Saturday, July 15, 2017

Surely God is good to Israel

13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
    and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
    and rebuked every morning.

Although Ps 73 was written three thousand some years ago, the temptation is perennial. When the wicked prosper, and the faithful suffer, it's tempting to join the winning team. If there were no afterlife, the temptation would be overwhelming.

11 And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”

Their impudence is boundless and blasphemous. Yet it seems to be borne out by experience. No thunderbolts strike them down. 

15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
    I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

Unlike apostates, Asaph had the tact and discretion not to share his misgivings in public unless and until he found an answer. 

17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I discerned their end.

This is enigmatic. What happened in the sanctuary to prompt his epiphany? 

Although we might view the Solomonic temple as artistically inspiring, it functioned as a holy abattoir. The blood-spattered floor. Redolent with the stench of burning flesh. Blood and guts all day long. The spectacle of a gilded slaughterhouse isn't all that edifying. 

Perhaps, though, it was the time of evening prayer. Worshippers chanting the Psalter.

Or maybe he received a revelation of the afterlife, suddenly putting this life in perspective. Asaph was a prophet. 

18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
    you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
    O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.

Some commentators think this refers to divine judgment overtaking the wicked in this life. But surely an attentive observer like Asaph was cognizant of the fact that the wicked don't necessarily or even routinely receive their comeuppance in this life. Indeed, that aggravating observation was what triggered his crisis of faith in the first place: 

4 For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.

They luxuriate in long, healthy, carefree lives. So it must look ahead to something beyond the grave. 

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Once again, some commentators offer a this-worldly rather than other-worldly interpretation of the affirmation. But that doesn't solve the problem Asaph posed at the outset. This life is the problem. If there is to be a resolution, then that demands a reversal of fortunes in the world to come–where the first shall be last and the last shall be first. A parallel afterlife for the faithful and the faithless. Their paths crisscross in this life, but diverge in the afterlife. 

Prayer unto death

Ps 88 is the bleakest lament in the Psalter. It's striking that this lament is even included in the Psalter. The Psalter is fearless. 

5 like one set loose among the dead,
    like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
    for they are cut off from your hand.

To be forgotten even by God is the ultimate abandonment. 

8 You have caused my companions to shun me;
    you have made me a horror to them.

Apparently, his fair-weather friends thought he was bad luck. If they hung around him, they might fall under the same judgment. So they stayed away from the blast zone. 

I am shut in so that I cannot escape;

Life can be a blessing or a curse. For the psalmist, there's no let up. No respite. It's one long lonely day after another. It's an ordeal to get through each day, and he must start all over the next day. His torment is never-ending. Another grim day awaits him on the other side. Like trying to wake up from a dream. He must dread going to bed. Dread waking up each morning, to face another day. 

10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
    Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
    or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
    or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

That might seem to be a denial of the afterlife, but the point is probably that if this is a prayer for deliverance from death, and the prayer goes unanswered, then the dead can't praise God for delivering them from the jaws of death. 

13 But I, O Lord, cry to you;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
    Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,

His has been a lifelong ordeal. He is never able put it behind him. As far as the eye can see, there's no relief in sight. 

He must dread going to bed at night because he has nothing to look forward to the next day. He must dread opening his eyes in the morning because he has nothing to look forward to. The pain is unrelenting. 

they close in on me together.

He's trapped. Hemmed in on all sides.

18 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
darkness has become my companion.

He prays in darkness. Groping for a flicker of light. 

The psalm ends abruptly. Hopeless from start to finish.

In another context, one commentator has said "unbelief does not doubt–faith doubts". There's a profound truth to that. Yet that doesn't quite seem to capture the sentiment here.

In this context, hope is too strong a word. More like a desperate wish. Where despair and prayer merge into one. 

Why does he pray at all, when–in his unremitting experience–prayer is futile? He continues to pray because the alternative is even worse. The alternative is unthinkable. He continues to pray because he has no other fallback. That's it!

He prays unto death. He may well have died praying. His dying breath an unanswered prayer. A final unanswered prayer. Unrequited longing. 

Sometimes life is bad, and it never gets better. It's bad and sad all the time. 

