Saturday, September 08, 2018

I already wasted my life–now what?

A listener named Bruce writes in: “Dear Pastor John, I haven’t read your book, Don’t Waste Your Life. The title is convicting enough. The fact is that I have already wasted it; or at least it feels that way. For decades I tried a variety of different ‘careers.’ None of them worked. I tried starting my own business for over 20 years while my wife worked. I earned a PhD, moved to a country where I didn’t speak the language (for my wife’s job) and had a breakdown. Several years later, my wife and I separated. I’m now 64, I live in a small mobile home, and I do work that any 18-year-old could do (those are my boss’s words). The company is good to me, my boss is a Christian, and I can earn a living; but each day feels like nothing more than an exercise in waking up in the morning, getting through the day, and going to bed at night. What advice can you give to someone who has already wasted his life?”

Everyone's life can come to that point or feel that way. There's a lot to sort out:

i) From a Christian standpoint, very successful people can and do waste their lives. Worldly success is wasting the gift of life (1 Jn 2:15-17). Conversely, you can be a failure by worldly standards, but not be a failure by God's standards. And this life is only a blip. 

Jonathan Swift was very successful, yet he was a childless bachelor (like Leibniz, Handel, and Newton). "Stella" and "Vanessa" were at the emotional center of his life but both predeceased him, leaving him a lonely bitter old man. 

Or take aging entertainers who were wildly successful, but continue long after their prime. Their work is their life, so they can't let go. 

ii) Men are naturally goal-oriented, and if we achieve our major goals, then what? There's the simple goal of wanting to find a wife and raise a family. But what do you do for an encore? The dilemma is that if you succeed, then the rest of your life can feel like an exercise in waking up in the morning, getting through the day, and going to bed at night. 

A partial solution is to learn how to enjoy life without being so goal-oriented. Like walking on a moonlit beach. That has no goal, but it's very good in its own right. Not everything is a means to an end.  

iii) Of course, that doesn't work so well in his case due to loneliness. There's also the fact that this life is rather limiting. It tends to be downhill after a certain point, where for some of us the best years are now behind us.

Then you have people who never had a halcyon childhood to look back on with fondness. For them, the best isn't behind them or ahead of them–in this life. 

In that respect we need to cultivate heavenly-mindedness. Not to be delivered in this life but out of this life. 

iv) When Martin Lloyd-Jones was a young pastor, ministering in a mining town in Wales, one church member was an older man who lived alone. He had no living relatives. At one point he had a hellish, terrifying dream which was a catalyst for spiritual awakening. He used to attend the weekly prayer service. One time when his turn came, he prayed as if he was in the narthex of heaven. In fact, he died praying. In a sense, he wasted most of his life, yet he redeemed the time near the end of life.

Even if you're a senior citizen who wasted your life up to this point, there are things you can do to redeem the time. For instance, I'm sure there's a crying need for visitation ministry to shut-ins and nursing home residents. So many lost, lonely, forgotten souls. You can make a great difference in their lives, and they can make a great difference in your life. What ultimately matters is not how we began the race, or who's ahead on the backstretch, but crossing the finish line–and helping other struggling runners to cross the finish line. 

v) In fact, failure, disappointment, and brokenness in the prime of life can be a source of insight and sanctification. A chance to be a wounded healer to other wounded souls. 

Can you think of any laws that give the government the power to make decisions about the male body?

I dunno. How bout military conscription? You know–drafting young men to fight in war. Forcing their bodies into harm's way. Many are killed or maimed as a result. That's a start. 

Next time will be different!

Over the last few weeks I've read many eloquent essays by outraged Catholic laymen. Things must change! And they have the solution!  

But their attitude parallels the battered woman who can't bring herself to leave the abusive boyfriend. She always holds out hope that next time will be different. "He really loves me. This time he's sworn off the bottle for good!"

Or the son who hungers for paternal approval. He lives to please his father, but try as he might, he always falls short. Dad is chronically dissatisfied with his son's performance. Yet the son keeps hoping in vain and laboring in vain to make his father proud. Next time will be different. If he works that much harder at sports. Or adds one more sport. Or gets a better grade, he will finally earn his father's approval. But nothing is ever enough. He can never be good enough. Smart enough. Athletic enough.  

Catholic laymen who are simultaneously furious yet unconditionally loyal to the institution, suffer from the same mentality. They keep coming back. Next time will be different. Yet there's always another next time. 

