Saturday, December 01, 2018

Fool for Christ

John Stackhouse 

I read a piece issued by a prominent American medium (Religion News Service) that was really badly written, a hodge-podge of fact, stereotype, and outright falsehood that almost certainly was published only because the author identified herself as both a former evangelical Christian and a Native American wrestling with her own identities as such.

There aren’t many heroes left outside superhero comics and movies, are there? Not unalloyed saints, that’s for sure. And that’s okay: No one but Jesus has been perfect, and we’re right to keep our critical faculties about us even when, and sometimes especially when, someone is presented to us in glorious robes of sanctity.

That said, I agree that it’s weird, verging on the pathological, the way even fellow Christians have sharply criticized this young man, initially assuming he was a fanatic who knew nothing about diseases (wrong), languages (wrong), tribal cultures (wrong), and the dark history of imperialism (wrong). In fact, he and his sending agency seem to have been impressively responsible on all those counts. So what’s the problem?

Then we have evangelical Christians chiding him for breaking the law in preaching the gospel to people the government had said were off limits. Excuse me? Anyone read the Book of Acts recently?

Missionary history is in fact full of stories of pioneers cut down upon first contact, only to be replaced by more who were inspired by the initial story who then enjoy success. Let me be clear that of course I am not defending any and all missionary endeavours. Some of them have indeed seemed foolish and fruitless. But I am defending the simple point that someone has to be first, and that someone may well pay the ultimate price in order to get the conversation going. That’s what John Chau did, and it’s ‘way too early to write off his self-sacrifice as foolish and worthless. Let’s just see what happens next.

Last point: For Christians, the worst thing in the world isn’t dying. It’s failing to do the will of God.

Should Missionaries Just Stay Away?

Benevolence and reciprocity

The divine hiddenness argument is a newer argument in the atheist arsenal. Atheists don't have many new arguments. John Schellenberg put this on the map in 1993. Other atheists have tweaked the argument, and his argument has undergone various permutations at his own hands. But his core argument remains the "canonical" version, the frame of reference for most discussions. Here's a recent formulation:

Suppose God perfectly loves Anna. That love would minimally involve benevolence, caring for Anna’s well-being. But it would also involve aiming “at relationship—a conscious and reciprocal relationship that is positively meaningful, allowing for a deep sharing” between them. Moreover, it would involve valuing that relationship for its own sake, and not merely for the sake of something else. Furthermore, it would never cease, and so God would always value, seek, desire, promote, or preserve personal relationship with Anna, although God would not force himself on her. At the very least, says Schellenberg, all this requires that God will always be open to personal relationship with her...even if one does not actively seek or promote personal relationship with another person capable of participating in such relationship…, one makes sure that there is nothing one ever does (in a broad sense including omissions) that would have the result of making such relationship unavailable to the other, preventing her from being able to relate personally to one, even should she then try. So for God to always be open to personal relationship with a relevantly capable created person such as Anna in a manner expressing unsurpassable love is for God to ensure that there is never something God does that prevents her from being able, just by trying, to participate in personal relationship with God...

The mechanics of the virgin birth

Jason Engwer has a new post on the virgin birth: 

Jason has been defending the virgin birth for years. I daresay few Christian apologists have written as much or more than he in defense of the virgin birth. 

1. There are two stock objections to the virgin birth:

i) It's scientifically impossible. A Y chromosome is required to make a human male body. 

ii) It delegitimates Jesus as the Davidic heir.

Friday, November 30, 2018

In the long run we're all dead

This is generally good advice:

That said, I don't think the fundamental problem is lack of skill at the art of argumentation. Mind you, many people would benefit from a course in informal logic, standards of evidence, &c.

The main problem is that many people want certain results, want a particular outcome, and they don't care about the quality of the argumentation. They just want the results. The outcome is what's important, not the means. On that view, a persuasive bad argument is better than an unpersuasive good argument. It's not about true, reason, and evidence. Rather, argumentation in political discourse has a purely instrumental value, to further or secular the objective. The only value is the desired outcome. How you get there is secondary. 

Trained philosophers sometimes resort to atrocious arguments. It's not due to lack of skill. If they're sufficiently invested in an issue, a philosopher may reason just a badly as someone with no training in logic or probability theory. It's too idealistic to think this is just about honing one's skills in the art of argumentation.

If people think this life is all there is, then they are liable to be impatient about the finer points of argumentation. Time is running out to get things done. Lost opportunities can't be redeemed. There are no eschatological compensations. As John Maynard Keynes, put it, "In the long run we're all dead!" So it's now or never. 

If that's their perspective, then the priority is to achieve the goal by any means necessary, as expeditiously as possible. On that view, a convincing lie is more efficient than a complex argument. It comes down to the utility of political discourse to further the agenda. 

About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries...

Krishna, Christ, and Manitou

Recently, J. P. Moreland did a whirlwind presentation on near-death experiences:

Unfortunately, the video froze up near the end. But it was an interesting overview.

A common Christian objection to NDEs is the oft-repeated claim that non-Christian NDErs interpret their purported encounter in non-Christian terms. If we think NDEs are real, that seems to be an argument for religious pluralism. 