The world is not enough. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Why We're Losing Liberty

The guarantor

Commenting on geocentrism, van Inwagen says:

Why did the medievals believe this? Well, because that's how things felt (the earth beneath our feet feels as if it were not moving) and that's how things looked. Today we know that the astronomical system accepted by the medievals–and by the ancient Greeks from whom the medievals inherited it–is wrong. We know that the medievals, and the Greeks before them, were derived by appearances. We know that while the solid earth beneath our feet may seem to be stationary, it in fact rotates on its axis once every twenty-four hours. (Of course, we also know that it resolves around the sun, but let's consider only its rotation on its axis). Now suppose you were standing on a merry-go-round and were wearing a blindfold. Would you be able to tell whether the merry-go-round was turning or stationary? Certainly you would: passengers on a turning merry-go-round feel vibration and the rush of moving air and, in certain circumstances, a hard-to-describe sort of "pulling." (This last will be very evident to someone who tries to walk toward or away from the center of a turning merry-go-round. These effects provide the "cues," other than visual cues, that we employ in everyday life to tell whether we are undergoing some sort of circular motion. The medievals and the ancient Greeks assumed that because they did not experience these cues when they were standing or walking about on the surface of the earth, the earth was therefore not rotating. Today we can see their mistake. "Passengers" on the earth do not experience vibration because the earth is spinning freely in what is essentially a vacuum. When they move about on the surface of the earth, they do not experience the "pulling" referred to above because this effect, though present, is not sufficiently great to be detectable by the unaided senses. And they do not experience a rush of moving air because the air is carried along with the moving surface of the earth and is thus moving relative to them.  
This example shows that it is sometimes possible to "get behind" the appearances the world presents us with and to discover how things really are: we have discovered that the earth is really rotating, despite the fact that it is apparently stationary….We talk about reality only when there is a misleading appearance to be "got behind" or "seen through". P. van Inwagen, Metaphysics (Westview Press, 4th ed, 2015), 2-3.

1. This raises a number of philosophically and theologically significant issues. To begin with, there are different kinds of realism–or should I say, realisms?

For instance, I might be a metaphysical realist about material reality. I believe there's a material reality that's causing my sensations. Yet I might be an epistemological antirealist if I'm skeptical about what can be known regarding the material reality that's causing my sensations. 

Likewise, I might be a metaphysical realist about immaterial reality. I might believe in mental entities, viz. God, angels, souls, abstract objects. (I classify these as mental entities.) And I might be an epistemological realist about what can be know regarding immaterial reality. That's because, if immaterial reality is knowable, the source of knowledge is different than in the case of material reality. In the case of material reality, the source of knowledge is sensory perception, whereas, in the case of immaterial reality, the source of knowledge is reason and revelation. Inference, intuition, and divine disclosure. 

2. Up to a point, I agree with Inwagen. Metaphysically speaking, it isn't appearances all the way down. Something objective is producing the appearances.

In addition, I agree with Inwagen that there can be cues which indicate that appearances don't tell the whole story. That, however, is different from the claim that we can get behind appearances to discover reality. Epistemologically speaking, it may be appearances all the way down.

For instance, a colored object has a different appearance if I'm color blind. Likewise, creatures have different kinds of color vision.

The same physical object (i.e. organism) will have a different appearance if seen by infrared vision. In that case we're seeing heat signatures.

And that's just on the surface. It will have a different appearance if seen through an MRI or electron microscope.

3. Another complication is that Inwagen is using sensory perception to correct sensory perception. That's unavoidable, but it raises the specter of circularity. What makes one set of sensory perceptions the benchmark for assessing another set of sensory perceptions? One justification might be that some sensory perceptions have more explanatory value. They point to an underlying cause or mechanism. 

4. There is, though, perhaps an even deeper issue. Consider an illustration. I can photograph a tree with a (digital) cellphone camera, then send that image to someone else. I don't know the technicalities, but I assume the image is encoded as electronic information, transmitted in that encoded form, then decoded at the other end. There's built-in software that retranslates the encoded image so that the recipient sees the same image as the sender.

Indeed, you could have two people standing side-by-side. They can directly compare the original image with the transmitted image. And the two images exactly match. 

We might say that's analogous to sensory perception, when our mental representation matches the sensible object. Or is it?

Suppose we approach this from the standpoint of naturalism. How is it possible for a mindless, nonpurposive process to create a coded transmission system in which the output matches the input? That's completely unlike my example, in which a camera is designed to produce as accurate visual reproduction. In which technology is designed to produce a matching image at the receiving end of the transmission. In which designers can compare the original with the output to ensure that the translation software decodes the information to yield a matching image. 

