Saturday, September 16, 2017

Nabeel Qureshi RIP

I Look From Afar

I often comment on the light motif in Gen 1, but additional to that, there's a sound motif. Not only does Gen 1 narrate light out of darkness, but sound out of silence. The opening scene begins in a state of silence as well as darkness. God breaks the silence by his creative commands and benedictions. 

Sound has a synesthetic quality inasmuch as sound can mimic spacial orientations. Take processional hymns. King's College Chapel recorded "I look from afar". That's an advent hymn. The English lyrics are:

I look from afar: and lo, I see the power of God coming, and a cloud covering the whole earth.

Go ye out to meet him and say: Art thou he that should come to rule thy people Israel?

High and low, rich and poor, one with another: go ye out to meet him and say:

Hear, O thou Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep: art thou he that should come?

Stir up thy strength and come to rule thy people Israel.

All glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. Alleluia.

In the recording, the choir begins at the back of the sanctuary. A soloist sings the first line, then the choir responds. Due to the placement of the choir in the huge reverberant sanctuary, it has the effect of hearing the music at a distance. Then, as the choir moves into the sanctuary, approaching the microphone, it creates a musical analogy for the text. At first the observer sees the power of God coming "from afar", like a cloud on the horizon. The heraldic cloud evokes the Shekinah. The implicit imagery is reminiscent of the theophany in Ezekiel 1. From a distance it appears to be a desert storm, but as it draws nearer, it becomes apparent to the prophet that this is no ordinary cloud. 

Another example is the same choir singing "Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth." That's another processional advent hymn. Once again, the choir begins at the back of the sanctuary. The boys sing the first line, with their "angelic" voices wafting upwards and outwards. And once again, the effect mimics the lyrics. Hearing the choir at a distance, then hearing the choir draw near, is like the Redeemer leaving his world to enter ours:

Come, Thou Redeemer of the earth,
And manifest Thy virgin birth,

Forth from His chamber goeth He,
That royal home of purity,
A giant in twofold substance one,
Rejoicing now His course to run.

From God the Father He proceeds,
To God the Father back He speeds;
His course He runs to death and hell,
Returning on God’s throne to dwell.

By the same token, the creation account is like a processional hymn that gradually builds to a climax. And in the Prologue to John's Gospel, the Creator of the world enters the world he made to redeem it. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Ben, Berkeley, and abortion

Scooby-Doo and the Case of the Silly Skeptic

Postmortem stages

The Bible distinguishes between this life and the afterlife. It subdivides the afterlife into the intermediate state and the final state. And it subdivides the final state into heaven and hell. The question is how to sequence these stages. 

I. Traditional Protestant eschatology

Every man has one of two eternal destinies. Every man is either heavenbound or hellbound. Those run on parallel tracks.

In addition, the traditional view has a two-stage postmortem eschatology: when a man dies, his soul passes into the intermediate state. Then, on the day of judgement, the dead will be resurrected. The saints will spend eternity on the new earth while the damned will presumably spend eternity at some alternative physical location. 

The parallel tracks temporarily converge at the Parousia, where you have a common event (the general resurrection), then they diverge after that event.

There's a simple logic to the traditional position. On the one hand, men die at different times. On the other hand, the day of judgment is a one-time event which all men will experience at the same time. The intermediate state is sequenced successively and individualistically while the final state is simultaneous and corporate. 

The only folks who don't experience the intermediate state are people alive at the time of the Parousia. 

II. Catholicism

In traditional Catholicism, those who die in a state of grace pass into Purgatory before they go to heaven, while those who die in a state of mortal sin are inexorably hellbound. 

III. Universalism

A universalist must do something with all the passages regarding eschatological judgment. In universalism, heaven and hell aren't parallel tracks, but successive stages: many decedents must go through hell to get to heaven. They first go to hell when they die: a purgatorial hell. Then they graduate to heaven.

IV. Annihilationism

Annihilationists subdivide into dualist and physicalist annihilationists. They must do something with the passages regarding eschatological judgment.

According to physicalist annihilationism, the damned pass into oblivion at the moment of death. They are resurrected at the day of judgment, suffer a period of temporary punishment, and are then annihilated.

According to dualist annihilationism, the damned pass into the intermediate state at the moment of death, in which they suffer psychological punishment. They are resurrected on the day of judgment, and then annihilated. 

