Saturday, December 16, 2017

Scholasticism and the Gospel

Rome's house of cards

I'd like to remark on a neglected argument for the Protestant faith. Or, to put this in reverse, a neglected argument against Catholicism. 

The primary objection to the Protestant faith is Protestant diversity. "Interpretive pluralism." The "scandal" of denominations. Sola scripture is a "blueprint for anarchy". 

However, we can flip that around. Even if we say Protestant pluralism is a point of weakness, that's simultaneously a point of strength. Mind you, I think it's nonsensical to say the truth is a point of weakness, but for the sake of argument, let's say Protestant pluralism is a point of weakness. Yet that's also, and equally, a point of strength. 

Here's what I mean: Traditionally, since the time of Trent, Catholicism has been a tight package. A take-it-or-leave-it package. The entire package must be true. If any Catholic dogma is false, then that falsifies the whole package. 

This means Catholicism has an extremely high burden of proof. Or, to put it in reverse, a very low threshold for disproof. It can't afford to be wrong at a single point. You must check every box. 

Because traditional Catholicism is so inflexible, that makes it highly vulnerable to falsification. It has no give. Every Catholic essential and distinctive must be true for Catholicism to be true. 

So Catholicism has many exit points. And a Catholic apologist has to block every single exit. 

To put this another way, from a Catholic standpoint, if Catholicism is false, then Christianity is false. According to Catholicism, the church of Rome is the One True Church, directly founded by Jesus, 2000 years ago. This means that from a Catholic standpoint, if Catholicism is false, then there's no Christian fallback option. Christ was a false messiah. Or he was misrepresented by the NT, church fathers, and church councils. 

By contrast, the very flexibility of the Protestant faith makes the burden of disproof far higher. For instance, from a Presbyterian standpoint, if Presbyterianism is false, it doesn't follow that Christianity is false. Within the Protestant faith, there are lots of Christian fallback options. Like the principle of redundancy in engineering, the Protestant faith has many backup systems. I'm not saying that's intentional. Rather, it's a fringe benefit. 

Ironically, what Catholic apologists single out as a strength of Catholicism and a weakness of evangelicalism is, in fact, a fatal weakness of Catholicism. Puncture the hull at any point and the ship sinks. 

Now, I say "traditionally" because Catholicism, since about the time of Pius XII, has been undergoing drastic change–a trend accelerated by Pope Francis. So it's unclear, after the dust settles, what Catholicism still represents. I pity someone attempting to write an introduction to the Catholic faith under the pontificate of Francis. That may be out of date before the ink is dry. Catholics must consult the daily newspaper to know what they're still supposed to believe. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Toolkit for problem of evil

Chemically-castrating kids

Outcome-based voting

Selective, misplaced outrage

One Lord, one faith, one baptism

3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph 4:3-5).

This is a Catholic prooftext, so I'd like to discuss it:

i) The source of basis of unity isn't the church, the papacy, the magisterium, but the Holy Spirit. Of course, Catholics will say that's channeled through the magisterium, but they can't get that from this text (or any text!)

ii) Even in the mid-1C, when this letter was written, there were many local churches, so a plurality of churches in consistent with "one body".

In addition, the unity stands in contrast to pre-Christian divisions. Ancient tribal and ethnic rivalries and animosities. The 1C church was geographically and demographically diverse. Christians in Israel, Syria, Greece, Rome, &c. Jews, Gentiles, patricians, plebeians, slaves, men, women, &c. The Christian faith incorporated these disparate and competitive people-groups and social classes into the family of faith.

iii) "One Lord" refers to Jesus. All Christians have the same Lord. Incidentally, "One Lord" applies the Shema to Jesus. A prooftext for the deity of Christ.

iv) "One faith" could either denote objective faith or subjective faith. If the former, it refers to the apostolic kerygma. All Christians share that common frame of reference.

If the latter, it refers to the exercise of faith. But there's no much practical difference between the two inasmuch as the object of faith is the apostolic kerygma.

v) "Baptism" is ambiguous. It could denote water baptism. But unlike the Gospels and Acts, where the narrative setting clarifies the reference to water baptism, passages about "baptism" in the epistles usually lack that context.

It might denote Spirit-baptism (e.g. 1 Cor 12:13). That's something all Christians share in common.

Or it could be a metaphor (e.g. 1 Cor 10:2). At this early stage in Christian theology, we should guard against the anachronistic assumption that "baptism" was already a technical term for the rite of initiation. Usage may not have hardened yet.

So there's nothing in this passages that's at odds with Protestant theology or denominations. 

Catholic apologists might complain that this is just my private interpretation, and the ambiguities of the passage, which give rise to multiple interpretive options, demonstrate the need for a divine teaching office. To that I'd say two things:

i) Assuming the magisterium, you could, in theory, appeal to the magisterium to resolve these ambiguities–but it's premature at this stage of the argument to invoke the magisterium when this is supposed to be a prooftext for the magisterium. It would be viciously circular for a Catholic apologist to appeal to magisterial authority at this preliminary juncture when he's using this text to establish magisterial authority in the first place. 

ii) To my knowledge, Rome has never even purported to present an official interpretation of this passage. 

