Saturday, September 23, 2017

Warfield Lectures: Anthropology & Transgenderism

Mortality and prayer

16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Lk 12:16-20).

Some professing Christians lose their faith because they treat passages like Mk 11:24 ("Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours") as absolute promises. But let's compare that to the parable of the farmer (see above). Although that's not about prayer, that has implications for prayer. We don't know the future. We don't control the future. We may not have as much time remaining as we take for granted. We could die tomorrow.

That's one of the implicit caveats on what appear to be unqualified prayer promises. And it's not a rare exception. In the ancient world, it was not uncommon for people to die suddenly, from illness or injuries. 

One last time

16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Lk 12:16-20).

One striking feature of human experience is that in the course of life we often find ourselves doing something for the last time. Indeed, we ultimately do everything for the last time. Take your last day of high school. Or retirement. Moving away. Your last day as a teenager. Your last day as a bachelor. Or the demolition of landmarks from your childhood. 

Doing something for the last time subdivides into prospective and retrospective viewpoints. On the one hand, there are situations where we know in advance that we're doing it for the last time. On the other hand, there are situations where we only know after the fact that we're doing it for the last time. And the former experience further subdivides into dreading the final time we do it or looking forward to the final time we have to do it. 

Doing something for the last time can make it especially significant, if you don't get another chance, yet ironically, there are many situations where we fail to appreciate the significance of that event because we didn't know at the time that this was the last time we were going to do it. It's only in hindsight that we realize it was the last time. If we knew at the time this was going to be the last chance, we might make more of the occasion. Make a mental note, to remember it better. Make the most of the final opportunity. But by the time it's behind us, it's too late for that. No going back. 

Sometimes it's a relief to do it for the final time. Sometimes it's lamentable to do it for the final time. 

Perhaps the most dramatic example of doing something for the last time is death. It can be your own death, or the death of an acquaintance. The last day you see them or speak to them. If we know they are dying, we have greater opportunity to take advantage of the remaining time. If the death is unexpected, then there's often regret at lost opportunities. 

It might be someone we're close to, or someone we only knew in passing. Suppose they die in an accident. We may regret that we were in too much of a hurry to get to know them better. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Ravi Zacharias Eulogy at Nabeel Qureshi's Funeral

Reformation Videos

PBS recently aired a two-hour documentary on Martin Luther that's worth watching. The page just linked says something about "expiring" on September 27, so the video may not be available to watch for free after that date.

Here's an eleven-minute collection of clips I put together on John Wycliffe, taken from Ken Connolly's video, The Indestructible Book (Santa Ana, California: International Baptist Missions, 2004).

And here's an eight-minute video on Thomas Bilney.

Last will and testament

Vetting creeds

Some evangelicals suffer from a superstitious reverence for the so-called ecumenical creeds, as if that's an electrified fence. If you dissent from anything in the so-called ecumenical creeds, you will be electrocuted. Technically, they admit the creeds are fallible, but in practice they act as though that's divine revelation. Yet all creeds need to be means-tested against Scripture. 

The so-called ecumenical creeds are simply positions taken by some ancient bishops in some church councils. There's nothing intrinsically sacrosanct about the process or the product. 

In his providence, God leads many people to saving faith by raising them in churches that are theologically orthodox in the main. God uses socially conditioning to save the elect. If they were born and bred in a different denomination, their theology might mirror that particular denomination. But there's a certain margin of error. Saving faith doesn't require theological infallibility. 

I don't think every Christian has the same obligation to evaluate their hereditary indoctrination. It varies according to an individual's aptitude and opportunities. To whom much is given, much is required (Lk 12:48). Teachers are held to a higher standard (Jas 3:1).

But some Christians do have a duty to sift historical theology. Catholics say that's a "me and my Bible" hermeneutic. But even if that were true, the same could be said for the church fathers. "Me and my Bible" is truer the further back you go in church history. Athanasius, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Chrysostom et al. are constantly making individual judgment calls in their exposition of Scripture. Them and their Bible. 

But when someone like me is assessing the "ecumenical creeds," it's not just "me and my Bible". I have many theological consultants. Commentaries. Reference works. Systematic theologies. Exegetical monographs. And so on and so forth. 

Could I be wrong? Sure. But the same could be said for a Catholic apologist, church father, or bishop. 

Is Doubting Thomas doubtful?

Moreover, with Judas now dead, there were eleven main disciples. Thus Luke 24:33 can speak of Jesus's first appearance to a group of his male disciples as including "the eleven and those with them." However, John 20:19-24 tells us Thomas was absent during that event. Thus, only ten of the main disciples would have been present. Accordingly, either Luke conflated the first and second appearances to the male disciples, or John crafted the second appearance in order to rebuke those who, like Thomas, heard about Jesus's resurrection and failed to believe it. M. Licona, Why are There Differences in the Gospels? (Oxford U 2016), 177-78.

