, where the first occurrence of the divine name is generic while the second occurrence is specific. The first occurrence is denotative while the second occurrence is connotative.

But it's striking that we have this semantic ambiguity in the fundamental creed of Islam. What does the Shahadah even mean? 

Vengeance is God’s, and God Ain’t No Pacifist

"Child marriage"

On Christmas Eve, Randal Rauser did a post on whether Mary was too young to get married:

The post, as well as feedback in the combox, raises ethical issues regarding "child marriage," pedophilia, statutory rape, age of consent, &c. I'd add that these issues also come into play with respect to Islam generally, and Muhammad in particular.

i) It wouldn't surprise me if Rauser denies the virgin birth. But I wouldn't expect him to tip his hand on that if it jeopardized his job security.

ii) I think "child marriage" is ambiguous. A child marriage could refer to a marriage that's arranged by their respective parents when the couple are prepubescent, but that doesn't entail that they live as husband and wife at that time. It just means the boy and girl are betrothed to each other. The actual marriage ceremony, and consummation, may be years later, when both are teenagers. "Child marriage" in that sense needs to be distinguished from child marriage in the sense of prepubescent conjugal relations. 

In addition, we need to distinguish between cases where both parties are "children" or marriage between a "child" and an adult. 

iii) In the 1C, mortality rates were much higher. It that regard, it was pragmatic to marry younger since you might not get the chance if you waited. You couldn't count on having a normal lifespan. That wasn't even probable. 

iv) To say adolescents are psychologically immature for marriage is anachronistic in the context of 1C Judaism. This isn't like a modern nuclear marriage. Rather, child-rearing generally took place in the context of an extended family, in which there were lots of helping hands and seasoned advice.

Likewise, in cultures with a rigid social structure, your roles and duties are preassigned. You don't have to make as many personal decisions as the couple in a nuclear family, because the social blueprint makes many of those decisions for you. I'm not saying that's necessarily a good think. It depends, in part, on the social blueprint. 

v) Rauser's treatment is oddly one-sided, with its sustained emphasis on girls rather than boys. There's a common bias in cases like that. If the adult is male and the teenager is female, that's rape–but if the adult is female and the teenager is male, "the boy got lucky."

vi) I think a bigger problem with early adolescent motherhood is less about psychology than physiology. Because her body is smaller and underdeveloped at that age, I believe that raises the risk of medical complications in gestation and childbirth.

In the case of Mary, she'd enjoy special providential protection. And in any event, we don't know how old she was. 

vii) Statutory rape laws and age of consent laws can be technicalities. The threshold is somewhat arbitrary. That generates borderline cases. If an 18-year-old girl has premarital sex with a 17-year-old boy, that's technically statutory rape, yet the transaction is clearly consensual.

Any legal age will be somewhat arbitrary, but you can't have these laws without a stipulated age, so that's a necessary and justifiable consequence of having such laws in the first place.  We ought to have such laws. But enforcement of the law should make allowance for the arbitrary cutoff, and focus on clear-cut examples rather than marginal cases.

vii) A natural threshold is puberty. That's when the libido kicks in. That's when both parties may find sexual activity appealing. That's very different than forcing sexual relations onto a prepubescent boy or girl.

Indeed, adolescent sexuality is a common problem precisely because many adolescents initiate sexual encounters. The sex drive makes that consensual. 

That doesn't make it an optimal age for marriage. And you can have medical conditions like precocious puberty where sexual activity would be premature. But pathological conditions don't set the bar. 

ix) Because Joseph is out of the picture during the public ministry of Christ, it's common to speculate that he had died by them, which leads to the further speculation that he was much older than Mary. That, however, is a very dubious postulate. In the 1C, in the absence of modern medical science, it was far more common for people to die young from accidents or disease. 

Likewise, it may simply be the case that Mary was more involved her son's life than Joseph. He was just the step-dad. 

x) As a rule, I'd say marriage in early adolescence is inadvisable. 

