Saturday, September 15, 2018

Wilted Flowers

I don't normally read Leighton Flowers because he's a hack. Ironically, I think it's unfair to assess freewill theism by spokesmen like Flowers. However, a Facebook notification directed me to a post of his. He begins by quoting Rom 5:2 as follows:

Christ through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

He then says Calvinists tacitly reword the verse as follows:

Christ through whom we have gained access by grace into this faith in which we now stand. 

Several issues:

i) Flowers is too lazy to present an actual argument. It's not my job to make his argument for him. But for discussion purposes, let's try to tease out the implicit argument. This seems to be what he's thinking: according to Calvinism, even faith is the product of God's grace. On that view, grace precedes faith. 

Flowers imagines that Rom 5:2 contradicts that understanding because it reverses the order: faith precedes grace. According to Calvinism, grace is the gateway to faith. According to Flowers, faith is the gateway to grace. Assuming that's the thrust of what Flowers has in mind:

i) His argument hinges on the syntactical relationship between faith and grace in Rom 5:2. There is, however, a text-critical issue. As a recent commentator has noted:

"By faith" is disputed among the major manuscripts, and probably does not belong in the original text–although this is probably a reasonable scribal hypothesis regarding Paul's belief. S. Porter, The Letter to the Romans (Sheffield 2015), 115. 

So Leighton's entire argument hinges on the presence of a word which may well be a  scribal interpolation. It's at least as likely if not more likely that Paul never used that word in 5:2. 

ii) In addition, Flowers commits a few related semantic fallacies. He acts as though "grace" has the same sense every time Paul uses the word. In addition, he acts as though the mere use of that Greek word carries the entire concept of grace in Pauline theology. By the same token, he acts as though the truth of Reformed theology depends on words having the same meaning in systematics and dogmatics that they have in biblical usage. So his semantic fallacy is several layers deep. 

iii) In context, Paul seems to be using "grace" as a synonym for a justified state. And that's consistent with Reformed theology. According to Calvinism, justification is contingent on faith. 

In Reformed theology, "grace" has multiple phases. The fact that one stage of saving grace is subsequent to faith doesn't mean there can't be prior stages of grace. In Reformed theology, the concept of grace encompasses salvation from start to finish, viz. election, redemption, regeneration, saving faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, glorification. The fact that some stages of grace are post-conversion doesn't militate against pre-conversion stages of grace. 

Science, faith, and God

Some comments on a recent dialogue between John Lennox and Michael Ruse:

1. Both Lennox and Ruse are in their 70s. Lennox has something to look forward to when he dies–Ruse has nothing to look forward to.

2. Ruse illustrates the implausibility of the freewill defense, and Lennox's response is philosophically trite. In general, though, Ruse's religious ideal seems to be heavily conditioned by his Quaker upbringing and education. Even though he's an atheist (agnostic, naturalist), the Quaker paradigm remains his frame of reference.

The dialogue was interesting but frustrating because they didn't have time to develop their ideas. At one point Lennox gestured at a distinction between different kinds of science, but that was dropped. To develop his comparison, a science like chemistry is more fully and directly evidence-based than physics, which requires more theoretical filler.

It isn't clear to me if Ruse has a consistent position. However, his position may be more sophisticated than Lennox. At times, Lennox sounds like a positivist.

3. This goes back to an ancient and perennial debate on the relation between faith and reason. Here's one way of viewing it. Facts and evidence only take us so far. The evidence doesn't explain everything. The evidence leaves many important questions unanswered. Sometimes the evidence leaves us baffled. 

So we need something to fill out the evidence. Something over and above raw evidence. For many Christians, that's faith. For more cerebral Christians, that's reason. Christian philosophy and philosophical theology can help to fill the gap when the evidence runs out. Take theodicies. Mind you, faith can never be eliminated. 

Likewise, there's evidence for the Bible. And Biblical revelation provides explanations where raw evidence is lacking. Evidence can corroborate a truth-claim, but a truth-claim is distinct from the corroborative evidence. Revelation answers some questions which the evidence leaves unanswered. So revelation helps to fill out the evidence. Revelation interprets the available evidence and extends the reach of the available evidence.

