Friday, June 24, 2016

Richard Carrier's exit

Tyre and Babylon in Bible prophecy

I. I was asked to give some examples of fulfilled non-Messianic prophecies. 

1. Before discussing examples, we need to back up. For the argument from prophecy to work, the oracle must take place before the event. And there must be something uncanny about the fulfillment. Something that can't reasonably be chalked up to a coincidence or lucky guess.

These conditions can pose a dilemma of sorts inasmuch as unbelievers who think the description is too accurate to be lucky or coincidental will use the correspondence to date the oracle. They will say that just goes to show it must be after the fact! Of course, that becomes a circular, unfalsifiable posture. 

2. As I've remarked before, predicting the future can present something of a paradox. If the terms of fulfillment are too recognizable in advance, that can tip people off, which enables them to thwart the prediction. So the description must be puzzling to readers ahead of time. It is necessary to make the terms of fulfillment recognizable after the fact, but not beforehand. 

It's kind of like a spy who knows his communications may be monitored, so he must speak in coded terms that are recognizable to his case officer, but not to eavesdroppers. 

3. We must rule out self-fulfilling prophecy, where an agent reads the oracle and sets about to make it happen. That's where knowledge of the oracle influences the outcome. That's not be a case of foresight, but imitation. 

II. The fall of Babylon 

27 who says to the deep, ‘Be dry; I will dry up your rivers’; 28 who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’ (Isa 44:27-28).

1. Liberals don't think this oracle issued from the preexilic prophet Isaiah. Rather, they think Isa 40-55 is exilic. However, even on a liberal timeframe, the reference to Cyrus (v28) is anachronistic since he's a borderline postexilic figure. So even on a liberal dating scheme, this would still involve a genuine prediction about someone who'd be unknown to the original audience. Therefore, liberals salvage their position by stipulating that "Cyrus" must be a subsequent scribal interpolation. There is, of course, no textual evidence for that hypothesis. It's a necessary postulate to shore up the liberal position. 

2. Another complication is the meaning of v27, and its relation to v28. Here's what one liberal commentator proposes:

As a whole, vv26b-28a work in the reverse of historical order, from Yhwh's ultimate intention (v26b) via the event that will make it possible (v27) to the means of that event's taking place and the intention's being fulfilled (v28a). In that context, v27 can hardly be simply a reference back to creation or Red Sea…nor is it merely a general statement. While it no doubt indicates that Babylon can be overcome, it would be prosaic to refer it simply to Cyrus' famous alleged diverting of the Euphrates to facilitate his capture of Babylon, referred to by Herodotus (I, 191) and Xenophon (Cyropedia 7). J. Goldingay, The Message of Isaiah 40-55 (T&T Clark, 2005), 258-259. 

i) He concedes that this is a prediction about the fall of Babylon.

ii) He concedes that v27 can't simply be stock imagery about the creation or Red Sea crossing.

iii) Although he discounts a reference to Cyrus diverting the Euphrates, he cites two ancient historians who say that's what Cyrus did. Should he be so dismissive of multiple, independent attestation? 

iv) Given that the reference to Cyrus occurs right on the heels of Yahweh's threat to "dry up the rivers" of Babylon, in the context of an oracle about the impending downfall of Babylon, surely the inference is irresistible that it does, indeed, refer to Cyrus diverting the Euphrates upstream so that his troops could use the dry river bed (or drained canals) to walk right under the defensive walls of Babylon. 

v) He says a reference to Cyrus diverting the Euphrates would be "prosaic". Well, if you think the viewpoint of the passage is retrospective, then that might be prosaic. If, however, you think the viewpoint of the passage is prospective, then it would be astounding that a prophet could not only anticipate (and name!) the rise of Cyrus, but anticipate the ingenious tactic he used to sidestep Babylon's reputedly impregnable defensive system.   

There is, moreover, corroborative evidence to support the accounts of Herodotus and Xenophon:

As part of the rebuilding of the new palace area on the citadel Nebuchadrezzar cleared and rebuilt the main canal…The location of more than twenty named canals in and around the city is currently a subject being studied…This site [Opis] for the northernmost defense wall for the Babylonian area suits the operation by Cyrus when he diverted the River Euphrates at such a distance as not to arouse immediate suspicion. This allowed the element of surprise for the attack on the city along the dried-up river and canal beds which gave access under and through the walls into the citadel itself. D. J. Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon (Oxford, 1991), 61-62.  
Herodotus (1. 191) indicates that the Persians gained entrance into Babylon by diverting the Euphrates River. Some scholars find this difficult to accept. But as Herodotus accurately described it, and as the excavations of Robert Koldewey confirmed, the city of Babylon was not only bisected by the Euphrates but was also penetrated by many canals. The height of the Euphrates would have been at its lowest level at this time of year, normally about twelve feet deep. If the famine (mentioned in more than one text) was caused by a dry year, the level would have been even lower. E. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Baker, 1990), 86. 

Not only is the rise of Cyrus naturally unforeseeable, but the stratagem he used to circumvant Babylon's defense system is naturally unforeseeable. 