Keep in mind that nowadays, in the West, we don't have arranged marriage, and couples often marry in their twenties or later, yet the divorce rate is very high. 

Conversely, I have an older cousin who married at 15. She's now about 80, and still married to her first husband. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Navajo witchcraft

Sean Gerety has attempted to respond to my post:

His reply is larded with irrelevancies. If I posted a recipe for peanut butter cookies, Sean would try to link it to the Clark controversy. 

even one who tells us there is “extrabiblical evidence” for the possible existence of shapeshifters (can Big Foot be far behind)…
Both questions are evidential questions. How to sift evidence. How to evaluate the credibility of alleged eyewitnesses. 
This makes sense since he believes in the probable existence of shapeshifters. 
I never said I believe they probably exist:
i) This might be an urban legend that feeds on itself thanks to horror films. 
ii) This might be a tall tale for tourist consumption.

iii) This might be a tall tale to intimate rival members of the Navajo community.
iv) This might be for real.

When dealing with reported occult entities, one question is the setting. Is the setting a plausible environment in which we might expect occult entities to manifest themselves? Likewise, do we have any reliable sources of information? It's difficult to acquire information on Navajo witchcraft for several reasons: the reservation is a fairly closed society. The subject is taboo. If they exist, practitioners engage in illegal actives, like grave-robbery, or murdering a relative as a rite of initiation. It will be difficult to penetrate that subculture and get to the bottom of things. 
Take the classic monograph on Navaho Witchcraft (1944) by Harvard anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn, who lived on the Navajo reservation, learned the Navajo language, and studied their traditions.  
According to his informants, Navajo witches practice sympathetic magic (spells and effigies). Likewise, they report the existence of were-animals. 
Is that credible? Hard to say. The Biblical worldview includes occult entities. Certainly there are people who practice black magic. Some witches will commit murder if they think they can get away with it. The question is what paranormal abilities sorcery can confer on practitioners. On a prima facie reading of Exod 7-8, that includes metamorphic abilities. According to Ezk 13, that includes the ability to strike people dead through magic spells. You also have reports of foreign missionaries and exorcists. I don't know the full extent of what's possible. Likewise, the fact that something is possible doesn't mean any particular report is reliable. 
That's how intelligent Christians evaluate such claims. By contrast, Sean simply resorts to posturing. He wants to appear rational, but his actual behavior is anti-intellectual. It's just like village atheists who labor to project an image of rationality, even though their discourse is patently irrational. 

