Saturday, July 07, 2018


Some New Age types try to prooftext smoking weed from Scripture. A few quick observations:

1. I don't have a personal stake in this debate. I don't smoke or drink. I think alcoholic consumption in moderation is permissible. I think the occasional cigar (or pipe tobacco) is okay. Chain-smoking carries serious risk of lung cancer and emphysema.

2. I don't have a deeply considered position on marijuana. I think it's a prudential issue rather than a matter of intrinsic morality. As a rule, it's imprudent to use a potentially addictive substance. That's a gratuitous risk. But that's not absolute. 

3. Some people claim the anointing oil in Exod 30:23ff includes cannabis as an ingredient. However, as recent commentators like Duane Garrett and Victor Hamilton explain, the identification of the ingredients is quite doubtful at this distance. 

4. Some people claim Jesus used cannabis oil to heal the sick.  

i) To begin with, that piggybacks on the false assumption of Exod 30. 

ii) As the Gospels make abundantly clearly, dominical healings were due to Christ's divine power. In only two cases does he even use any object lesson. In every other case, it's by touch, or his word. Sometimes healing at a distance. 

5. Appeal is made to Gen 1:29 & 1 Tim 4:3-4

i) Some plants are edible to one species but inedible to another species. Some plants are toxic to humans. So Gen 1:29 and 1 Tim 4:3-4 are hardly meant to be a blanket endorsement. 

ii) Due to adaptation, hybridization, and horticulture, many plants exist today that didn't exist in the past. Young-earth creationists, old-earth creationists, and theistic evolutionists all take that position. 

That doesn't mean it's forbidden to eat fauna and flora which don't represent the first generation of God's creation. But Gen 1:29 & 1 Tim 4:3-4 can't be quoted to backdate all species. Those texts don't cover every conceivable variation–past and future–but state a general principle. 

Secular science and human rights

Sheldrake: In theory science does portray humans as just machines, computers, “lumbering robots” in Richard Dawkins’s phrase, with no free will. From this point of view our minds are merely the activities of our brains. On the other hand, most scientists subscribe to secular humanism, which says we should do everything we can to improve human welfare, stop suffering, and so on. So there’s a conflict there. If you consider humans machines, then you should treat them the same way science treats animals, which is what the Nazi doctors did in the death camps; the same experiments long carried out on animals were applied to humans there. There’s nothing in science that tells us humans are special and shouldn’t be treated this way. That idea comes from secular humanism, which is a kind of quasi-religious faith.

Is consent a sufficient criterion?

Homosexual activists typically draw the line with consent. At least that's what they say when publicly defending their lifestyle. Consenting adults should be free to do whatever. 

Let's test that. Suppose an attractive mother and her attractive teenage daughter are captives in a concentration camp. One of the guards has designs on her daughter, so the mother offers to take her daughter's place. That's consensual sex, but does that make it right? 

Consider another example: Fr. Maximilian Kolbe offered to take the place of a prisoner condemned to die. That's consensual. Does that mean the Nazis were blameless in starving him to death?

Sophie's Choice

1. In consequentialist ethics, the common good is the overriding consideration. That's intuitively appealing because there are many situations where the common good does override individual interests. For instance, in war, it is sometimes necessary to take some lives to save more lives. 

Suppose I'm strolling on a sidewalk when I approach an apartment complex which is on fire. I have a have a chance to save some tenants by rushing in. I can't save them all. But it makes sense to save as many as I can. I can save more tenants if I focus on the first floor than the fourth floor. In the time it takes to reach the fourth floor, I can reach more people on the first floor. 

Suppose, though, I live on the fourth floor with my elderly mother. If it's a choice between saving twenty tenants and saving my mother, I will disregard the common good. What's the difference?

In the first case, every tenant has an equal claim on me. I don't have a greater duty to any particular tenant. 

In the second case, I have a greater duty to my own mother–not to mention that I care more about her than the other tenants. It's not that their lives are tenants are less intrinsically valuable, but as social creatures, we prioritize. 

As I've often said, social duties are concentric. We have greater obligations to some people than others. So that undercuts consequentialism. 

2. In general, I'd also say that proximity makes a difference. There's an episode ("Darkness Visible") of La Femme Nikita in which Michael and Nikita have a chance to rescue two war orphans (young siblings), but it will jeopardize the mission if they do so. Michael is prepared to leave the orphans behind, although he hates doing it, but Nikita's maternal instinct kicks in. She is Michael's conscience, and because he's in love with her, he can't stand to disillusion her. 

Their mission is just. They work for a counterterrorist organization (Section One). But I'd say there's a greater duty to save those in need who are right in front of them. 