In this course of his presentation, Moreland recommended this book:

John Burke, Heaven: Near-Death Experiences, God’s Promises, and the Exhilarating Future that Awaits You (Baker Books, 2015). And Moreland quoted this passage:

Osis and Haraldsson, two researchers, studied five hundred Americans and five hundred Indians to determine how much religious or cultural conditioning shaped one's near-death experience. They noted, "If the patient sees a radiant man clad in white who induces in him an inexplicable experience of harmony and peace, he might interpret the apparition in various ways: as an angel, Jesus, or God; or if he is a Hindu, Krishna, Shiva, or Deva."

Though I have heard researchers state conclusions like this, i have never read of NDErs describing anything like Krishna (who has blue skin), Siva (who has three eyes)... (pp141-42).

I haven't read Burke's book, and I'm dubious about using NDEs to detail heaven and hell. But it does draw an important distinction. Hindus use the names of their gods to denote what they saw, but what they (say they) saw doesn't match Hindu iconography. They're just using the religious designations culturally available to them. But to say they saw a being by that name doesn't mean they saw an individual who corresponds to the Hindu god–because the visual impression is different from the conventional designation. 

To take a comparison, suppose Jesus appeared to an Iroquois brave in the 15C. Suppose the Christophany looks like an ancient Palestinian Jews with a robe, beard, and sandals. The Iroquois brave has no word for "Jesus" or "Christ". So he might call him Manitou. That would be the only designation available to him to denote a numinous, humanoid being. 

That might convey the impression of religious pluralism if we fail to make allowance for the fact that he can only use the vocabulary and categories his culture provides. 

If, however, he provided a visual description that didn't match the traditional Iroquois iconography for Manitou, then it would be invalid to infer that he saw Manitou. Rather, he saw a being whom he calls Manitou because that's the only name he has at his disposal to denote a numinous, humanoid being. It doesn't mean his experience actually refers to Manitou. 

Perhaps, then, NDEs have less religious diversity than meets the eye. In principle, non-Christian NDErs might report meeting a heathen deity because that's their only frame of reference. But they didn't actually see a pagan god. They simply use the name of a pagan god as a placeholder. 

I'm insufficiently well-read on NDEs to know how non-Christian NDEers describe their encounters, so I don't know how applicable that distinction is. But it's something to make allowance for when assessing their reports. 


Arminian NT scholar and blogger Scot McKnight has a guest post by Ruth Tucker impugning John Chau as a publicity-seeker:

Unless I'm misremembering, I believe Ruth Tucker is an apostate. She wrote a book about her defection from the Christian faith several years ago. That doesn't mean her observations about Chau, Jim Elliot, and Elizabeth Elliot are necessarily wrong, but she does have an ax to grind. I find it odd that McKnight would host her diatribe without any awareness of the conflict of interest. 

Transgender Blasphemy at the ETS

A Virgin Birth With A Biological Relationship Between Joseph And Jesus

A virgin birth doesn't require that there was no physical relationship between Joseph and Jesus. The mechanism by which God accomplished the virgin birth could have involved the transference of material from Joseph to Mary. If somebody is going to object to the virgin birth, Jesus' Davidic ancestry, or whatever else on the assumption that there was no biological relationship between Joseph and Jesus under a virgin birth scenario, then the objector needs to explain how the virgin birth supposedly precludes such a relationship.

A recent illustration of the significance of this issue comes from a commentary on Luke published earlier this year (The Gospel Of Luke [New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018]). It was written by two New Testament scholars, Amy-Jill Levine, an agnostic, and Ben Witherington, a Christian. In a section written primarily by Levine, we read:

The verse [Acts 2:30] follows from 2 Sam 7.12, where God promises David, "When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom." That is, David's heir is to be David's biological descendant. Ben notes that Jesus, as Joseph's adopted child, has all the rights and responsibilities as any child he might have conceived; Amy-Jill notes the lack of sources to justify this claim and finds, instead, what appears to be a Christian adjustment to the original promise to David (36)

She takes Luke 1:36 as evidence that Mary is, at least in Luke's account, "from a priestly family" (36-37) and apparently not a descendant of David.

I've discussed potential Christian responses to Levine's argument in the past, such as here. The evidence for Mary's Davidic ancestry is better than you'd think from reading Levine's comments, for example. But what I'm focused on here is the fact that an appeal to something like adoption by Joseph or Mary's Davidic ancestry isn't necessary. Levine, like other critics who raise this kind of objection, seems to be assuming a mechanism for the virgin birth that she hasn't argued for. Why think there's no biological relationship between Joseph and Jesus under a virgin birth scenario?

And there's no need for only one of the proposed Christian answers to this objection to be correct. I think all three of the answers I've referred to in this post are likely to be true. An adoptive relationship with Joseph would be sufficient to make Jesus a descendant of David in the relevant sense, Mary probably was a descendant of David as well, and the transference of material from Joseph to Mary seems to be the best candidate for the mechanism God used to bring about the virgin birth.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Seasons of faith

Some professing Christians have faith-shattering experiences. It leaves their faith in pieces. And in this life they can't repair it. Some pieces are missing. This causes some professing Christians to lose their faith. Sweep away the remainders. 