Totalistic faith

Perhaps the primary Catholic objection to the Protestant faith is doctrinal diversity within the Protestant tradition. However, that has a fringe benefit. Catholicism is totalistic. "We're the One True Church®". 

The danger is that you have lapsed Catholics who believe the arguments against the Protestant faith, but cease to believe the arguments for Catholicism. So they land in atheism. There's nothing in-between. The next stop is the last stop. 

That's a risk for deconversion in general. Many people use their provincial personal experience as the benchmark. Whatever religious tradition they were raised in supplies the standard of comparison. If that's totalistic, it makes atheism the fallback position, viz. lapsed Muslims and Mormons who become atheists. 

If you continue to believe half the arguments of the Catholic apologist ("The Protestant faith is wrong!"), but discontinue believing in the other half ("Catholicism is true!"), then there's nowhere else to go except atheism. A possible exception is Eastern Orthodoxy, but disillusionment with one high-church tradition is apt to leave one skeptical about high-church traditions generally, since the many of the arguments are parallel. 

By contrast, Protestantism many alternatives within the Christian paradigm. You can go from paedobaptist to credobaptist or vice versa, cessationist to charismatic or vice versa, amil to premil or vice versa, young-earth creationism to old earth creationism or vice versa, freewill theism to Calvinism or vice versa, sola fide to NPP or vice versa, &c. In that respect, the Protestant tradition has more give than Catholicism. 

At the same time, this also illustrates the need to present the adherent of a false faith with a constructive alternative. Both conversion and deconversion are paradigm-shifts. We need to offer them a different theological paradigm. 

In their fanatical myopic zeal, Catholic apologists back Catholics onto a ledge: either come inside or jump to your death! If a cradle Catholic has been conditioned by Catholic apologists to believe that Protestantism is not a viable option, then their only remaining option is to jump from the 10th floor window to the atheist pavement. Catholic apologists labor to discredit any other theological option. So it's either Catholicism or Christian suicide. There's no safety-net. 

Friday, September 07, 2018

What about female abuse victims?

One criticism I've run across regarding the Catholic abuse scandal is neglect of the female victims:

i) I'm no expert on the demographics, but it may well be the case that in the past a higher percentage of Catholic clergymen were straight. I believe there was a custom in some Catholic communities with large families to dedicate one son to the priesthood. He was groomed for the priesthood. Pressured to become a priest. That wasn't motivated by an inner sense of vocation, but a desire not to disappoint your parents, aunts, parish priest, &c. Don't let the team down.

As a result, you probably had many straight priests who were never devoted to chastity. Indeed, priests who weren't genuinely pious, but only went into the priesthood because it was a tradition among some Catholic ethnicities to arbitrarily designate one son as a priest-to-be. 

It's not surprising if some of them had mistresses. Frequented brothels. Had affairs with nuns. Whatever. 

ii) However, it seems that far fewer straight men these days are prepared to sacrifice a normal family life for the priesthood. If so, it's not surprising if the incidence of sexual abuse has shifted from more heterosexual cases to more homosexual cases. And it's natural to focus on the present rather than the past since it's too late to rectify the past.

iii) In addition, there's a difference between isolated cases and a pattern of abuse. Not that isolated cases are insignificant, but those are harder to prevent. By contrast, a pattern implies some interrelated factors. It may be possible to break a pattern whereas isolated cases are unpredictable. 

iv) We need to engage in tree-thinning to better see the isolated cases, which are obscured by a more systematic pattern. If one can eliminate the larger problem, then it's easier to refocus attention on the smaller problem.

v) A certain amount of sexual abuse is unavoidable, both inside and outside the church. Some sexual abuse can only be punished, not prevented. 

But we need to distinguish between gratuitous risk factors and necessary risk factors. Ordaining known homosexuals is a gratuitous risk. Eliminating gratuitous risk factors makes it easier to concentrate on normal cases. Currently the church of Rome is overwhelmed. 

vi) There's a distinction between sexual sins and sexual crimes. A straight priest with a mistress is committing a sin but not a crime. Consenting adults. 

Adults seducing minors is a crime, not merely a sin. Raping prepubescent boys and girls is a crime, not merely a sin. 

Mind you, I think the church of Rome may well have crossed a line of no return. It's like a hull breach. Once a ship takes on too much water, it will capsize. Once the hull begins filling with water, there's a point beyond which that's irreversible. It will continue to fill until it sinks. 