Each position only has so many possible combinations, given the variables. There are only so many ways in which the variables can be serially arranged. So the variables fall into place, depending on the commitments of the adherent.  

The traditional Protestant position is the most straightforward reading of Scripture. That's how Scripture lays things how. After you die, you either pass into a heavenly or hellish intermediate state. And the final state is a physical extension of one of those two conditions. 

A challenge facing annihilationists and universalists is how to show that Scripture selects for their particular series of postmortem events. Universalists have a different sequence from annihilationists. Dualist annihilationists have a different sequence from physicality annihilationists. Does the Bible specifically outline one sequence of postmortem stages over another? Or is it the position in itself that dictates a specific sequence of postmortem stages? 

Redeeming the Life of the Mind: Essays in Honor of Vern Poythress

Crossway books has a forthcoming festschrift in honor of Vern Poythress, the polymath at WTS: John Frame, Wayne Grudem, & John Hughes, eds. Redeeming the Life of the Mind: Essays in Honor of Vern Poythress (Crossway 2017). 

Foreword by J. I. Packer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Abbreviations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
1 Redeeming Science: A Father-Son Tale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
Ransom Poythress
2 The Grace and Gift of Differentness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
Justin Poythress
3 The New Testament Background of ἐκκλησία Revisited
Yet Again . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
G. K. Beale
4 The Divine Choice between the Offerings of Cain and Abel . . . . . . 61
In Whan Kim
5 Reading the Lord’s Prayer Christologically . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79
Brandon D. Crowe
6 Psalms Applied to Both Christ and Christians: Psalms 8, 22,
34, 118 and Romans 15:3 // Psalm 69:9 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97
Robert J. Cara
7 What Kind of Prophecy Continues? Defining the Differences
between the Continuationism and Cessationism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .113
Iain M. Duguid
8 Christocentrism and Christotelism: The Spirit, Redemptive
History, and the Gospel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .131
Lane G. Tipton
9 What “Symphony of Sighs”? Reflections on the Eschatological
Future of the Creation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .149
Richard B. Gaffin Jr.
10 The Trinity and Monotheism: Christianity and Islam in the
Theology of Cornelius Van Til . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .171
Camden M. Bucey
11 Language and the Trinity: A Meeting Place for the Global
Church . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .185
Pierce Taylor Hibbs
12 Jonathan Edwards and God’s Involvement in Creation:
An Examination of “Miscellanies,” no. 1263 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .203
Jeffrey C. Waddington
13 Redeeming the Seminary by Redeeming Its Worldview . . . . . . . . . . .221
Peter A. Lillback
14 Presuppositionalism and Perspectivalism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .239
John M. Frame
15 The Death of Tragedy: Reflections upon a Tragic Aspect of
This Present Age . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .257
Carl R. Trueman
16 Beholding the Glory of Jesus: How a Christ-Centered
Perspective Restores in Us the Splendor of God’s Image . . . . . . . . . .275
Brian Courtney Wood
17 Christian Missions in China: A Reformed Perspective . . . . . . . . . . .295
Luke P. Y. Lu
18 Historiography: Redeeming History . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .317
Diane Poythress
19 Christians Never Have to Choose the “Lesser Sin” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .337
Wayne Grudem
20 Perspectives on the Kingdom of God in Romans 14:17 . . . . . . . . . .367
John J. Hughes
Appendix: Scripture Versions Cited . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .395
Writings of Vern Poythress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .399
Contributors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .415
General Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .418
Scripture Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .419

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Why the sacraments are only pictures

You must go there by yourself

Demographic shifts in evangelicalism

Hoaxer or historian?

On God, providence, and natural disasters

1. Two recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida renewed perennial debates about the problem of natural evil. Calvinists and freewill theists give different answers. A friend asked me to comment on this old screed by Rachel Held Evans:

I rarely read RHE. Outrage is crack cocaine for folks like RHE. The moral satisfaction of waxing judgmental gives them a temporary high. They're addicted to indignation. They live for indignation. Because the high wears off, they are constantly on the lookout for something wax indignant about. 

In her post, RHE uses John Piper as a foil to attack Calvinism in general. She also uses the occasion as a pretext to launch into a gratuitous tirade against C. J. Mahaney. I say gratuitous because that has nothing to do with natural evil. 

In this post I'm not going to comment on the allegations against Mahaney, both because it's a red herring in relation to the primary topic of her post, and simply because I'm in no position to offer an informed opinion regarding his complicity, if any, in the scandal. 

