Saturday, October 27, 2018

The second Yahweh

The whole series:

Two models of divine transcendence

My own position is much closer to Paul Helm's, but Frame makes a number of worthwhile points:

It's okay to win the argument

There's a well-meaning cliche in Christian circles that goes something like this: "Are you trying to win the argument or a win a soul?"

Now, there's a grain of truth to that. We have to be careful how we argue, and who we argue with. But as a rule, the objective of theological, philosophical, political, or ethical debate is to win the argument. There's nothing inherently disreputable about that motive. 

Sometimes it can be useful just to have a better understanding of what someone else believes. The goal isn't always to change their mind.

But the primary objective of theological debate (or philosophical, political, or ethical debate) is to achieve a resolution. Not just to exchange ideas, but eliminate bad arguments, eliminate bad positions. That's the only way to make progress. 

Both sides push back against each other. Do their arguments hold up under scrutiny? Ideally, you need to keep at it until you achieve resolution. You establish that one side is right and one side is wrong. 

Sometimes it's more complicated. Sometimes the losing side lost, not because they were wrong, but because their position was poorly represented. Or sometimes both sides refine their original positions in the face of criticism. 

But theological debate ought to be a process for arriving at the truth. Winning the argument where that means one side really did have the better of the argument. For instance, the best interpretation of a Bible passage. 

To make winning the argument the goal is not an ego-trip, although that's a possible motivation. Rather, the goal is to achieve a resolution on a point of disagreement. 

You just don't understand!

In my observation, men and women often make classic mistakes in relating to each other. In one respect, that's surprising–surprising insofar as these are classic mistakes. You'd think men and women could avoid repeating classic mistakes. Because they're such cliches, they ought to be well-known. Why not learn from other people's mistakes? Many parents make classic mistakes as well. Once again, why not learn from other people's mistakes instead of recycling the same counterproductive strategies?

One problem is that many men and women just assume they should be able to automatically understand the other sex. But of course, male and female psychology are different, so that's a risky assumption. Many men and women would benefit from acting like animals trainers. An animal trainer has to master the psychology of whatever species he trains. Or, to take a more dramatic example, there are naturalists who study wolf packs in the wild. Some do it immersively by becoming a member of the pack. They have to learn to think like a wolf. Anticipate how wolves react. Understand visual cues. Submissive and dominance behavior. Play by the rules of the wolf pack since the wolves won't play by their rules. Deborah Tannen wrote a classic book on how men and women frequently talk past each other. 

A stereotypical mistake some husbands make is to neglect the marriage. The ambitious, workaholic father and husband who puts career first. 

I haven't read his new book, but to judge by reviews, Jordan Peterson gives younger men a Stoic, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps pep talk. That might be useful for some men, but it's my impression that it's becoming genuinely harder for many men to succeed in our society. So just telling them to buck up isn't necessarily a solution.  

In my anecdotal observation, some women have two conflicting impulses, but they haven't thought about it clearly. They haven't considered the endgame. On the one hand, they don't want to be alone for the rest of their lives. They don't want to be divorcées or single moms. 

On the other hand, when they get mad at the boyfriend or husband, they want to get even. "He hurt me so I'm going to hurt him back!" Revenge is emotionally satisfying up-to-a-point. Indeed, it can become all-absorbing. But the utterly predictable effect is to alienate the husband from the wife. That drives the husband further away.

Another cliche example is winning arguments by dredging up the past. Keeping a record of grudges. A list of his (real or perceived) slights and failures. That might succeed in silencing the guy, but it makes him resentful, so is it worth it? What's the endgame? 

Marriages are fragile. There's not the built-in bond between parents and kids, or siblings. There's not even the natural rapport in male friendships or female friendships, where friends understand each other because they think alike. Men think alike. Women think alike. 

As a result, marriage can't survive the same degree of emotional punishment. The problem is not so much that couples cease to love each other but that couples cease to like each other. In a marriage gone bad, they go from liking each other to loving each other to disliking each other. Once you develop a dislike for someone you used to like, that's very hard to overcome. A classic example is the philandering husband. 

