Saturday, March 10, 2018

Time loop

There are different models of providence. I'll use the metaphor of a roadmap to illustrate the differences:

1. Calvinism

On this view, God is the cartographer, and God has mapped out the entire future. However, the map is invisible looking ahead. The map becomes progressively visible as the traveler moves forward into the future. The map is retrospectively visible, but never prospectively visible. So he's always going where the map directs, but he doesn't know that in advance. The roadmap was always there, in meticulous detail, but it can only be seen with the benefit of hindsight, like a passenger seated facing the rear window. In this sense, the traveler is backing into the future. He seems to be traveling blind, yet his every step was mapped out. 

2. Classical Arminianism

I'm using "classical Arminianism" as a synonym for simple foreknowledge. Like Calvinism, the future has been exhaustively mapped out, for God creates the world that he foresees. But unlike Calvinism, humans are cocartographers with God. 

Because the map is a facsimile of divine foreknowledge, it's as though the human traveler has two lives, back-to-back, only he took an amnesia pill the first time around, so he doesn't remember that he's repeating the exact same journey. His future was mapped out every step of the way, like he's retracing his steps. Stepping into his own footprints. He cannot deviate from the roadmap, since foreknowledge is history ahead of time. Because his future is mapped out, it's like he's reliving the his past. Although the future trajectory of the map is invisible, it's there all along. That's the route the traveler is bound to take. That road and that road only. Once God makes a world that matches what he saw in the crystal ball, it's too late for the future to turn out any other way. 

3. Molinism

In this respect, (3) is like (2). God has many different roadmaps of the future. Some are infeasible. He picks one roadmap to instantiate. Possible persons contributed to the route, but God alone chooses which map to actualize. The map charts a complete world history, so the future was mapped out in advance. It's like deja vu, only human agents drank from the River Lethe at the destination of the journey, so they've forgotten the journey when, in effect, they repeat it. As with (2), it's just like they lived twice, and the second life duplicates the first. Although the  future trajectory of the map is invisible, they have, in effect, been there before–like a time loop. 

4. Open theism

On this view, there is no roadmap. God is a fellow traveler. No one knows what lies around the next bend. No one knows what lies over the next hill. God and his human traveling companions are drawing the map as they go along. Both God and man discover the future as that eventuates, moment by moment. Unsuspected dangers lie ahead. No one knows what to expect. They're venturing into the undiscovered country without a map or compass. Anything could happen. The map is drawn after the fact, at which point it's always too late to use it. 

5. Occamism 

Some freewill theists might take issue with my characterization of (2)-(3). They say humans have counterfactual power over God's past beliefs (or timeless beliefs). If we chose to do something different, then God would have different foreknowledge. So it's not too late to redraw the map, since the ink is never dry. 

But a problem with that deceptively appealing explanation is that it suffers from the same antinomies as time-travel scenarios in which a man steps into the time machine and heads back into the past to alter the future. But that's paradoxical because he thereby erases the future he came from. It's like he never existed in that future timeline, because his past action replaces the original timeline with a new timeline. Although Occamism isn't identical with retrocausation, it generates the same antinomies: 

Longing for a better country

So. A Wrinkle in Time just came out. I remember reading and enjoying the book...when I was in elementary school. I'm not sure how the book would hold up as an adult! I presume poorly.

Not to mention it sounds like Madeleine L'Engle was a theologically liberal Christian.

Judging by the trailer, the movie seems awful to me. I especially don't like how it looks. Its aesthetics or style. I really don't need to see Oprah try to act either. I don't plan on watching the movie.

That said, some of the first books I ever read in English were written by professing Christians (loosely defined). For example, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, A Wrinkle in Time, Bridge to Terabithia. I don't recall what drew me to these sorts of books. However, I remember being enchanted by them. More than enchanted.

I think a commonality between such books for me was they opened up a reality beyond the reality of what one could see or hear or otherwise sense with the senses. Such books made me consider there might be something beyond the mundane reality of sights and sounds. At least on an emotional level. I hoped it was the case.

I believe these books are classified as fantasy. But sometimes fantasies can point us to a truer reality. Maybe this is a touch too Platonic.

I suppose what I'm feebly attempting to get at is C.S. Lewis' idea of Sehnsucht. As he wrote in Mere Christianity:

Most of us find it very difficult to want 'Heaven' at all - except in so far as 'Heaven' means meeting again our friends who have died. One reason for this difficulty is that we have not been trained: our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world. Another reason is that when the real want for Heaven is present in us, we do not recognise it. Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us.

I don't know how reasonable Lewis' Sehnsucht or "joy" would be as a philosophical apologetic. I believe Alvin Plantinga somewhere calls it Lewis' argument from nostalgia, but at the same time notes it's not a well-formed argument. Something along those lines.

Nevertheless, I do think it's emotionally resonant, and in that respect it might be effective on some people to some degree. Perhaps it's more effective on those who already believe and assent, but who haven't trusted Christ and committed themselves to him.

Are the "I am" statements authentic?

