Saturday, July 08, 2017

Living dogs and dead lions

4 But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten (Eccl 9:4-5).

This is a prooftext for annihilationism. But bracketing other objections, a basic problem with that interpretation is that it fails to take the epistemological viewpoint of the narrator into account. A common refrain in Ecclesiastes is the narrator's appeal to what he saw, viz. Eccl 2:13,24; 3:16,22; 4:1,4,7,15; 8:9-10,17; 9:11. So he's speaking from experience. His statements and generalizations are literally observations. 

What he says is true from that perspective. And that accounts for the pessimism and cynicism which pervades the book. If you judge the world by appearances, then reality is pretty depressing. 

But that frame of reference, while true insofar as it goes, has decided limitations. There's more to reality than meets the eye. Existence doesn't begin and end with the physical and sensory dimension of existence. Empirical knowledge is informative and indispensable within the inherent limitations of empirical knowledge. That's just a sample of reality. 

The annihilationist interpretation overlooks the epistemological reference frame of the narrator. Throughout the book, he is speaking from the standpoint of an observer. Judging by appearances. By this life. 

Islamophobe top ten

Putin's Ironic Description of "the West"

Man Who Identifies as 6-year-old Dominates CrossFit Kids Class

Islam, Christianity, and pedophilia

Question from a commenter:

I wonder, though, if we Christians aren't revealing a weak spot when it comes to objections to pedophilia. When pressed by our opponents, I don't think that we'd be able to provide any prooftexts condemning the practice - or am I wrong? Worse, I could see opponents seizing on the notion of Boaz seeming to be an elder while Ruth appeared to be a young girl. Granted, that's a bit flimsy but I'm not sure what the proper response might be. So I guess I'm asking how you might mount a defence against the claim that the Bible has nothing to say about pedophilia.

Interesting question. Requires a many-layered response:

1. Let's assume for the sake of argument that the Bible is silent on the moral status of pedophilia. There's an essential difference between a religious text that condones pedophilia and silence. The Bible's not an encyclopedia. It doesn't purport to address every ethnical issue. Some activities may not be condemned because they are obviously wrong. It isn't necessary to explicitly condemn them. That's understood. Take the cliche example of torturing little kids for fun. 

I think there's a place for natural law considerations in Christian ethics. We don't require biblical warrant for all our ethical determinations. 

2. In Scripture, couples marry with a view to having kids. That assumes the bride and bridegroom are sexually mature. 

3. Ruth was a widow. Moreover, she'd been married for ten years before her husband died (Ruth 1:4-5; 4:11). Presumably, she was in her twenties when she married Boaz.

4. Are there passages in Scripture that have implications for age of eligibility in reference to marriage? 

i) Take the much maligned passage about war brides (Deut 20:10-14). The brides are widows. So these are not prepubescent girls. It's unlikely that they are even adolescent girls. Rather, the context suggests adult women. They are chosen for their overt womanly sex appeal. 

ii) In 1 Cor 7:36, the virgins are, at the very least, sexually mature, and the word (hyperakmos) may well mean the "bloom of youth". That suggests females in the upper teens or early twenties.  

5. It's common to speculate that Mary was an adolescent bride who was widowed by the time Jesus began his public ministry because she married a much older man. But even if we grant some of the assumptions, it was probably rare for people to die of old age in the ancient world. Mortality was high, and there are many common ways to die young, viz. illness, accident, infection. 

6. Regarding the morality of older men who marry younger women, that depends. 

i) On the one hand are coercive or exploitative relationships. Older men (and women!) in positions of power who abuse their authority by taking advantage of subordinates. 

ii) On the other hand, there are desperate or ambitious women who take the initiative. They court or seduce older men who can advance their career, provide financial security, or lavish lifestyle. That's calculated. Some women are attracted to alpha males or powerful men. I'm not making a value judgment, just a sociological observation. Between consenting adults, I don't think age disparity is coercive or exploitative. 

Sex Abuse Enabler-In-Chief?

Sex Abuse spotlight on Pope Francis
According to the conservative “The Catholic Thing”, the 
sex abuse spotlight has now been turned on “Pope Francis”.
Who is he to judge?

After the departure of one of his closest advisers in the hierarchy, Cardinal Pell (and following the departure as well of his CDF chief, Cardinal Müller, who failed to move more than 2,000 sex abuse cases through his department), the spotlight has turned by some on the potential sex abuse enabler-in-chief, “Pope Francis”.

“There is a deep disconnect between the pope’s words and his actions,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the advocacy group Bishop Accountability.

Barrett Doyle was critical of the pope for keeping Pell in his post until now, despite knowledge of the allegations against him.

“The pope is not a reformer when it comes to the crisis,” she said. “He apologizes often and uses buzz phrases like ‘zero tolerance.’ But underneath he remains the minimizer and the defender of accused priests.”

Friday, July 07, 2017

Against Reformed Catholicism

For whom did Christ die?