If you pour defoliant on a marriage to win an argument, that may sterilize the ground. The flowers won't come back. 

There's nothing necessarily wrong with winning the argument. It's a matter of how you do it. 

Some women need to decide whether they wish to save the marriage or give into revenge. They can't do both. Those are divergent paths. If they wish to save the marriage, they must let go of the rage. They must choose. They must decide that marriage is more important than the emotional satisfaction of venting. 

Women are prone to psychological warfare anyway (e.g. teenage girls and cyberbullying), and some of them learn too late that when they practice slash-n-burn tactics, they are raining down napalm and Agent Orange on their own lives in the process. 

The counterpart is the drunk, abusive boyfriend or husband. One of the mysteries of marriages is the variety. Some women stick with abject losers while other women walk out on devoted husbands. Some couples are utterly devoted to each other while some men ditch the workaday wife who put them through college for a trophy wive. It's so unpredictable. Such a gamble.  Fantastic when it works out, hellish when it doesn't. 

Friday, October 26, 2018

Support all refugees!

Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann were refugees/asylum seekers who fled to Latin America. WWJD? In our own day, how many so-called Christians are dehumanizing refugees? 

All of what?

Arminians often ridicule Calvin's interpretation of 1 Tim 2:4, where he says Paul is not talking about every individual but representative individuals. Here's another example: 

Comment on 1 Timothy 2:4. Augustine, in his writings on predestination, decided that the word “all” in this really didn’t mean “all” but rather “all the elect.”…The theology of salvation becomes much more messy when we take the Bible as it stands, without imposing our pet theories on it...God really does want all people to be saved, not just the elect.

Now, I happen to prefer the interpretation offered by scholars like Schreiner and Towner:

So I won't be defending the interpretation offered by Calvin or Augustine. But since the proper force of "all" is a perennial issue in exegetical debates between Calvinists and freewill theists, I'll briefly discuss this issue.

1. I'm picking on Dembski because he's highly intelligent. He's not a village Arminian. It's striking that he regards his interpretation as self-evident. Notice that he doesn't even bother to say what he thinks "all" means. He simply uses the word, as if that's self-explanatory. 

2. In a philosophically rigorous sense, I think "all" means "for all x" or "for all of x". Take Paul's statement:

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor 15:22). 

If you're a universalist, you regard those two groups as coextensive. But if you're not a universalist, you take it to mean that all who are in Adam die while all who are in Christ will be rejuvenated. Despite the parallel, the two groups are not coextensive. Rather, it's all of x within each domain: the domain of Adam or the domain of Christ. Every son of Adam will die while every Christian will be rejuvenated. 

Keep in mind, too, the parallelism is a rhetorical device, so we need to guard against treating that mechanically. 

3. It's ironic to compare this with what he says about the scope of Noah's flood:

A face-value reading of these chapters [Gen 4-11] requires, among other things, acceptance of the following highly dubious claims…How, then, to interpret Gen 4:11?…Consider that scriptural claims to universality are often hyperbolic or eschatological, and thus not fully realized in the present. For instance, Paul in Rom 10:18 describes "there sound" (i.e., the preaching of the gospel) as having gone "into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world". So far as we know, the preaching of the gospel in Paul's day did not extend beyond the Mediterranean basis, the Middle East, and perhaps India. It certainly did not extend to the New World. W. Dembski, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World (B&H2009), 170-71. 

On that issue, he isn't taking the Bible "as it stands". He rejects the face-value impression of universality when words like "all" are applied to the scale of the Flood. He's conceding that in Scripture, universal quantifiers are sometimes hyperbolic or generalities rather than exceptionless claims. 