But others cling to the shards of glass. Even a shattered faith is better than no faith at all. Sometimes God melts the broken glass and reforms their faith, like a glass-blower. But in other cases, only heaven can replace or refit the broken pieces. 

To vary the metaphor, deciduous trees turn twice: in autumn, the tree symbolically dies. Its leaves turn yellow, orange, red, and brown, then drops its leaves, one-by-one, until  the tree denuded. In Spring, the tree symbolically revives, producing buds that blossom and bloom into flowers and leaves. 

Faith has seasons. Faith in spring and summertime. Like first love or falling in love. Vivacious. Autumnal faith. Darker, sadder. 

Faith in winter. In a sense, faith must die to be reborn. The tree doesn't die inwardly but outwardly, shedding its leaves. Contracting. Withdrawing from the world into a bare essence. Waiting for the sun to return in its spring and summer glory.  

The ethics of evangelism

1. For unbelievers, the death of missionary John Chau is a reductio ad absurdum of Christian theology. Many atheists have no firsthand knowledge of the Bible. Lack a rudimentary grasp of systematic theology. Would be shocked to discover there are intelligent arguments for Christianity. 

2. Chau was attempting to give the tribe an alternative. It's not as if atheists are opposed to challenging what people believe and providing an alternative. Think of all the books, blogs, podcasts, &c., by evangelists for atheism, devoted to talking Christians out of their faith. So they can't consistently object to the general principle. 

3. Consider a polygamist compound in which the cult leader warns his followers about the outside world. Cult members born in the compound have never seen the outside world, hidden behind the high walls of the compound. They've been told it's fatal to step outside the compound. Unspeakable horrors lurk on the other side! 

Suppose debunkers drop iPads onto the grounds of the compound, giving members a chance to see what the outside world is really like. Giving them an alternative vision. An alternative narrative. There's nothing wrong with that, is there? 

4. In addition, many atheists contend that you make your own meaning. Nothing has objective value or ultimate purpose, so it's up to each individual to find out what's important to him. But by that logic, they can't condemn Chau. Even if atheists think Christian evangelism is a fool's errand, they're in no position to judge what makes his life fulfilling. 

What about atheists like Koestler, Hemingway, and Orwell who inserted themselves into the Spanish Civil War. Isn't that foolhardy? Or Byron, who inserted himself into the Greek Revolution? 

What about all the people who O.D. on drugs. That's a dumb way to die, but atheists don't castigate people who die that way. 

What about other people who indulge in high-risk behavior, like homosexuals? Atheists don't condemn their reckless behavior.  

5. There are at least two kinds of metaphors we can use to illustrate the mandate to evangelize. One kind involves protective metaphors. Suppose I intervene so that someone who's high on drugs won't accidentally kill himself. Or should I do nothing? 

6. Another kind involves generosity. Suppose I have a life-threatening illness, but I have the antidote. Suppose another patient has the same illness, but I don't share the antidote with him, even though there's enough for both? 

Should Christians sit on the promise of eternal life, keeping it a secret, or do they have a duty to share that with others? 

What to tell a dying child

Here's a follow up to my previous post:

A longtime reader of Triablogue ran my query by CA. On Twitter, he responded as follows:

In fact, if my child did have a terminal illness, depending on the age you wouldn't want to tell them if they couldn't handle it. But you would make them as comfortable as possible and spend as much time with them as possible. /1

What is the alternative? Tell a child who can't handle the reality of death they're going to be with a god that let them get sick and won't heal them, taking them away from their parents? As if that'll make them feel any better. 2/2

1. CA is struggling to be a consistent atheist. Does CA think it's wrong to tell a dying child a comforting lie? Most atheists don't think lying is intrinsically wrong. From a secular standpoint, if it's a choice between a child who dies in terror if you tell it the truth and a child who dies in peace if you tell it a comforting lie, what should an atheist say? Should he speak as an honest atheist or speak as a loving parent? 

This dilemma is less about the child than the atheist. It goes to the question of whether atheism is livable. 

2. Some atheists might bite the bullet and say it doesn't ultimately matter if the child died in peace or died in terror because he won't remember how he died. What difference does it really make whether he was happy or terrified in the last few weeks, days, or hours prior to death? Death wipes out everything that went before. 

3. CA evades the issue by casting the Christian alternative in the most jaundiced way he can think of. To begin with, death will take them away from their parents according to Christianity and atheism alike. And from a secular standpoint, that's permanent, whereas, from a Christian standpoint, there's the hope of reunion. 

Yes, it makes a dying child feel better that he won't pass into oblivion, but go to a nicer place. I had an Aunt Vera who died of diphtheria at 3 1/2. Her last words were, "Kiss me papa, I'm going to Jesus!"

A testimony

Calendar narratives

Flood stories were widespread in the ancient world. One distinctive of the biblical flood account is its use of dates. There are five dates in the Genesis flood narrative. This is remarkable, since those are the only dates in the entire book of Genesis. 

Typically in ancient literature, an event's timing was indicated by relating it to another event, not by using dates. Timeline dating–plotting events on a transcendent timeline with dates–is common today, but ancient texts used event sequencing, temporally marking an event by relating it to other events. 

Throughout Genesis, event sequencing is used. But five dates appear in the flood narrative and nowhere else in the entire book of Genesis.

