Saturday, September 02, 2017

The Nashville Statement

I love Michael Bird and respect his work. That said, his response to the Nashville Statement reminds me of a Lincoln quote (and here I must apologize for an American reference since Michael is an Aussie). Lincoln was exasperated by the fact that McClellan wouldn't attack unless Lincoln sent him more soldiers; but even when McClellan's Army of the Potomac vastly outnumbered Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, he would still complain that he needed more troops. Lincoln's response: "Sending men to that army is like shoveling fleas across a barnyard--half of them never get there."
Well, getting all Evangelicals to sign on to a document that clearly and rightly states that "it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism" and indeed that it is "an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness" to give such approval is like trying to shovel flees across a barnyard; half of them never get there.
Some refuse to sign because *while they agree with the Statement* the Statement does not say everything that they want it to say. I made several suggestions for improvement. None were taken (I also made clear that my signing was not contingent on acceptance of the suggestions). I wasn't invited to the Nashville conference that discussed and voted on the Statement (though perhaps membership in the CBMW may have been required for all invited). Arguably, there should have been a more broad-based drafting committee, since (I presume) this is a statement not just for complementarians but for all evangelicals who rightly recognize the importance of the male-female foundation for sexual unions.
Ultimately, what difference does all this make to signing? We are now facing a crisis in Evangelicalism in which the very foundation of Christian sexual ethics is being called into question. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment. The ship could sink but some are complaining that certain other matters on board have not been properly attended to, matters that, while not unimportant, won't ultimately have any bearing on whether the ship sinks. So because of their complaints they will not participate in the only concerted effort to right the ship.
Michael complains that the NS doesn't address "homophobia." If one produces a statement against polyamory or incest is it necessary in the statement to address "polyphobia" or "incest-phobia," or to confess the church's mistreatment of persons in a sexual relationship with two or more persons concurrently or persons who just happen to experience amorous desire for a sibling or parent? Moreover, "homophobia" is code in our society for any opposition to homosexual practice and transgenderism. It is not a helpful term.
Michael complains that the NS is a "grossly inadequate ... pastoral response." Yet the NS is not intended as a therapeutic document. Its purpose is not to lay out a procedure for how to treat gender identity disorder or same-sex attractions, nor to explain originating causes for such desires, nor still to explain how to minister to such persons in any specific detail (though the NS does address the importance of loving offenders). Like the great creedal affirmations of the past, the purpose is limited to affirming historic boundaries of faith and practice. This is entirely appropriate as one aspect of a whole endeavor.
Michael dislikes the fact that "the operating assumption" of the NS "is that biological sex and gender are the same thing. They are not." I find this comment bizarre. The material point is that they *ought* to be the same thing or at least in harmony: that is, one's self-constructed perception of sexual identity should match one's biological sex. Problems arise when "sex" and "gender" don't match, not when they do.
Michael complains that "the statement also implies that one cannot identify as both 'Gay' and 'Christian.'" While I think that faithful Christians should not be describing themselves with a label that the vast majority understand as a positive self-affirming expression (e.g., it would be inappropriate for men to conceptualize themselves as "polyamorous Christians" even though they do experience non-monogamous sexual attractions), the NS actually nowhere explicitly states that a Christian cannot use a "gay" label. So because of an "implicit" perception, Michael won't sign?
Michael complains that because (allegedly) words like "transgender" "are not self-evident," the document is deficient because it lacks a "glossary." It doesn't need a glossary. All language carries a certain amount of imprecision. The salient point is whether readers will have sufficient sense of what is being referenced by the term; here they clearly will. He also criticizes the NS for not addressing "the link between biology and psychology." But of what relevance is this? Either one affirms the moral acceptability in one or more cases of a person claiming to be a gender different from one's biological sex or one doesn't. It is not necessary in a creedal statement about what is acceptable belief and practice to address what links exist between biology and psychology. Parenthetically, I think Michael also misunderstands the reference to "born eunuchs" in Matt 19 as a reference to castrated males.
Michael also says that he can't sign the document because Article 1 allegedly "only permits the existence of Christian marriage, not civil partnerships or even common law marriages," thereby "restrict[ing] male-female union to sacramentally blessed marriages" which in turn "denies the existence of secular or other-faith marriage." I don't think Article 1 does anything of the sort. Article 1 speaks about the way that *God* views marriage, not necessarily the way the partners of the union conceive of it. Two people entering into a marriage may not recognize the union as a God-ordained union, but it is nonetheless.They may not recognize that the union was intended by God to be lifelong; yet it is so from God's vantage point such that if they dissolve it they remain culpable before God. They may not understand it as a representation of Christ and the Church; yet in God's eyes that is what it is or at least ought to be.
My encouragement to Michael is: If you believe that "it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism" and indeed that it is "an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness" to give such approval, then sign the document and urge others to do so. Either you believe it or you don't. If you don't, say so and leave the other extraneous stuff to one side.