5. A naturalist might counter that if there's a mismatch between input and output, then organisms which depend on sensory perception won't survive. If, say, gazelles misperceive leopards, gazelles will become extinct. There are, however, problems with that explanation:

i) According to Darwinism (e.g. David Raup), 99.9% of species that ever existed have, in fact, become extinct. So that appeal seems to be self-defeating.

ii) Even if survival does depend on that correspondence, and even if survival provides evidence for the success of that correspondence, it doesn't follow that this is explicable on naturalistic grounds.

iii) Does survival depend on that correspondence? Consider an illustration. You produce piano music by depressing certain keys on the piano, simultaneously or in a particular sequence. But the music bears no resemblance to the keyboard. 

Rather, there's a causal correlation between depressing certain keys and producing certain sounds. By the same token, what if sensory perception operates on a similar principle? The mental representation might be very different than what produces the mental representation, but so long as these are systematically aligned in a cause/effect relation, an organism might be successfully responsive to its environment. 

6. Finally, who or what is the guarantor that sensory perception is reliable? Without God, there's no presumption that the input and output can even match up or at least correlate (4-5).

An atheist might say that cuts both ways: how can a theist rule out the Cartesian demon?

However, these are asymmetrical alternatives. On the one hand there's the indemonstrable possibility that God designed sensory perception to deceive us. On the other hand there's the demonstrable impossibility that sensory perception is reliable unless God designed it. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Flood and the Ice Age

The nature of the flood mechanism required to generate Noah's flood depends in part on the scope of the flood. If the flood was worldwide, then that requires a more ambitious flood mechanism. If, however, the flood was regional, then different flood mechanisms might be available. 

One of the challenges for a scientific explanation of the flood is where the extra water came from, and where it went. On old-earth chronology, the flood may have been pre-Holocene. Suppose it took in the late Pleistocene era. According to conventional geology, there were cycles of glaciation and deglaciation. Frozen water is a source of extra water. Ice can both store and release extra water. 

What are sources of flooding? The annual springtime snowmelt is one example. Of course, that's insufficient to produce a regional flood. Some mountains have a year-round snowcap. The springtime thaw only affects a lower portion of the snow cap. 

Above a certain elevation, the temperature is always subfreezing, so the snowcap never melts. Hence, many high mountains have a permanent snowcap or icecap.

If, however, it's a volcanic mountain, and it erupts, the entire snowcap suddenly melts, which creates massive flooding. I assume a similar dynamic could take place in the case of continental glaciers. That would release vast quantities of water.

Collapsing glacial dams are a related phenomenon. 

In addition to fluvial flooding is coastal flooding. Submarine volcanoes can melt frozen seas, which raises the sea level. Although that might not flood the interior, if population centers are located on the coast, it can wipe them out. 

Sometimes the forces combine. Some rivers empty into the sea. A coastal location at the mouth of a river is appealing to humans because it gives them the benefits of a river for fishing and freshwater along with the ocean for fishing. 

Glacial periods cause many species to migrate to warmer latitudes. They are concentrated in a smaller area. That would make it easier for Noah to collect the animals, since the local fauna would be both more representative and more accessible. Likewise, glacial periods expose continental shelves, which facilitate animal migration. Admittedly, that's less of an issue on the local flood interpretation. 

This is all hypothetical. I'm just discussing some neglected explanations. 

The times of ignorance

i) Gen 4-11 is skimpy regarding the postlapsarian history of humanity. To some degree this can be supplemented by Acts 14:16-17 & 17:30:

16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent

As one commentator explains:

[Paul] is not claiming that their ignorance and rebellion were ignored by God and without consequence (cf. 17:30-31 note). Since, in biblical teaching, his involvement in the life of Israel was for blessing and salvation, his abandonment of the nations "to go their own ways" (the plural tais hodois suggests a diversity of options) was a curse and an anticipation of final judgment (cf. Rom 1:18-32; 2:1-11) God did not provide the nations with special revelation, such as he gave to Israel, and did not directly offer them a way of salvation, though Israel was always meant to be a source of blessing to the nations (cf. Gen 12:3).

They belonged to the times of ignorance. God did not approve this ignorance, nor did he suppress it or bring retribution, as he might have. He "overlooked" it (hyperidon, "disregarded"; cf. 14:16 note). We might compare Rom 3:25, where Paul says that in his forbearance, before the coming of Christ, God had "left the sins committed beforehand unpunished". D. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (2009), 410,502.