I'm writing you

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Tim 3:14-15).

i) V15 is a traditional Catholic prooftext, much used by contemporary Catholic apologetics. A basic problem with their appeal is quoting the verse out of context. A pitfall of chapter and verse division is that Christians sometimes read a particular verse while failing to place that verse in the flow of argument. They don't consider what comes before or after. 

Catholic apologists say, "See, Paul doesn't say "Scripture" is a pillar of truth, but "the Church". Yet they completely ignore the preceding verse. Paul is directing Timothy to what he wrote.  Look at what I just wrote you!

ii) Moreover, he wrote Timothy so that Timothy would know how to conduct himself in church, based on Paul's written instructions. If, however, the church is the source of truth, then that's superfluous. Yet Paul points Timothy to Paul's explicit, written directives. That's the benchmark. 

iii) Syntactically, v14 refers back to the preceding section (2:1-3:13). But the principle extends to the rest of the letter. Since Paul can't instruct Timothy and the congregation in person, the letter is a stand-in, which serves that purpose.

iv) By Paul's own admission, his letter takes the place of Paul's face-to-face teaching. Catholic apologists claim we need a "living voice". An infallible interpreter. Yet the function of an apostolic letter is to instruct the faithful in the apostle's absence (cf. 2 Cor 13:10).

It would be insubordinate to say, that's only a text, so we can't know what Paul really meant. That's why we have apostolic successors like Timothy, to infallibly expound the deposit of faith.

Yet Paul takes for granted that his written instructions should suffice in his absence. And even if we anachronistically classify Timothy as a bishop, Timothy has no independent authority. Timothy can't say, by virtue of his "office", how Christians are supposed to behave in church. That's based, not on Timothy's teaching authority, but on Paul's teaching authority, in written form. Timothy simply transmits what he was taught by Paul. There's nothing here about the necessity of an infallible teaching office to interpret the deposit of faith, even though Paul is nearing the end of his career. He will soon pass from the scene. He will have to hand off the work to the next Christian generation. 

v) Even if Timothy received oral instruction from Paul in the past, the letter is an aid to memory. 

R.C. Sproul, From Dust To Glory

To add to what Steve Hays has posted, John Piper has a good article on Sproul. He was an unusually good communicator who held such a high view of God and of scripture, and he was willing to fight a lot of battles that needed to be fought. Since Sproul communicated so many important truths so well, you could cite so many examples of how good of a teacher he was and why he'll be missed. Here are a few that stand out in my mind at the moment, and I'll probably think of a lot more later.

On how he'd explain to his mother the difference between a Protestant understanding of justification and the Roman Catholic view.

On imputed righteousness.

Shortly after my father's death in 2012, I watched the conclusion of Sproul's Dust To Glory series with my mother. During the closing minutes, he discusses God's glory in heaven. I initially watched this with my father in mind, but it's applicable to R.C. Sproul as well.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Mohler on Sproul

Frame on Sproul

R. C. Sproul and I were born two months apart, in the same city, Pittsburgh. Both of us were profoundly influenced by John Gerstner. RC went to Pittsburgh Seminary to study with Gerstner; I went to Westminster to study with Gerstner’s teachers. But I visited Pittsburgh Seminary a few times. Once in Gerstner’s class, there was a young fellow who dominated the class discussion. A friend later introduced the student to me as “Bob” Sproul. Later that year I visited the Wheaton Philosophy Conference, and again there was Bob, going at it with the other conferees. Those meetings were sufficient to pick up my ears when I heard Bob’s name. I remember hearing of him working with Jerry Kirk in Cincinnati, teaching at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and other ministries. Then came the Ligonier Valley Study Center. I spoke at one of the early conferences— on inerrancy— and for the first time I was able to say I knew RC— formerly Bob.
We could have been good friends, I think. We were the same age, Pittsburghers, Calvinists, and most of all disciples of Jesus Christ. But alas, we belonged to different clubs. I followed Van Til, Gerstner’s teacher, but Gerstner did not follow Van Til, and RC followed Gerstner. I always felt his heart and mine were in the same place. From time to time I saw, or thought I saw, hints of Van Tillian presuppositionalism in RC’s writings. I think of his exegesis of Rom. 1, which was very much the same as Van Til’s. And he once, at Westminster, described himself as a “proto-suppositionalist.” I took that to mean that whatever you think about apologetic method Scripture must always have the final say. I too am a protosuppositionalist. And in the final analysis that’s all there really is to presuppositionalism.
But RC was nevertheless in one club, and I was in a different one. So we never actually had a good talk, even about old times in Pittsburgh.
But I greatly admired dear RC, and I ranked him as the best communicator of Reformed truth in my time. So now I lean over the wretched boundaries between our respective clubs, and I pray God’s comfort in Jesus to his family, his church, and his great movement. And I pray God’s prosperity on all of these wonderful brothers and sisters. For our love far transcends the boundaries of our clubs.

Who picks the referee?

I listened to Bishop Barron's argument for Catholicism. 

