Saturday, August 25, 2018


One objection that I've raised to Catholicism is the absence of an OT magisterium. Why is that necessary under the new covenant but unnecessary under the old covenant? 

I've seen some Catholic apologists counter that there was an OT magisterium in the person of the high priest. They quote Jn 11:51 as a prooftext. A few basic problems with that appeal:

i) I don't think the point of the verse is to claim that the high priest was a prophet by virtue of his office. Rather, the point is to underline the divine irony. In God's overruling providence, he made the highest-ranking religious official unwittingly endorse the mission of Jesus. It's ironic because it comes from someone who's both an arch-enemy of Jesus and the top religious figure in Judaism. 

ii) If that's supposed to be precedent for the Roman magisterial, then by analogy, the Roman Magisterium persecutes the faithful.

iii) In addition, the high priesthood was in the hands of the Sadducees for generations. They were heretics. They denied the existence of angels, an immortal soul, and the resurrection of the body. By analogy, the Roman magisterium can teach heresy! 

Treating the high priesthood as a proto-papacy or proto-magisterium is a parallel that backfires. 

Another Catholic bombshell

Ross Douthat
This document is quite possibly a truly historic bombshell in the life of the Roman Catholic Church. Written by the former papal nuncio to the U.S., it does exactly what many have called for, and offers testimony concerning who in the hierarchy knew what, and when, about the crimes of Cardinal McCarrick. The testimony implicates a host of high-ranking churchmen. And the pope. In fact, both popes. But Benedict appears as a figure (weakly, insufficiently) attempting to act on testimony concerning McCarrick's crimes, while Francis is portrayed as intent on restoring the pederast cardinal to activity and influence despite his awareness of those crimes:

John McCain

John McCain has died. It's hard to say anything that's both honest and tactful. We need to separate his death from brain cancer from the question of whether he was a good public official. For instance:

"Our reasoning capacities are highly unreliable"

"Adventures in Branch-Cutting" by Prof. James Anderson.

Philadelphia and eros

Up until now I don't think I've said anything about the Revoice conference. That's in part because I don't care to watch the presentations. I thought Denny Burk's response was weak, for reasons I didn't understand. Now that I know he doesn't consider homosexual attraction to be a disqualification from Christian ministry, I understand why his response was weak. I'll comment on Wesley Hill's wrap-up. 

He's a leader in the movement. Perhaps the intellectual leader:

...a crowd of mostly non-straight people—some four hundred strong—gathered for the first annual Revoice conference, an event aiming to help LGBTQ+ Christians thrive in their churches and families. Appearance-wise, many of the attendees wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow in Boystown or Brighton. Rainbow bracelets and body piercings abounded (one friend of mine sported rainbow-colored shoelaces to match the rainbow Ichthus pendant on his lapel). 

Flaunting homosexuality is one reason why Bible-believing churches are hostile to the Revoice philosophy. 

According to the “ex-gay” paradigm, far from being a biological or ontological identity, homosexuality is a condition. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and one of the people most responsible for transforming ex-gay experiences and testimonies into weapons in the culture war, wrote in 2002 that there “is no such thing as a gay child or a gay teen. … [Boys with a poor relationship to their fathers] have a seventy-five percent chance of becoming homosexual or bisexual.” Being gay was, in other words, a developmental disorder—and, for that reason, treatable.

i) I'm not qualified to have an informed opinion on the nature/nurture debate over the origins of homosexuality. However, Hill seems to dismiss post-natal environmental factors out of hand. 

ii) I don't know if homosexuality is generally curable. Compare it to addictive behavior. Treatment is successful for some people, but unsuccessful for others.  

iii) Likewise, the fact that some people kick the habit doesn't mean what they cease to find the addictive substance or behavior appealing. It just means they're no longer dominated by it. They can say no. .

I still recall, some time in the months leading up to my own admission that I was gay, listening to Mike Haley, an “ex-gay” speaker who then worked for Dobson’s organization, give a talk in a chapel service at Wheaton College about his conversion to Christianity. On the screen behind him were photos of his blonde, bronzed younger self from when he worked as a prostitute, emblems of his years of wandering in what he termed the “homosexual lifestyle.” Exodus International, at the time the world’s largest ex-gay organization, had described Haley this way in its promotion of his ministry: “Mike Haley was once addicted to homosexuality. Today he is a fulfilled husband and father.” When Haley concluded his talk by projecting a photo of him and his wife with their two sons, he received a standing ovation.

Does Hill believe that's sometimes the case? If so, then biological factors can't be the only explanation. 