In that respect, the relation between faith and reason is more like theoretical physics than chemistry. There's a necessary evidential component, but it requires philosophical and theological interpretation to fill out what's missing from the raw evidence.

4. I appreciate Lennox's courageous response to the professors. He refused to back down, even though as a college student and aspiring academic, he was quite vulnerable to being blacklisted by secular academia and the secular scientific establishment. 

5. That said, many Christians and atheists alike suffer from a nearsighted, bubblegummy idealism about "the truth", as if the truth has absolute value regardless of anything else. But truth is not a virtue in a godless universe. Truth isn't something to live for in a godless universe. Better to be a hedonist if it came to that. 

Truth is a necessary but insufficient condition for a worldview. A satisfactory worldview must have room for the good as well as the true. Truth is worthless unless truth can point us to some ultimate good. 

There is no truth for truth's sake. Rather, there's truth for goodness' sake and goodness for truth's sake. Christian apologists need to avoid a truncated worldview where bare truth, divested of anything else, is something to live for and die for. 

Christianity and naturalism aren't just two sides of an argument. It would be suicidal to abandon Christianity for atheism under the aegis of "following the truth"–as if truth has independent value regardless of what the world is like. Truth is not enough. 

Imagine a godless universe with a malevolent master race of aliens. Cruel, sadistic. Suppose they require you murder your mother to prove your undying allegiance to the alien overlords. That's nothing to live for, even if that was true.

6. Perhaps we need more discussion of what distinguishes private evidence from public evidence. For instance:

i) Some of the Resurrection appearances are to solitary individuals. That's originally private evidence. 

ii) We can compare (i) to Resurrection appearances to groups of people. Presumably, that would be classified as public evidence.

iii) However, there's a sense in which collective private evidence can be reclassified as public evidence. That is to say, multiple-attestation can be something witnessed by several people at once or else it can be something witnessed by solitary observers. If, though, you have multiple reports of the same thing by isolated observers, the effect is mutual corroboration.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Suppose you have to be smarter to drive than be a chess champ?

Chess is an informal IQ test. A goal of AI was to design a computer that could outperform the best chess-players. That was a way of proving AI. Mind you, calling what computers do "intelligent" is Pickwickian. 

But be that as it may, what if it takes more intelligence to perform a mundane task like driving than playing chess? If we can design computers to beat even the best players at chess, but we can't design automated cars to reliably do what human drivers can do, then that presents a paradox for AI. 

This may go to the fact that in chess, the variables are quantifiable and predictable, while driving conditions are not. In that context, human intelligence is adaptable in a way that AI is not. 

Village atheism

Is there anybody here?

Fatal overdose

Assuming this is true, seems like a case of instantaneous miraculous restoration (from a fatal overdose). 

Encountering Islam

Has a transcript

Hunger stones

Hmm. Aren't sea levels supposed to be rising due to climate change?

imposing hegemonic gender roles onto polar bears

The next frontier in social justice: transgender rights for polar bears:

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Income redistribution

Is unanswered prayer a waste of time?

I don't know if there are any reliable stats on this topic, but it wouldn't surprise me if most Christian prayers go unanswered. (By "unanswered prayer," I mean not getting what you ask for.) That raises an interesting and important question: answered prayer has obvious value, but does unanswered prayer serve any purpose? 

i) At one level you might view prayer like dandelion parachutes and maple leaf whirlybirds. Even if most don't germinate, redundancy provides a margin so that a few are likely to germinate. More prosaically, if you already get less than you pray for, then the less you pray, the less you get. You get even less than if you prayed more often. Suppose only a fraction of prayers are answered. In that event, the "odds" of any prayer getting answered plummet if you pray infrequently. You fall below the threshold. 

Now, that's a rather mechanical way of putting it. I'm not suggesting that it's primarily about the odds. There is, though, an element of truth in the fact that you get more hits with more throws. On a dartboard, even when you miss most of the time, if you keep throwing darts, you'll get lucky, but if you rarely throw darts, your hits will be that much rarer rare.

