Saturday, November 11, 2017

Where's your faith?

I'm going to comment on a recent post by David French:

Centuries before the birth of Christ, the tiny and vulnerable kingdom of Judah faced an existential threat from the Assyrian empire. The prophet Isaiah’s message to the Judean king, Hezekiah, was clear: Trust God for your salvation. He alone can and will protect his people. The demand for trust was so absolute that Isaiah unequivocally condemned any quest for a military alliance for protection...Consider the challenge here: A king is told to shun a military alliance with a pagan power and to face death and destruction alone, trusting solely in God’s deliverance. I never forgot the lesson. I remembered the admonitions of Sunday-school teachers, my Bible professors at college, and my pastors: Christians, never forget, our ultimate hope is in the Lord. Be wary of an alliance with evil, even when the need seems overwhelming.

i) I'm puzzled by French's selective scrupulosity. He's a former Marine. During WWII and the Cold War, our foreign policy involved military alliances with evil men. Or consider Bush's "coalition of the willing" in the "war on terror". That involved military alliances with evil men. And French was a voluntary combatant. 

ii) I'm also puzzled by how the same man can pen a paean to the Rock:

What makes Dwayne Johnson morally superior to Roy Moore? French's own moral compass is rather unsteady. 

iii) Perhaps more to the point, he rips the Bible passage out of context and turns it on its head. Isaiah promised Hezekiah that God would protect Israel from military invasion if Hezekiah resisted the temptation to form a military alliance with Egypt. By contrast, God hasn't promised evangelical Americans that he will protect them, their dependents, or their neighbors from the social agenda of secular progressives if they decline to vote for Trump or Roy Moore. Not putting your faith in a nonexistent promise isn't faithless. God has given them no comparable promise to trust. 

Fact is, we can't count on God to protect the innocent in this life. Sometimes God intervenes, but sometimes not. Divine intercession is unpredictable. To some degree we're on our own. It's up to us to protect the defenseless and innocent from foreseeable harm. 

There's a passive quietism to French's position. Like well-meaning charismatics who refuse to take a sick child to the doctor. "Where's your faith"? 

We’ve got no choice but to ally with a dangerous, unfit man — a man who proclaims Christianity while systematically violating the law…

Is that alluding to Moore's refusal to knuckle under to the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling? If so, Moore finds himself in honorable company. Robert George has taken the position that we should simply disregard that lawless decision. So did the late Justice Scalia:

In the evening’s most important comment, he declared that though Supreme Court rulings should generally be obeyed, officials had no Constitutional obligation to treat as binding beyond the parties to a case rulings that lack a warrant in the text or original understanding of the Constitution. Without prompting from me, he cited Lincoln’s treatment of Dred Scott.

Have you got dead religion?

We're talking about quantifiable history. The Catholic Church can trace its beginning to Jesus and the Apostles. Everyone else started sometime many centuries later. Unless you have some bona fide historical evidence that suggests otherwise, your opinion means very little.
What a Catholic apologist told me today. That's a stock claim in traditional Catholic apologetics. 

i) One problem with the claim is that it's circular. A Catholic apologist is stringing the beads of church history through a Catholic string. 

Yes, there's a sense in which you can trace the Catholic church, c. 2017, back to events in 1C Palestine. Indeed, you can trace it all the way back to the first moment of the universe. Everything in the present has historical antecedents. 

Suppose you're writing a history of WWI. Where do you begin? Technically, it began in 1914. In fact, you could begin on June 28, 1914. But of course, no historian begins with that, because, considered in isolation, it would be inexplicable to the treader how that particular incident plunged Europe into war. Historians always begin with a backstory. To explain an event like WWI, they describe prior events leading up to that event. Precipitating events. 

But where they begin will always be somewhat arbitrary, for they could always start a year before that. Every event has a prior event. A chain of events going back to the first moment of the universe. What events led up to the Protestant Reformation? Not only can you trace that back to the 1C, but you can go back into OT history. 

ii) In addition, I simply reject a presupposition of his argument. Take one of those scifi scenarios in which most of the human race was wiped out by some catastrophe. A remnant of the human race survived in underground cell groups. Centuries later, they emerge. All the Christians died in the interim. Historical knowledge died with them. The survivors have no knowledge of the past. 

But after they return to the surface, they discover a Bible, and the Christian faith is reborn. It matters not if they are upstarts. It matters not if there was a hiatus in Christian history. It matters not if Christianity was a dead religion for centuries. It matters not if the Christian faith was forgotten for centuries. 

The warrant for Christianity doesn't depend on historical continuity. If the Bible is true, then it's true at all times, regardless of whether there were times when no one knew it or believed it. The Spirit isn't enmeshed in a chain of historical causation. The Spirit can produce true believers at any time and place. The Spirit can turn the desert into a garden. A historical interruption or intermission is no impediment to rediscovered knowledge or the freedom of God's grace. 

According to his will

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph 1:11).

What does it mean to say God does all things according to his will? 

i) There's a tradition of theological voluntarism, attributed to Scotus and Ockham, in which God acts according to his sheer will–where his will is independent of his other attributes. But there's no indication that that's what Paul means.

ii) Paul's language is someone redundant by piling on synonyms for emphasis.

iii) To answer the question, we should ask what constitutes the implied point of contrast. What would it mean for God not to do all things according to his will? What's the opposing thesis?

The alternative to God acting according to his will is for God to act contrary to his will. And in context, that's a significant distinction. Paul is addressing Gentile Christians living in a pagan city. Christian converts from Greco-Roman heathenism. 