How to become an instant philosopher

Normalizing perversion

In the "national dialogue" about homosexual marriage, some social conservatives asked where proponents drew the line. What about incest? Pedophilia? Bestiality? Necrophilia? Proponents either reacted with feigned indignation or shortsighted indignation, as if this was alarmism. But social conservatives were logical and prescient:

Poverty, indentured service, and marriage in the ancient Near East

21:7 If a man sells his daughter as a servant. In extreme circumstances of poverty, a father could sell his daughter as a debt slave, on the understanding that she might possibly become the wife of either the master or his son. This arrangement not only provided financial help for the family but  guaranteed a secure future for the daughter. There is no evidence to suggest that the daughter was sold into slavery against her will. Since she is not strictly her master's property, if he becomes dissatisfied with her prior to marriage, he is not at liberty to sell her to anyone else, apart from back to her family. 

21:9-11 If he selects her for his son…food, clothing and marital rights. If the girl is sold into slavery with the understanding that she will become a wife to the master's son, she is to be treated like a daughter. This legislation looks to protect the woman from exploitation. As vv10-11 highlight, the female servant must not be ill treated. Her owner has an obligation to provide her with food and clothing and perhaps "marital rights". T. Desmond Alexander, Exodus (Baker, 2016), 110.

Should churches host interfaith debates?

From a Facebook exchange (with minor edits):

i) One of the challenges in Christian piety is that it's easier to defend the faith than live the faith. Easier to defend the faith than to be a faithful Christian. 

It's essential that we defend Christian orthodoxy. But it's very tempting to make that a substitute for cultivating sanctity. 

The advantage of virtue-signaling is that it has the appearance of virtue without the effort. Saying right is a cheap substitute for doing right. 

The detractor is striving to impress others with his "uncompromising" rhetoric. But Jesus warns us to avoid spiritual ostentation.

ii) In addition, it's ironic that in the name of doctrinal purity, he and some others are promoting bad theology. There's nothing sacrosanct about a church building. This isn't the tabernacle, which was ritually holy. A Muslim doesn't profane "the church" by his presence. It's just a physical space where Christians meet. 

As Paul explains, Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit. In addition, Christians aren't defiled by contact with unbelievers. If anything, it's the other way around. We can have a sanctifying influence on unbelievers.

I say that as someone who's critical of White's defense of Qadhi, as well as his refusal to address the ethical issues generated by Muslim immigration. But it's important to distinguish between legitimate concerns and bogus or scurrilous attacks.

iii) 2 Jn 10-11 is addressing a situation in which a false teacher who presents himself as a Christian spokesman is invited to speak in a 1C house-church. There's no presumption that the audience would have any idea that he's a heretic. They have little standard of comparison. For instance, they didn't own personal copies of the NT at that time. Likewise, the scenario envisions a false teacher who's allowed to speak unopposed, as a representative of the Christian faith. 

That's a completely different situation from a modern church hosting a apologetic debate or dialogue between a Christian apologist and an unambiguous enemy of the Christian faith. Where statements of the unbeliever will be critiqued by an expert. Where the Christian audience has ready access to an orthodox standard of comparison. 

To faithfully apply biblical prohibitions, they must be applied to analogous situations. 

iv) When people are exposed to false teaching, there's always a risk of defection. If, however, the only thing keeping them from apostasy is ignorance of false teaching, then their faith was an accidental faith. They were apostates just waiting to happen. 

It's a choice between inoculating people from contagion or hoping they will never be exposed to contagion. Better to acquaint Christians with falsehood in order to refute falsehood, than just hope they get lucky. 

John can't mean that Christians should never be exposed to false teaching, for you can't refute false teaching without some exposition of what the false teaching amounts to. John himself does that in his first epistle. Same thing with many NT epistles. 

v) God is present whoever Christians are present. That could be a shopping mall or baseball stadium.

Are you unable to distinguish between "knowing the facts of a situation" and faulty criteria? I don't need to know the specifics of a given situation to criticize bad generic arguments. 

Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones himself clearly said…or the past Reformers is it written that this type of 'dialogue' that happened would ever be ok.

My primary objective in reading a commentary is to find out what the Bible meant, not what Luther or Calvin meant. You appeal to Gill, Lloyd-Jones, and "the past Reformers" as authority figures. That's an illicit argument from authority. The fact that they are Calvinists doesn't ipso facto mean their opinion obliges me to agree with them. Their opinions are only as good as the reasons they give in support of their opinions. We don't have popes in Calvinism. Sorry if you missed that. 

You're the mirror image of a Catholic apologist. You recast issues in terms of "authority" rather than truth and evidence. 

You don't know what an illicit argument from authority is. Let's explain it to you. That's when you attempt to back up your claim by citing someone's sheer opinion as if it's true simply because of who said it. As if their say-so makes it so.

I haven't made myself an authority. Rather, I've given reasons for my position. Try to master that elementary difference.

Godly Reformers, pastors and Seminarians but YOU sir get to be the ultimate authority on what's evidence?

You're in the wrong denomination. You're stuck in the same "authority" paradigm as Catholic apologists.

The opinion of a Protestant Reformer is no better than the explanation they present in defense of their opinion. 

And yes, we must exercise our personal judgment when assessing the evidence. That's not something we can delegate to a second party. Your objection is the mirror-image of Catholic apologists who assail the right of private judgment. 

Knowledge is cumulative. So, yes, a 21C Christian can know things that Knox didn't. Just as the Protestant Reformers had a better grasp of biblical theology than most Greek and Latin church fathers, or medieval theologians.