3. Let's take a different example, made famous by a movie:

Even if it were plausible to arrange moral precepts hierarchically, situations can arise in which the same precept gives rise to conflicting obligations. Perhaps the most widely discussed case of this sort is taken from William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice (1980; see Greenspan 1983 and Tessman 2015, 160–163). Sophie and her two children are at a Nazi concentration camp. A guard confronts Sophie and tells her that one of her children will be allowed to live and one will be killed. But it is Sophie who must decide which child will be killed. Sophie can prevent the death of either of her children, but only by condemning the other to be killed. The guard makes the situation even more excruciating by informing Sophie that if she chooses neither, then both will be killed. With this added factor, Sophie has a morally compelling reason to choose one of her children. But for each child, Sophie has an apparently equally strong reason to save him or her. Thus the same moral precept gives rise to conflicting obligations. Some have called such cases symmetrical...

But the hardest case for opponents is the symmetrical one, where the same precept generates the conflicting requirements. The case from Sophie’s Choice is of this sort. It makes no sense to say that a rule or principle overrides itself. So what do opponents of dilemmas say here? They are apt to argue that the pertinent, all-things-considered requirement in such a case is disjunctive: Sophie should act to save one or the other of her children, since that is the best that she can do (for example, Zimmerman 1996, Chapter 7). Such a move need not be ad hoc, since in many cases it is quite natural. If an agent can afford to make a meaningful contribution to only one charity, the fact that there are several worthwhile candidates does not prompt many to say that the agent will fail morally no matter what he does. Nearly all of us think that he should give to one or the other of the worthy candidates. Similarly, if two people are drowning and an agent is situated so that she can save either of the two but only one, few say that she is doing wrong no matter which person she saves. Positing a disjunctive requirement in these cases seems perfectly natural, and so such a move is available to opponents of dilemmas as a response to symmetrical cases.

In a sense, saving one of her two children is the best Sophie can do, but what if the best option is still wrong? In that situation, I think Sophie should let the Nazi guard kill both children, because she is wronging one of her children by sacrificing one child to save the other. Imagine the child's sense of betrayal. Sometimes, in a fallen world, you have to let the worst thing happen. There's where eschatological compensations make a difference. 

I'm not necessarily suggesting the mother is blameworthy if she accepts the terms of the dilemma. It's the guard, not the mother, who's at fault. She can't be expected to make a rational, disinterested decision in that situation. Critical detachment is impossible. There are powerful extenuating circumstances that mitigate or exculpate her action. But we can still assess the objective moral quality of her action. 

4. Finally, is it ever right to wrong somebody? Suppose a bank-robber is holding a hostage at gunpoint. The surest way to save the hostage is to shoot the bank-robber through the hostage. To shoot the hostage in a non-fatal location in order to disable the bank-robber. The bullet will pass through the hostage to hit the bank-robber, causing him to drop his gun. 

Suppose I uncover a plot to kidnap a rich man. He will be dismembered, one appendage at a time, until his family agrees to pay the ransom. Suppose I'm in a position to cheat him out of his fortune, thereby sparing him that fate.

Or suppose I have to tell someone a painful lie to deter them from harming themselves. Perhaps it's arguable that in these situations I didn't wrong them due to exigent circumstances. 

I will wait till my change comes

If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I will wait for my renewal to come (Job 14:14).

Rebecca Groothuis, wife of Doug Groothuis, died yesterday. She was suffering from dementia. 

When a loved one faces a life-threatening condition, there are two possible outcomes: recovery or death. Depends on the condition.

Suppose a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. Suppose it has an iffy prognosis, on the knife-edge. You don't know if they will beat the cancer or the cancer will beat them. A family caregiver goes through that ordeal with them day in and day out. A draining experience but a bonding experience. If they recover, that's a rewarding experience. 

But if they die, the surviving family member is damaged. They shared that ordeal, but there's no emotional compensation. Their loved one put the ordeal behind them (if they go to heaven), but the surviving family member is left holding a fistful of dust. They went through the ordeal together, but the survivor lost them anyway. Nothing to show for the wrenching emotional investment. 

In that event, the only emotional healing awaits the death of the family caregiver. Heavenly reunion. If both survive, there's emotional healing; if both die, there's emotional healing; but when one is taken while the other is left behind, the heart aches and breaks. 