In Greek mythology, even a god did not do all things according to his will. Sometimes a god was forced to act under duress, against his will. Even Zeus had to bow before the supremacy of the Fates. Likewise, in pagan witchcraft, the gods can be manipulated and coerced through magic rituals. 

So at least one contextual point of contrast is the resounding affirmation that the Christian God isn't subject to any higher power. He has no effective opposition. That stands in contrast to pagan fatalism and sorcery. 

iv) This has modern counterparts in freewill theism. According to freewill theism, God is often forced to act against his will, because demonic and human agents have the ability to veto God's will. They can and do thwart his best intentions. So God must try to work around his obstreperous creatures. Like the Greek gods, his plans are often frustrated by rival power centers. 

Likewise, witchcraft and folk magic remain widespread in the Third World, while pockets of the Western world are reverting to the occult in a post-Christian culture.  

v) This also explains the link between God's will and "all things". The reason all events take place according to God's will is because there's no other agent equal to or superior to God to counteract his will–unlike pagan fatalism or freewill theism. Since God has no competition, then by default, every event unfolds according to his will, rather than only some events happening according to his will because his power is checked by other agents, who have their own way some of the time, despite God's ineffectual wishes. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Harmonization and textual transmission

Since "contradictions" in the Gospels often turn on how the exact wording of one account is apparently discrepant in relation to a parallel account, one question is whether the transmission of the text is sufficiently exacting to put so much weight on the precise wording of a particular phrase. For instance:

When we had to work through the whole of the New Testament in a more systematic way, we started with the Pauline corpus. The assumption was that the letters of Paul did not pose as many problems as some other parts of the NT, and this assumption bore out. Apparently there is something in tightly argued prose that puts it in less danger of textual change than simple narrative, especially narrative with synoptic parallels. 

You can't split a rotten log

Warfield once said you can't split a rotten log. Speaking of which:

SEA jumps on the gun-control wagon

In a rare departure from script, the Society of Evangelical Arminians, momentarily went off message from nonstop Calvinist bashing to take a stand on a social issue. Not surprisingly, SEA's political judgment is no better than its theological judgment:

Friday Files, 10 Nov 17

November 10, 2017, posted by K.W. Leslie
Kirsten Powers, Washington Post“Why ‘thoughts and prayers’ is starting to sound so profane.” [6 Nov 17] If “thoughts and prayers” aren’t followed by action, they’re hypocrisy.

Would Jesus be a gun-toter?

Roy Moore

What should Alabama voters do in reference to the senate race? The GOP candidate and long-time culture warrior has been accused of misconduct with minors.

1. I'm guarded about politically motivated allegations like this. Take the case of the late Sen. Ted Stevens, who was falsely indicted just in time to make him lose his bid for reelection. He was cleared after the fact, but the damage was done. There wasn't enough time before the election to clear his name. And that was the intention all along.

2. If Moore is guilty, then the issue may be moot. It's common for victims to be reluctant to be the first accuser to stick their neck out. But after one or more victims comes forward, that emboldens others, and there's an avalanche. If that's what happens in this case, then Moore's senate bid is sunk regardless of what voters do. 

3. I've seen some people defend Moore by appealing to his Christian character. But the very question at issue is whether his reputation was built on false pretenses. Just in passing, I'd note that there are different kinds of hypocrites. For instance:

i) Some people are morally blind. They are genuinely oblivious to their own hypocrisy. They lack any capacity for self-criticism.

ii) Some people deploy hypocrisy as a strategy of misdirection. They become outspoken moralists to camouflage their private vices and draw attention away from themselves.

4. Are all the allegations true, none are true, or some are true? Which ones?

The allegation, if true, that as a thirty-something bachelor, he dated underage girls is creepy. The claim, if true, that he asked their mothers permission to date their adolescent daughters is odd. Does that reflect a bizarre honor code or legal cover? 

If he dated adolescent girls, then at best he has a moral blindspot and at worst he is twisted. And there's one more serious allegation. 

5. What are the stakes? The US Senate currently has a razor thin margin of 52 GOP senators. As failed attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare have demonstrated, even as it stands, the GOP lacks a working majority in the Senate. It lacks a margin to overcome blue/purple Republican senators. 

This isn't primarily a question of power. It's a question of protecting the innocent from the malevolent social agenda of the secular progressives. In assessing what Alabama voters should do, there's more than one evil to avoid. We need to compare the evil consequences of different outcomes. 

On a related note, the Democrat party has rapidly radicalized. Does Moore's opponent buy into the political agenda of the national party? 

6. This goes to the issue of moral dilemmas. I don't mean a moral dilemma in the strong sense that whatever you do or fail to do will be morally wrong. Rather, I mean a choice between a bad option and a worse option.

The WaPo has created a situation where Alabama voters may have no decent choices. If, in a calculated strategy, the liberal establishment takes all the good options off the table, don't blame voters when you force them to make a morally distasteful choice. That's on you, not them. 

There are attenuating circumstances where an action that's normally wrong becomes permissible or even obligatory. Take wartime situations, viz. human shields. 

The Anabaptist alternative is to opt out, leaving other people to make the tough choices. There are situations in which opting out is appropriate, but delegating the tough choices to someone else doesn't necessarily preserve your own virtue. Contracting out the tough choices creates an illusory sense of virtue if you reap the benefit without the investment. A shell-game of shifting blame. 

7. Here's one possible scenario:

i) Vote for Moore

ii) If he wins, and the allegations are proven true, he should resign. The governor should then appoint a Republican to fill that seat.

That's a rather cynical strategy, but I don't fret too much over that in cases where evil people maneuvered us into a morally dismal situation. I didn't create the situation. I'm not responsible for the remaining choices. If possible, we should block Democrats from retaking the Senate, given the morally catastrophic consequences of putting Democrats back in power. But this scenario may be overtaken by events on the ground. 