An important insight emerges when these dates are potted against the festival calendar of Israel. Three of the five fall directly on Mosaic festival dates. The only exceptions are the first and last, which nonetheless fall at the midpoint of Israel's grain-harvest festivals. All five dates appear to be "scheduled" with reference to Israel's festivals. 

1. The beginning of the flood (Gen 7:11). The flood's beginning date (2/27) is at the center of Israel's grain festivals.

2. The ark's landing (Gen 8:4)…In later Israel, this date would fall during the Feast of Booths. 

3. When the mountaintops became visible (Gen 8:5)…In later Israel, that same date was a new-moon day in between israel's festival days.

4. When the waters were gone (Gen 8:13). By New Years Day (1/1) the waters were gone. New Year's Day is a natural "new beginnings" point.

5. When the ground was dry (Gen 8:14). The ground was completely dry on 2/27. The significance of the flood's beginning in the heart of the grain harvest has already been noted. The same applies to its conclusion on a date one year later and even ten days after. 

These correspondences suggest that the alignment between the five dated flood events and later Israel's festival calendar are not coincidental. Noah's flood was retold in a manner that related his "exodus" to Israel's festival worship and agricultural labors. If this reading is correct, one may still ask whether Noah's flood actually took place on these dates, or whether these dates were added anachronistically. One further feature indicates that these are not dates recorded from observation but are a literary construction: the flood narrative uses schematic, thirty-day months rather than actual varying-length months. This is prima facie evidence of a constructed (rather than observed) timeline. 

The flood narrative uses schematic, thirty-day months. The five months between the beginning of the flood (2/17) and the ark's resting on Mount Ararat (7:17) are rendered as 150 days (Gen 7:24; 8:3) being five months of thirty days each…The use of aesthetically balanced dates and numbers throughout the passage, such as 7s, 10s, 40s, 150, along with the use of schematic months, indicates the constructed nature of this narrative's dates for a legal (rather than journalistic) purpose). It is therefore proposed that the flood account is an agricultural and festival calendar in narrative form: a calendar narrative. 

This function for the flood narrative is comparable to the contemporary practice of telling Jesus' birth story on December 25. Churches do so, not to assure that Jesus was actually born on that date, but to inform Christian observances on that date. Similarly, the flood narrative re-maps the events of Noah's deluge to the calendar of Israel's agricultural labors and harvest festivals for its instructional value. 

There are at least three calendrical features of the flood narrative and exodus narratives that are also found in the creation week, suggesting all three date-laden narratives serve this calendrical purpose. First, the creation week is structured around dates like the flood and exodus narratives. The creation week does not provide month dates like those other calendar narratives, but it does give week dates. Days of the Hebrew week were identified by number. 

This reading cautions against both young-earth and old-earth efforts to read Genesis 1 as a chronology of original creation events…This reading leads to conclusions largely congruent with "analogical day," "literary day," or "framework" views. Michael LeFebvre, “Reading Genesis 1 with the Fourth Commandment: The Creation Week as a Calendar Narrative,” G. Hiestand & T. Wilson, eds.  Creation and Doxology: The Beginning and End of God's Good World (IVP 2018), chap. 1. 

Rough rider or reject?

Deadly handshake

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Caravan

Predictably the liberal media had a freakout over the fracas on the Southern border. Tear-gassing children! A few observations:

i) From what I've read, most of the invaders were adult men. In addition, they threw rocks and bottles at border-control agents. I don't know if the tear gas was used to keep the invaders at bay or in self-defense (to protect the border-control agents).

ii) Tear-gas is actually a pretty mild way to repel a mob. Compare that to shooting marauders. 

iii) From what I've read, the Obama administration deployed the same tactics:

Was the liberal media freaking out over that?

iv) This is a game of chicken. Who blinks first? The invaders decided to force the issue, so they were repelled. 

v) Using children as a human shield is a cynical tactic. A functional nation can't cave to that kind of open-ended extortion. Can't very well capitulate to whatever someone demands if they threaten to hurt a child (or put a child in harm's way) unless they get what they want. That's anarchy. That tactic mustn't be rewarded. There's no end to it. 

vi) National defense is fundamental duty of any head-of-state, while border control is fundamental component of national defense. You can't have national defense without border control. The Trump administration is doing what a commander-in-chief is supposed to do in that regard. 

vii) That's related in part to the right of private property. We can't open our doors to bandits who will plunder the country. Get on welfare, stay on welfare, commit ID theft, bankrupt the emergency rooms of hospitals, educate their kids at public expense. Siphon off social services they didn't pay into. These are raiding parties. They have no more right to barge in than looters, bank-robbers, house-burglars, and shoplifters. Border enforcement is necessary to protect private property. The livelihood of citizens. The medical and economic infrastructure. Not to mention introducing diseases into the host country. 

viii) In addition, when illegal immigrants commit voter fraud in sufficient numbers to swing elections, the defrauds citizens of the right of self-determination. 

Was John Chau a missionary Rambo?

Is immigration a human right?

Living under the Beast

Christians in the English-speaking world are beginning to face persecution. In the USA, the Trump presidency has given us a temporary reprieve, but that won't last if the Democrats regain power. There are different ways in which people respond to oppression:


They switch to the winning side. When they sense a shift in the balance of power, they switch sides ahead of time to avoid getting caught on the "wrong side of history".  