There's a distinction between individual prooftexts and the doctrine in question. A theologian can misinterpret one or more prooftexts, but still get the doctrine right due to the redundancy of Biblical teaching. There's a distinction between the level of the doctrine and the level of prooftexts cited in support of the doctrine. Even if a theologian misconstrues one or more prooftexts, the doctrine may still be true because that's attested by other prooftexts. 

The Gospel isn't to be dialogued or even debated, as if anything has equal ground with it. It is to be proclaimed and is a COMMAND from God.

At the risk of stating the obvious, St. Paul often defended the Gospel by presenting arguments for the veracity of the Gospel, and rebutting objections. Likewise, the Gospels and Acts present evidence for the Gospel, viz. argument from prophecy, argument from miracles.

But there's a good story that Polycarp told the contemporaries of Iranaeus, of how John was about to bathe, when he heard that the heretic Cerinthus was in the same building…

I don't share your credulity about ecclesiastical legends. The legendary encounter between Cerinthus and John is a fourth- or fifth-hand tale: Irenaeus heard about it from some anonymous sources who supposedly heard it from Polycarp who supposedly heard it from John. Sorry, but I'm not that gullible.

What do you actually know about Roman bathhouses? Are you aware of what-all went on in Roman bathhouses? If you knew, what makes you think a pious Jew like John would frequent a Roman bathhouse?

Reymond was not a patrologist. You're addicted to an illicit argument from authority. Irenaeus also said Jesus was 50 years old. Do you believe that? 

Ironically, many of White's critics are doing him a favor, albeit unwittingly. In their debate, Robert Spencer raised a number of legitimate criticisms. However, the more responsible critics like Spencer get drown out by the torch-n-pitchfork mob. That actually gives White cover. He's able to deflect attention away from reasonable criticisms by responding to the lunatic fringe. That's an argument he can win with one hand tied behind his back. By acting as if that's representative of the whole, he comes out on top. 

In addition, there's the all-or-nothing attitude, as though you can't say anything good about White unless you agree with him on everything. But reasonable people have the critical detachment to find someone useful in some respects if not in all respects.

Jesus NEVER allowed God's name to be blasphemed nor His Word to be attacked like this Muslim did

Jesus routinely allows God's name to be blasphemed and his word to be attacked. Did Jesus strike Qadhi dead? Any fatal lighting bolts? Has John Spong died in a freak accident? What about Bart Ehrman? Or Bertrand Russell? What about Muhammad himself?

Plus I posted notes from TWO modern study Bibles from scholarly evangelical exegetes which fully refuted you sir yet you ALSO rejected them offhand.

Since you evidently lack the ability to draw logical inferences from the sources you quote, let's to it for you:

and they should not be entertained in private houses, and much less caressed.

How is a church hosting the White/Qadhi event equivalent to entertaining a house guest?

Welcoming someone into your home in the ancient world often involved elaborate hospitality, including providing food and lodging. People often stayed for extended lengths of time, since travel in the ancient world was slow and difficult.

How was the church event equivalent to an extended stay at a motel? 

In addition, hospitality in the ancient world would have been perceived as an endorsement and thus confused people in the community.

Did the audience perceive the church as endorsing Qadhi's message?

This letter is written to believers in the Gospel; thus, John is prohibiting them from giving official sanction to those who deny the faith.

Did the church officially sanction Qadhi's message?

Both epistles envision the first-century situation in which teachers traveled from town to town and were dependent for housing and board on the hospitality of those in the local Christian communities (cf. Luke 10:4–9; Acts 16:15). Such hospitality implied endorsement of a teacher’s ministry and message.

Did the church endorse Qadhi's message? You need to emote less, react less, and think more.

But again, the root of all this is from you defending the blasphemy of a MUSLIM.

Aside from your mindless, rote hyperbole, the deeper problem, as I already noted, is that attacks by your ilk are counterproductive. In their debate, Spencer raised some trenchant objections to White's position. However, Spencer's objections are overwhelmed by the shrieking lynch mob on your side. White's a bright guy. So long as you give White a choice between responding to dumb objections and smart objections, he will respond to the dumb objections and ignore the smart objections. You're giving him an out.

Since you're quoting Yarbrough's commentary on 1-3 John, let's give the larger context: 

Such figures were evidently seeking entrance into already established church circles, and even personal residences, to convince the unwary of new and different teaching about Jesus and salvation (351).

Wasn't the White/Qadhi event billed as an event involving a Muslim speaker? So the audience wasn't unwary. They knew in advance the true identity and outlook of the speaker. 

While there's no call to be uncivil to them, to receive them in the sense of endorsing their teaching, giving them financial support, and personal encouragement makes no sense when their teaching clearly rejects historic Christianity (351).

Was the church that hosted the White/Qadhi event endorsing Qadhi's Islamic message or lending him financial support?

Christian greetings generally carried a recognition of the true Christian standing of those being greeted (352, Yarbrough quoting Kruse).

Did participants recognize the true Christian standing of Qadhi? 

BTW, I agree with critics who say it's wrong to tell Qadhi that "you honor us with your presence". That's obsequious. 