From Dunkirk to Cajun Navy

Leftwing bigots

What Christians should know about Antifa

Repentance, remission, and justification

A recent exchange I had with a Catholic apologist (indeed, a sedevacantist!):

Here St. Paul says that washing of regeneration (i.e. internal change within the believer done by the Holy Spirit) is how God justifies the sinner. This means that justification involves an ontological change within the believer, not merely a legal declaration. This also refutes the Protestant claim that sanctification is separated from justification and happens after it - to the contrary, in Titus 3:4-7 St. Paul says that sanctification is the basis for justification.

i) At most, your conclusion only follows if the relationship between v6 and v7 is chronological, where justification is the effect of spiritual renewal. But more likely Paul is saying that inheriting eternal life is the combined effect of spiritual renewal and justification by grace.

ii) And even if there's a chronological sequence, that's entirely consistent with Calvinism: justification is contingent on faith while faith is contingent on regeneration. 

This is also why Paul says in Romans 6:16 that obedience leads to righteousness - exactly as the Catholic Church teaches.

To the contrary, the Catholic church teaches infant baptismal justification. But the justification of infants is hardly contingent on their prior obedience.

It is also consistent with his teaching in Romans 4:3-5. Abraham's faith was counted to him as righteousness. This faith was something that Abraham possessed within himself, i.e. God counted his ontological state as his righteousness.

You're equivocating. Paul doesn't equate faith with righteousness; indeed, he distinguishes them. Righteousness is "credited" to Abraham by virtue of faith, as if faith is righteousness. Paul is speaking in shorthand. Faith in what? Faith in Christ. The merit of Christ's vicarious atonement is credited to the believer (Rom 3:21-26; 5:6-11).

Moreover, Scripture clearly teaches that justification is a process. In 1 John 1:9 we learn that me must confess our sins as a condition to be forgiven. That proves that forigveness of sins occurs not in a single moment when we 'accept Christ', but is continuous as we repent of subsequent sins and confess them - it is a process which is conditional.

You fail to distinguish between the atonement and the application of the atonement.

There is not a single passage of Scripture which explicitly says that obedience/righteousness/perfect life of Jesus Christ is imputed to a believer.

You're ignoring the elephant in the room: vicarious atonement.

It is more than just chronological relationship.

Actually, I'd say it's a teleological relationship rather than a chronological relationship.

But Reformed theology insists that regeneration (i.e. the internal change done by the Holy Spirit within the believer) comes after justification.

I have no idea where you came up with that. In Reformed theology, justification is a consequence of faith while faith is a consequence of regeneration. So you've got the causal sequence out of order.

Furthermore, you have not explained why St. Paul teaches that obediance leads to righteousness, while in reformed theology righteousness comes from imputation of Christ's righteousness, obediance (sanctification) being only the result of justification. That goes against Romans 6:16.

i) You're assuming that Paul always uses the "righteous" vocabulary the same way, but that varies according to context. In Rom 6:16, I think "righteousness" denotes eschatological vindication rather than vicarious righteousness.

ii) I don't know where you get the idea that in Reformed theology, sanctification is the result of justification. Rather, sanctification is an outgrowth of regeneration. Justification is categorically different from regeneration or sanctification in Reformed theology. Justification is an ascribed status whereas sanctification is a process of moral and spiritual transformation. 

Your next paraphrase is simply a repetition of your original assertion, which I critiqued.