Some critics doubt that Jesus could have made the "I am" statements attributed to him in John's Gospel. If, however, Jesus is Yahweh Incarnate, then there's nothing surprising or incongruous about Jesus making those statements. This isn't a theological innovation. Rather, it has OT precedent in the Pentateuch and the prophet Isaiah:

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you’” (Exod 3:14).

See now that I, even I, am he,
and there is no god beside me (Deut 32:29)

Who has performed and done this,
calling the generations from the beginning?
I, Yahweh, the first,
and with the last; I am he (Isa 41:4)

“You are my witnesses,” Yahweh declares,
“and amy servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me (Isa 43:10)

Also henceforth I am he;
there is none who can deliver from my hand;
I work, and who can turn it back?” (Isa 43:13).

“I, I am he
who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins (Isa 43:25).

even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save (Isa 46:4)

“Listen to me, O Jacob,
and Israel, whom I called!
I am he; I am the first,
and I am the last (Isa 48:12)

“I, I am he who comforts you;
who are you that you are afraid of man who dies,
of the son of man who is made like grass (Isa 51:12)

6 Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am (Isa 52:6).

Given that such "I am" statements are an idiomatic self-designation and recurring motif in the OT, it's to be expected that Jesus will make claims about himself that evoke those OT statements. 

And given how that functions as a refrain in Isaiah to distinguish Yahweh from false gods, when Jesus uses the same language, that unmistakably implicates his own deity. 

In addition, this isn't unique to John's Gospel. In Revelation, the First/Last, Alpha/Omega title is applied to Jesus (Rev 1:8,11; 21:6; 22:13), and that's another Yahwistic refrain in the same section of Isaiah (Isa 40-48) that uses the "I am" language. 

Likewise, the "I am" statement in Mt 14:27 is arguably theophanic. Cf. R. Bauckham, Is "High Human Christology" Sufficient? A Critical Response to J. R. Daniel Kirk's A Man Attested by God, Bulletin for Biblical Research 27.4 (2017) 503-525.

Trendy transgenderism

The text and canon of the NT

Ipsissima verba

For some time now, evangelical scholars have drawn a distinction between the ipsissima verba and ipsissima vox of Jesus in the Gospels. I don't know when that category originated, although it goes back at least to Ned Stonehouse's Origins of the Synoptic Gospels (1963). Here's one definition:

Latin phrases meaning "the very words" and "the very voice" respectively, often used in the context of the quest for the historical Jesus. Ipsissima verba Jesu refers to the words or sayings that Jesus actually spoke in contradistinction to those merely attributed to him by subsequent tradition. Since Jesus probably spoke Aramaic and the NT is written in Greek, we probably do not have the ipsissima verba Jesu of Jesus apart from a very few exceptions (abba, ephphatha). Ipsissima vox makes a lesser claim: it designates words or sayings that give the sense but not the exact linguistic form of Jesus' speech. Soulen & Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism (WJK, 3rd. ed., 2001), 88. 

Here's how a major evangelical scholar unpacks the distinction:

In examining the wording of Jesus' teaching in the Gospels, we must distinguish between the ipsissima verba ("his very words") and the ipsissima vox ("his very voice," i.e. the presence of his teaching summarized). One universally recognized reality makes assessing the presence of the exact words of Jesus difficult and argues for the distinction between verba and vox. In is that Jesus probably gave most of his teaching in Aramaic…[so] most of Jesus' teaching in the Gospels is already in translation.

A second factor also argues for this distinction. Most accounts of Jesus' remarks are a few sentences long. In fact, even his longest speeches as recorded in the Gospels take only a few minutes to read (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount or the Olivet Discourse). Yet we know that Jesus kept his audiences for hours at a time (e.g. Mk 6:34-36). It is clear that the writers give us a reduced and summarized presentation of what Jesus said and did.

Third, the distinction between verba and vox is valuable when we look at the way the Bible cites itself, i.e. the way the NT uses the OT. NT citations of the OT are not word for word, even when taking into account translation from Hebrew to Greek…If the Bible can summarize a citation of itself in this way, then to see the same technique in its handling of the word of Jesus should come as no surprise. 

One can present history accurately whether one quotes or summarizes teaching or even mixes the two together. To have accurate summaries of Jesus' teaching is just as historical as to have his actual words; they are just two different perspectives to give us the same thing. All that is required is that the summaries be trustworthy… D. Bock, "The Words of Jesus in the Gospels: Live, Jive, or Memorex," M. Wilkins & J. Moreland, eds. Jesus Under Fire (Zondervan 1995), 77-78,88.

In a later essay, Bock draws a distinction between "accuracy" and "precision", as well as "the principle of variation and gist". “Precision and Accuracy: Making Distinctions in the Cultural Context That Give Us Pause in Pitting the Gospels against Each Other,” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? J. Hoffmeier & D. Magary, eds. (Crossway 2012), 367,71.

Up to a point, these are valid distinctions. There are, however, some additional assumptions that often drive that distinction. 

