Saturday, December 22, 2018

Background on Mattis

Mattis opposed Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change accord, decertify the Iran deal…and move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He opposes the president’s proposed ban on transgender service members.

How Should We Argue For The Virgin Birth?

Steve Hays drew my attention to a recent interview with William Lane Craig in the New York Times, part of which discusses the virgin birth. Craig's responses to the questions he's asked are of mixed quality, and I won't be responding to most of what he said. But I want to comment on his remarks about the virgin birth.

He didn't have much space to discuss the issue, and he made some good points in the short space he had. But I would have addressed the subject differently.

Better than citing the multiple attestation provided by Matthew and Luke would be to cite the fact that widespread early belief in the virgin birth is the best explanation for why the premarital timing of Mary's pregnancy wasn't more controversial in early Christian and non-Christian circles. The premarital timing of the pregnancy is highly unlikely to have been made up by the early Christians. It seems to be something that was widely known early on. So, the lack of controversy over it needs to be explained. An accompanying belief in a virgin birth, accepted by Paul and other early Christians long before Matthew and Luke were written, is the best explanation. And even non-conservative scholars often acknowledge that the gospel material on the virgin birth is derived from pre-gospel sources. For these and other reasons, we ought to conclude that belief in the virgin birth not only predates the gospels, but was even widespread in that pre-gospel timeframe. Celsus and his Jewish source(s) attribute the virgin birth claim to Jesus himself rather than portraying it as something made up a couple or a few decades later, for example.

Craig shouldn't have used the brief space he had to claim that there are no Jewish or pagan parallels to the virgin birth. The more important point is that there's no evidence of borrowing from such sources. Critics can't just allege that there are Jewish and/or pagan parallels to the virgin birth. They need to go on to the second step of arguing that the Christian claim was in some significant way derived from the sources in question. They not only can't do that, but also would have to overcome a lot of evidence to the contrary in attempting to establish their allegation. There are many explicit and implicit anti-pagan sentiments throughout the New Testament. That's not the sort of environment in which we'd expect borrowing from paganism. The burden of proof is on the shoulders of those who want us to believe that such borrowing occurred. That's a better point to make than to claim that no parallels exist, which invites critics to then bring up one alleged parallel after another. Each supposed parallel has to be discussed, after which the critic can just go look for another one. They often aren't particularly careful about claiming supposed parallels, so the potential for wasting time and misleading people is large.

Another point that ought to be made in these discussions, which Craig didn't bring up, is that a virgin birth not only wasn't expected by ancient Jews, but even diminishes Jesus' fulfillment of one of the most widely expected characteristics of the Messiah. He was expected to be a descendant of David. And a virgin birth would diminish Jesus' claim to Davidic ancestry. Why make up a claim about a Messianic figure that gives him a characteristic the Messiah wasn't expected to have at the expense of diminishing a characteristic he was so widely expected to have?

The best argument for the virgin birth is the evidence for the Divine inspiration of the documents that affirm it. But Craig doesn't bring the subject up, and his comments about issues like the historicity of the Old Testament and Biblical inerrancy weaken the case for Divine inspiration and make people who are influenced by Craig less likely to appeal to it. But we should appeal to it. Scripture is Divinely inspired, and the evidence for its inspiration is a good argument for beliefs like the virgin birth.

For more about making an argument for the virgin birth, see here and here.

"Nazi" biology

Net result

A few comments on this:

Second, certain heinous evils do not have a “net” good. 

On the face of it, even heinous evils can yield a net good. Events are causes of further events down the line. Everything adds up, for better or worse. In principle, that can be good overall. Whether the net effect is better rather than worse depends on whether God has orchestrated history so that countervailing goods offset evils so that on balance, the final result is better. 

This is otherwise called “The theological problem of trauma.” There is no “net good” of a little girl being raped. One might contrive a philosophical situation in which one had to choose between one person being raped vs. 1,000 people being raped—in which case the single rape was the relative good. 

Not a relative good but a lesser evil. 

But there are two problems with this—even if this is conceived as a relative good, it still doesn’t posit a net good. This argument fails to distinguish between what philosophers call the utilitarian good and the inherent good. The saving of 1,000 lives was a utilitarian good, but still failed to undo or justify the inherent evil of the one rape which the saving cost. This leads to the third problem. 

i) Christians can only play the hand they were dealt. Any theodicy will be wince-inducing. But if you believe in God and evil, then that severely limits the logical options. Reality dictates the available options. If reality was kinder, we wouldn't have the problem of evil in the first place. So any theistic explanation will have a hard aspect. And an atheistic explanation is harsher.

ii) It's true that if an action is intrinsically wrong, then beneficial consequences don't convert it into something good or moral. Likewise, beneficial consequences can't justify intrinsic wrongdoing. 