IV. The fall of Tyre

26 In the eleventh year, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, because Tyre said concerning Jerusalem, ‘Aha, the gate of the peoples is broken; it has swung open to me. I shall be replenished, now that she is laid waste,’ therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers, and I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock. She shall be in the midst of the sea a place for the spreading of nets, for I have spoken, declares the Lord God. And she shall become plunder for the nations, and her daughters on the mainland shall be killed by the sword. Then they will know that I am the Lord.“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will bring against Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar[ king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, and with horsemen and a host of many soldiers. He will kill with the sword your daughters on the mainland. He will set up a siege wall against you and throw up a mound against you, and raise a roof of shields against you. He will direct the shock of his battering rams against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers. 10 His horses will be so many that their dust will cover you. Your walls will shake at the noise of the horsemen and wagons and chariots, when he enters your gates as men enter a city that has been breached. 11 With the hoofs of his horses he will trample all your streets. He will kill your people with the sword, and your mighty pillars will fall to the ground. 12 They will plunder your riches and loot your merchandise. They will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses. Your stones and timber and soil they will cast into the midst of the waters (Ezk 26:1-12). 

i) Even a liberal commentator like Allen defends the basic accuracy of Ezekiel's prediction. Nebuchadnezzar's campaign against Tyre was successful:

The siege was successful and Tyre did pass into Babylonian control. In a list of royal hostages at Nebuchadnezzar's court, to be dated about 570 BC, the king of Tyre has the initial place…About 564 BC, Baal, Ethbaal's successor as king of Tyre, was replaced by a Babylonian High Commissioner. L. Allen, Ezekiel 20-48 (Word, 1990), 109. 

ii) However, that's not the most impressive feature of the oracle. The oracle would be baffling to the original readers due to its detailed description of siege warfare. Because Tyre was an island fortress, it would normally be impervious to the techniques of siege warfare. That's a land-based operation. 

Moreover, it's not as though Ezekiel was ignorant of Tyre's geography. He repeatedly mentions its marine setting. Hence, we'd expect Ezekiel to describe a naval bombardment rather than siege warfare. On the face of it, then, his description is nonsensical and technically infeasible. 

Yet natural expectations to the contrary notwithstanding, it turns out that Ezekiel was prescient. 250 years later, Alexander the Great built a causeway from the mainland to the island. That enabled him to bring siege works to bear on fortified city. 

But historians were still perplexed at how Alexander could build a causeway across a kilometer of ocean. Only in the late 20C, after scientific investigation, was it discovered that a submerged sandbar connected Tyre to the mainland. Alexander was able to construct his causeway on that natural platform:

Although Nebuchandezzar initiated the fulfillment of the oracle, Alexander completed the fulfillment of the oracle. Yet it would be naturally impossible to foresee Alexander's engineering feat. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Midcourse correction

And just to return to where I started. Let us all reflect for a moment on the dramatic significance of Grudem’s claim about eternal generation.  What he is saying is that the church catholic has for over 1600 years been affirming theologically and liturgically, as the key ecumenical summary of its faith, a document – the Nicene Creed – which in one of its core and defining assertions is superfluous or virtually meaningless or confused (or a wax nose which means whatever any Christian chooses).

Keep in mind that I don't subscribe to the eternal subordination of the Son. That said, Trueman is using exactly, and I do mean exactly–the same objection that Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists use in reference to the Protestant faith, viz.

"Consider for a moment the dramatic significance of your claims. What you are saying is that for 1600 years, God allowed the Church to go astray until Luther and Calvin popped in out of the blue!" 

How can Trueman be so blind? 

Confessional fideism

I'll comment on a post by Tom Chantry:

Most of the post is padded with a metaphor about roots. The basic metaphor is that trees with deep roots stay green because they are well watered. Trees with deep roots don't blow over in a storm. By contrast, trees with shallow roots are endangered by drought and wind storms. 

You can state that in two or three sentences. In fact, I just did. 

Chantry tries to stretch that metaphor into a entire, lengthy post because there's so little substance to what he says. Because his post is so deficient in rational argument. So the overextended metaphor does all the work.

No, my question is instead this, by what means can a theologian protect himself against improper interpretation? 
I would suggest that the answer is for theologians to be planted firmly within the soil of the creedal and confessional history of the church.  By this I do not mean that we make history a superior authority to Scripture, nor even that we make it an authority per se.  

There's always that throwaway disclaimer, yet in reality that's exactly what Chantry is guilty of doing. 

Rather, we ought to recognize certain facts:
           1. Oftentimes seemingly small errors have vast consequences.

           2. Most of these errors have been made in the past.

Which is why we had to have a Protestant Reformation. Which is why you can't just default to the church fathers or early church councils. So Chantry's appeal is tugging in opposite directions.

Advocates of eternal functional subordination have demonstrated a failure to grasp concepts such as simplicity, eternity, the communication of properties, and even the eternal generation of the Son. 

One wonders how clearly Chantry has grasped the implications of divine simplicity for divine freedom, distinct Persons, &c. 

Confessionally rooted Christians will have zero sympathy for the Trinitarian revisions of both the egalitarians and the complementarians.  This is not to say that only confessionalists understand the creeds of orthodoxy, but rather to recognize that true confessionalists must stand with the creeds. 

i) By definition, if you classify yourself as a "confessionalists," then you must stand with the creeds. 

ii) Problem is, Chantry's confessionalism is arbitrarily selective. Which creeds he happens to absolutize becomes reducible to an accident of birth or coin flip. 
Chantry is a confessional fideist. If you can defend a creed, independent of the creed, then you don't need confessionalism. Rather, you evaluate creeds based on whether or not they are true, in part or in whole.