1. One apologetic method is to bracket the doctrine of verbal inspiration and simply treat the Gospels (and Acts) as historical primary sources. 

2. However, for some NT scholars, that's not just an apologetic strategy. Even in principle, they really don't make allowance for verbal inspiration. They consider that theological rather than historical. For them, Mark is based on oral tradition, fallible memory, while Matthew and Luke, where they parallel Mark, are dependent on Mark. Likewise, they think Matthew, Luke, and John uses other sources and oral traditions. At best, the Gospels are based on fallible memories. On this view, even the ipsissima vox may well be several steps removed from what was available to the Gospel writers. 

3. BTW, there's a distinction between oral tradition and oral history. In oral history, you get a report straight from the lips of an eyewitness, whereas an oral tradition is more mediated. 

4. In addition, here's how a couple of dictionaries define "paraphrase":

to state something written or spoken in different words, esp. in a shorter and simpler form to make the meaning clearer.

a restatement of a text or passage giving the meaning in another form, as for clearness; rewording.

i) There can be different reasons to paraphrase what a speaker said. Sometimes to cut the dead wood. It isn't always necessary to reproduce an entire speech to convey the basic idea. 

Or it may be to forestall misunderstanding. We need to distinguish between the initial audience for something Jesus said and the readers of the Gospels. A reader may lack the full context. So a Gospel author might incorporate an editorial qualification, consistent with what Jesus intended. 

ii) The spoken word is more redundant than the written word. So Jesus had occasion to paraphrase himself. Say the same thing in different words. 

iii) One problem with the ipsissima verba/vox distinction is when that's applied to pithy phrases or sentences like the baptismal formula (Mt 28:19) or the "I am" statements in John's Gospel. There's no need to summarize what Jesus said on those occasions because these are already very simple statements. A pithy phrase or short sentence. How hard is it to remember "I'm the light of the world" or "Baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit"? That doesn't overtax human memory. 

So what some scholars claim is not that sayings attributed to Jesus are the gist of what he said, but editorial elaborations. An explanatory gloss. That's not reductive but expansive. That, however, is a different principle. It moves in the opposite direction. And it doesn't convey the same idea in different words.  

iv) Most listeners don't have verbatim recollection of long sayings. It's implausible to claim that the narrator is giving the gist of what Jesus said in Jn 13-17 if all the narrator has to rely on is fallible memory. I don't see how we're going to preserve historicity without reintroducing verbal inspiration. 

Licona on the "I am" statements in John

More Evidence Of Non-Christian Corroboration Of The Empty Tomb

Section 108 of Justin Martyr's Dialogue With Trypho is one of the most significant passages in the patristic literature in the context of apologetics, but it doesn't get much attention. I've discussed the passage in other posts over the years, and you can read the post I just linked to get the background to this one. What I'll be doing here is expanding upon what I said earlier. The focus of this post will be on reading section 108 of Justin's Dialogue in light of what he says in section 17.

I've consulted several English translations of the Dialogue, including:
Michael Slusser, ed., Dialogue With Trypho (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2003)

What I'll be discussing below is consistent with all three of those translations. I'm not just getting these conclusions from one translation of the text.

In the relevant portion of section 108, Justin prefaces some of his remarks with "as I said before". What is he referring to? Probably his comments in section 17. Here are the two sections, with some quotation marks added to section 108 for a reason I'll explain later:

Friday, March 09, 2018

Salvific masculinity and ordinary heroes

Iconic films

There are certain iconic movies and TV dramas that have a unifying force in pop culture, both because so many people have seen them and because they become a source of popular tropes, viz. the Star Wars franchise, Star Trek franchise, The Wizard of Oz. On a related note are iconic characters like Batman, Superman, Spiderman, vampires, and zombies. At a literary as well as cinematic level, The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia enjoy that distinction.

In addition, there are movies like The Matrix, The Terminator, Groundhog Day, and The Butterfly Effect which not only achieve iconic status in the pop culture, but popularize certain philosophical ideas. These movies provide fans with an interpretive lens. Fans interpret the world using these films as a prismatic analogy. And the more people who've seen them and use them that way, they become a common frame of reference. In that regard, they share both an interpretive and unifying significance in the pop culture. In casual conversation, a stranger will allude to one of these movies or TV dramas to comment on some event while the listener will recognize the allusion and appreciate the comparison. 

Fans sometimes argue with each other about the best Star Wars/Star Trek movies and TV series. Fans sometimes argue about the correct interpretation of movie, TV show, or episode thereof. Yet even when they disagree, there's an underlying unity inasmuch as they're familiar with the same stories, same characters, same mythos, and they use that in common to frame discussions. 

Although I'm citing fictional examples, a mythos can be factual. Real people and real events can attain iconic status as role models and illustrations. The Bible performs a similar interpretive and unifying function within the Christian community, except that Scripture is authoritative in a way that iconic movies and TV dramas are not. 