Canned hysteria

I gave The Statement on Social Justice a mixed review. Here's a very different reaction:

Purporting to address an alleged shift in evangelical circles away from the biblical gospel towards a false social gospel, the new Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel is driven by people I would like to believe are well-meaning but frankly not at all “getting” what those whom it primarily addresses are saying. That is at best. At worst, it represents a toxic agenda to discredit and undermine godly men and women crying out for biblical social justice, national and ecclesiastical repentance, and meaningful reconciliation. I certainly hope that this statement will not become a litmus test for orthodoxy, as if those who don’t sign it should be written off as “not sound”. If so the people implicated would include (barring the unlikely event one of them were to sign): Danny Akin, Thabiti Anyabwile, Matt Chandler, H. B. Charles, Charlie Dates, Ligon Duncan, Mika Edmondson, Carl and Karen Ellis, Steve Gaines, Philip and Jasmine Holmes, Eric Mason, Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, Trillia Newbell, Preston and Jackie Hill Perry, John Piper, David Platt, Kevin Smith, Robert Smith, Walter Strickland, Ralph Douglas West, and so on and so forth.

…and the real losers here will not be these statements and what they represent, but our black brothers and sisters and their allies in the fight for racial reconciliation – once again set back by the white majority culture’s denial and deflection. 

i) Is name-dropping supposed to be an argument from authority? An attempt to leverage submission to King's viewpoint? Collecting opinions is no substitute for reason and evidence. 

ii) Isn't there a pecking order in the SBC, where, if you wish to keep your job or be promoted, you must rubber-stamp what the powerbrokers say? Are these all independent voices?

iii) The problem with these allegations is that both sides have different assumptions. The opposing side doesn't share King's assumptions. The opposing side regards "racial reconciliation" as a manufactured crisis. A solution in search of a problem.  

Critics like King never attempt to persuade the other side. King treats his assumptions as undeniable facts. Yet that's the very issue in dispute. That's not a given for the other side. There will be no meeting of the minds on this issue so long as critics like King make their assumptions the benchmark. But the benchmark is something both sides must agree to, not something one side can unilaterally impose on the other.

And if endemic, systemic racism is not a problem, why is Sunday morning still scene to the most segregated hour in America?

That's such a thoughtless, mechanical canard. Attendance is voluntary. 

Why does nobody know pre-Arab invasion North Africa was a stronghold of Christianity, that Tertullian, Athanasius, Augustine, and plenty others were African men?

That's equivocal. That's referring to Roman colonies in N. Africa. To be "African" in that sense is not synonymous with "black African". 

Those evangelicals who voted in the presidential election did so overwhelmingly for the most all-around unpleasant and distasteful president in America’s modern history, who routinely  and crassly denigrates human life, especially that of foreigners.

That's become an instant cliche. A one-sided mantra that makes no effort to engage the argument. It doesn't try to persuade. 

Multiple states launch investigations; possible RICO probe into Roman Catholic Sex Abuse Cover-ups

New York and New Jersey have launched Pennsylvania-style investigations now into cover-ups in those states, and there are hints that a possible US-DOJ RICO investigation may be taking shape:

Now v. then

A mini-series on the historical claims of Rome:

Random thoughts on race

I'll say a few things on the perennial topic of race in American that I don't see discussed:

1. Is it ever appropriate to feel closer to members of your own race? I think that needs to be disambiguated. 

i) It's natural for many people to feel closest to their immediate family. If their family members are the same race, then they will feel closer to members of their own race.

However, that's misleading because the racial component is incidental. You'd have the same dynamic in a biracial family.

ii) I think it's natural for people to feel more at ease around other people who speak the same language. Suppose I'm an Anglo who can speak broken Spanish, or a Latino who can speak broken English. In situations where it's effortful to speak a different language, it's natural to prefer the company of people who speak the same language. You can just relax and have a conversation. You don't struggle to understand or be understood.

So people who belong to the same language group have a natural affinity or solidarity. It's easier for them to be around others who speak the same language. 

But once again the racial component is incidental. There are many examples of different racial or ethnic groups that speak the same language. Likewise, some people are fluently bilingual or polyglot. 

iii) Of course, there exceptions. There are missionaries who learn a second language, spend years working with that people-group. Become very attached to members of that people-group.