I was never involved with ex-gay ministries myself, but I do remember asking my evangelical professors and pastors whether the outcome Haley spoke about was possible for me. I received equivocal replies. Perhaps my friends and mentors could sense my doubts about the plausibility of any clear-cut answer. On the one hand, I was frightened by the prospect of remaining single and hoped there was a way of avoiding that fate. On a Christian college campus where students joked about getting a “ring by spring,” looking ahead to adulthood without a spouse felt like peering into a long, dim corridor of loneliness. On the other hand, I knew the character of my same-sex desire: It had been inchoately there in my elementary school crushes, it had undergone no fluctuation during the storm of puberty, and now, in my early twenties, it seemed as exclusive and persistent as ever. In light of those givens, I was skeptical of the effectiveness of any therapeutic interventions.

Are "elementary school crushes" evidence that homosexuality is innate? How does Hill differentiate preadolescent gay "crushes" from straight boys who idolize alpha males? There are straight boys who view alpha males as role models. They want to be like them. They want to hang out with them. How is the evidence for that distinguishable from preadolescent homosexual attraction? Clearly it's different inasmuch as those boys grow up to be straight. So how can Hill tell his "elementary school crushes" were incipient signs of homosexuality rather than, say, nerdy young boys who wish they were jocks? 

Imagine being asked, “Have you tried this?”—where “this” always refers, by turns, to another book, another conference, another treatment center, another prayer ministry, another charismatic experience, or another counseling technique—each time you shared a story of pain and confusion with your fellow believers. Imagine that, and you will have an idea of what it felt like over the last several decades to be open about one’s homosexuality in traditional churches. Along with many other Christians who chose to acknowledge their same-sex desires in conservative Christian circles from the 1970s onward, I did try many of the suggestions my friends gave me. I saw counselors and received prayer. I read books with diagnoses of my “homosexual neurosis,” as one called it, and struggled mightily to shoehorn my childhood development into their framework, in the hope that some new level of healing might be opened up to me. 

i) It may be reasonable for some homosexuals to give up on therapy if it doesn't work for them. 

ii) Why say "same-sex desire" rather than homosexual desire? The use of "same-sex" as a synonym homosexual (or "gay:) is corrupting. Straight same-sex affection is natural, normal, and proper. Straight men with male friends. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. Brothers. Sisters. 

When "same-sex" becomes a synonym for homosexual, it acquires homosexual connotations, which corrupts the term. We know longer have a term to designate straight same-sex affection. 

Being gay in traditional churches, up until very recently, meant always having to ask whether one had prayed enough, hoped enough, hungered enough for one’s own photo with a spouse and children to project on a screen to thunderous applause.

Why the felt need to tell everybody you're homosexual in the first place? 

At a time in my life when I wondered whether it would signal defeat if I said simply, “I’m gay, and I don’t expect that to change, and I want to be celibate,” an older single friend of mine wrote a letter to me—one that I now look back on as a turning point in my thinking, illuminating an unexplored possibility:

Perhaps the real question is not how to make unfulfilled desires go away, but rather, what they teach us about the nature of our lives, what is ultimately important. … This, I suspect, is much akin to Paul’s own discussion of the thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul prayed but it did not go away. God allowed it to remain in his life that he might know the surpassing greatness of God’s grace in ALL circumstances. Likewise, unfulfilled desires point us to the only eternal source of satisfaction—God himself. … [T]hey help us identify with the true nature of the human condition of all those around us who are suffering [things] over which they have no control. It is an immediate bridge for ministry to our fellow human beings.

Reading those words was a revelation. In their wake, I began to ponder questions I hadn’t known I was allowed ask: Might there be some divine design, some strange providence, in my homosexuality? Might my sexual orientation be something God does not want to remove, knowing that its challenge keeps pulling me back towards Him in prayer? Might it even be something through which more empathy and compassion for fellow sufferers are birthed?

i) It's true that the struggle with a personal sin or weakness can be a sanctifying experience and cultivate compassion. That said, Paul doesn't indicate that his thorn in the flesh was a besetting sin. 

ii) Since, moreover, Hill rules out heterosexual marriage, he will never be in a position to find out if that has a healing affect on his condition. He makes it a choice between "celibate gay Christians" and sexually active homosexuals. But that's a false dichotomy. His body is still designed for sexual relations with a woman. Why take that option off the table? There are couples who are not in love when they marry, but come to love each other during the course of marriage. 

Asking these questions let me abandon my fevered search for some cure for my gayness and prompted me to look instead for what C. S. Lewis once called the “certain kinds of sympathy and understanding, [the] certain social role” of which only those who aren’t straight might be capable. Homosexuality, I continued to believe, is sinful insofar as it represents a thirst for acts that Scripture forbids, but I came to see that it is at the same time—like St. Paul’s thorn—an occasion for grace to become manifest.