The basic idea is that God didn't intervene in the history of most people-groups in the same way he did in the case of the Jewish people. Using ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman culture, which is Paul's immediate frame of reference, that alludes to the development of pagan polytheism, idolatry, necromancy, sorcery, astromancy, human sacrifice, &c. And beyond Paul's frame of reference, we might include animism. 

The distinction isn't merely before the new covenant. For even after the new covenant, it takes centuries for that to disseminate. 

ii) This doesn't necessarily mean God never revealed himself to individual gentiles or interceded on their behalf. We have biblical examples of pagans who receive revelatory dreams. There's also the dramatic example of the Magi (Mt 2). 

iii) Admittedly, these are mentioned in cases where the lives of Jews and gentiles intersect. Perhaps God never intervened except in cases where the two groups overlap. Or perhaps God did intervene in other cases, but the only occasion for Scripture to mention divine intervention in the lives of pagans is where their lives impinge on the lives of Jews and Christians. For instance, it would be unintelligible to the original audience for Scripture to refer to Indian tribes in North and South America.  Moreover, that would take the eye off the unique role of the Jewish people in the plan of redemption. 

iv) But even if (ex hypothesi) God sometimes intervened in the lives of individual gentiles, by way of private revelation, miracles, answers to prayer, that's different from public revelation to a people-group, or Exodus-style miracles on behalf of a people-group. 

v) This goes to the question of whether God preserved a continuous remnant between the Fall and the call of Abraham. Perhaps not. Maybe knowledge of the one true God was lost for a time. Maybe God allowed that to lapse. 

vi) However, this also goes to the question of whether peaceful coexistence was possible between pagans and adherents of the true faith. It's my impression that urbanization fostered religious intolerance. By that I mean, city-states typically have an official religion with a priesthood and cultus. The patron god of the city or the kingdom. 

Although that allows for syncretism, where residents are free to practice their folk religion, residents are required to participate in the cultic life of the city-state. I'm thinking, not merely of Egypt and Mesopotamia, but Aztecs, Incas, and Maya. 

It may be that in more pastoral societies, characterized by nomads or hunter-gatherers, there's greater tolerance for religious pluralism. There's not the same pressure to conform to a state religion. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What is sin?

How do we account for the human propensity for evil? How is that propensity transmitted from one generation to the next?Liberal scholars and Jewish scholars typically say the Christian doctrine of original sin is based on the NT (Rom 5/1 Cor 15)  rather than the OT (Gen 3). 

Let's begin with a traditional exposition:

[Original] pollution is not  to be regarded as a substance infused into the human soul, nor a change of substance in the metaphysical sense of the word…Original sin is also an inherent positive disposition toward sin…[The unregenerate] cannot change his fundamental preference for sin and self to love for God… L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Eerdmans, 1984),246-46.

There is, of course, more to the traditional doctrine of original sin, but this is what I wish to focus on. Here's one possible way of viewing the human propensity for evil, and its transmission from generation to generation. Suppose humans naturally have a capacity for evil, and the effect of the Fall isn't to add or change something intrinsic to human nature, but to remove something extrinsic to human nature. To a great extent, sin is due to lack of moral inhibition. Suppose moral inhibition is initially due to divine restraint. If God withdraws the inhibitory constraints, then natural appetites take over. Competition for what we desire. Resentment for rivals. Rage when our desires are frustrated. 

In addition, the absence of moral restraint makes evil increasingly compulsive. The more they give into sin, the greater the appetite. The more hardened they become. 

We see the progression of sin up to the Flood. Likewise, in Rom 1, Paul takes about God giving people over to sin. That suggests the removal of divine restraint. 

Perhaps this is what is meant by the enigmatic "knowledge of good and evil" in Gen 2-3, which commentators puzzle over. It's possible to have an abstract knowledge of right and wrong. That, however, is different from having a sense of shame, obligation, or indignation. 

In that sense, a conscience can be acquired. Moral knowledge becomes internalized and increasingly engrained. Not nature, but second nature.

It requires external restraint for that to develop. If external restraint is withdrawn before the process develops, then a moral free fall ensues, because there's nothing to counteract natural appetites. Abstract moral knowledge is too weak. Moral formation is short-circuited.  