It's hardly an original argument. 

i) I agree with him that the Holy Spirit doesn't interpret the Bible for readers. 

ii) Notice the a priori nature of the appeal: "If God saw fit to do X, then we'd expect him to do Y." 

An armchair prediction, rather than evidence.

iii) As I've mentioned before, one problem with the "living voice" argument is that a primary purpose for NT letters is to settle disputes when an apostle couldn't be present to revolve the dispute in person. The written word was authoritative.

Imagine someone responding to 1 John or Galatians or Hebrews or Colossians by exclaiming, "Well, that's only a text! It's can't resolve anything without an infallible interpreter!"

But that reaction subverts the function of those letters. 

vi) Finally, although Barron's referee analogy is superficially appealing, it only pushes the issue back a step. If we need a referee, then who picks the referee? By what authority do we determine who should be the referee? Suppose there's a disagreement about who should be the referee? Then we need a referee to broker the disagreement. We need a referee to choose a referee. 

So that solution fails to solve the problem it posed for itself. It's necessary to exercise independent judgment to settle on a referee, before a referee can settle anything else. But why is independent judgment necessary and reliable when selecting the referee, yet unnecessary and unreliable once the referee is chosen? 

One would still need to be able to examine the Bible and church history apart from the referee to determine if a referee was God's will for the church. But doesn't that nullify the necessity of a referee in the first place? 

R.C. Sproul (1939–2017)

He didn't waste his life:

Consequentialism for me but not for thee

Even though the Alabama senate race is now at thing of the past, I'll make another observation, because the same issues repeat themselves in future race. 

Do Moore’s defenders not realize the extent to which religious freedom in this nation depends on a host of progressive judges and government officials complying with lawful court orders? For example, the ability to hire and fire pastors according to the dictates of the church and not the federal government was only recently reaffirmed by the Supreme Court. What if some state judge, somewhere, disagrees? If you accept Moore’s behavior on the bench, you must accept that any judge can defy the Supreme Court whenever he sees fit.

it's important to recognize that the main lesson we should learn from this article is that the secular left is watching us, watching to see if we really believe what we say we believe and then will translate that into what shows up even in the voting booth. The world is watching us.

Notice what the objections of David French and Albert Mohler share in common. They object to voting for Moore because it will have bad results. In the case of Moher, he thinks that sends a bad message. It's a bad Christian witness to the secular left. In the case of French, it's because, if socially conservative judges can defy the Supreme Court, then so can progressive judges. 

Now what's ironic about this appeal is that when some Christians defend voting for Moore (or Trump) by appealing to the dire results of allowing the Democrats to win, that's branded as consequentialism. But then, why aren't Mohler and French guilty of consequentialism when they resort to the same type of reasoning? 

Do scientists assume their conclusions?

A brief exchange I had on Facebook. In context, McRae is responding to a young-earth creationist:

Steve McRae 
A real scientist doesn't assume their conclusion, they go where the evidence leads them. No scientist should EVER start with a conclusion. That is just bias and not how science is done.

Steve Hays
Wasn't Relativity inspired by thought-experiments and mental pictures long before Einstein had empirical confirmation? What about Pauli's dreams. Or Dirac's mathematical intuition, based on "beauty"? What about Newton's bucket and Newton's canon?

Actually, a basic function of scientific theorizing is to go beyond the available evidence by making predictions. In many cases, a scientist wouldn't need to make a prediction in the first place if he already had the evidence in hand. Predictions are not simply ways of testing a theory, but discovering new evidence. A theoretical prediction points scientists in a particular direction. They look for evidence where the theory predicts they should find it. Sometimes that confirms the theory, sometimes that discomforts the theory. 

Take Bell's theorem. That was formulated well before the equipment existed to test the theoretical experiment. 

McRae is operating from a simple-minded positivism.


Reposting a recent exchange I had on Facebook. Minor edits:

It will be interesting to see if this is the beginning of the end for virtue-signalers like Russell Moore. It's one thing when they just talk, but if they handed the election to the Democrat, then that's different.

It's a blow for trump because him and moore are both sexual predators.. Simple as that

Different issue.

Different issues how? Both carry the mantra of 'fake news' in order to discredit their accusers. Both are pervy old men

You're changing the subject from whether Russ Moore, David French, Al Mohler may be harmed by this to your own hobbyhorse. And whether the allegations of sexual misconduct against Roy Moore were true is hotly contested.

Trump was a known quantity long before he ran, so that doesn't change his image one way or the other.

"We knew trump was a pervert before he ran, but we voted for him anyway "- the 'christian' party ... The cognitive dissonance needed to vote for men like trump and moore is astounding .. Not surprising though, unfortunately.

Once again, you've changed the subject. Are you just unable to maintain the train of thought?

Moreover, you simply parrot a popular trope rather than bothering to engage the argument of the opposing side. That may make you feel good, but it's unpersuasive to someone who doesn't already agree with you.

You disagree with me. So you think its ok to vote for sexual predators ? 

i) You keep imputing your own viewpoint to another people. Try learning a modicum of critical detachment. People who supported Moore over the Democrat don't grant the assumption that he was a sexual predator. There were allegations based on inconclusive evidence. 

ii) In addition, elections aren't about just considering one candidate in isolation, but a comparison between a given candidate and his/her opponent. The moral assessment isn't compartmentalized.