It's one thing to give up on therapy if it doesn't work for you–another thing not to give it a try. Once again, consider addictive behavior. 

Exploring that grace was the point of the Revoice conference. It was the first theologically conservative event I’ve attended in which I felt no shame in owning up to my sexual orientation and no hesitation in declaring my sexual abstinence. At Revoice there was no pressure to obfuscate the probable fixity and exclusivity of my homosexuality through clunky euphemisms. Nor was there any stigma attached to celibacy, as though my embracing it were simply, as the ex-gay leader Andy Comiskey once wrote, “a concession to same-sex attraction.” 

Once again, why the felt-need to open up about homosexual attraction? 

The ecclesial blessing for same-sex partnerships requires one to dismantle the entire edifice of two thousand years of Christian teaching on embodiment, marriage, and celibacy—namely, that marriage is a sacred bond between one man and one woman and that sexual expression is permissible only within that covenantal relationship, whereas those who live outside that covenant are called to celibacy.

i) Homosexuals don't need homosexual friends. Rather, they need straight friends. 

ii) Friendship isn't based on vows and covenants. Friendship is based on mutual respect, mutual understanding, mutual trust, rapport, acceptance, common values, common interests, common activities, shared risk, shared history. We choose our friends. In friendship, the essential bond is informal rather than formal. The bond can't be strengthened by vows and covenants. That's artificial. 

iii) Hill's comparison intentionally blurs the distinction between marital commitment and friendship. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Seminary saturnalia

Training ground for the One True Church®

The true temple

Some Christians think there will be a third temple. The temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem. The Millennial Temple. They base that on Ezk 40-48.

That's possible, but inconclusive. Let's take a comparison:

9 Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me” (Gen 37:9).

10 The visions of my head as I lay in bed were these: I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. 11 The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth. 12 Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the heavens lived in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it.

13 “I saw in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and behold, a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven. 14 He proclaimed aloud and said thus: ‘Chop down the tree and lop off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches. 15 But leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, amid the tender grass of the field. Let him be wet with the dew of heaven. Let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth. 16 Let his mind be changed from a man's, and let a beast's mind be given to him; and let seven periods of time pass over him (Dan 4:1-16). 

These are prophetic dreams. Inspired dreams and visions are forms of pictorial revelation. It's just that dreams happen when the individual is a sleep rather than awake. And there's an intermediate category: night visions.

These two prophetic dreams are allegorical. They envision a future event, but the way it happens is different from the dream. The fulfillment is analogical. Likewise, there's no presumption that Ezk 40-48 is a preview of a physical temple. It might just as well be an allegorical vision. 

In the NT, Christians are miniature temples (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19). And Jesus is the new temple. The true temple (Jn 2:19-21). Put another way, the temple was a placeholder for the Incarnate Son. The temple was a temporary token of God's presence on earth. Rebuilding the temple is theologically retrograde. 


This is strikingly confused:

i) John doesn't say God loves the world. John didn't write in English. We've been conditioned by a traditional rendering, but that's prejudicial.

ii) John says God loves the kosmos. So the question is what kosmos means in Johannine usage. 

iii) Yes, pas is indefinite, but that's not independent of the sentence in which it functions. Pas is qualified by "those who believe". So the combination makes it definite. Not "everyone" in general, but everyone who believes. 

iv) There's a danger that when people read the Greek NT, they're not reading it from a Greek perspective. They're not getting inside the Greek. Rather, they're superimposing their knowledge of an English translation back onto the Greek. Not translating from Greek to English, but substituting English connotations for Greek words. 

Life outside the prison walls

Judaism has a unique relationship to Christianity insofar as  Judaism poses a potential threat to the validity of Christianity. Christianity can't be true unless OT Judaism is true. No other religion has that leverage over Christianity. Yet the NT is just as Jewish as the OT, so it poses a standing challenge to rabbinic Judaism. 

I find rabbinic Judaism quite unappealing. From what I can tell, rabbinic Judaism is basically a religion of law. It's centered on ethics–especially social ethics. So the overwhelming orientation is horizontal. How to relate to our family, friends, neighbors, strangers. The vertical dimension is sheered off. 

In OT theism and NT Christianity, God is a God who can be experienced. But in rabbinic Judaism, that's in eclipse. Instead, it's about Talmudic rules, regulations, and community. The Godward dimension is sidelined. There's Jewish mysticism, but that's a literary and philosophical construct. Ersatz communion with God. 