However, while wrongdoing can't be justified, to permit wrongdoing can sometimes be justified. There is sometimes a morally salient difference between committing evil and not preventing evil. I might not intervene to preempt an impending evil or step in to arrest an evil in progress if the effect of my intervention is to replace one evil with other evils further down the line, or eliminate some compensatory goods. 

Third, this theodicy does not solve the originative problem of evil. Let’s take the problem of having to choose between 1,000 people being raped and 1 person being raped. The argument which states that the greatest of all possible worlds necessarily includes the heinous evil of our world silently implies that God was in a Sophie’s Choice scenario before he created the world. In the novel Sophie’s Choice, the protagonist was sent to a Nazi concentration camp and was forced to choose between the murder of her daughter and her son. She chose her son. She can hardly be blamed for the death of her son. 

The Calvinist use of this Leibnizian theodicy attempts to apply the same justification to God by implying that God was in a similar situation before his free decision to create the world. Of course, if Calvin was right, God’s hand wasn’t forced in any way, and his free decision to create was not in the context of a Sophie’s Choice scenario. Therefore, the question, “Why did God allow sin in the world?” remains unanswered, and the place of a successful theodicy for Christian theology remains unanswered. 

i) I don't think there's a greatest possible world. There are greater good worlds, lesser good worlds–as well as worlds containing evil with no redeeming values. No single world history captures all the goods. Not all possibilities are compossible. By definition, every possible world has a different world history. Some goods inevitably depend on how a particular timeline unfolds. 

ii) Likewise, second-order goods necessarily presuppose evil. You can't have one without the other. 

iii) Apropos (i-ii), there are some restrictions on God's field of action. However, I don't think there's any antecedent restriction on God's ability to create more than one possible world. Perhaps God made a multiverse in which some alternate scenarios play out. That will realize a greater number of goods. 

iv) Maxwell's retreat into mystery just kicks the can down the street. God can't be absolved of responsibility for evil or complicity in evil, although he can be absolved of culpability for evil. 

v) As for Wolterstorff, if you indulge in high-risk behavior and your luck runs out, there's nothing inexplicable about the tragic result. That doesn't require a special explanation. His judgment is understandably clouded by grief, but his reaction is illogical. 

Is Calvinism Unliveable?

"Is Calvinism Unliveable?" by Prof. James Anderson.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Christian virility

An important debate on the role of masculinity in the church:

Mattis out

A few off-the-cuff impressions about the resignation of Gen. Mattis:

i) I recall reading somewhere, a while back, that initially, Mattis was a very influential advisor to Trump, but after Make Pompeo became Secretary of State and John Bolton came on board, Mattis lost influence. When you go from winning the arguments to losing the arguments, that's a time to exit. 

ii) As I recall, when Trump moved to rescind Obama's policy on transgender soldiers, Mattis tried to kill the ban by having the Pentagon conduct a six-month review. If that's true, then in that respect I'm not sorry to see Mattis leave. 

iii) In addition, I believe Mattis supported Obama's treasonous Iran deal. That's another reason not to regret his departure. 

iii) We don't know who Trump will nominate, and we don't know how well Trump will get along with his replacement. So I don't know what this means for US foreign policy. 

iv) The establishment is upset because they think Trump needs to be contained. Mattis seems like a honorable man, and he did an impressive job in cutting ISIS down to size, but his policy positions were uneven. 

Evangelical beta culture

Do 70% of Evangelicals Reject the Deity of Christ?

The Dark Knight

Recently I saw Leighton Flowers interview Andy Stanley:

There's nothing significant about what they said. These are hackneyed objections to Calvinism. What makes it significant is who said it. Andy pastors one of the two largest megachurches in the USA, so he's very influential. Not just in terms of those who attends, but as a televangelist reaching a TV audience around the world. 

Watching Andy is like watching (or reading) Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins on Christianity. Willful ignorance combined with overweening condescension. Andy is so patronizing about Calvinism, yet by his repeated admission, he's very uninformed. If you keep saying you don't know or can't imagine how Calvinists answer these questions, that's because you're not asking them. It's just like village atheists who don't bother to read evangelical philosophers and Bible scholars, then act as if they have unanswerable objections to Christianity. 