It's a question of balancing what are sometimes competing concerns. Comparing the policies of rival candidates.

I guess to some, being democrat is worse than pedophilia.

i) Dating teenagers isn't pedophilia. Get a grip. 

ii) In addition, smart voters elect a candidate based on what he will do, not what he is. Voting for a Democrat is voting for a package which nearly all Democrat politicians will promote, including abortion, after-birth abortion, euthanasia, the transgender agenda (e.g. chemical castration of adolescents, puberty blocks that do irreparable damage–not to mention sex-change operations), homosexual adoption, the war on boys, fining/firing anyone who doesn't cooperate with the social agenda of the secular progressives, repudiation of parental rights, denial of school choice, repudiating the Bill of Rights (esp. 1st, 2nd, 4th amendments), &c.

I'm sorry, but it sounds to me like you are OK with him dating teenagers .

No, I'm not okay with him dating teenagers, although a 19-year-old is psychologically quite different from a 13-year-old. But the immediate issue is your rubbery use of the word "pedophile".

Steve , I understand you may not trust Democrats , the same way I don't trust Republicans (and Democrats to a lesser degree ) , but I think a politicians morality should be important , especially in regards to something as serious as the allegations.

Oh, I do trust Democrats. That's the problem. I trust Democrats to aggressively execute the agenda of the secular progressives. Democrats have been doing that quite consistently.

A politician's personal morality is less important than his policies. The policies of secular progressives, empowered by the Democrat party, is already doing great harm, and will do immensely greater harm, to tens of millions of innocent Americans. That's why prudent voters vote strategically. 

BTW, why makes you think the morality of Moore's opponent is any better than Moore's? One way of judging a politician's morality is by their policies.

Can we at least all agree that we should try not grant political power to sexual predators, regardless of party?

What about granting political power to secular progressives? What makes Moore worse than that?

What's so bad about secular progressives ?

That question tips your hand.  And I listed some examples of the secular progressive agenda.

I'd rather secular progressives run this country rather than evangelical Christians who refuse to recognize the separation of church and state

We are not a theocracy , Steve. A theocracy is a bad idea

There is no Constitutional separation of church and state.

Wow what about the first ammendment ?

First Amendment doesn't mandate separate of church and state. Learn some Constitutional history.

Read the first amendment!

Since you're historically challenged on this issue, here's a quick explanation: the first amendment forbids the establishment of a national church. That's it. The First Congress appropriated funds for Christian missionaries in Indian territories. For some basic background:

Many of the examples you offered are ridiculous. The "war on boys" don't make me laugh. 


Although I do agree that gays should be allowed to adopt because a stable home is much better for a child than an orphanage/ foster care .. But I'm sure you're homophic so debating that topic would be a lost cause

Gay relationships are notoriously unstable. 

You should be more concerned with paedophobia than homophobia. Kids are entitled to good role models. Not something they get when immersed in the homosexual culture. 

Republicans tried to impeach Clinton over a CONSENSUAL blowjob, but are perfectly fine with roy moore, who pursued and ASSAULTED underage girls, just because he claims to be Christian and is Republican. This kind of hypocrisy is the biggest reason why I mistrust right wing christians. The republican party is Christian in name only , they do not actually practice the teachings of Christ. The hypocrisy is disgusting.

You evangelicals can rationolize your hypocrisy all you want, good luck defending your support for trump when you get to the pearly gates

If you're going to hurl charges of hypocrisy, you need to master the concept. Hypocrisy involves people acting contrary to their own standards, and not to your standards. You keep imputing your interpretation of the facts of Moore supporters, then accuse them of hypocrisy. That's hopelessly confused.

You need to explain how strategic voting is hypocritical. You need to explain how opposing the vastly greater threat posed by secular progressive policies is hypocritical.

You are a hypocrit if you support a sexual predator , and claim Christianity

Try turning your assertions into something resembling a reasoned argument.

Reasoned argument : 
1. Sexual assault is agaisnt Christianity 
2. Roy Moore and donald trump have both likely committed sexual assault
3. You support both becuase they are Republican

Conclusion : you are a hypocrit

Bad argument. This seems to be your implicit argument: if a candidate did something wrong, then it's wrong to vote for him.

But that transference doesn't work. To take a comparison: suppose an ER physician is an adulterer. That's wrong. Is it therefore wrong for me to let him save my son's life? What kind of logic is that? 

1. You've cast the issue in terms of hypocrisy. I don't even grant that that's the best way to cast the argument. After all, hypocrites can do the right thing from time to time.

It would be hypocritical for Jephthah to make an exception for his daughter. But murdering his daughter is worse than breaking his vow. 

2. But even if I grant your framework for discussion purposes, by casting the issue in terms of hypocrisy, you're assuming a burden of proof. Indeed, a threefold burden of proof. 