Once again, I'm not suggesting that answered prayer is a matter of luck. Just using an analogy to illustrate the point. Analogies have disanalogies. 

And, of course, you don't know ahead of time which prayers will go unanswered. So it's not as if you could make better use of that time. 

ii) When several people pray for someone, and the prayer is answered, whose prayer was answered? Was everyone's prayer for that person answered? If they all prayed for the same thing, did God individually answer their prayers? There's a sense in which, if fifty people pray for the same thing, and God answers their prayer, God can't answer their prayer fifty different times since there's just one specified outcome. 

Or did God respond to just one or two prayer warriors–out of the sum total? If half the people prayed, maybe the prayer would go unanswered, not because it's about sheer numbers, but perhaps the prayers of some Christians are more efficacious. Some Christians are more saintly than others. (I don't mean "saintly" in the Catholic sense.)

iii) The habit of prayer creates a prayer-shaped life. Both answered and unanswered prayers contribute to a prayer-shaped life. It's not confined to a subset of "successful" prayers, but a life of prayer that conditions and regulates the Christian pilgrimage. 

v) Answered prayer affects the future, but so does unanswered prayer. For the time spent in prayer is time diverted from other activities. Even when prayer doesn't affect the future by directing a specific outcome (answered prayer), yet the act of prayer still affects the future regardless of the divine response. In a cause/effect world, what agents do with their time has a ripple effect. In his providence, God employs unanswered prayer as well as answered prayer to orchestrate the future. 

Pope Milo

L'Osservatore Romano

Three weeks after Pope Francis passed way, the conclave elected Milo Yiannopoulos to be the next pope. As Cardinal Cupich explained:

He has all the necessary qualifications to be pope. He's gay, Catholic, and a cross-dresser. Popes have been all dolled up like drag queens for centuries. They make Liberace look Amish by comparison. And we wanted a pontiff who could reach out to lapsed Catholic millennials. 

Responding to the news of the papal conclave, Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong said:

We support Pope Milo wholeheartedly. He's the successor to St. Peter, our spiritual father, and the Vicar of Christ. He bears the charism of the Holy Spirit. 

Seeing freaky things in mirrors

I'll begin by assessing some comments by Hume, then apply that to a specific case:

Does a man of sense run after every silly tale of witches, or hobgoblins, or fairies, and canvas particularly the evidence? 

Suppose supernatural or occult entities really exist. Suppose hobgoblins and fairies are part of the cultural folklore. That means that if somebody were to experience a supernatural or occult entity, he might automatically classify his experience as a personal encounter with a hobgoblin or fairy because those are the available labels and categories. The fact that hobgoblins and fairies are imaginary doesn't mean that a reported experience using those designations is necessarily or even probably bogus. The folklore may have a elaborate and fanciful backstory about about the origin, nature, and social life of hobgoblins and fairies that's sheer mythology. But if that's the cultural frame of reference for naming types of paranormal, supernatural, or occult experience, then that's the default classification scheme. You need to differentiate the conventional narrative from the underlying experience. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Why I No Longer Participate in Racial Reconciliation Services