Likewise, a guy may fall in love with a woman who's native language is different from his own. Although it's a challenge for him to speak in her language, he will rise to the challenge, and acquire greater fluency by spending ever more time with her.

iv) Another example is a deaf child. The parents and siblings (if any) have to learn sign language. They do that because the familial bond is stronger than the linguistic bond. 

v) Friendship is based on more than a common language. People who dislike each other can have a common language. 

2. Given my views on illegal immigration, a friend once asked me if I thought we had a duty to report illegals to the authorities.

i) For the record, my objection to illegal immigration is that it results in things like ID theft of SS numbers, emergency rooms going bankrupt, illegals going on public assistance (for which taxpayers foot the bills), &c.  

ii) If I recall, I said private citizens aren't police informants. We don't have a civic duty to spy for the police. 

Now, if I was driving through my neighborhood and I saw a burglar breaking into a house, I'd report that. But what I do or don't report is a question of personal discretion.

For instance, kids violate ordinances about not skating in this or that place. Obviously, that's not the sort of thing I'd report. Indeed, we should be grateful when kids do something that innocuous. Same thing with people smoking in a public park. Stupid ordinances. 

iii) But there's another distinction. Years ago, Linda Chavez had to withdraw her nomination due to a "nannygate scandal". Now, I do think public officials ought to obey the laws they impose on the governed. 

That said, it isn't hypocritical to treat friends differently than strangers. Indeed, the essence of friendship is to give friends exceptional treatment. You do favors for a friend that you don't necessarily do for strangers. You make exceptions for a friend that you don't necessarily make for strangers. 

Hence, it wouldn't be hypocritical to oppose illegal immigration as a matter of policy, even if I treated certain illegals I personally know differently. Policy is about strangers, not individual friends. And, of course, the scale is completely different.  

3. Systematic discrimination against Asian students has been practiced by Ivy League universities.  My own position is that if, say, Asian-Americans got 80% of the slots at the Ivy Leagues because they outperform other ethnic groups, that's the way a competitive system is supposed to work. The best rise to the top. 

It's no different than sports. In sports, we don't take points off a winning team because it wins too often, and give those points to the losing team to artificially even the score. 

Thursday, September 06, 2018

The heckler's veto

The antics of protesters at the Kavanaugh illustrate what seems to be a growing phenomenon among SJWs. Increasingly, they act as if demonstrations, sometimes violent, are an effective substitute for official channels of redress. 

The heckler's veto is often effective on college campuses, with spineless leftwing administrators. But in many situations, obnoxious and/or violent protest is ineffectual. For instance, when Trump crossed the 270 electoral college threshold, marching in the streets, burning cars and businesses were a futile exercise in juvenile rage. Likewise, a president has the Constitutional authority to nominate judicial replacements, so long as his party has enough votes in the Senate, screaming, swearing, chanting, brandishing placards and pussyhats won't affect the outcome.

We seen to have a generation of young people (not all young people) who are used to getting their way by merely expressing disapproval. Sometimes that works, which emboldens them. But they haven't figured out that in many cases, that won't make a dime's worth of difference. The normal way to change things is through the official levers of power. Winning elections. Passing laws. Having judges with a particular judicial philosophy. 

Staging demonstrations can be effective on a national scale if some gov't policy is massively unpopular. Otherwise, most citizens just go about their business.  

Mind you, I think many demonstrators and keyboard warriors aren't serious about changing law and public policy. It's just an easy, cost-free way to convey to their peer group that they checked the approved boxes. Protesting on social media is a cheap symbolic gesture. 

Secular utopia

Why I'm not signing the Statement on Social Justice

I'm going to comment on this statement:

Let's begin with some things I agree with:

In view of questionable sociological, psychological, and political theories presently permeating our culture and making inroads into Christ's church, we wish to clarify certain key Christian doctrines and ethical principles prescribed in God’s Word. Clarity on these issues will fortify believers and churches to withstand an onslaught of dangerous and false teachings that threaten the gospel, misrepresent Scripture, and lead people away from the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Specifically, we are deeply concerned that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality. The Bible’s teaching on each of these subjects is being challenged under the broad and somewhat nebulous rubric of concern for “social justice.”  