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey has most of the elements I tend to love in science fiction. It attempts scientific and technical realism. It moves at a pensive pace. It has stunning visuals and awe-inspiring music. The story as it unfolds is strong. The villain is fitting and worthy. What's front and center is ideas over action. It doesn't pander to the audience. In fact, quite the opposite, in its challenge to make the audience think, to ponder and wonder. It has a consistent and meaningful overall message. The film sits with you long after leaving the theaters, as it were. It's thoughtful, reflective, meditative. So I'd say I have a high appreciation for the movie as a work of art, as evidence of Stanley Kubrick's mastery as a filmmaker and storyteller.

However, the film's "philosophical statement about man's place in the universe" (Roger Ebert) is precisely why I don't enjoy watching it. It's secular through and through. Humanity evolves, then transcends itself, beyond man. Secular salvation on the silver screen. Although I suppose it reflects the fact that even secularists like Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke know this flesh and these bones aren't all we are, not all we're meant to be; that we're made for something more. In this respect, I think the star child is visionary, but it takes a cue from and riffs off of Christianity. A man of dust transformed into a man of "heaven". A seed is sown, it dies the death, then blooms into a "heavenly" body. Rather than God remaking us, we've remade ourselves, albeit with help from an apparently benevolent if enigmatic and god-like alien species tugging us along the pathway until we reach the next evolutionary stage. Born anew, the perishable clothed with the imperishable, from dust to stardust. Putting away childish ways, childhood's end, becoming true man, which is star man. The beatific vision of the star child depicted on celluloid is alluring indeed - man in wonderment over man, gazing upon the old earth from a perch in the new heavens - but in truth the star child is a gross caricature or twisted parody of the new creation in Christ. If we look past the cinematic mask, through the angelic disguise, then we might consider how the star child is nearer Frankenstein's monster than God's new Adam.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Ivy League racism


7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him (Rev 12:7-9).

Scholars often puzzle over how the serpentine tempter in Gen 3 comes to be associated with the devil–as well as dragons. By the same token, scholars debate whether the adversary in Job 1-2 is Satan or a morally neutral character. However, we might view this as part of a larger dragon/sea-monster motif in Scripture, viz. 

12 By his power he stilled the sea;
    by his understanding he shattered Rahab.
13 By his wind the heavens were made fair;
    his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.
(Job 26:12-13)

18 His sneezings flash forth light,
    and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn.
19 Out of his mouth go flaming torches;
    sparks of fire leap forth.
20 Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke,
    as from a boiling pot and burning rushes.
21 His breath kindles coals,
    and a flame comes forth from his mouth.
(Job 41:18-21)

9 Awake, awake, put on strength,
    O arm of the Lord;
awake, as in days of old,
    the generations of long ago.
Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces,
    who pierced the dragon?
10 Was it not you who dried up the sea,
    the waters of the great deep,
who made the depths of the sea a way
    for the redeemed to pass over?
(Isa 51:9-10)

“Behold, I am against you,
    Pharaoh king of Egypt,
the great dragon that lies
    in the midst of his streams,
that says, ‘My Nile is my own;
    I made it for myself.’
4 I will put hooks in your jaws,
    and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales;
and I will draw you up out of the midst of your streams,
    with all the fish of your streams
    that stick to your scales.
(Ezk 29:3-4)

   but you are like a dragon in the seas;
you burst forth in your rivers,
    trouble the waters with your feet,
    and foul their rivers.
(Ezk 32:2)

13 You divided the sea by your might;
    you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.
14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
    you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
(Ps 74:13-14)

9 You rule the raging of the sea;
    when its waves rise, you still them.
10 You crushed Rahab like a carcass;
    you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
(Ps 89:9-10)

In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea (Isa 27:1)

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed. Then he wrote down the dream and told the sum of the matter. 2 Daniel declared,“I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. 3 And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another (Dan 7:1-3)

And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads (Rev 13:1)

Not coincidentally, the Garden of Eden is located in and around four rivers (Gen 2:10-14). Eden could either be situated in Armenia or what is now the Persian Gulf (an extension of the Indian Ocean). Like Eden, Babylonia is located in and around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Egypt is associated with the Nile and the Mediterranean. Patmos is situated in the Aegean sea. An ancient equivalent of Alcatraz. 

So the geography of the area is conducive to the evolution of a sea-monster/river-monster motif. These monsters are liminal creatures that personify the boundary between the natural world and the supernatural world. In that regard, they parallel biblical angelophany. Angels occupy both sides of the boundary, moving back and forth between our world and their indigenous realm (e.g. heaven, the netherworld). They enter our world from their own domain (e.g. chthonic spirits and deities). 

Scripture plays on this flexible motif, where dragons and sea-monsters are metaphors for the enemies of God and God's people. Although that includes human adversaries like Pharaoh, yet he himself was a front-man for the Egyptian pantheon. 