First, neither Clark nor Robbins nor any Scripturalist I’ve ever met has any problems with the opening words of WCF 1; they simply refuse to impose empirical presuppositions on the text as Hays so foolishly has done.  Instead, Clark writes in the opening pages of What Do Presbyterians Believe (which evidently would exclude Hays):
Is it not possible that knowledge of God is innate? May we not have been born with an intuition of God, and with this *a priori* equipment we see the glory of God upon the heavens? In this way we would not be forced to the peculiar position that the Apostle Paul was giving his advance approval to the Aristotelian intricacies of Thomas Aquinas.
… In the act of creation God implanted in man knowledge of His existence.  Romans 1:32 and 2:15 seem to indicate that God also implanted some knowledge of morality. We are born with this knowledge; it is not manufactured out of sensory experience.
Problem with Sean is that he has no idea how to exegete a text. The question at issue isn't Clark's epistemology, but the epistemology of the Westminster Divines. Even if you think Clark had the right epistemology, it hardly follows that the Westminster Divines shared the same epistemology. When interpreting the Westminster Confession, the salient question is not what a 20C philosopher (Clark) believed but what this 17C text means. Not what the readers believe, but what the authors believe. It's a pretty elementary distinction in hermeneutics, which Sean fails to grasp.
The obvious problem with Clark's interpretation is that the text separates the "light of nature" from the "works of creation and providence" as two (or three) different sources of natural revelation. Even if the "light of nature" refers to intuitive knowledge, the goodness, the divine attributes manifested in the works of creation and providence are distinct from the "light of nature" in the text. These aren't interchangeable sources of natural revelation. If the "light of nature" denotes intuition or innate knowledge, then the manifestation of God's attributes in the works of create and providence must denote sense knowledge acquired through direct observation and testimonial evidence. Clark is superimposing on the text a gloss at variance with the wording of the text. 
First, Hays errs by not including man as one of the things that “have been made” and thinks he can see with the eyes in his head what Paul tells us is invisible. 
i) When Paul says we can see the unseen God, that's a paradox: a figure of speech. 
ii) The question at issue is not whether we can physically see God, but whether we can infer God's existence from the natural world. 
Second, this innate intuition of God is something God shows man and is not something man infers from observing the “empirical evidence.” 
A false dichotomy. We can perceive or discern what God shows us. 
Rather, the Confession begins, in good Clarkian fashion, by positing the truth of the Holy Scriptures and then inferring God from them; along with the entire system of doctrine outlined in the Confession. 
i) That's demonstrably false. Read the first clause of WCF 1. It begins with an appeal to natural revelation. It states the sufficiency of natural revelation to render sinners inexcusable, but the insufficiency of natural revelation to afford saving knowledge. 
ii) BTW, Sean's appeal to the Westminster Confession contradicts his own epistemology. Sean scorns extrabiblical evidence. Yet the Westminster Confession is an extrabiblical object. The Westminster Confession is nowhere mentioned or quoted in Scripture. So Sean's only possible source of knowledge for the existence as well as the content of the Westminster Confession comes from extrabiblical evidence. 
This is one of Sean's chronic problems. He's not sharp enough to apprehend the inconsistencies in his own position, but when someone does him the favor of pointing that out, his response is to repeat the same mistake. 
iii) In addition, Sean is very enamored with the phrase "magic lizard people." But, of course, unbelievers are fond of using the same type of rhetoric to ridicule talking snakes, talking donkeys, magic trees, angelic apparitions, and the virgin birth. 
I quoted Clark's statement that “Assent can never be hypocritical, for it is the voluntary act of according belief to a given proposition” (Today’s Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine?), 69.
To which Sean replies: That one is easy and the question itself belies Hays rejection of the Reformed doctrine of perseverance of the saints and a proper understanding of the Confessional doctrine of saving faith. Whether someone holds to the traditional and tautological threefold definition of saving faith, or Clark’s biblical two-fold alternative, it’s not always easy to tell the true believer from the feigned variety. 
Sean is still too slow on the uptake to get it. The question at issue isn't what I believe regarding the relationship between saving faith and the perseverance of the saints, but whether Sean's own position is contradictory. Clark says assent can never be "hypocritical", yet Sean says Sudduth's faith was "feigned."  It doesn't occur to Sean that a hypocritical faith and a feigned faith are synonymous, yet Clark denies what Sean affirms. Sean can never catch up with the actual state of the argument.
I remember Sudduth publicly flying off the handle years ago on a Yahoo Group’s Clark discussion group at Robbins. 
Notice how Sean unconsciously appeals to extrabiblical evidence, even though he disavows extrabiblical evidence. Sean's source of information about Sudduth is entirely derived from extrabiblical evidence, yet Sean is typically oblivious to how his confident appeal contradicts his stated epistemology. 
Oh, brother.  It also seems Hays does think the Amityville Horror is real too, writing:
There’s a difference between the horror film and the alleged experience on which it was loosely based. I haven’t studied that in-depth.
Is Sean just illiterate? I didn't say I think it's real. I gave a qualified, noncommittal response. 
Of course, Sudduth’s experience provides no evidence at all. 
For the record, here's the statement in question:
My two years in Windsor, Connecticut deepened my long-standing and recently re-wakened interest in survival. Within a couple of days of moving into the early Federal-style home built by Eliakim Mather Olcott in 1817, my wife and I (and dog) began to experience a combination of prototypical haunting and poltergeist phenomena. Although we critically investigated the various phenomena as they occurred, we were unable to trace the phenomena to natural causes. Given the fairly astonishing nature of some of the phenomena, my curiosity about our experiences peaked and I began research into the history of the home and the experiences of its former residents. This led to what has been a ten-year long investigation, including interviews with former residents, visitors to the home, and acquaintances of residents as far back as the 1930s.   My inquiry turned up testimony from several prior occupants to experiencing phenomena identical, even in detail, to the phenomena my wife and I experienced. What I found equally fascinating, though, was the fact that occupants of the home prior to 1969, including long-term residents, claimed not to have experienced anything unusual. 1969 was the year resident Walter Callahan Sr. committed suicide in the home. In this way, the pattern of experiences surrounding the home fit a more widespread pattern in which ostensibly place-centered paranormal phenomena are associated with a suicide or other tragic event at the location.