WE AFFIRM that since he is holy, righteous, and just, God requires those who bear his image to live justly in the world. This includes showing appropriate respect to every person and giving to each one what he or she is due. We affirm that societies must establish laws to correct injustices that have been imposed through cultural prejudice.

WE DENY that true justice can be culturally defined or that standards of justice that are merely socially constructed can be imposed with the same authority as those that are derived from Scripture. 

WE DENY that any obligation that does not arise from God’s commandments can be legitimately imposed on Christians as a prescription for righteous living. We further deny the legitimacy of any charge of sin or call to repentance that does not arise from a violation of God’s commandments.

WE DENY that, other than the previously stated connection to Adam, any person is morally culpable for another person’s sin. Although families, groups, and nations can sin collectively, and cultures can be predisposed to particular sins, subsequent generations share the collective guilt of their ancestors only if they approve and embrace (or attempt to justify) those sins. Before God each person must repent and confess his or her own sins in order to receive forgiveness. We further deny that one’s ethnicity establishes any necessary connection to any particular sin.

WE DENY that human sexuality is a socially constructed concept. We also deny that one’s sex can be fluid. We reject “gay Christian” as a legitimate biblical category. We further deny that any kind of partnership or union can properly be called marriage other than one man and one woman in lifelong covenant together. We further deny that people should be identified as “sexual minorities”—which serves as a cultural classification rather than one that honors the image-bearing character of human sexuality as created by God.

WE AFFIRM that some cultures operate on assumptions that are inherently better than those of other cultures because of the biblical truths that inform those worldviews that have produced these distinct assumptions. 

WE DENY that treating people with sinful partiality or prejudice is consistent with biblical Christianity. We deny that only those in positions of power are capable of racism, or that individuals of any particular ethnic groups are incapable of racism. We deny that systemic racism is in any way compatible with the core principles of historic evangelical convictions. We deny that the Bible can be legitimately used to foster or justify partiality, prejudice, or contempt toward other ethnicities. We deny that the contemporary evangelical movement has any deliberate agenda to elevate one ethnic group and subjugate another. 

[The Bible is] the final authority for determining what is true (what we must believe) and what is right (how we must live).

Moving along:

WE AFFIRM that God created mankind male and female and that this divinely determined distinction is good, proper, and to be celebrated. Maleness and femaleness are biologically determined at conception and are not subject to change.

That's true as far as it goes. But are maleness and femaleness merely biological? Are we genderless souls in gendered bodies? Could you have a body-swap situation where a man transfers his consciousness to a female body (or vice verse) and instantly becomes female? Or is maleness and femaleness psychological as well as biological? 

WE AFFIRM that God’s law, as summarized in the ten commandments, more succinctly summarized in the two great commandments, and manifested in Jesus Christ, is the only standard of unchanging righteousness. Violation of that law is what constitutes sin.

So OT prophets don't make the cut. Proverbs doesn't make the cut. The Sermon on the Mount doesn't make the cut. The parables of Jesus don't make the cut. The NT household codes don't make the cut. The economic critique in Revelation doesn't make the cut.

WE AFFIRM that the gospel is the divinely-revealed message concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ—especially his virgin birth, righteous life, substitutionary sacrifice, atoning death, and bodily resurrection—revealing who he is and what he has done with the promise that he will save anyone and everyone who turns from sin by trusting him as Lord.

Why do they mention the virgin birth but not the Incarnation? 

WE DENY that anything else, whether works to be performed or opinions to be held, can be added to the gospel without perverting it into another gospel. This also means that implications and applications of the gospel, such as the obligation to live justly in the world, though legitimate and important in their own right, are not definitional components of the gospel.

If, by their own admission, something is an "implication" of the gospel, how is that not a "definitional component of the gospel"? Isn't what the gospel logically entails inseparable from the gospel? 

WE AFFIRM that the primary role of the church is to worship God through the preaching of his word, teaching sound doctrine, observing baptism and the Lord’s Supper, refuting those who contradict, equipping the saints, and evangelizing the lost. We affirm that when the primacy of the gospel is maintained that this often has a positive effect on the culture in which various societal ills are mollified. We affirm that, under the lordship of Christ, we are to obey the governing authorities established by God and pray for civil leaders.

i) How do they define "the church"? Where do churchly roles end and Christian obligations outside the church begin? 

ii) A pastor has more than one role. The average pastor is a husband, father, neighbor, private citizen. Some pastors are in the army/air force reserve. Some ministers are military chaplains. That's their pastorate.   

