Saturday, October 21, 2017

Prophecy and hermeneutic

Background information is often useful or sometimes crucial when we interpret Scripture. Ideally, it puts us in the situation of the original audience. It helps to interpret historical narratives and ancient law codes. It helps us to understand the type of situation that NT epistles were responding to. Writers presume a body of common knowledge which the implied reader shares with the author. That fills in the gaps. Writers expect readers to grasp more than what is actually said. 

Mind you, there are pitfalls to using background information. The Bible is often countercultural, so sometimes the Bible is saying something in spite of or contrary to the social milieu. 

In addition, we can only use the evidence that's survived. But that runs the risk of stretching the surviving evidence to make it germane to something in Scripture, even if it's unrepresentative. 

But I'd like to make a different point. When it comes to Bible prophecy, especially long-range prophecy, appeal to background information poses a conundrum. There's circularity to the appeal because a scholar must have a preconception of what the oracle has reference to for him to match that against relevant background information. Conversely, he cites background information to interpret the oracle. So he uses presumptive background information to identify the prophetic referent while he uses the presumptive referent to identify suitable background material. 

Yet it only gets worse. If an oracle refers to the distant future, then the salient background information lies in the future. And the reader only knows after the fact what would constitute the salient background information. That's something we're only in a position to recognize in retrospect.

For instance, what's the relevant background information to interpret Ezk 40-48? Dan 11:40-45? Daniel's 70-week prophecy? The Olivet Discourse? The Apocalypse? The man of sin (2 Thes 2:3-10)? Depends on whether we view that as past or future. If future, we must wait for the background information. Invoking background information to interpret Bible prophecy may be prejudge the referent. We only know the historical context if we know when the event takes place or was meant to take place. 

We only know if certain background information correlates with the prophecy if we know what the prophecy means. But what if we only know what the prophecy means in light of whatever background information we use as our interpretive frame of reference? There's a mutual dependence. 

Assuming the inerrancy of Scripture, if it's fairly clear that the oracle hasn't been fulfilled in the past, then the best we can do is to imagine futuristic scenarios. 

This conundrum makes it difficult even in principle to falsify Bible prophecy. A "skeptic" might complain that this is special pleading. A face-saving out that immunizes Bible prophecy from disproof. 

By way of response:

i) Simply as a matter of hypothetical logic, the relevant background knowledge for a true prophecy must be synchronized with the timeframe of the prophetic fulfillment. If the oracle is both future and true, then it's necessarily the case that we can only identify the relevant background information with the benefit of hindsight. For that's the situation which the oracle actually pointed to. Although that may indeed be convenient for a Christian apologist, it's not an ad hoc consideration. In the nature of the case, the background information for a true prediction must peg the same timeframe. The setting, in time and place, is the same for the specific event as well as the general environment which lends interpretive clues to the outcome of the oracle. 

ii) Moreover, this isn't just hypothetical. For instance, there are credible examples of precognition in modern times.  Premonitions. Prophetic dreams. It isn't confined to Bible prophecy. And the same principle applies. A prophetic dream may be indistinguishable from an ordinary dream ahead of time. It's only if it comes true that the dreamer can look back on a chain of events leading up to its realization to perceive the context in which it occurs. That's where it fits. 

iii) In addition, consider an oracle by Ezekiel which, from the standpoint of his contemporaries, appeared to fail–yet was ultimately realized in an unexpected and humanly unforeseeable way:


Lecrae recently gave an interview that's getting some buzz:

Permit me to say at the outset that I don't listen to hip-hop/rap music, be it Christian or secular. I'm not familiar with his work.

1. I'm not quite sure why this interview has gotten so much attention. He's been saying things like this for a while now, in different venues. Perhaps the fact that John Piper wrote a sympathetic response, as well as a predictable thumbs up from Christianity Today, was the tipping-point. 

2. I don't resent what he says. He's entitled to his opinion. I don't take it personally. It doesn't put me on the defensive. What he says and does is his prerogative. 

3. His reaction is native. He's a businessman. As an entertainer, he ought to know his audience. For him to be surprised and shocked by the reaction shows how out of touch he was with a major segment of his own constituency. That's a professionally hazardous position for any performer to be in. If you alienate your fanbase, that has utterly predictable consequences. Although he should be free to say whatever he wants to, protest is a two-way street. His erstwhile fans are entitled to their opinion, too. 

4. I'd understand why he'd bristle at being characterized as a mascot for white evangelicals. 

5. He felt he had to choose between his black fanbase and his white fanbase. It was a business decision. If he didn't think he could please both factions, it's natural that he broke in the direction of his black fanbase. He's entitled to feel more at home with members of his own race. I don't fault him for that. 

6. I don't think he has a duty to be loyal to "white evangelicalism" (whatever that means). But there's the question of what he means by that. Apparently, he defines white evangelicalism in terms of a particular historical and political outlook. And he doesn't share that. Okay, that's his prerogative. 

7. I don't think of evangelicalism, or white evangelicalism in particular, as something to either be loyal to or disloyal too. Evangelicalism is a broad theological frame of reference with some political and ethical dimensions. I suppose it could be viewed a social movement with an implicit membership, but that's secondary to the underlying theological commitments. 

If I wanted to (re)classify the issue in racial categories, most of the books I own were written by white evangelicals. Bible commentaries. Systematic theologies. Ethics. Christian apologetics. Bible reference works. And so on and so forth. I generally identity with the theology. But I don't consciously relate to them in terms of a white reader engaging a white author. It's not a personal relationship. It's just about ideas.

To some degree it's filtered through the experience of an American or Englishmen or whatever. That's unavoidable. 