A few observations:

i) It's not my primary objective to offer my own harmonization. But I'll make two brief observations. I think Luke and John were written about 30 years after the event. By that point I think it would be natural for "the Eleven" to be a stereotypical descriptor. Because the Gospels (and Acts) are written from a retrospective viewpoint, it's not unexpected if they'd use terms that reflect later usage, just like a historian might refer to a particular state as Arkansas even though it was technically Indian Territory at the time the historian is referring to. Historians sometimes employ conventional anachronisms to make historical referents recognizable to modern readers. I suspect that by the time of writing, "the Eleven" was a traditional designation rather than a count noun. 

I'd add that, assuming traditional authorship, John has firsthand knowledge of the event whereas Luke has secondhand knowledge of the event. Therefore, it's not surprising if John's account of this particular incident is more detailed, whereas Luke's is more sketchy. An outline and a plot are both compatible. 

ii) I don't object to the category of redaction in reference to the Gospels, but it's overused. There's a common assumption that redaction is theologically motivated. But I think redaction is typically more mundane: to touch up the language, to free up space for independent material, to forestall a misunderstanding on the part of the reader.

iii) Let's talk a bit about genre. Suppose a director makes a movie about a past event, like the Civil War. The movie might be classified as historical fiction. We expect the director to exercise artistic license. 

Even in that respect, there's a difference between artistic license and historical revisionism. For instance, Ridley Scott was criticized for airbrushing Islam and minimizing Medieval Christianity in Kingdom of Heaven. That wasn't a case of taking artistic liberties to improve the dramatic values of the story. Rather, that was filtering the past through the political and secularizing sensibilities of a British director, c. 2005. Even in a fictional or quasi-fictional genre (historical fiction), where we make allowance for artistic license, that doesn't justify an ideological misrepresentation of the past. 

iv) Compare a movie about the Civil War to an account of the Civil War by an academic historian. It would be unethical for him to "craft" an incident that never happened. That's because we're reading the book for information about what really happened.

By the same token, Christians have always read the Gospels for information about the life of Christ. The Gospels are the backbone of the Christian faith. 

v) Notice, too, the openness to classifying a reported Resurrection appearance as a fabrication. But if that's a fabrication, what about the other Resurrection appearances in John? And if the Johannine narrator concocts imaginary accounts of the Resurrection, what about the Synoptics? 

vi) Moreover, the purpose of recording this particular anecdote is to attest the reality and physicality of the Resurrection. Jesus is not a ghost! This wasn't a vision of Jesus. Rather, God bodily restored him to life. To suggest this account may well be pious fiction is especially ironic for a Christian apologist who makes the Resurrection the centerpiece of his apologetic.  

Peter Hitchens interview

Healing in death

There's two ways to kill a tree. The quick way is to cut it in half. It topples over and that's that.

The other way is to cut into the tree so deeply that it cannot heal. The tree then begins to bleed to death. Dies from the top down. First the leaves on the crown dry up, turn brown, and fall off. Then the process of desiccation proceeds downward. The tree dies by inches. First leaves dry up, then branches become brittle. Sapless. Riddled with dry rot. Insects invade the tree and consume it from within. 

Outwardly the tree may remain intact until a wind storm blows it over. Outwardly, it still looks sturdy, but that's deceptive.

Grief can be slow death. We rebound from some losses but other losses may cut too deep to heal. There's a tendency to view death as tragic for the decedent, but sometimes death is a merciful release, while death may be tragic for the survivor. Sometimes it takes two deaths to heal one death. There's healing from death and then there's healing in death. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

On alleged literary devices

Catholicism of the mind

Bryan Cross:

Today some Protestants publicized what they call a “Reformed Catholic Confession” that at least 250 have signed as of today. Much of the content of this Confession, of course, is common ground with the doctrine of the Catholic Church. And at least one of the intentions of the authors of this Confession seems to be growth in unity among Protestant Christians, for which I’m thankful. But this Confession neither bears any authority nor is formally or explicitly intended to be authoritative. Insofar as it is entirely a non-authoritative statement of the signers, it does not face the problems I described above with Clark’s position. Hence for that reason, just as with all the other Protestants confessions made over the past five hundred years, it is merely an historical record of what the signers presently believe, a sort of publicized theological snapshot or ‘selfie’ of the present theological position of persons brought together by their interpretive agreement with those who share the same general interpretation as themselves. Regarding the problem of ad hoc ‘catholicity,’ see the section with the heading “Ad hoc catholicity” in Matt Yonke’s article “Too catholic to be Catholic?: A Response to Peter Leithart,” and the section titled “Confidence and the Consensus Criterion” in my reply to Christianity Today‘s Mark Galli, along with comment #16 under that post. And see the last paragraph of my reply to Carl Trueman in comment #89 under Brantly Millegan’s CTC review of Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation.

