Saturday, November 24, 2018

Is conversion to Catholicism apostasy?

1. Are evangelical converts to Catholicism apostates? The question has a sting to it inasmuch as apostates are typically viewed as hellbound. 

Although Catholics might view the characterization as offensive or melodramatic, it cuts both ways. In traditional Catholicism, to convert from Catholicism to the Protestant faith is tantamount to apostasy. 

2. One issue is there a uniform answer to that question. Or is it convert-variable? The idea of apostasy is that an apostate is sinning against the light. They've been exposed to the truth, but turn their back on the truth. A clear-eyed repudiation. 

In that regard, it's my impression that the overwhelming majority of evangelical converts to Rome are laymen or seminarians. It's far rarer for an evangelical minister to swim the Tiber, and almost unheard of for an evangelical seminary professor or college prof. to swim the Tiber. So it rapidly thins out the higher up the ladder you go. Why is that?

i) One possible reason is that most laymen aren't professional Protestants. They don't do it for a living. Switching sides doesn't cost them a midcourse career change. 

Likewise, seminarians aren't locked into a career path. They're in-between. Although seminary is the normal career track to pastoral ministry, they are still at the cadet phase where they haven't enlisted. But once you become a pastor, it's a lot costlier to change your mind. You lose your job, and your MDiv isn't a very marketable degree. So that's a disincentive.

But it's striking that despite that, many priests leave the priesthood. The traffic goes both ways. 

ii) In addition, one reason some men go to seminary is because they are searching for answers. They have questions which they hope seminary will answer. Depending on the answers they find or fail to find, they will turn right, left, or go straight ahead.

iii) Why is it so rare for an evangelical academic to switch sides? There's the disincentive of having to make a midcourse career change. Keep in mind that the same consideration applies to Catholic academics. 

iv) On the other hand, if an evangelical seminary prof. were to switch sides, he'd be a trophy convert. So it would be easier for him to find Catholic employment.

v) Finally, evangelical philosophers, theologians, church historians, and Bible scholars know too much to be impressed by the claims of Rome. Unlike some seminarians, they've already thought through the issues. They may not have equally good answers to every Catholic objection, but they have convincing objections to Catholicism. 

3. It depends in part on the starting-point. For instance, some Anglicans and Lutherans have a Protestant center of gravity while other Anglicans and Lutherans have a Roman Catholic center of gravity. When Catholic-leaning Anglicans and Protestants switch to Catholicism, is that a conversion, or were they never committed to Protestantism in the first place? Their ultimate sympathies were always Roman Catholic, so that when the scales tipped, they automatically tip in that direction. 

4. Assuming for discussion purposes that evangelical conversion to Catholicism is apostasy, what makes it apostasy? Is it because the sect you're converting to is apostate? Or is it the act of converting from truth to falsehood apostasy? Is it the destination or the downward spiral? 

5. Why do some Protestants think conversion to Rome is apostasy? One traditional argument draws a parallel between the Galatian anathemas and Tridentine theology. Just as the Judaizers adulterated the nature of justification, the Tridentine position is analogous. 

There are lots of other objections, such as how Mary usurps Jesus in Catholic piety and theology. Indeed, a writer like Alphonsus Liguori goes out of his way to create parallels between Jesus and Mary. 

Those are more traditional objections, and they could be multiplied. In addition, the church of Rome has been officially liberalizing since about the mid-20C. 

6. Apropos (5), we need to distinguish between logical and psychological defection. In the examples under (5), the allegation is that an evangelical convert to Rome is an apostate by implication. He's converting to a sect that's objectively and gravely erroneous. 

Of course, the convert doesn't view it that way. From his subjective perspective, he's become convinced that evangelical theology is on the wrong path while Catholic theology is on the right path. And he's discovered stock responses to Protestant objections.  

That generates a potential paradox: someone can think they're moving from lesser to greater truth when in fact they're moving from greater to lesser truth. A subjective promotion may be an objective demotion. 

7. Here's another distinction: some Catholic objections are a priori objections. The question of authority. Who decides? An infallible book necessitates an infallible interpreter. 

Historical discontinuity. Where are the Protestants in early church history? Why aren't the church fathers Protestants?  

Where is the church? Where do we find the "visible" church? 