Evangelical elites

Having just posted an unfortunate piece by Michael Horton expressing views favored by the bigwigs at CT, I now post an outlandish interview with Rev. Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Dallas, that is so much worse than Horton's article that it makes Horton's piece look spot-on by comparison. Now I'm sure that Rev. Chandler is a nice Christian with whom I could have good fellowship, were we to break bread together. However, his rhetoric in this piece employs self-righteous slander toward fellow Evangelicals (and that, apparently, to outsiders), characterizing Evangelicals who knew what they were doing in supporting Trump (as opposed to Evangelicals who were either too dumb or too scared to know what they were doing, due to the media "whipping them into a frenzy") as having "sold their soul" (presumably to the devil).
Moreover, he betrays a bit of delusion of his own regarding what is coming down the pike in terms of abridgment of free speech, free exercise of religion, forced indoctrination, and a coercive mandate to promote sexually immoral acts, all of which he either minimizes or does not know. His habit at the MLK Conference of referring to those who disagree with him as "fools" is everywhere the subtext here when he is being his most charitable.
"People are frightened at the speed at which things are changing culturally so I think they began to grasp for something that might help. The Obama presidency -- great man -- some of his policies ... really, really scared Evangelicals ... the news media whipped people up into a frenzy and made them feel desperate."
So Obama was "a great man"? Chandler gives no recognition of the harm that Obama perpetrated in supporting whole-hog the "LGBTQ" and abortion agendas, in undermining free speech and the free exercise of religion, in two bad SCOTUS appointments that gave us "gay marriage" and hundreds of other federal court appointments, among many other bad decisions. Those who voted for Trump are just delusionally frightened, fearful of any "cultural change," but without having any basis in reality? This characterization is itself delusional.
He has no problem focusing on domestic violence and racial reconciliation, matters that are good to deal with but for which one will receive only kudos from the dominant left-wing media and entertainment industry. But for the issue of homosexuality, where it actually takes courage to speak out, there is only criticism of the church:
"We're quick to say that it is a sin, which I'm not going to disagree that I would think from the Scriptures that that's not what ultimately God intends. But to pretend like we're not talking about human beings with souls who sometimes are deeply conflicted is just a great error. To be right the wrong way is to be wrong."
Chandler never specifies in what policies about the "LGBTQ" agenda Christians have been wrong. But one would presume he is referring to things like providing religious freedom safeguards for religious persons who do not want to contribute their artistic talents to promoting immorality; or to Christians not promoting "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" laws that lead to their own persecution and the persecution of their children at school, places of employment, and the use of social media to express their views.
Who exactly thinks that people with same-sex attractions are not human beings with souls? Can he name a single Evangelical leader that thinks this? His remarks create an incredible caricature and then weakly describe homosexual practice as "not what ultimately God intends." Ultimately? Would he say that incest of an adult-committed sort is not what God "ultimately intends"? Doubtless he would respond that to compare homosexual practice to adult incest is a hateful response since adult incest is (allegedly) so much worse. To which I respond: Not from a biblical standpoint it isn't. If anything, the writers of Scripture depict homosexual practice as an even greater violation of God's standard for human sexuality.
He goes on: "People were terrified by that bathroom bill. More than anything else, the thought that their children were going to be in a bathroom with the opposite sex, right? -- and I know all the arguments around that but I'm using the language that would make the most sense to conservatives -- that that made them go 'Whoever is the opposition to that I'm going to vote for,' and then they lost their soul in it, many of them did," an obvious allusion to voting for Trump.
The way Chandler words this is incredible. First, he makes it sound like Christians made an unimportant matter -- males entering private female spaces -- important. Second, he appears clueless about the entire range of coercive measures associated with the "gay" and "transgender" movements, encompassing every aspect of life, not just the "bathroom" issue (and we haven't even dealt with the abortion question). Third, he seems to suggest that men who identify as women are not really the "opposite sex" to women but he (Chandler) is just using those terms to make a connection with scared Evangelicals.
I don't think that Evangelicals who voted in the last presidential election, whether for Trump or Clinton, "lost their soul." However, a Clinton victory would have done far more for promoting immorality and abridging basic human rights for generations to come than the Trump victory did. For Chandler to chide those who disagree with his "Obama is a great man" politics as being in some danger of damnation for not supporting Obama's heir apparent is grossly insulting and just plain foolish.
Chandler characterizes Evangelicals who disagree with his brand of politics as people "who try to reach the world by becoming like the world" while he and those who agree with him are those "who hold fast to the orthodox Christian faith in a way that is compassionate and kind." It is so good to know now that for the past 43 years of my life I have not been holding fast to orthodox Christian faith in a way like the Church Fathers of old that is compassionate and kind. Rev. Chandler and others now at long last will show us the way to true Christian faith, "weathering the backlash for all the wrong that's been done in the name of Jesus the last 50 years." What arrogance.
I would be more than happy to debate Rev. Chandler publicly over the proposition that Evangelicals who supported Trump en masse more or less "sold their soul" or (if they were too dumb or too scared to know what they were doing) at least were deeply delusional. Rev. Chandler's rhetoric is just face-saving nonsense to make him look more avant-garde in relation to the previous generation and less objectionable to the left-wing despots controlling the secular narrative. Yet it does little for the unborn, a male-female basis for marriage, a biological basis for identifying one's gender with one's biological sex, the free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, and a judiciary that interprets rather than amends the Constitution.