On a related note, rabbinic Judaism is this-worldly. That stands in dramatic contrast to the heavenly-minded focus of NT piety. That's in large part because the NT lays far greater stress on the afterlife than OT Judaism. And, of course, the Godward and heavenward orientations coincide. 

It's not that life in the here and now is unimportant, but the afterlife is what makes this life important. Consider life in prison. Suppose your prison cell has a window. Through that window you can gaze at the outside world. You see trees, flowers, meadows, mountains, sunrise or sunset, a full moon, a starry sky. You can here birdsong. Inhale the scent of wildflowers in Springtime. Butterflies enter the prison cell through the barred window. 

There's a world outside the prison walls. A better world beckons to you, and your ability to see the outside world makes life in the prison cell bearable. The outside floods the inside with daylight and hope that someday you will be released. Without that perspective, life is a windowless cell. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The meaning of miracles

The Disputation at Barcelona

Recently I was reading The Disputation at Barcelona (BN Publishing 2012), Charles Chavel, ed. This is Nachmanides' account of his celebrated public debate with medieval Catholics. The official topics were whether Messiah had already come, whether the Messiah is God Incarnate, and whether Christians fulfill the Torah. 

I'm not sure how accurate this is. Unless he had a stenographer, this represents the gist of what was said, to the best of his recollection–unless he made some improvements after the fact. But in any case it reflects the viewpoint of a major medieval thinker. 

It isn't clear to me if statements in brackets are editorial glosses or variations from other editions. For the sake of argument, I'll assume Nachmanides said those things rather than the editor. 

Is Jesus David's heir?

A Jewish objection to the messiahship of Jesus is that he wasn't a genealogical heir of David. The stock Christian response is that he was a Davidic descendent via his mother and a legal heir via his stepfather. Jews have counterarguments. For a defense of the standard explanation, cf. M. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus (Baker 2007), 4:84-97.

However, I'd like to take a different approach. David wasn't the founder of the Davidic monarchy. David was himself an heir. In 2 Sam 7, Yahweh is the king of Israel, while David is his vicegerent. It parallels the relationship between a royal father and a royal son by adoption, or a king and the crown prince. 

So David isn't actually the founder of the dynasty. Rather, he's a stand-in for Yahweh.

If Jesus is Yahweh Incarnate, then the kingship reverts to the true king (Yahweh) who temporarily delegated kingship to David and his successors. The divine messiah isn't David's successor, but the very God who raised David to the throne in the first place. Now Yahweh reclaims the crown in the person of the incarnate Son. It was ultimately his all along. Messiah isn't David's heir; rather, David was messiah's heir. The relation is teleological rather than chronological.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

What's so bad about blind faith?

"Blind faith" is a pejorative label. When atheists talk about Christian faith, they define it as believing something without evidence, on insufficient evidence, or contrary to evidence. 

Atheists don't usually begin with a theological or philosophical definition of faith. Rather, they begin with their belief that Christianity is errant nonsense, so you have to be irrational to be a Christian. The atheist works back from his view of Christianity to come up with his own definition of faith. Given his view of Christianity, faith must be believing something without evidence, on insufficient evidence, or contrary to evidence.

Christian philosophers, apologists, and theologians rightly reject that definition of faith. Of course, some professing Christians are guilty of blind faith. They simply believe whatever they were taught–the historical accident of whichever denomination they happen to be raised in. But it's unfair to assess a position by its least competent representatives. 

Blind faith is groundless faith rather than grounded faith. Uninformed faith rather than informed faith. 

In Scripture, the distinction between faith and sight is generally the difference between firsthand experience and testimonial evidence. 

However, in this post I'd like to be contrarian. Suppose, instead of repudiating blind faith, we embrace it but develop it in a different direction. 

Consider literal blind faith. Suppose I'm born blind. I have a sighted brother 2 years my senior. We grew up together. Day in and day out for 20 years. 

I rely on my brother to help me navigated my way through life. He's my eyes. Because I'm blind I see the world through his eyes. 

I have no direct evidence to back up his observations. I can't compare his observations with my own, since I'm blind. 

However, I have direct evidence that the observer is trustworthy. I have direct evidence that my brother can be trusted, which is, in turn, indirect evidence for what he tells me. For twenty years, my brother has guided me and protected me. He always looks out for me. My faith in what he tells me he sees is (literally) blind, but my faith in him is deeply informed. 

Moreover, although I can't see what he sees, his guidance and sight enable me to discover the world by other means. He says "touch this!" "Don't touch that!" "Taste this!" "Don't taste that!"

Suppose he drives me to the beach. I can't see the road. I can't see the signs. I don't know the route or the landmarks. 