Other Catholic objections are a posteriori objections. "Pervasive interpretive pluralism". "30,000 Protestant denominations".

These are understandable objections. Mind you, persuasive arguments can be bad arguments. For instance, atheists find objections to Christianity convincing. So that, by itself, isn't exculpatory. 

I've responded to the Catholic objections on multiple occasions. Color me unimpressed. 

8. There's a sense in which some evangelical converts didn't reject the Protestant faith–because they never understood it in the first place. So they were in no position to make an informed comparison. Consider the following:

and the two concerns most frequently cited by Protestants: sola scriptura (all truth can be found in the Scriptures) and sola fide (man is saved by faith alone).

Yet that's a misdefinition of sola fide and sola scriptura alike. 

9. Then you have converts for whom the motivation is more emotional or aesthetic. Some Protestants suffer from an inferiority complex. Some Protestants hanker for "liturgy". Some Protestants are drawn to fancy Catholic architecture. Mind you, that's comparing Catholicism at its best, and not the folk masses with a guitar-strumming priest. 

10. On a related note is the fact that many alternatives look nicer on the outside than the inside. That's another paradox. Like those reality shows about people who buy repossessed storage units (Storage Wars). They go to the highest bidder.  It's a gamble because they have to buy it to find out what's inside–at which point it's too late in case they lose the bet.  

That goes to a distinction between apostates and backsliders. You can enter, look around, and leave. 

I haven't answered the question I posed at the outset. Rather, I've discussed permutations of the question. Certainly, people can make willfully and woefully bad theological judgments. 

Where are the Protestants?

One major objection to the Protestant faith goes like this: "Where are the Protestants in early church history?" Catholic apologists complain that they can't find any Protestants in early church history. That's also one reason why some evangelicals convert to Catholicism. 

The short answer is that you find them in the 1C. You find the Protestants in NT church history. 

A problem with the Catholic objection is that it cuts both ways. Unitarians ask where are post-Nicene Christians in the ante-Nicene church?

Likewise, Jews ask, where are Christians in the Tanakh? Most Jews reject Christianity because they don't see Christianity in the OT. 

By the same token, take the Jewish objection that if Jesus is the messiah, why did his own people disown him? And that question is tackled in John, Acts, and Romans. 

So there's an ironic parallel between the Catholic objection to the Protestant faith and the Jewish objection to the Christian faith. The argument is structurally identical, based on historical discontinuity. 

Although there's a sprinkling of messianic Jews in church history, the revival of messianic Judaism is a 20C phenomenon. In that respect it's a "novelty" in the way the Protestant Reformation is a novelty. Although there are some precursors to Protestant theology in pre-Reformation church history, the movement as a whole arose in the 16C. But if that discredits the Protestant faith, then the recent emergence of messianic Jews discredits messianic Judaism. But from a Christian perspective, or even a Catholic perspective, that argument either proves too little or too much.

In the NT era, you find both Protestants and messianic Jews. But both largely disappear until they resurface centuries later. And it's interrelated. The separation of church and synagogue led to gentile interpretations and traditions that are alien to the Jewish context of the Bible. The Protestant faith began to recover a more authentically Jewish reading of the Bible, and modern Catholic Bible scholars follow suit, but official Catholic theology locked in a gentile perspective that decontextualized the Bible and sometimes replaced that with an extraneous theological paradigm. And it's not coincidental that modern messianic Jews typically have an evangelical orientation. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Why I'm still Protestant

1. Let's begin with an admission. As a Protestant, it would be nice to have more theological clarity and certainty on some issues. It would be nice not having to sift through multiple interpretations of Scripture. It would be nice to have more evidence or direct evidence for some OT events. It would be nice to have more evidence for some books of the Protestant canon. The evidence for the Protestant canon is patchy in places. It would be nice to have more evidence for Jude and 2 Peter, or the Megillot (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther).

2. So why aren't I Roman Catholic? For one thing, I know too much about Roman Catholicism to mistake that for the solution. 

i) To take one example I just used, if I pick up a Protestant commentary, it sometimes reads like a multiple choice exam. The commentator will list several competing interpretations, then by process of elimination, explain why he thinks one interpretation is the best. But sometimes he will confess that it's hard to choose between two competing interpretations.