This is My Story

Recently I was rereading the early autobiography of Jerome Hines: This is My Story, This is My Song (Fleming-Revel, 1968). Hines was trained in the hard sciences (chemistry, physics). As a young man he was a Deist. Didn't subscribe to an interventionist God. The universe was a closed system. 

But that all changed when he had a dramatic conversion experience. He reports many examples of special guidance. God speaking to him in an audible voice. God making promises that were providentially fulfilled. 

1. I admit that I balk at some of the the things he quotes God telling him. If that really happened, then I'd say this is a case of divine accommodation. 

I don't have to have a firm opinion on the accuracy of the claims. I can take it or leave it.

There are, however, some factors that lend credibility to the claims:

2. His account is peppered with self-deprecating anecdotes. If he's regaling the reader with tall tales, I'd expect him to paint a more flattering self-portrait rather than divulging his foibles and insecurities. The candor suggests honesty. It certainly passes the criterion of embarrassment.

3. Given, moreover, his background in the hard sciences, it might well take something miraculous or at least preternatural to break through that naturalistic prejudice. 

4. Hines often sang at soup kitchens in the slums. I wouldn't expect that from someone who's motivated by self-aggrandizement.

5. Seems to me that from a professional standpoint, he had more to lose than to gain by making this up. The operatic subculture is very worldly. Conventional Catholic piety might be toleranted, but I think his robust, outspoken evangelical piety would hurt his career as an opera singer. The more so when James Levine, reputedly an avid homosexual, became musical director of the Met. 

6. Finally, there's his preternatural vocal preservation. Amazing how much voice he had left right up to his death from cancer at age 80. 

7. An alternative naturalistic explanation is that he was sincere, but delusional. Yet I don't find that plausible:

i) If he was psychotic, how was he able to have a long successful musical career? That takes lots of discipline and presence of mind. Would a psychotic be that reliable?

Moreover, he wasn't a superstar with an entourage. He had to do most of it on his own. No one to cover for him. 

ii) It's not just a case of hearing voices. He says the predictions came true, in highly unlikely ways. Hallucinations lack veridical confirmation. 

Protection of Roman Catholic Ecclesiology at the Heart of Sex Abuse Scandal

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, recently dismissed as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF, formerly the “Holy Office”, formerly the Inquisition”) by “Pope Francis”, recently wrote:
The primacy of the Roman Church with its bishop is not due to a claim of superiority over other churches or to some will to power cleverly organized over the centuries by the clergy in the capital of an empire, but rather to the foundational will of the Lord of the Church [emphasis added]. Peter suffered martyrdom in Rome, and thus his primatial apostolate devolves upon the Church of Rome and consequently upon its visible head, the Bishop of Rome.

The primacy of Peter did not flare up at some point over the real world as an ideal, only to grow dim over the course of history and increasingly lose its contour in history’s vicissitudes. In order to comprehend the nature and mission of the episcopal ministry and of the primacy, one must go beyond a naturalistic understanding of the Church as a legal assembly. The Church has its origin in God’s salvific will and is the instrument thereof [emphasis added]. By its nature and mission it is not merely a religious assembly organized by men. The dualism between a supratemporal ideal image and its pale reflection in its historical realization must be overcome also. (Müller, Benedict and Francis: Their Ministry as Successors to Peter, English translation by Michael J. Miller, Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press ©2017, pgs 7–8.
This is the core of Roman Catholic ecclesiology.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Does Calvinism make God the "author of sin"?

Most certainly I have with set purpose taken up the case of God and demonstrated with utter clarity that God is not the author of sin. The Secret Providence of God. John Calvin; edited by Paul Helm (Crossway Books, 2010), 92.

And this is the decree of reprobation, which does not at all make God the author of sin (a blasphemous thought!) but rather its fearful, irreproachable, just judge and avenger. Canons of Dort, Article 15: Reprobation.

God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin. WCF 3.1.

In my experience, when Calvinists deny that God is the "author of sin", Arminians regard thir denial as nonsensical and sophistical. If God predestined sin, then how can God not be the "author of sin"? 

The source of the problem is that Internet Arminians typically trade on the connotations of "authorship" in popular modern English usage. Needless to say, that's not the linguistic frame of reference for historical theological usage. Calvin wrote in Latin and period French. The canons of Dort were originally written in Latin. Although the Westminster Confession was written in English, it reflects traditional theological usage.