But once we get to the beach, I have other ways of sensing the beach. I can feel the sand under my bare feet, feel the water, hear the surf, taste and smell the salty air.

My (literally blind) faith in my brother's verbal descriptions is an entry point. By taking what he says on faith, that puts me in a position to explore the world and find things out for myself. Faith is a necessary entry point. But the end-point is knowledge. Thanks to my brother, I can experience the beach. I rely on his eyesight to take the first few steps, but once I'm there, faith gives way to personal experience. 

Dropping the metaphor, when I pray, that's an act of faith. Suppose on one or more occasions I receive an unmistakable answer to prayer. At that point faith passes into sight. But I wouldn't arrive at sight if I didn't begin with faith. Knowledge is the final destination, but faith is the departure gate. 

Tse on Harris

Peter Ulrich Tse is a neuroscientist (PhD, Harvard) as well as an atheist (naturalism). Tse writes the following about Sam Harris:

Eddy, I just read your incisive review of Harris' book. I agree 100%. Please do not take Harris to be speaking for neuroscience or neuroscientists. As far as I can tell he does not lead a lab and is not a tenured or tenure-track professor of neuroscience at any university, although he did get a PhD in Neuroscience from UCLA after getting a BA in philosophy, according to wikipedia, and has a couple of scientific papers using MRI to look at religious belief in the brain. He seems to primarily be a writer of provocative books who has some background in neuroscience. But judging from the way he writes about brain events in his pugilistic pamphlet 'Free Will,' it is not a very nuanced view of the astounding complexity of causation among neurons. I think most people in the neuroscience trenches running experiments day in and day out would have assumed he was more of a philosopher or public debater than a professor of neuroscience.

Nuclear winter

I'd like to expand on an illustration I sometimes use to compare and contrast Catholic and Protestant paradigms. Take those dystopian scenarios in which 99% of the human race is wiped out by some catastrophe. But a sample of the human race survives in subterranean cities. They may be there for generations until it's safe to come outside.

If, during that interruption in normal human life, all the popes, priests, and bishops died, that's the end of the road for Catholicism. The Catholic faith can't restart if there's a break in apostolic succession. Even if some of the original survivors were Catholic, when they surface, generations later, Catholicism can't make a comeback.

By contrast, the Protestant faith operates with a Word and Spirit paradigm. It can reinitialize anytime, anywhere. All that's needed is knowledge of Scripture and the direct, independent action of the Spirit to engender faith. Protestant faith could be forgotten for centuries or millennia, but come back to live in a flash. When the survivors emerge, they can pick up where their ancestors left off. 

Poisonous fruit of poisonous tree

Is it hypocritical for evangelicals to harp on Catholic scandals? Are we in these same boat? Are we shooting a hole in the bottom of our own boat?

1. It's vitally important that Christians not make what they oppose the standard of comparison. The fact that Catholicism is bad doesn't make me good. That's not a substitute for cultivating personal holiness. 

2. In making a case against Catholicism, I wouldn't lead with Catholic scandals. Generally, the way to disprove Catholicism is to point out lack of evidence for its claims as well as evidence contrary to its claims.

3. Obviously, there are Protestant scandals as well as Catholic scandals. The parallel holds in some respects but not in others. Protestant theology is generally separable from the medium. Denominations are just temporary vehicles. Protestant theology changes vehicles while the theology remains the same (although there's room for development in Protestant theology).

If a Protestant denomination becomes too morally or theologically compromised, we're free to abandon it, like a derelict ship. It served a limited purpose. Outlived its usefulness. 

In Catholicism, by contrast, at a certain level the message and medium are inseparable. One example is apostolic succession. Another example is the fact that there's no direct evidence for many Catholic dogmas. Their warrant depends on sheer church authority to promulgate dogma. They have no independent warrant. Rather, it's an argument from authority.

There's only one true church: the Roman Catholic church. Only one medium. So you can't detach the message from the medium. That's different from Protestant theology and ecclesiology. Protestant theology is portable. It can jump from one host to another. 

4. Although Protestant scandals don't falsify Protestant theology, if a Protestant institution is hopelessly adrift, irreversibly morally compromised, then that brings the institution into disrepute. It may not discredit the theology, but it discredits the sponsor. 

5. In addition, there's often a link between heresy and immorality. They feed on each other. Immorality pulls theology to the left while liberal theology invites immorality. Ethics track theology and vice versa. 

6. Rome partitions the holiness of "the Church" from the holiness of its members. "The Church" is holy in some abstract sense that has no connection to the priesthood or hierarchy. But is it meaningful to depersonalize holiness to such an extent, or is that a face-saving distinction? 