3. As a preliminary, I remind you that the benchmark for hypocrisy isn't the criterion of the accuser, but the criterion of the accused. 

i) You need to demonstrate that Christian supporters of Moore think he's a sexual predator. Whether you think he's a sexual predator is irrelevant, since the yardstick for hypocrisy isn't the viewpoint of the accuser, but the viewpoint of the accused. You're accusing Christian. But do Christian supporters of Moore share your assessment of Moore?

ii) Even assuming they think Moore was a sexual predator 40 years ago, you need to demonstrate that it's hypocritical for them to vote for him given their own criteria. 

For instance, they may think that's justifiable based on the lesser-evil principle. To show that they're hypocritical, it's incumbent on you to demonstrate that the lesser-evil principle is incompatible with their belief-system.

iii) To put it more concretely, they may believe that the harm of voting for the Democrat outweighs the harm of voting for Moore. It's irrelevant whether you think the Democrat is worse than Moore, or vice versa, since your opinion is not the standard of comparison. Rather, you have to show that by their own standards, voting for Moore does greater harm than the net effect of voting for his opponent.

I know that's a loaded question, but basically what I mean is this... If you don't believe in gay marriage, don't get one. there's no need to organize politically in attempt to outlaw it. If you don't believe in recreational marijuana, don't smoke it, but why not let your neighbor smoke? just a couple examples off the top of the head

Funny how secular progressives don't have the same libertarian attitude about other things: if you don't like trophy-hunting, don't do it. If you don't want health insurance, opt out. If you don't believe in transgenderism, don't use transgender pronouns, &c.

That's the selling-point that gay marriage was just a private arrangement between consenting adults. Wouldn't impact anyone else. But the reality is using that as a foot in the door to destroy dissent.

It's really not like that at all.. most of us just really think gays should be allowed to married... simple as that. I am truly baffled by so many Christians who really believe their religious liberties are being impeded on. You guys just have to accept that you are sharing this country with non Christians. This country does not belong to Christians

Those are entirely different issues. Most of us see the gay rights issue as a civil rights issue. Trophy hunting is an environmental issue. Nobody is trying to make the pronoun thing a law, at least to my knowledge. I explain the pronoun thing like this: you don't have to use a transgender persons preferred pronouns. nobody is forcing you too. However, they are likely not gonna want to be your friend and probably think you're an a hole if you don't.

In California law, people can now be imprisoned for the crime of using the "wrong" pronoun.

i did some research.. nobody in california is going to jail for using the wrong pronoun


Likewise, take the Oxford teacher who faces formal discipline for "misgendering" a student.

It's about the first amendment in general. Freedom of speech, religion, and association. Not just a Christian thing. Businesses being shut down by gov't. For instance:

The Egyptians Will Know The Lord

The reversal of Egypt's role in Matthew 2 is striking. Instead of the Israelites leaving Egyptian bondage, Jesus goes into Egypt for refuge.

"It will become a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt; for they will cry to the Lord because of oppressors, and he will send them a Savior and a Champion, and he will deliver them. Thus the Lord will make himself known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day." (Isaiah 19:20-21)

"Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt" (Matthew 2:13)

In His hour of infant exile,
Once the Son of God in thee
Found a refuge from the tyrant,
Underneath thy sheltering tree.

And for this thou art remembered;
This great debt shall be repaid.
In earth's age of promised glory,
Israel's God shall lift thy head.
(Horatius Bonar, "Dead Egypt", Hymns Of The Nativity [London, England: James Nisbet & Co., 1879], 136-37)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Identical strangers

Catholic theology is centered on "the Church". Catholics try to co-opt discussions about the church. The church is less central to Protestant theology, not because the church is unimportant, but because the church is the effect of other things. In traditional Catholic theology, the church is the source of grace, whereas in Protestant theology, grace is the source of the church. (That's a bit overstated, but it highlights a fundamental difference in orientation and theological starting-points.) 

But this doesn't mean that the church is peripheral in Protestant theology, or experience. One of the striking things about the Christian faith is the Christian community. How you can go to different churches, in different parts of the country or the world, run into people who at one level are complete strangers, yet you share the same core experience. How God draws folks from all different backgrounds and walks of life. At one level they all have different stories, but at a deeper level, they have the same story. Same spiritual encounter. Same inner life. Same experience of God's call. 

Like accounts of identical twins separated at birth, reunited in adulthood, who are startlingly as if one and the same person in parallel worlds. Raised apart, in different settings, and yet they exhibit preestablished harmony, like synchronized clocks. Vacation in the same places. They share an invisible, intangible affinity. 

This is true in time as well as space. When we read Christian literature from different centuries, or sing their hymns, they tell a common story. Awakened at different times and places. 

Or, to vary the metaphor, like a lighthouse that draws people from all different directions to itself. From north, south, east, and west, the lighthouse guides them to the same destination. To a family reunion. As we meet on the journey, as we find each other, we discover that we're bearing on the same destination. We started from independent points of departure, but are converging along the way, as we head to our journey's end. 

Or to vary the metaphor yet again, like people on the same wavelength. A radio frequency that's inaudible to outsiders, but something insiders can hear. By grace, we've been tuned into the same channel. 