8. Tthese books didn't have a formative influence on my sense of who I am. They don't function as personal role-models. Rather, I bring my preexisting theological viewpoint to this reading material. I buy them and read them because I'm already sympathetic to their viewpoint.  

9. For me, there's a deja vu quality to LeCrae's complaints. I lived through the Black Power movement. I watched Tony Brown's Journal as a kid. So what he says is terribly old hat.

10. In my experience, constructive dialogue about race in America is usually futile because black and white interlocutors don't share the same the rules of evidence. Blacks like LaCrae typically base their impressions on anecdotal evidence and stories hyped by the "news" media.

White conservatives/libertarians, by contrast, typically base their impressions on comparative crime stats as well as examples of law enforcement run amok. They agree with blacks that there's a problem with our law enforcement culture, but they don't think it targets blacks. Rather, they view it in larger terms: rogue police, rogue prosecutors, a police state mentality, the "war on drugs," for-profit policing (e.g. ticket quotas, civil forfeiture), stop-and frisk, random checkpoints, the surveillance state. 

I don't deny that black Americans are sometimes abused by law enforcement. Case in point:

But are these isolated incidents, or do they reflect a pattern? That doesn't seem to be the case:

Conversely, take cases of white Americans abused by law enforcement. For instance:

If those altercations happened to black Americans, RAAN, Reformed Margins, Black Lives Matters et al. would point to that as incontrovertible evidence of structural racism. But when it happens to white Americans, that doesn't figure in their narrative. 

11. I'm interested in hearing from authentic minority voices, but that's hard to come by. And that's a problem I have with RAAN and Reformed Margins. They pose as the minority voice, but it's not a distinctively minority voice. Rather, it simply echoes the white establishment. Like a muppet show where the muppets have minority faces, but the voice and script are supplied by white academia. Minority muppets ventriloquizing white muppeteers. 

For a genuine minority perspective that presents a distinctive outsider perspective, I look to social commentators like the Pakistani born and bred Anglican Michael Nazir-Ali, Singaporean Christians like Daniel Chew and Dominic Foo, or Chinese-American missiologist Allen Yeh. 

12. How many black policemen and black judges has Lecrae spoken to? Has he made a good faith effort to get their side of the story? 

13. To what extent should your race be your frame of reference? There are more fundamental elements of self-identity than race. Take your sex (male or female). Or your family. Or your religion. Or your nationality. Or your social class. When and where you spend your formative years has tremendous impact on the person you become. 

For me, race is a window rather than a mirror. If we turn race into a mirror, the exercise becomes circular. We become very self-conscious. It degenerates in playacting. Ironically, that invites an identity crisis. We lose ourselves when we try too hard to find ourselves. When we try to fit into a preconceived role. Constantly second-guessing ourselves. Memorizing a script that someone else wrote for us. Playing the role they assigned to us. 

Why not feel free to absorb whatever is good and true in different cultures, be it art, music, philosophy, theology? You begin wherever you are. Your racial status quo is a starting-point. But you can branch out from there. 

It's misguided for Lecrae to turn this into group-loyalty oath, as if this must be a mutually exclusive choice between joining this club rather than that club. But that's not freedom. That's not authentic. That's laboring to live up to the expectations of others. But what made them the standard of comparison? Why should you be constantly glancing over your shoulder for their nodding approval? 

That's one reason we need to make the Bible our benchmark. Otherwise, we have no center. We shift back and forth in reaction to ever-shifting peer pressure. 

14. Lecrae indicated that he's trying to compose authentic black music. Screen out alien cultural contaminants. But that's silly and futile. Art and music have always been eclectic. Have always been open to outside sources of inspiration. That infuses fresh blood into art and music. Contributes to a dynamic creative synthesis. That's the difference between expressive art and music, on the one hand, and imitative art or music, on the other hand.

15. Isn't the outlook of this black man much freer and healthier than Lecrae's studied, effortful pose:

Friday, October 20, 2017

On dogs, strangers, and atheism

Atheists often say that while human life has no ultimate meaning, our lives can be meaningful based on what we personally value. In a sense that's true–because the criterion is circular: it's valuable because I value it.

Dennis Prager often cites surveys in which some pet owners say they'd save their dog rather than a stranger. That illustrates the distinction between subjective and objective value. In that respect, it makes sense for an atheist to say his life is still meaningful. But by the same token, that evinces the nihilism of atheism. The choice between saving your dog or saving a child from a burning building. From a secular standpoint, there's no reason an atheist should prioritize the child over his pet dog. But so much the worse for atheism. 

Five embryos or one five-year-old?

There's a pro-abortion thought-experiment making the rounds. If a prolifer had to choose between rescuing a 5-year-old child from burning building or five embryos, which would he opt for? The purpose of this dilemma is to expose the "hypocrisy" of the prolifer. If he'd save the child, then he doesn't really believe what he says about life beginning at conception. 

I think these two philosophers say most of what needs to be said in response to that thought-experiment:

But I'd like to make a few additional points:

i) All things being equal, it's better to save more lives than fewer lives. However, that's not an absolute consideration. Christian ethics is incompatible with raw consequentialism. Take the classic hypothetical case: should you euthanize a healthy person to harvest his organs in order to save the lives of five patients? It wouldn't be hypocritical for a Christian to let the five patients die rather than euthanize a healthy patient to supply them with life-saving organ transplants. While comparative numbers can be a relevant consideration, the issue has greater moral complexity. Comparative numbers are not necessarily a sufficient consideration. 

ii) Dennis Prager often refers to surveys in which some pet owners say that given a choice, they'd save their pet dog rather than save a stranger. That, however, is hardly a good argument for valuing the lives of animals above human life. By the same token, even if (ex hypothesi), prolifers were hypocritical on this issue, that does nothing to disprove the prolife position. 

iii) Humans are wired to aid a child in distress. From a Christian standpoint, God endowed us with that instinct. If it came down to a child who's right in front of you or five frozen embryos, it's only natural for you to opt for the child. The status of the embryonic humans, while genuine, is more abstract, more intellectual.