4. Finally, although Calvin's interpretation isn't my preferred interpretation, there's nothing outlandish about his distinction. When Paul enjoins Christians to pray for "all people, for kings and all who are in high positions" (1 Tim 2:1-2), does that mean 1C Christians have a duty to pray for Sargon, Nebuchadnezzar, Ramesses II, Charlemagne, Genghis Khan, Henry the VIII, Louis XIV, Philip II, Montezuma II, and Suleiman the Magnificent? Are they obligated to pray for dead kings or future kings they never heard of? Or does the implied range of reference concern contemporary rulers in the Roman Empire? 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Swimming from Rome

There's a cottage industry for evangelical converts to Catholicism. Some of they are able to parlay their conversion into a living, although others don't make the cut (e.g. Jason Stellman). There are books and websites that showcase converts to Catholicism. I don't know of anything comparable in the other direction. 

However, you can swim the Tiber in either direction. Off the top of my head, here are a few notable converts from Catholicism to evangelicalism:

Richard Bennett

Former Dominican priest. Now a Protestant apologist.

Robert Bowman

Countercult specialist. 

Chris Castaldo

Degrees from Moody, Gordon-Conwell. Doctorate from London School of Theology. Has an uncle who's a Catholic bishop.

Leonardo De Chirico

I assume he's ex-Catholic. Now a Protestant apologist, editor, and published author. Degrees in History (University of Bologna), Theology (ETCW, Bridgend, Wales) and Bioethics (University of Padova), and PhD from King’s College (London).

Kenneth J. Collins

Professor of Historical Theology and Wesley Studies at Asbury Seminary. M.Div. Asbury Theological Seminary,Th.M. Princeton Seminary, M.Phil. Drew University, Ph.D. Drew University.

William Dembski

Double doctorate in philosophy, theology, and mathematics. Christian apologist. Sometime seminary prof. Intellectual leader of the Intelligent Design movement. 

Peter Escalante

Teaches at New St. Andrew's College. M.A. in philosophy from Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley

Robert Gagnon

Teaches at Houston Baptist U. Degrees from Harvard and Princeton. Evangelical point-man on LGBT issues. 

Andreas Köstenberger 

NT prof. at MBTS

Thomas Schreiner

Prolific NT prof. at SBTS.

It would be interesting to extend the list to other notables.


Years ago, John Frame wrote a provocative essay on the infighting within Calvinism:

That raises the question of whether Calvinism is more prone to internecine warfare than other theological traditions, and–if so–why that's the case.

i) Calvinism is polemical theology because it was birthed in a setting of political and theological unrest. It had to fight for a seat at the table. 

ii) There are factions within freewill theism, viz. Arminianism, Molinism, open theism. And of course, Protestants disagree on a wide range of issues, viz. eschatology, inerrancy, worship, the atonement, the sacraments, evolution, hell, inclusivism/exclusivism, cessationism, law and gospel, church and state, &c. 

iii) At the risk of overgeneralization, some theological traditions are more concerned with orthodoxy while other theological traditions are more concerned with orthopraxy. In liturgical churches (e.g. Catholicism, Anglo-Catholicism, Lutheranism, Eastern Orthodoxy), there's an obsession on right ritual. 

Now, a critic might object that Eastern Orthodoxy, to take a prominent example, is centrally concerned with orthodoxy. Take furious historical debates of the Trinity, the person of Christ, the Filioque clause. 

Yet liturgical churches typically split over innovations in the liturgy. In that regard, orthodopraxy is more central. Orthodoxy supplies the backstory for liturgy. The sacraments translate doctrine into practice. Since our relationship to God is mediated through church and sacrament, orthopraxy takes center stage. In a sense, orthodoxy exists for the sake of orthopraxy, because orthopraxy is the business end of Christianity. Orthodoxy is a means to an orthopractic end. 

Rabbinic Judaism provides a Jewish counterpart. A Talmudic religion, centered on ethics and ritual. And Islam provides a Muslim counterpart. The fanatical obsession with sharia. In both cases, what you do is more important than what you believe. 

By contrast, because Baptists and Presbyterians deemphasize church and sacraments compared to liturgical churches, doctrine takes center stage. That redraws the battle lines from orthopraxy to orthodoxy. Of course, rival Protestant traditions still haggle over the sacraments, because those function as boundary markers to distinguish rival Protestant traditions, but church and sacraments lack the centrality in those traditions which they occupy in liturgical churches because your salvation is about right belief rather than right ritual. 