7. Rome claims that God is present in the Catholic church in a way that's not the case in Protestant denominations. But what's the discernible difference between God's presence and God's absence if God's special presence is compatible with so much immorality–compared to Protestant denominations? 

8. Catholic loyalists stand in the lot of a car dealership. They are surrounded by transportation. Yet they spend all their time trying to fix a lemon. Despite the religious competition, Catholic loyalists act as though they have no other options. 

The eyewitness pool

1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught (Lk 1:1-4).

6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep (1 Cor 15:6).

What was the total eyewitness pool? Here's an estimate:

Assuming the Gospel of Mark (our earliest Gospel) was composed around thirty years or so after Jesus’ life and ministry (ca. AD 65), how many eyewitnesses would have been alive to consult during the research and writing process? And beyond this, how many would have been alive when the last Gospel (John=AD 90?) was written? McIver brilliantly looked at the latest research in population size around Galilee, Jerusalem, and the other villages and cities Jesus visited during his ministry in antiquity, and what life expectancy was in the first century in Roman-Palestine. He concluded there would have been approximately 60,000 potential eyewitnesses who saw or experienced Jesus in person. McIver claims that “[o]f the 60,000 or so potential eyewitnesses, between 18,000 and 20,000 would be still alive after thirty years, and between 600 and 1,100 after sixty years.” (4) He concludes the book by stating that “…as is evident from the life tables, some surviving eyewitnesses would have been available to the Evangelists to consult had they so wished.” (5) This is very important information for anyone interested in the possibility that the Gospels were either composed by eyewitnesses or depended on the tradition of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and ministry. Assuming the standard dating for the composition of the Gospels (Mark=AD 65, John=AD 90) it would appear there were in fact many eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry to consult if the Gospel writers desired. 

We actually have a quotation from the work of an early Christian apologist named Quadratus (ca. 70-130 AD) (6) who claimed that eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry (people who were healed by Jesus) actually lived well into the later part of the first century:

"But the works of our Savior were always present, for they were true; those who were healed and those who rose from the dead were seen not only when they were healed and when they were raised, but were constantly present, and not only while the Savior was living, but even after he had gone they were alive for a long time, so that some of them survived to our own time." Greg Monette, "Question: Were Eyewitnesses Alive for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to Consult?"

The Myth of the Monologuing Jesus

Monday, August 20, 2018

Should a junkie be a pharmacist?

This is generally a good post:

However, it falls apart in the final paragraph:

So then what about people who have experienced same-sex attraction and yet aspire for pastoral ministry in an evangelical church? The biblical qualifications for church leadership do not say anything about any particular pattern of temptation to sin. No one is excluded on that basis. The biblical qualifications are centered on holiness of character (see 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1). Same-sex attracted persons–like all other sinners–can have self-control and holy character through the power of the Holy Spirit. That is the power of the gospel in spite of anyone’s particular pattern of temptation. I have seen the grace of God up close in such people’s lives, and I am grateful for them and their ministries.

This is significant in part because Denny Burk is president of CMBW. In addition, Burk is frequently an echo of Albert Mohler and Russell Moore. So his view may represent the SBC elite position. 

Much could be said by way of response. I'll content myself to a few observations:

i) If I'm a compulsive gambler, it's foolhardy for me to work as an investment banker or church treasurer. The temptation is strong to embezzle funds to cover my gambling debts. If I'm a recovering junkie, it's reckless for me to work in a pharmacy. If I'm a recovering alcoholic, it's reckless for me to work as a bartender. 

ii) Doesn't the Roman Catholic church demonstrate the danger of putting homosexuals in positions of authority over underage boys? Why take a gratuitous risk? Why tempt fate?

iii) If a denomination has no ban on homosexual ordinands, then that's an invitation for homosexual predators to game the system. 

iv) It might be objected that straight elders are sometimes guilty of sexual sins or crimes. No doubt. Since, however, 99% of men are straight, you can't exclude straight men men from ministry. That's a necessary risk. By contrast, ordaining homosexual men is a gratuitous risk. 

To revert to my initial illustration, it would be silly to say that because you don't have to be a compulsive gambler to embezzle funds, we shouldn't exclude compulsive gamblers from investment banking. Silly to say we should treat job applicants with a history of compulsive gambling the same way we treat applicants who have no such liability. 

It's tiresome to see evangelical leaders so lacking in elementary moral discernment or practical common sense. 