Historically grounded theology

The moral right to bear arms

Thursday, November 09, 2017


I used to live in a town where there was synagogue and a Jewish day school on the same street. Nothing surprising about that combination. What's interesting is the name of the street: Raoul Wallenberg Boulevard. I doubt that's coincidental. Wallenberg is, of course, forever remembered as one of the heroic and tragic figures of WWII, who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust, while he himself apparently died in a Russian gulag. 

It's the combination of the street name and the two Jewish establishments that invites a special explanation. In principle, there are two explanations:

i) The street was named first, then members of the local Jewish community thought that would be a good place to have a school and synagogue, given the Jewish associations with the preexisting street name. 

ii) The street originally had a different name, then local Jews lobbied to change the name. On that view, the synagogue (or eruv) might predate the name of the street, which was renamed to reflect the eruv. 

Historically, the town in question has been a Jewish haven for centuries. I don't know which came first, but there's some case/effect connection, and in principle it could go either way. If I wanted to research the issue, the answer might be obtainable. From what I've read, that particular area is an eruv or Jewish neighborhood. Here's a definition:

So which came first: the eruv or the street name? Did the symbolism of the street name inspire local Jews to settle in that neighbored? Or did the Jewish complexion of that neighborhood result in officially renaming the street to correspond to the demographics? 

My point is that this illustrates the complexities of historical reconstruction when we read the Bible and relate some bits of information to other bits of information. All the data can be factual, but there may be more than one backstory that could account for the connections. And we don't have enough supplementary information to narrow it down to one conclusive explanation.

In addition, if something like the "coincidence" I just describe is reported in Scripture, many Bible scholars will say the correlation was creative to some degree. The narrator invented a place name to go with the corresponding details, or else he invented the corresponding details to go with the place name. Or he invented the whole thing, which is why we have this nifty correspondence. Yet the example I gave is a real life example. It's all true. 

Alternate Bible history

So-called Street Epistemology was popularized by militant atheist Peter Boghossian. One way of viewing it is that the Street Epistemology is attempting to set a trap for Christians by posing a dilemma. They will ask questions like "On a scale from zero to one hundred, how confident are you that your belief is true?" "What are the top three things that make you confident that your belief is true?" "What role does X have in your knowing that the belief is true?" "How confident would you be in the belief without X?" "What evidence would change your confidence in the belief?" "If evidence has no power to alter your confidence, are you really believing based on evidence in the first place?"

The strategy is clear. When you give reasons for your faith, they will ask if your faith would be weakened in case each reason was shown to be doubtful. If you say it wouldn't weaken your faith, then they win because they take that as a damaging admission that your faith wasn't ever really based on evidence. But if you say it would weaken your faith, they will burrow under your reasons to make your faith crater. However you answer the dilemma, they win. 

To some degree, Street Epistemology is a throwback to old debates about whether God-talk is meaningful. And the criterion of meaning was verifiability. Atheists like Antony Flew, John Wisdom, and A. J. Ayer championed that approach. 

Now, in fairness to Flew, some 20C theologians could be very slippery. They protected Christian faith, as they construed it, by detaching Christian faith from its traditional grounding in historical events. That rendered it impervious to empirical disproof. But that protects Christianity by redefining into nice, inspirational ideas that don't match reality. It's important for Christians to avoid stepping into the trap of saying their faith is unfalsifiable in that sense. For they already lost the argument if Christianity is unfalsifiable in that sense. 

However, the conundrum is a false dilemma. Let's recast the issue. Even if, hypothetically speaking, Christianity could be proven false, an atheist wouldn't be able to get much mileage out of that, because something approximating Christianity must still be true. 

According to the Christian worldview, reality is a combination of necessary truths and contingent truths. Many facts about the real world could be different. There are possible worlds in which Bible history is different. It was possible for God to choose someone other than Abraham. He wasn't the only person in Ur to whom God might have revealed himself. It was possible for Jesus to choose a different betrayer. Judas wasn't the only treacherous man in Palestine. 

In principle, God might have relocated Bible history on a different continent with a different people-group. Possible worlds in which the Son becomes Incarnate as a member of a different ethnicity or race. 

There are many ways in which Bible history could be other than it is in our world, yet still be fundamentally the Christian story. Different setting. Different plot. Different characters. But analogous regarding the same kinds of events that must occur to redeem fallen humanity. 

At a metaphysical level, there are necessary truths that must be the same in all possible worlds. It's arguable that necessary truths require a theistic foundation. Moreover, a particular kind of theism, with narrow parameters. Something approximating classical theism. Likewise, if God is triune, then that's a necessary truth. It's arguable that abstract objects depend on God's existence. 

So even if a Christian were to concede that Christian theology is possibly false, the alternative won't be atheism or Buddhism or polytheism or Islam, &c., but Christianity 2.0. An alternate history that's structurally similar to Christianity in our world. That has the same metaphysical machinery. Christianity in an alternate timeline or parallel universe. Dissimilar in many details, but having core similarities. 

To take a comparison, consider religion on Perelandra and Malacandra. These have different planetary histories in relation to each other, as well earth history. And the religious practice is different. But the underlying theism is the same. Same God. 

Keep in mind that Street Epistemologists are simply toying with a thought-experiment. But even at that level, it doesn't begin to move Christianity out of the column. If we're going to debate hypothetical scenarios, then there are hypothetical variations on Christianity. Variations that retain orthodox Christian theism. The underlying source is the same.  