iii) Does "the church" not have a mandate to teach Christian ethics? To teach personal and social ethics? That's a part of God's word, too. That's integral to discipleship. 

iv) The NT church had an outreach ministry to Christian widows. Does that principle have implications for whether the church should oppose euthanizing the elderly? 

v) What gives in case of conflict between Christian personal/social obligations and obedience to the governing authorities? And should Christians just wait for that to happen, or take preemptive measures to forestall such conflicts? 

vi) What about the role of women as professors and administrators in Christian colleges and seminaries. Is that "the church" or non-church?

vii) What about the Statement on Social Justice itself? The framers are pastors or churchmen. Are they issuing this statement in their capacity as representatives of "the church", or as private citizens? 

WE DENY that political or social activism should be viewed as integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church. Though believers can and should utilize all lawful means that God has providentially established to have some effect on the laws of a society, we deny that these activities are either evidence of saving faith or constitute a central part of the church’s mission given to her by Jesus Christ, her head. We deny that laws or regulations possess any inherent power to change sinful hearts.

Why should we classify issues in terms of churchly and non-churchly or gospel and non-gospel rather than what's true and false, right and wrong? This shifts the focus from duties and priorities based on what's right and true to debates over how to categorize something as churchly or non-churchly, gospel or non-gospel. What makes that a superior frame of reference? 

And we emphatically deny that lectures on social issues (or activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture) are as vital to the life and health of the church as the preaching of the gospel and the exposition of Scripture. Historically, such things tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.

i) Is opposition to abortion and euthanasia a distraction? Is protecting babies, the developmentally disabled, the mentally ill, the elderly and senile a distraction? Is opposition to indoctrinating school children in the LGBT agenda a distraction? Is opposition to homosexual adoption a distraction? 

ii) The Statement says "societies must establish laws to correct injustices". Who in society is responsible for enacting corrective laws? Believers or unbelievers? Surely we can't count on unbelievers to enact just laws. So isn't that a Christian responsibility? 

WE AFFIRM that God created mankind both male and female with inherent biological and personal distinctions between them and that these created differences are good, proper, and beautiful. Though there is no difference between men and women before God’s law or as recipients of his saving grace, we affirm that God has designed men and women with distinct traits and to fulfill distinct roles. These differences are most clearly defined in marriage and the church, but are not irrelevant in other spheres of life. In marriage the husband is to lead, love, and safeguard his wife and the wife is to respect and be submissive to her husband in all things lawful. In the church, qualified men alone are to lead as pastors/elders/bishops and preach to and teach the whole congregation. We further affirm that the image of God is expressed most fully and beautifully in human society when men and women walk in obedience to their God-ordained roles and serve according to their God-given gifts.

What about the coed military? What about female judges? What about women in positions of leadership and authority as social policymakers?  

WE AFFIRM God made all people from one man. Though people often can be distinguished by different ethnicities and nationalities, they are ontological equals before God in both creation and redemption. “Race” is not a biblical category, but rather a social construct that often has been used to classify groups of people in terms of inferiority and superiority. All that is good, honest, just, and beautiful in various ethnic backgrounds and experiences can be celebrated as the fruit of God’s grace.

WE AFFIRM that racism is a sin rooted in pride and malice which must be condemned and renounced by all who would honor the image of God in all people. Such racial sin can subtly or overtly manifest itself as racial animosity or racial vainglory. Such sinful prejudice or partiality falls short of God’s revealed will and violates the royal law of love. We affirm that virtually all cultures, including our own, at times contain laws and systems that foster racist attitudes and policies.

So race is a social construct, yet racism is a sin. But if race is a social construct, doesn't that mean racism is a social construct? By that logic, the sin of racism is a social construct. 

WE DENY that Christians should segregate themselves into racial groups or regard racial identity above, or even equal to, their identity in Christ. We deny that any divisions between people groups (from an unstated attitude of superiority to an overt spirit of resentment) have any legitimate place in the fellowship of the redeemed. We reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression. While we are to weep with those who weep, we deny that a person’s feelings of offense or oppression necessarily prove that someone else is guilty of sinful behaviors, oppression, or prejudice.

Are black, Latino, and Asian churches sinful? 

The Statement on Social Justice makes some good points, but rather than bringing moral and theological clarity to key issues, the document is confused and contradictory. A half-baked reactionary piece. Well-intentioned but slipshod. Punting when it needs to take a stand.  