Apologist for pederasty

It's revealing to see the strategy of an apologist for pederasty like Randal Rauser:

i) Notice the false dichotomy between child rapists/predators/pornographers and the homosexual community. That deliberately disregards the overwhelming correlation between the biological gender of the perps and the biological gender of the victims. This is a male-on male sexual crime. That's a synonym for homosexuality. 

ii) The Catholic perps aren't members of the outgroup but the in-group. They aren't outside the Catholic church, but a protected class within the Roman priesthood and hierarchy. 

Quisling for pederasts

Because the LGBT "community" is so small, it has no direct political clout. Its power derives from heterosexuals who enable it. 

A case in point is Arminian theologian Randal Rauser. Rather that protecting underage boys from pederasts, his aim is protect pederasts by refusing to acknowledge the manifest connection between homosexuality and the Catholic abuse scandal:

It tells you something about the administration of Taylor Seminary, as well as the North American Baptist denomination, that they sanction his position. 

Atheists in vestments

At the heart of the scandals is infidelity–literally the lack of faith. There are priests, including bishops and even cardinals, who do not believe in God, or whose belief in God is merely notional (as definitively evidenced by their lack of fear of Him).

Infinite regress

Is an infinite regress incoherent? This crops up in debates over the cosmological argument. But it depends on what the cosmological argument is used to prove. Did the universe begin to exist? Is the universe contingent? Even if (ex hypothesi) the universe is eternal, it may still be contingent.

That said, suppose I'm standing in a hallway with an infinite row of dominos left and right. The dominos on my left have fallen. The dominoes on my right are standing, but about to fall, as the chain reaction continues apace.

But if an infinite number of dominoes has already fallen, why haven't all the dominos fallen? Why are any dominoes left standing? Given an infinite domino effect, why isn't the effect complete by now? Does it take more time? But an infinite amount of time already elapsed. Does it take more time than infinite time for the chain reaction to terminate? Why the break between past and future? Why is it not all in the past? 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The wheels are going to fall off

The “Church Militant” website (conservative but not traditionalist) has set its sights on the resignation (or sacking) of Donald Wuerl, who was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006 before being moved to Washington DC as Archbishop in 2006 and Cardinal in 2010. On the other hand, Wuerl is digging in his heels.

From the article:

Church Militant has learned that the archdiocese of Washington, D.C. has hired prestigious law firm Jones Day to represent Cdl. Wuerl in response to the Pennsylvania grand jury report. Jones Day represents major American corporations, including Procter & Gamble, CitiGroup, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and American Airlines, to name just a few.

Reports are that to retain this firm is $50,000 to $75,000 per month. Church Militant has queried the archdiocese of Washington, D.C. asking who is paying for this representation and where the money is coming from. As of the time of this report, the archdiocese has not responded.

* * *

Throughout the entire process, Wuerl has maintained that he did not move priests from parish to parish.

CBS Reporter Nikki Battiste: "Did you quietly move priests around?"

Cardinal Wuerl: "That wasn't our process."

Of course, that weasel language betrays the fact that such a thing was actually done. Wuerl’s name figures large in the recent Grand Jury report from the attorney general of the state of Pennsylvania. Here is the account that I published just last week dealing with the abuser priest from my own home parish:

On July 12, 1988, a letter was sent to Bishop Wuerl from "Concerned Parishioners" of Holy Spirit. This letter outlined concerns about drug use and excessive drinking to the point of intoxication by Wellinger. The parishioners also expressed concern about Wellinger exposing the young people of the church to illegal drugs.

On June 22, 1989, Father Theodore Rutkowski of the Office of Clergy and Pastoral Life received a letter from a parishioner at Holy Spirit. Bishop Wuerl was carbon copied in the correspondence. In this letter, the parishioner listed a number of problems that the parish was having with Wellinger. In part, the letter read "Just to refresh your memory and bring you up to date on John's ministry here at Holy Spirit here are some of the significant problems . . ." The list included: "Giving drugs and alcohol to teens;" "Teens in the parish have been warned by their parents about drugs from Father;" and "Young men staying at the parish house."

On June 3, 1991, Wellinger was drinking alcoholic beverages with a 24-year-old man in the rectory. Wellinger unbuttoned the man's pants and began to perform oral sex on him without consent. A few days later, the victim reported the incident to the Diocese. Wellinger was subsequently questioned by Diocesan officials, at which time he admitted to the unsolicited sexual activity with the victim. Wellinger was then sent to St. Michael's Community in St. Louis, Missouri for an evaluation. Wellinger's absence from the parish was explained as a request for resignation for "reasons of health."

On January 2, 1992, a meeting took place between Wuerl and Wellinger. The Bishop agreed that Wellinger could return to priestly ministry and was appointed as Parochial Vicar (Pro Tem) at St. George in Allentown [PA, in another diocese across the state].