Battle of the sexes

This article supplies useful background info for my post:

In social relations, it's natural for an individual to use himself or herself as the frame of reference. The default setting is to relate to another person as if that person were me. How would I respond if I was them? Not putting myself in their shoes but putting them in my shoes.

Normally, men and women are psychologically different (although there's lots of overlap). As a result, it's natural for women to relate to men as if they were women, and vice versa. It's natural for a man to use male psychology as the frame of reference when relating to women. By the same token, it's natural for women to use female psychology when relating to men. 

But because men and women normally have a different psychological makeup, that fosters false expectations, misunderstanding, and frustration. Because members of the same sex tend to think alike, they don't have to adapt to each other to the same degree when relating to members of the opposite sex. Marriage requires a degree of mutual adjustment that isn't required for two or more male roommates.

This is why it's good for husbands to maintain some male friendships outside of marriage, as well as for wives to maintain some female friendships outside of marriage. Your spouse can't fill that role. 

Relating to members of the opposite sex is a skill that has to be learned in a way that's not the case when relating to members of the same sex. In marriage, that requires a willingness on both sides to respect and cherish the psychological differences between men and women, discover the differences, and accommodate when necessary. Strike a balance, but don't require men to be like women or vice versa. That's important in marriage, parenting, and education. 

Feminism doesn't think women should ever have to take male character traits into consideration. That's toxic masculinity. All the change must come from the male side of the ledger. That attitude probably has a mirror image in the reactionary world of the Manosphere. 

To some extent we seem to be evolving into a society of lifelong bachelors and spinsters where women live alone in the company of dogs and cats and cellphones while men live alone in the company of sexbots and computer games. That's what happens when biblical values are abandoned. 

Six stages of Catholic denial

1. The church of Rome is the Bride of Christ. Without the Roman Magisterium, we'd be lost in the wilderness, forced to fend for ourselves. 

2. The church of Rome can't be falsified by what the priesthood, hierarchy, or pope does, but only by what's officially taught.

3. The church of Rome can't be falsified by what the pope happens to say, but only when speaking ex cathedra. All else is fallible. 

4. The church of Rome can't be falsified by heretical teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church because that's fallible.

5. The church of Rome can't be falsified by heretical conciliar teaching because that just shows the council wasn't ecumenical. Even if a pope solemnly defined a heresy as irreformable doctrine, that can't falsify the church of Rome. A heretical pope is an antipope, not a true pope. Ex cathedra heresy is a contradiction in terms. So nothing in principle or practice, nothing in history, nothing on paper, can falsify the church of Rome.

6. Dogma is our benchmark to sift de fide teaching from fallible or heretical teaching. We rely on magisterial teaching to know what's dogma and we rely on dogma to know what's magisterial teaching. The church of Rome is the One True Church® because it says it's the One True Church®. The Roman Catholic church is always right–except when it's wrong. And you can tell the difference by using dogma to winnow the Magisterium while simultaneously using the Magisterium to winnow dogma. Dogma is the starting-point. Unless the Magisterium is the starting-point. When in doubt, flip a coin of St. Jude. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

"The idolatry of whiteness"

From the founding of this nation until the present hour, the idolatry of whiteness has been a pro-death spirit within our republic. 

To this end, we call upon white leaders and members of the Evangelical church to condemn in the strongest terms the white supremacist ideology that has long existed in the church and our society.

If you would like to add your name as a signer of the Charlottesville Declaration, please email: with your name and title as you would like them to appear.