They are enthusiastic collaborators who propagandize for the oppressive regime. They rat out friends, neighbors, and colleagues to prove their fidelity to the oppressive regime. 

In some cases they were always sympathetic to the ideology of the oppressive regime, but they only went public when it was safe to tip their hand. 

Past examples include Heidegger and Vichy regime. Contemporary examples include Randal Rauser, Eugene Peterson, David Gushee, Tony Campolo, Jan Hatmaker.


They are pragmatists rather than ideologues. They have no core convictions or principles. In some cases they believe whatever is fashionable to believe, with no sense of cognitive dissonance as intellectual fads change, and they change accordingly.

In other cases they may privately disagree with the ideology of the oppressive regime, but they say and do whatever is necessary to succeed. Don't make waves. Don't rock the boat.


They do what's necessary to survive and function. To protect their family. They don't do anything openly provocative. But they do whatever they can to subvert the oppressive regime. Low-profile saboteurs. They take calculated risks.

Past examples include Brother Andrew, Eric Liddell, the Confessing Church, French and Italian Resistance, Christians who sheltered Jews from Nazis. 


These are men and women who openly and fearlessly confront the oppressive regime. Heroic, inspirational figures. Sometimes they prevail. Sometimes their zeal is suicidal. Sometimes they're imprisoned or executed. 

Historic figures include Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Paul Schneider. Contemporary figures include Robert Gagnon, Jordan Peterson.

Martyrs and Quislings represent opposite ends of the spectrum.

The transgender agenda infiltrates Biola and the ETS

When I opened the program guide for this year’s meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Denver, I was surprised by a paper titled “Walking across Gender in the Spirit? The Vocation of the Church and the Transgender Christian.” My interest piqued, I made plans to attend the session to hear the presentation. I honestly thought going into it that the title was intended for shock value to garner interest in order to set up an evangelical rebuttal of transgenderism. But what I heard from that paper went beyond anything I had thought possible at the Evangelical Theological Society.
The paper argues for the legitimacy of transgender identities. It appeared in an “Evangelicals and Gender” section, which means that the paper was vetted by committee members before being accepted into the program. Every member of the steering committeeexcept one is a contributor to an evangelical feminist group called Christians for Biblical Equality. This raises the question: does CBE now accept the legitimacy of transgender identities? In addition to this session, there is at least one article that suggests it might.
Andy Draycott, Associate Professor of Theology and Christian Ethics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, delivered the paper to a crowd of maybe thirty or forty. Draycott set out his thesis at the beginning of his paper in answer to the question, “Should we consider ‘transgender Christians’ as having a good self-understanding?” His answer was an unqualified yes, that “transgender Christians” do have a good self-understanding when they perceive themselves to be gendered opposite their biological sex.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mandatory child abuse

Fallen idol

It is certainly true that having great expectations of a Church makes the Church’s failures to live up to those expectations especially hard to take. Had the Roman church not made such grand claims for itself, as Matt elaborates, its failure to live up to them would not have landed as such a blow to me, and to others...By the time the bell rang, so to speak, the idea that the Catholic Church had the spiritual authority that it claimed was implausible to me. I honestly did not see how it could be that way. I thought I had had a good understanding of its history, and what the history of papal and hierarchical corruption meant. Those things were abstractions, though. It is one thing for Alexander VI Borgia to make his son an archbishop, and that son to host an orgy in the Vatican; it is another when you discover that your own bishop facilitated multiple clerical molestations of minors in your own diocese, and sent his lawyers after victims and their families seeking justice.

Strictly speaking, none of those things negate the truth claims of the Church. But they can have the effect of making it difficult to impossible to take those truth claims seriously.

Think of the example of the Mormons. The Latter-Day Saints Church also makes massive claims for itself. It says that it is the restoration of the original church founded by Jesus Christ, and that its foundational tome, the Book of Mormon, is a revelation from God on par with the Bible...If I see grotesque corruption in the ranks of the Mormon hierarchy, I may be grieved on behalf of faithful Mormons, but I don’t regard that corruption as vindication of Mormonism’s truth claims. Nobody outside the Mormon church would say, “Wow, look at how rotten the LDS leadership is, even though they claim to be the exclusive voice of God on this earth. They must really be what they say they are.”

Now, for faithful Mormons, deep corruption within their church’s leadership would probably spark a crisis of faith akin the the crisis of faith I had as a Catholic. Believe me, I can understand that. I can agree with Matt Schmitz that the subjective experience of being a member of a Church that makes such exclusive, totalist claims makes challenges to those claims stemming from internal corruption a much deeper personal crisis than it would be for, say, a megachurch Evangelical. The revelation of evangelist Jimmy Swaggart’s sexual corruption no doubt caused a lot of pain for his followers, but it’s not likely that it caused any of them to doubt basic Protestant theology. Protestants simply do not make the same claims for the role and meaning of the institutional church that Roman Catholics do.