“Mere Protestant” Confession Seeks to Reclaim the Word “Catholic”

Mere Protestant Confession Reclaims the word Catholic
By 1529, a dozen years after the start of the Reformation, there was an on-going dispute, both political and theological, between Martin Luther’s German Reformation, and the Swiss Reform led by Ulrich Zwingli. In an effort to bring the two sides together, Philip of Hesse, a local Protestant ruler, brought Luther, Zwingli, and a number of other Reformers (including the Stephan Agricola, Johannes Brenz, Martin Bucer, Caspar Hedio, Justus Jonas, Philipp Melanchthon, Johannes Oecolampadius, and Andreas Osiander) at the castle hall at Marburg for what has become known as the “Marburg Colloquy”. Primarily a political conference, the colloquy nevertheless marked the start of a long-standing division. According to Alister McGrath’s account:

This attempt foundered on one point, and one point only. On 14 articles, Luther and Zwingli felt able to agree. The fifteenth contained six points, on which they were able to reach agreement on five. The sixth posed difficulties. Luther and Zwingli reluctantly were forced to declare that they had not “reached an agreement as to whether the true body and blood of Christ are bodily present in the bread and wine.” From Alister McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (p. 183). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

This week, more than 250 Protestant leaders and theologians published what they call a “Reforming Catholic Confession”, “A ‘Mere Protestant’ Statement of Faith to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation”.

Just on the surface, I don’t like the word “catholic”, because of the kinds of confusion it can lead to, but this statement seems to genuinely re-capture and re-establish the proper meaning of that word.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

“DNA vs the Bible: Israelites did not wipe out the Canaanites”

Blind Faith vs. Faith that Sees

The Bible and the 'universal' ancient world: a critique of John Walton

Parents And Students Are More To Blame Than Schools

The Annenberg Public Policy Center just published their annual survey of how much Americans know about governmental issues. The results are ridiculous. Only 26% of Americans were able to name the three branches of government, for example.

The statement I just linked refers to a need for improvement in "civics education in the schools" and "press reporting". But they weren't surveying students. They weren't surveying illiterate peasants living in poverty in a third-world nation. They were surveying adults in the United States. And we're not talking about ignorance of the finer details of calculus or economic theory. Rather, we're talking about ignorance of matters as basic as naming the three branches of government and the contents of the First Amendment.

People only attend school for a minority of their time during a minority of their lives. What are they doing with their lives outside of school? Don't they have a responsibility to inform themselves? What about the influence of parents, grandparents, pastors, friends, etc.? When people are surrounded by intellectual negligence, and not just in schools and in the media, what results do you expect to get?

It's popular in Christian and politically conservative circles to blame schools and the media to an inordinate degree. Meanwhile, parents are spending absurd amounts of time on housework, trivial television programs, vulgar movies, sports, and ridiculous books, with few of them even caring much about problems like the ones Annenberg highlights. Yet, we're supposed to think the main problem is with schools. Or the media. Or Hollywood. Or the music industry. Or some combination of such factors. They're part of the problem, but it goes much deeper than that.

All dressed up and no place to go

Soup kitchen religion

There are well-meaning Christians who think the only prayers we should offer for someone with a life-threatening condition are prayers for healing. Their perspective is entirely one-sided.

To begin with, there are different kinds of prayers for healing. Not all medical conditions are life-threatening. Some conditions are painful. Some conditions are enervating. Some conditions are debilitating. Some conditions are disfiguring. 

However, a life-threatening condition is different inasmuch as death is ultimately unavoidable. Sooner or later, everybody dies. Medical science can sometimes postpone the inevitable, but it's a question of timing. Death catches up with everyone. From the moment of birth, each of us is tending towards the grave.

When we pray for the dying, when we pray for the terminally ill, we need to take that into consideration. Religion is essentially about death and the afterlife. 

There are theologians and atheists who make fun of soup kitchen religion. Getting people saved and ready to die. Sometimes that's a truncated view of the Gospel. Yet in the end, that's what religion comes down to–because that's crunch time. That's when the promises comes due. 

Christians need to strike a balance between prayers for healing and heavenly-mindedness. Christians should cultivate a deathbed perspective on life. When you're on your deathbed, looking over your life, were you a good steward of the opportunities God gave you? And when you're facing the grave, that's the acid test of faith. I don't mean a Christian has to be fearless. But that's when theological abstractions need to be real. When everything is on the line. Not just comforting ideas at a safe distance.  