Did the Reformation split the Church?

i) As well all know, the Church was unified until the Protestant Reformers splintered it. Just ask any Catholic apologist. 

But what about the pre-Reformation church? 

In the full and primitive sense of the word every serious rupture of unity and consequently every heresy is a schism. This article, however, will pass over the long series of heresies and treat only those defections or religious sects to which historians commonly give the specific name of schisms, because most frequently, and at least in the beginning of each such sectarian division, doctrinal error was only an accessory. They are treated in chronological order and the most important only briefly, these being the subjects of special articles in the ENCYCLOPEDIA.

(1) Mention has already been made of the "schisms" of the nascent Church of Corinth, when it was said among its members: "I indeed am of Paul; and I am of Apollo; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ." To them St. Paul's energetic intervention put an end.

(2) According to Hegesippus, the most advanced section of the Judaizers or Ebionites at Jerusalem followed the bishop Thebutis as against St. Simeon, and after the death of St. James, A.D. 63, separated from the Church.

(3) There were numerous local schisms in the third and fourth centuries. At Rome Pope Callistus (217-22) was opposed by a party who took exception to the mildness with which he applied the penitential discipline. Hippolytus placed himself as bishop at the head of these malcontents and the schism was prolonged under the two successors of Callistus, Urban I (222-30) and Pontianus (230-35). There is no doubt that Hippolytus himself returned to the pale of the Church (cf. d'Alès, "La théol. de s. Hippolyte", Paris, 1906, introduction).

(4) In 251 when Cornelius was elected to the See of Rome a minority set up Novatian as an antipope, the pretext again being the pardon which Cornelius promised to those who after apostatizing should repent. Through a spirit of contradiction Novatian went so far as to refuse forgiveness even to the dying and the severity was extended to other categories of grave sins. The Novatians sought to form a Church of saints. In the East they called themselves katharoi, pure. Largely under the influence of this idea they administered a second baptism to those who deserted Catholicism to join their ranks. The sect developed greatly in the Eastern countries, where it subsisted until about the seventh century, being recruited not only by the defection of Catholics, but also by the accession of Montanists.

(5) During the same period the Church of Carthage was also a prey to intestinal divisions. St. Cypnan upheld in reasonable measure the traditional principles regarding penance and did not accord to the letters of confessors called libelli pacis the importance desired by some. One of the principal adversaries was the priest Donatus Fortunatus became the bishop of the party, but the schism, which was of short duration took the name of the deacon Felicissimus who played an important part in it.

(6) With the dawn of the fourth century Egypt was the scene of the schism of Meletius, Bishop of Lycopolis, in the Thebaid. Its causes are not known with certainty; some ancient authors ascribe it to rigorist tendencies regarding penance while others say it was occasioned by usurpation of power on the part of Meletius, notably the conferring of ordinations outside his diocese. The Council of Nicæa dealt with this schism, but did not succeed in completely eradicating it; there were still vestiges of it in the fifth century.

(7) Somewhat later the schism of Antioch, originating in the troubles due to Arianism, presents peculiar complications. When the bishop Eustathius, was deposed in 330 a small section of his flock remained faithful to him, but the majority followed the Arians. The first bishop created by them was succeeded (361) by Meletius of Sebaste in Armenia, who by force of circumstances became the leader of a second orthodox party. In fact Meletius did not fundamentally depart from the Faith of Nicæa, and he was soon rejected by the Arians: on the other hand he was not recognized by the Eustathians, who saw in him the choice of the heretics and also took him to task for some merely terminological differences. The schism lasted until about 415. Paulinus (d. 388) and Evagrius (d. 392), Eustathian bishops, were recognized in the West as the true pastors, while in the East the Meletian bishops were regarded as legitimate.

(8) After the banishment of Pope Liberius in 355, the deacon Felix was chosen to replace him and he had adherents even after the return of the legitimate pope. The schism, quenched for a time by the death of Felix, was revived at the death of Libenius and the rivalry brought about bloody encounters. It was several years after the victory of Damasus before peace was completely restored.

(9) The same period witnessed the schism of the Luciferians. Lucifer, Bishop of Calaris, or Cagliari, was displeased with Athanasius and his friends who at the Synod of Alexandria (362) had pardoned the repentant Semi-Arians. He himself had been blamed by Eusebius of Vercelli because of his haste in ordaining Paulinus, Bishop of the Eustathians, at Antioch. For these two reasons he separated from the communion of the Catholic bishops. For some time the schism won adherents in Sardinia, where it had originated, and in Spain, where Gregory, Bishop of Elvira, was its chief abettor.

(10) But the most important of the fourth-century schisms was that of the Donatists. These sectaries were as noted for their obstinacy and fanaticism as for the efforts and the writings rather uselessly multiplied against them by St. Augustine and St. Optatus of Milevis.

(11) The schism of Acacius belongs to the end of the fifth century. It is connected with the promulgation by the emperor Zeno of the edict known as the Henoticon. Issued with the intention of putting an end to the Christological disputes, this document did not satisfy either Catholics or Monophysites. Pope Felix II excommunicated its two real authors, Peter Mongus, Bishop of Alexandria, and Acacius of Constantinople. A break between the East and the West followed which lasted thirty-five years. At the instance of the general Vitalian, protector of the orthodox, Zeno's successor Anastasius promised satisfaction to the adherents of the Council of Chalcedon and the convocation of a general council, but he showed so little good will in the matter that union was only restored by Justin I in 519. The reconciliation received official sanction in a profession of Faith to which the Greek bishops subscribed, and which, as it was sent by Pope Hormisdas, is known in history as the Formula of Hormisdas.