Perhaps, then, we should associate the adversary in Job 1-2 with Rahab (Job 26) and Leviathan (Job 41). Likewise, perhaps we should associate the tempter in Gen 3 with occultic sea-monsters and river-monsters. And that in turn is a guise for the dark side.  

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Death of a warlock


Ethan Mather was captain of the Lacrosse team. Athletic and handsome, with flashing amber eyes like a lion, and a mysterious magnetism. Amber eyes ran in the family. His father and grandfather had them, too. The other boys viewed Ethan with respect, admiration, and fear. It was dangerous to be his friend, but more dangerous not to be.

He seemed to be able to read minds. And hex people. Not that anyone ever saw him or heard him hex another person, but if you crossed him, bad things happened. Uncanny things. Like the time he caught a classmate making out with one of his girlfriends. Next day the classmate was attacked by a swarm of bees. Hospitalized. Never returned to school.


Ethan was a warlock. That was the secret source of his strange abilities. He could anticipate what players were going to do before they did it. A gift that also helped him win at poker.

He didn't choose to be a warlock. He was born that way. He came from a long line of warlocks. A lineal descendent of Cotten Mather.

Yes, there really were witches in Salem. They infiltrated the highest reaches of society as mayors, judges, and governors. Their philosophy was to hide in plain sight. Gain civil power to protect themselves.

They infiltrated the church. Became ministers. Succeeded in defanging the spiritual power of the church by turning New England to unitarianism.

Cotten Mather participated in witch trials to deflect attention away from real witches. He targeted Christians. Witches feared Christian prayer.

Warlocks had preternatural longevity, so they had to feign aging and death, then start a new life elsewhere.


But the benefits were offset by terrible side-effects. Ethan's relatives suffered from depression, insanity, and bouts of murderous rage. Ethan suffered from hellish nightmares. Friendships were fragile. Ethan's kind were unforgiving. They could turn on each other. Joyless power.


Ethan once had a conversation with a progressive pastor who dismissed the supernaturalism of Scripture as superstition and mythology. Ethan was amused. He wasn't an atheist. He knew, as only the Enemy can know, how true the Bible is. He was more orthodox than most churchgoers.

He began to tell the minister things the minister had done that no one could possibly know about. The minister became alarmed.


The countryside was haunted by a wolf pack. The devil's familiars. People sometimes spotted the pack in the meadows, at dusk.

One day, Ethan met Jasmine. When Jasmine was cycling at dusk, the pack began to encircle her.

But Ethan happened to be jogging at the same time. He walked over to the alpha wolf. For a moment, they looked each other in the eye, then the pack took off. Jasmine was relieved, but puzzled by Ethan's inexplicable affinity with wild animals.

She and Ethan began spending time together. She was pretty, with a winsome personality. A churchgoing girl. Ethan could sense that she was authentic. He ran through many girlfriends, but she was the first girl he fell for. She had something that was missing in his own life. A different kind of mysterious magnetism.


One time she invited him to church. He was profoundly uninterested, but since it was a way of getting closer to her, he agreed.

Only, when he arrived at church, he couldn't go inside. With each step, he developed a raging headache and blisters. So he retreated.


Ethan was at a crossroads. Would he return to his old life?

He arranged to speak with the pastor on neutral ground. He could sense that the pastor was authentic.

He explained the situation. The pastor said the only solution was to undergo exorcism. If successful, Ethan would be liberated, but lose his occult powers. A tradeoff.

Ethan finally agreed. Although his powers were advantageous, they didn't make him happy. He felt a yawning darkness inside. He feared damnation. And he wanted to be with Jasmine.


The exorcism was excruciating. Ethan passed out. When he awoke, he didn't remember what had happened, but he felt different. Weaker, but better. The nightmares were gone. His eyes changed color. No longer amber. Now they were just plain brown.


Adjusting to normal life was frustrating. Everything had been so easy for him. But now he had to rely on natural ability and hard work. Now he had to experience failure for the first time in life. He was bumped from captain of the Lacrosse team because he lost his edge. Still a good athlete, but nothing extraordinary.

He and Jasmine married. His newborn son had brown eyes, not amber. Ethan was relieved. The family curse was broken.

Engaging Hinduism

Can "White" People Be Saved?

Ironically, people like Thabiti Anyabwile, Mark Labberton, Reformed Margins, RAAN et al. are parasitic on white society and white evangelicalism. They act like they have no identity of their own. They define themselves by attacking whiteness. They don't know what they're for–just what they're against. No positive identity. No constructive alternative.

What is salvation?

There are different concepts of salvation. How we define salvation is crucial to the vision and mission of the church. 