By contrast, Chantry doesn't believe the creed because it's true; rather, he believes it's true because it's in the creed. If he could defend it directly, his confessionalism would be superfluous. 

So his position becomes an exercise in pious playacting. He acts as though everything some 4C bishops said at a particular church council is automatically right, which becomes the unquestionable standard of comparison. 

But that makes what we profess random. Unless you have an independent standard to evaluate a particular creed, affirming the London Baptist Confession of Faith while repudiating the Racovian Catechism is just the luck of the draw. Reshuffle the deck and you end up affirming the Racovian Catechism instead of the London Baptist Confession of Faith. 

That's his dilemma: if he can mount a rational argument for his beliefs, then confessionalism is superfluous. If, on the other hand, he refuses to subject creeds and confessions to scrutiny, then what theological tradition he happens to espouse is just a flip of the coin. 

This becomes a pastoral issue. How does Chantry's fideism, how does Chantry's anti-intellectualism, equip members of his congregation to resist, say, conversion to Rome? If he can give good reasons, then he needn't default to tradition. But if he can't, then what makes his chosen tradition special? 

Reunion with Rome

Ecumenists pine for reunion. I notice that Catholic convert Bryan Cross has a "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" over at Called to Confusion. Evidently, he has a deep emotional investment in this issue. Does he lie in bed, staring at the ceiling, as he contemplates the plight of his "separated brethren"? Is that a cause for insomnia?

Now, an interesting but unexplored question that ecumenism raises is what reunion with Rome actually requires. Before Vatican II, the answer was clearcut. To join the Roman Church, you had to renounce your Protestant theology and adopt Catholic theology. You had to submit to the Roman Magisterium. 

But let's consider two examples. Archbishop Lefebvre was finally excommunicated. But to my knowledge, he was excommunicated, not because of what he believed, and not because of what he said, but because of what he did. He wasn't excommunicated for denying the authority of Vatican II. Rather, he was excommunicated because his actions were deemed to be schismatic, by consecrating breakaway bishops.

Then there's the case of Hans Küng. Although he's a notorious gadfly, he hasn't been formally excommunicated. He hasn't even been defrocked. Although it's possible for a Catholic to incur automatic excommunication, to my knowledge there's no indication that Rome thinks Küng ever crossed that line. Indeed, he's on friendly terms with Pope Francis. In fact, he even remains on amicable terms with archrival Joseph Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI). 

That raises some interesting questions about Catholic identity in relation to Protestant identity. Suppose I'm born into a pious Catholic family. I'm diligently catechized. My family takes me to Mass every Sunday.

Suppose, in my teens, after conducting my own studies, I change my theological beliefs. I adopt classic Protestant beliefs. 

Am I still Catholic? From a Protestant perspective, I'm not longer Catholic. But from an official Catholic perspective, am I still Catholic? Or have I incurred automatic excommunication?

Given the current state of Catholic theology, it's possible, from what I can tell, to be simultaneously Catholic and Protestant. I can be Catholic without sacrificing any of my Protestant beliefs. I didn't step on any tripwires by changing my beliefs. 

If so, then joining the church of Rome wouldn't require me to leave my Protestant faith behind. Traditionally, for a Protestant to become Catholic involves conversion from one to the other. By becoming Catholic, you cease to be Protestant. But is that still the case? Or can you now be both at the same time?

Suppose there hadn't been a Protestant Reformation. Suppose you didn't have that formal break. Suppose, instead, some cradle Catholics developed Protestant beliefs. They might be considered dissenters, like Küng. But given how tolerant Rome has become regarding theological dissenters within its ranks, even in the episcopate, it seems as though Protestants could just be another theological faction under the big tent to Roman Catholicism. Consider the two synods which took place under the auspices of Pope Francis. You had German bishops who publicly opposed the status quo. They weren't relieved of duty for insubordination. If anything, it was the old guard that was sidelined. 

Even Dominus Iesus referred to Protestant denominations as "ecclesial communities". And Pope Francis might well take a softer line than Ratzinger. 

The upshot is to explore the hollowness of what reunion with Rome amounts to these days. If my analysis is correct, Protestants could reunite with Rome without recanting or modifying any classic Protestant beliefs. They could return to Mother Church with their traditional theology entirely intact. 

There is, of course, something manifestly absurd about that hypothetical prospect, yet that's consistent with post-Vatican II trajectories. So ironically, if the dream of ecumenists like Bryan Cross came true, that change would be utterly superficial. There'd be no substantive change in Protestant theology. You needn't even meet Rome halfway. The theological boundaries of Rome have become so fuzzy that it's like Hinduism. 

Post-conversion letdown

It's a cliché that many Christian converts are initially zealous, but either become lukewarm or drift away from the faith. Why is that? What, if anything, can be done about it?