What's especially striking about this testimonial evidence is that Michael has become very hostile to the postmortem survival of personal consciousness. Yet based on his firsthand experience and subsequent research, the obvious explanation is that this house was haunted by the ghost (disembodied soul) of a former owner who committed suicide. 

Back to Sean:

...the dead do not roam the earth and what Sudduth experienced, and evidently continues to experience, supplies no evidence whatsoever for “postmortem survival.”  With the possible exception of the transfiguration, Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus should have been enough to settle that question even for someone who once pretended to be a Christian.  What Sudduth claims to be valid evidence for life after death, Jesus said is impossible (Luke 16:26).
That's deeply confused:
i) To begin with, Lk 16:26 doesn't say there's a barrier between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead, but a barrier within the realm of the dead between the saints and the damned.
ii) In addition, does Sean think the topography of the Netherworld in Lk 16 describes literal geological barriers? 
iii) In fact, Lk 16:31 ironically foreshadows the disbelief of Jews who were unconvinced by the Resurrection. The parable anticipates a paradigm case of someone returning from the grave to bear witness to the living. Far from being impossible, that actually happened. 
iv) What about OT prohibitions against necromancy? But if it's impossible to successfully initiate contact with the dead, what's the point of the prohibitions? 
v) Moreover, we have an actual example in 1 Sam 28. 

Meanwhile, there's strife on the Democrat's side too

Webb attacks Clinton with eye in independent run:
"Webb's campaign has told Bloomberg Politics it would concentrate on mobilizing voters in the ideological middle, along with people who have become dissatisfied with politics."

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Vallicella on Miroslav Volf

The greatest action story ever told

There's a video floating around the Internet in which a Terminator labors to save Jesus from crucifixion. I believe it was originally produced by MadTV in the mid-90s. 

Some versions of the video have foreign language captions. Some have poor picture resolution, while others are crisper. 

Some commenters think the video is blasphemous. I wouldn't go that far. 

I don't know what the original intention was. In fact, I doubt the creators gave it much thought. It seems more like screwball comedy, based on the juxtaposition of incongruous elements. It doesn't strike me as deliberately sacrilegious. But the creators weren't Christian, so the treatment is mildly irreverent. 

What's ironic is that the video unwittingly illustrates a profound theological point, even though that was not their intention. According to the argument from evil, a good God would prevent evil. 

But as the video illustrates, preventing some evils may result in greater evils down the line. Consider the dire consequences if the Terminator succeeds in saving Jesus from crucifixion

Divine subterfuge

18 And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God’ (Exod 3:18). 
As one commentator notes:
Verse 18 has given some readers pause. God seems to resort to deceptive measures when he instructs Moses and the elders to ask Pharaoh to allow them to go on a three-day journey into the open places to sacrifice to God, a kind of  three day miniretreat. Is Moses to talk in such a way to lead Pharaoh to believe they will return to Egypt after a long weekend way? Is Greenberg (1969; 85) on target here? "Where wicked, superior force must be overcome for a just cause, an effective deception is as much a part of God's arsenal as miracle." Maybe twentieth-century Christians like Corrie Ten Boom and Brother Andrew would agree. There is an interesting phrase at the end of Ps 18:25-26 [26-27] (=2 Sam 22:26-27), part of David's thoughts about God: "To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd." V. Hamilton, Exodus (Baker 2011), 66-67. 