If Andy and Flowers are going to raise philosophical objections to Calvinism, the logical course of action is to read or interview Reformed philosophers. If they are going to raise exegetical objections to Calvinism, the logical course of action is to read or interview Reformed Bible scholars. 

Andy is a quintessential bigot. He constantly makes prejudicial statements about Calvinism without making a good faith effort to acquaint himself with the most competent representatives of Calvinism. He constantly stereotypes Calvinists even though, by his own admission, he rarely moves in those circles. He keeps asking Flowers for confirmation, as if Flowers is an expert witness on Calvinism. 

In this post I'm going to quote or paraphrase their statements, then respond:

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Licking Jesus

Here's a sequel to my prior post: 

In addition to his written response to Ben Shapiro's interview with JMac, Trent Horn also did a podcast, which covers more ground:

Trent Horn is a Catholic apologist and convert to Catholicism. I don't normally listen to his podcast. But in this podcast, the way he frames the differences between Catholicism and evangelicalism, and draws some points of contrast between them, makes it a useful foil. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Miracles, materialism, and quantum mechanics

Hear, O house of David

13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isa 7:13-14).

To critics, the Christian interpretation is special pleading. One argument for the 8C identity of the son is the claim that the sign child is something Ahaz must see or will see. There are, however, some basic problems with that argument:

i) How does a normal pregnancy constitute a sign? How would Ahaz even know which mother and child embodied the sign? Surely there were lots of candidates. Lots of pregnant women.

ii) Actually, the oracle isn't directed at Ahaz but the house of David. That's certainly broader than Ahaz and open to a longitudinal fulfillment. The house of David will witness the sign. 

iii) By way of reinforcement is the use of the second person plural in vv13-14. So, once again, the oracle isn't addressed to Ahaz but has a collective audience. 

When natural evils are natural goods

All this convective bubbling up and recycling between crust and mantle, this creative destruction and reconstruction of parts — “tectonic” comes from the Greek word for build — is Earth’s way of following the second law of thermodynamics. The movement shakes off into the frigidity of space the vast internal heat that the planet has stored since its violent formation.
And while shifting, crumbling plates may seem inherently unreliable, a poor foundation on which to raise a family, the end result is a surprising degree of stability. “Plate tectonics is a relatively benign way for Earth to lose heat,” said Peter Cawood, an Earth scientist at Monash University in Australia.
“You get what are catastrophic events in localized areas, in earthquakes and tsunamis,” he added. “But the mechanism allows Earth to maintain a stabler and more benign environment overall.”

Custom-made Christianity

I'm going to comment on some statements by John Marriott:

He's an adjunct professor in Philosophy and Intercultural Studies at Biola, and author of A Recipe for Disaster: How Parents and Churches Prepare Individuals to Lose Their Faith, And How They Can Instill a Faith That Endures (Wipf and Stock, 2018). 

As I mentioned previously, many deconverts reveal in their deconversion stories that the catalyst for leaving the faith came as a result of being disappointed with God, or at least the concept they had of him.

In reality though, they had a significantly unbiblical conception of God, one that more closely resembled the God of Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism identified by sociologist Christian Smith, than the God of the Bible. MTD holds that God exists (deism), he wants us to be happy (therapeutic), and we should treat others in ways that maximizes their happiness by being good, nice, and fair to each other (moral). If that is how we make others happy, it is reasonable to conclude that is how God makes us happy, by being good, nice, and fair. According to Smith, for American teenagers “God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, [and] professionally helps his people feel better about themselves.” But biblically speaking, this is not what God is like, nor how he acts. The conception is not mapping onto reality.

When one’s conception of God does not adequately map onto the reality of who God is, it can cause a crisis of faith. But it doesn’t have to. We can largely avoid these kinds of faith shaking disappointments by providing believers with a more biblical conception of God and what to expect as one of his followers. Without question there is great reward to be expected from following Jesus, both in this life and the next. But the rewards, which are primarily spiritual and relational, are experienced amidst a fallen world. Over and over again, the Bible tells us through stories and direct statements that this is a broken world, controlled in significant measure by a malevolent being. That suffering is par for the course. That followers of Jesus often will suffer both moral and natural evil. That God himself will allow bad things to occur, or even have a hand in bringing them to pass for reasons that may be opaque to us, but are for an ultimate good.