Giving the outsider test a failing mark

It's been many years since I commented on John Loftus's outsider test of faith. His position went through various permutations. The book is supposed to be the definitive version, so I was reading his book recently. A few observations:

This chapter supports my first contention–that people who are located in distinct geographical areas around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and justify a wide diversity of mutually exclusive religious faiths due to their particular upbringing and shared heritage. This is the Religious Diversity Thesis…Not only is there religious diversity, it's also clear that religions are situated around the globe in mostly distinct geographical locations. John Loftus, The Outsider Test of Faith: How to Know Which Religion is True (Prometheus Books 2013), 33,36.

i) Needless to say, that phenomenon is entirely consistent with the truth of Christianity. Both Judaism and Christianity were revealed in pagan cultures with preexisting religions. 

ii) Perhaps even more to the point, Scripture takes for granted that when sinners are left to their own devices, they will be conformed to their heathen culture. It takes God's grace to break through the social conditioning. Absent divine intervention, the phenomenon Loftus cites is exactly what the Bible predicts will be the case. 

As children we were all raised as believers. Whatever our parents told us we believed. If they said Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny existed, then we believed what they said until we were told otherwise…We don't know not to believe what our parents tell us. Ibid. 13. 

i) Really? From what I've read, kids typically figure out on their own that Santa can't exist. They puzzle over the logistical demands of the Santa mythos. They come to realize that it's a practical impossibility. But apparently Loftus needed an adult to dispel his belief in Santa. 

ii) As a young boy I once asked my mother where God came from. She said God made himself. That didn't make any sense to me. How could something that doesn't exist make itself? It has to exist in the first place to do anything.

I questioned her about that explanation years later and she admitted that she tried to give me an explanation a child's mind could grasp. Didn't work! 

As a young boy I once sat in my grandmother's kitchen. She made tea for us. She said God was everywhere. I asked her if God was in the teapot. She said yes! I didn't believe that. It made no sense to me.

My father was a teacher. Among other things, he taught classical mythology. I read the books at home. As a young boy I asked him about the relationship between God and Zeus. He offered a syncretistic explanation like Milton's Paradise Lost. I sensed that he didn't really believe that explanation. 

iii) Most religions (e.g. Hinduism, Buddhism, rabbinic Judaism) are more concerned with orthopraxy than orthodoxy. Not what you believe but what you do. 

Informed skepticism is an attitude expressed as follows: (1) it assumes one's own religious faith has the burden of proof; 

i) Both insiders and outsiders have a burden of proof.

ii) It depends on your starting-point. You should only treat all religions equally if all religions are in the same epistemic situation. But what if some religious claimants are conspicuously lacking in evidence to back up their claims-or there's damning evidence to the contrary?

iii) Should the religionist approach his religion as a blank slate? That's too abstract. Suppose one religionist has a supernatural experience while a coreligionist does not. In that event they can't approach the question with the same detachment because they don't find themselves in the same epistemic situation. They have different starting-points because their experience or lack thereof locates the starting gate at different points along the track. So you can't treat the question in a vacuum if your experience puts you in medias res. 

(2) it adopts the methodological-naturalist viewpoint by which one assumes there is a natural explanation for the origins of a given religion, its holy books, and its extraordinary claims of miracles; 

i) Loftus has his thumb on the scales. But we should only adopt methodological naturalism if metaphysical naturalism is true. Otherwise, methodological naturalism is prejudicial. Naturalism has its own burden of proof. 

ii) Moreover, it isn't possible in principle to establish religious claims even if religious claims are true by using methodological naturalism since that methodology automatically screens out supernatural explanations. So the procedure is circular. According to methodological naturalism, nothing can ever count as evidence for the supernatural. It preemptively discounts that explanation regardless of the evidence. 

iii) Some religions do have a natural explanation. However, it's not as if a Christian apologist thinks Christianity has a monopoly on supernatural origins, while all other religions must have natural origins. A Christian apologist makes allowance for the possibility that a false religion has supernatural elements. A Christian apologist doesn't suspend supernatural explanations when examining Christianity or its rivals. So there's no double standard. For instance, some people who practice witchcraft may exhibit genuine occult powers. 