(12) In the sixth century the schism of Aquilea was caused by the consent of Pope Vigilius to the condemnation of the Three Chapters (553). The ecclesiastical provinces of Milan and Aquilea refused to accept this condemnation as valid and separated for a time from the Apostolic See. The Lombard invasion of Italy (568) favoured the resistance, but from 570 the Milanese returned by degrees to the communion of Rome; the portion of Aquilea subject to the Byzantines returned in 607, after which date the schism had but a few churches. It died out completely under Sergius I, about the end of the eighth century.

(13) The ninth century brought the schism of Photius, which, though it was transitory, prepared the way by nourishing a spirit of defiance towards Rome for the final defection of Constantinople.

(14) This took place less than two centuries later under Michael Cerularius who at one stroke (1053) closed all the churches of the Latins at Constantinople and confiscated their convents. The deplorable Greek schism (see GREEK CHURCH), which still subsists, and is itself divided into several communions, was thus consummated. The two agreements of reunion concluded at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274, and at that of Florence in 1439, unfortunately had no lasting results; they could not have had them, because on the part of the Greeks at least they were inspired by interested motives.

(15) The schism of Anacletus in the twelfth century, like that of Felix V in the fifteenth, was due to the existence of an antipope side by side with the legitimate pontiff. At the death of Honorius II (1130) Innocent II had been regularly elected, but a numerous and powerful faction set up in opposition to him Cardinal Peter of the Pierleoni family. Innocent was compelled to flee, leaving Rome in the hands of his adversaries. He found refuge in France. St. Bernard ardently defended his cause as did also St. Norbert. Within a year nearly all Europe had declared in his favour, only Scotland, Southern Italy, and Sicily constituting the other party. The emperor Lothaire brought Innocent II back to Rome, but, supported by Roger of Sicily the antipope retained possession of the Leonine City, where he died in 1138. His successor Victor IV two months after his election, sought and obtained pardon and reconciliation from the legitimate pontiff. The case of Felix V was more simple. Felix V was the name taken by Amadeus of Savoy, elected by the Council of Basle, when it went into open revolt against Eugenius IV, refused to disband and thus incurred excommunication (1439). The antipope was not accepted save in Savoy and Switzerland. He lasted for a short time with the pseudo-council which had created him. Both submitted in 1449 to Nicholas V, who had succeeded Eugenius IV.

(16) The Great Schism of the West is the subject of a special article (WESTERN SCHISM); see also COUNCIL OF CONSTANCE; COUNCIL OF PISA.

I'm deliberately quoting from a partisan source. Not just a Catholic source, but the pre-Vatican II edition, which is very polemical. So by Catholic standards, by their own admission, church history has always been marked by severe divisions. This is their own biased version of events. 

ii) In addition, what the Protestant Reformed exposed was the artificiality of the prior unity. The papacy forcibly superimposed a veneer of unity, but once the heavy hand of the papacy lost its steely grip, "the Church" split into many factions. Superficial conformity had camouflaged the underlying lack of agreement. That's what happens when force takes the place of persuasion and conviction. 

A pillar and foundation of truth

the church of the living God, a pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15).

This is a Catholic prooftext that I've often discussed. 

i) Did Paul consider "the church" to be infallible? Paul didn't even regard Pauline churches as infallible. Would he call the church of Corinth a "pillar and foundation of truth"? Would he call the Galatian churches "a pillar and foundation of truth"? Even churches he planted and supervised were prone to moral and doctrinal aberrations. 

ii) A Catholic apologist might object that God doesn't protect individual congregations from falling into heresy. But this means Catholic theologians must add qualifications to 1 Tim 3:15 that are conspicuously absent from the text.

iii) Over and above that, notice what Paul doesn't say. He doesn't say the papacy is a pillar and foundation of truth. He doesn't say the Roman episcopate under the Roman pontiff is the pillar and foundation of truth. He doesn't say church councils ratified by the pope constitute a pillar and foundation of truth. 

When Catholic apologists read this verse, they mentally substitute something it doesn't say in place of what it actually says.

In this verse there's no lay/clerical dichotomy. No doubt Paul thought pastors should be guardians of doctrinal truth, but he doesn't drive a wedge between pastors and laymen in that regard. 

Most of his letters are addressed to the entire congregation. To be read aloud in church. Christians in general are supposed to uphold the Gospel truth. It's not as if he thinks pastors are supposed to safeguard the truth while laymen are not supposed to safeguard the truth. When Paul says "the church" in 1 Tim 3:15, he's not excluding the congregation, as if elders and deacons are the church, but the congregation is not. As a Catholic prooftext, this verse either proves too much or too little. 

Fake Good News

I don't know what else to call this. This is the precise thing that I grew up with, the precise thing that didn't ring true, the precise thing that I investigated, the precise kind of dishonesty with the facts that I rejected.

Why Be Catholic and Not Just Christian?

I could not be more disappointed that this sort of thing is what counts for popular among Roman Catholics.

Street Epistemology

In this post I'm going to quote and comment on The​ ​Complete​ ​Street​ ​Epistemology​ ​Guide How​ ​to​ ​Talk​ ​About​ ​Beliefs (5/2016 ed.). Street Epistemology is a tactic used by atheists to undermine the faith of philosophically unsophisticated Christians. 

I'll begin by responding to some stock questions. Then I'll comment on some other material in the guide. 

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Jesus and the psychiatrists

My approach to the NT is usually that of a scholar, but in the area of exorcisms it is likely that my personal background will color any conclusions reached. Before going into academic Biblical studies, I studied medicine for four years. My main interest was in psychiatry which resulted in the neglect of other areas, so I never completed my training. My thinking has therefore been shaped by modern psychiatric theory and practice. However, certain experiences I had while I was a medical student, and subsequently when I was a Baptist minister, have also shaped my thinking in a completely different way.