Nowhere does St. Paul say that perfect record of Christ's obedience is imputed to the believer as his righteousness.

Well, I didn't frame my position in those terms, so you're shadowboxing with someone else. 

Your next paragraph illogically assumes that "one-time forensic justification" must be unconditional (i.e. irrespective of contrition).

Penal substitution is not taught explicitly in Scripture either.

Even if true, that's an arbitrary demand. Logical implication is sufficient.

…especially since Romans 4:3-5 is a standard Protestant prooftexts allegedly proving the doctrine of imputation.

I already addressed that.
Your next paragraph illogically assumes that "one-time forensic justification" must be unconditional (i.e. irrespective of contrition).
In Reformed view justification can never be lost and all sins are forgiven in the moment of justification.

What makes you think that in Reformed theology, all sins are forgiven in the moment of justification?

1) Future sins are not forgiven in the moment when we are justified. We have to continuously confess them and repent in order to be forgiven. Thus, justification is a life-long process.

That's a repetition of your failure to distinguish justification from the application thereof.

2) If we stop confessing our sins, they will not be forgiven (since 1 John 1:9 sets confession of sins and repentance as condition for forgiveness). Thus, justification and salvation are conditional and can be lost by one's failure to confess and repent.

You're confusing conditionality with uncertainty. That only follows if the condition may not be met. But in the case of the elect, God ensures the satisfaction of the condition. 
It is rather ironic in light of Protestant demands of explicit prooftexts for Marian dogmas, logical implications of which are present in Scripture (like Mary's perpetual virginity in Luke 1:34).

I, for one, never said we need "explicit" prooftexts for Marian dogmas. 

How does Lk 1:34 entail the perpetual virginity of Mary? Not to mention in partu virginity. 

But logical implication must be demonstrated from the text, not from presuppositions which Protestants carry into texts like 2 Corinthians 5:21.

You're just asserting that that's a presupposition which Protestants bring to 2 Cor 5:21 rather than an implication of 2 Cor 5:21.

Comparing and contrasting justification and damnation in Rom 6:16 proves my point, because damnation is the eschatological counterpart to eschatological vindication. Both refer to the final judgment.

"In Reformed view justification…all sins are forgiven in the moment of justification".

Really? "God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified" (WCF 11:5).

Future sins are not forgiven in the moment when we are justified. We have to continuously confess them and repent in order to be forgiven. Thus, justification is a life-long process.

i) If 1 Jn 1:9 is inconsistent with justification as a permanent, unrepeatable, once-for-all-time status, the contradiction wouldn't originate in Reformed theology. Rather, this would mean Paul and John have contradictory paradigms. Reformed theology simply reproduces that contradiction by affirming both Pauline and Johannine paradigms. 

ii) You may claim the Reformed interpretation of Pauline justification is mistaken, but you can't legitimately do so by simply quoting a different Bible writer. Paul and John must be understood on their own terms. It's hermeneutically illicit to use John as the interpretive grid through which you filter Paul. To disprove the Reformed interpretation of Pauline justification, you need to demonstrate how that misinterprets Paul in the context of Paul's exposition of his own position. 

iii) This is an issue of systematic theology. How to harmonize the "theologies" of different Bible writers. In this case, the Bible itself doesn't explain how Paul and John are reconcilable. Therefore, any harmonization will be philosophical.

Is it even meaningful to say a sin is forgiven before it's committed? At that stage there's no actual sin to forgive. Here's how Reformed theologians finesse the issue:

Justification means the forgiveness of all past and present sins, and the judicial ground for the forgiveness of future sins, Anthony Hoekema, Saved by Grace, 180. 

Remission is extended to all the sins entirely of believers, of whatever kind they may be, future as well as past and present, but in their own order…All sins (future as well as past) cannot be said to be remitted at the same time…All our sins are remitted by God, whether past or present or future, but with respect to the time in which they are committed; so that past and present are actually remitted, the future when they are committed will most certainly be remitted according to God's promise, Turretin, Institutes, 2:665.

You could be wrong!