1. Alienation from nature

According to secular environmentalism, humans are simply animals. Technology alienates humans from their natural surroundings. In addition, technology upsets the balance of nature. Humans become too dominant and destructive to the ecosystem. 

"Salvation" is to regain our sense of where we belong in the natural order. Our place. 

To sacrifice human flourishing for the common good of the ecosphere.

2. Escape from divine punishment

In traditional theology, one of God's duties is to punish wrongdoers. That's what makes God a just God.

In liberal theology, a punitive God is unthinkable. The doors of hell are locked from the inside. 

3. Divine alienation

It's common to say man is alienated from God. More controversial is to say there's a sense in which sin alienates God from man. In liberal theology, the impediment to fellowship is entirely at man's end, not God's end. 

4. Deliverance from death and physical impairment 

That awaits the afterlife

5. Emancipation from demonic influence

Especially in cultures dominated by witchcraft. 

6. Deliverance from destructive passion

Reason is often the slave of passion. Unbridled passion destroys relationships. Results in violence.  

7. Deliverance from depression, self-loathing, and mental illness

Sometimes that happens in this life although complete healing may await the afterlife.

8. Escape from the wheel of reincarnation

According to Hinduism and Buddhism

9. The state becomes the church

In secular ideology, the state saves humans from their destructive and self-destructive impulses. 

Seeds of unitarianism

A basic problem with the traditional dogma of eternal generation/procession is that it makes the Father alone unoriginate. Everything else–the Son, the Spirit, and creatures–is originate. But that implicitly puts the Father on the God side while everything else is an effect of God. It blurs the distinction between the Son, the Spirit, and creatures, by placing the Son, the Spirit, and creatures on the same side of that dichotomy. In contrast to the Father, the Son, Spirit, and (other) creatures have a source of origin. 

The traditional dogma contains the seeds of unitarianism. While the Nicene paradigm was a great improvement over Arianism, it's a flawed paradigm. 

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Focusing On Galatians 3 In Discussions About Justification

A good passage of scripture to focus on when justification through faith alone is being disputed is Galatians 3, especially verse 2. In that verse, Paul tells us about "the only thing" he wanted the Galatians to focus on. He didn't want them to focus on something like the deity of Christ or his resurrection. As important as those issues were, they weren't sufficient. Similarly, belief in Trinitarianism, belief in Jesus' resurrection, opposition to abortion, and other matters of common ground between Roman Catholics and Protestants (and Eastern Orthodox, etc.) aren't sufficient as long as their disagreement over faith and works persists.

The one thing Paul focused on in Galatians 3:2 was whether justification is received "by hearing with faith" or by some other means that denies the sufficiency of faith. Since "by hearing with faith" doesn't logically seem to include works of any type, since Paul goes on to illustrate his point by citing a passage in which Abraham has faith without doing any work (3:6), and since he denies that there's any law of works whereby justification can be attained (3:21-25), he's excluding every form of works. Notice that verses 21-25 aren't just about the Mosaic law or some other such narrower range of works, but rather any system of works you can imagine.

What Paul is referring to in 3:2 is the Galatians' initial belief upon hearing the gospel. They believed in their hearts as they heard the gospel being preached, without any works of any type accompanying their faith at the time of their justification (as in Acts 10:44-8, 15:7-11). And they weren't justified by any work that was added later (Galatians 3:3). The central issue for Paul in his letter to the Galatians is the acceptance of a view of justification that Roman Catholicism and other opponents of Protestantism reject.

Near the end of the chapter, Paul refers to how "you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (verse 27). Do those comments warrant including baptism as a means of justification? No, since it's far easier to reconcile verse 27 with justification apart from baptism than it is to reconcile the earlier verses with baptismal justification. In addition to what I've mentioned above, Ronald Fung notes that "in this chapter [Galatians 3] faith is mentioned fifteen times and baptism only once" (The Epistle To The Galatians [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1988], 173).

If Paul is referring to baptism in some sense other than water baptism (e.g., "baptized into Moses" in 1 Corinthians 10:2), the passage isn't even relevant. So, I'll focus on the view that sees water baptism in the passage. If water baptism is in mind, Galatians 3:27 is likely referring to the same kind of concept we see in Romans 13:14, 2 Corinthians 4:10-11, and Philippians 3:10-12, where various activities done later in the Christian life unite us with Christ in some manner without being justificatory. Romans 13:14 uses the same sort of clothing language ("put on the Lord Jesus Christ") that we see in Galatians 3:27. (See the similar language in Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:8.) Since verses 28-29 go on to refer to the Galatians' present life "in Christ Jesus", a post-justification event like water baptism would be relevant.