It's analogous to bombing the enemy at 30,000 feet rather than hand-to-hand combat. Or how we take the death of someone we know more personally than the death of someone we read about in the newspaper. That's not a question of who's more human. It's just that we're designed to respond to something more immediate.

iv) By the same token, it's duplicitous to put people in real or hypothetical situations where they have to make a snap decision, then blame them for making a snap decision. They didn't have the leisure time to engage in philosophical analysis. Moreover, they were not in a situation where they could exercise serene critical detachment. 

Embryos and Five-Year-Olds: Whom to Rescue

“This is My body”: the Lord’s supper — Mark 14:22-26

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Martyn Lloyd-Jones interview

Interesting interview:

One thing that stood out is was the interviewer's statement about the "amazing number of young people" who attended Westminster Chapel. Given the date of the interview, I assume that includes the height of the counterculture. Hippies. You might suppose young people would find MLJ too stuffy and formal. And it's not as if his church had drums and electric guitars.  But apparently, young Christians were drawn to MLJ's earnest, methodical expository preaching. Substance.  

Abortion and adoption

One popular argument for abortion goes like this: prolifers are hypocrites unless they adopt kids. 

i) I haven't seen them turn that allegation into an actual argument, but maybe I missed it. Is the argument that if more prolifers adopted kids, that would save lives?

If so, is there any demonstrable evidence that abortion rates are correlated to adoption rates? Mothers who contemplate abortion already have the option of putting their child up for adoption. Is there any demonstrable evidence that mothers contemplating abortion think, "If I knew there was a Christian couple waiting to adopt my child, I wouldn't abort it"? 

ii) I don't know the stats, but it wouldn't surprise me if Christians adopt at far higher rates than atheists.

iii) It isn't necessarily hypocritical to value life, yet not do everything you can to save lives. For instance, driving cars inevitably results in thousands of fatalities every year. Does that mean it's hypocritical to say you value life if you drive a car? 

iv) Sometimes people have prior obligations. Take a grown child who's the caregiver for an elderly parent. They're not in a position to adopt a child. They already have a full plate. 

iv) What, exactly, is the general principle which the allegation of hypocrisy exemplifies? Does it go like this: "It's hypocritical to oppose something unless you're prepared to take up the slack if you're in a position to do so"?

If so, is that a valid inference? Is that a reliable principle in general?

Is it hypocritical of me to disapprove of people who litter unless I take it upon myself to dispose of their litter?

Is it hypocritical of me to disapprove of shoplifters unless I personally reimburse the store for stolen goods? 

Is it hypocritical of me to disapprove of people who release dangerous reptiles into the Everglades unless I adopt the dangerous reptiles?

v) It's not hypocritical to have public policies that incentive parents to raise their own kids. As a rule, kids are better off with their biological parents. 

vi) In addition, it's not hypocritical to have social policies that incentive people to be responsible, productive members of society rather than freeloaders who expect others to foot the bill for their lifestyle choices. 

vii) Nowadays, you have secular progressives who lobby to prohibit Christian adoption because Christians repudiate the LGBT agenda. They are closing down Christian adoption agencies. 

Are they going to simultaneously say prolifers are hypocritical for not adopting more kids when they turn right around and prohibit prolifers from adopting kids? 

The Fall of the Roman Catholic Church

Important note: This has already happened.

For all of you naysayers out there who are prone to say “the gates of hell shall not prevail”, keep in mind here that I’m not making a prediction. I’m reporting on what has already happened. This is going to be largely a personal note, and more anecdotal than I’d like it to be. But I want to explain some of the excitement that I have right now, and some of the hope that I have for the future.

John Bugay, Cradle Catholic
John Bugay, Cradle Catholic
I’ve been dealing with Roman Catholicism for a long time. I was born into a Catholic family. I grew up Roman Catholic. It meant something to be “a good Catholic”.

On my mother’s side of the family, my great grandparents were immigrants from Slovakia. My great grandfather died when I was very young – I remember being at his deathbed at some point. My great grandmother then went to live with my Uncle Eddie, who was the sixth child in that family of six (and the youngest brother to my grandmother). They had a nice, 1950’s style brick home in one of the newer suburban areas around Pittsburgh.

My uncle just had a young family at the time. He may or may not have had one small child at the time, my cousin Michael who, oddly, was my mother’s cousin. Because of their relative age, we visited them a lot.

It was the kind of big Catholic family that was prominent back then. My great grandmother didn’t know much English, even in the early 1960’s, but the phrase I heard all the time was, “you good boy Johnny”. She said that to me all the time, and rarely did she say anything else. And I’d smile and say “thank you”. We were in church very frequently, as part of a large, extended family – weddings, baptisms, funerals. And there was much family time and fellowship. It worked that way on my mother’s side of the family, where my mother was from one of the older siblings, and also on my father’s side of the family, where he was one of the younger siblings. I had some same-aged cousins, but most of my cousins were a lot older, with families of their own.

That was the form of pre-Vatican II form of “Roman Catholicism” that I knew in the early and middle 1960’s. You didn’t get “catechized” back then. You lived it. You lived your life, and life revolved around “the Church”.

Political polarization

Some social commentators lament the degree of political polarization. But I don't seem much solution.

i) People can agree to disagree when they are free to disagree without that affecting what they do. Two people or two groups can agree to disagree so long as each side is free to act consistent with its beliefs.