An exchange I had with a Catholic apologist (indeed, a sedevacantist!):

It is interesting in a context of how Reformed presuppositionalists and Calvinists criticize evidentialists for "reducing Christian faith to probability" (an example is James White's constant criticism of William Lane Craig on these basis).

i) James White is not my standard of comparison.

ii) There is, moreover, a difference between knowing the truth and proving the truth. Arguments may be probable.

But if there is really no infallible authority, than Christian faith is indeed reduced to probability - everything, including Trinity and Deity of Christ, are merely "more probable interpretation of Scripture", and the truthfulness of Christianity is merely "more probable" than Christianity being false.

i) God can and generally does foster saving faith by putting the elect in churches where they are indoctrinated in the true Gospel. The fact that arguments may be probable doesn't mean the providential process of inculcating Christian faith is probable. A reliable belief-forming process can produce true, warranted beliefs.

ii) Moreover, unless you think God punishes Christians for innocent mistakes, unless you think God punishes Christians for holding mistaken beliefs through no fault of their own, because they had to rely on their individual aptitude and the available evidence, there's nothing scandalous about the consequence you derive.

An atheist will say you push the problem on step back regarding authority of the Bible. It is based on your private judgment and you could be wrong.

No, an atheist won't say that. Rather, it's Catholic apologists who are hung-up on "private judgment". 

But that is begging the question. You assume that Trinity, penal substitution etc. are true and say that God will lead people to churches which teach that doctrine. Unitarians and Jehovah's Witness could say as much about their doctrines and their churches.

i) Competing opinions are not equivalent arguments

ii) You missed the point. I'm referring to simple Christians who lack the aptitude to defend their faith by reason and evidence. In their case, God fosters saving faith through social conditioning, by putting them in churches where they hear the true Gospel.

That doesn't mean knowing or proving the truth necessarily depends on finding a good church. To the contrary, Christian intellectuals can acquire that information independent of church attendance. And they have the aptitude to defend their beliefs. 

I find your responses wanting.

I find your objections wanting. Your approval is not my touchstone.

Two paradigms

I recently had a Facebook discussion with a Catholic. I've changed his name to anonymize the exchange:

How does Rick establish with certainty the Roman Magisterium in the first place? How does he sidestep private judgment at that preliminary stage of the argument?

The Protestant, once he invests his principle into the Scripture (however much history, tradition, commentary, natural life of reason, etc,etc - are implied), maintains his place on the same boat because he is continually subject to the corrective that he might discover in his private interpretation of Scripture. This, of course, would explain how my former Protestant minister starter off as a ultra-dispensationalists who protested baptism as strictly for Jews, to a Dallas Theological Seminary fundamentalist pre-trib dispensationalist , to a moderate Norman Geisler/Demarest 4-point Calvinist , to then eventually leading a congregation which is 5-point Calvinist open to historic premillennialism. In and through each stage was the threat of anathema to all dissidents.

But Roman Catholicism doesn't avoid individualism. Rather, Roman Catholicism privileges the outlook of select individuals, viz. popes, bishops in ecumenical councils, Latin Fathers, church Doctors.

Moreover, there's a zigzag trajectory to Catholic teaching. Take the current crisis precipitated by Francis. Bishops and cardinals are accusing him of changing dogma by green-lighting the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to communion.

Or take opposition to capital punishment by recent popes. Or salvation outside the church. Or how the anti-modernist positions of the Leonine PBC have been mothballed. And so on and so forth. So the faithful end up following the erratic peregrinations of the papacy.

Now, unless you are prepared to say that the self is infallible in addressing what is divine revelation, you would have to be committed to believing that your criteria of sufficiency is opined. But since opinion would not encompass what is needed for knowing what God revealed as his revelation 2,000 years ago in places and atmosphere outside of your first-hand witness, you are left on a totally different boat epistemically.

There's a problem with positing inhuman standards of certainty. An artificial standard that humans can't attain. Everyone loses out when you set the bar that high. 

In addition, each of us is ultimately at the mercy of divine providence for what we believe. It's ultimately up to God whether your particular aptitude and experience guide you into truth. 

But the difference is herein - I am willing to attribute a principled means of infallibility by divine law in whatever it is I have invested, whereas the Protestant still clutches to no-principled infallibility either in the self or the respective protestant communions.