I'm sure that this is much more prevalent among men than women. Let's take a stereotypical case. A man converts to Christianity. He learns the basics of Christian theology. He may identify with a particular theological tradition. He learns the jargon. He proselytizes all his friends, relatives, and coworkers. He has debates over creation/evolution, Calvinism/Arminianism, cessationism/continuationism, millennialism/premillennialism, Catholicism/evangelicalism, credobaptism/paedobaptism, &c. He's drawn to controversial and intellectually challenging books like Romans and Revelation. 

But after a while, there's a sense in which he's just running in place. What does he do for an encore? Is this all there is to the Christian life? That's when the post-conversion letdown sets in. 

Some converts maintain momentum by becoming pastors, evangelists, missionaries, apologists, or seminary professors. However, even in that case, there's the danger of reading and writing, speaking or debating, as an intellectual diversion. A way to pass the time. A distraction to alleviate tedium. 

Men tend to be more interested in theological ideas than women. This is true of men generally. More male philosophers, theologians, bloggers, &c. Men like to debate ideas.

New ideas are apt to be more exciting than familiar ideas. So what happens when you feel that you've learned the ropes? Where do you go from there? 

One problem is that a lot of Christian laymen have a very superficial knowledge of Christian theology. They could dig a lot deeper. There's also some good Christian fiction. 

However, another problem is if we view the Christian life primarily in terms of head knowledge. Now, many Christians would benefit from expanding their head knowledge. They are woefully ignorant. 

Ultimately, though, the Christian faith isn't a quest to discover new theological ideas, but to internalize theology. Let it sink in. Become marinated in Christian theology. Live out your faith. Become what you believe. Fidelity. Sanctification. Putting your faith into practice. 

To take a comparison, I believe it was Leland Ryken, in Windows to the World, who said great literature is inexhaustible. If you come back to the same book years later, you notice things you missed before. You have a newfound appreciation for an old story.

The story hasn't changed–you have! Life changes us. Although the story is the same, the reader is not the same. Every time you return to the story, you see it through the lens of your own, layered experience. Even though you know the plot, there's something new to you each time you read it because different things resonate with you based on your evolving life experience. 

That isn't just true of literature. It can be true of movies and TV dramas. 

And that, in turn, has an analogy with the walk of faith. Some Christians stall. For some Christians, the road runs out before the destination because "they've heard it all" before. Now, as a matter of fact, most of them have a very shallow grasp of Scripture and Christian theology. They have lots more to learn. Even if they applied themselves, in the course of a lifetime they'd still be scratching the surface.

Even so, there are limitations to that orientation. The walk of faith is not primarily an intellectual adventure. It's not about discovering what lies over the next hill. If that's your approach, that's an invitation to boredom. 

Rather, the walk of faith is more about using "old" ideas, familiar theological truths, to understand the events in your life. To interpret your experience. Births and deaths. Marriage. Child-rearing. Friendship. Betrayal. Illness. Aging. Hope. Frustration. Disappointment.  

Use theology as the filter to make sense of these events. Try to find meaning in these events. 

Finally, this life is supposed to be disappointing. Supposed to be unsatisfying. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Bible prophecy and the CIA

Critics blamed the CIA for failure to anticipate the breakup of the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, a primary task of the CIA was to keep tabs on Russia. Huge resources were devoted to that task. 

In fairness, there may well have been CIA employees who saw it coming, but they weren't high enough in the agency for their views to be known outside the agency. They weren't official spokesmen.

Why did the Soviet empire collapse? A major factor was economics. It was an overextended empire. Communist economic policies were unable to generate the GNP necessary to sustain the Russian war machine. In that respect, the collapse of the Soviet empire was inevitable. 

However, that's arguably a necessary rather than sufficient condition. In addition to economic pressures, the timing of the collapse depended on the actions of key people, viz. Gorbachev, Reagan, Thatcher, Yeltsin, Walesa, John-Paul II.

Even if the Soviet Empire was economically unsustainable over the long haul, the timing was contingent on the presence of certain players in strategic positions. If you had a Putin rather than a Gorbachev, he might delay the inevitable. You might have a steady decline rather than sudden collapse. Rather like the Ottoman empire. 

Perhaps, moreover, the breakup of the Soviet Union was not a foregone conclusion. Suppose Russia had had a leader like Deng Xiaoping or Zhou Enlai, who promoted economic freedom without promoting political freedom. Reforming the economic system but not the political system. Combining capitalist economics with repressive government. That might have enabled Russia to subsidize its imperial ambitions. 

So the outcome was contingent on individual human factors as well as large-scale economic trends. And that's what made it unpredictable.

This illustrates why the future is hard to foretell. Even if you have some objective factors and trajectories to work with, extrapolations from the present may be unreliable because the outcome is dependent on independent variables. The rise and fall of certain leaders. Lucky or unlucky timing. That's not something which humans can foresee far in advance. And this is what makes fulfilled Bible prophecy impressive. 

How Ehrman shot himself in the foot

Whether or not he had this in mind when he began his journey into apostasy, there's a strategy to Ehrman's attack on the historical Jesus. Basically, it goes like this:

i) Because the text of the NT is unreliable, we don't know what Jesus was actually like. We don't know what he really said and did. Misquoting Jesus. 

ii) Even if the text of the NT was reliable, the Jesus traditions which were eventually canonized aren't based on firsthand information.  Jesus Interrupted. 

iii) Even if the Jesus traditions in the Gospels were based on firsthand information, eyewitness memory is unreliable. Jesus Before the Gospels. 