The virgin shall conceive and bear a son

Isa 7:14 is a traditional Messianic prooftext. In modern times, however, Matthew's citation is often treated as an embarrassment. Supposedly, Matthew ripped the passage out of context. A few observations:

i) Parthenos isn't Matthew's rendering. Rather, that's the LXX. So that's a pre-Christian Jewish rendering of the passage. 

ii) It's often said that if Isaiah wanted to stress the virginity of the woman, he'd use betulah rather than almah. But based on comparative usage, there's no evidence that betulah is more virginal than almah–and possibly less so. (cf. Alec Motyer, E. J. Young, Gordon Wenham, Brevard Childs). Every occurrence of almah arguably refers to a virgin. 

(Mind you, there's a difference between what a word means, and what it refers to. But the meaning of a word is established by occurrences of the word. So that's not always so easy to distinguish in practice.)

The real contrast is between almah and ishshah–the customary word for "wife". Some commentators think the text is alluding to the wife of Isaiah or the wife of Ahaz. But in that case we'd expect the text to use ishshah

In fact, it's striking that the text never identifies the woman. If she was Isaiah's contemporary, why be so reticent? 

iii) I think both liberals and conservatives overemphasize the importance of what word is used. Even if Hebrew had a technical term for "virgin," which Isaiah used in this passage, merely using the word "virgin" wouldn't imply parthenogenesis. After all, it's quite possible for a virgin to become pregnant when she has sexual intercourse for the first time. Also, in theory, it would refer to a virgin who will become pregnant subsequent to marriage. The word is consistent with a virginal conception, but doesn't entail that. 

iv) In Matthew and Luke, the virgin birth isn't based on a particular word, but on the narrative context, where Mary conceives a child apart from sexual intercourse. 

v) In Isaiah, the miraculous connotations of the event aren't confined to how the woman is classified. In addition, this is said to be a "sign" (v10). 

In theory, a sign needn't be miraculous. However, the sign is cast in terms that suggest a supernatural event ("Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven"). It might be as spectacular as raising the dead from Sheol. Yahweh gives Ahaz carte blanche.

And that's reinforced by the similar passage in Isa 38:7-8, where God reverses the sundial. 

In addition, as R. T. France has noted, the language in Isa 7:14 evokes Gen 17:19, which foretells another miraculous conception. 

v) John Walton thinks the sign is the name of the child. Yet the sign is evidentiary. But merely naming a child isn't evidential confirmation of the oracle. That would be self-fulfilling. To function as confirmatory evidence, the sign must be something special.

vi) In addition, signs can be future confirmations ("fulfillment signs"), subsequent to the event in question (e.g. Isa 37:30ff.; 44:28-45:1; Exod 3:12; 1 Kgs 13; 2 Kgs 19). So the passage can be an oracle about the distant future rather than the near future. 

vii) In addition to the mysterious woman, you have the even more mysterious child. As scholars like Alec Motyer and Joseph Jensen have documented, the career of this child extends through the events of Isa 11. Projected into a hazy future. 

Not coincidentally, having quoted Isa 7 in Mt 2, the evangelist quotes Isa 9 in Mt 4. Matthew perceives the prophetic narrative unity of Isa 7-12. He has a good grasp of narrative theology, and picks up where he left off. Indeed, his discernment is more penetrating than many commentators. 

So what we have in Isaiah 7 is a very intriguing prophecy. It would leave the original reader scratching his head. Who is this woman? Who is this child? What is the sign? When will this happen? 

The passage raises more questions than it answers. And that's what we'd expect in the case of long-range prophecy, which raises questions that can only be answered centuries later, at the time of fulfillment. The passage is more complex than traditional prootexting suggests. However, the complications reinforce the propriety of Matthew's citation.