Yet that's deceptive. At best, that only follows given the Magisterium, but how does one establish the given? It still bottoms out at the level of private judgment. If there is a Magisterium, perhaps it could provide a higher level of certainty, but the underlying conditional remains uncertain.

Moreover, that's a hypothetical ideal which is belied by the messiness of how the Magisterium actually operates in the course of church history. We can see the groping, the compromises, the reversals.

I can see that you have not taken a basic course in the Catholic magisterium. Last I check, even R.C. Sproul was one of the better teachers on our beliefs. Consult him if not an authentic Catholic source.

Among other things, I've read Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith by Cardinal Dulles.

Ecumenical Councils, Popes, the consensus of Church Fathers, the sensus fidelium, are not individuated by private judgement. Our principled entail that the exercise of Council, Papal decree, Patristic consensus, and the sensus fidelium are all divinely assisted in a way which is divine and supernatural, and thus far from the realm of opinion. So these are not just individuals in quantities different than the self.

The question at issue is not the claim but whether the claim is true. Sure, you deny that's an exercise of private judgment, but that's the very issue in dispute. 

As for the accusations of Pope Francis - name a single prelate who is accusing him of heresy?

Are you really unaware of his prelatial critics? 

We hold to a moral certainty based on the principles we have invested [in] faith.

A euphemism for private judgment.

I believe that the Catholic can show, while standing on your own epistemic boat, that there is the motive of credibility over all other claimants to 'Church', and would then take the leap of faith into the paradigm wherein we have no foot in that epistemic boat.

So your position boils down to indemonstrable hypothetical certainty. If the Magisterium is what it claims to be, then it can furnish certainty on particular issues. But your confidence in the claims of the Magisterium are probabilistic. Hence, you haven't escaped the finality of private judgment. You're position is only as good as your private judgment. That remains the ultimate arbiter. The Magisterium is only right if you're right about the Magisterium. But if you're wrong about the Magisterium…

And the subject of magisterium is forbidden by God from leading the Church into the shipwreck of faith by the imposition of obliged heresy.

Which, once again, assumes the very question at issue.

"Hold fast to what is in epistle or by word", etc,etc (as 2 of many examples). We don't have an expected expiration of this modus operandi, for Paul gives the same charge to St. Timothy, who in turn can pass the charge to others.

But there is an expected expiration date. Paul is telling people who have face-to-face knowledge of his teaching to hold fast to what they heard from his own mouth. You can't legitimately extrapolate from that to situations far removed from face-to-face knowledge, as if Paul is vouching for traditions in the indefinite future. 

Keep in mind that this occurs in correspondence where Paul warns about forgeries. That's why he signs his letters. So even at that stage there's a concern about spurious apostolic traditions.

Timothy was one of his handpicked deputies. Once again, you can't legitimately extrapolate from that to would-be successors centuries after the fact.

Yes, I can. St. Paul speaks of the charism transmitted unto the ordinand, and we find nothing of the reverse, i.e. Luther ordaining a new cult, or Calvin establishing a new authentic source of legitimacy. In truth, what the Reformed need is the habitual example of pointing to Scripture as the ground, but St. Paul does not do this. He points to the objective paradosis and the constituent charism to carry it via the presbyterium.

i) In the text [2 Thes 2:15] you initially cited, Paul points to his own teaching, and not some free-floating paradosis. 

ii) St. Paul mentions many different spiritual gifts in his letters. What makes you suppose the gift in 1 Tim 4:14 & 2 Tim 1:6-7 corresponds to the "charism" of the priesthood or episcopate? 

iii) A gift is not an office. 

iv) The legitimacy or illegitimacy of Calvinism depends on whether it is true. Calvin is not an authority-figure. He needn't be in succession to be correct in his interpretation of Scripture. Your objection is a category error. Ditto: Luther.

The magisterium does furnish certainty on the truths which are given by God and which save our souls.