But that breaks down in politics, when the disagreement concerns issues of law and public policy. In political disagreements, there are winners and losers. The winners impose their viewpoint on the losers. You are forced to do what the winners mandate. You are forced to stop doing what the winners ban. 

In addition, as gov't increasingly encroaches on every aspect of human life, the losers have too much to lose. The states are too high. 

ii) Democrats/secular progressives/SJWs don't think Republicans/Christians/conservatives are simply mistaken. Rather, they think they're downright dangerous. And that's logical given the (false) premise. If you think anthropogenic global warming poses a threat to the biosphere, then it's dangerous to oppose green policies. If you think private access to guns endangers public safety, then the gun lobby is dangerous. If you think there's a campus rape epidemic, then opposition to affirmative consent policies puts women at risk. If you think LGTB people have higher suicide rates due to social stigmatization, then that attitude puts them at risk. 

They think Christianity is dangerous because Christianity is the motivation for these dangerous attitudes. Their premise is false, and they are glaringly inconsistent (what about Islam?), but their animus towards Republicans/Christians/conservatives is understandable given their biased, blinkered outlook. 

iii) In addition, they think Republicans/Christians/conservatives are evil. They equate voter ID initiatives with voter suppression. That's "racist!". They think the only motivation to restrict or outlaw abortion is to "control women's bodies". 

They equate supporting free speech with supporting whatever the speaker says. If you defend the Constitutional rights of Nazis, you're defending Nazis! They don't differentiate "should people do x?" from "should people be free to do x?"

Given their insular, simplistic outlook, it makes sense that they view the political opposition as evil.   

Likewise, they can't imagine how a person of good will would oppose humanitarian-sounding policies like universal healthcare, universal basic income, "marriage equality". And they make no effort to acquaint themselves with the opposing side of the argument. 

iv) Because humans are social creatures, a lot of what they believe isn't based on reason and evidence, but fitting in. You think, say, and do whatever is necessary for social acceptance within your community. That's why rational persuasion is often futile, since that's not what motivates them in the first place. 

v) Constructive dialogue requires good will on the part of the dialogue partners. If, however, people are only looking out for Number One, then constructive dialogue isn't possible. They aren't truth-seekers. They disdain dutiful self-sacrifice. They wish to destroy anyone who gets in their way, anyone who inconveniences them. Yet the social fabric depends on altruism. And that's a logical position for an atheist. If this life is all there is, why should you ever subordinate your self-interest to the common good? 

vi) Nowadays, so many unbelievers have such bigoted views of Christianity, you have to peel away so many layers of ignorance and prejudice, that it's extremely time-consuming. And they're not listening anyway. Every time you talk to a new person, you have to start from scratch, because they always raise the same hackneyed objections. They don't bother to study the other side of the argument. They don't know the answers. They don't know there are any answers. 

That doesn't mean we shouldn't make the effort, but many people are a waste of time. There are not enough hours in the day to individualize, so you have to make snap decisions about where to invest your time. You can spend weeks and months pouring reason and evidence down a rat hole. So you have to make some time-management decisions. Pick a few dialogue partners. Or use a mass medium (one to many). Scatter seed. Pray that some will take root. We should do as much as we can, but we need to avoid utopian expectations. 

vii) In addition, atheism is evil. As secular progressives become more consistent, that exposes their malevolence and ill-will. Left to run its course, atheism becomes increasingly Nietzschean, increasingly sociopathic in its hatred of the defenseless and dependent (e.g. babies, children, developmentally disabled, elderly). In full rebellion agains the natural order (e.g. transgenderism). In some cases, there's no common ground left. Just their unreasoning malice. They hate the very idea of God. 

Hank Hanegraaff, Inc.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Adoption and penal substitution

Here's a neglected argument for penal substitution. The NT says Christians are heirs. And inheritance has a vicarious dimension. An heir is the beneficiary of someone else's action. An heir needn't do anything to be the beneficiary. He can simply be an heir in virtue of his relation to someone else who did something. An heir typically has an ascribed status rather than an achieved status. A status conferred on him in relation to someone else.

According to the NT, Christians are heirs in virtue of their union with Jesus. And by reason of that relation, they are heirs of salvation rather than damnation. They escape eschatological judgment they are God's adopted sons, and they enjoy that status in virtue of what God's ontological Son did on their behalf. So that has a penal dimension as well as a vicarious dimension. 

Hiding behind skepticism

A simple argument for penal substitution

There are fine-grained exegetical arguments for penal substitution by scholars like Thomas Schreiner and Simon Gathercole. But I'd like to sketch a simpler argument:

i) In the Gospels, one individual (Jesus) does something for the benefit of second parties. That's a one-to-many relationship. He takes an action for the good of many. Not something they do by themselves and for themselves, but something one individual does on behalf of others. That, in itself, is vicarious. A benefit accrues to them as if they themselves did it, when in fact someone else did it. And that's not an incidental consequence, but by design.

ii) And it has a more specific dimension. He suffers punishment. As a result, those who trust in him won't suffer eschatological judgment.   

The principle doesn't turn on a particular verbal formulation in the NT, or picturesque metaphors. It's operates at a more generic level. 

Is 76 Years Too Long to Live?

Windows into the Trinity

Indexical perspectives are a striking feature of human experience. For instance, the starting-point of science is the first-person perspective of an observer. But science attempts to translate that indexical perspective into an objective third-person description. 

If the Trinity is true, then the one God has three first-person viewpoints. Father and Son are objective to the Spirit, Son and Spirit are objective to the Father, Father and Spirit are objective to the Son. 