(3) it demands sufficient evidence before concluding a religion is true; and most importantly, 

If a religion is true, it should be possible to provide sufficient evidence for its claims. That doesn't mean every adherent must be competent to marshal the evidence. 

(4), it disallows any faith in the religion under investigation, since the informed skeptic cannot leap over the lack of evidence by punting to faith. Ibid. 23. 

Depends on how you construe the role of faith. Much of what we believe is based on sampling reality. Samples constitute evidence that something exists or happens. 

But samples are partial, so the question is how representative the samples are. Samples form the basis of extrapolations and generalizations. Sample are direct evidence for what they sample, and that may provide prima facie justification for believing that phenomena of the same kind follow the same pattern. That's where "faith" takes over. If we have some direct evidence, that gives us reason to trust what we can't directly verify on the provisional assumption that the pattern holds for the same kind of phenomena. 

Based on many instances where air travel is safe, we conclude that it's probably safe to board our plane, although we don't know in advance if our particular flight will crash. The past track record gives us faith in the future. We have no direct evidence for the future since direct evidence for an event is retrospective. We only know for sure that it will happen after the fact. Sample instances function as a makeweight. So there's a mean between blind faith and direct evidence. And that is faith–based on evidential examples. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

When are we saved?

When are we saved? That's an important question. Is there a simple or single answer to that question? What's the benchmark? 

1. In traditional Catholicism/Lutheranism/Anglicanism, there's a sense in which you are saved when you are baptized. That's the benchmark. I reject that paradigm, for reasons I've given on multiple occasions. 

2. In popular evangelism, it's customary to say that you are saved when you are converted. That's the benchmark. On one definition, that's a useful answer. But there are limitations to that answer:

i) What about lifelong Christians? They don't have a conversion experience. They were believers for as long as they can remember.

ii) Moreover, to equate salvation with conversion doesn't explain why conversion saves you. 

3. Here's a deeper explanation: to be saved means that if you were to die at that moment, you'd go to heaven. In a sense, that shifts the benchmark to the moment of death rather than the moment of conversion. 

4. However, that explanation has complications. Freewill theists generally believe that you can lose your salvation. Ben Witherington likes to say that you're not eternally secure until you're secure in eternity. So a freewill theist might distinguish between getting saved and saved for good–or final salvation. 

So the answer depends on where you put the benchmark: conversion or final salvation. On one definition, you are saved when you begin going down the heavenbound road. On another definition, you are saved when you arrive at the heavenly destination. 

5. Here's a variation on the same metaphor: before you got saved, you were on a hellbound road. Getting saved is turning off the hellbound road and turning onto the heavenbound road. 

But in traditional freewill theism, once you get onto the heavenbound road, there are exits back to the hellbound road. 

6. There are some freewill theists who don't think you can lose your salvation (e.g. Charles Ryrie, Charles Stanley, Zane Hodges). 

7. You also have freewill theists who believe in postmortem conversion. Both roads extend into the afterlife. You can die on the hellbound road, but after death, take the exit to heaven. So that relocates the benchmark to a postmortem setting. 

8. For their part, Calvinists sometimes debate whether the elect undergo a transition from wrath to grace. Prior to regeneration and justification, were the elect under God's wrath? Put another way, were they lost prior to regeneration and justification? In Calvinism, what's the benchmark for salvation? 

9. Reverting to the metaphor of the journey, prior to regeneration/justification, the elect are on road leading to hell. And if they continued in that direction until they died, they'd be damned. When they are regenerated/justified, they exit onto the heavenbound road. 

You might say they were lost in the sense that if they maintained the initial trajectory, they'd end up in hell. That's the end of the road they started down. 

Or to vary the metaphor, in order to be saved, in the sense of reaching heaven, they must pass through various checkpoints along the way. Mountains to cross and rivers to ford. If they were to drop out of the race before negotiating the necessary checkpoints, they'd be damned. 