Catholic apologists criticize sola scripture because it leads to interpretive pluralism while atheists criticize Scripture as an inefficient mode of divine communication because God could simply beam the message into everyone's mind. What those objections overlook is the unifying force of having one book that all Christians use as a common frame of reference. We know the same stories, and those stories generate a mythos that we use as a filter to interpret the world. Even hermeneutical disagreements bear witness to a deeper unity, because they still share a common frame of reference. That sets the agenda. Debates occur within that paradigm. You can talk to any Bible-believing Christian, you can walk into any Bible-believing church, and even though you're strangers, there's preexisting code of shared background assumptions, because the same book channels the outlook. 

Reformed Scholasticism

Reformed theology is supposed to be grounded in exegetical theology. Only revealed truths merit the status of articles of faith. That includes correct interpretations of revealed truths as well as valid inferences from revealed truths. That's based on the sola scripture principle. 

Even at that level, Reformed interpretations must remain open to exegetical scrutiny. We need to be able to defend our interpretations.

Reformed theology is quite stable. However, it's necessary to distinguish between Reformed theology and philosophical schools of thought that are deployed to expound and defend Reformed theology. 

The problem is when Reformed theology becomes aligned with a particular philosophical paradigm, like Thomism, so that affirming Reformed theology becomes inseparable from affirming the philosophical tradition that sponsors it. 

Thomism should never be elevated to an article of faith. That idolizes philosophy. Philosophical theology must remain subject to rational scrutiny, insofar as philosophical theology relies on natural reason in the first place. 

Philosophical theology ought to be more eclectic and discriminating. Not form an exclusive alliance with any particular philosopher or philosophical school of thought. 

The Significance Of Not Having Sources On Jesus During His Lifetime

A common objection to Christianity that's highly relevant to the Easter season is that we don't have any records of Jesus' life that were written before he died. I've addressed that objection at length in another post. What I want to do here is cite a comment Richard Burridge made last year that's relevant to the topic. Burridge is one of the foremost scholars in the world on the genre of the gospels. During the June 17, 2017 Unbelievable? radio program, he commented (around one and a half minutes into the second hour) that ancient biographies were written after the figure died, since only then could a final analysis of the person's life be given. When the gospels and other early documents were written after Jesus' death, they were following common (though not universal) practice. For other reasons why the post-death timing of the early sources on Jesus isn't as problematic as critics suggest, see my post linked above.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Perspectives on Calvinism

There are different perspectives on Calvinism. Different ways of approaching Calvinism. Differences of emphasis or orientation:

1. Soteriological

This orientation stresses doctrines like unconditional election, reprobation, special redemption, spiritual inability, sola gratia, monergistic regeneration, perseverance. 

It has special reference to the human situation. This is typically the focus of Reformed pastors, preachers, and evangelists. 

2. Theological 

This orientation stresses doctrines like absolute predestination and meticulous providence. It operates at a more cosmic level. It lays more emphasis on God's relation to the world in general rather than God's relation to mankind in particular. 

There are people who incline to (1), but distance themselves from (2). 

3. Philosophical 

This orientation piggybacks on (2). If (2) is true, then everything happens for a reason. There are no random, aimless events. No brute facts. No fortuitous accidents. Everything serves a purpose in a part/whole, means/ends relation. God leaves nothing to chance. Everything unfolds according to his master plan for world history. 

This dovetails with the principle of sufficient reason. There are no inherently inexplicable truths. And that's a condition of intelligibility. In principle, there's a rational explanation for everything, although many things may be inscrutable to humans, given our epistemic limitations. 

The meaning of life according to atheism

Mysterious evil

In his recent interview with Reformed philosopher Guillaume Bignon, apostate Dale Tuggy sensed a "mystery appeal" in Bignon's theodicy. For Dale, that's a bad thing. A few quick points:

i) Bignon doesn't resort to mystery in defending Reformed determinism. He responds to objections head-on.

ii) Dale's aversion to mystery is bound up with his antipathy towards orthodox Christian theology. Because Christian theologians appeal to mystery or paradox when defending the Trinity and Incarnation, Dale bristles whenever the mystery card is played. 

I'd note that there's a difference between mystery and paradox. While a paradox is mysterious, a mystery isn't necessarily paradoxical. 

iii) There's nothing uniquely Calvinistic about appealing to mystery regarding the problem of evil. Consider what two leading freewill theists have to say about that in a recent book on the problem of evil. Molinist W. L. Craig says:

A person who lacks middle knowledge will be unable to assess the long-term consequences of the events that he permits to happen and so cannot have reasons for permitting them that are indiscernible from the standpoint of the present…Evils that appear pointless or unnecessary to us within our limited framework might be seen to have been justly permitted within God's wider framework. The brutal murder of an innocent man or a child's dying of leukemia could send a ripple effect through history such that God's morally sufficient reason for permitting it might not emerge until centuries later or perhaps in another country. Being limited in space and time, in intelligence and insight, we are simply in no epistemic position to make probability judgments to the effect that "God probably does not have a morally sufficient reason for permitting this event to occur" with any sort of confidence…What James Clerk Maxwell called "singular points" makes it impossible to predict the outcome of present, visible causes…Similarly, in the developing filed of chaos theory…One only has to think of innumerable, incalculable contingencies involved in arriving at a single historical event, say, the Allied victory at D-day. C. Meister & J. Dew, eds., God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views (IVP 2017), 45-45.  