Guess what–when I pick up a Catholic commentary on the same book, by a scholar like Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, Jerome Quinn, or Luke Timothy Johnson, it's exactly the same process. They're in the same boat. 

ii) Take another example I used: where the Catholic canon happens to coincide with the Protestant canon, the evidence is uneven in all the same places. Thinner on some books and thicker on others. Catholics don't have an extra stash of evidence to bolster the less well-attested books. So that's no improvement. 

But they have an addition problem we don't, which is poor evidence for the Deuterocanonicals. In that regard, they're worse off that we are. 

BTW, does anyone seriously think that Tobit or Bel and the Dragon is the equal of Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, or Song of Songs? 

3. Now at this point a Catholic apologist will exclaim: That proves our point! Who decides? That's why the Magisterium is indispensable. 

But there are fundamental problems with that "solution":

i) It's an appeal to ersatz evidence. An artificial makeweight. Catholics have no additional evidence, so they invent an oracle to fill the gap. Yet Catholic apologists must resort to so much special pleading to defend the machinations and peregrinations of the papacy. To all appearances, the papacy behaves just like you'd expect an uninspired institution to behave. 

ii) The problem with asking "who decides" is that it only pushes the same question back a step: Who decides "who decides"? You decide who decides! A convert to Catholicism decided to make the Magisterium the decider. So the convert is the ultimate decider. 

4. God could make it easier to be a Protestant. But that's hardly a damaging admission. God could make it easier to be a Catholic. God could make it easier to be a Christian. Catholic and Protestant alike find themselves in situations where they crave greater clarity and certainty. Times when we wish we had more evidence. When you're going through an ordeal, or watching a loved one go through an ordeal, when your life hit rock bottom, wouldn't it be nice to have Jesus appear to you? Or have an angel appear to you? And some Christians experience that, but Christophanies and angelophanies are not a normal part of Christian experience. 

Wouldn't it be nice of God answered your prayers more often? Wouldn't it be nice if you could ask God a question and get an audible answer? But that rarely happens. Many lifelong Christians never have that experience. 

So you just have to muddle through. That's not unique to Protestants. Consider Catholic "saints" who complain about the dark night of the soul. God wasn't there for them. 

5. There's a sense in which charismatics and apostates or atheists have a Roman Catholic outlook, but they are more consistent than Catholics. They take it to the next step.

A charismatic expects that God will give us certainty, clarity, and evidence whenever we need it or ask for it. God will answer all our prayers. He will perform miracles upon request. He will give us a sign. So the charismatic goes the Catholic one better. 

It's not that the charismatic position is completely wrong. Sometimes God does something extra. But that's unpredictable. Not something you can count on.

6. By the same token, apostates and atheists think that God, if there is a God, ought to make things easier. Why should we have to trudge through Ed Feser's, Five Proofs for the Existence of God, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, or Two Dozen (or so) Arguments for God–when God can give me a personal, custom-made epiphany? 

That's why some professing Christians become apostates. They had a Catholic outlook that was dashed by rude experience. God didn't give them the clarity, certainty, and evidence they demanded. 

7. The Protestant experience is like hiking on a trail. On some stretches, the trail is indistinct. Are you still on the trail, or are you lost in the forest? However, the trail picks up on the other side, so you were on the right path all along, even when the trail might be unrecognizable in spots.

I'd add that to say the evidence is uneven doesn't mean it's inadequate. It's not that you don't have enough evidence but that in many cases you have more than enough. 

But even if we sometimes lose our bearings, that's the actual situation God has put us in. God doesn't protect us from making mistakes. Rather, God protects us in our mistakes. 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

A severe diagnosis

After doing my own post in response to the devastating diagnosis of atheist blogger Jonathan Pearce:

I listened to Craig's podcast: 

Craig is trying to take a pastoral approach, which is admirable. However, his treatment suffers from some fashionable theological errors. And they're not trivial:

1. In ancient folk Judaism, there was the belief that misfortune was necessarily a sign of divine punishment (cf. Jn 9:1-2; Lk 13:1-5). Some Christians, like Craig, overcorrect for that belief by committing the opposite error. On the one hand there are Bible passages that warn us against the presumption that personal calamity reflects divine judgment. The misfortunes of Joseph and Job are classic examples. 