Christian mission meets cultural relativism

Engaging Buddhism

Boilerplate anti-Calvinism

Justin Brierley recently published this article:

I'm not sure if this is worth commenting on because it's such well-trodden ground. Justin is a great guy who's doing great work for the kingdom. Given that Christianity is nearly in eclipse in England, Justin's work at Unbelievable represents a necessary and commendable Christian insurgent movement. 

I'll comment on his article because he commands a wide hearing. That said, I wonder who's the target audience. Is this supposed to change minds? On the one hand, there are readers who will nod their head because they're already on that side. So they come out of it the way they went into it. On the other hand, informed Calvinists will experience déjà vu. Many Calvinists have prepared answers. So what's the point of his article? 

The King In Isaiah 9 Isn't Hezekiah

Among those who look for a naturalistic fulfillment of Isaiah 9 or a fulfillment that doesn't identify the king as God, Hezekiah is a candidate who's often suggested (H.G.M. Williamson, Isaiah 6-12 [New York, New York: Bloomsbury, 2018], n. 103 on 393). In my last post, I argued for the deity of the king in Isaiah 9. While that characteristic of the king eliminates Hezekiah from consideration, there are enough additional lines of evidence against a fulfillment by Hezekiah to warrant a separate post on the subject.

The first mention of Hezekiah in Isaiah comes in the opening verse, alongside other Jewish kings. The first chapter goes on to refer to how corrupt Israel is, "from the sole of the foot even to the head" (1:6). Isaiah condemns rulers in general (1:10, 1:23, 1:26). Keep in mind that these condemnations of chapter 1 come just after Hezekiah was named as one of the rulers in the opening verse. The same themes are repeated later in Isaiah (e.g., 3:2, 3:14, 9:14-16), with Isaiah including himself in the condemnation (6:5). Just before chapter 9, Isaiah is highly critical of Ahaz. Just after the passage in question in chapter 9, he's highly critical of other leaders (9:14-16). Given how negatively Isaiah views himself and his Jewish contemporaries in general, including their rulers, it's very unlikely that 9:1-7 represents Isaiah's view of a contemporary king, even one as relatively good as Hezekiah.

Monday, November 26, 2018

The transgender endgame

My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy

Next Thursday, I will get a vagina. The procedure will last around six hours, and I will be in recovery for at least three months. Until the day I die, my body will regard the vagina as a wound; as a result, it will require regular, painful attention to maintain. This is what I want, but there is no guarantee it will make me happier. In fact, I don’t expect it to. 

I was not suicidal before hormones. Now I often am.

This raises a question: what's the endgame for transgenderism? Transgenderism has a political endgame as well as a personal endgame.

On a political level, the objective is social control. A secular totalitarian utopia. Deconstructing boys and girls, men and women into interchangeable legos which the ruling class can play with. It's about power over others. 

And what's the personal endgame? Take a "transgender woman". A biological man who undergoes hormone therapy, a sex-change operation, and cosmetic surgery to mimic a woman. What's the objective? To have a romantic relationship? 

No straight male is romantically interested in a surgically modified man. No straight male is romantically interested in another man, with fake breasts, a fake vagina, and so forth. If push came to shove, a normal man would opt for a sexbot rather than a "transgender woman". The only context in which heterosexual men would have anything to do with "transgender women" is a prison situation. 

No gay male is romantically or sexually interested in another male who's been surgically altered to appear female. Gay men are attracted to young, athletic male bodies. 

No straight female is romantically interested in a "transgender woman" (or "transgender man"). And I doubt lesbians find that appealing either.

"Transitioning" makes the individual equally repellent to just about any conceivable romantic partner. At most you have some people into kinky sex who might experiment on someone who's transitioned. Perhaps there's a niche for the sadomasochistic crowd. That, however, won't give someone who suffers from gender dysphoria, or someone who's been brainwashed into believing that's their problem, the emotional satisfaction they crave.  

In the mind's eye

Calvinism as well as some varieties of freewill theism (e.g. Molinism, classic Arminianism) affirm God's future knowledge and/or counterfactual knowledge. However, even in that respect they share less in common then meets the eye.

Let's take a comparison. I've read that Alfred Hitchcock filmed his movies in his mind before he filmed in reality. We might say he had a mental representation of the future film. Likewise, if I watch Psycho, my memory of the film is a mental representation of what I saw. 

Yet there's clearly an asymmetry here. On the one hand, my mental representation of Psycho is a copy of the original whereas there's a sense in which Psycho is a copy of Hitchcock's original idea. He filmed what he saw in his mind's eye, whereas I visualize the end-product. What's in my mind's eye is caused by the film while what's in his mind's eye is the cause of the film. 

That's analogous to the difference between Calvinism and freewill theism respecting omniscience. In freewill theism, God's knowledge of a creature's future or hypothetical actions is a copy of what they will do or might have done. For their agency is in some respect independent of God. In Calvinism, by contrast, a creature's future or hypothetical actions is a copy of God's exemplary idea. 

In Calvinism, God's concept of what will happen or might have happened is metaphysically prior to the outcome. That's the source of origin. The mental event (in God's mind) is primary while the extramental event (outside God's mind) is secondary. 

In Molinism or Arminianism, by contrast, what will happen or might have happened is metaphysically prior to God's concept. His concept is derivative. The extramental event is primary while the mental event is secondary.