As for 2 Cor 6:14-17, Paul may well be alluding to participation in the civil religion of Roman Corinth. The cultic life of Romans was bound up with the commercial life of Romans. So it was difficult for 1C Christians to do business without getting embroiled in pagan rituals. That may well be the context. That's discussed by commentators like Paul Barnett and M. J. Harris.

Thompson argued that Muslims are also in that group since Muhammad stole from the Bible and claimed to follow Jesus.

Silly comparison. You think the audience at the church event mistook Qadhi for a Christian spokesman? That's hardly analogous to what John is referring to.

You think Christians need safe spaces and trigger warnings to protect their fragile faith from microaggressions. You have to wonder how the Christian movement ever survived in the hostile heathen environment of the Roman Empire. Snowflakes like Justin melt on contact with Muslims. Clearly the churchgoers traumatized to see and hear a real live Muslim need an intervention in form of teddy bears and comfort dogs.

Crucifixion of the Warrior God

In the official trailer to Boyd's new book:

he does a nice job of summarizing the dilemma for his position. On the one hand, OT theism appears to be diametrically opposed to his "cruciform", Anabaptist Christology. On the other hand, the OT, which Jesus endorses as the word of God, attributes violent actions and commands to Yahweh.  

In his review of Boyd's book, Olson says: 

…and, in some other cases, God’s people’s committing the violence and attributing it to God due to their cultural captivity to ancient Near Eastern ideas about God. However, even though he does not believe God, the Father of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, ever commits violence, Boyd does believe God inspired the narratives that wrongly attribute such acts to his instigation. This, he argues, is an example of God’s accommodation to people’s inability to understand him rightly and of progressive revelation. For Boyd, the Bible must be read backwards, all of it in the light of Jesus Christ who is the crucified God and whose suffering love reveals finally and fully the true character of God.

Boyd argues that the Old Testament portraits of God commanding and committing extreme violence against even children cannot be taken at face value even as they must be interpreted seriously as “masks” God allows his fallen people to put on him. Just as God allowed people to crucify him, so God allowed even his own people to blame him for their (or invisible, spiritual cosmic powers’) wicked deeds.

Assuming that's an accurate summary of Boyd's position, and Olson is a sympathetic reviewer, Boyd's solution fails to resolve the dilemma he posed at the outset. He conceded that Jesus endorses the OT as the word of God. Yet he says the OT sometimes grossly distorts God's true character. How is that misrepresentation consistent with Christ's endorsement of OT theism? 

Boyd has an a priori theory of what God is really like, based on his interpretation of NT Christology. He labors to square that with OT theism, but his effort fails. That should cause him to scrap his "cruciform", Anabaptist Christology. Despite his Herculean efforts, his theory is falsified by the facts. 

Boyd has two other hypothetical options: he can say the NT misrepresents Jesus. Jesus didn't endorse the OT as the word of God. Gospel writers project their own views of OT authority onto Jesus. 

But on that hypothesis, we don't know what Jesus really believed. He disappears behind the Gospel writers. We can't go through them or around them to get to the real Jesus.

Or he can adopt a Kenotic Christology. Jesus said the things which Gospel writers attribute to him, yet he was a culturally-conditioned child of his times. But, of course, that destroys Boyd's standard of comparison. He can't then use Jesus as a point of contrast to correct the OT portraiture of Yahweh. 

So there's no way out for Boyd except to ditch his "cruciform" hermeneutic. 

Finally, it's equivocal to say Jesus "supersedes" OT revelation. Jesus surpassed OT revelation. Jesus represents the culmination of OT revelation. But Boyd means it in the sense that Jesus corrects and abrogates OT revelation. That, however, is a suicidal hermeneutic. The messianic claims of Jesus must be validated by OT messianic descriptors. It must complete OT messianic trajectories. If NT messianism is fundamentally at odds with OT messianism, then that falsifies NT messianism. They must converge, not diverge. If they split off in opposing directions, then Jews are right to reject the messianic claims of Jesus. 

Thursday, July 06, 2017

They're coming after your kids

Destroying children

Interpretation and appropriation

This post:

generated a question, and I'd like to expand on my answer. There are Southerners who take umbrage at the Battle Hymn of the Republic because it was originally an anti-Confederate war song. 

i) At the outset, permit me to say that most patriotic music has no emotional resonance for me. That's in part because most patriotic music is bad poetry set to bad music. Both musically and rhetorically, I think the Battle Hymn of the Republic is several notches above most patriotic music.

ii) The question is worth discussing because it goes to larger principles. In a qualified sense, I think original intent is authoritative for interpretive purposes. When we interpret songs, paintings, movies, and texts, I think the intentions of the creative artist are fairly authoritative. They usually know better than anyone else what they had in mind. 

iii) However, there's a caveat. Some creative artists, like Da Vinci, T. S. Elliot, James Joyce, and Alfred Hitchcock are very conscious of what they are doing and why they are doing it. They'd be excellent interpreters of their own work. 

However, other artists are more spontaneous. There's less intellectual mediation between subconscious inspiration and the final product. If you were to ask David Lynch what a scene in Muholland Dr. means, I doubt he could give you an accurate answer. It's like a dream. We're getting their unfiltered emotion or imagination. 