We shouldn't wait until we're dying to cultivate a death-bed perspective. We're not taking the Christian faith seriously if we mentally keep death at arm's length. Rather, we should adopt a deathbed perspective early in life, as if we're dying, as if we're looking back on life, and asking ourselves what's important. That's a good way to prioritize. We should be doing that before it's too late to redeem the time. 

If someone has a life-threatening condition, it's appropriate to pray for miraculous healing, but that's different from medical conditions in general–which concern the quality of life or the ability to provide for ourselves or others. Compared to eternity, this life is just a blink of the eye. And this life is supposed to be a preparation for the afterlife–especially for Christians. As best we can, we should be mentally prepared to die at anytime–because, in fact, we can die at any time. Many people die in accidents. They die without warning. No time to pray. 

Having read many formulaic prayers for healing, I wonder if there's not an element of spiritual ostentation. Signaling to others your belief in miracles, and what boundless faith you have. On a related note is an element of spiritual conceit. Have they been influenced by name-it-and-claim-it theology? As if we can take "authority" over terminal illness by intoning the talismanic name of Jesus.  

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Religious test

Some conservative pundits have criticized Sen. Feinstein's objections to a Catholic judicial nominee on the grounds that she's applying an unconstitutional "religious test" to the nominee. I think that's an ill-conceived strategy, on Constitutional and pragmatic grounds alike. As I said in a Facebook discussion: 

i) We need to avoid treating all religions alike. Catholic social conservatives can be useful in the culture wars. If, however, the nominee were a Muslim, it would be valid to raise questions about his religious outlook. We need to take content into account.

Suppose a Scientologist runs for the Senate and is legally elected. He must be seated. The voters were foolish, but that's the price we pay for representative democracy. He cannot be denied office even though he's a nutjob. But nominees are in a different category. It does come down to advice and consent.

We shouldn't back ourselves into a corner where, if a Muslim were nominated to the Supreme Court, or Defense Secretary, or DCI, senators are not allowed to oppose him on religious grounds.

ii) Instead of attacking Feinstein's's position on procedural grounds, we should attack her ideology. That's where the challenge needs to be engaged.

This also goes to a weakness in social conservative politics. There's an asymmetry in between liberals and conservatives in the public square. Liberals are utterly uninhibited and outspoken in presenting their position. By contrast, conservatives are often afraid to explain and defend their position or directly attack the opposing position, because their position is too "controversial" or off-putting. Instead, they take refuge in generic categories like "religious liberty". As a result, many Americans have never heard the arguments for socially conservative positions. They don't know that there are any arguments for socially conservative positions.

iii) To my knowledge, there's nothing unconstitutional about taking a nominee's religion into consideration. If we're dealing with a duly elected official, then that's where the ban on religious oaths as a requirement for holding office kicks in. (So I understand.) Doesn't this go back to when you had to be a member of the church of England to hold office? That's the kind of thing the framers of the Constitution were shadowboxing with.

You ducked the issue of whether that has reference to a religious oath of office, which intentionally bars people who don't belong to state religion or established church. You seem to be interpreting the phrase very broadly, in a way that strikes me as contrary to the historical background. To say senators can't use that as a test begs the question of what was meant by a "religious test," in the context of original intent.

Again, are you operating with a dictionary hermeneutic, where you look up words in a dictionary, like "religious" and "test," and conclude that the Constitution bans religious tests in that sense? If so, that's a flawed hermeneutic. The meaning of the phrase depends on the point in contrast. To my knowledge, this parallels the establishment clause. When the colonies formed a central gov't, they were ceding some of their autonomy to the central gov't, and they didn't wish to cede any more authority than was absolutely necessary. So, for instance, they wished to avoid the central gov't enacting a national church, where membership in the church conferred certain perks. The point of contrast was the Church of England, where Anglicans traditionally had access to public office or educational institutions (e.g. Oxford, Cambridge) denied to Catholics or non-conformists. I believe that's what the framers had in mind. That's the kind of thing they were prohibiting.

The Sin of Certainty

I was asked to comment on this very sympathetic review of a book Peter Enns published last year:

In the 19th century, Enns says, Christian orthodoxy absorbed four body blows, or “uh-oh moments,” within the span of 30 years.