Notice the schizophrenic attitude. How can they abhor the (alleged) idolatry of whiteness while they simultaneously solicit white evangelical signatories–as well as white leaders and members of the Evangelical church to condemn white supremacist ideology? Doesn't their craving for white backing and white signatories idolize whiteness? If the (alleged) idolatry of whiteness is the source of the problem, then why should they seek the patronage of white folks? Shouldn't they demonstrate their independence of white approval? By seeking white sponsors, don't they perpetuate the (alleged) idolatry of whiteness.

Doesn't felt need for whites to bless their outlook betray a racial inferiority complex on their part? Why do they pine for whites to affirm them? Doesn't that idolize white opinion? Doesn't that evince a sense of inadequacy of their part? They act like they suffer from white envy. They act like they wish they were born white. They act like they're ashamed to be black, which they camouflage by donning SJW fatigues. 

9/11 survivor

Monday, September 10, 2018

Dramatic license

The same individual can be both a fictional character and a real person. Suppose, for instance, a director makes a scifi movie on an alternate history theme. Maybe Hitler wins WWII. Maybe the Civil War results in a truce. You just change some key variables. What if Hitler didn't invade Russia? What if Churchill broke his neck falling down a staircase? What if FDR lost his reelection bid when new of his mistress leaked out? 

What if Sherman fought for the South? What if Grant was shot to death in a bar room brawl? What if Stonewall Jackson wasn't killed early on? What if Lee used guerrilla tactics rather than frontal assault? What if Lincoln lost his reelection bid because the Union army was faring badly?

In these alternate history scenarios, all the major players will be the same. They'd be based on real people. Yet they're fictional characters in the alternate history scenario. They only exist in the imagination of the director or screen writer.

Something to keep in mind when we read Revelation. It's not a historical narrative like the Gospels or Acts. Rather, this is a surreal world, like a revelatory dream. Although some of the figures are based on real people, or correspond to real people, they function as fictional characters within the plot of Revelation. There's dramatic license in an allegorical vision that you don't have in straight historical reportage.   


I believe dispensationists think the 144,000 in Rev 7:4 refers to ethnic Jewish converts. Bracketing the usual exegetical debates, that raises some philosophical and theodical issues. Some dispensationalists are Calvinists while others are freewill theists. Let's consider each in relation to that identification:

1. Reformed dispensationalism

This means God regenerated 144,000 ethnic Jews during the great tribulation. Freewill theists often allege that unconditional election is arbitrary. I've argued that their allegation is confused. The fact that God doesn't elect people based on foreseen faith or merit doesn't mean God is randomly choosing who will be saved or damned, like throwing dice to pick winners and losers. 

Humans are agents. The elect make different choices in life than the reprobate. Depending on who's elect or reprobate, that generates alternate world histories. 

In addition, it may well be the case that God made a multiverse in which alternate histories play out. It's not as if God is forced to choose one outcome to the exclusion of others. 

If, however, the Reformed dispensational interpretation of Rev 7:4 is correct, then who's saved and who's damned is based on numerology. Some ethnic Jews didn't make the cut because that would mess up the nice round number. God didn't save 144,303 Jews because that's not a pretty number compared to 144,000. Picking winners and losers to make a nice round number. Isn't numerical aesthetics an awfully frivolous criterion for salvation and damnation? 

2. Libertarian dispensationalism

On this view it's unclear how there can be exactly 144,000 ethnic Jewish converts. God can't zap 144,000 Jews to believe in Jesus, for faith is an independent variable. Human agents are the ultimate source of their choices and actions. So it's out of God's hands how many Jews will be saved during the Tribulation. 

But in that event, what are the odds that the number of converts just happen to add up to that nice round number? Consider all the different numerical possibilities. It's a vanishingly improbable coincidence that the raffle of freewill theism will pull that particular figure out of the hat.

Is the millennium timeless?