And there's another layer. For there's the additional question of what Angelo Badalamenti was thinking when he set the scene to music. And even if he knew what he was thinking, I don't know what he was thinking. I lack access to his mental state at the time. 

So there are limitations to original intent. 

iv) Here we need to draw a crucial distinction between inspired and uninspired works. In the case of Scripture, original intent dovetails with divine intent. God uses the Biblical writer as an instrument. 

v) Furthermore, not only is original intent authoritative in the interpretation of Scripture, but Scripture obligates consent. In the case of Scripture, original intent is authoritative, not merely at the level of interpretation, but appropriation.

vi) But therein lies a critical contrast between inspired and uninspired works. The agenda of a creative artist is not authoritative for a listener, reader, or viewer. His motivations don't obligate consent.

How I appropriate an uninspired work is independent of what the creative artist had in mind. It may have a personal significance that's unrelated to what the artist meant.

In appropriation, I'm not primarily attempting to interpret the work. Rather, I'm using the work to interpret life. Many people find a particular song or story or movie meaningful to them. They use that as an interpretive filter to reflect on life. 

To take a dramatic example, I had a relative whose husband died when a song was playing in the background. After that, whenever she heard that song, it triggered the memory of her husband's death. Now, the intrinsic meaning of the song is entirely separate from that adventitious association.  

To take another comparison, there's lots of political allegory in Bunyan's fiction, and knowing the historical background is highly germane to the interpretation of Bunyan–yet his fiction transcends the provincial context of 17C church history and political history. His fiction has universal value. 

Our refuge

A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.

Ps 90 is one of the great psalms of the Psalter. According to the superscript, it was penned by Moses. That attribution is reinforced by conceptual and verbal links between Ps 90, Gen 3, Exod 32, and Deut 32-33. 

This makes Ps 90 the most ancient psalm in the Psalter. The foundational psalm. 

In addition, the wilderness wandering is an especially apt setting for the psalm. The Israelites were rootless and homeless in the bleak, inhospitable expanses of the Sinai desert, condemned to drift until the faithless Exodus-generation died out. 

1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.

As vagabonds, God is their only "refuge", "shelter", safe haven. In context, the word may also allude to the tabernacle or tent of meeting. 

Moreover, their survival depends on God's miraculous provision of food, drink, and protection from enemies. 

3 You return man to dust
    and say, “Return, O children of man!”
5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
    like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
    in the evening it fades and withers.

Not only is their existence threatened by harsh environment, but by mortality. Both time and space menace their lives. They live under Adam's curse, at unrelenting risk of turning back into the dust from whence they came.

7 For we are brought to an end by your anger;
    by your wrath we are dismayed.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 For all our days pass away under your wrath;
    we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy,
    or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger,
    and your wrath according to the fear of you?

In addition to natural hazards, divine judgment makes their already tenuous grip on life even more precarious. 

2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
4 For a thousand years in your sight
    are but as yesterday when it is past,
    or as a watch in the night.

The brevity of life stands in contrast to divine eternality. Divine continuity is the unbreakable thread connecting the discontinuities of human life and death, as one generation passes away while another generation takes its place.  

Although Christian theology has conditioned us to take divine eternality for granted, that was not a given in ancient Near Eastern mythology–where gods came into being, and could be slain. By contrast, Yahweh is the preexistent Creator and invincible ruler. 

Even though this psalm doesn't introduce the afterlife, God's eternality lays the basis for the afterlife. Only an eternal God can confer eternal life. 

12 So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O Lord! How long?
    Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be shown to your servants,
    and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and establish the work of our hands upon us;
    yes, establish the work of our hands!

Despite the generally oppressive tenor of the psalm, it ends on a note of chastened hope.

It's a realistic psalm, underscoring the ineluctable limitations of what this life has to offer.

Dual citizenship

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

"Texts of terror"

First, as an evangelical Christian Boyd finds that he cannot simply dismiss the narratives of violence attributed to God (or to God’s command) as historically untrue (that is, never happened). Throughout this work he takes the whole Bible seriously without taking all of it literally. While he does not embrace or make use of Origen’s allegorical method of interpretation (which he describes in depth and detail), he finds ways to embrace many Old Testament narratives of God’s violence as both historical and yet not literally true. 

Bracketing other problems with Boyd's interpretation, isn't open theist hermeneutics committed to literal interpretation–in contrast to viewing various passages anthropomorphically (a la classical theism)? Isn't his approach to the "texts of terror" diametrically opposed to the general open theist hermeneutic regarding divine surprise, regret, changing his mind, asking non-rhetorical questions, testing people to learn what they will do?

Chimp gang-bangers

Atheists blame violence and warfare on religion. Yet chimps, whom Darwinians claim to be our nearest kin, practice tribal warfare:

Moreover, many atheists tell us that atheism is the default position. So unless chimps are pious, Godfearing primates, this goes to show that atheism is innately violent! Look at how those godless chimps behave? 

His day is marching on

Recently, on the eve of Independence Day, I was thinking about patriotic songs. My favorite is the Battle Hymn of the Republic. And I was casting about for good performances, I remembered a fine performance at the national prayer service right after 9/11. I originally saw the live broadcast. That took place just three days after the 9/11 attacks. So it was striking to see it again 16 years later with the benefit of hindsight.