Unitarians say that's contradictory. Christians say that's a revealed mystery or paradox. Unitarians say that's euphemistic language to camouflage special pleading. 

An analogous indexical perspective is the insider/outsider dichotomy.  For instance, an observer can stand inside a house, viewing the outside through a window. Or the same observer can stand outside a house, viewing the inside through a window. Or an observer can stand outside, viewing another outside object. Or an observer can stand inside, viewing another inside object. But we typically think of viewing something from the inside out as contrary to viewing something from the outside in. You can experience both at different times, but you can't experience both at the same time, because these represent opposing physical positions. You can't be in two different places at once, so you can't simultaneously experience an insider as well as outsider viewpoint. Or can you?

On one occasion I was sitting in church. The sanctuary had the traditional cruciform design. I was sitting in the back of the transept, next to a corner window. From my seat, I could look outside. 

In addition, there was a corner window in the nave, at right angles to the window beside me. Sitting in the transept, I could see the nave through that window. From the inside I was looking outside back into the inside. So I simultaneously enjoyed an insider and outsider viewpoint. 

If I made that bare claim without providing the context, it might seem paradoxical or contradictory. But with a bit of additional information, it relieves the apparent contradiction. My point is that something which seems to be hopelessly contradictory may in fact be consistent, even simply so, if we see it in relation to a larger context. Just because a proposition appears to be incoherent doesn't mean there's even a presumption of actual incoherence. 

Amazon review of Roman but Not Catholic

I've posted my review of "Roman but Not Catholic" at Amazon:

Pop on over and check it out, and give me a "helpful " rating if you thought it was helpful.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

C. S. Lewis on Roman Catholicism

In a word, the whole set-up of modern Romanism seems to me to be as much a provincial or local variation from the central, ancient tradition as any particular Protestant sect. I must therefore reject their claim. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis; Volume II : Books, Broadcasts, and the War, 1931-1949, 646-647. 

4 tips for developing a worldview

Election and adoption

“Roman but Not Catholic” is released today

Roman but Not Catholic: What Remains at Stake 500 Years after the Reformation
Why Walls and Collins are not Roman Catholics
Today is the official release date for “Roman but Not Catholic”, a book by Jerry Walls and Ken Collins. The original title of the book was to be “Why I’m Not a Roman Catholic”, through the Brazos publishing house (a division of Baker Books) – perhaps a part of a pair of books which also featured “Why I’m Not a Protestant” (and similar to the “Why I’m Not a Calvinist/Arminian” pair in which Walls was one of the authors). But as the authors began to write, it soon became apparent that the subject matter was going to be too great for just a small book. So the book was moved to the Baker Academic division, and now at 464 pages, I think the intention is for this work to become a kind of textbook for seminary students.

I think this is highly appropriate. The late Fulton Sheen made the statement that “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” (Foreword to Radio Replies Vol. 1, (1938) page ix”). While contesting Sheen’s numbers, I think it has to be admitted that very many Protestants don’t know what Roman Catholicism claims, nor what it is all about. Just to be fair, it seems that, in the era of “Pope Francis”, many Roman Catholics, too, show evidence of not knowing what “the Catholic Church” really is all about.

Here is the main point:

Monday, October 16, 2017

Schreiner on Rom 2:14-15

Praying for stalled cars and frozen computer screens

The lonely god

A. Some Christian philosophers and theologians have proposed a priori arguments (i.e. arguments from reason) for the Trinity. And this has relevance to Islam, rabbinical Judaism, and the oxymoronic "Christian unitarianism" alike. 

Apostate Dale Tuggy has attempted to debunk these arguments on more than one occasion:

B. Let's reframe the issue. Instead of considering a priori arguments for Trinitarianism, suppose we consider a priori undercutters for unitarianism. These don't propose to directly prove the Trinity. Rather, if successful, they provide indirect support for the Trinity by undermining unitarianism. 

Take an eyewitness to a crime. Turns out he's known to drop acid. That doesn't falsify his testimony. It doesn't prove he was high at the time he allegedly witnessed the crime. It is, however, reason to impugn his credibility.

Suppose these arguments fall short of proving that God must be no less than three persons and no more than three persons. Although they fail to prove that God is tripersonal, if they undermine the grounds for believing that God might be unipersonal, then they are successful undercutters for unitarianism. That's analogous to a Christian apologist who proposes an undercutter for atheism. If successful, the logical alternative isn't necessarily Christianity. So additional arguments would be required to narrow the field down to Christianity. However, to eliminate atheism from rational consideration is a significant first step. 

C. The nature of proof

We need to define what we mean by proof. Traditionally, I think some philosophers and theologians regarded theistic proofs as "demonstrations". These were thought to have apodictic force. 

But there's an influential alternative, promoted by philosophers and theologians like Locke, Butler, Newman, and Plantinga, who regard that criterion as artificially stringent. Hardly any of the important beliefs we most care about are susceptible to rigorous proof, so why should we hold theistic proofs to that austere and inhuman standard? Instead, they recast the criterion in terms of what is rational, probable, or warranted. 

D. The nature of love

1. How can God be love if he has no one to love? In the nature of the case, love is a relation. 

Notice what this argument doesn't claim. It doesn't claim that love must be generous. It doesn't claim that love is diffusive. 

It doesn't claim that God would be imperfect if he had no one to love. It doesn't even claim that God would be imperfect unless he was loving by nature. 

Rather, it's a conditional claim: If God is love, then given that postulate, divine love must have an object–because love is a relation. 

2. Dale might respond that God does have something to love. God loves his creatures. 

That, however, raises another issue. If creatures are all God has to love, then there's a lack of parity between the lover and the beloved. A unitarian god relates to humans the way a boy related to his pet lizard. Christians are rightly critical of couples who choose to have pets as an alternative to kids. If love is an essential divine attribute, can that be satisfied by a contingent and inferior corollary? 