To begin with, challenges to the Christian faith antedate the 19C. Take Isaac Newton's defense of Biblical chronology:

The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended (London: 1728)

Consider 17-18C defenses of the Noah's flood:

William Whiston, A New Theory of the Earth (1696)

Thomas Burnet, The Sacred Theory of the Earth (1690):

Edmund Halley, "Some Considerations about the Cause of the Universal Deluge":

I have a fat volume on Genesis by Cotton Mather (Biblia Americana: Volume 1: Genesis. Reiner Smolinski, Ed. Baker Academic, 2010) which engages the intellectual crosswinds of the day. 

Consider patristic-era attacks on the historicity of Scripture by Celsus and Porphyry, as well as medieval Muslim attacks on the historicity of Scripture (e.g. Ibn Hazm).

Is Enns really that ignorant of church history? It's not though it was smooth sailing for Christianity until the 19C. There's been fierce intellectual opposition at various times in church history. The Christian faith is a battle-hardened faith. 

First came On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, a thesis that called in question the biblical account of human origins. 

It's true that evolution poses a challenge to the Christian faith. However, the theory of evolution is scientifically controversial. Even within the evolutionary guild, there are skeptics regarding the standard mechanisms. 

In addition, evolutionary scientists typically espouse methodological atheism. It's not just the scientific evidence, but a philosophical filter.  

At the same time, scientists were discovering that the universe is infinitely older and more expansive than the biblical narrative would have us believe.

i) That wasn't at the same time. The New Geology antedated Darwin. 

ii) In what respect is the universe "more expansive" than the biblical narrative would have us believe? Of course, the Bible was originally addressed to an audience with no knowledge of modern astronomy. They didn't and couldn't have our sense of scale. But how is that a challenge to the Christian faith?

iii) It's true that mainstream science presents a challenge to traditional views regarding the age of the universe. One response, championed by Philip Henry Gosse, as well as young-earth creationists, is to defend the traditional interpretation. Another response is to concede mainstream dating and question the traditional interpretation. 

There's nothing 19C about the idea of challenging traditional interpretations. The Protestant Reformation challenged medieval interpretations of the Bible. Indeed, challenged the medieval hermeneutic. 

Then archaeologists discovered documents from cultures older than the Bible and concluded that biblical narratives from Noah and the flood to the shape of biblical law were borrowed and adapted from Israel’s neighbors. This speculation called the direct inspiration of the Old Testament into question.

i) That there was an independent flood account was already known to Josephus, church fathers, and later Greek historians via Berosus (c. 239 BC). So there was nothing essentially revolutionary about unearthing the Gilgamesh Epic. Moreover, why not view that as corroborative evidence for the Biblical account?

ii) I presume Enns is alluding to the Code of Hammurabi. That raises several issues:

Even if we grant that the Mosaic law is to some degree indebted to the Code of Hammurabi, that's not the same thing as uncritical borrowing. For instance, David Wright argues for the literary dependence of the Mosaic Law on the Code of Hammurabi: Inventing God's Law: How the Covenant Code of the Bible Used and Revised the Laws of Hammurabi (Oxford, 2009). However, there's a catch. He considers the Mosaic law to be a polemical response to Hammurabi's code and a replacement for Hammurabi's code. As another scholar notes, the laws of Hammurabi "preserve the status quo and favor those who have wealth and power. This is contrary to the equality described in many of the biblical laws and to the priority given to the poor and vulnerable" R. Hess, The Old Testament: A Historical, Theological, and Critical Introduction (Baker 2016), 69.

Conversely, there are scholars who are very skeptical regarding arguments for the alleged literary dependence of the Mosaic law on the laws of Hammurabi. For instance:

iii) Moreover, Enns completely disregards ongoing archeological confirmation for the OT and the NT. 

Then German academics started digging around in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). These documents, they concluded, were clearly the work of several authors and were probably cut and pasted into their present form during the Babylonian captivity.

That's armchair speculation rather than evidence. Moreover, it's ridiculous. For instance:

I was trained simultaneously in higher criticism and biblical archaeology without at first realizing that the two points of view were mutually exclusive…In the eleventh tablet I could not  help noting that the Babylonian account [Gilgamesh Epic] of the construction of the Ark contains the specifications in deter much like the Hebrew account of Noah's Ark. At the same time, I recalled that the Genesis description is ascribe to P of Second Temple date, because facts and figures such as those pertaining to the Ark are characteristic of the hypothetical Priestly author. What occurred to me was that if the Genesis account of the Ark belonged to P on such grounds, the Gilgamesh Epic account of the Ark belonged to P on the same grounds–which is absurd. Cyrus Gordon, "Higher Critics and Forbidden Fruit." Christianity Today 4 (1959 November 23), 131.