In that respect, they never lost faith in the Christian deity because they never had faith in the Christian deity. Their concept of God wasn't biblical to begin with. 


The days of Genesis are usually viewed in terms of time. However, that overlooks another aspect, for the days of Genesis can be viewed in terms of space. Where "day" in day/night, light/darkness, dawn/dusk stands for sunlight or daylight, light fills space. Sun, moon, and stars fill the sky with light. They illuminate land and sea. Darkness is empty space, devoid of light. It's not coincidental that the creation of light follows on the heels of the vacant condition of the primordial earth. Light fills the void, dispelling the darkness. Light represents fullness in contrast to emptiness. Preoccupation with the temporal function neglects the spacial function. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The utter east

Light and darkness are major theological metaphors in Scripture, so I find it useful to mentally visualize the play of sunlight in different situations. 

In addition, my parents had a waterfront property with a panoramic view spanning east and west, so I was used to watching the play of sunlight on the waves as the sun arced over the sky. I've lived in different places, in and around nature, and I study sunlight from different angles. The symbolism of light in Scripture trades on these variations, so it's useful to be observant.

Suppose you're standing on a hilltop facing east, just before dawn. As the sun rises over the opposing hillside, the shadows retreat. As the sunlight strikes the hillside you're standing on, that's where the recession begins. When the sun is overhead, the valley is flooded with light. As the sun dips below the hillside, the valley becomes enveloped in shade, with shadows crawling up the opposing hillside. 

But suppose you're standing on a hilltop, facing west. As the sun rises, the valley is backlit. It comes alive in the light. By the same token, if you're facing east as the sun circles around behind you, the scene is backlit, but the light is muted. Fading, dying light. 

In the Christian pilgrimage, the road ahead is backlit. We don't see the sun directly. Rather, we see by the sun. We see the effects of sunshine. That's like faith and hope. 

The pilgrimage also has phases of twilight, moonlight, starlight, and pitch black. By contrast, heaven is like facing the sun, where faith and hope give way to sight. 

It's similar to the OT paradox about seeing God. You can't view God directly, face-to-face, and live–but you can see reflections of God. It reminds me of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

As I have said before, there had been too much light ever since they left the island of Ramandu — the sun too large (though not too hot), the sea too bright, the air too shining. Now, the light grew no less — if anything, it increased — but they could bear it. They could look straight up at the sun without blinking. They could see more light than they had ever seen before. And the deck and the sail and their own faces and bodies became brighter and brighter and every rope shone. And next morning, when the sun rose, now five or six times its old size, they stared hard into it and could see the very feathers of the birds that came flying from it.

After that for many days, without wind in her shrouds or foam at her bows, across a waveless sea, the Dawn Treader glided smoothly east. Every day and every hour the light became more brilliant and still they could bear it. No one ate or slept and no one wanted to, but they drew buckets of dazzling water from the sea, stronger than wine and somehow wetter, more liquid, than ordinary water, and pledged one another silently in deep draughts of it. And one or two of the sailors who had been oldish men when the voyage began now grew younger every day. Everyone on board was filled with joy and excitement, but not an excitement that made one talk. The further they sailed the less they spoke, and then almost in a whisper. The stillness of that last sea laid hold on them.

There was no need to row, for the current drifted them steadily to the east. None of them slept nor ate. All that night and all next day they glided eastward, and when the third day dawned — with a brightness you or I could not bear even if we had dark glasses on — they saw a wonder ahead. It was as if a wall stood up between them and the sky, a greenish-grey, trembling, shimmering wall. Then up came the sun, and at its first rising they saw it through the wall and it turned into wonderful rainbow colours. Then they knew that the wall was really a long, tall wave — a wave endlessly fixed in one place as you may often see at the edge of a waterfall. It seemed to be about thirty feet high, and the current was gliding them swiftly towards it. You might have supposed they would have thought of their danger. They didn't. I don't think anyone could have in their position. For now they saw something not only behind the wave but behind the sun. They could not have seen even the sun if their eyes had not been strengthened by the water of the Last Sea. But now they could look at the rising sun and see it clearly and see things beyond it. What they saw — eastward, beyond the sun — was a range of mountains. It was so high that either they never saw the top of it or they forgot it. None of them remembers seeing any sky in that direction. And the mountains must really have been outside the world. For any mountains even a quarter or a twentieth of that height ought to have had ice and snow on them. But these were warm and green and full of forests and waterfalls however high you looked. 