10. However, in the case of the elect, the hellbound trajectory or hellbound destination is hypothetical. Even if they started out in the wrong direction, they were predestined to turn off the hellbound road and turn onto the heavenbound road. Athough they haven't arrived at the heavenly destination, that outcome is inevitable. 

So in what sense were they lost–or were they? To vary the metaphor, suppose a father takes his young son hiking. At one point the son wanders off and loses his way. He doesn't know how to get back. He doesn't know the right direction.

However, the father is watching his son the whole time from a hill. He can see his son on the trail. 

The boy is hopelessly lost in the sense that the boy can't find his way back on his own. But in another sense the son was never lost because his father is his guide even when he can't see his father. While the son lost track of his dad, his dad never lost track of his son. The boy was always safe–under his father's watchful gaze. 

The king of the north

At the same time, Whitcomb raises some legitimate arguments that call into question whether the prophecies in Daniel culminate solely in the second century BCE. If the King of the North was only the Seleucid Empire, Whitcomb asks, why does he take such a circuitous route to get to Israel, attacking countries on the way? If his base were in Syria, all he would have to do is go straight south to Israel. [Cf. John C. Whitcomb. Daniel. Moody Publishers, 1985, 2018, pp174-176.]

George H. Harton, "An Interpretation of Daniel 11:36-45," Grace Theological Journal 4/2 (Fall 1983): 213-214.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Why We Can’t Unhitch from the Old Testament

Father of the fatherless

1. In this post I'm going to present my own arguments for infant salvation. I'm using "infant" as shorthand for children who die below the age of reason. That includes miscarriage. I think universal infant salvation is possible, but I'm skeptical about that. However, I think God saves many dying infants. 

2. If Scripture affirms something, then we have assurance on that point. If Scripture denies something, then that's out of bounds. 

If Scripture is doesn't answer certain questions one way or another, then that leaves the door open to consider the logical possibilities. That's in the realm of theological speculation. Some theological conjectures are more reasonable than others, but we can't be dogmatic. 

3. Both Calvinists and freewill theists usually think some or all dying infants are heavenbound, but for different reasons. 

i) Calvinists believe infants are liable to original sin, but elect infants are redeemed by the atonement of Christ.

ii) Modern-day freewill theists usually deny that infants are guilty of original sin.

iii) On the other hand, traditional freewill theists like John and Charles Wesley probably took a sterner view. They were Anglican clergymen. If you read the ordinance of baptism, it teaches baptismal regeneration, and implies that unbaptized infants are doomed:

4. Calvinists typically think some or all dying infants are elect. In my experience, many Calvinists think that dying infants of believers (or "covenant children") are presumptively elect. Depending on the Calvinist, they may not think there's the same presumption concerning dying infants of unbelievers. 

5. Is there any reason to suppose that God is more likely to save the dying infants of believers? The only reason I can think of is that Christian parents wish to be reunited with their children. End up in the same place. That's understandable, and God may honor that up to a point. Of course, some grown children of Christians are infidels, so God doesn't necessarily honor parental wishes in that regard.

6. What about the dying infants of unbelievers? There the comparison seems to be asymmetrical. Why should the fate of infants be chained to the fate of unbelieving parents? If God saves the dying infants of believers, that benefits both parties. But that doesn't work in reverse. To damn the infants of unbelieving parents doesn't benefit either party. Should infants suffer for the sake of their godless parents? 

I'm not saying that means God saves all the dying infants of unbelieving parents–any more than I'm saying he saves all the dying infants of believing parents. The question is why God should care whether their parents are believers or unbelievers. He might care if the parents are believers for the sake of the parents. But does that mean he shouldn't care for the sake of the infants? 

Suppose I'm a soldier who discovers a war orphan. His parents aren't necessarily dead. They may have been separated. One motivation for me to rescue the child is in hopes of finding his parents and reuniting him to his parents. That's good for the parents and child alike.

However, that shouldn't be my only incentive. I can't count on finding his parents. Maybe they're dead. Or maybe there's no possibility of locating them. That doesn't mean I should leave him behind. I should still rescue him for his own benefit.