Politics is so ephemeral. So many dignitaries at that event are dead or retired. Faces I happen to recognize in the crowd include Betty Ford, Bush 41, Barbara Bush, Bush 43, Laura Bush, Rumsfeld, Powell, Scowcroft, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Tom DeLay, Hastert, Gephardt, Daschle, Paul O'Neill, Ted Olson, John Edwards, (Jesse Helms?), Dick Armey, Jimmy Carter, Trent Lott, Bob Dole, Charlie Rangel, Kweisi Mfume, and Anthony Williams. 

Unfortunately, Chuck Schumer and Terry McAuliffe are still active in politics. But there's such a turnover in our system. So many power players from a few years ago are now out of power.

On a different note, I wonder what become of the Marine flag-bearer with the stoic expression and close-cropped hair. Presumably, he ended up doing several tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. Is he still live? Was he killed or maimed in action? Is he still a member of the Marine Corps, or did he retire? Did he make a successful transition to civilian life, or commit suicide like some vets? It's a pity the news media doesn't do follow-up stories. 

Years ago I read David Lipsky's Absolutely American: Four Years At West Point (Houghton Mifflin 2003). I'm curious about what became of the cadets he wrote about. 

The service began with "O God, Our Help in Ages Past". That's a very suitable hymn for the occasion. A paraphrase of Ps 90 by Isaac Watts, set to a tune by organist William Croft. Ps 90 deals with human frailty. Our fleeting existence and utter dependence on divine providence.

The service had a stirring rendition of the Lord's Prayer by Denyce Graves, looking very glamorous. Her expansive high notes at the end were especially effective in the resonant acoustic. 

But the musical highpoint of the service was the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The reverberant sanctuary magnifies the sound of the congregation and choir.

It's more meaningful when sung by members of the armed services, since they're the ones who put everything on the line. 

In addition to the rousing melody (from an old Methodist tune), the song derives its power from the lyrics. Considering the fact that Julia Ward Howe was politically and theologically radical, the lyrics are surprisingly orthodox. The power of the lyrics derive from the vivid biblical imagery. Evidently, Howe was steeped in the language of the King James Bible. 

The hymn was originally an anti-Confederate war song. But the language and imagery are too generic to single out or side with any particular conflict. Therein lies the enduring appeal of the song. Despite her intentions, anyone can sing it regardless of their politician sympathies–unless you're a pacifist!  

1. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

The "grapes of wrath" symbolize bloodshed. The primary text is Isa 63:1-6. It has other OT parallels (Joel 3:13). And that motif is picked up in Revelation (Rev 14:9-10,18-20; 19:15).

God's judicial sword draws from passages like Deut 32:41, Isa 66:16, and Ezk 21:3-4, while the "fearful lightning" has its background in storm theophanies (e.g. Pss 18:14; 144:6

2. I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

The first stanza is based on civil war encampments. The second stanza is reminiscent of OT stone memorials. And God's "righteous sentence"is a stock biblical motif. 

3. I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.”
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

An explicit allusion to the Protevangelium (Gen 3:15).

4. He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

The apocalyptic trumpet of eschatological judgment is a stock Biblical motif (e.g. Zeph 1:14-16; Mt 24:30; 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thes 4:16).

5. In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

There is a venerable theological tradition that construes Jesus as the "Lily of the Vally" (Cant 2:1). From an American reference frame, "born across the sea" may mean oceans separate the United States from Palestine. Passages like 2 Cor 3:18 and 1 Jn 3:2-3 speak to the transfigural power of Christ. 

I wonder if C. S. Lewis was influenced by the first stanza. In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan's Country lies beyond the "Lily Lake" or "Silver Sea".

“Pope Francis” vs “Pope John Paul II”: Opposing “Veritatis Splendor”

John Paul II Veritatis Splendor
The Roman Catholic journalist Sandro Magister has fretted now that the dismissal of Cardinal Gerhard Müller was really “an attack on ‘Veritatis Splendor’”, which he called “the most important doctrinal encyclical” of “Pope John Paul II”, and further, that this “attack” was accompanied by an affirmation of this encyclical, “by fate or divine providence” in “all the Catholic churches of the Roman rite” in the regularly scheduled prayers in last Sunday’s Mass:
“O God, who through the grace of adoption chose us to be children of light, grant, we pray, that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth. Through our Lord...
The first line of that encyclical re-states the Roman Catholic distinction vs Protestantism:
Called to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, "the true light that enlightens everyone" (Jn 1:9), people become "light in the Lord" and "children of light" (Eph 5:8), and are made holy by "obedience to the truth" (1 Pet 1:22).
“Obedience” makes people “holy”. This precisely mirrors the error that Augustine made, which led to the medieval misunderstanding of justification, which in turn was contested by Luther and the Reformers. The Council of Trent later codified the error as “infallible dogma”.