Now, each step in the argument can be challenged. I've done some of that myself, as have others. 

But Ehrman's argument suffers from another problem. One way Ehrman attempts to discredit the Gospels is to alleged that some of their claims can be shown to be historically erroneous. For instance, in Jesus Interrupted, he dusts off the chestnut about the census of Qurinius. He says that's falsified by extrabiblical historical sources (pp31-33).

However, a glaring problem with his appeal is that Ehrman is resorting to a double standard. He's exempting the extrabiblical sources from the same skepticism he applies to the Gospels. For instance, he appeals to Tacitus, Josephus, and inscriptional evidence regarding Quirinius. Yet he fails to apply the same criterion to them:

i) Do we have a reliable textual tradition for Tacitus and Josephus? In Misquoting Jesus, Ehman hypothesizes:

Suppose that after the original manuscript of a text was produced, two copies were made of it, which we may call A and B. These two copies, of course, will differ from each other in some ways — possibly major and probably minor. Now suppose that A was copied by one other scribe, but B was copied by fifty scribes. Then the original manuscript, along with copies A and B, were lost, so that all that remains in the textual tradition are the fifty-one second-generation copies, one made from A and fifty made from B.

Although he had the NT in mind when he wrote that, the same principle applies to his extrabiblical sources. What if all our MSS of Tacitus or Josephus derive from a mistake-ridden fifth-generation copy? 

ii) Even assuming that we have reliable MSS of Tacitus and Josephus, what's the evidence that their statements about Qurinius are based on firsthand information? 

iii) Even assuming that their statements (or the inscriptions) about Qurinius are based on firsthand information, Ehrman has published a new book in which he claims eyewitness recollection is untrustworthy. 

So this poses a dilemma for Ehrman: if, on the one hand, he treats his extrabiblical sources with the same skepticism he treats the NT, then he can't use extrabiblical sources as a standard of comparison. By that logic, they are just as dubious as the NT. If, on the other hand, he deems his extrabiblical sources to be prima facie trustworthy, then, in consistency, he must grant the same presumption regarding the canonical Gospels. He can only use extrabiblical sources to impugn the historicity of the Gospels on pain of special pleading. So his trilogy becomes an automated machine that shoots himself in the foot the moment he tries to discredit the historicity of the Gospels by appeal to extrabiblical historical sources. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


I will comment on this article:

1. I think Grudem et al. should probably concede that the church fathers teach eternal generation, and that's what the Nicene creed means. I think they are going to lose that argument with patrologists. They should just accept the fact that the opposing side has the better of that particular argument. 

That's not a fatal concession. What ultimately matters is not whether our beliefs square with what the church fathers believed, but whether our beliefs square with reality. 

Fact is, various church fathers teach various things which confessional Presbyterians and confessional Baptists reject. The church fathers are not the arbiters of truth. 

2. It is, of course, the prerogative of any particular denomination to absolutize the Nicene creed and make strict subscription to the Nicene creed a precondition of ordination for church officers. 

However, the Nicene creed is theologically primitive. There's such a thing as the progress of doctrine. In the course of church history, theologians have refined our understanding of many doctrines. 

In addition, the Nicene creed was a consensus document. In that respect, it has the potential to be less theologically accurate than a creed could be, since consensus documents, by design, have a certain amount of ambiguity and elbow room. 

3. We also need to be honest about what subscription to the Nicene creed amounts to in practice. I daresay the average layman has no in-depth background knowledge of what the formulas mean. When he recites the Nicene creed, he simply relies on his knowledge of what the words mean in ordinary usage, as a naive English speaker (or whatever). What the words would mean if he was reading a newspaper.

Most laymen and–indeed–most church officers, haven't invested in expensive, erudite, technical monographs on patristic Christology and Triadology. 

4. Grudem says:

But just what is meant by "eternal generation"? In what they have written, I cannot discover what they mean. To substitute the words "paternity" and "filiation" provides some Latinized terminology but those terms simply mean "existing as a father" and "existing as a son," which tells us nothing more. Quite honestly, I find it impossible to say whether or not I agree with "eternal generation" until someone explains, in ordinary English, what he means by it (not just what it does not mean). (If "eternal generation" simply means "an eternal Father-Son relationship," then I am happy to affirm it.)

That's a valid challenge. 

5. Grudem says:

But what kind of eternal Father-Son relationship is this? That is the point of difference. Bruce Ware and Owen Strachan and I have understood it in terms of the eternal authority of the Father and the eternal submission of the Son within their relationship. That seems to us to best account for the very names "Father" and "Son" as they would certainly have been understood in the ancient world... 

"Father" and "son" are metaphors that evoke wide-ranging connotations. Some of those connotations are unsuitable to the transcendent attributes of the Godhead. So we have to narrow that down to the intended scope of the metaphor. 

For instance, Scripture repeatedly presents Jesus as God's heir. That trades on the human custom of royal succession, where an aging king either abdicates or dies in offer. His son, as crown prince and rightful heir, assumes the throne. 

In some cases you have a temporary coregency to smooth the transition of power. Ensuring that the designated heir gets the job. 

Clearly, though, that needs to be qualified in relation to the Godhead. The Father is not a superannuated monarch. The Father is not in his dotage. So there are distinct limits to that theological metaphor. 