On the other hand, there are many biblical passage which indicate that illness and calamity are sometimes a mark of God's disfavor (e.g. Exod 32:35; Num 11:33; 14:36; 16:46-48; 25:9; 1 Sam 5; Acts 5:1-11; 12:20-23; 1 Cor 11:30). And that's not a natural consequence of sin, but a supernatural consequence of sin. As an act of direct retribution, it's clearly something God wills. 

So that should be an occasion for spiritual self-examination. Not how an outsider views the afflicted, but some people live in disobedience to God, and personal misfortune may be a warning to change course before it's too late. 

2. By the same token, I'm struck by how Craig trivializes the culpability of Pearce's occupation as an atheist apologist. But in God's eyes, that's a very evil thing to do. Not only his own rebellion, but inciting spiritual rebellion. 

This doesn't entail that his medical condition is retribution. But Craig seems to have a rather frivolous view of sin–at least in this case. 

3. There are different ways to view God's relation to calamity and ill-health:

i) Some theologians (e.g. Roger Olson, Greg Boyd, Rabbi Kushner) act as though God has nothing to do with natural evil. He is, at best, a first responder. 

But that's not an intellectually serious position. Any God worth his salt can't be that clueless or impotent. That reduces God to a feeble, near-sighted heathen deity like Zeus or Odin. If you think that is what God is like, why pray? Why worship? 

ii) Some theologians say God permits it rather than wills it. There are, however, many biblical cases in which God wills affliction as a penalty for sin (see above). 

iii) There are, however, other cases in which God wills affliction, not for punitive reasons, but for a higher good (e.g. Jn 9:1-3; 11:4).

Christmas Resources 2018

The issues surrounding Jesus' birth are important, but often neglected. I've been posting an annual collection of resources for the Christmas season for several years:


Go here for an archive of our posts with the Christmas label. Keep clicking on Older Posts, at the bottom of the screen after scrolling down, to see more.

I've written posts that provide the text of the infancy narratives with links to relevant material added to the text. See here for Matthew and here for Luke.

And here's a collection of our reviews of Christmas books. Some of the reviews are on Triablogue, and others are on Amazon or Goodreads.

Raymond Brown's book on the infancy narratives is still widely considered the standard in the field. See here for a collection of responses to the book.

For some corrections of skeptical myths about the church fathers, including on issues related to Christmas, go here.

Here are some examples of the posts we've written on Christmas issues over the years:

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah

Assuming this is how it happened, this would be a coincidence miracle:

The method employs a natural mechanism, but the timing and placement are unnaturally discriminating. A preternatural event: natural at one level but supernatural at another level. 

Using heaven to balance the books

I'm going to comment on a couple of posts by atheist blogger Jonathan Pearce:

It might be objected that I'm exploiting his misfortune. However, he chose to publicize his condition and showcase his condition as a personal illustration of the argument from evil. He threw down the gauntlet. It's not disrespectful to take his argument seriously enough to offer a serious response. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A few modern miracles

Cards on the table: I have personally witnessed a large number of miracles like this. Blindness, deafness, paralysis, unlearned earthly languages being spoken (in one recent case, a Rwandan language that was being spoken by a white British girl in our prayer meeting, and understood by a native speaker of that language standing a few feet away), life-long conditions, the whole kit and caboodle—not third hand stories from Majority World countries, but in front of me in the UK—and many of the healings have subsequently been verified by medical staff, which is something we always encourage. (In my favourite story, which was featured in the national press in the UK, the government continued paying disability benefits to a wheelchair bound lady even after she had been completely healed, and when she rang to say she no longer needed the money because she could walk again, the bureaucrat at the government department said, “We haven’t got a button to push that says ‘miracle.’”)

Clock management

I'll comment on this:

Here are 10 questions I’d like to ask of young earthers:

1. Can we start by agreeing that the Gospel is more about the Rock of Ages than the ages of rocks?

The centre of the Gospel is the crucified and risen Christ, and everything in the Old Testament leads up to that. Jesus, and not the age of my rock collection, is the heart of the Christian faith. 

Cutesy but disingenuous–as is clear from the next question (#2). 

Celebrating Thanksgiving is about giving THANKS—not American Indians, racism, or let alone 'genocide'

Proclamation of Thanksgiving

This is the proclamation which set the precedent for America's national day of Thanksgiving. During his administration, President Lincoln issued many orders similar to this. For example, on November 28, 1861, he ordered government departments closed for a local day of thanksgiving. 

Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln on September 28, 1863, urging him to have the "day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival." She explained, "You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution."

Prior to this, each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times, mainly in New England and other Northern states. President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale's request immediately, unlike several of his predecessors, who ignored her petitions altogether. In her letter to Lincoln she mentioned that she had been advocating a national thanksgiving date for 15 years as the editor of Godey's Lady's Book. George Washington was the first president to proclaim a day of thanksgiving, issuing his request on October 3, 1789, exactly 74 years before Lincoln's.

The document below sets apart the last Thursday of November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise." According to an April 1, 1864, letter from John Nicolay, one of President Lincoln's secretaries, this document was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting. On October 3, 1863, fellow Cabinet member Gideon Welles recorded in his diary how he complimented Seward on his work. A year later the manuscript was sold to benefit Union troops.


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The girl of his dreams

After his parents died, Andras was apprenticed to a mason. The mason was a harsh taskmaster. For Andras, life was a joyless grind with no hope in sight.

Then one night he had a dream. He found himself in a meadow with blooming wildflowers. And there he met a pretty girl his age, in a chiffon dress and lustrous hair that blew in the breeze. 

He never had a dream this vivid or breathtaking. They walked hand-in-hand in the piquant scent of the hyacinths. And then he awoke.

Willow was an orphan girl, slaving for a seamstress. Life was a joyless grind with no hope in sight–until she dreamt about a meadow with blooming wildflowers. 

Willow and Andras never met in real life, yet they discovered each other in their sleep, as they lay in separate beds, however many miles apart. They somehow wandered into each other's dreams. Night after night they found themselves together in strange, scenic, secluded places. Sunset in the real world was sunrise in the dreamworld. Sunset in the dreamworld was sunrise in the real world. They were living double lives. 

Willow contracted smallpox. As she lay dying, Andras vainly searched for her in his dreams. But after she died, she returned to him in their dreamworld. 

A year later, Andras succumbed to TB. After he died, they walked along a moonlit beach–beside the shimmering waves, beneath the glowing gossamer clouds. Having left the real world behind, the dream no longer ended when a new day began in the real world. Now they were in the dreamworld forever. Or maybe the "real" world was a nightmare from which they finally awoke. 

Fowl play

In case anyone had any remaining doubts, Trump is demonstrably guilty of obstructing justice. Trump just pardoned the Thanksgiving turkey. 

Presidential pardons can be abused to buy the silence of potential accusers. The turkey was a potential witness in the Russian collusion investigation. Mueller indicted the turkey to put the squeeze on the ill-fated fowl. Nothing loosens the tongue of a gallinaceous witness for the prosecution like the prospect of winding up on a dinner platter. Anonymous informants at the DOJ tell me that the stressed-out Galliforme was on the verge of turning state's evidence against Trump when he pardoned it, thereby robbing Mueller of his star witness. 

Questions of ultimate causation

From mere Christianity to mere mythology

I find it crucial to distinguish between Young Earth Creationism (YEC) as a hermeneutical hypothesis and as a scientific hypothesis.  The hermeneutical hypothesis concerns the correct interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis. Do these passages affirm, either explicitly or implicitly, that the universe was created in the recent past (say, 10,000-20,000 years ago)?  The scientific hypothesis concerns the empirical adequacy of the view that the universe is so young. Is the scientific evidence plausibly explained by the hypothesis that the universe originated only 10,000-20,000 years ago? 

That's a necessary distinction. 

Now I have long ago taken a stand on YEC as a scientific hypothesis. My defense of the kalām cosmological argument on the basis of Big Bang cosmology presupposes that the universe is more than 13 billion years old. 

I find that odd. Seems to me the kalām cosmological argument is an a priori, metaphysical argument about the possibility (or not) of an actual temporal infinite, rather than an a posteriori argument based on astrophysics and cosmology. 