The incredible shrinking Christmas story

Reading Scripture in community

1. A popular Catholic trope is that, contrary to sola Scriptura, Scripture was meant to be read in community. It can't be properly understood apart from the interpretive community of faith. 

To flesh out the argument: the Bible is the Church's book. Scripture was written to and for the Church. The Church promulgated the  Bible by deciding which books are canonical. 

To understand the Bible, you must read it from the viewpoint of the interpretive community. You can't understand the Bible as an outside observer, but only as an insider.

You must experience the Bible as a member of the community. That's not something you can get just from reading the church fathers or papal encyclicals. Community is something you must experience firsthand. There's a difference between knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance. To experience community is different from reading Catholic expositors, with the critical detachment of an outsider. 

Compare watching a movie at home alone with watching the same movie in a movie theater. Watching a movie in a movie theater is a collective experience. There's a social dynamic. Crowd psychology kicks in. The reaction of the audience has an influence on how individual members of the audience experience the film. 

2. There's a grain of truth to that. Christian identity has a corporate dimension as well as an individual dimension. Christians belong to the family of God. We worship together. And the Bible is a common reference point. But the Catholic trope suffers from some basic problems:

i) What's their reference class for the interpretive community? For instance, suppose everyone in the Christian community reads Rom 4, then the ten most popular interpretations are collected, then a vote is taken. The winning interpretation represents a communal reading.

But, of course, that's not what Catholic apologists mean by communal interpretation. They mean church councils, church fathers, papal encyclicals. But a papal interpretation is individual rather than communal.

ii) By the logic of the Catholic trope, the only way to be Catholic is to be born into the community. It's not possible to become Catholic because an outsider can't break into the hermeneutical circle of the community. Unless he's already a member of the community, he can't experience the Bible in community. As an outsider, he can't know what the Bible means to an insider. He can never compare the two perspectives, for if he's one he's not the other. So that precludes conversion. 

iii) By the same token, suppose a Muslim says the Quran was meant to be read in community. You can't properly understand the Quran unless you share the communal experience of the ummah. A Mormon or Swedenborgian could deploy the same argument.

So a Catholic can't say the Quran, or Book of Mormon, or Arcana Cœlestia, is false–because a communal reading requires privileged access. But if a Catholic can't say what is false, then he can't say what is true. He can't say Catholicism is true without a point of contrast. Catholicism and Gnosticism can't both be true if Catholicism represents orthodoxy while Gnosticism represents heresy. What about reading the Westminster Confession in community? 

Dual-covenant theology

Culture warrior and Orthodox Jew Ben Shapiro recently interviewed Bishop Barron:

Barron is the Fulton Sheen of his generation, although they have different skill sets. Barron is a smooth, smart, articulate, winsome evangelist and apologist for mainstream Catholic theology. Protestant apologists ignore him at their peril.

Barron is a teamplayer, a member of the hierarchy, so he refuses to criticize Pope Francis-either because he's onboard with Francis or because he'd be sacked if he became a public critic of Francis. As a result, he ducked some of Ben's questions when the answer would be impolitic. In that regard he sometimes sounds like a member of the cabinet on a Sunday morning talk show who deflects questions critical of the president. In general, though, it was a very impressive performance-especially for listeners unaware of the historical revisionism reflected in many of his theological answers.

1. Between about 45-56 min. he discusses the relationship between Judaism and modern Catholicism. And some of what he said between 16-20 min. feeds into that as well. In response to Ben's question about replacement theology/supersessionism, Barron says Catholic worship is unintelligible apart from the temple or Jewish worship. When Barron celebrates Mass, he dons the robs of a temple priest, with a mitre. There's an altar, incense, and sacrifice. So that, according to him, reflects the Jewish roots of Catholicism. However, that comparison raises some questions:

i) The heathen world had its own temples, priests, and sacrificial offerings. So does the Mass have its antecedents in Mosaic sacerdotalism-or is this a syncretistic version of pagan sacerdotalism?

ii) Even assuming it has Jewish antecedents, wouldn't most Jews regard the Catholic appropriation as an expropriation of Judaism? A usurpation of Judaism by putting a Catholic stamp on Jewish practice? Rebranding Judaism. Isn't that supersessionism through the backdoor? It still replaces Judaism with Catholicism.