So even if God has an additional reason to save some or all dying infants of believing parents, I don't see how that's a necessary reason in the sense that he wouldn't save the infants of unbelieving parents. There can be multiple motivations, any one of which might be sufficient. To suppose that God cares about the fate of kids by believing parents doesn't imply that he has no regard for the fate of the kids by unbelieving parents. Those are separate issues. Affirming one doesn't disaffirm the other. 

My point is not to take a position on percentages, but to reject the linkage, as if the fate of kids by believing parents is inversely linked to the fate of kids by unbelieving parents. Seems to me that the cases are independent of each other. 

7. In addition, God might save some dying infants of unbelieving parents to show that salvation is a matter of grace rather than parentage. We see the same pattern among adults. God saves some grown children of unbelieving parents while some grown children of believing parents are infidels. Election and reprobation cut across bloodlines in both directions. 

8. If you have parents, they can make a big difference. That has a tremendous conditioning influence on kids. Parents and children are psychologically linked in life. But dying infants no longer have their parents. So why would their eternal fate still be tied to their parents? That doesn't settle the question of their eternal fate. Rather, that must be settled on grounds other than parentage.

9. As I've said on multiple occasions, I don't see why election has an age cutoff. Take two brothers: Bobby and Billy. Bobby is 6 while Billy is 7. Suppose for argument's sake we say the age of reason is 7. Both die. Lucky for Bobby that he gets in just under the wire while his brother just misses the chronological boat. 

So my objection cuts both ways. Just as it's ad hoc to suppose that everyone who dies below a certain age is heavenbound, it's at least equally ac hoc if not more so to suppose that everyone who dies below a certain age is hellbound. Why would an age boundary be germane to God? How is that an intrinsic criterion? 

10. Those are some considerations from philosophical theology. What about exegetical theology? Here's one consideration: in Scripture, God is the God of orphans. He expresses a particular concern for the plight of orphans. 

Now there are different ways to become an orphan. You can be a lost child, permanently separated from your parents. Or your parents may die. Or you may die. 

If your parents die, you lose your parents in this life. You are still alive while they are dead. But if you die, you lose your parents in the afterlife. They are still alive while you are dead. Death separates parent and child in either direction–whether by his death or their death. Death orphans a child in one direction or the other. Either they pass out of your life or you pass out of theirs. 

According to Scripture, few things are worse than to be an orphan. You have no one to look out for you at a very vulnerable stage of life–physically and emotionally. 

But what about a dead child. He's orphaned on the other side of the grave. If there's no one waiting to adopt him in the afterlife, he's incomparably worse off than if he was orphaned on this side of the grave. But if God is the God of orphans in the lesser case of dead parents, is he not the God of orphans in the greater case of dying children–greater where the need is greater? If God has a merciful disposition towards living orphans, is he suddenly unmerciful towards dead orphans? Like what Jesus said: if God was Lord of the patriarchs while they were alive, will that not carry through into the afterlife? 

I'm not saying that's an argument for universal infant salvation, but I think it's a neglected consideration in the salvation of at least some dying infants. 

11. In addition, Scripture rages against child sacrifice. But what happens to the victims of child sacrifice? If all victims of child sacrifice go to hell, they suffer a fate even worse than their harrowing experience as sacrificial victims. But if Scripture treats child sacrifice as especially abominable, is God even harsher to them than their heathen executioners? 

I'm not saying that's an argument for universal infant salvation. The pagan priests used to be children, too–who grew up to be child-killers. But I think it's a neglected consideration in the salvation of at least some dying infants.

Born of the word?

In this post I'm going to respond to somebody who thinks everyone who dies before the age of reason is damned:

If it were enough be regenerated to be saved then the gospel was useless, the sacrifice of Christ would have been in vain. God could save those he wanted by simply regenerating them by sending the Holy Spirit.

i) That misses the point. This doesn't involve a universal principle, as if it must be the same for everyone regardless, but whether what's necessary under normal circumstances is necessary under abnormal circumstances. 