Or to vary the metaphor a final time, like homing pigeons released at different locations, that return to a common location. Somehow they sense the way back, through an inner map. 

Polling Shows The Importance Of Christmas Apologetics

The Pew Research Center recently published the results of a study showing that Americans hold a significantly less Christian view of Christmas than they did as recently as a few years ago. For example:

Not only are some of the more religious aspects of Christmas less prominent in the public sphere, but there are signs that they are on the wane in Americans’ private lives and personal beliefs as well. For instance, there has been a noticeable decline in the percentage of U.S. adults who say they believe that biblical elements of the Christmas story – that Jesus was born to a virgin, for example – reflect historical events that actually occurred. And although most Americans still say they mark the occasion as a religious holiday, there has been a slight drop in recent years in the share who say they do this.

Currently, 55% of U.S. adults say they celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, including 46% who see it as more of a religious holiday than a cultural holiday and 9% who celebrate Christmas as both a religious and a cultural occasion. In 2013, 59% of Americans said they celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday, including 51% who saw it as more religious than cultural and 7% who marked the day as both a religious and a cultural holiday….

But the remaining two-thirds of the U.S. public either is not bothered by a perceived decline in religion in Christmas or does not believe that the emphasis on the religious elements of Christmas is waning.

Among the topics probed by the new survey, one of the most striking changes in recent years involves the share of Americans who say they believe the birth of Jesus occurred as depicted in the Bible. Today, 66% say they believe Jesus was born to a virgin, down from 73% in 2014. Likewise, 68% of U.S. adults now say they believe that the wise men were guided by a star and brought gifts for baby Jesus, down from 75%.

In another part of the story, they break down the survey results by age groups. While those born in 1945 or earlier have had an increase in their belief in the Biblical accounts by a few percentage points since 2014, Millennials have had a decrease by a double-digit percentage.

In 2013, in response to research like Pew's, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a story in which pastors in the Pittsburgh area were interviewed about how they approach apologetic issues during the Christmas season. The pastors made various excuses for why they didn't do much to address the issues. I quoted the story and commented on it at the time.

If you're interested in doing more about the problem than individuals like those pastors want to do, here's a place to begin.

"I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." (Jude 3)

"Strange were it that the physician, or the shoemaker, or the weaver, in short all artists, should be able each to contend correctly for his own art, but that one calling himself Christian should not be able to give a reason for his own faith; yet those things if overlooked bring only loss to men’s property, these if neglected destroy our very souls. Yet such is our wretched disposition, that we give all our care to the former, and the things which are necessary, and which are the groundwork of our salvation, as though of little worth, we despise. That it is which prevents the heathen from quickly deriding his own error. For when they, though established in a lie, use every means to conceal the shamefulness of their opinions, while we, the servants of the truth, cannot even open our mouths, how can they help condemning the great weakness of our doctrine? how can they help suspecting our religion to be fraud and folly? how shall they not blaspheme Christ as a deceiver, and a cheat, who used the folly of the many to further his fraud? And we are to blame for this blasphemy, because we will not be wakeful in arguments for godliness, but deem these things superfluous, and care only for the things of earth." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On John, 17:3-4)

Christianity in Scotland: New crossings

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

I wonder if the Alabama senate debacle is the beginning of the end for virtue-signalers like David French, Russell Moore et al., when many libertarians/conservatives feel they were cheated out of that senate seat by a fifth column from French/Russ Moore purists.

Roy Moore lost by a fraction, so it didn't take much to tip the scales. It's one thing when the rhetoric of French/Russ Moore is just talk, but this time it was costly. We'll see about the recriminations.

NRO is financially vulnerable due to the lawsuit, which is why they cut ties with Mark Steyn, despite his popularity. Likewise when they fired Derb. More recently, they alienated Trump voters. (I'm not commenting on the merits of the NRO position.)

By the same token, SBC organizations are ultimately funded from the bottom up. So players like Russell Moore and Albert Mohler could be hurt if there's a revolt by the donor base. They weathered that challenge once before, but this may galvanize opposition. Time will tell.  

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Reforming the irreformable

Perils of prayer

Some Christians believe God always answers prayer. That creates a conundrum in face of apparent experience to the contrary. So they propose explanations that harmonize their belief with disappointing reality. 

Their explanations, while pious and well-meaning, amount to special pleading. The problem is that special pleading is only persuasive if you happen to be in the mood to suspend disbelief. But ad hoc explanations make it more likely that a professing Christian will suffer a crisis of faith or lose his faith when events grind him into the dirt. At that point he no longer has the patience to entertain ad hoc explanations.

1. God always answers prayer–yes or no

i) At one level that's a semantic quibble. "Unanswered prayer" is a conventional designation. In customary usage, to say "your prayer went unanswered" is synonymous with "God didn't grant your prayer request". 

If the objection is just rhetorical, that's not a hill to die on. You can put it however you like, but I reserve the right to my own preferred usage. 

ii) But at a deeper level, there's no practical or discernible difference between no answer and a "no" answer. 