Most psychiatrists do not accept the reality of demons or exorcism. They would regard the exorcisms of Jesus as old-world descriptions of psychiatric problems…A psychiatrist could therefore feel fairly satisfied that the Gospel accounts of demonization can be dealt with in terms of modern psychiatry or medicine.

However, I have personally been persuaded away from this viewpoint by a series of events which occurred while I was studying psychiatry, and during my time in pastoral work…I went once to interview a patient but found that he was asleep. He was lying on his bed, facing the wall, and he did not turn round or respond when I walked in. I sat in his room for a while thinking that he might wake up, and after a while I thought I might pray for him. I started to pray silently for him but I was immediately interrupted because he sat bolt upright, looked at me fiercely and said in a voice which was not characteristic of him: "Leave him alone–he belongs to us". 

Startled, I wasn't sure how to respond, so we just sat and stared at each other for a while. Then I remembered my fundamentalist past and decided to pray silently against what appeared to be an evil spirit. I prayed silently because I was aware that an hysterical disorder could mimic demon possessed…I can't remember exactly what I prayed but probably rebuked the spirit in the name of Jesus. Immediately [as/after] I did so, I got a very hostile outburst along the same lines, but much more abusive. I realized then that I was in very deep waters and continued to pray, though silently. 

An onlooker would have seen a kind of one-sided conversation. I prayed silently and the person retorted very loudly and emphatically. Eventually (I can't remember what was said or what I prayed) the person cried out with a scream and collapsed on his bed. He woke up a little later, unaware of what had happened. I was still trying to act the role of a medic, so I did not tell him anything about what had happened. His behavior after waking was quite striking in its normality. He no longer heard any of the oppressive voices which had been making him feel cut off and depressed, and his suicidal urges had gone. 

This incident made me question every assumption I had made about Gospel exorcisms. Unfortunately for the person involved, this was only the beginning, and as time went on there were many more spirits which had to be dealt with…The story has a happy ending in that this person is no longer troubled by such problems, and has remained so for several years. 

When I was dealing with strange personalities which spoke out of this person I was always careful to speak silently, even if the person appeared to be asleep…These voices answered specific silent questions such as What is your name?, When did you come? This gradually convinced me that I was not dealing with with a purely psychiatric disorder. David Instone Brewer, "Jesus and the Psychiatrists," A. Lane, ed., The Unseen World (Baker 1996), 133-34,140-41.

What's striking about this account is the veridical element. It defies a naturalistic explanation inasmuch as the patient couldn't physically hear what Brewer was thinking. To react to the specific content of silent prayer is telepathic. In fact, initially, the patient wasn't even in a position to be naturally aware of Brewer's presence in the room–much less be able to read his mind. 

Apparently, Brewer is someone from fundamentalist background who rejected his religious upbringing in light of secular science, then, due to firsthand experience as a med student, became convinced that his religious upbringing was right after all. 

Should churchgoers be armed?

One issue that crops up periodically is whether churchgoers should be armed. A few quick observations:

i) I don't know the history, but it wouldn't surprise me if historically, churchgoers were often armed. Consider, say, Christians living in the countryside from 17-19C. Christians who went to church on foot or on horseback. I suspect many of them were armed when they went to church because they were armed whenever they left home, to protect themselves from bandits, Indian braves, wild animals, &c. 

By the same token, it wouldn't surprise me if during the 20C, many churchgoers had rifles in the gun racks of their pickup trucks when they drove to church. Although they wouldn't bring the rifles into church, the rifles were in their trucks in the parking lot. 

In addition, some churchgoers are off-duty policemen. They may be required to have a concealed weapon. (I don't know the rules on that.) Some churchgoers are active-duty military or retired military. Some of them have concealed gun permits. Not to mention open-carry. So I doubt this is a hypothetical scenario. 

ii) If you're a pacifist, you oppose guns inside church because you oppose guns outside church. You oppose guns in general.

But assuming you're not a pacifist, if it's morally permissible for Christians to be armed outside church, then it's morally permissible for Christians to be armed inside church. Where they are is not a morally significant difference. Some professing Christians draw superstitious distinctions about architecture, as if a church building is sacred space, and the moment you enter the narthex, different rules kick in. That, however, is a relic of the OT, as well as high-church (e.g. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox) theology. But that's unsustainable under the new covenant. At most, we might say a church is temporarily hallowed ground by the presence of Christians. 

Its lamp is the Lamb

9 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel's measurement. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life (Rev 21).

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever (Rev 22:1-5).

i) I doubt the world to come will actually be devoid of oceans, sunlight and moonlight. Rather, that describes the visionary world John saw, like a surreal dreamscape. Dreams can have a detailed geography internal to the dream, but that doesn't correspond to reality outside the dreamscape. And visions are like inspired daydreams. 

ii) One exegetical question is the extent to which these are picturesque metaphors or direct descriptions of what John saw. In reading Revelation, it's useful to assume the viewpoint of a director. If you were filming Revelation, how would you visualize the imagery?

iii) Apropos (ii), John depicts the New Jerusalem as a fortified city. He says the source of illumination wasn't natural lighting but the Father and the Son. What is the reader supposed to envision? If these are figures of speech, then they don't necessarily depict a unified pictorial composition. If, however, these are descriptions of what John saw in his vision, then how should the reader imagine the scene?

Is the supernatural illumination external lighting? Does it shine over the city? Or is it interior lighting? Rev 1 begins with a Christophany. Jesus appears to John. His appearance is luminous. In addition to his personal radiance, he's holding a menorah. 