However, insofar as this Confession sets itself up implicitly as an arbiter for all other Christians (or even for all Protestants) of what is or isn’t “catholic,” and is or isn’t “mere” Christianity, it arrogates to itself an authority it does not have, and thereby faces the problems I described above with Clark’s position. For example, this Confession treats Catholic doctrines concerning the Eucharist, ordination, baptism, Tradition, etc. as not part of what is “catholic” and “mere Christianity,” while it treats sola scriptura and the first four ecumenical councils as inside the bounds of “catholic” and “mere Christianity.” And this “catholicity” excludes Church Fathers as well. Tomorrow, for example, we (Catholics) celebrate the feast of the Church Father St. Chrysostom. But what St. Chrysostom teaches about the priesthood and about the Eucharistic sacrifice is incompatible with the “mere Christianity” of this “Reformed Catholic Confession.” In other words, this Confession is not sufficiently ‘catholic’ to include St. Chrysostom. And because not only St. Chrysostom but all the Church Fathers taught doctrines that are Catholic and incompatible with Protestantism, this Confession excludes them as well. So this implication not only raises a red flag, but it also raises the question of who has the authority to determine what is and is not ‘catholic,’ and what does and does not belong to Christianity.

The Church Fathers all believed and taught that the authority by which such questions were to be answered rested in the bishops who received this authority in succession from the Apostles. The authors of this Confession performatively arrogate this particular authority to themselves by what they include within the Confession and what they exclude from it. And throughout Church history there have been heretical and schismatic groups that did the same, banding together around their shared heretical beliefs (mixed with orthodox doctrines), and arrogating to themselves the authority to determine what is and isn’t orthodoxy, catholic, etc. Such groups and their confessions fade into history over the centuries, even as the Church carries on. Lumen Gentium teaches that many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of the Church’s visible structure; these elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity. (Lumen Gentium, 8) May those elements and truths continue to impel our Protestant brothers and sisters toward the true catholic unity which is full visible communion with the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church Christ founded.

i) I agree with Bryan that by framing the issue in terms of "catholicity", the document draws ad hoc distinctions. Of course, that's true of ecumenism generally. 

ii) But notice how Bryan can't think outside of his "authority" paradigm. Like Catholic apologists generally, he suffers from tunnel vision as he obsessively recasts the issue in terms of "authority" rather than truth or evidence. Why does a creed need to be authoritative rather than true? Put another way, why isn't truth inherently authoritative? 

The relevant question shouldn't be "who has the authority to determine X", but whether the statement is true, and whether we can assess the truth or falsity of the statement by available evidence. By what "authority" did Bryan decide to convert to Catholicism? Not by Magisterial authority, for at that stage of his investigations and reflections, he wasn't convinced of Catholicism. He had to exercise his (gasp!) private judgment. In his personal fallible opinion, the church of Rome is the One True Church®.

iii) In addition, for converts like Bryan, their reference point isn't the empirical Catholic church. The object of their faith isn't the Catholic church as it actually presents itself in the course of church history. Not an audible, visible, verifiable organization, but the church as it exists in their minds. The Roman church as an idealized mental construct or mental projection. The Roman church as a philosophical solution to what they perceive to be the philosophical problem of Protestant epistemology. They don't convert to Catholicism based on evidence for Catholicism. Rather, they convert to Catholicism despite evidence to the contrary. They are captivated by a pristine idea that magically transcends the contradictions of Catholic history. 

iv) Incidentally, Bryan was raised in Pentecostalism, and he's publicly discussed the death of his 3-year-old son in 1995. One wonders if that wasn't the catalyst that triggered his exit out of Protestantism and eventually into Catholicism. He was raised in a theological tradition that inculcates expectant faith in miraculous healing. So that tragedy wasn't supposed to be in the cards. For many people, their childhood religion remains their frame of reference. Even if they rebel against their childhood religion, that's the standard of comparison. They continue to measure the alternatives by that yardstick. 

Two confusions on prayer for healing

The presumption of salvation

How the assurance of salvation is dealt with is a distinguishing feature of different theological traditions. Some theological traditions deny the assurance of salvation because they say the regenerate can lose their salvation. Some theological traditions affirm that assurance of salvation is possible, although attaining a sense of assurance may need to be cultivated. Some Christians vest assurance in the altar call. Some Christians vest assurance (or hope) in the sacraments (e.g. baptism, communion, absolution, last rites).  

I think these debates tend to labor under a common misunderstanding. Many theological traditions operate as if there's a presumption against salvation, so it's then a question of how to overcome that presumption, while some deny that possibility outright. 

To the contrary, I'd say there's a presumption of salvation. That statement needs to be qualified, but here's the basic principle: Biblical soteriology presupposes that humans aren't good enough to attain salvation through their own merit or willpower. God must save them because they cannot save themselves. Put another way, if they were good enough to save themselves, they wouldn't need to be saved in the first place. If they were good enough to save themselves, they'd be too virtuous to be in need of salvation. So Biblical soteriology presupposes that salvation depends on God's will and God's grace rather than our own goodness or willpower.

In that event, the bar for salvation is quite low. And by the same token, the bar for the assurance of salvation should be quite low. To worry that you're too sinful to have confidence in your salvation is not a good reason to doubt that you are heavenbound, for the whole point of biblical soteriology is that you're too sinful to save yourself. Only God can do it for you.