3. Dale might respond that self-love is adequate. If so, one problem with that response is that it's equivocal. To be loving in the sense of self-love isn't the same kind of love as loving another. 

We could pursue this general line of argument in additional directions, but let's save that for a related argument:

E. The nature of personhood

1. Does the very idea of a person necessitate interpersonal relationships? Is personhood intrinsically relational? 

2. One of Dale's counterarguments is that love is a character trait, not an action. An agent can possess that disposition or virtue even if he never has a chance to actually manifest that virtue.

But there are problems with that counterargument:

i) Although love is a disposition or character trait, personhood is not. Rather, personhood is the basis for dispositions or character traits, which inhere in personhood. So that's more fundamental. 

ii) Perhaps even more to the point, why would God have an intrinsic capacity for something merely contingent? For something that God can do without? Humans can have an unrealized potential for interpersonal relationships, but that's because humans are essentially social beings.  Why would a unipersonal God have that innate capacity in the first place, if his ability to socialize is inessential to who or what he is? In unitarianism, the existence of other persons is a contingent fact.

3. Dale has leveled another counterargument:

The same point can be made with a simpler, more chilling story. Some have speculated that those who are sent to Hell are neither literally burned nor actively tormented, but are simply cast into permanent, utter isolation. Imagine this happening to you; you are judged for your deeds, and then find your self in an empty, dark place. You call out, “Hello? Is anyone there?” Days, weeks, months pass, and your sanity hangs by a thread, for you are deprived of any degree of attention, as far as you can tell, from anyone. (If God is aware of you, you have no hint of this – he has seemingly abandoned you.) You are devoid of any sort of friendship or communion. But, you are as much a self as you ever were – not a thriving one, to be sure, but a self nonetheless. 

But ironically, his counterargument is self-defeating:

i) Let's play along with the notion of solitary confinement. In this case, unitarian solipsism. 

Suppose you put a person in a windowless cell. No companions. No movies. All he had was his own mind to entertain him. 

And suppose this person was immortal. Remember that Dale regards God as everlasting rather than timeless. For him, God has no beginning or ending. So God experiences the (psychological) passage of time.

Suppose, after a century, or millennium, or million years, or billion years, or trillion years, you open the door and let the inmate leave solitary confinement. What will his mental condition be like? To judge by a human standard of comparison, he'd be catatonic or stark raving mad. 

So it's not just a question of whether a unitarian deity can initially be a person, but whether the psychological integrity of personhood requires companionship, in whose absence it will deteriorate. 

4. Perhaps Dale would say that's too anthropomorphic. That illicitly extrapolates from human nature to the divine nature. 

If so, there are problems with that rejoinder:

i) Dale is an open theist, so he already has a far more anthropomorphic view of the deity than classical theism.

ii) What are the limitations of an argument by analogy from man to God? God and man are different in two ways: some things are true of God that can't be true of man while some things are true of man that can't be true of God. For the extrapolation to be vitiated by disanalogy, Dale needs to show that one of those two things limitations applies in reference to the argument at hand. 

iii) It isn't simply an extrapolation from the creature to the Creator. The comparison is more specific. Of all God's creatures (that we know about), man is the most godlike. Angels may be comparable, but they too, like man, are interpersonal agents. 

Indeed, there's a certain hierarchy wherein the more sophisticated the creature, the more socially complex. So there's a kind of trajectory leading up to God. 

ii) Dale constantly impugns Incarnational, Trinitarian theism for taking refuge in mystery or paradox, but if unitarianism posits a God for which there's no analogy in human experience, then unitarianism is apophatic, which is an appeal to mystery. An ineffable, inscrutable God.

A being that's said to be essentially personal or unipersonal without being essentially interpersonal is opaque to human understanding. That doesn't correspond to our grasp of what it means to be a person. When the unitarian makes God that remote to human understanding, that inapprehensible, then what does his concept of God amount to? What's the difference between God and no God?  

The preacher as sacrament

1. When I was younger I made of point of listening to some famous preachers to find out what made them famous preachers. What was their reputation as great preachers based on? I've since forgotten who most of them were, although the list included W. A. Criswell and George W. Truett. 

2. Recently, out of curiosity, I've been catching up on the current crop of famous Reformed preachers. Outside of church attendance I don't normally listen to preachers. I focus on reading. 

It's my impression that Paul Washer has quite a following in Reformed circles. I've seen some excerpts. It may not be a representative sample. But this is my cursory impression. I may step on some toes, but in that event, don't walk barefoot through my post.

3. I agree with just about everything he says about the altar call, sinner's prayer, easybelievism, decisional evangelism. 

In one clip he makes a hyperbolic statement about how that's sent more people to hell than anything else. Really? That's sent more people to hell than Islam, Catholicism, Communism, Buddhism, Hinduism? There's a danger of getting caught up in his own rhetoric.

Although I don't agree with him that infant baptism in principle is a source of false assurance, it's undoubtedly the case that many people vest false assurance in the sacraments. 

4. That said, to judge by what I've seen, I wouldn't recommend Washer. For starters, take this example:

That's either fake emotion or manufactured sentiment. If this was, say, Steven Furtick, Rod Parsley, or Jimmy Swaggart (before his downfall), I don't think most Calvinists would hesitate to dismiss that as a put-on. But if it's one of our own, the temptation is to drop our guard. 

Perhaps he's sincere, but even so, it should be obvious that he is working himself into a frenzied state of mind, the way athletes psych themselves up for a performance to get the adrenaline pumping. There's nothing supernatural about this. It's not the unction of the Holy Spirit. Rather, it's trying to work yourself into a highly agitated state of mind. 