To take a comparison:

L. J. Paetow, The Arts Course at Medieval Universities (Dubuque: Brown Reprint Library, 1910), 53n2, states that in almost all manuscripts from the thirteen century on, we find actor and not auctor in the sense of "author". M. D. Chenu in "Auctor, Actor, Autor," Bulletin de Cange, II, (1927), 81-86, explains that the confusion between "actor" and "actor" was more a problem of etymology and meaning than of orthography or scribal neglect. Auctor (from augeo), originally meant in the broadest sense of the word "He who produces, makes something, a statue, edifice, some kind of work and very particularly a book"; actor (from ago) also designated "he who makes something," in the broadest sense of the word. It was not however applied to the composition of a book, but remained open to mean any human activity. Nevertheless, the meaning actor remained close to the concept of auctor to the extent that confusion existed in manuscript transcriptions of these words. Cynthia Jane Brown, The Shaping of History and Poetry in Late Medieval France (Summa Publications, 1985), 158n3.

If actor was a synonym for auctor, then to deny that God is the "author" of sin means that God is not the agent, viz, God is not the doer or performer of sin. Rather, it's the human agent (or demonic agent) who commits sin. 

In that sense, it's perfectly coherent for Reformed theologians who deny that God is the author of sin–so long as they have a theology of second causes. 

The gift of faith

1. Freewill theists say faith is the empty hand that grasps the offer of salvation. Faith is not a product of saving grace; rather, saving grace is the result of faith. 

Let's compare that to Eph 2:8. Here's what one commentator and Greek scholar says:

In Greek, events as a whole are treated as neuter singular things with neuter articles, (e.g., to pisteuein, "believing"), neuter relative pronouns (e.g., Eph 5:5), or neuter demonstrative pronouns, as in v8b (also, for example, 6:1; 1 Cor 6:6,8; Phil 1:22,28; Col 3:20; 1 Thes 5:18; 1 Tim 2:1-3). Hence, the antecedent of touto is the whole event: "being saved by grace through faith". One implication of this proper understanding of touto is that all the components of the event are also referenced as originating not from human capacity or exertion but as God's gift. This means that even the believer's act of believing comes from God, as is said more explicitly by Paul elsewhere: "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him…" (Phil 1:29). This is part of the evidence of Protestantism's historic position that salvation is sola gratia and sola fide). Humans contribute nothing of their own to this salvation, since even believing (which the elect are indeed enabled to do) is a divine gift (cf. Rom 3:24-25). In the context of Eph 2:8, the key to this is what Paul had been driving home so forcefully up until now: Before God's gracious intervention, believers were hopelessly dead, with their wills imprisoned by nature in acts that led only to transgression and sin (2:1-5a,12). S. M. Baugh, Ephesians (Lexham Press, 2016), 160-61.

So the gift in the second clause refers, via touto, to "For by grace you have been saved through faith." So God's gift is salvation by grace through faith". Faith is included in the gift. Faith isn't something by which Christians receive the gift, but a part of God's gracious saving endowment. 

2. On a related note, freewill theists typically say that for something to be a gift, the recipient must be able to refuse it. Compare that to John Barclay's Paul and Gift (chap. 2), where he reviews different connotations of a "gift" or benefaction in antiquity. Take his category of "efficacy", where gift-giving is powerful, accomplishing its purpose–as when parents give the gift of life to their children or someone is rescued from death. In those situations, the recipient is passive and helpless. 

By the same token, he cites a passage from Philo stressing the efficacy of grace to the point of human passivity and inactivity, attributing all to the sovereignty of God.

Moreover, in patronage system of the Roman Empire, a powerful benefactor isn't offering a gift. Rather, he confers a gift. 

And the asymmetrical dynamic between social superiors and social inferiors in the ancient world is far more analogous to the relationship between God and creatures than birthday gifts and Christmas presents between peers.

The efficacious concept of gift-giving is incompatible with grace in freewill theism, which is resistible and therefore inefficacious. 

Five “Fake News” Stories That People Believe about Early Christianity

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Quisling for jihad

Unfortunately, this is where White drives off the cliff. He approvingly reposts the propaganda of Yasir Qadhi. White hides behind evangelism and apologetics, but that's a decoy. Nothing about Christian apologetics or evangelism requires him to collaborate with the enemy. White can evangelize Muslims and debate Muslims without providing cover fire for terrorist front organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood and their spokesman. 