Gordon was a secular Jew rather than a "fundamentalist". 

Then, in America at least, the plain reading of scripture failed to answer the slavery question. With abolitionists and pro-slavery preachers using holy writ to bolster their positions it became difficult to argue that God’s word spoke with one voice.

Surely he's kidding. On the one hand there've always been disputes over the interpretation of Scripture, stretching back to Second Temple Judaism. On the other hand, mere existence of disagreement doesn't imply that both sides have equally good arguments.

According to Enns, 19th-century Christians doubled down on certainty, because they were children of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation that replaced the authority of the Church with the authority of Scripture.

That's a gross oversimplification. There is no single school of Protestant epistemology. To take a few examples, you have figures like Locke and Butler who stress probability. You have Scottish Common Sense Realism (e.g. Thomas Reid). You have the dispute between Warfield and Bavinck on the nature of apologetics. For instance:

Once again, is Enns that ignorant of church history?

Professor Enns is the product of a very conservative corner of American evangelicalism and therefore he managed to avoid any serious encounter with agnosticism, atheism, non-Christian religions or the physical sciences until he did doctoral work at Harvard in the early 1990s. He was surprised to learn that most of the non-Christians he encountered were genuinely nice people. He also discovered that his Jewish professors in biblical Hebrew didn’t read the ancient texts like the Adam and Eve narratives in Genesis the way Enns had learned to read them.

That might explain his reaction. But everyone is not as naive as he was. 

Returning to Westminster Theological Seminary (his alma mater) as a professor, Enns attempted, gingerly at first, to loosen things up a bit. Everything was fine at first, but when the professor drafted a peace treaty between Charles Darwin and Christian orthodoxy things got ugly fast. 

To my knowledge, that's highly inaccurate. It's a combination of things that got him into hot water. Student complaints. The editorial direction in which he took the WTJ. And his Inspiration and Incarnation.  

His fellow professors were supportive, but the administration tightened the screws until Enns had no choice to resign.

That's inaccurate. He was given tenure by a split vote: 12-8. 

“These experiences have drawn me out of my safe haven of certainty and onto a path of trusting God — not trusting God that my thinking is correct or soon would be, but trusting God regardless of how certain I might feel.”

i) The basic problem with his position is that trust requires a foundation of knowledge. Trust is a combination of knowledge and ignorance. You exercise rational trust when you rely on a source of information for claims you can't directly verify. Because you have evidence that your source of information is reliable, you view it as a trustworthy source of information concerning claims for which you otherwise lack direct evidence. 

What God does Enns trust in? What's his source of information? Clearly not biblical theism. From what I can tell, he regards the OT as pious fiction. He rejects the inerrancy of the Gospels. And he rejects the inerrancy of Jesus. By his lights, the Gospels are inerrant records about an errant Christ. 

ii) In addition, he only regards certainty as a sin when certainty is vested in biblical revelation. He's certain the Bible is fundamentally mistaken on many issues. He's certain the theory of evolution is true. 

“The idea that the Creator of heaven and Earth, with all their beauty, wonder, and mystery, was at the same time a supersized Bible thumping preacher, obsessed with whether our thoughts were all in place and ready to condemn us to eternity to hell if they weren’t, made no sense—even though that was my operating (though unexamined) assumption as long as I could remember.”

It's feeblemindedness that some people find this comparison plausible. God is too big to be interested in the details of his creation. How does the conclusion follow from the premise? The bigger the God, the greater his mastery of detail. 

I'll finish my quoting two Bible commentators, one from the 17C, another from the 18C, to illustrate how Christian intellectuals before the 19C grappled with "scientific" objections to Noah's flood.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Road trip songs

I've been hearing or singing some hymns and carols for over 50 years. Charles Hodge once said you “can ascertain the real faith of people more clearly and uniformly from their hymns and expressions of devotion than from their creeds and theologies.”

As a young boy I doubt I paid much attention to the lyrics. I don't remember what I was thinking in that regard at that age. I just liked the music. After becoming a teenage convert to Christianity, I became attentive to the theology of the lyrics. Still, at that charmed time of life, it was rather abstract. 