And Dale's fellow open theist, William Hasker, says:

In view of the many and severe evils with which the world is afflicted, shouldn't God be doing better? We are inclined to think there must be something more that a powerful and loving God would and should be doing to make the world a better place. As regards the possibility of a better overall plan of creation, it is important to realize that this possibility, if it exists at all, is one of which we have no cognitive grasp whatsoever. Our failure to grasp such a thing is not a matter of mere ignorance, comparable to our lack of information about some as-yet-undiscovered species of insect. This is a fundamental ignorance, and one of the reasons it is so can be found in the phenomenon known as "fine-tuning"…But couldn't God do more in preventing particular instances of evil? Perhaps he could, though we have little insight into what the consequences of more frequent divine intervention might be. The fact is that very often we just do not know why certain sorts of evils are permitted by God; that this is so can be a test of faith–sometimes a severe test of faith–for a believer. Ibid., 74-76. 

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Alpha males

Jumping from a skyscraper

Apostate Dale Tuggy recently conducted a two-part interview with Reformed philosopher Guillaume Bignon.

In part 2, Tuggy raised some objections to Bignon's position. That's fine. Calvinism is fair game. Bignon fielded the objections with great aplomb. But I'll comment on Dale's objections as well. 

Easter Resources 2018

This is my annual collection of resources for the Easter season. Here are the previous years' posts:


Here are some representative examples of the issues we've addressed:

How To Make A Case For The Resurrection
Independent, Converging Lines Of Evidence For Jesus' Resurrection
Resurrection Evidence Outside The New Testament
Easter Prophecy Fulfillment
Fifty Agreements Among The Resurrection Accounts
The Consistencies Among The Resurrection Accounts In 1 Corinthians 15, The Gospels, And Acts
The Restrained Nature Of The Resurrection Accounts
Evidence For The Shroud Of Turin
The 1982 Carbon Dating Of The Shroud Of Turin
The Context In Which The Gospels Were Composed
How Early The Synoptics Were Written
The Authorship Of Matthew
The Authorship Of Mark
The Authorship Of Luke And Acts
The Authorship Of John
The Authorship Of The Pauline Letters (see the comments section)
The Historicity Of Acts
Evidence For The Empty Tomb
Why It's Significant That The Earliest Sources Don't Narrate The Resurrection Appearance To James
Evidence That Saul Of Tarsus Saw Jesus Risen From The Dead
The Spiritual Body Of 1 Corinthians 15
Why Didn't The Risen Jesus Appear To More And Different People?
Why Doesn't Jesus Appear To Everybody?
Matthew 27:52-53
How The Apostles Died
Miracles In The Modern World
Reviews Of Debates On Jesus' Resurrection

On the sidebar on the right side of the screen, you can access some e-books we've written that address issues relevant to Easter.

After the 2017 Easter resources post linked above, Steve Hays wrote about 1 Corinthians 15:14 and the question of whether we would believe in Christianity or the resurrection if the evidence suggested that it's false. He also responded to Larry Shapiro on a couple of issues related to the resurrection. Steve interacted with Shapiro's response to Mike Licona concerning how Shapiro would react to a modern resurrection. Steve also replied to Shapiro's argument against the resurrection based on the rarity of miracles. Patrick Chan quoted some comments from Craig Blomberg and Ben Witherington on the genre of the gospels. I wrote a list of fifty examples of agreements among the New Testament resurrection accounts. Later, I wrote about how the resurrection appearances mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15 dovetail with what we find in the gospels and Acts. Steve responded to a tendency of some apologists to be overly focused on the resurrection. I addressed the restrained nature of the resurrection accounts. And Steve wrote about the spiritual body Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 15. He also addressed how a popular liberal interpretation of the passage has implications those liberals don't want. I posted a collection of resources on prophecy fulfillment related to the Easter season. And Steve linked an article by Craig Evans on how studying history helps us understand Easter. Steve and Patrick linked some videos of Easter music: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Steve provided an overview of how he'd make a case for Jesus' resurrection. He also wrote about the nature of the resurrection body, in response to Dale Allison. And here's something he wrote about passages in the resurrection narratives that are sometimes taken as Jesus materializing or dematerializing. He also addressed the relationship between the soul and the body and the significance of the resurrection in that context. He later wrote about the relationship between information and the resurrection body. I wrote about the evidence that 1 Timothy 5:18 cites Luke's gospel as scripture and the significance of that fact for Easter issues. Steve wrote about the number of angels at Jesus' tomb and the possibility of the use of idiomatic expressions.. He also wrote about evidence for the deity of Isaiah's Suffering Servant. Another post by Steve discusses whether prophecy fulfillment, like Jesus' fulfillment of the Suffering Servant passage, could be staged. I linked an article that discusses some evidence for the deity of Isaiah's Servant figure and the connections between the Servant passages and others in Isaiah. Steve and I addressed the objection that Jesus should make an appearance to every individual or every Christian, much as he made an appearance to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Here's Steve's response. And here's mine. Steve wrote about the issues involved in harmonizing the resurrection accounts, using the analogy of four people reporting on what happened during a high school reunion. He also wrote a response to Bart Ehrman, part of which addresses resurrection issues. And a later post responding to Richard Carrier is partly about the resurrection.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Aquinas reconsidered