Keep in mind that the content of faith is subject to progressive revelation and redemption. So it's not the same at all times and places. 

ii) It hardly renders the atonement in vain. God only regenerates the redeemed. 

iii) To take a comparison, ancient Israel had military conscription (Num 1:2-3,45). Yet there were exemptions (Deut 20:5-8; 24:5).

Notice, though, that there's no stated exemption for men who are blind, quadriplegics, or hemophiliacs. Does that mean blind men, quadriplegics, and hemophiliacs are not exempt? If they don't enlist, are they draft dodgers? Are they derelict in their duty? Have they broken God's law?

The silence of Scripture on possible exceptions doesn't mean there are no possible exceptions. It would make the Bible far too long to list every conceivable exception to commands and prohibitions. The Bible typically deals with commonplace sins, crimes, and duties rather than exotic cases or remote hypotheticals. 

Biblical commands and prohibitions have an implied context. In this case, able-bodied men. The command is inapplicable to blind men, quadriplegics, and hemophiliacs. It doesn't envision that situation. It doesn't address the question of whether brains-in-vats are mandated to engage in hand-to-hand combat. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Parsing the Ligonier survey

A few observations about the recent Ligonier survey. They plug this video:

I don't see the point of going to downtown Seattle and sticking a microphone in the face of random pedestrians. Is that supposed to be a representable sample? Of whom? Notice, too, that it's the same handful of respondents. 

Regarding some of the test statements in the survey:

1. God is a perfect being and cannot make a mistake.

According to open theism, God does make mistakes. So much the worse for open theism.

2. Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.

A classic Arian formulation. I wonder how many Americans in general have the theological literacy to understand that statement. 

3. Jesus Christ is the only person who never sinned.

So either the Father and the Spirit are sinful or else the Father and the Spirit aren't persons. Ditto: the angel Gabriel, Archangel Michael, seraphim and cherubim. 

4. Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.

I don't think that's the best way to frame the issue. It's not first and foremost about particular sins, but the moral and spiritual character of the sinner. That's the source of sins. 

5. God counts a person as righteous not because of one’s works but only because of one’s faith in Jesus Christ.

A good Pauline formula, but I wonder how many Americans in general have the theological literacy to grasp what that means.

6. The Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true.

That's really two statement bundled into one:

i) The Bible contains ancient myths

ii) The Bible isn't literally true

But should we give the same answer to both parts? Surely the Bible can be entirely true without being entirely literally true. Take the parables of Jesus. 

7. There will be a time when Jesus Christ returns to judge all the people who have lived.

Again, that's two statements bundled into one:

i) Jesus will return

ii) He will return to judge everyone

Regarding (ii), what about a passage like Jn 5:24? "Judgment" has ambiguous connotations.  

8. Sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin.

Presumably, "traditional" means "heterosexual monogamous" marriage in this context. But do Americans in general understand that?

9. Gender identity is a matter of choice.

On the one hand, transgender activists say it's a social construct. On the other hand, they say some people are psychologically trapped in a body of the wrong biological sex. But if that were true, it wouldn't be a choice. So it might be better to have two test statements on transgenderism.

10. The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today.

What about homosexual attraction? Is that condemned? If so, why leave it out? 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

"The paradoxes of hell"

Bill Dembski has written a very long essay in defense of inclusivism:

This post will be long, not because my responses to Dembski are all that lengthy, but due to my quoting him before responding. 

Dembski's a Roman Catholic convert to evangelicalism. Had a layover in Eastern Orthodoxy. All these experiences provide him with a comparative frame of reference. I think he took heat from progressive Christians at Princeton, he's been the target of ruthless and relentless attack from the secular scientific establishment, he's been under fire from young-earth creationists, then he was knifed in the back at SWBTS. So many enemies both inside and outside the church. It has a cumulative effect. Finally, he has an autistic son. So all these factors condition his outlook. He's a heroic figure, but there's an understandably reactionary element to his position. It's to his credit that he can muster so much grace under pressure. 

His essay is very intelligent. He's a brilliant thinker. He gives some bad answers to some good questions. His position is confused or downright pernicious. And he doesn't seem to consult commentaries to familiarize himself with the range of interpretations.

Argumentum ex bacon