It does so provided that it is, in fact, what it claims to be. But this reduces to your opinion of the Magisterium. In your fallible opinion, the Magisterium is what it claims to be. Assuming that the Magisterium is what it claims to be, the consequence might follow (although there are lots of ambiguities about ascertaining what the Magisterium officially teaches), but that superstructure is resting on the foundation of your fallible opinion regarding the claims of Rome. Newman's illative sense, while valuable in its own right, won't salvage your position.

Like I've said, I have happily conceded to the mode of private judgement in a part of this investigation. I do so again here. That, however, does not suffice to put Catholics in the same boat as you. For the reasons I've said and repeated, and will doe once more here. There is a dividing point where we invest a principled infallibility into the Catholic Church, whereas you maintain your commitment to the mode of private judgment in Scriptural interpretation. And, as I said way above in certain expectation of the charge "tu quoque" , the difference is that where Catholics unload their trust into a visible criteria for the deposit of God's truth, however false it may be, the protestant is always in test-mode leaving discovery of error always open, and which is principled by the self who interprets.

All you do is to impute a "principled infallibility" to the Magisterium–"however false it may be". 

That's no improvement over what you find deficient in Protestantism. To the contrary, that's far more hazardous position because you've put all your chips on that bet, even though, by your own admission, the gamble may not pay off. The Catholic alternative is a high-stakes poker game where you have everything to lose if you're wrong on that one point. By contrast, a Protestant can be mistaken about this or that without systematic error.

Just from a hypothetical standpoint, both Catholic and Protestant paradigms have tradeoffs. In the Catholic paradigm, if true, Catholics who know "official" teaching (whatever that is) are spared from making certain theological and ethical mistakes which some Protestants will make without that divine guidance. 

If false, Catholics will make certain theological and ethical mistakes which some Protestants will avoid because Protestants don't stop with the received answers but scrutinize them. If false, the Magisterium will in some cases unwittingly oblige heresy. By resigning their critical judgment to the illusory failsafe of the magisterium, Catholics will relinquish the ordinary checks which, while fallible, are more reliable than misplaced faith. Believing in the infallibility of a source which is in fact fallible removes screen by which we filter out certain errors when we must rely on reason and evidence. We suspend our critical faculties, which leaves us entirely at the mercy of the source.

Hypothetically = no end. 

Ultimately , I think the debate is far better on subjects of doctrine. The epistemic differences will remain as they are until we can show that one is credible over the other.

Yes, there's something to be said for debating specific doctrines. However, since Catholics and Protestants have different rules of evidence, such debates are usually stalemated by the preliminary issue.

Friday, September 01, 2017


Let this sink in for a minute.....Hundreds and hundreds of small boats pulled by countless pickups and SUVs from across the South are headed for Houston. Almost all of them driven by men. They're using their own property, sacrificing their own time, spending their own money, and risking their own lives for one reason: to help total strangers in desperate need.

Most of them are by themselves. Most are dressed like the redneck duck hunters and bass fisherman they are. Many are veterans. Most are wearing well-used gimme-hats, t-shirts, and jeans; and there's a preponderance of camo. Most are probably gun owners, and most probably voted for Trump.

These are the people the Left loves to hate, the ones Maddow mocks. The ones Maher and Olbermann just *know* they're so much better than.

These are The Quiet Ones. They don't wear masks and tear down statues. They don't, as a rule, march and demonstrate. And most have probably never been in a Whole Foods.

But they'll spend the next several days wading in cold, dirty water; dodging gators and water moccasins and fire ants; eating whatever meager rations are available; and sleeping wherever they can in dirty, damp clothes. Their reward is the tears and the hugs and the smiles from the terrified people they help. They'll deliver one boatload, and then go back for more.

When disaster strikes, it's what men do. Real men. Heroic men. American men. And then they'll knock back a few shots, or a few beers with like-minded men they've never met before, and talk about fish, or ten-point bucks, or the benefits of hollow-point ammo, or their F-150.

And the next time they hear someone talk about "the patriarchy", or "male privilege", they'll snort, turn off the TV and go to bed.

In the meantime, they'll likely be up again before dawn. To do it again. Until the helpless are rescued. And the work's done.

They're unlikely to be reimbursed. There won't be medals. They won't care. They're heroes. And it's what they do.