But there is a second error espoused by “Pope Francis” and “Amoris Laetitia”, and it was articulated by Joseph Ratzinger. Pope Ratzinger, who had been Prefect of the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” (CDF) prior to Müller, and who “contributed in a substantial way to the writing of that encyclical”, had this to say about it in a recent chapter in “a book in honor of John Paul II”:

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Out of the mouth of babes

The medical ethics involved in the Charlie Gard case are a significant issue. However, the more looming issue is the illicit power of the state. The UK will be taking Charlie Gard off life support at a time it deems best. At the same time the UK has forbidden Charlie Gard's parents from traveling with their baby to our shores to seek potentially life-saving experimental treatment even though it'd all be on the Gards' own dime.

I wonder if one reason UK bureaucrats and other agents of the state are acting so immorally isn't because many of them - and indeed many UK denizens in general (excepting Muslims) - don't have kids and so aren't able to empathize with parents who by definition do? Perhaps for these agents of the state it's essentially an intellectual exercise. An abstraction with a poor footing in reality.

Maybe in their minds it's more akin to putting down a favorite pet animal.

God and country

Every year, around Independence Day, you have Christian pundits who bemoan Freedom Sunday services. This raises some genuine issues. 

On the one hand, Christians are supposed to be a thankful people. So why not give thanks for our country, as well as those who defend our life and liberty? In addition, churches should be supportive of military families. 

On the other hand, ostentatious displays of patriotism in a church service can be a cheap substitute for military service. Years ago, Joe Carter did a piece about churchgoers who love the military but hate military recruiters. Waving flags and belting out valorous anthems is easy and self-gratifying–compared to the harrowing hazard of battle. Heroic virtue-signaling has all the advantages of courage without the sacrifice. 

I think the best we can do is to strike a balance. Express gratitude for what we have, and honor the men who voluntarily risk life and limb to protect us. But avoid pretentious and self-flattering displays of patriotism–especially in the case of civilians who have nothing to lose. 

Is Genesis preexilic?

More recent studies have argued that these traditions played a significant role and may even have originated in the exilic and the postexilic periods. Israel was deported across the Euphrates and settled in the Babylonian Empire in 586 BC and was only permitted to return to the promised land after the establishment of the Persian Empire and the edicts allowing for their return (after 539 BC). Likewise, the writers of Genesis from that late period wished to portray Israel's ancestors as coming from the area of Babylon and establishing their claim to the promised land in Canaan. The Genesis stories were invented or developed from old traditions, it is claimed, to encourage Israel to become like its fictional ancestors and return and rebuild in the land of Canaan. This, combined with a Persian-period interest in codifying laws throughout their empire, led to the authorization of the composition of Genesis and the entire Pentateuch as now preserved.

This reconstruction fails to convince because there is little social and religious resemblance between the world of Gen 12-36 and that of the postexilic returnees. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their families get along with their Canaanite neighbors and make covenant rather than war with them (Gen 12,13,20,26, &c.). The postexilic world preached a policy of separation and described ongoing conflict with neighbors (cf. Nehemiah). Further, there is no awareness of religious conflict between the one God of Abram and his family other deities around Canaan. This is completely different from the separation of the postexilic community from the surrounding communities and their religious practices. Finally, Abraham and his successor sacrifice throughout the land of Canaan; they know nothing of practices such as Sabbath observance, priestly lines, temple worship, and distinctions between clean and unclean animals. All this formed an essential part of the postexilic community's worship at only one altar in the Jerusalem sanctuary. If postexilic writers were redacting (or creating) the tradations in Genesis to conform to and promote the interests of the ruling postexilic priesthood, they surely could have done a better job. R. Hess, The Old Testament: A Historical, Theological, and Critical Introduction (Baker, 2016), 35-36. 

Two High-Ranking Cardinals Depart the Vatican; Two Sets of Reasons

Is “Pope Francis” Fighting against Sex Abuse in “The Church”?

Cardinal Gerhard Müller and Cardinal George Pell
Both Cardinal Gerhard Müller (left) and Cardinal George Pell,
two of the most powerful prelates in the Roman Catholic
Church, are out. Both have miserable records in the
Roman Catholic sex abuse crisis.
Last week, two of the highest-ranking Cardinals departed the Vatican, and the conservative and liberal factions are giving (surprise, surprise) conflicting reasons for the changes.

Both Cardinal Gerhard Müller (Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [CDF], formerly the Holy Office, formerly the Inquisition), and Cardinal George Pell, who was Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy at the Vatican, and a member of Pope Francis’s “C9” council of cardinal advisers, selected to clean up the financial mess in the Vatican, were dismissed from their Vatican posts last week.

Ostensibly, Müller was dismissed simply because his five-year term had run out and was not renewed. But Müller had two strikes against him already: First, he opposed “Pope Francis” on the “interpretation” of Amoris Laetitia. Second, according to The Times of London, Muller “failed to deliver on a promise to deal with more than 2,000 outstanding cases of alleged abuse.” (It is the CDF’s role to prosecute sexual abuse cases).

The conservative LifeSite News writer John-Henry Westen gives several other reasons for the sacking of Müller:

Battle Hymn of the Republic

Monday, July 03, 2017

Chariots of fire

And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven (2 Kgs 2:11).

This reminds me of chariot theophanies (e.g. Ezk 1:13-14), as well as the wall of fire that shielded the Israelites from Pharaoh's army (Exod 13:21-22). 