“The Gay Priest Problem”

Very succinct, and has parallels with the "Revoice" issue in Reformed churches.

The Book of Mormon

Daniel C. Peterson a top Mormon apologist. I'm going to comment on a case he makes for Mormonism:

As a leading Mormon apologist and scholar, this is an example of the best case that can be made for Mormonism. It's downhill from there. 

I don't claim to be an expert on Mormonism. If, however, a Mormon asked me why I'm not a Mormon, Peterson is a good foil to express some of my reasons:

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Rome is the problem, not the solution

“Church Militant” identifies a real problem, names names

In many ways, I’m rooting for these folks at “Church Militant”. Not only does the main character, Michael Voris, S.T.B. (Bachelor of Sacred Theology) have a cool Donald Trump-style haircut, but he challenges the left wing of the Roman Catholic Church the way Donald Trump challenges the left wing of the Democrat party.

Here, he states the problem clearly, and he names the names of those he perceives to be the enemy (which is essentially the top-level hierarchy.)

These guys seem to be the most focused among the many conservative Roman Catholic groups, especially on this one issue. As he says, this is going to be a “never ending story” vs the “pro-gay Team Francis”. “Team Francis has gone insane”, he says, trying to say that Archbishop Vigano (who spilled the beans on Bergoglio and McCarrick) is “lying, distorting, vengeful, political, ideological”, etc.

“Church Militant” seems to be well-funded, and they offer slick, professionally-done productions. Voris makes a clear and solid case (and has done so over time) that the hierarchy (now including “Pope Francis”) is a major part of the problem.

These guys are going to be going at it for a long time.

The messianic secret

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

One God or many gods?

Some liberal scholars think the OT contains residual traces of polytheism. Divergent theologies which the editors and redactors failed to expunge. For instance:  

One God or Many Gods? 
Several key passages in the Old Testament speak of Yahweh alone as God [Isa 44:6-20...Jer 10:1-16]...But...the Old Testament paints a more varied portrait of God..."Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord..." (Ps. 86:8)...[In] Joshua 24:2,1-15 Joshua is exhorting Israel to serve Yahweh alone. To serve him alone means not to serve other gods...The first commandment says not "There are no other gods" but "you shall have no other gods"... The way [that the second commandment] is phrased seems to imply that idols can be real rivals of Yahweh The Israelites of the exodus were... taking their first baby steps toward a knowledge of God... .At this point in the progress of redemption,... the gods of the surrounding nations are treated as real. Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, 97-102.

Some Mormon apologists deploy similar arguments. Responding to Enns, Bruce Waltke said:

A more tenable explanation, I suggest, is that the first two commandments, which tacitly assume the existence of other gods, belong to the genre of religious commandments, whereas Moses' statement in Deut 4:39 ("there are no other gods")—not cited by Enns—and the monotheistic prophetic statements that he does cite, pertain to the genre of theological statements. The statements about other gods in the Psalms and inJosh 24, as well as in the first two commandments, pertain—so it seems to me—to the epistemological reality that people fabricate non-existent gods and fatuously worship them (cf. 1 Cor 8:4-6); the theological statements pertain to the ontological reality that other gods do not exist. In other words, the statements about other gods tacitly assume human depravity, not henotheism (i.e., the worship of only one God, while assuming the existence of others).

Moreover, Enns's interpretation opens the door both to a liberal definition of progressive revelation and to open theism. According to the liberal definition, "progressive revelation" refers to an evolutionary development of religion wherein earlier revelation is primitive and rudimentary and its teachings about divine reality and morals must be assessed and corrected by later revelation. Schleiermacher (1768-1834), an extreme example, places the OT on the same level as heathenism (Greek and Roman thought): "The Old Testament Scriptures do not . . . share the normative dignity or the inspiration of the New" (Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith [ET of 2d rev. ed. of 1830; ed. H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1928], section 132). The notion of progressive revelation, when defined in this way, is inconsistent with the doctrine that all Scripture is inspired of God. WTJ 71 (2009): 88-89.