Now, to say the bar is low doesn't mean there is no bar. A person needs to believe core doctrines of the faith. And God must be at the center of his life. That should occupy his thoughts. He should have a daily prayerlife. He should reflect the religious psychology we see modeled in the Psalter, of an intellectual and emotional life directed towards God. And by "God" I mean the God of Biblical revelation. 

A Poltergeist On Video

I recently had an email exchange with Stewart Lamont about his 1978 coverage of the Enfield Poltergeist for the BBC. His team captured some of the poltergeist phenomena on film, and that video is the only one to have done so that's extant and available to the general public. What I want to do in this post is discuss the history of Enfield videos in general, quote some of Lamont's comments to me in our email exchange, and add to what I've said before about the contents of Lamont's video. One thing I want to do is say more about the poltergeist knocking that occurs in the video, particularly some evidence for it that I haven't seen anybody else mention.

Since the release of The Conjuring 2 last year, YouTube has been inundated with people looking for videos about the Enfield case. Lamont's video has been widely viewed in that context. If you read some of the YouTube threads, you'll see that Lamont's video has also been widely cited by skeptics as a justification for their rejection of the authenticity of Enfield.

The use of the video by skeptics is nothing new, but the degree to which it's being used by them is. In the 1980s, Bob Couttie referred to the Lamont video as something that "many sceptics regard as highly evidential [against Enfield]" (Forbidden Knowledge [Great Britain: Lutterworth Press, 1988], 64). In the 1990s, Mike Hutchinson wrote:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Artificial doubt

Sometimes skepticism is overcompensation for fear of motivated reasoning. Ironically, that's just another kind of motivated reasoning:

Divine signage

Not to belabor the issue, but one more post on Nabeel. Some Muslims say Allah cursed him with cancer as punishment for his apostasy from Islam. You also have Christians asking why he wasn't healed. 

i) If he died of cancer because Allah cursed him, does that mean that when Muslims die of cancer and other diseases, Allah cursed them?

ii) There's a statistical presumption against miracles in the sense that miracles happen less often than not in response to prayer. Indeed, that's probably a dramatic understatement. That doesn't mean there's a general presumption against miracles. Given the Christian worldview, miracles are inevitable. But there's a statistical presumption against any particular miraculous answer to prayer. Miracles are unpredictable, and I daresay most prayers for miracles go unanswered. So there's nothing surprising about the fact that he wasn't healed. That really doesn't require a special explanation. Countless Christians die of cancer and other diseases, prayer notwithstanding.

iii) However, one can overemphasize the fact that prayers for his healing went unanswered. Although he didn't get the miracle he was asking for (and others on his behalf) in this case, to my knowledge, Nabeel is on record claiming that he had at least 5 miraculous signs in his life. In his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, he recounts a vision and three revelatory dreams that were instrumental in his conversion. 

And after his cancer diagnosis, he said he had a dream of Jesus, which included a sign: 

At the time I took that to be an omen or premonition of his impending death.

Assuming his testimony is truthful, these all had veridical elements. Also, David Wood has vouched for some of the dreams.

My point, then, is this: if we take his word for it, he had five miraculous signs in his life. By contrast, many lifelong Christians have nothing out of the ordinary ever happen to them. 

Expect the Bergoglio papacy to lead to more inquisition and less discussion

the bergoglio inquisition is coming
The Bergoglio Inquisition is coming
Ross Douthat, who considers himself to be among the conservative Roman Catholics, has a pretty good take on what’s happening in the Bergoglio papacy. The down side for Douthat is that his “only serious” solution to what’s happening may only exacerbate the problem that he sees.

Expect the Inquisition” is a headline that probably some editor gave to the column, but the real heart and soul of the Roman Catholic Church is on display, and it shows why this editor is right and Douthat is probably wrong.

In his opening statement, Douthat himself has noticed “In the Catholic Church of Pope Francis, it is dangerous to be too conservative.” He then recounts the story of “a distinguished Catholic philosopher” who was removed from his university position for having “raised questions about ‘Amoris Laetitia’”.

The sniping goes the other way, too. “Meanwhile, in the Catholic Church of Pope Francis it is also dangerous to be too liberal.” He recounts the travails of “Father James Martin”, author of “Building a Bridge” (from the Roman Catholic Church to “the LGBT community”) who was not only disinvited from giving a speech at the “Theological College of the Catholic University of America”, here’s the key: “after an internet campaign by traditionalist priests and laypeople”.

Michael Brown on healing

What was my conclusion after these years of intensive study and prayer? I concluded that healing was God’s ideal will for His obedient children, and that rather than praying, “Lord, if it be Your will to heal,” we should pray with the expectation that it was His will, sometimes even rebuking the sickness at its root.

Since then, have I seen other precious believers die of cancer? Yes, tragically, including some people very close to me, after years of prayer and fasting for their healing.

Have I prayed for blind eyes that were not opened and deaf ears that were not unstopped? Quite a few times, I’m sorry to say.