I'm going to comment on some statements by Muller in his review of Oliphint's critique of Thomism.

One preliminary observation: a theologian is not an end in himself. We shouldn't devote the same attention to exegeting a theologian that we devote to exegeting Scripture. Christianity is a revealed religion. Biblical revelation is the primatial source of Christian theology. Interpreting Aquinas is secondary to interpreting biblical revelation. 

Are all apostates doomed?

Is apostasy ipso facto damnable? Professing believers leave the faith for different reasons. 

i) Fear of persecution: Heb 6 & 10 (cf. Mt 24:10)

ii) Heresy (Mt 24:11,14; Gal 5:4, 1 Tim 1:20; 4:1-5; 2 Tim 2:27; 1 Jn 2:19) 

iii) Worldliness (Mt 12:22; 2 Tim 4:10)

iv) Idolatry/immorality (1 Cor 10:13)

v) Superficial conversion (Mt 13:19-21)

In Heb 6 & 10, it's not loss of faith in the sense of ceasing to believe, but lack of commitment when the going gets tough.  

But what about professing believers who drop out because they become disillusioned and disaffected in the wake of unbearable personal tragedy? They don't necessarily stop believing. Rather, they just don't care anymore. They've become emotionally alienated. 

Is that damnable? Or does the attenuating circumstance of unbearable personal tragedy mitigate their reaction? Humans are psychologically fragile creatures. We're not indestructible. There's only so much we can take. We can break under pressure. 

I don't know the answer to that question. But it's possible that Christian tradition overgeneralizes about the infernal fate awaiting apostates. It may in part depend on the motive. I don't assume that God is itching to damn people who buckle under the weight of calamity. Consider the shepherd who leaves the flock to reclaim one stray sheep (Lk 15:3-7). 

i) The individuals in Heb 6 & 10 are paradigm apostates, yet their apostasy isn't based on ceasing to believe in Christian theology, but refusing to suffer for their faith. It's not that they changed their mind about Christian theology; rather, the cost of discipleship is prohibitive from their perspective. When they converted, it was safe to convert. Now they're facing the imminent prospect of persecution or martyrdom. It's no longer an abstraction. 

ii) Take Scorsese's film Silence (2016). In that film, Catholic missionaries desecrate a crucifix to save Japanese Christians from torture. Christian critics treated that action as tantamount to apostasy.

I disagree in that particular case, but it's true that apostasy can mean a public renunciation of the faith, for craven motives, even though the apostate privately believes that Christianity is true. Apostasy can be behavioral rather than doxastic (e.g. Mt 10:33).

iii) However, the kind of people I have in mind are former professing Christians who've been overwhelmed by tragedy. Due to disappointment with God, anger because God failed to come through for them or their loved ones, they give up on God, give up on Christianity.

But it's more emotional than intellectual. Not loss of belief, but loss of trust and reverence. 

My point is that this kind of apostasy has a different motivation than the textbook cases of apostasy in Scripture. Is that damnable, or does God view them as lost sheep whom the Good Shepherd will recover?

Is There a First Human Couple in Our Past?

Satan's cleanup boy

We all hesitate here…"What about my little girl who was run over by a trash truck?"…Here's where the Bible becomes practical…Imagine a God who didn't deliberately permit the smallest details of your particular sorrows. What if your trials weren't screened by any divine plan? What if God insisted on a hands-off policy towards the tragedies swimming your way? Think what this would mean.

Either God rules or Satan sets the world's agenda and God is limited to reacting. In which case, the Almighty would become Satan's cleanup boy, sweeping up after the devil has trampled through and done his worst, finding a way to wring good out of the situation somehow. But it wasn't his best for you, wasn't Plan A, wasn't exactly what he had in mind. In other words, although God would manage to patch things up, your suffering itself would be meaningless. One Christian writer who believes that God has little to do with the specific circumstances that come your way expressed it like this: "sadly, there was no meaning in those deaths. Each was a bizarre, horrible coincidence, nothing more. Therein lies the tragedy." Joni Eareckson Tada & Steven Estes, When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty (Zondervan 1997), 83-84.

Faith in midwinter

She: What happened to Psalm 88? Why did you skip it?
He: I didn't think you could take it tonight. I'm not sure I could. No: I'm sure I could not.
She: Please read it, for me.
He: All right:

...cry out in the night before thee...
For my soul is full of troubles...
Thou has put me in the depths of the Pit,
in the regions dark and deep
She: I need that kind the most.