Abolish peer review

3 Mormons

I finally watched the whole debate between James White, Jeff Durbin, and Mormon Kwaku:

I don't normally comment on Mormonism. I usually defer to Christian apologists who specialize in Mormonism and other cults (e.g. Islam). In that regard, here's a good general resource:

It takes considerable stamina to watch the whole thing, not just because it's 2 ½ hours of talking heads, but because it's such a train wreck. I'm sorry to report that in terms of overall performance, I think Kwaku won the debate. There were so many missed opportunities. 

One problem is that White and Durbin often spoke at cross-purposes. Durbin would challenge Kwaku to demonstrate his position from the Bible, then White would interrupt to change the subject. Nothing was ever nailed down.

Frequently, Kwaku wanted to talk about a passage from the Bible, but White and Durban wouldn't let him. The dialogue was utterly chaotic. Let's try to run back through the topics. I'll give my own answers to issues raised by Kwaku:

Monday, September 03, 2018

Mormonism and Michael Heiser

Mormon apologists have tried to make use of Michael Heiser's divine council paradigm to provide exegetical justification for Mormon polytheism. Heiser responded: 

Equality with God

I find this article rather odd:

1. Burk fails to directly interact with Hoover's classic seminal essay. Hoover argued that harpogmos doesn't have an isolated sense in this context. Rather, the overall meaning is generated by an idiomatic phrase: verb+noun. As one commentator summarizes the argument:

Hoover has demonstrated the mistake of focusing on the word harpagmos itself rather than on the combination of that word with hegomai…Hoover states that in all instances examined, the "idiomatic expression refers to something already present and at one's disposal," M. Silva, Philippians (Baker 2005), 103-04. Cf. G. Fee, Philippians (Eerdmans 1995), 205-08; P.T. O'Brien, Philippians (Eerdmans 1991), 214-16. Burke's interpretation seems to be a throwback to Lightfoot's defective analysis.

2. The Son's coequality with the Father is already implicit in the "plot"–which reflects the V-shape curve of Classical comedy. Beginning high, followed by downward motion, followed by resumption or restoration of original exalted status.

3. There may well be a subtext to Burk's interpretation. It reflects the strategy of grounding male headship in the ontological Trinity. But hasn't Burk recanted eternal functional subordination? If so, doesn't he need to revise his argument? 

What time is it?

There's an ongoing dispute between old-earth creationism and new-earth creationism regarding biblical chronology. Traditionally, many Christians regarded the days of Gen 1 as consecutive calendar days, although some church fathers viewed creation as instantaneous. Likewise, Jews and Christians traditionally regarded the world as a few thousand years old. 

Many Christians revised that interpretation in light of modern astronomy and geology. Atheists agree with the traditional interpretation, which they regard as evidence that the Bible is hopelessly errant. 

One problem with this debate is that it's simplistic. There are different kinds of time, different concepts of time. 

1. Physical time 

That's related to cause and effect, which has a future-oriented sequence. Physical processes instantiate physical time. 

2. Psychological time

When we dream, the dream world operates according to psychological time. The same applies to the intermediate state. 

Some Christians (e.g. Augustine, Berkeley) think time just is psychological time. I demure. 

3. Absolute chronology

Actual age, with a starting-point. Nothing prior to the starting-point. 

4. Period time

If a director makes a movie with a historical setting, like the middle ages, Victorian England, the Roaring Twenties, or the Old West, the movie set reflects period time. That dovetails with mature creation. It begins within a timeframe rather than having an absolute commencement. 

5. Ideational time

Apropos (4), a director may have a story about the Roaring Twenties, Old West, &c. The timeframe initially exists in the mind of the director. When he turns that into a movie, he transfers his mental image to the screen. Ideational time is referential in the sense that it tracks the plot of a story or narrative. 

6. Internal time

If a multiverse exists (or existed), then each universe has its own chronology. These are separate from each other. Compartmentalized. The timeframe of one universe isn't synchronized with the timeframe of another universe. If you could travel from this universe to a parallel universe, you won't enter the same timeframe you left. You might find yourself in the past or future in that parallel universe.

7. Sequential time

A novel or drama generally has a narrative sequence (although it may contain flashbacks). Time is static since it isn't real time but a literary representation of time. 

On a cyclical cosmology, there's a temporal series of universes.  

On a Reformed model of creation, creation preexists as a timeless divine idea. A master plan. God then transfers his idea to extramental reality. Ideational time becomes physical time. In that respect, Reformed metaphysics coincides with mature creation, although it doesn't entail mature creation. It begins wherever the plot began. That could be absolute chronology or period time.