At this point in life there's been a shift in my perspective when I sing or hear the hymns and carols which have been a part of my life for over 50 years. I haven't changed my theology, and I still like the music. I used to think of the musically superior hymns and carols as having a timeless aesthetic value. Musical artwork. Like paintings and architecture. 

Yet you get to a point of life where you realize that most of your life is behind you. I'm in-between older generations who've passed away and younger generations on the way in. You begin thinking of yourself as on the way out. Looking back on this life. Looking ahead to what lies beyond this life. 

Nowadays I view the hymns and carols as road trip songs. Their value has become more temporary. They edify and sustain each Christian generation on the journey of faith as we head through life and head out of life towards our everlasting destination. Songs of faith we sing to ourselves and our fellow travelers. Road trip songs that pilgrims before us handed down to us. Road trip songs that we hand down to the next generation. Songs we learn on the journey as well as sing on the journey. 

In a sense we leave these road trip songs behind us when we die. They served their purpose. Here's an interview with a 98-year-old former choirboy:

On a related note is an archive of historical recordings by the same choir. This one is from 1967.

Listening to it, I was thinking to myself, where was I in 1967? What was I doing back then? I was in second grade.

And here's a 1954 broadcast:

That was before my time. And the same choir has annual photographs dating back to 1884:

Those kids, so young at the time, grew old and died. It may be that in heaven, we will continue to sing some of our favorite hymns and carols as a grateful commemoration for what God brought us through in this life. 

C.S. Lewis: “Newman makes my blood run cold ...”

In his introduction to the work, “Roman but Not Catholic”, co-author Jerry Walls writes, “We have heard from lots of people who have read John Henry Newman’s famous essay on doctrinal development and found his arguments compelling. I thought it might be helpful to hear from persons who have read Newman but found his arguments deeply confused and his conclusions badly overstated.”

Apparently, C.S. Lewis was one of those people.

C.S. Lewis: “Newman makes my blood run cold ...”
C.S. Lewis: “Newman makes my blood run cold ...”

C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm chpt. 6
HT: Steven Wedgeworth on Facebook.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Roman Catholic Church was Never “Catholic”

Anticipating the publication of the book “Roman but Not Catholic”, which is due out in time for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I want to re-publish and clean up some of the articles that I’ve written over the last few years that support the authors’ conclusion. In this article, I summarize what the Roman Catholic Archbishop Roland Minnerath (who studied the matter for an official Roman Catholic historical study of “the primacy of the bishop of Rome in the first millennium”) said: “The East never shared the Petrine theology as elaborated in the West.”

What this means, essentially, is that at a most fundamental level, the Roman Catholic Church was never truly “catholic”, in the sense that the word was first used by Ignatius (in the second century, when it first referred to “the whole body of believers”). This article is updated and slightly edited since its first publication on June 6, 2011.

The Primacy Of Love As Evidence For The Gospels

I want to quote Craig Keener on the primacy of love in early Christianity, then highlight an implication:

"Nevertheless, other early Jewish movements do not earmark it [love] as paramount with anything like the same sort of consensus found in earliest Christian texts. The role of love as the supreme virtue is distinctive in early Christianity (Gal 5:6; 1 Cor 13:13; Eph 5:2; 1 Pet 1:22; 4:8; 1 John 4:7-21), a distinctiveness that reflects Jesus' own teaching about love as the greatest commandment (Mark 12:29-31). Following Jesus' teaching, various early Christian circles deemed love the heart of the law's instruction for how believers should treat other people, especially among the household of faith (Gal 5:14; Rom 13:8-10; John 13:34-35; Jas 2:8; 1 John 2:7-11, 21; 2 John 5)….early Christians followed especially one teacher [in contrast to the many teachers within Judaism] and thus prioritized his specific teaching." (in Lois K. Fuller Dow, et al., edd., The Language And Literature Of The New Testament [Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2017], 582, n. 63 on 582)

Notice the subtlety of the agreement between the gospels and other early sources in this context. When people are discussing whether the alleged teachings of Jesus found in the gospels are reflected in other early sources, they often focus on more direct and explicit references to his teachings, such as we find in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25. But the letters of Paul, James' letter, and other early sources often reflect the gospels' material in more subtle ways that frequently get overlooked in these discussions.