In Calvinism, what will or might have been is ultimately subjective to God. Originating in God's mind and will. 

In Molinism or Arminianism, what will be or might have been is objective to God, originating outside God's mind. His mind mirrors that semiautonomous reality. Imprinted on God's mind. 

Less danger, more fear

Sending missionaries

1. The martyrdom of Christian missionary John Chau provoked critics of Chau from both ends of the political/theological spectrum. On the one hand you have the secular progressives. One allegation is that he represents white-American colonialism. Some basic problems with that allegation:
i) Was he Aryan? He seems to have a Chinese surname and appears to be biracial. I'm guessing he's Amerasian (or adopted). So he's a poor candidate for white colonialism.
ii) In addition, in what sense did he represent the forces of colonialism? Here's a definition:

colonies for settlement and colonies for economic exploitation
He doesn't represent either one. Is the USA planning to invade the North Sentinel Island?
iii) The Christian faith originates in the Middle East, not Europe. It's not a white man's religion, and it was around many centuries before the USA came into being.
iv) Then you have progressives who say Chau was violating the national sovereignty of the islanders. But aren't these apt to be the same people who support open borders with respect to immigrants and "refugees" to the USA?
v) Another objection raised both by secular progressives as well as some professing Christians is the risk of infecting the islanders. Yet that would preclude Christian mission to many people-groups throughout church history, before the advent of vaccines, antibiotics, and antivirals.
In addition, can the islanders count on everyone to respect their sovereignty? China is becoming increasingly aggressive and expansive. If their geographical isolation and lack of resistance makes the islanders fatally vulnerable to epidemics, then they need to develop some resistance, since they can't expect to live in a bubble forever.
What about medical missionaries?
vi) The bottom-line is that secular progressives despise the Christian faith. Ironically, the people who hate Christianity reveal their desperate need for the very thing they hate.
vii) If atheism is true, human life is worthless. It's impossible to wrong anyone. It's all about power and ruthless self-interest.
2. Chau also came in for criticism from Christians. Reformed author and pastor Mark Jones said he was "unimpressed" by Chau and compared him to Calvin's statement that "zeal without doctrine is like a sword in the hands of a lunatic."
i) Some Christian critics seemed to imply that if a missionary is murdered, that in itself is proof that he was a zealous fool. When I asked Pastor Jones if that applies to St. Stephen (Acts 9), he replied:

You're comparing John Chau to Stephen? Wow. At least Stephen's audience heard the gospel in their language. That's one major difference.
That's an interesting response. How, exactly, is a missionary supposed to master the language of a xenophobic, geographically isolated people-group? Are there grammars and lexicons of Sentinelese language? Are there recordings that provide the pronunciation? From what I've read, it's a language isolate. Presumably, the only way a missionary could learn their language is through immersion, which requires direct contact.
In Acts 14:8-13, Paul and Barnabas don't know the native language, which results in some confusion. Were they wrong to evangelize such areas?
3. Do Christian critics think evangelism is supposed to be risk-free? I asked them what Chau should have done differently to avoid getting killed. No answer. Should we play it safe. Write off countries where evangelism is hazardous?
4. Another objection is that Chau's action was illegal. But even if that's the case, Scripture says the duty of evangelism overrides any laws to the contrary (Acts 5:29).
5. Yet another objection is that he wasn't sent. He was a lone ranger. That raises a number of issues:
i) From what I've read, he was trained and sponsored by a missionary organization:
So Chau doesn't seem to fit the profile of a missionary Rambo. But suppose instead of going by himself, a mission team went to the island. If they all got massacred, would that satisfy the critics?
ii) Perhaps some critics would say his sponsor doesn't count because that's a parachurch ministry. Some Christians frown on parachurch ministry. They think missionaries must be sponsored by a local church. And in the Book of Acts we see some coordination between local churches and missionary outreach.
a) However, that's descriptive, not prescriptive.
b) Moreover, although Peter, Paul, and John are said to be "sent" by local churches, they had an independent mandate to evangelize. A direct commission from Christ. They didn't require permission or authorization from a local church.
c) Furthermore, we have passages like Acts 8:5 which says "Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ." There's no indication that he was sent by a local church.
d) What about denominational mission boards? What about missionaries who were sent, not by a local church but by the denomination–via the missions board? Does that count? A denominational missions board transcends the local churches that comprise the denomination. That can't be prooftext from Acts.
Then you have transdenominatinal mission boards. Does that count?
In the nature of the case, missionary outreach has an international dimension. That can't all be coordinated at the level of the local church. There need to be some overarching structures or "connectional" ministries.
iii) In addition, while Acts sometimes refers to people who are "sent", the sender isn't necessarily or even normally a local church. It can take the form of revelatory dreams and visions, Christophanies, angelophanies, Christian prophets, or an audible voice of God:

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot” (Acts 8:26-29).
19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” 21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” (Acts 10:19-21).
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. 4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus (Acts 13:1-4).
6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them (Acts 16:6-10).