Notice, too, the three-hanky musical accompaniment. If his delivery alone doesn't get the viewer in the right mood, then his delivery in combination with the musical background should do the trick. That's calculated emotional manipulation. And a lot of his video clips have musical accompaniment.  

I don't object to passionate preaching. Up to a point, I don't object to weepy preachers. But that should be spontaneous. 

And this isn't an isolated case. From a lot of other clips I've seen, he has a very studied delivery. Straining for effect. The tremulous voice. The lump in the throat. Like hearing an Italian tenor sing Vesti la giubba with the interjected sobs. 

His preaching style is self-conscious. And that's not a good thing. The focus ought to be on the message, not the messenger. Yet in a lot of clips I've seen, he's constantly drawing attention to himself. 

The most charitable interpretation is that he's cast himself in a Puritan script. He thinks that's how he's supposed to feel, so he aspires to play that role. 

It's dangerous if we confuse that with sanctification. Even if the motivation is well-meant, hamminess isn't holiness. 

It's striking to compare this with an interview of Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

Towards the beginning, he says he wasn't thinking about himself or his qualifications. Rather, he was convinced that something needed to be said. 

4. I don't deny that preaching can sometimes have a supernatural element. But as a rule, preaching makes use of sanctified natural abilities. There's nothing wrong with a preacher who simply exegetes the text, then applies it to the situation of his parishioners. 

5. In one clip, Washer talked about how, as a young man, he spent hours a day in his prayer closet, for about four months, hankering after a particular experience from God:

In charismatic lingo, he sought the "anointing"–although he avoids that association. His orientation is very self-centered, as if the preacher is supposed to be a theophany. 

6. Given how much time he spends on the sawdust trail, I wonder how much time he has for his wife and kids. Did he take them along on these preaching junkets, or leave them behind? 

Just to be a faithful Christian spouse and parent is a laboratory for sanctification. Just to cope with the disappointments, aggravations, deprivations, anxieties and demands of life in a fallen work is a laboratory for sanctification. Sainthood isn't something apart from mundane, day-to-day, down-to-earth experience. Rather, that's how to live out the Christian faith. You don't have to cry out all night in the snowy woods. Rather, it's the marathon of faith. To be faithful day in and day out. To repent when you fail, and keep stepping. 

Consider this clip, complete with the tearful violin accompaniment:

Frankly, his notion of having to "tarry" until God comes down can easily be mock pious escapism. Running off to chase a feeling as a substitute for facing the relentless,   grinding demands of ordinary Christian existence. 

7. Finally, for a Calvinist, there's a synergistic quality to his notion of piety. According to Calvinism, we're saved by grace alone. It's ultimately up to God.

Yet Washer often makes the walk of faith sound extremely precarious. We're walking a tightrope from start to finish. We could fall off at anytime. 

But is the Christian faith really that hard? Life can be very hard. But does Christianity make life harder? If you suffer persecution, perhaps. Unanswered prayer is frustrating. Resisting temptation is a struggle. But in general, Christianity has resources that make life so easier to take. So much easier to get through. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Saving Catholicism from the pope

The Power Of Christ's Righteousness Imputed

"For, even as Jesus Christ is stronger than Adam was, so is his righteousness more mighty than the sin of Adam. And, if the sin of Adam was sufficient enough to make all men sinners and children of wrath, without any misdeed of our own, much more shall Christ's righteousness be of greater force to make us all righteous, and the children of grace, without any of our own good works; which cannot be good unless that, before we do them, we ourselves be made good" (The Benefit Of Christ's Death, 19)

"Hence also it is proved, that it is entirely by the intervention of Christ's righteousness that we obtain justification before God. This is equivalent to saying that man is not just in himself, but that the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation, while he is strictly deserving of punishment….This is most clearly declared by the Apostle, when he says, that he who knew no sin was made an expiatory victim for sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:21). You see that our righteousness is not in ourselves, but in Christ; that the only way in which we become possessed of it is by being made partakers with Christ, since with him we possess all riches….'As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous,' (Rom. 5:19). To declare that we are deemed righteous, solely because the obedience of Christ is imputed to us as if it were our own, is just to place our righteousness in the obedience of Christ. Wherefore, Ambrose appears to me to have most elegantly adverted to the blessing of Jacob as an illustration of this righteousness, when he says that as he who did not merit the birthright in himself personated his brother, put on his garments which gave forth a most pleasant odour, and thus introduced himself to his father that he might receive a blessing to his own advantage, though under the person of another [Genesis 27:1-29], so we conceal ourselves under the precious purity of Christ, our first-born brother, that we may obtain an attestation of righteousness from the presence of God." (John Calvin, Institutes Of The Christian Religion, 3:11:23)

"The righteousness of God here spoken of is just the doing and dying of the Lord Jesus. It is called the righteousness of God, because it is that of God himself. You remember when Christ was a child, it is said he was 'the mighty God' [Isaiah 9:6]…And, in the same manner, the obedience of Christ was the obedience of one who was God; and when he obeyed his parents [Luke 2:51-52], it was the obedience of one who was God….Those of you who are awakened sinners, here is a righteousness that can cover you; behold, for each of your crimson sins, here is a stripe of one who is God. And, brethren, more than that, here are acts of holy obedience to cover your naked soul, here are holy words to cover your unholy words, here are holy deeds to cover your unholy deeds. O brethren! here is a lifetime of obedience to cover your soul….So it is with you; if you have on this righteousness you will be covered, and when God looks down, he will see nothing but the glassy sea of his Son's obedience….When Paul approached the gates of Rome, when he looked at its marble baths, when he saw the multitudes flocking to the theatre, and when he saw the crowds bowing down to the statue of Jupiter or Minerva, the heart of Paul was touched, and why? Because the wrath of God was revealed from heaven against them, and he knew that he had in his hand that which could cover every sinner. O, said Paul, if I could get them to put on this righteousness!…It is like casting a stone into the deep; it sinks, and it is not seen." (Robert McCheyne, A Basket Of Fragments [Scotland: Christian Focus, 2001], 99-101)

Did sacrificial animals die in place of people?