5. Grudem says:

...and also to best account for multiple passages of Scripture that show a consistent pattern of the Father who elects us in the Son (Eph. 1:4-5), creates the world through the Son (John 1:2, 1 Cor. 8:6, Heb. 1:2), sends the Son into the world (John 3:16), and delegates judgment to the Son (Rev 2:27), while the Son comes into the world to do his Father's will, not his own (John 6:38), after his ascension sits at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:32-35), receives from the Father the authority to pour forth the Holy Spirit in New Covenant fullness (Matt 28:18; Acts 2:33), makes intercession before the Father (Heb. 7:25), receives revelation from the Father to give to the church (Rev. 1:1), and will eternally be subject to the Father (1 Cor. 15:26-28). These activities between the Father and Son are one-directional and they are never reversed anywhere in Scripture. 

There's less to that than meets the eye:

i) That there's functional subordination within the economic Trinity is not in dispute. The question is whether that carries back into the immanent Trinity. Does the economic Trinity mirror the immanent Trinity in that regard? Since that inference is the very issue in dispute, Grudem's appeal begs the question. Does he have any evidence independent of passages about the economic Trinity?

ii) If there's going to be functional subordination within the economic Trinity, we'd expect the subordination to be consistent, would we not? If there's going to be economic subordination at all, would we expect the Son to be subordinate to the Father in some respects, but the Father subordinate to the Son in other respects? Wouldn't that be rather ad hoc? 

In other words, what is Grudem's assumed point of contrast? He seems to be supposing that if the Son wasn't eternally functionally subordinate to the Father, then they'd sometimes reverse roles. Subordination would alternate between the members of the Trinity. If so, I don't think there's any presumption that this would be the case. If anything, I think there's a presumption that if there's going to be economic subordination, that would follow an invariant pattern, rather than having members of the Trinity arbitrarily swap roles, for the sake of variety. 

iii) Grudem muddies the water by failing to distinguish between the status of the Son qua Son and the Son qua Incarnate. But the fact that Christ is subordinate to God doesn't imply that the Son is subordinate to the Father. 

iv) Moreover, as Gregory Beale points out, 1 Cor 15:28 concerns the role of Christ as the last Adam. Cf. A New Testament Biblical Theology (Baker 2011), 261-262; 914. So that's not about the status of the Son qua Son, but the Incarnate Son resuming and fulfilling the role of Adam. 

v) BTW, there's a definite sense in which God sometimes takes a subordinate role. For instance, when God makes a covenant, he assumes an obligation to keep his promise. He obligates himself to humans. Human parties to the covenant now have a claim on God. 

It would be very strange to insist that God can assume a subordinate role in relation to mere human beings, but the Father can never assume a subordinate role in relation to the Son. If God can assume a subordinate role in relation to humans, then a fortiori, the Father can assume a subordinate role in relation to the Son. The greater includes the lesser. 

vi) Keep in mind, too, that in Reformed theology, the Father is obliged to honor the work of the Son. 

vii) Does delegation imply subordination? Even when a superior delegates authority to a subordinate, the superior may then be bound by the actions which his subordinate took on his behalf and in his stead, in the lawful exercise of his delegated authority. Even though there's subordination in that relationship, the superior is relinquishing some authority in the process, and making himself subject to the actions of his agent. 

viii) Furthermore, a division of labor does not imply subordination. Equals can play different parts. 

In fact, equals (or even superiors) may find nothing demeaning about assuming a lesser role, because it doesn't threaten their essential equality. If the boss arrives at the office before the secretary, the boss may have to answer the phones. Although that's a functional job demotion, he is still the boss. 

Suppose you have a nobleman and his manservant. Say they are both young men on friendly terms. They go on a trip together. The manservant takes ill or is injured. The nobleman cares for him until his manservant is able to resume his servile duties. The nobleman was playing the role of the servant in relation to the servant! But unless he's a snob, he doesn't feel that's beneath him. He does what's necessary. Nursing his servant back to health doesn't threaten the nobleman's aristocratic rank. 

Likewise, parents have authority over their young kids, yet parents routinely have to perform very down-to-earth tasks for young kids. Children make incessant demands on parents. Child-rearing is often undignified. 

Consider Jn 13 and Lk 12:37, where a superior assumes the subordinate role. 

Richard Carrier banned

Self-identifies as baby

From transgenderism to:

The presence of the past

Keep this in mind when folks like Bart Ehrman say the Gospels were written too late to be in touch with the facts on the ground:

The No-True-Muslim Fallacy

Censorship in science

Notice the suppression of dissent in science. This isn't evolution, or even climate change:

Monday, June 20, 2016

Prepare to die

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (Jas 4:13-15).

Anton Yelchin, best known as Chekov in the Star Trek reboots, and the hapless, doomed murder victim in Alpha Dog, was killed in a freak accident at age 27. 

This is a reminder that we can die in a flash. Many enjoy a normal lifespan, but that's just a statistical average. You can die in your prime. He didn't even die from a drug overdose, or cancer, or rock-climbing, or mountain-biking. It was completely unpredictable. 