Notice how Qadhi draws the lines. Notice what Qadhi says about the views of Spencer and his "ilk". By reposting Qadhi's screed, with approval, White is siding with the terrorists and their disinformation campaign. 

White has entangled himself in a morally incestuous quid pro quo where he defends Qadhi in exchange for Qadhi defending him. A Christian apologist should never put himself in such a compromising situation. You need to retain your independence. White has lost his way. 

Dr. Qadhi has commented on recent events.

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Many of you are aware that I had a dialogue with James White, a Reformed Baptist minister who has achieved a solid reputation amongst many conservative Christians. (You can find the videos of the debates in the first comment).

What most of you are probably not aware is the severe online character assassination and smear campaigns that Mr White has had to endure from some of his fellow Christians, albeit of the Far Right sector of this country.

Why would any believing Christian be irritated at Minister White, who was allowed into our mosque, and who was very frank about his beliefs regarding Jesus, the Redemption, the Trinity and even the fact that he believes all of us are going to Hell!? (Listen to the entire two-part lecture to get the whole picture, and my response).

Well, apparently, these Far Right individuals truly believe that Muslims are so dangerous, so evil, so deadly, that the mere fact that Mr. White can sit with us, and essentially humanize us as people who believe in our faith, entails that Mr. White is in fact helping and abetting the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis, Al-Qaeda and other groups (albeit indirectly - he is, according to the analysis of such discerning self-professed intellectuals as Robert Spencer, a 'useful idiot').

A few points to make:

1 - For the record, I did not personally receive any negative comments from any Muslim for inviting Mr. White into our masjid (although I'm sure some Muslims online and in other parts of the world might object). From our side, we all understood the need to have a frank dialogue, and that I speak at a Church where most people had never met a Muslim, and Mr. White speak at our mosque in return.

2 - I cannot deny that one of the reasons any Muslim would talk about Islam in front of a non-Muslim audience is to demonstrate the beauty of Islam, and hope that some amongst them find in it the true message that Jesus himself preached. And I know full well that Mr. White's intentions, which he has expressed explicitly, was to hope that some Muslims convert as they listen to him explain Christianity.

3- However, one of my overriding reasons to wish to speak at a conservative Church was quite simply to dispel the utterly nonsensical notion that the majority of Muslims somehow wish to overthrow the government and install Sharia law in America. The truly terrifying reality for all of us Muslims is the evil nature of the hatred that people like Spencer and people of his ilk perpetrate. That hatred, compounded with the fear-mongering of politicians and the false patriotism of a disgruntled group, whips up the popular support needed to pass such dastardly measures as the recent ban on Muslim immigrants from seven countries. If things persist and the situation deteriorates, that hatred will eventually be used to inflict violence and persecute our women and children and us, as the Japanese were here in America, and as other races and religions were at times of persecution in other lands. 

I would be happy if any Christian who listened to my lecture converted. But if they choose not to convert, that's their business to decide, and Allah's to judge. It is not my duty to do anything more than speak. 

Islamophobic bigots like Spencer have fabricated this myth of us Muslims (less than 1 % of this land!) having desires to subjugate the rest of the 99 % to our laws and religion. Sadly, many innocent Christians believe these lies, and Spencer continues to profit from that fear (See:…).

4- So, essentially, what terrifies Spencer and the Far Right bigots who falsely invoke the noble Prophet Jesus' name as they spey hatred is to actually see two very committed people, a Baptist Minister and a Shaykh, agree to disagree, even as they harshly dismiss each other's faiths and theologies, and argue exclusive salvation for their own faiths. That simple civility - the act of agreeing to disagree - is something that these individuals, wallowing in hate and lies and wanting the rest of us to do the same, simply cannot tolerate.

Hence, the vicious attack on Mr. White.

James, if you're reading this, know that I strongly disagree with your views on Islam, and that it pains me deeply, because I genuinely care about you and like you, that you have such negative (and in my opinion incorrect) views about the Quran, and about our Prophet. Yet, that disagreement doesn't stop me from having a genuine respect for your commitment and sincerity. And that is why I will defend you against your fellow Christians as they smear your name and accuse you of all types of falsehoods.

The real idiots are those who wish to provoke fear and whip up hatred between the two largest religions of the world. Disagree all you want, but live and let live. And if you claim to be a follower of Jesus, then as a Muslim let me tell you: you might want to start by practicing what he preached.