We have other examples of supernatural divine illumination in Scripture. The Shekinah. The pillar of fire. The Star of Bethlehem. So it's possible that John saw something like that. Perhaps, then, there's light within the new Jerusalem, but darkness outside the city walls. The source of light is not above the city, but inside the city. 

iv) Before the advent of electrical lighting, it was generally brighter outside than inside. During the day, exterior lighting (sunlight) illuminated buildings, through an open door, window, or oculus (like the Roman Pantheon). 

But in churches, the situation was reversed at night. After dark, candlelight made churches brighter on the inside than the outside. At night, a parishioner was walking into the light, as he entered church. Instead of sunlight illuminating the interior through windows, the widows radiated candlelight. Against the backdrop of the night, you could see the church as a literal beacon of light. A symbolic lighthouse.

v) One time during a power outage, I went outside while it was still light out. The only available light was sunlight, and that was fading by inches. 

Probably most folks in a hitech civilization have never watched daylight gradually fade until the last glimmering of light is gone. We have electrical lighting, flashlights, camp lanterns. We usually have some backup lighting source that we switch to before we're plunged into darkness. If there's a sudden blackout, we may grope in the dark for flashlights, but that's because we were caught off-guard. For obvious reasons, we don't normally wait until we can't see anything to reach for a flashlight. 

But imagine a traveler in the ancient world heading for a fortified city. Back then, a unit of time was "day's journey". You had to time things. Imagine the traveler's panic as he sees that he's running out of time before nightfall. He won't make it to the city in time. He clings to the remaining, fading daylight. After sunset there's some residual ambient light, but that's bleeding out–orange, red, gray, black. Now he's lost in the dark. At the mercy of nocturnal predators. 

And that's a description of hell. Outer darkness. Outside the city gates. Overtaken by the night. Eternal darkness. 

Consider the reverse. When God created light, when he said, "Let there be light!", was there a sudden burst of light, or was it like a dimmer? An imperceptibly incremental brightening, like sunrise? 


Here's a striking account of possession and deliverance:

On the last evening of the Rhineland Keswick Convention three of us set out, at about 10:15 p.m. for a walk through a small wood which led to a village on the other side. Nathan, one of the party, started to tell the story of his life, and when we came to a clearing in the wood Thomas suggested that we should sit down for awhile. Nathan continued to relate his story. On joining the Royal Air Force he had missed the influence of home, and fell into bad company, unable to resist temptation. As Nathan finished his story there was silence. I sat with my eyes closed, wondering how I, as one of the convention leaders, could help the young fellow. What happened next was over in a very short space of time. Breaking through the silence, and crashing through the darkness with tremendous power came my voice, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ depart.” Immediately Nathan let out a half shout, and fell towards me. He said afterwards, “At those words I saw a black form appear from somewhere at my feet and vanish into the wood, and, at the same time, something indescribable left me.” 

I felt an urgency for prayer, and if Nathan did not pray, something would happen to him. It was at this point an event occurred so dreadful that since I have prayed that it should never happen again. It seemed as if horrifying pandemonium had been let loose; as if all the powers of hell were concentrated in that spot in the wood. I saw numbers of black shapes, blacker than the night, moving about and seeking to come between myself and Nathan, whom I was gripping hard...Quite independently, Nathan told of how he had seen seven black forms emerge from the trees in the wood, and how he felt some power pushing him forward out of my grip. P. Wiebe, “Deliverance and Exorcism in Philosophical Perspective” in Exorcism and Deliverance: Multidisciplinary Studies, edited by William K Kay and Robin Parry, 175-77. London: Paternoster, 2011.

What's interesting about this report is the veridical element. While we might dismiss the description of shadowy demons as a subjective impression, we have two witnesses who saw the same thing: the Anglican priest who reported the incident, and the demoniac who was exorcised. Of course, this still depends on the credibility of the witness. But that's a consideration for eyewitness testimony in general. I have no antecedent reason to believe the Anglican priest was a liar or self-deluded. And in any case, there's a tipping-point where, even if we don't find any particular report compelling, there's a cumulative effect when we read enough accounts by prima facie credible witnesses. 

“It is never a sin not to be a Roman Catholic”

Click here to listen to Ken Collins’s chapel address on 
why he co-authored this book.
I’m continuing to talk about the work “Roman but Not Catholic”. One of the things that the review by Fred Sanders points out is that unlike other polemical works of this kind, most of which are “often churned out from tiny presses to serve a niche market”, a key distinction is that this is a work that truly looks at the bigger picture and will stand the test of time. It focuses not on some of the smaller points of contention at any given moment, but it always keeps “the big picture” of the global church, in both time (2000 years) and space, in mind.

Here is a chapel address by Ken Collins on the occasion of the commemoration of the Reformation at Asbury seminary – outlining the reasons why he decided to work on this book. The biggest reason, he claims, is to point out the inconsistency of the Roman anathema found in CCC 846 (“Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it”)

Pointing to the large numbers of individuals around the world – especially in the southern regions of the world, including Latin America, where huge percentages of the population are leaving the Roman Catholic Church in favor of Pentecostal and other evangelical churches, Collins forcefully declares, “it is never a sin not to be a Roman Catholic”.

Here is the link to the video and audio addresses.

Monday, November 06, 2017

If it's the last thing I do!

Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes (Mt 24:46).

We've all heard the phrase "If it's the last thing I do!". And for each of us, there is a last thing we will do, although most of us don't know what that will be before it happens.

Although massacring Christians in church is a heinous sin, it's better to die attending church than to die in a casino or brothel or crack house. Where do you wish to be when you die? What's the last thing you wish to be found doing, not knowing it will be your final moment on earth? 