In that midnight exchange, though its author did not yet know it, this book, A Cry of Absence, was beginning to be conceived. (See pp 88ff.)

In the little exchange above, "she" was Elsa, whom I married forty years before this second edition of a book occasioned by her illness (pp 161-62) and her death (p 39), and who died a dozen years ago. I had agreed, through the seasons of her terminal illness, to take turns with her reading a biblical psalm at the time of each midnight taking of medication. The medicines were pain relievers, fighters against nausea, palliatives. Half the psalms were not.

I had agreed to read the even-numbered and she the odd-numbered psalms. But after a particularly wretched day's bout that wracked her body and my soul, I did not feel up to reading Psalm 88. She noticed that. After the conversation I have recorded here, we continued to speak, slowly and quietly, in the bleakness of midnight but in the warmth of each other's presence and in awareness of the Presence.

We agreed that often the starkest scriptures were the most credible signals of the Presence and came in the worst times. When life gets down to basics, of course one wants the consoling words, the comforting sayings, the voices of hope preserved on printed pages. But they make sense only against the background of, and interplay with, the dark words.

M. Marty, A Cry of Absence: Reflections for the Winter of the Heart (Wipf & Stock 2009), xi-xii.

I'm afraid of the dark

One of the challenges of theodicy is that different people seem to be wired differently. Some people take comfort in knowing that everything, including–or especially–the bad things are inside God's will, while other people find that utterly appalling and take comfort in the belief that bad things are outside God's will. Some Christians find Calvinism the most consoling theology while others find it the most repellant. I wonder to what extent that's a temperamental. Take the freewill defense or Boyd's cosmic warfare theodicy. Compare it to this reaction:

My experiences in life and in medicine have not always reinforced religious faith. For many years, I had difficulty believing that God even exists, much less pays attention to the human condition. Although I now believe that it is "more likely than not" that there is a God, my doubts regarding his involvement in the world are legion, often oppressive. 

The most serious barrier to belief, for me, remains the problem of pain, especially as I have seen it in the suffering of children. For a long time after my first leukemia patient died–she was a beautiful, frightened, four-year-old redhead named Amy–I had difficulty believing in God. One night in the hospital, she held my hand tightly and asked, "Am I going to die"? Perhaps sensing the affirmative in my hesitation, she added, "But Doctor C., I don't want to die. I'm afraid of the dark". 

The answers of my theologian friends–that freedom is the highest good, that divine self-restraint is of paramount importance in the celestial controversy between good and evil, that it is our response to suffering, not the pain itself, that matters–ring hollow within the echoing walls of a morgue at the autopsy of a child. Donna Carlson, "My Journey of Faith in Medicine", R. Rice, Suffering and the Search for Meaning (IVP 2014), 126-27. 

Many freewill theists act as though the assumptions of the freewill defense or cosmic warfare are self-evident, but to outsiders, these are deeply implausible. My point is not that this disproves freewill theism singlehandedly, but it punctures the facile, intuitive appeal. You can see how impatient Dr. Carson is with that those bromides and platitudes. 

We also need to distinguish between theodicies which people adopt in the abstract, and what happens when they experience evil and suffering up close and personal. Certain theodicies logically pair off with certain theological traditions. If you espouse that tradition, you automatically espouse the attendant theodicy. But that may be before you've had occasion to put it to the test in your own experience. Some people revise their theology and theodicy when evil comes knocking. They may revise it for the better or the worse. 

In some cases, there are knee-jerk objections to a particular theodicy by people who haven't thought it through. If their objections were subjected to probing analysis, they might reconsider. 

In addition, people work with what's available to them. Take Rabbi Kushner's finite theism. But he's Jewish, and what is more, he's on the more liberal end of the spectrum, so given his starting-point, does Judaism, or his brand of Judaism in particular, even have the resources to furnish a better theodicy? 

Is there only one way of salvation?

Journey by matchlight

“What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”  
To the Lighthouse

Virginia Woolf was a very gifted woman who suffered from mental illness. In fact, she committed suicide because she couldn't bear the onset of another bout of mental illness. I suspect her depression was aggravated by the brittle atheism of the Bloomsbury Group. 

Christian philosophers and theologians struggle with the problem of evil. People are conflicted about the problem of evil. On the one hand they demand answers. They want to make sense of evil. They don't want their loved ones to suffer or die in vain. They don't want reality to be indifferent. On the other hand, they may be angered by theodicy. "Well, if you say you can make sense of evil, then you're telling me it's not so evil after all! How dare you make it sound so reasonable!"

A variety of theodicies have been devised to domesticate the problem of evil. I think some of these, in combination, have great explanatory power. Yet there's a residual of intractable evils that seem to be inscrutable. That, from our admittedly blinkered viewpoint, are hard to square, not with God's existence, but God's benevolence.