More could be said about these issues, but what I've outlined above is enough to make my point. Protestants tend to focus too much on didactic passages when discussing justification and too little on the narrative portions of scripture. One of the advantages of going to Galatians 3 is that it has so much significant material of both types. The didactic material is illustrated by what historically happened when the Galatians and Abraham were justified. The chapter covers so many important topics so concisely and clearly, and Paul himself singles the chapter out for us by telling us that "This is the only thing I want to find out from you" (Galatians 3:2).

(For more evidence of justification through faith alone in scripture, the church fathers, and later church history, see here.)

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Heart rot

Some trees suffer from heart rot. They look sturdy and healthy on the outside, but they've been hollowed out by internal rot. It only takes a wind storm to blow them over. Is that what's happening to the PCA? 

• Women's Ministry. In order for the PCA to have unity, it will be necessary for ME's to accept our denomination's historical commitment to the Bible's teaching of male-only elders and deacons, involving not only ordination but also the functions of those offices. Meanwhile, MR's will need to show a broad embrace, within the above bounds, of women exercising their gifts and partnering with men in the work of the gospel. Given the clear stance of the 2017 Women's Ministry Study Committee report in agreement with both of these sides - against ordination to elder and deacon and for wide-ranging ministry - there is reason to be optimistic. This year's denial of the overture to admit women as voting members of general assembly committees is even more encouraging to those concerned about a liberal drift. Still, the coming years will tell the tale, and if progressives become resolved to achieve women's ordination then all hopes of unity in the PCA will be dashed.

• Creation v. Evolution. PCA unity on this topic requires MR's to accept that not all of our brothers are going to hold a strict 24-7 view of Genesis 1. But it will also require ME's clearly to accept that evolution has no place in our denomination, including end-run theories like old earth progressive creationism. If we can continue to agree on the biblical portrait of a historical Adam, clearly exclude evolution, and accept diversity within those bounds, the PCA can maintain our functional unity. Conversely, attempts to foster acceptance of evolution or to impose a 24-7 creation view on the denomination will lead to further division.

• Homosexuality. At the heart of our division on this subject is whether or not to define same-sex attraction (SSA) as a morally neutral status that does not require repentance. PCA progressives seem to have asserted such a sub-category beneath sinful desire (essentially adopting the pre-Reformation concept of concupiscence).  PCA conservatives hold with the Reformers against concupiscence, urging that the Bible does not meaningfully distinguish between "orientation" and "desire" (see James 1:13-14). Can we come to an ME-MR agreement on this topic? I was encouraged in this regard by comments made during the general assembly by Mark Dalbey, president of Covenant Theological Seminary. While conservatives may quarrel with details of Dalbey's configuration, his statement that "attraction to the same sex must be mortified by the means of grace and the support of the people of God,"2 is at least close to the conservative view regarding same sex attraction. Moreover, MR's are convinced that expressions such as "gay Christian" are incompatible with 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 as a wholesome description of a believer. For their part, ME's are concerned for believers struggling with homosexual desire to be granted their full human dignity and embraced with loving gospel ministry in the church. Can we reach an agreement that brings both sides together? This remains to be seen, although I was encouraged in this hope by the experience of general assembly.

With due respect to Rick Phillips (and he's not the problem), I don't see how this is going to work out. The proper procedure is to seek ordination in a denomination you already agree with. A prospective ordinand should select a denomination whose theology and official policies are a match for his own. And the ordination process is supposed to be a vetting process to ensure, as much as possible, that candidates line up with the viewpoint of the denomination.

If, however, a sizable percentage of elders are at variance with official policy, then short of schism or expulsion, what's the remedy? Aren't they bound to work towards changing the denomination to make it realign with their own viewpoint? 

And even if they kept their dissent private, their actions will lack conviction. They can't be expecting to put their heart into preaching/teaching things or practicing church discipline if they're unsympathetic with official policy in that regard. 

In the case of the same-sex attraction debate, the PCA may not have an official policy. Things that were unthinkable 10 years ago are now up for grabs. It's hard to keep up with sociological trends. 

But that doesn't excuse what ought to be an easy policy call. How can homosexual activity be intrinsically wrong unless homosexual attraction is intrinsically wrong? This is a wedge issue. 


By Kinist/Alt Right logic, I should feel more in common with this freakasaurus than normal minorities because we're both white. But somehow I just can't muster the requisite sense of affinity. 

Choosing the lesser sin

I'm going to comment on an essay by Wayne Grudem: Christians Never Have to Choose the “Lesser Sin”, J. Frame, W. Grudem, & J. Hughes, eds. Redeeming the Life of the Mind: Essays in Honor of Vern Poythress (Crossway 2017), chap. 19.