Yet I'm pretty sure the critics of Chau are cessationists, so they don't think a missionary must be sent in that supernatural sense. But in that event they can't prooftext their position from Acts.
There is a famous passage in Romans:

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom 10:14-15).
But in context, I believe that's alluding to Jesus commissioning the apostles. If so, a cessationist can't appeal to that passage. You also have Paul dispatching his deputies. But unless we subscribe to apostolic succession, that's unrepeatable.
6. Perhaps Chau went alone because he couldn't persuade anyone else to accompany him. They were too afraid. Or perhaps he didn't wish to endanger anyone besides himself. As a "person of color", he might have more entree with other "people of color" than a white missionary. He died trying, but his death is a Christian witness. Indeed, that's the etymology of martyrdom. It became a technical term for Christians whose willingness to die for their faith is a witness in its own right.

Are missionaries Typhoid Mary?

The King In Isaiah 9 Is God

Before we get to the names in verse 6 that usually are the focus of discussion, we should consider some other evidence. Since Isaiah 9 is about the culmination of the monarchy in Israel, a good place to start is with the origins of that monarchy.

In 1 Samuel 8:7, God tells Samuel that Israel's desire for a king is a rejection of having God as their king. One of the consequences of the monarchy, the first one mentioned, would be that the Jewish people would have to serve in the king's military and produce his weapons of war (1 Samuel 8:11-12). The response of the people is to affirm their willingness to subject themselves to what the monarchy will bring with it, with a focus on how the king will lead them in warfare (8:20).

Not only does it make sense in the abstract that somebody like Isaiah would be interested in the origins of the monarchy, as addressed in 1 Samuel 8, but we also have evidence of that interest being expressed by his contemporaries. Hosea 13:9-11 refers to the central theme we see in 1 Samuel 8, the rejection of God in favor of a king.

In Isaiah 9, we see a reversal of 1 Samuel 8. A king is raised up who brings about the destruction of the implements of war (9:5) and brings eternal peace (9:6-7). But since the contrast between having a human monarchy and having God as king is at the center of 1 Samuel 8, the reversal that occurs in Isaiah 9 makes more sense if the human king is being replaced by God. A divine king makes more sense of the 1 Samuel 8 backdrop.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Deathbed atheism

And what would he tell his six-year-old daughter if she was dying?

Follow-up here.

Lili Marleen

There's a difference between what people see and what they perceive. Take this performance:

I suspect that for many younger viewers, it means nothing. The song means nothing. The performer means nothing. It's not a part of their world.

In a sense, Dietrich was before my time. She was born in 1901. However, her life intersects with mine in complex ways. My maternal grandmother was born in 1885 (I was 19 when she died) while my parents were born in 1918. So Dietrich was an older contemporary of mine. Older than my parents, but young than my grandmother. Older relatives extend our contact with the past by connecting us to their past. They are living history.

As a kid, my parents took me to see classic movies from the 30s-50s, which included Dietrich. When I hit adolescence I took an avid interest in gorgeous, glamourous movie stars like Dietrich.

My parents had an LP of a Dietrich concert, which I used to listen to as a kid. But watching her perform "Lili Marleen" has a different vibe at this stage in my life than as a wet-behind-the-ears teenager.

Her father died when she was about about 6. She lived through two world wars. She was a teenager during WWI. During WWII she entertained Allied troops. Lived with them. It was a very dangerous assignment. She might have been killed or captured. In that regard she was admirable.

But according to the vindictive expose of her estranged daughter Maria Riva, Marlene was cruel and self-absorbed. It's possible that Riva's resentment creates a somewhat distorted or one-sided impression. However, her combative relationship with Maximilian Schell in his documentary confirms the brittle glassy image.

She was a survivor who triumphed over adversity. Unlike Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn, Dietrich had too much self-respect to remain in the limelight after she could no longer project the illusion of agelessness. She became a recluse in old age. A lonely alcoholic addicted to pain-killers. Yet lonely by choice.

She had an open marriage and numberless affairs. According to her, Jean Gabin was the love of her life. I believe there's footage of her searching for him in a tank bridge on the battlefield, with falling snow.

She was raised Lutheran. She said she lost her faith during WWII. I find that implausible. She was a cabaret singer in Berlin during the Twenties–which was notoriously decadent. So I doubt there was a turning-point during WWII. She seemed to be an infidel her entire adult life. Her autobiography is said to be unreliable because she confabulates to shape and consolidate her legend.

She was discovered by Josef von Sternberg. Her breakout role was The Blue Angel. During the twilight of her career as movie star she transitioned to become a nightclub songstress. I believe the video clip of her performing "Lili Marleen" (see above) was shot when she was 72. She looks amazing.

"Lili Marleen" was the most popular WWII song on both sides. In general, footsoldiers don't fight for ideology. What keeps them going is a sweetheart waiting for their return. My father was a WWII vet who mentioned comrades in his barracks writing a letter everyday to their sweetheart back home.
Despite her ruthless cynicism, she sings this number with great pathos. It reflects the longing, loss, bittersweet nostalgia, futility, and resignation of the godless. Grasping at a few fleeting moments of transcendent intensity. They slip away, beyond recall.

From a secular perspective, Dietrich no longer exists. All that's left is celluloid.

It's instructive to compare Dietrich with church widows. Dietrich never left her apartment for the last decade of her life to protect her image of ageless beauty and glamor. By contrast, there are elderly women in church who do whoever they can to be a blessing to others.

Martyred missionary