Indeed, I think that YEC as a scientific hypothesis is quite hopeless. But YEC as a hermeneutical hypothesis is quite another matter. I want to approach the text with an open mind, despite the terrifying prospect that YEC might actually be correct as a hermeneutical hypothesis. In that case, we would face some very hard choices. Given YEC’s failure as a scientific hypothesis, we should have to conclude that the Bible teaches scientific error and therefore revise our doctrine of inspiration to accommodate this fact. That is a route one would prefer not to take.

i) I wonder what YEC scientists Craig has studied. 

ii) He thinks that if push comes to shove, the scientific reconstruction of the distant past is more reliable than divine revelation. 

iii) It's true that YEC chronology is up against many prima facie lines of evidence to the contrary. However, the deeper issue is the assumption that there's an unbroken continuum between the present and the past so that we can reconstruct the distant past by linear extrapolation from the present. Up to a point that's reasonable. Nature is like a machine. You can mentally run the process backwards. 

There are, however, agents who can intervene to produce an effect that's discontinuous with antecedent conditions. Take a miraculous healing. Since that outcome can't be predicted from the status quo ante, because that outcome wasn't caused by the status quo ante, it follows, by the same token, that the status quo ante can't be retrodicted from the outcome. Supernatural agents throw a wild card into our projections and retroactions. Although we shouldn't invoke that willy-nilly, it's something we must make allowance for. 

iv) The challenge has less to do with the amount of time than an evolutionary narrative or evolutionary reading of the natural record. However, that's counterbalanced by the challenges confronting naturalistic evolution.  

So I’m very interested in exploring the suggestion of some commentators that the primaeval history of Genesis 1-11 is mytho-historical, a sort of fusion of history and mythology that should not be interpreted literally.

i) The same supernaturalism that pervades Gen 1-11 likewise pervades the patriarchal narratives, the Book of Exodus, Numbers, &c. There's no bright line between Gen 1-11 and the rest of the Pentateuch, Historical Books, Gospels, Acts. A "mytho-historical" reading will have to be extended to Scripture in general. 

ii) There are non-YEC interpretations of Gen 1-11 that don't appeal to a fusion of mythology and history. Craig's fallback is a false dichotomy. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

7 types of atheism

Why are we alive?

The Dark Tower

Critical Bible scholars claim that several NT documents (as well as OT documents) are forgeries. Bart Ehrman wrote a book on the subject. There's nothing original about Ehrman's allegation, but he's an influential popularizer for the gullible masses. In the computer age, it's tempting to develop "rigorous, "scientific" methods to authenticate or impugn traditional authorship. One example is stylometric analysis. And this has been extended to forensics: 

C. S. Lewis editor and trustee Walter Hooper published an allegedly unpublished story by Lewis: The Dark Tower. Kathryn Lindskoog and A. Q. Morton applied stylometric analysis to The Dark Tower, concluding that it was a forgery, and Hooper was the suspected forger:

With the 1994 release of the movie Shadowlands, Lindskoog reissued her book as Light in the Shadowlands, adding two new chapters. In this edition, she reported on a new study by the Rev. A. Q. Morton, which employed cusum (cumulative sum) statistical analysis of the first 23 sentences of chapter one of The Dark Tower, the first 24 sentences of chapter four, and the first 25 sentences of chapter seven, comparing them with similar passages from Out of the Silent Planet and That Hideous Strength. This type of style analysis has been used to prove that Shakespeare did not write his plays, that Paul did not write some epistles attributed to him, and that Jesus did not speak some sayings attributed to him. It assumes that a person’s use of language remains constant over one’s lifetime and in all situations. Morton concluded that Lewis could not have written chapters one and four, but that he did write chapter seven. Therefore, The Dark Tower was "a composite work." Harry Lee Poe, "Shedding Light on The Dark Tower: A C.S. Lewis mystery is solved." Christianity Today 51 (Feb 2, 2007), 1-3.

However, that struck a barrier reef when Alastair Fowler, professor of rhetoric and English literature at the University of Edinburgh, published an article detailing his experience as a doctoral student of Lewis: 

Not that he always wrote without difficulty; sometimes he had to set a project aside for a long period. He showed me several unfinished or abandoned pieces (his notion of supervision included exchanging work in progress); these included “After Ten Years,” The Dark Tower, and Till We Have Faces. Another fragment, a time‑travel story, had been aborted after only a few pages. Getting to the “other” world was a particular problem, he said; he had given up several stories at that stage. His unfamiliarity with scientific discourse may have played a part in this. The vehicles of transition in Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, although suggestive in other ways, are hardly plausible as scientific apparatus. In the Narnia stories Lewis turned to magical means of entry: teleportation rings from E. Nesbit and Tolkien, or else a terribly strange wardrobe. Alastair Fowler, "C. S. Lewis: Supervisor." Yale Review, 91/4 (October 2003), 64–80.