Some Christian writers claim that people sometimes find themselves in situations so difficult that they are faced with a choice between disobeying one of God's moral commands or another, and in those situations they are forced by circumstances to choose the "lesser sin". 

i) Freewill theism generates moral dilemmas because God must play the hand he's dealt. God can't guarantee that we will always in a position to do the right thing.

ii) But that doesn't necessary imply that we are forced to choose the lesser sin. If no moral options are available, through no fault of our own, it could well be argued that we are blameless if we choose the least evil course of action. 

That's not my own position. But it's coherent, given the framework. 

Monday, July 02, 2018

Canon revisited

In this post I'll discuss some aspects of the Catholic/Protestant debate over the canon. 

1. What, exactly, is the nature of the Catholic claim? Is it an ontological claim regarding the nature of Scripture? Is the claim that there's no intrinsic difference between what counts as Scripture and what doesn't? Is it that an ecumenical council could just as well vote the Gospel of John out of the canon and vote the Gospel of Thomas into the canon? Does it come down to raw, arbitrary ecclesiastical authority? 

2. Is it an epistemological argument regarding the certainty or uncertainty of the canon? Catholic apologists appeal to the "infallible church" as a shortcut. But does that work, or does that just push the same questions back a step? Consider Karl Keating's spiral argument:

On the first level we argue to the reliability of the Bible insofar as it is history. From that we conclude that an infallible Church was founded. And then we take the word of that infallible Church that the Bible is inspired. This is not a circular argument because the final conclusion (the Bible is inspired) is not simply a restatement of its initial finding (the Bible is historically reliable), and its initial finding (the Bible is historically reliable) is in no way based on the final conclusion (the Bible is inspired). What we have demonstrated is that without the existence of the Church, we could never know whether the Bible is inspired.

This seems to be a Catholic version of an argument by John Warwick Montgomery. There are some basic problems with Keating's argument:

i) It takes the canon for granted as a starting-point rather than end-point. You can only argue for and from the reliability of Scripture if you know where to find Scripture.

ii) Even if his argument was successful, it yields probability rather than certainty because the conclusion can't be more certain than what's feeding into the conclusion. Even if the Bible bears witness to an infallible church, the Bible that does that, in Keating's argument, is a fallible Bible. At best, that's a fallible testimony to an infallible church.  

iii) Protestants find Catholic prooftexts for the infallible church of Rome specious. 

But in that event, the Catholic church doesn't offer certainty on the canon. It doesn't solve the problem it poses for itself. It doesn't provide a superior alternative to the epistemic situation of Protestants. 

3. The OT Apocrypha is an arbitrarily selective corpus. There's no essential difference between the OT Apocrypha and the OT pseudepigrapha. It's the same kind of intertestamental literature. It's just the inertia of unreflective tradition that differentiates the OT Apocrypha from the OT pseudepigrapha. What makes Tobit or Bel and the Dragon more fitting candidates for canonicity than 1 Enoch, the Assumption/Testament of Moses, or the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs? It's just a historical accident that Trent canonized some intertestamental books rather than others. 

If the Vatican was starting from scratch, based on the assumptions of the historical-critical method, which is mainstream in contemporary Catholic scholarship, are we to believe they'd come up with the same list? Books were canonized based on traditional authorship, which is routinely rejected by mainstream Catholic scholarship. By contemporary Catholic standards, they were canonized under false pretenses.  

4. Of course, critical scholars regard Daniel as a pseudepigraphal work from the intertestamental period. However, the status of Daniel is inseparable from the NT. From a NT perspective, the inspiration of Daniel is nonnegotiable, given how the prophecies of Daniel figure in NT eschatology. 

5. Debates over the canon are often artificial because it depends on the availability of viable alternative candidates. But there's little else to choose from. Ironically, both OT and NT pseudepigrapha bear witness to the termination of the OT and NT canon. The use of pseudonymity is a wedge tactic to reopen the canon by backdating newer compositions to OT and NT times. 

6. Consider the "apostolic fathers", viz. Papias, 1 Clement, The Didache, The Epistle of Barnabas, The Epistle of Polycarp, The Shepherd of Hermas, the letters of Ignatius. Are they candidates for canonicity? Unless continuous public revelation is the norm, resulting in an open-ended canon, there may well be some writings after the termination of the canon by contemporaries of the waning apostolic age. 

From a Jewish perspective, the interestamental period is a misnomer. Public revelation and canonical inspiration simply ended with some postexilic books. There's nothing else on the horizon. And that's analogous to the interadventual age. 