We should be prepared to die at anytime–because we may. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Two Supreme Court Nominations To Be Decided Soon

If this story holds up, if there's significant potential that Clarence Thomas will retire soon, it should motivate Republicans to press even harder to get a presidential nominee other than Trump. There are a lot of ways to get rid of Trump, but none of them are easy, and none are likely to work. They're worth trying, though, and they should be pursued much more than they have been so far.

The Washington Examiner story doesn't have much substance to it yet, as far as I know. It gives us some reason, but not much, to think there's a good chance Thomas will retire soon. However, it's a matter of settled fact that a replacement for Scalia will be chosen soon and that Anthony Kennedy could easily die or retire in the near future. We could easily see three non-liberal justices replaced soon.

Atheists on Orlando

One of the revealing, but unsurprising, aspects of reaction to the Orlando massacre is how many atheists are unable to exercise any moral or intellectual independence and leadership when it comes to Islam. Although there are some exceptions, like Sam Harris–who is routinely denounced by fellow atheists–so many atheists used the Orlando massacre as a pretext to bash Christians! They saw an opening and went for it. They can't resist the opportunity to bash Christianity even though Islam is the real threat. They can't even bring themselves to admit that Islam is a problem. 

Despite their prideful claim to be freethinkers, so many atheists are captive to blind emotion and political correctness. They can't think for themselves. They are petrified to take a position that's contrary to the liberal elite opinion-makers. 

Brainwashed liberals

Spinning Islam

In light of the dustup with James White, it's important not to lose sight of the big picture. What's the larger issue? Speaking for myself:

1. Islam produces dangerous, pathological cultures. When Muslims migrate to the West, we see a pattern that keeps repeating itself like a self-replicating disease. The Muslims bring their social mores with them. This isn't confined to terrorists masquerading as refugees. Rather, this includes honor-killings, a well-documented rape culture, &c. 

In addition to Muslim immigrants who are already terrorists, Muslims form ethnic enclaves that foment domestic terrorism. Their youth are taught to hate the host country. 

Moreover, you have collusion between Muslim communities and the authorities. Instead of protecting innocent men, women, and children from Muslim aggression, the authorities protect Muslim aggressors. Here's one example: 

The authorities make it a hate crime to even criticize Muslims. It's not the Muslim thugs who get in trouble, but whistleblowers. 

2. This is an utterly predictable and preventable problem. We see the same pattern beginning to replicate itself in the US. This is avoidable. It doesn't have to happen. 

Immigration policy ought to be selective. We should not invite people-groups into the country who despise the host country. We should not allow people into the country who oppose freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association. There's no legal or moral obligation to import subversives into your country. Indeed, there's a duty not to expose the innocent to gratuitous harm. Not to put the innocent at foreseeable, unnecessary risk. 

3. Are all Muslims terrorists? No. Are most Muslims terrorists? No. 

Keep in mind that this isn't just about terrorism. See point #1.

Let's take a comparison: the KKK used to be a major domestic terrorist organization. But I doubt all Klansmen participated in lynch mobs. I expect you had many businessmen and aspiring politicians who joined the KKK for social advancement. That was a way of networking. Expanding their customer base. Getting a foothold in elective office.

And yet it would be entirely appropriate for anyone who belonged to the KKK to share the stigma of what it represents. If you resent the odium that comes with membership in the KKK, don't join in the first place.

4. Consider another example. Christians who do prison ministry need to take precautions. For instance, they need to conceal their contact info so that inmates don't have access to their home address, Social Security numbers, &c. It's good to evangelize prisoners, and some become genuine converts. But you don't know which is which. 

5. With that context in mind, let's go back to White. Here's  how he's cast himself in this drama. His critics attack him because he tries to be accurate. He refuses to broadbrush Muslims. His critics attack him because he tries to be consistent. His critics attack him because he doesn't resort to double standards. His critics attack him because he has civil debates with Muslims. 

Of course, that's a ridiculous straw man. Are people like me saying: "You know what's wrong with White? He tries to be accurate! You know what's wrong with White? He tries to be consistent! You know what's wrong with White? He eschews double standards!"

White is doing a bait-n-switch. Instead of engaging actual criticisms, he caricatures what people like me are really saying, then defends himself against caricatures of his own devising. 

In fact, White is conspicuously inconsistent. Conspicuously inaccurate when dealing with critics. 

Let's take a few examples of his real modus operandi:

i) In the June 15 DL, he began by accusing people of jumping the gun on Omar Mateen's motives. Pushing their preconceived agenda. 

Yet on June 12, right after initial reports of the Orlando shooting, he went on Facebook to post an instant reaction piece, pushing his own agenda. 

ii) On the one hand, White tells us that if a Muslim says he repudiates jihad, we should take his word for it. We should credit the testimony of Muslims who say they deplore jihadist atrocities.

On the other hand, when it comes to Mateen's stated motives, White told viewers that we should discount Mateen's testimony. What if that was just a "cover" story?

Keep in mind that there's much more evidence than Mateen's 9/11 call. He has a history of sympathetic statements and associations with militant Islam.

The fact that White began to spin some very speculative conjectures about Mateen's real motives is an example of his Muslim partisanship. When your first impulse is to make excuses for a Muslim terrorist, that reflects a telltale bias. 

iii) White rationalized skepticism about Mateen's testimony because there's evidence that Mateen was homosexual. The implication, apparently, is that since homosexual activity is incompatible with Muslim ethics, Mateen wasn't a real Muslim, or his motive for shooting up the gay nightclub wasn't religious.