Yet I still believe the testimony of Scripture, since my theology is based on the Word rather than on personal experience. And when I have experienced miraculous healing in my own life – including from Hepatitis C, apparently contracted when I was a drug user from 1969-1971 but not manifest until the mid-1990’s, after which I was healed – I have been thankful for divine confirmation of the Word.

It sounds pious and faithful to say that when push comes to shove, his theology is based on Scripture rather than experience, but the obvious problem with his dichotomy is that, as he interprets Scripture, Scripture predicts for a particular kind of experience. He thinks Scripture obligates us to expect miraculous answers to prayer. So he can't neatly dichotomize Scripture from experience if, by his own lights, Scripture itself fosters the expectation that we should experience a particular kind of answer when we pray. 

Brown has created a situation in which his interpretation of Scripture is unfalsifiable. If you exercise expectant faith, and the prayer is answered, that confirms your charismatic interpretation–but if you exercise expectant faith and the prayer goes unanswered, somehow that's still consistent with your charismatic interpretation. 

Fact is, even mundane prayer is risky in the sense that when you pray you leave yourself wide open for disappointment. Prayer puts you in a vulnerable position. And if you exercise expectant faith, that aggravates the opportunities for disappointment. How many times can you exercise expectant faith before you lose faith in prayer, because your expectations are so often disappointed? How many times can you get burned before you need a skin graft? To be frank, miraculous intervention is unpredictable and unreliable. That's something you can pray for and hope for, and it's something you ought to pray for, but it's not something you can bank on. More often than not, God does not intercede in tangible, miraculous ways. You queue yourself up for disillusionment and make apostasy more likely if you constantly psyche yourself up for something that rarely if every happens to you. There's nothing impious about striking a balance. Some professing Christians need to lower their expectations before they crash and burn. In reality, it often seems like you're on your own in life. Ordinary providence is the norm. Better get used to it. 

Friday Night Calvinism

In my experience, freewill theists frequently misunderstand what Calvinists mean when they say God does everything for his own glory, and I think some Calvinists (e.g. John Piper) have contributed to that misunderstanding. I've discussed that before. 

But now, with the return of football season, I'll use a sports analogy. Suppose you were looking at the stats of a high school quarterback. In four years, he never scored a single touchdown. For that reason alone, you'd conclude that he's a dismal failure as a quarterback. 

By contrast, his teammates have an impressive record of touchdowns. You wonder why one of them didn't replace him.

On the other hand, he excels at intercepts, blocking, rushing touchdowns, hand-offs, and pass completion. If you were judging him on paper, you'd be puzzled by his uneven performance. How can he be so good at the other stuff, but never score a touchdown? 

Suppose, though, you watch him practice with his team. After a while it becomes apparent that he's a very talented athlete while his teammates are mediocre. If he wanted to, he could just teach them blocking while he scored all the touchdowns. 

It turns out that he's going out of his way to make them look good. Giving them opportunities to shine. They succeed because he's their enabler. His objective is to pass the ball or hand off the ball so that each of them can score touchdowns. 

Despite the fact that it's his teammates who always score the touchdowns, if becomes evident, if you know what to look for, where the real talent is coming from. So the stats are misleading. 

There's a paradoxical sense in which our quarterback glorifies himself by avoiding self-glorification and glorifying his teammates instead. He has the talent, but he diverts his talent and channels his talent into his teammates. He makes them look far better than they really are. His unobtrusive generosity is far more glorious than flaunting his athletic prowess and making himself look good by using his teammates to clear the way. 

Compare that to Phil 2:6-11. Everything redounds to the glory of Christ, but indirectly. He did not seek his own glory, yet his self-abnegation is glorious. He's not the beneficiary of vicarious atonement. Rather, he did that for the benefit of others. Yet he clearly gets all the credit. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Molinists in the Matrix

Had an impromptu debate on Facebook with some freewill theists, two of whom are Molinists:

Calvinism makes God the author of evil, even if it is denied.

How does your position square with passages like this:

For it was the Lord's doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses (Josh 11:20). 

And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech (Judges 9:23).

If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death (1 Sam 2:25).

Absalom and all the men of Israel said, "The advice of Hushai the Arkite is better than that of Ahithophel." For the LORD had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom (2 Sam 17:14).

So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite (1 Kgs 12:15).

19 And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab the king of Israel, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 20 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ 21 And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ 22 Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of these your prophets. The Lord has declared disaster concerning you” (2 Chron 18:19-22).

For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie (2 Thes 2:11). 

for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled (Rev 17:17).

i) Freewill theists get off on the wrong foot when they cast the issue in terms of "Calvinism makes God the author of evil". If Calvinism is merely repeating and reaffirming what the Bible says, then that's only a problem for Calvinism if Scripture is false.

ii) These passages which attribute a human choice to divine agency. Their choice is said to be the result of God acting on them. 

iii) It's not an incidental consequence of divine action, but the specifically intended consequence.

iv) That eliminates the ultimate sourcehood definition of libertarian freedom, for their choice is said to be the effect of God's prior action.

v) That eliminates the principle of alternate possibilities definition of libertarian freedom, for if their choice is the result of divine agency, then they were in no position to choose contrary to God's instigation. 

vi) Finally, the passages I quote describe God causing them to make evil or self-destructive choices. 