"Confederate honor"

My own ancestors were Confederates — on both sides of my family...I was taught the names of the battles from childhood: Shiloh, Vicksburg, Franklin, and Nashville. My uncle’s house in Nashville sits on a spot not far from where a member of our family fought for his life in one of the last and most futile battles of the war. Earlier this week, Donald Trump’s chief of staff, General John Kelly, reignited a controversy that never truly dies. In the middle of discussing whether historical monuments should still stand, he echoed a common view of the Civil War that critics are calling “white nationalist.” He said three things of real note, that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War,” that Robert E. Lee was an “honorable man who gave up his country to fight for his state,” and that “men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.” 

The southern states seceded to preserve slavery. That’s plain from their articles of secession. 

In 1861, the invading northern army was not seeking to free the slaves. It was attempting to restore the union by sheer force of arms.

He can choose to fight against an invader to defend hearth and home.

Every American should know the name of General George Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga. Thomas had compelling reasons to join the Confederacy. Born into the planter class in Virginia, his family — including his mother — narrowly escaped death in Nat Turner’s rebellion. Yet when war came, he wore blue. His sister disowned him, calling him “false to his family, his state, and to his friends.” Southern officers who joined the Confederacy labeled him a traitor.

1. The Civil War is America's morality play. Mind you, the culture wars are another morality play, and that's about the present. I suppose perennial debates about the Civil War may be baffling to some immigrants. They mainly resonant with Americans whose family history goes back to the Civil War. My ancestors fought on both sides of the Civl War. However, other countries have equivalent debates. What would/should you have done if you were a WWII-generation Frenchman, German, Italian, Japanese? 

There are, moreover, immigrants or immigrant kids who join the American armed forces and thereby become a continuation of American military history. Some of them probably take a personal interest in these debates. That's a part of military ethics. 

2. Of course, these hypotheticals are academic debates. Still, we enjoy alternate history conjectures, and the capacity to entertain counterfactual scenarios is intrinsic to what makes us moral agents. That's an aspect of moral deliberation. 

If I'd been a Southerner on the eve of the Civil War, what would be the right thing for me to do in that situation? Although the answer has no immediate relevance, reflecting on the past can sometimes prepare us for analogous situations in the future. 

Before proceeding, I need to resister two caveats:

3. One way in which these counterfactuals scenarios are artificial is that I'm viewing the past from the standpoint of the present. I wasn't born at that time and place. Had I been subject to antebellum social conditioning, in the north or south, I might make very different choices than looking back on that event, some 150 years later, with the benefit of hindsight and historical detachment. 

In that respect, these counterfactual scenarios are psychologically like time-travel scenarios in which someone from the future travels back into the past, then finds himself having to take sides in a historical conflict. But he takes his beliefs with him as he goes back in time. His formative influences happened at a different time and place. 

4. In addition, it depends on freedom of opportunity. If, say, there was a draft in place, that severely limits your viable options. Mind you, even if you're conscripted, if you don't believe in the cause, you can practice passive resistance by doing as little as you can get away with.

5. I'm not a Civil War historian, so I could be mistaken, but from what I've read, I'd say the political establishments of the North and South alike had ignoble motives for waging war. The Northern rationale was preserving the union while the Southern rationale was preserving slavery. Neither official rationale is justification for killing people. Nationalism isn't worth killing people over, and defending the economic system of slavery isn't worth killing people over (indeed, that's an understatement). So at that level, I don't think either side deserved to win. 

6. Now someone might object that while the official rationale of the North was ignoble, the Civil War had the effect of liberating the slaves, so the outcome warranted the action, regardless of the impure motives of the Northern political leadership. And there's certainly something to be said for that.

7. Conversely, someone might object that while the official rationale of the South was ignoble, the average Southerner wasn't fighting to preserve slavery. He wasn't inspired by ideology. Rather, his incentive was self-defense: to protect hearth and home, kith and kin, from destructive invaders. And there's something to be said for that. 

8. Robert E. Lee was originally offered command of the Union army. But he was first and foremost a Virginian, so he sided with the South. 

Suppose, though, he had accepted command of the Union army, but used that strategic position to limit damage to the South. By "collaborating" with the "enemy", he'd be in a position to exert far more control over the outcome. Ironically, by fighting with the "enemy" rather than fighting against the "enemy," he might have been able to mitigate the destruction. An extreme example of this principle is a double agent who sabotages the enemy from within (e.g. Kim Philby). Although his fellow Southerners might consider him a traitor, Lee would not in fact be betraying his kinsmen, but just the opposite–using his position as commander of the "enemy" forces to minimize the damage. 

9. Whether we view someone as a traitor depends not only on which side he takes, but which side we take. For instance, Hitler offered to make Marlene Dietrich the queen of the Nazi cinema, but she refused. Instead, she entertained Allied troops on the front lines, at great risk to herself. Some Germans viewed her as a traitor, but she probably felt the Nazis were the real traitors, by destroying Germany. 

10. I wouldn't willingly fight to protect the plantation class. Why would I hazard life and limb to defend their lifestyle? 

11. Another possible option would be to move my family to a state or territory outside the war zone. Not fight on either side. That might seem cowardly, but as a rule, protecting our dependents takes priority. 

12. In addition, there are guerrilla resistance movements, like the underground railroad. These operate behind enemy lines, and are distinct from what armies on either side are doing. 

13. Suppose a Christian volunteered to be a prison guard at one of the hellacious POW camps like Camp Sumter, Camp Douglass, or Elmira Prison to do what he could to ameliorate the dire conditions?