Here's an interesting post by Alan Kurschner:

Premillennialists and amillennialists agree with each other that the thousand years reference denotes a temporal period, that is, a historical period. What we disagree on is when it will begin. Amillennialists think it started at Christ’s first coming, so they view it as interadvental, that is, between Jesus’s first and second coming. Premillennialists on the other hand think the millennial period will begin in the future at Christ’s second coming, so they view it as postadvental.

i) There are amils who identify the millennium with the intermediate state. The logic of that position means the millennium antedates the first advent of Christ. If the millennium is conterminous with the intermediate state, then that goes all the way back to the antediluvians. Abel would be the first person to enter the millennium. The first saint to die and thereby pass into the intermediate state.

ii) It might be argued that while the millennium/intermediate state isn't chronologically coordinated with the first advent of Christ, it's teleologically coordinated inasmuch as the merit of Christ retroactively saved OT saints. 

But I want to address another view on the millennium. There are some interpreters who think that the thousand years reference does not denote a period of time at all, so they would hold to a non-temporal construal of the thousand years reference. Typically they would read an exclusively symbolic meaning of the expression, for example, referring to the victory and vindication of the saints. So for these interpreters they would see the fulfillment of the millennium occurring not in the course of a period of extended time, but only thematically, at the second coming of Jesus.

One of their key arguments against a temporal interpretation of the millennium (pre-, post-, and amillennial) is to point out that numbers in the book of Revelation are symbolic, that is, we should not take them literally (e.g. 144,000). I would argue against this because there are clear examples that this is not the case (e.g. John wrote to seven literal churches), so we should not make sweeping blanket statements when it comes to numbers in the book of Revelation, which seems to be the case with many interpreters. Leaving aside this point, I want to reply to this objection by making a different point.

i) That argument either proves too little or too much. For instance, Preterists identify Babylon as Rome since any 1C Mediterranean reader would recognize Rome as the city of seven hills (Rev 17:9). Yet Alan is a futurist. 

ii) Even in a scheme where the numerology is purely symbolic, odds are that every so often a symbolic number will coincidentally match a literal counterpart. That's statistically inevitable since there will always be 2 of something, 3 of something, 12 of something, &c. For instance, Rome isn't the only city with seven hills. 

iii) Although there may have been seven literal churches in Asia Minor at the time of writing, were there only seven churches? Even in the same city you might have more the one house-church. So how do we count them?

Was each letter sent individually to each church? Or were the letters bundled with the rest of Revelation and distributed to all the churches within John's purview? Every church which had a copy of the Apocalypse heard all seven letters read aloud. Is that just seven churches? The seven letters appear to be integrated with the Apocalypse as a whole, so it seems unlikely that they ever circulated separately. 

iv) As one commentator notes:

Next is the flow of time within the visionary world…But in the visionary world this "short" period extends from Christ's first coming until his final return. Visionary time does not correspond to chronological time in the readers' world. Revelation was written decades after the death of Jesus, yet the entire period of the church's conflict with evil fits within the three and a half years of visionary time (11:2-3). C. Koester, Revelation (Yale 2014), 120-21. 

Back to Alan:

In the book of Revelation, when it comes to these non-temporal interpreters, they will agree that—not all numbers—but the particular numbers which designate temporal periods do in fact refer to historical periods of time. For example, designations such as “ten days” [2:10], “short time” [12:7–10], “three and one-half years, 42 months or 1290 days” [11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:5] are typically interpreted as symbolic by virtually all of these interpreters, but, they also would view them as indicating historical periods of time, not necessarily the literal designation, but nevertheless, a period of time (e.g. “42 months” is symbolic of the church age, they will claim; yet the church age by definition denotes a historical period of time).

My question then is why would all these other references to temporal designations in the Apocalypse refer to actual temporal, historical periods (and also possessing symbolic meaning), but the reference to the thousand years is singled out as a non-temporal period? Just like all the other temporal designations, why can’t the thousand year reference also denote both a symbolic meaning and a temporal meaning? This does not require the interpreter to think that it refers to a literal thousand year period (though I do not think there is reason to think it does not refer to a literal thousand years), but at least it could indicate an undetermined period of time.

i) A radical position might classify Revelation as literature, like Perelandra. Or like a movie. In a novel or movie, the flow of time is subdivided into a series of episodes. There's what the periods represent in plot terms. But they don't represent anything outside the fictional world of the movie or novel.