I think part of the problem is that we're approaching the issue with a false expectation. We presume too much.

Suppose, though, we view the problem of evil like matches struck in the dark. On the one hand, there's impenetrable darkness all around. On the other hand, the darkness is broken by intermittent flashes of light. Not bright enough, or enduring enough, to dispel the darkness. 

Yet they suffice to give us hope. To show us that we're not alone. To show us that darkness is not all there is. There is a contrasting reality. Less than we wish for. But enough to remind us not to despair. 

Now, I think that's actually a severe understatement. There's more goodness, more evidence of divine involvement, than matches struck in the dark. The darkness is not that pervasive to begin with.

My point, though, is from the lesser to the greater. Suppose things really were that bleak. An almost total blackout apart from intermittent flashes of light. Even if that's all we had, that should be enough to sustain hope. Something better exists! 

Suppose you're overtaken by night. You're lost in the dark. Pitch black. Ah, but you fumble around and find you have a box of matches in your backpack. You light a match, walk a few yards until it burns out. Light another match, walk another few yards. Matchlight may be just enough to keep you going in the right direction. Keep you moving ahead, towards the unseen destination. 

Moreover, there's something promising about light. Something especially encouraging about firelight at night. In the daytime we're apt to take light for granted because it's all around us. But outside, at night, the contrast makes a little light stand out. Sometimes people build a campfire for the psychological value.  

Even if some evils are inexplicable, matchlight is a harbinger. A beacon in miniature. A bridge of flaming match heads in-between stretches of darkness. 

We live by matchlight. We journey by matchlight. And once the new day dawns, we can throw away the matchbox. 

It's striking to see how sunlight transforms the landscape. How the rising sun drives the shadows into retreat. How the rising sun floods the landscape with warmth and color. How sunlight exposes a world you'd never suspect if you were born in darkness. It was there all along, but hidden from view, when night prevailed. Is that how the problem of evil will appear from heaven, as we look back on this life? 

Monday, March 05, 2018

Clown society

Justin Trudeau has become a laughingstock. Although his father was a controversial, and even hated political figure, no one doubted that Pierre Trudeau was a smart savvy guy, whereas Justin is an airhead man-child. 

Mind you, I don't say that out of chauvinism. We had Obama for eight years. One weakness of liberals is how easily they are wowed by somebody with an Ivy League degree. Look at how Neil deGrasse Tyson is feted as a public intellectual. 

A mark of cultural decadence is when voters elect incompetent leaders. There are times and places where life is very hazardous. Where there's precious little margin for error. To survive, you need to be on the ball all the time.

However, some countries develop a lot of insulation. They have a lot in reserve. That lulls many voters into a false sense of security. That competence doesn't matter. Inept voters electing inept officials. But that's a gamble, and good luck is bound to run out if you keep drawing down the reserves, if you keep promoting dangerous policies. There's only so much a country can absorb before there's no more insulation to buffer the cumulative incompetence. 

We have young people who are so out of touch with reality that they swallow Tide pods. Can you imagine their survival skills in the wild? 

There's a day of reckoning for voters who keep empowering inept policymakers. The country becomes increasingly vulnerable. 

Carrier's snow machine

Jonathan McLatchie recently debated Richard Carrier:

This, in turn, generated an impromptu debate between yours truly and Richard Carrier on Facebook. 


I don't even consider the evangelical to be the mainstream. It's a position of extreme bias. Mainstream is centrist: undogmatic believers, and nonbelievers, with full credentials. You can't be a literalist or an inerrantist, and be mainstream. You can't be a dogmatist, either. But even by that definition of mainstream, it remains the case that the widest mainstream view is that Paul believed Jesus was an earth person (and met his biological brothers, for example), in the same way he probably believed Moses was (although the mainstream view now is that there was no Moses, or that we can't assert with any confidence that there was; and that used not to be the case; the consensus changed in the decades after being challenged in the 1970s; I'm arguing that needs to happen again; and there are at least ten qualified experts who agree this challenge to the old consensus on Jesus at least needs to be taken seriously and included among the many other contradictory but viable options entertained by the mainstream).


Amusing to see Carrier's self-incriminating attack on "dogmatists," given the fact that Carrier is a secular dogmatist.


The number of experts on my side only argues against the claim that no experts agree with me. Although I'm not aware of any astronomers (as in actual Ph.D.s in astronomy) who believe in a flat earth. So that analogy seems implausible. My situation is more analogous to the 1970s when the historicity of Moses was challenged. It will take decades to see if it goes the same way.


Jonathan McLatchie's analogy was not to flat-earthers but young-earth creationists.


Oh, right! Wait...Who are the Ph.D.s in relevant sciences who are young earthers?


E.g. Kurt Wise, Todd Wood, John Byl, Andrew Snelling, Jonathan Sarfati, John C. Sanford, Jason Lisle, &c. 


Nathaniel Jeanson, David Menton, Danny Faulkner


Leonard Brand, John Baumgardner, and Walt Brown as well would be prominent names.