As he went on to say in the CT article:

“Lewis certainly talked about TDT [The Dark Tower],” Fowler wrote to me. “He said he had been unable to carry it further. He didn’t say when he had written the fragment. I got the impression that tdt had been meant as a sequel, but I have no idea at what stage in the development of the published trilogy.”  Harry Lee Poe, "Shedding Light on The Dark Tower: A C.S. Lewis mystery is solved." Christianity Today 51 (Feb 2, 2007), 1-3.

Apparently, Lewis was experimenting with plots and characters for The Space Trilogy. He dropped The Dark Tower because it was a blind alley. 

If it hadn't been for the incidental anecdotes of his doctoral student, the authenticity of The Dark Tower might still be suspect. It's a fluke that we have that corroboration. And that's a cautionary tale for confident allegations that the NT contains forgeries–even forgeries "proven" by "scientific" analysis. 

Peeling a bag of onions

I avoid debating Thomists, whether Catholic Thomists or Reformed Thomists. In my experience, Thomists are fanatics. It's all about Thomism all the time. That's their filter for everything. They buy expensive technical monographs on Thomistic metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. They don't invest the same time and money in exegetical theology. In academic Bible commentaries or monographs on the theology of Scripture. Rather, it's commentaries on Aquinas. 

They can give you detailed expositions on Thomistic metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics whereas they couldn't begin to provide the same detailed exposition regarding the theology of Isaiah, or Ephesians, or John's Gospel. 

They subscribe to the entire package of Thomism. They recast every issue in Thomistic categories. They inhabit a parallel universe. They never surface for air. 

I don't subscribe to off-the-shelf philosophical packages. I don't believe any one thinker has all the answers. I'm eclectic. I mix-and-match.

The problem with debating a Thomist is that you have to peel away so many layers. And each time you debate a Thomist, you're pulling another onion from the bag. You must repeat the same process. You must constantly reframe the issue. 

It's just like debating the average atheist. So many layers to peel away. And each time you debate another atheist, you have to start peeling away all the same layers. All the unquestioned assumptions. 

That's not a productive or constructive use of time. To some degree a Christian apologist or culture warrior has to engage atheism because that's a threat to Christianity. But Thomists are like guys who spend all their free time playing video games. It's their life.  

Eating God

Alexander Pruss recently gave a talk at the Thomistic Institute defending transubstantiation:

Pruss is probably the most brilliant Catholic philosopher of his generation, so this is the best defense of the real presence that you're likely to encounter. It's always good to evaluate the strongest case for something. In fairness, only the slides are available, so some of his supporting arguments may be missing, but I can only comment on what's available. 

He likes to discuss transubstantiation because it's philosophically challenging, which appeals to his ambidextrous mind. There is, though, the danger of misplaced ingenuity. 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Eschatological earthquakes

 2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3 Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. 4 On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. 5 And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him (Zech 14:2-5).

The gist of this oracle is a supernatural earthquake that provides an escape route for Jerusalemites while walling off their retreat from the invaders. The invading army is on the wrong side of the new hill to pursue them.

The oracle trades on the fact that parts of the Middle East are seismically active. To a modern reader, there's nothing surprising about the imagery. Seismologists and geologists study faults which preserve trace evidence of massive ancient earthquakes that reshaped the landscape. And they make projections about future earthquakes. 

But it's anachronistic to read the text that way, in the sense that while the original audience was acquainted with earthquakes (v5), they had no experience of earthquakes sufficiently cataclysmic to transform the topography in the way this text describes. An earthquake that massive would kill all the inhabitants. There'd be no surviving observers to transmit memories of the disaster. 

So the text reflects a knowledge of tectonic activity that's hard to explain if OT prophets were merely children of their time. They never witnessed an earthquake on the scale necessary to have anything remotely resembling the impact described in the text. So how could they extrapolate from lesser earthquakes? That's an issue whether we construe the oracle literally or figuratively.