iii) In addition, Barron equivocates over the meaning of "fulfillment". But that can mean either of two different things:

a) To abrogate

For instance, if I'm on a one-way road trip and I cross a bridge, I put the bridge behind me. I don't look back. It served its purpose. It has now outlived its usefulness to me. The bridge was just a temporary means to an end. It has no continuing value.

b) To perfect

For instance, some musical pieces build to a crescendo or climax. But this doesn't mean that once you reach the climax, you can dispense with the lead-up to the climax. It's not like after you hear the entire composition for the first time, you only listen to the final bar on repeated hearings. The climax only works in the context of the entire composition. Each time you need to listen to the music from start to finish. Likewise, the objective in reading a story isn't get to the end. If it's a good story, the entire story is enjoyable.

iv) Modern Catholicism has adopted dual-covenant theology, where the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant run on parallel tracks leading to the same destination. But even if the Mosaic covenant is essential for understanding the new covenant, that doesn't entail the permanence of the Mosaic covenant. That confounds the epistemological role of the Mosaic covenant with its ontological role. Like confounding the purpose of a bridge with the purpose of a roadmap.

2. Baron said that in many parts of Protestantism there's a desire to de-Judaize Christianity. We've overcome that and left that behind.

i) But as I noted, his Catholic alternative is a bait-n-switch.

ii) Protestant positions on the relationship between the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant range along a continuum. For instance, Lutheranism and Anabaptism are closer to the discontinuity end of the spectrum while Anglicanism and Presbyterianism are closer to the continuity end of the spectrum. Dispensationalism reflects both ends of the spectrum.

Within modern Judaism itself, there's a spectrum of views, due in part to the question of Judaic identity in a post-temple world. Priesthood and sacrifice were central to OT Judaism and Second Temple Judaism. But the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD abolished that in practice, precipitating a Jewish identity crisis. To some degree that had a counterpart in the Babylonian exile, when priesthood and sacrifice were in abeyance. So Jews after 70 AD must also take the Mosaic covenant apart and isolate the essential elements. Different Jewish schools of thought give different answers.

iii) Speaking for myself, ancient Israel was two-sided: a political state as well as a religious state. On the one hand, many Mosaic laws are necessary for a political state. A political state requires a penal code. And I think some of its civil and criminal laws exemplify enduring moral principles.

On the other hand, the purity codes, priesthood and sacrificial system are keyed to Israel as a religious state. That side of Israel had a symbolic role that's abrogated under the new covenant.

3. Barron appealed to the Incarnation as the fusion of Israel with the church. The God of Israel meeting with his people. But that confuses metaphysical union and spiritual communion. The alienation between sinners and their God isn't metaphysical but moral. The question is how to restore fellowship between a holy God and sinners. That requires the cross, not the Incarnation-although the Incarnation is a necessary underpinning to the Cross.

4. Barron said the Logos made flesh is the divine mind/reason made flesh, and when I follow my conscience I'm following Christ. That builds on one false premise after another. It's quite dubious to construe the Logos in Jn 1 in Philonic categories. Rather, the narrator identifies the Son as the Creator God in Genesis. To deify conscience as the voice of Christ ("aboriginal vicar of Christ") in the soul is diabolical.

5. Ben asked him about the common distinction between Christianity as faith-based and Judaism as act-based. However, I think that's more of a dichotomy between OT Judaism and rabbinic Judaism. OT Judaism had a vertical dimension as well as a horizontal dimension. But rabbinic Judaism shears off the vertical dimension, reducing piety to law and social ethics. The role of God is primarily a presupposition for morality-in contrast to fellowship with God as the goal of life. In both OT and NT theism, life with the life-giving God lies at the center.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Umpires who bet on their own team

Around the 26-31 min. mark, Bishop Baron defends the papacy:

  1. He's discussing the difference between authentic an inauthentic theological development. Developments may deviate from the essential meaning of the original idea. So that requires the authority of the pope to play umpire.

    But there's an obvious flaw in Barron's argument: an umpire isn't supposed to bet on his own team. By contrast, the pope is not a disinterested arbiter. The papacy is, in itself, a product of theological development, so popes have a vested interest in developments that aggrandize the papacy. They have a direct hand in writing their own job description. An umpire who has a personal stake in the outcome should be disqualified, because that rigs the game. So Barron's comparison backfires.