One problem with that explanation is that what seems inconsistent to outsiders doesn't seem inconsistent to insiders. For instance, Muslims constantly rail against the immodesty and licentiousness of Western culture. Yet various Muslim cultures have polygamy, concubinage, sex slaves, pederasty, gang rape, and adult men who marry adolescent or even prepubescent girls.

That's glaringly at odds with their sanctimonious attacks on Western sexual mores. But they don't see it that way. The fact that Muslim sexual mores are so blatantly hypocritical doesn't mean they aren't real Muslims. 

iv) White accuses his critics of "broadbrushing" Muslims or "lumping" all Muslims together as terrorists. Yet in saying that, White himself is guilty of broadbrushing his critics. He lumps all his critics together, as if every critic takes the position that all Muslims are terrorists.

v) Then there's the question of whether White has gone soft on Islam. I'm not a regular viewer of the DL, so I can't say if White's position has changed.

However, White did another bait-n-switch. The question isn't whether White is soft on Islam in the sense that White is a religious pluralist, or that White might convert to Islam. Critics like me aren't suggesting that he's soft on Islam in that sense.  

Rather, he's soft on Muslims from the public safety and security aspect. 

Cheap grief

In the wake of the Orlando massacre, we had evangelical leaders talk about how Christians were "grieving" or the nation was "mourning" this crime. Even "weeping". Now, this is well-meaning. It's an attempt to show that Christians care about the lost–including homosexuals. And it's a way of distancing ourselves from Westboro types. 

That said, the anonymous way that words like "grief" and "mourning" are thrown around cheapens the principle. I'm not confining my remarks to this particular incident.

If we're honest, I think the only people whose death we really grieve over are people we're very close to. Not mere acquaintances. Not strangers. 

There's rhetorical inflation at work. To prove how caring we are, we overextend the notion of grief and mourning.  But we need to reserve those words for something more personal, more intimate, than 50 strangers dying at once. 

Why does the Orlando massacre get framed in terms of grief and mourning, but a plane crash killing hundreds does not? 

In addition, it's only natural to feel worse about some deaths than others–even when it's strangers. I'm more saddened by the death of one 2-year-old (Lane Graves), killed by an alligator, than the Orlando shooting. I'm more saddened by the Columbine massacre than the Orlando shooting. 

The world is full of tragedies. Full of atrocities. But every tragedy isn't my tragedy. I'm not heartbroken about every tragedy or atrocity. There's a difference between empathy or compassion and grief. It's one thing to be compassionate about the suffering of others, but it's something else to act as if their loss is your loss. That's just make-believe. 

Death threats in Eden

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:16-17).

This raises various issues, which I've discussed before. For instance, "in the day" is a Hebrew idiom for "when". So it doesn't mean you'd die on the same day you eat it.

Take a statement like, "When you have kids of your own, you'll understand!" That doesn't mean the instant they have a child, they'll understand. Rather, it refers to insight that results from the process of childrearing. It can take years for that to sink in. 

But here's another issue I haven't discussed: If Adam and Eve had no experience of death, how could they grasp the threat, much less appreciate the gravity of the threat?

Admittedly, there's a distinction between knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance. Even so, what would death connote to them, what would be the force of that threat, if that was just an abstract idea?

Was there death in the Garden? I don't think human death antedated the Fall. And I don't believe in pre-Adamites. But what about animal death? Could there be animal death in the Garden? If so, what kind?

Of course, young-earth creationists deny that possibility. There are roughly three components to YEC:

i) Mature creation
ii) Global flood
iii) No antelapsarian mortality

These are logically separable propositions. You can affirm all three, deny all three, affirm one or two. Let's assume for the sake of argument that animal death preexisted the fall. And if you don't want to assume it, that's fine. That just means this post is not for you.

In principle, the Garden of Eden could contain small predators. Adam and Eve could observe predators killing prey animals. Even if they were wild predators, they wouldn't attack creatures the size of Adam and Eve.

I have in mind small predators like the fox, bobcat, Ocelot, Caracal, weasel, and otter. I'm not suggesting these exact species existed at that time and place. Just using them to illustrate the general idea (small predators). 

Likewise, there could be predatory birds that would swoop down to snatch snakes, rodents, or whatever. Likewise, nonvenomous snakes could kill and eat rodents. 

In theory, you could even have major predators so long as they were tame. As such, they wouldn't be dangerous to Adam and Eve. 

A lot depends on the size of Garden, and other details. We tend to think of Eden as a tropical paradise, but it may have been located in a hot, dry region. What made Eden lush was the river. 

There's also the question of whether Adam and Eve raised livestock for meat. Although some readers take Gen 9 to mean man only acquired a carnivorous diet after the Fall, the terminology arguably has reference to hunting wild animals–in distinction to livestock. In any case, that's not essential to my argument. 

Theoretically, even if there was no death in the Garden, it might be possible to observe predation outside the Garden the elevation of the Garden in relation to the surrounding countryside, natural barriers, and so forth.

For that matter, God could give Adam and Eve dreams of death. Examples of human or animal death in dreams. 

The last two examples are more speculative, but they show the range of possible explanations.