The site also reports that Wuerl's upcoming book, “What Do You Want to Know?”, has been cancelled by the publisher. It was described as “Wuerl's advice to everyday Catholics when inviting non-Catholics to friendship.”

The site is also reporting that another attorney general – New York this time – is outlining plans for a similar investigation and report.

the eight Catholic dioceses in New York could prove to be a target-rich environment for any grand jury investigation.

The eight dioceses of New York are Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, New York, Ogdensburg, Rochester, Rockville Centre and Syracuse. Each diocese has more than its fair share of abuse and episcopal cover-up spanning many years, including recent years.

In the diocese of Albany, the homosexualization of the Church got underway in the late 1960s under Bp. Edwin Broderick, ordinary from 1969 to 1976. Broderick was a protege of powerful New York Cdl. Francis Spellman, whose active homosexuality was well known but covered up by Church officials and the media.

During Broderick's tenure, Albany became known for accepting and promoting gay seminarians and priests. When Bp. Howard Hubbard succeeded Broderick, the gaying of the diocese accelerated greatly. Hubbard was bishop for nearly 40 years and among many disturbing cases, he was linked to Thomas Zalay, who, in 1978, committed suicide at age 25.

The revelations surfaced when Zalay's brother, Andrew, discovered a letter, written by Zalay shortly before his death, alleging homosexual activity with Hubbard. Zalay said Hubbard justified homosexual acts by suggesting the Bible defined celibacy as being free of sexual contact with women; therefore, according to the bishop, homosexual acts aren't sinful.

Zalay regarded homosexual acts as sinful. He didn't consider himself a homosexual and wanted to get away from Hubbard. The only way to escape him, he concluded, was suicide. Zalay set himself on fire at his parents' home.

Hubbard also let a known homosexual predator priest, Fr. John Fitzpatrick, free access to high school students, whom he would take on regular outings after school. His predatory behavior was known as early as the late 1960s and continued over decades. After a sex abuse allegation in 1993, Hubbard sent Fitzpatrick away to a treatment center, only to place him back in ministry as a chancery aide for the next three years when further allegations of abuse surfaced.

Over his nearly 40-year reign, Hubbard became infamous for covering up cases of homosexual predator priests. In the nearby diocese of Rochester, Matthew Clark was bishop from 1979 to 2012, largely overlapping Hubbard's time in Albany. In fact, Hubbard and Clark were known to be extremely intimate associates. They often appeared together and were seen as essentially inseparable.

As a point of interest, Bp. Clark was the spiritual director to the young Timothy Dolan (now Cardinal Archbishop of New York City) during his time in seminary at the North American College in Rome.

This is a story that is going to be on the front pages for a long time. The “Holy Mother Church” wagon is about to have its wheels fall off, and it isn’t going anywhere for a long, long time.


I find it striking that some peoples' lives seem to be marked by difficulty, chaos, or disaster–one apparent nuisance or tragedy after another. Wherever they go, whatever they do, they seem to have trouble, whether it's problems with their cars, computers, pets, or gardens, or with the postal service, credit cards, personal injuries, ordering products on the Internet, using household appliances, making routine repairs around the house, or making everyday purchases. 

There's even a Yiddish term for a person who suffers so regularly and conspicuously: shlemazel…Shlemazels are what we might call unlucky souls, people who seem to be victimized by impersonal forces or by the universe at large.

One reason I take this seriously is that I've known a number of shlemazels. In fact, I believe I was once married to one (actually, many of her family seemed to be lightning rods for misfortune). But for various reasons, it's probably wiser that I tell you instead about some former neighbors…For example, it seems as if everything my neighbors bought was defective. Brand new appliances and other electronic equipment routinely failed to work and had to be returned or exchanged; an apparently solid rocking chair collapsed within the first days of ownership (with the infant sitting on it), and their cars frequently needed repair, even though they owned brands noted for reliability. S. Braude, The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations (University of Chicago 2007), 148-9. 

Assuming this is true, what's the explanation? As an atheist, Braude proposes a secular, albeit paranormal explanation. But from a Christian standpoint, an obvious explanation is that these people were hexed. Victims of witchcraft.

In Scripture, Balaam is the best-known example of a seer and sorcerer who's hired to cast an evil spell on the Israelites. He's a spectacular failure, but that's due to divine intervention. A more effective example is Ezk 13:17-23. 

Another possibility is individuals or their ancestors who dabbled in the occult. That might produce a family curse that dogs them, even if a descendent had no direct dealings with the occult.