A while back, Bnonn Tennant did a provocative post. I won't link to it because, in preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse, his estimable blog has gone underground, but I will quote what I take to be some representative samples of his argument, then comment on them:

The Levitical system of sacrifices was not intended to model substitutionary atonement; it was about sanctifying the space and the people that God dwelt in the midst of.

When we read Leviticus, we read it through the lens of the cross. This is good, because Leviticus points to the cross; it was fulfilled there. However, the cross did more than one thing. Our default view is penal substitution—but I don’t believe that is how it fulfilledLeviticus. If we read Leviticus with substitution in mind, our interpretation becomes quite confused, and we miss what it is actually all about.

my contention is that they needed to cleanse it of ritual impurity. That is really the only reason that makes sense. They were purifying it to ensure it remained fit for God’s habitation.

The bull is for decontaminating the high priest; one goat is for decontaminating the people; another is for Azazel, a spiritual being; and the ram is for a burnt offering, which reestablished a relationship between the people and God.

the defilement is of a symbolic nature rather than a moral one.

In ritual settings, both words refer to purging or purifying. In Leviticus, therefore, I think we should translate kipper as “to make a purging,” rather than “to make atonement.” This is because, just as with the “sin offering,” it is clearly not referring to moral guilt; it is referring to decontamination. Obviously a place cannot incur, nor be purged of guilt. Rather, what is in view is the restoring of this space to a state fit for God to dwell in, by sprinkling God’s throne (the lid of the ark) with blood. The same thing happens in verse 18 with the altar: the priest “makes atonement for” the altar by sprinkling it with blood. He is not removing moral guilt; he is purging it from ritual uncleanness.

This understanding of atonement is corroborated in what happens next: the other goat is sent away. It is not sacrificed; its blood is never applied to anyone or anything. Rather, the ritual impurity of the people is symbolically transferred to it, and it is driven out of sacred space

The goat doesn’t “pay for” the impurity with its life; rather, it removes the impurity from the borders of the camp, carrying it into the wilderness, which was the domain of Azazel.

So what the Levitical system is modeling for us is not substitution; it is the need for forensic justification—for being declared fit for God’s presence purely on the basis of faith, as demonstrated in obedience to the cultic laws.

The connection between the blood of animals, and the blood of Jesus, is not that animals had to die in the place of people to turn away God’s wrath. Indeed, as any Christian knows—but hasn’t necessarily thought through—“it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Rather, the blood made the area symbolically suitable, clean, for habitation by God. The point is not to turn away God’s wrath through a substitutionary sacrifice, nor to model the turning away of God’s wrath through a substitutionary sacrifice. It is to demonstrate the extreme unapproachableness of God in view of the depravity of man. 

i) Whether Azazel is a demonic being in Leviticus is highly disputable. However, it isn't clear to me that Bnonn's argument depends on that identification. And my response doesn't require me to refute that identification.

ii) I can't help wondering if Bnonn's argument isn't designed to undergird his Amyraldism and sidestep Owen's double jeopardy argument. If you believe that Christ died for everyone, and if you construe his death in penal substitutionary terms, the question is whether penal substitution in tandem with universal atonement entails universal salvation. Historically, many Arminians reject penal substitution for that very reason. 

iii) Since I'm not a traditionalist, I don't objection to iconoclastic interpretations, per se. And I agree with Bnonn that conventional translations can be prejudicial. 

iv) I don't see how one can avoid a vicarious transaction in some of these examples, where the offering is a stand-in for the sinner or worshiper. A graphic example is the scapegoat, where the guilt of the Israelites is symbolically transferred to the scapegoat, via the gesture of the priest, then the scapegoat is driven out of the camp, symbolically separating guilt from the guilty. 

Penal substitution builds on the generic vicarious principle, but adds a more specific nuance, where one thing is punished in place of another. To put the matter in reverse, absent a surrogate, the sinner or worshipper would suffer punishment in his own person.

v) Although I don't assume that every offering in Leviticus foreshadows the Cross, I think Leviticus is using several different pictures to foreshadow the redemptive significance of the Cross. No one picture is intended to capture in full the concept of penal substitution. Rather, these need to be viewed in combination. Different pictures to illustrate different facets of vicarious atonement and penal substitution. To say, therefore, that the scapegoat wasn't sacrificed misses the point. No one type of offering was meant to cover the entire idea. 

vi) The fundamental problem I have with Bnonn's analysis is that he erects a false dichotomy. I can grant the distinction between moral and ritual purity/impurity. I can grant the sacred spatial framework. 

Problem though, is that his dichotomy only pushes the question back a step. So what does sacred space signify? What does ritual defilement signify? Cultic holiness represents actual holiness. Cultic unholiness represents actual unholiness. These are emblematic pictures or enacted parables. You don't literally enter God's presence by entering the tabernacle or the inner sanctum. Rather, that's a pictorial representation. Concrete spatial metaphors or figurative tokens that stand for real good and evil. 

It's entirely consistent with the symbolic nature of the Levitical cultus that these gestures and actions symbolize vicarious atonement, penal substitution, thereby prefiguring the redemptive death of Christ on behalf of and in place of (elect) sinners.