Taken from a well spoken dude just like most of us

Gospel criticism

A common objection to the inerrancy or even general historical reliability of the Gospels is synoptic variants, where there are differing accounts of the same event (although in some cases these may be similar, but different events). One account words things differently from another account. One account contains details absent from another account.

Let's take a comparison. In this talk, Don Carson relates a personal anecdote:

The segment is between the 15-19 min mark. The anecdote is a combination of firsthand and secondhand information. He wasn't present when his wife prayed. Obviously, she was his unstated source of information for that. However, he personally knew the cancer patient and her husband. 

In addition, he has written about the same incident:

Not long ago in my church, a woman I’ll call Mary experienced a recurrence of cancer. Within a few months it had spread throughout her body, and despite treatment, she was very ill. The people in our church gathered for prayer. And although this is not a church from a charismatic tradition, the prayers throughout the day became more and more enthusiastic.

“Lord, you’ve said you will answer if two or three are in agreement. We have 287 in agreement, and we want you to heal her!”

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We want you to show that you are still the Great Physician!”

“Lord, will you not have mercy on her husband and her children?”

Finally it was my wife’s turn to pray (she who had almost lost her life to cancer twice) and she prayed, “Heavenly Father, we would love it if you would heal Mary. But if it is not your will to heal her, teach her to die well. She is going to die anyway, and so if the time is now, teach her to die well. Give her a joy of the Lord. Give her a heritage of godly faith, with one foot firmly planted in heaven, so that her husband and children will be stamped by it, and will look to Christ. We don’t ask that she have an easy time, but ask that she be so full grace, people will see Christ in her.”

Well, you could have cut the air with a knife. No longer were there 287 people agreeing in prayer. My wife’s prayer seemed to create a break in the chain. She was letting down her side. We found out afterward that some of Mary’s relatives rather wished my wife would go to heaven first so she would know whereof she was praying!

A few months later, Mary’s husband called me, and was desperate to talk. Mary’s health was going down and down despite every treatment conceivable. The church was wonderful, bringing in food, reminding them, “We’re praying for you . . . the Lord is faithful.” But he wanted permission to talk about his wife’s impending death. The heated atmosphere had made it impossible for them to talk in those terms, as if it would no longer be walking by faith. Mary couldn’t focus on eternity or talk about it, because there were so many Christians around her telling her she was going to be healed. D. A. Carson, "Dying Well," N. Guthrie, ed. Be Still, My Soul (Crossway 2010), 113-15.

Compare and contrast these two accounts. Notice how the talk contains information omitted in the written version. This despite the fact that both accounts are from about the same time.  

Suppose we were to approach this in the same way critics approach the Gospels. Suppose we didn't know that both accounts came from the very same observer. And suppose there was a literary convention of writing in the third-person even though the narrator was an eyewitness to the event he relays. 

Imagine how critics would seize on the differences. Imagine how they'd ingeniously reconstruct the underlying sources. Imagine how they'd appeal to redactors to explain the variations. 

Yes, antifa is the moral equivalent of neo-Nazis

Mocking flood victims

Dying well

The god of this world

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor 4:4).

Is the referent Satan or Yahweh? I think Satan is included in the reference, and may be the primary referent. On the one hand:

i) Paul seems to use a synonymous designation in Eph 2:2, which parallels the thought in 2 Cor 4:4.

ii) To say "the theos of this age" has a pejorative ring, which evokes dominion of the present evil world order. And it connotes a temporary state of affairs. 

iii) Theos can be a title for angels, as divine deputies. God delegates some "ruling" authority to some angels. And that can carry over to fallen angels as territorial spirits. 

On the other hand, Scripture typically ascribes spiritual blinding and related metaphors (hardening, deafening) to divine agency. 

There may be a false dichotomy in choosing between two different referents inasmuch as Satan is an instrument of God. God may use Satan to blind some unbelievers. 

After all, Scripture doesn't say how God blinds (hardens, deafens) the lost. 

One example might be the relationship between pagan witchcraft and occult bondage.

James, Jude, and Abu Talib

James and Jude are neglected books compared to other NT writings. However, one value of James and Jude is having two writings that emanate from the immediate family of Jesus. No one knows you better than your own family. So it's useful to have James and Jude vouch for their stepbrother. 