I don't see it even close to being a comparison. If I write the script of a book, I am solely responsible for the actions of the characters. If I create a play where the actors are free but knowing their choices I write the script around it, I am not the direct agent behind their decisions. 

i) Of course, storybook characters lack consciousness. That's not analogous to predestined conscious agents.

ii) In what sense do you think human agents are "free"? If you think the choice could go either way, does that mean their choices are random, like a coin toss? If I flip the coin a minute sooner, it may be heads, and if I flip the coin a minute later, it may be tails?

iii) In Molinism, God is choosing from an array of feasible possible worlds. The humans in those worlds aren't conscious agents. They are merely possible persons or abstract objects. Indeed, Craig is a fictionalist. They only become conscious if God actualizes a possible world. 

You're reading more into the text than is there. Those same passages in your second point are compatible with both strong actualization via determinism and weak actualization via providence arranged according to middle knowledge (incorporation of free will choices).

What an ironic comment considering the fact that you're filtering the text through the colored lens of Plantingian metaphysics, which is totally extraneous to the text. Was the ancient Jewish audience using Plantingian metaphysics as its frame of reference?

You're like a ufologist who construes Ezk 1 as a flying saucer, and when I point out that the ufologist is imposing an extraneous interpretive grid on the text, he counters that Ezk 1 is compatible with the ufological interpretation. 

That's not how exegesis works. The meaning of the text is determined by a frame of reference available to the target audience. 

I never said the Jewish audience was using those frameworks. I said the texts are compatible with both, so they cannot be used to adjudicate the matter.In other words, they are underdeterminative. None of the texts rule out libertarian freedom even under PAP terms or ultimate sourcehood terms.

Christians are reading more into the text than is there. The Incarnation, crucifixion, and Resurrection narratives are compatible with both a real Incarnation, crucifixion, and Resurrection as well as a virtual Incarnation, crucifixion, and Resurrection. The texts are compatible with an external world or a computer simulation, so they cannot be used to adjudicate the matter. In other words, they are underdeterminative. None of the texts rule out the Matrix.

You criticize me for saying that the biblical data is consistent but not conclusive regarding Molinism and then say that texts on the resurrection are compatible with a virtual resurrection. But actually, that's not true. I think the text does require a physicalist reading of the resurrection. Moreover, any computer simulation analogy is parasitic on the physical world for its resources. I don't see why the Bible's being underdeterminative regarding the issue should preclude concluding to Molinism on other grounds. Why think that's the case?

That's confuses the order of being with the order of knowing. Yes, even the Matrix requires a real world with real energy and machinery to run it. The point, though, is the inability of somebody plugged into the Matrix to differentiate appearance from reality. Likewise, your hermeneutic invokes a frame of reference that's entirely extrinsic to the text of Scripture or the background knowledge of the original audience to neutralize the text and tip the scales towards Molinism.

Do you agree that at least God has libertarian freedom?

Depends in part on how your define libertarian freedom. For instance, there's the "mere indeterminist causation" theory of action (whatever that means) as well as the "no causation at all' theory. Here's what a premier freewill theist says:

If it goes to the left, that just happens. If it goes to the right, that just happens…There is no way to make it go one way rather than the other…It is a plausible idea that it is up to an agent what the outcome of a process will be only if the agent is able to arrange things in a way that would make the occurrence of this outcome inevitable and able to arrange things in a way that would make the occurrence of that outcome inevitable. If this plausible idea is right, there would seem to be no possibility of its being [up to the agent] what the outcome of an indeterministic process would be." Peter van Inwagen, Metaphysics (Westview Press, 4th ed., 2015), 278).

God's choices are not caused or determined by anything outside himself. However, God has reasons for his choices. His choices aren't independent of reason, or contrary to rationality. 

I don't think God has the freedom to commit evil. Do you? Moreover, libertarian freedom is often defined as ability to do otherwise in under the same circumstances, but God has no circumstances. Divine freedom is sui generis. 

Why think that God couldn't weakly actualize every creaturely free will choice simply by placing free creatures in certain circumstances?

i) Because I don't grant the premise of your question (i.e. creatures with libertarian freedom).

ii) Because their choices are either uncaused or at least indeterminate, which makes them unpredictable. If their choices are predictable, then they lack the freedom to do otherwise. Conversely, if their choices are uncaused, then they can't be known in advance. 

That's one reason many of the most philosophically astute freewill theists are open theists. 

iii) Because their choices are independent of God, and even independent of their own prior mental states. It's a coin flip. Each coin flip is causally independent of the preceding or succeeding coin flip. 

iv) And finally, because they don't exist. The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are disconnected from God. 