That's not my own interpretation. I simply mention it to draw attention to a potential objection. 

ii) One issue is the need to distinguish visionary time from real time. Revelation is like an extended symbolic dream. The dream is episodic. The question is what those correspond to in real life. 

iii) As timebound creatures we necessarily experience reality in temporal intervals. The real question is not whether the millennium is temporal, but whether the episodes in Revelation chart a unilinear sequence of unrepeatable events. Does real history (past, present, future) run along a parallel track? 

An alternative interpretation is to construe some of these episodes as stereotypical kinds of ordeals which Christians at different times and places may experience. If, say, the millennium represents the intermediate state of the saints, then believers enter the millennium at different times because they die at different times throughout the course of human history. 

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Two paths, two destinies

Life is like poker. Each of us is dealt a hand. It's then a question of how we'll play our hand. In principle, there are different ways to play the same hand. It's instructive, sometimes inspiring, sometimes sobering, sometimes edifying, sometimes ominous, to see how different people play the hand they were dealt. 

Burt Reynolds was a pop icon. I didn't know that much about Reynolds. You know about some people just through cultural osmosis. 

Deliverance was the only film I saw him in. He made several trashy but highly profitable films. He reportedly did a centerfold for Cosmopolitan. Had many affairs. Unlike Nick Nolte, Reynolds stayed trim, but age and illness hallowed out the Olympian physique. He was said to be more intelligent than the jarhead image he projected on screen. 

If you're an atheist, and you have what Reynolds had going for him, that's a reasonable way to play your hand. Utterly vacuous, but in a godless universe, every choice is equally vacuous. And vacuous hedonism is more rational than vacuous humanism. No doubt Richard Carrier secretly envies the lifestyle of Reynolds, but as a pure undiluted dork, Carrier can never emulate that lifestyle. 

It's interesting to compare how Reynolds played his hand with how Tim Tebow is playing his hand. Perhaps Tebow doesn't have the same rakish looks. Nevertheless, with a bit of tweaking, one can imagine Tebow play his hand the way Reynolds did or Reynolds play his hand the way Tebow does. Both were dealt a similar hand. But look at what they do with it. The contrast is striking. 

The image of the invisible God

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col 1:15-17). 

This passage came up in a debate with a Jehovah's Witness. I was asked to comment on the following statement:

His argument (i.e. the Christian apologist) was that since Jesus is the image of the invisible God, He must be God since only a divine being can be a divine copy of God. The Jehovah's Witness responded that by definition no copy will be exact. And so Jesus didn't have to be divine to be a copy. And so there is no real argument from being a copy.

1. "The image of the invisible God" doesn't all by itself imply deity, although I'll return to that phrase momentarily. 

2. In the larger context, this passage presents the Son as the uncreated Creator in Gen 1. Indeed, it's even stronger than Gen 1 because:

i) It makes creation ex nihilo explicit, whereas that's implicit in Gen 1.

ii) It makes the Creator the maker of the invisible as well as visible realm. Angels as well as physical beings. 

So the Creator God of Col 1:15-17 is even more absolute than the initial revelation of Yahweh in Gen 1. 

3. In addition, 1:19 & 2:9 accentuate the deity and Incarnation of the Son.

4. To be the image of the invisible God involves a contrast between the discarnate Father and the incarnate Son.

5. A copy and a representation aren't interchangeable concepts. While every copy is representational, not every representation is a copy. For instance:

i) Humans exhibit bilateral symmetry, so the left side mirrors the right side and vice versa. However, the left side is not a copy of the right side, or vice versa. It's not an original/copy relation.

ii) Identical twins mirror each other, but one twin is not a copy of his brother. It's not an original/copy relation.

iii) Da Vinci painted two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks. Both are originals. 

iv) A bank account number can appear in a different font. So they don't exactly resemble each other. Yet each representation is exactly the name account number. The abstract content is the same. 

6. There's a like-reveals-like principle. The more that B is like A, the more B reveals what A is really like. To be the definitive "image" of the Father, the Son must be maximally similiar while remaining distinct from the Father. But that's far above a creature.