To take a comparison, Muhummad had an uncle (Abu Talib) who was his guardian. Yet his uncle remained unconvinced of Muhammad's prophetic claims. That's damaging to Muhammad's credibility. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

One angel or two?

1. How many angels were at the tome? One (Mt 28:2; Mk 16:5)? Or two (Lk 24:4; Jn 20:12)?

2. One explanation, favored by unbelievers, is legendary embellishment. Luke is jazzing up Mark. There are, however, problems with that explanation. 

i) If Luke duplicated angels to jazz up the Resurrection account, why does he only have one angel appear to Zacharias? For that matter, only Zacharias actually sees the angel. The congregation must infer that he had a vision. Would it not be more impressive to make the congregation see the angel?

ii) Are two angels really more impressive than one? If Luke wants to garnish the account to make it more sensational, surely he could invent something more spectacular. 

3. The standard conservative explanation is that there were no less than two, so it's not contradictory to mention fewer than the sum total.

4. That may be an adequate harmonization. But here's another tack. What if some numbers are idiomatic? Take some examples from vernacular English, viz. second fiddle, second thought, six feet under, eleventh hour, cloud nine, inching along, third degree, one-horse town, take five, a dime a dozen, five will get you ten, forty winks, ten-to-one, nine lives, nine times out of ten, six ways from Sunday, whole nine yards. 

That list could be easily extended. 

Let's consider some biblical examples. Jesus talks about his ability to summon more than twelve legions of angels (Mt 26:53). While that may well be literally possible, the figure is simply meant to convey vastness. 

Take 40 days or 40 years. That motif is a numerical convention. Although it refers to real events, it wasn't meant to specify the actual interval.

Or take the refrain in Amos 1-2: "For three sins of X and for four," where the numbers are rhetorical. 

Or take Daniel's prophecy of 70 weeks (Dan 9:24). In my opinion, that's a symbolic interval, yet to denotes a real event.  

Or take the Joseph cycle (Gen 37-50), which has 3 pair of dreams: the dreams of Joseph and Pharaoh, as well as the butler and the baker. Three sets of two dreams.

So what if two of something is sometimes a stock number? It refers real individuals, but the sum wasn't meant to be literal. The actual number is indefinite. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

All's well that ends well

Christianity Today reviews Hidden in Plain View

Extinguishing the light

As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches (Rev 1:20). 
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent (Rev 2:5).

Recently, as I was sitting in church, I was occasionally gazing at the out of doors through the window beside, another window facing me on the other side of the transept, yet another window in the apse. It was one of those mildly breezy, partly cloudy days where the trees are in motion and the ambient light alternately brightens and darkens.

It occurred to me that compared to many sanctuaries, this church had an usual number of windows. Clear glass windows. There are modern churches where the sanctuary has no windows at all. They are entirely illuminated by electrical lighting.

The difference is that I was seated in a Colonial church, built before the advent of electrical lighting. As such, the only source of illumination the sanctuary originally had was sunlight in the daytime and candlelight or lamplight for evensong. Hence, the abundance of windows. 

If, at night, you were to extinguish the lamplight or candlelight, it would plunge the sanctuary into darkness–unless there was a full moon.

The imagery about lampstands in Revelation trades on that picture. Removing the lampstand plunges the errant churches into darkness. A reversion the heathen darkness. 

The light motif is one of the themes that John's Gospel shares in common with Revelation. The "Light of the World" is a title for Christ in John's Gospel (Jn 8:12; 9:5). That harkens back to his role as the Creator of light in Jn 1:1-4. Light was God's first creation (Gen 1:3). In Revelation, Christ is again the light of the world, only Revelation uses a concrete metaphor to illustrate the title. 

When I was a boy, we'd attend the candlelight service on Christmas Eve. Near the end of the service, the electrical lights were switched off. Each parishioner had a candle. The pastor had one lit candle.  He used his candle to light the candle of someone sitting in the first row. And so it went, row by row. The spreading light. The sanctuary gradually filling with light. Light swallows up darkness. But if the candle is quenched, darkness swallows up the light.