That's not a problem for Calvinism, where possible worlds are divine ideas, and divine ideas are constitutive. Possible worlds are what is divinely conceivable. God knows his own mind. They are not derivative of what autonomous nonentities would or wouldn't do. 

Debating Molinism is like debating Monadology. A mental construct. No reason to think there's anything in reality corresponding to that fanciful construct. 

A few texts in favor of soft libertarianism: Gen 4:6-7; Deut 30:11-20; Josh 24:14-15, 22; Psalm 119:108-109; Isa 5:3-4; Prov 1:23, 28; Jer 26:2-4; Jer 36:3, 7, 17-20; Ezek 18:21-24, 30-32; Ezek 33:11; Zech 1:2-4; Matt 23:37-39; Acts 5:4; 1 Cor 7:37; 1 Cor 10:13; Rev 2:21.

i) You're confusing material conditionals or material implication (if-then) with libertarian freedom. That's a category mistake.

ii) The fact that we can deliberate about alternate courses of action doesn't imply that those are realistic options. We can imagine many scenarios that we are unable to act on.

iii) Predestination is compatible with hypothetical alternatives. If I did A, B would be the consequence, but if I did C, D would be the consequence. In Calvinism, there are cause-effect relations.

iv) Likewise, predestination is compatible with alternate timelines or possible worlds. In Calvinism, those are representations of God's intellect and power.

Under Calvinism, God is both the necessary and sufficient condition for evil. 

It's not nearly enough for you to simply distinguish between necessary and sufficient conditions. In addition, you need to explain how that's morally germane. Evidently, you're stipulating a general principle: if X is a necessary but insufficient condition of an evil choice, then exculpates X, but if X is a sufficient condition of an evil choice, then that inculpates X. 

But why should we grant that? Suppose I'm an arms dealer for a Columbian drug cartel. I don't personally murder anyone. I just supply the kingpins and their death squads. So that makes my action a necessary but insufficient condition in the demise of the innocent victims. Does that let me off the hook morally?

As to your analogy, no free-will theist would grant that God is like an arms dealer for the Cartel. That's disanalogous.

It's only disanalogous if you now concede that your distinction between necessary and sufficient conditionality is an unreliable principle in general to inculpate or exculpate an agent. So you must now supply some additional criterion, over and above mere necessary conditionality, for your argument to have any chance of going through.

Simply having children, in and of itself, doesn't determine what choices they will make, one way or another. So at best, the parent only makes it possible for those children to make bad choices - a necessary but insufficient condition. The sufficient condition would be the children's own choices. So imagine that even in spite of teaching the children right from wrong, one of them goes on to become a criminal. Would the parent then be held morally responsible for the actions of the child just for bringing them into the world? No, or course not.

You oversimplified what I said, omitting key variables. Try again. What I actually said was: " if God knows that by creating the world, specific evils will transpire, then he renders their occurrence inevitable by making a world with those foreseeable consequences. The events cannot be otherwise given those combined factors. That follows on Molinism and simple foreknowledge Arminianism alike."

The argument wasn't based on creation alone, but knowing full well all the consequences of one's fiat, if one were to do so, then causing a the initial conditions that eventuate in those foreseeable results.

And to play along with your example, if a couple knew that by having conjugal relations on a particular night, Pol Pot would be conceived, then they would indeed be morally responsible for the dire outcome. 

God is the "ultimate cause" in that He made evil possible. But He didn't actualize it. His agents did. But under Calvinism, Gods decree is what actualized evil. Satan, Adam, and Eve were just doing what God programmed them to do.

Predestination doesn't actualize anything. Predestination is just a plan. The plan is actualized by creation and providence (occasionally by miracles).

Rising sea levels

If the primary objective of Noah's flood was to wipe out the human race, how much dry land would need to be flooded? For instance, consider this map if sea levels rose by about 1500 feet or 0.3 miles (see below)

Depending on the size and distribution of the prediluvian human population, it wouldn't be necessary to flood all the dry land to drown the human race. Moreover, even if some humans could escape to high ground, that doesn't necessarily (or even probably) mean there'd be enough food to live on. Depends on the availability of edible fauna and flora, shelter, firewood, drinking water, weapons for hunting &c., on high ground. 

This map takes for granted the current land distribution. If you think the prediluvian earth was different in that respect, then we have to make adjustments for that hypothetical variable. 

Suppose, before the flood, there were massive polar ice caps…which melted. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Quick Argument Against Libertarian Calvinism

He descended into hell

Ready To Run

Ravi Zacharias has a piece in the Washington Post about Nabeel Qureshi. In the opening of the article, Zacharias refers to a characteristic Qureshi had that few other Christians have in this culture:

The first time I saw him, he sat at a table across from me, one of his legs constantly moving almost subconsciously, as though he was warming up for a run. It was a habit of his restless disposition to stand and gallop. I asked if we could talk about his mission in life. He joined me in the back seat of the car, that leg still moving.

That was Nabeel Qureshi. He hated sitting still. He was a man with a mission, ready to run.