I'd say these are examples of the Shekinah. The Shekinah is metamorphic. 

This makes me think of Jacob's ladder (Gen 28:10-19). Cyclones and tornadoes have the ability to elevate objects. A preternatural tornado might function like a spiral staircase or elevator, raising objects from ground-level to the sky, or vice versa (e.g. Job 30:22). And if you add luminosity (e.g. fire devils), the effect is even more dramatic.

In nature, these are dreadful, destructive forces. When God manipulates natural media to simulate his presence and power, the result is awesome, but it can be beneficent.

Eternal Father, Strong to Save

Mine eyes have seen the glory


From the whirlwind

Preachers and commentators often remark on how Job never got an answer to his question. And that's true. 

However, that observation is somewhat misleading. Although his question went unanswered, he had a personal audience with God. An overwhelming token of God's presence and power. A storm theophany. Probably like Ezk 1. As well as an audible voice from God. 

Many believers suffer ordeals that seem to be inexplicable. But they'd be comforted to at least have a sign from God that he's aware, that he's there, that he cares. But what they get is…nothing. Nothing at all. Dead silence.

Even though Job got less than he was asking for, he got more than many believers ask for. God came to him. Spoke to him. He knew that God was in control. God had a reason, however inscrutable.

Which brings me to a second point. Consider how little the patriarchs knew about God and God's purposes. King David knew much more than Abraham. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel knew far more than King David. And Christians know far more than Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.

We have many unanswered questions about divine providence. Yet we know far more about his designs than OT Jews. Imagine how much clearer things will be in heaven. 

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Some objections to annihilationism

1. For physicalist annihilationists, the death of Christ dissolved the hypostatic union. Jesus passed into oblivion at the moment death. Not that the Son ceased to exist, but Jesus is a composite being. 

This requires the Resurrection not merely to be the restoration of a body, but a second Incarnation. 

2. Some lines of ostensible evidence for the afterlife are near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, and apparitions of the dead. How do physicalist annihilationists deal with those lines of evidence?

3. Some people commit suicide to elude justice. Take top Nazis like Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Göring, and Rommel. If, according to physicalist annihilationists, you cease to exist at the moment of death, didn't they succeed in cheating justice?   

4. Physicalist annihilationists might counter that the damned will suffer temporary postmortem punishment. But that raises the question of where Scripture teachrd that the damned pass into oblivion when they die, are later resurrected on the day of judgment, after which they are punished, after which they are annihilated?

For dualist annihilationists, where does Scripture teach a two-stage postmortem punishment? Where does Scripture teach that after the lost die, they first suffer temporary punishment, after which they are then annihilated? Where do we find that sequence in Scripture? 

5. In Mt 26:24, Jesus said Judas would be better off had he never been born.  But how does that follow if postmortem punishment is temporary?

6. Some annihilationists say aionios has a qualitative rather than quantitative/temporal meaning. It refers to a kind of life, and not everlasting duration. Other annihilationists say aionios denotes a never-ending outcome rather than a never-ending process.  

So what does aionios mean in reference to passages about eschatological salvation and judgment? If aionios doesn't mean the damned will suffer forever, does it still mean the saints will enjoy eternal happiness? Can you give "eternal" a consistent sense that makes promises of eternal life meaningful? Are there any Bible texts that promise of eternal life for Christians, given the annihilationist interpretations of aionios? 

7. Many prooftexts for annihilationism employ destructive abstract words as well as destructive concrete images. 

i) The stock example is destruction by fire. Characteristics of destruction by fire are visibility and physicality. Fire consumes a physical object. While it's burning, you can see it. Fire reduces the object to ashes. It generates temporary smoke. 

ii) There is, though, an obvious limitation to the scope of this metaphor. What is destroyed? The body? A body is physical and visible. At death, a body undergoes destruction. That can be a natural process, or that can be expedited by cremation. In addition, fire is sometimes the agent of death. Take a city that's torched by the enemy. Or fire as a method of execution. 

iii) A problem with using these passages to demonstrate annihilationism is that the scope of the metaphor doesn't address something that's invisible, immaterial, or incorporeal. You can't burn a soul. You can't see a soul burn. A soul can't undergo a process of physical destruction. That doesn't mean a soul is intrinsically indestructible, but the imagery of eschatological destruction involves physical destruction. Burning cities and burning bodies. 

iv) The imagery doesn't address the status of the soul. An annihilationist might contend that the imagery is a figurative illustration for the destruction of the soul. But that's not an implication of the imagery. At best, that's consistent with the imagery. Yet that's equally consistent with restricting the imagery to bodies. The observable death and destruction of the body. 

v) Of course, many annihilationists are physicalists. For them, that's all there is and ever was to the human constitution. 

But on that view, the imagery is not essentially metaphorical. It really does describe physical destruction. Not necessarily death or destruction by fire, but fire as a graphic metaphor for physical destruction. Specifically, destruction of the body. Bodies are all there is. 

So there's a tension between the hermeneutic of dualist and physicalist annihilationism. Physicalists take the imagery more literally. 

vi) In addition, physicalist annihilationists must provide a separate argument for physicalism. If humans have an incorporeal soul, then prooftexts picturing physical destruction fall short of what is needed to establish the claim.