2. God hasn't answered your prayer…yet!

i) On this view, it's not yes or no but wait. And there are situations when that's the right explanation. God defers some answers to cultivate faithful patience. Not now but later.

ii) But it's inadequate as a general explanation. For one thing, some prayers have deadlines. And it's not a case of dictating to God when he must answer our prayer. We didn't impose that deadline on God; rather, we find ourselves up against a deadline. 

After the deadline, the prayer request is moot. At that juncture it's too late to make a difference. We passed the last exit. 

iii) Given enough time, some problems automatically resolve themselves. There can be the suspicion that this would have happened anyway, whether or not we prayed. That the outcome was in answer to prayer may be less recognizable. But it depends on the details. 

3. God answered after all…in a different way!

i) There are situations in which that's true. In the nature of the case, we pray for what we think is a good solution, but a better solution may not even occur to us because our imagination is limited, or because, when we're in the thick of things, we lack the detachment to think clearly. 

Sometimes God answers prayer in a way that's unexpected. Different, but richer and better than what we could envision at the time. 

ii) But that's inadequate as a general explanation. For instance, you had people who were sure God was going to heal Nabeel Qureshi. And after he died, they exclaim: "God did heal him. Just a different kind of healing. He went to heaven. All's well that ends well."

But that's equivocal. Nabeel and his intercessors pleaded for physical healing. Prayed that he be spared death by cancer. To pray that he not die, then say his death was an answer to prayer, is a bait-n-switch. That's the polar opposite of was prayed for.

iii) That makeshift explanation is counterproductive because it can make people cynical of prayer in general. It's spiritually hazardous to interpret any outcome as consistent with the original prayer request because that makes a prayer-answering God indistinguishable from no God at all. To say whatever happens is an answer to prayer, to say an outcome that's diametrically contrary to you prayed for is an answer to prayer, makes experience interchangeable with a random universe. Unless there's a recognizable correspondence between the request and the result, there's no practical distinction between praying and not praying. 

Fake news

One of the challenges facing Christian voters is how the mainstream "news" media decides to single out and hype a particular "story". Stock examples include hate crimes, sex scandals, and police shootings.

You then have pundits and outfits that accuse evangelical voters of racism, hypocrisy, homophobia, transphobia &c. because they don't jump on the bandwagon. But that raises two basic issues:

i) Does a Christian voter have a duty to become an instant expert on every controversy du jour? Are we obligated to chase down every rabbit trail the "news" media points us to? 

We're allowed to have our own priorities in terms of what's important to us and where to invest our time. 

ii) It's becoming increasingly difficult to get both sides of the story when information gatekeepers like Google censure searches that undercut the liberal narrative. There's a concerted effort to suppress one side of the story. 

As a result, some libertarian/conservative voters now automatically discount whatever the media says as fake news. And there's a lot of justification for that reaction. You can't rely on "news" outlets that have squandered their credibility to advance a social agenda. 

Headline news

Where do I get my news? Because so much news is so ephemeral, in my daily consumption I skim. Often I don't get much beyond the headlines. I just want to keep on top of current developments rather than in-depth analysis since the situation is so fluid. During the campaign season, I'm more likely to get into the weeds. 

Ben Shapiro

Shapiro keeps me up to speed on what's happening now. And he's a corrective to liberal bias. As an Orthodox Jew, he covers culture war issues.

I don't generally read Daily Wire articles due to the irritating popup ads. 

Jay Wesley Richards

Useful for culture war stuff. 

In addition, useful for monitoring the state of the Catholic church. Richards is an evangelical revert to Rome, but critical of Francis and the state of Catholicism under his watch.

Ross Douthat

Often has incisive news analysis. Sometimes highlights useful articles.

As a conservative convert to Rome, Douthat is critical of Francis and documents the capitulation of the the magisterium to political correctness.


A mixed bag. Some of the better contributors include Charles Cooke, David French, Victor Hanson, Kevin Johnson, Andrew McCarthy, Ramesh Ponnuru, Ed Whelan. 

Robert Gagnon

Good on culture war stuff, especially the LGBT agenda.

Michael Barone

Useful for putting current events in historical perspective. Detailed knowledge of demographics and American political history. 

Human Exceptionalism

Good resource on alarming developments in medical ethics, both nationally and internationally.

In the Light of the Law

An erudite critic of the Francis papacy

The Volokh Conspiracy

Sometimes useful for legal analysis. Not a site I read on a regular basis. 

Cross that bridge when we come to it

Brief exchange I had on Facebook:

How do you answer French's alternate challenge: If a lone judge can defy the federal judiciary, how is anything enforceable, ever again? Why can California not just tell SCOTUS to drop dead and ban guns, round up Christians who misgender anyone, and outlaw gas stations? What's stopping them, if it's every local judge for himself? 

The problem is that it's trivially easy to postulate worst-cases scenarios for both sides of the issue. And these may be realistic scenarios. My problem is that French pretends (for the moment) that there's only one worst-case scenario.

We could do reverse "what ifs" with reverse worst-case scenarios. That point/counterpoint quickly stalemates.