Mere Protestantism

I'll comment on this:

I guess the best thing that can be said for it is the pertinent reminder that the Reformation isn't over. It says a lot of things I can agree with. It has some good signatories, as well as some not so good signatories. However, I won't be signing "A Reforming Catholic Confession". I'll begin with two lesser objections:

i) Jerry Walls cochaired the drafting committee. Jerry plays a Julius Kelp/Buddy Love character, wherein he can instantly transform from a militant anti-Calvinist to "the most ecumenical man in the room" and back again. The makeup is impressive, yet the actor underneath the magnanimous makeup isn't the ecumenist, but the militant anti-Calvinist. Sorry, but I can't exercise the willing suspension of disbelief to take his performance seriously. 

ii) The document is terribly redundant inasmuch as there's already plethora of "mere Protestant" creeds in circulation. Every evangelical seminary, college, denomination, and parachurch ministry has a generic evangelical statement of faith. 

However, I wouldn't say (i-ii) are deal-breakers. Moving along:

He will judge the world, consigning any who persist in unbelief to an everlasting fate apart from him, where his life and light are no more. 

Notice what that doesn't say. No mention of "eternal misery" or "everlasting conscious punishment". It's worded in such a way that an annihilationist can sign it. And that's probably intentional.

Perhaps a supporter of the "mere Protestant" confession will say it doesn't deny everlasting conscious punishment. 

Yet creeds are equally important for what they exclude as well as what they include. That's a basic function of creeds. To draw boundaries. To rule some positions out of bounds. 

And needless to say, it is equally silent on Purgatory, which is making a comeback thanks the cochairman of the drafting committee (Jerry Walls). 

What about penal substitution? That, too, is passed over in silence. How mere can you get? 

By the same token, this "mere Protestant" confession is silent on open theism. A "mere Protestant" confession that leaves the door open for open theism, annihilationism, and Purgatory is too mere for me. 

That Protestants are divided is equally obvious and, given our Lord’s prayer for unity (“that they may be one” – John 17:11), even more grievous.

i) Sigh. By that logic, the Son's prayer has gone unanswered for 2000 years. Even if, after 2000 years, the Father finally got around to granting the Son's petition, isn't that like a health insurance company authorizing treatment a week after the patient died? 

ii) Didn't Jesus say the Father always hears him (Jn 11:41-42). So shouldn't we believe that the Father already granted the Son's petition? Indeed, that the Father has been continuously granting that petition, throughout the course of church history–from the inception up to the present–until the Parousia? 

In that event, we should see in church history an answer to that prayer. If we fail to see that, it must be because we're looking for the wrong thing. 

What kind of unity is Jesus referring to? I think the best explanation is that if believers are in fellowship with the Triune God, then believers are thereby in fellowship with one another (1 Jn 1:3,6-7).

Our reforming catholic confession sets forth the catholic substance of the faith (the consensual tradition worked out over the first few centuries of church history about the triune God) according to the Protestant principles of the faith (sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide).

i) Freewill theists don't believe in sola gratia. They have a synergistic soteriology.

ii) What about Protestants who reject the classic Protestant (e.g. Reformed or Lutheran) view of justification in favor of something like the New Perspective on Paul? Or the more recent position of John Barclay? 

That these two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which some among us call “sacraments,” are bound to the Word by the Spirit as visible words proclaiming the promise of the gospel, and thus become places where recipients encounter the Word again. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper communicate life in Christ to the faithful, confirming them in their assurance that Christ, the gift of God for the people of God, is indeed “for us and our salvation” and nurturing them in their faith.

I think the sacraments are simply pictures. 

the Spirit proceeded to guide (and continues to guide) the church into a right understanding of these foundational texts (John 15:26; 16:13).

In a sense this is the right doctrine from the wrong texts. 

i) In context, Jn 15:26 & 16:13 isn't a promise to "the church". 

ii) There is a sense in which God continues to guide "the church". God gives teachers to the church. And God preserves the elect. That doesn't render them infallible, but to keep them faithful, God prevents them from straying too far. 

Yet, given the weight of orthodox judgment and catholic consensus, individuals and churches do well to follow the example of the Reformers and accept as faithful interpretations and entailments of Scripture the decisions of the councils of Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), and Chalcedon (451) concerning the nature of the Triune God and Jesus Christ.

"the weight of orthodox judgment and catholic consensus" is not a reliable criterion. That's an intellectual shortcut, and the appeal amounts to a circular argument. By definition, "orthodox judgement" is orthodox, but that tautology is useless in ascertaining orthodoxy. You already need a preconception of orthodoxy to recognize examples of orthodoxy in church history. 

Moreover, "catholic consensus" is a very small sample. Most Christians were uneducated back then. They were in no position to exercise independent judgment. 

One set of Christians is not the doctrinal benchmark for another set of Christians.  Divine revelation is the only standard of orthodox. The onus is not on modern-day Christians to conform their beliefs to a "catholic consensus". Rather, the onus is on a "catholic consensus" to match up with divine revelation.