7. Catholic apologists appeal to the (allegedly) larger canon of the LXX. But was there ever a monolithic LXX? As Peter Williams, Warden of Tyndale House, has noted:

I'm not against the idea of a unity of a corpus of pre-Christian Greek translations. My point is that this needs to be demonstrated rather than assumed. I currently have not seen any compelling reason to suppose that a first century Christian (for instance) would have certainly thought that the Greek version of Isaiah used in his or her synagogue was part of a unified translation corpus with the Pentateuch.

8. Suppose for argument's sake that the Protestant canon might mistakenly include a book that ought to be excluded or exclude a book that ought to be included. Suppose it isn't possible to be certain. But if we're mistaken through no fault of our own, because the evidence is inconclusive, is that something we should fret over? Unless God is going to punish Christians for unavoidable mistakes, how is that our responsibility? 

The NT has a very large core canon. Hardly any NT books are open to serious dispute. Likewise, the OT has a very large core canon. 

9. Because the Jews were the original recipients of Yahweh's revelation, that made them informal custodians of the OT. Those are the books they copied. Those are the books they stored in the tabernacle, temple, synagogues. They'd also know which books originate during the intertestamental period. 

Appealing to Jewish testimony isn't an argument from authority. The appeal is de facto rather than de jure.

To take a comparison, consider family correspondence. Grown children may save letters that relatives wrote to them. To that extent they become custodians of family correspondence. When they die, their children may inherit that correspondence. So there was an informal chain of custody, where this material was passed down through family members. Where relatives become de facto custodians of family correspondence, simply by saving letters as well as inheriting their personal effects. That's ordinary providence at work. 

We can think of the Jewish witness to the OT along similar lines. As the original recipients, they were in possession of the books. They became the de facto custodians. It was copied from one generation to the next. All they have to do is to hang onto the documents. Transmit the documents to the next generation, through transcription and catechesis. And, of course, we'd expect special providence to be in play regarding the OT scriptures. 

10. It's evangelical scholars rather than Catholic scholars who move the heavy mental lumber in defending the historicity and authenticity of the Bible. To take some fairly recent examples:

Stephen Dempster, “The Old Testament Canon, Josephus and Cognitive Environment,” in The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, ed. D. A. Carson, (Zondervan, 2016), 321-361.

Simon Gathercole, “The Titles of the Gospels in the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts”, ZNW 104.1 (2013), pp. 33-76.

C. E. Hill, Who Chose the Gospels? (Oxford 2012).

Timothy J. Stone, The Compilational History of the Megilloth: Canon, Contoured Intertextuality and Meaning in the Writings (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013). 

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Revenge suicide

People commit suicide for different reasons. In some cases, revenge is the motive. A way of getting back at people by making them feel guilty. 

People commit apostasy for different reasons. In some cases, apostasy is the theological (or atheistic) equivalent of revenge suicide. The apostate is a mad a God. Mad at Christians. Mad at the church. Disillusioned. 

Apostasy is symbolic way of getting back at God. A real way of getting back at Christians and the church. Notice how much apostasy is often driven by anger.

BTW, I don't necessarily mean that as a putdown. In the pages of Scripture, you have psalmists and prophets who are mad at God, or disappointed. 

But apostasy and revenge suicide are often psychologically equivalent. They just take different objects. 

The counsel of Trent, part 2.

This is a sequel to my previous post:

I'm ambivalent about reviewing this book. That's because there's so much deja vu in reading a book like this. I've written so much over the years responding to Catholic apologetics. How much to I wish to repeat myself? 

So this review will be scattershot. I'll try to find some new things to say, or new ways to say them.

Because Catholicism is a package deal, it isn't necessary to refute Catholicism en bloc to refute Catholicism. In principle, if you debunk a single Catholic dogma, that sinks the whole ship. 

Biracialism in Scripture

Here's a striking example of biracialism in Scripture. Due to intermarriage between Joseph and his Egyptian wife, two tribes of Israel have biracial origins:

45 And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On (Gen 41:45).

50 Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. 51 Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father's house.” 52 The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Gen 41:50-2).

48 After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim...8 When Israel saw Joseph's sons, he said, “Who are these?” 9 Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. 11 And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” 12 Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near him. 14 And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). 15 And he blessed Joseph and said,

“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
    the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day,
16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys;
    and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;
    and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
17 When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father's hand to move it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's head. 18 And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” 19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying,

“By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying,
‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’”
Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh (Gen 48:1,8-20).

The allotment of the people of Joseph went from the Jordan by Jericho, east of the waters of Jericho, into the wilderness, going up from Jericho into the hill country to Bethel (Josh 16:1).