I'm not advocating a position. I'm asking where yours leads. If you can't answer some simple questions without pointing to the other side and saying, "what about them?" then frankly your beliefs aren't worth adopting. You haven't earned the right to have anyone adopt them.

There's no good answer because we're discussing different hypothetical scenarios, and every one of them could end in a train wreck. 

You act like there ought to be clear-cut answers to hypothetical questions, but these can lead to different worst-case scenarios. That's not a deficiency for my belief. Rather, that's just the nature of unbridled thought-experiments. 

Ultimately, it's a question of whether God permits current trends and conflicts to follow their natural course into one or another worse-case scenarios. And, if so, which hypothetical worst-case scenario will be actualized. 

And I don't need to "earn the right" to have Shane adopt my position. I'm not your subordinate.

You do have to earn the right to have someone adopt your view. It's called giving an answer. It's called being able to defend your assertions. It's one of the key differences between children and adults.

There's no one-sided burden of proof. And I already explained to you how you've oversimplified the issue of giving answers. Try to engage the argument.

In situations where the outcome is unpredictable, sometimes you gotta roll a hard six. Or sometimes you should focus on the short-term and see what happens next. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Why Christ's followers recognized his divinity

One mouth, two sides

French talking out of both sides of his mouth in the span of three weeks:

Do Moore’s defenders not realize the extent to which religious freedom in this nation depends on a host of progressive judges and government officials complying with lawful court orders? For example, the ability to hire and fire pastors according to the dictates of the church and not the federal government was only recently reaffirmed by the Supreme Court. What if some state judge, somewhere, disagrees? If you accept Moore’s behavior on the bench, you must accept that any judge can defy the Supreme Court whenever he sees fit.

The list of political remedies for the worst judicial decisions goes on and on. Statutes and regulations can protect religious liberty and free speech. State constitutions can play a vital role. Protest and activism can render illiberal changes too costly even for hostile lawmakers. Conservatives too often act as if a Supreme Court decision is the end of an argument. In truth, it’s often just the beginning.

Five fingers

Who needs Jesus when we have the pope?


i) One of the disputes between cessationists and charismatics is whether there's such a thing as fallible prophecy. Charismatics cite Agabus (Acts 21:1-14) as an example of fallible prophecy. 

There's a sense in which I think both sides are wrong. I think allegations that Agabus was inaccurate are very wooden, but I'd like to approach the issue from a different angle. In some cases, a prophet can be right even though events didn't turn out as predicted. Is that paradoxical? Not really.

ii) To begin with, some prophecies are conditional. That's common regarding oracles of judgment. A paradigm case is Jer 18:7-11:

7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’

In this case, the prediction is not a statement of what will happen without further ado, but what will happen unless sinners repent in response to the fearful warning. 

That in turn goes to a general principle. Some predictions envision a future if the recipient does nothing different. Take a premonition. Suppose I have a premonitory dream. Suppose it has a dire denouement. 

When I wake up, and events begin to repeat themselves, just like I saw in my dream, I take actions to change a key variable, resulting in a different outcome that diverts the stream of causality, with a different end-result. 

Was the premonition false? In one sense, I'll never know, since I deliberately thwarted that trajectory. 

But what if the purpose of the premonition was to forewarn me so that I could take steps to avert that outcome? There were two futures in play: one in which I go with the flow and one in which I divert the flow. Which future is actual and which is counterfactual depends on what I do in response to the premonition. 

BTW, that's consistent with Calvinism and freewill theism alike. This goes to the difference between predestination and fatalism. If I act on the premonition to avoid the future I see in the dream, I'm doing what I was predestined to do. The dream is a stimulus to that end. The premonition, as well as my reaction, was included in God's plan, as a means of advancing the plot to the appointed goal. Although the premonition doesn't contain my reaction to the premonition, that's contained in God's plan, like Russian dolls, where smaller factors are nested in larger factors. 

iii) This, in turn, goes to the distinction between foreknowledge and counterfactual knowledge. If what I see in the dream plays out, then it was foreknowledge. 

But if I heed the premonition by changing a variable in the chain of events leading up to the dire outcome to deflect that outcome, then it was counterfactual knowledge. In a proximate sense, my action determines whether it was foreknowledge or counterfactual knowledge–rather like Schrödinger's cat, although there's another sense in which my action is predetermined by the dream. Having been tipped off, I act differently than if I never had that advance knowledge. 

iv) Returning to the original illustration, because Paul was forearmed by the prophecy of Agabus, he may have handled some situations differently than if he wasn't privy to that foresight. In consequence, even assuming that things didn't unfold in quite the way Agabus envisioned, his prophecy could still be infallible if that was a prediction about an alternate timeline. That's exactly the fate which awaited Paul, if Agabus hadn't shared his vision with Paul. But knowing the prophecy could affect Paul's actions in many subtle ways. He might adjust his plans in ways that had the same general, ultimate outcome, but by a somewhat different route. 

v) However, this only applies to predictions where the recipient has some control over the relevant variables. There are, of course, predictions that are out of our hands, like natural disasters, which we lack the wherewithal to stop. In some cases, a recipient might have the power to redirect the course of events if he only knew all the intervening causes and altered one of them.