    Cult-leaders and false prophets make self-serving claims. Now, it's possible to make a self-serving claim even if the claim is true, but in that event we should have some corroborative evidence independent of the claimant. Because the papacy has a direct stake in theological developments, appealing to the papacy to make the call regarding what constitutes authentic or inauthentic development of doctrine is viciously circular.

  2. Barron trots out the ersatz "30,000" Protestant denomination figure as contrary to Christ's prayer for unity in Jn 17. But what kind of unity does Barron think Jn 17 refers to? Surely not doctrinal unity. Doctrinal unity is not a requirement for membership in the church of Rome. Passing a theology exam is not a prerequisite for confirmation in the church of Rome.

  3. He compares sola Scriptura to handing a kid a copy of Hamlet. The bare text of Hamlet. Point being: Hamlet requires an interpret lens. The reception history. It's borderline irresponsible to pick up the Bible and off you go.

    i) It's true that the average reader will have a much better grasp of Hamlet if he reads an annotated edition by A. L. Rowse. But Barron knows perfectly well that most Protestant pastors have a seminary education. He knows perfectly well that Protestants produce commentaries on the Bible by OT and NT scholars. So the comparison backfires. Just as the interpretation of Shakespeare benefits from having background knowledge about his time, place, and sources of influence, Protestant exegetical scholarship does the same thing in reference to Scripture.

    ii) Moreover, the proper interpretive lens isn't the reception history of the text but the original setting. Not what came later, but a Bible writer's background and the background of his target audience. The occasion, purpose, situation.

    iii) Modern Catholicism subverts the historicity and supernaturalism of Scripture. Take the footnotes of the NABRE at the USCCB website.

  4. In addition, it's possible to overemphasize as well as underemphasize the necessity of Bible scholarship. To take a comparison, a Trekkie will get more out of some Star Trek movies than a novice. Star Trek movies have in-jokes and allusions to the Star Trek mythos. It's useful to know the backstories of Vulcans, Romulans, and Klingons. It's useful to know the backstory of Spock. His hybrid psychological makeup.

    However, that doesn't mean you have to be a Trekkie to make sense of a Star Trek movie. If well-written, it has a plot that's comprehensible to a novice. Most of the dialogue is comprehensible to a novice. If you enjoy the cheesy space western genre, you can get the gist of the movie even if you come to the movie as a novice. Star Trek movies operate at more than one level. At one level is the basic plot and dialogue. That's accessible to general viewers. But it also has a subtext for the fan base.

    By the same token, the Bible is not a closed book unless you have a commentary by your side. Much of Scripture is accessible to a novice. Returning to Barron's illustration, T. S. Eliot wrote a famous essay on "Hamlet and His Problems". Although Eliot didn't know as much about Shakespeare's world as Rowse, yet as a poet and literary critic, he was able to analyze the play on strictly dramatic or literary terms.

    By the same token, because there's so much narrative in Scripture, literary critics like Robert Alter, Leland Ryken, and Meir Sternberg explore the internal dynamics of biblical accounts without reference to the world outside the story. And that contributes to our understanding of the text. That draws attention to a dimension of meaning that's lost sight of if a commentator is preoccupied with comparing a biblical narrative to the world outside the text.

    Like Shakespeare or Star Trek, the Bible operates at more than one level. There are different ports of entry.

Catholicism on funerals for suicides

Gratia prima

Around the 19 min. mark, Bishop Barron draws a distinction between sola gratia and gratia prima. He frankly says Catholic theology affirms gratia prima but rejects sola gratia. That's a useful admission to clarify a crucial difference between Catholicism and classic Protestant theology:

In Catholicism, you're not saved by grace alone.

The evil of the Roman Catholic hierarchy “would make the Mafia blush”

I urge you to watch this. It's only six minutes long, but it would be hard to find a Protestant who has ever said more scathing things about the Roman Catholic hierarchy, than Michael Voris says here.

What's really amazing is that, because Voris has had interactions with federal and state investigators, what he says here is no doubt highly factual.

Some of his phraseology:

The institution ... operates as an international organized crime syndicate that has access to enormous amounts of wealth from multiple sources ...

Consider the effects of compound interest for a 1500 year old organization.

... [This syndicate within the hierarchy] flies under the cover of "religion", and under that cover, has been unexamined and unchecked for the past half century ...

Ok, I would extend that to about 1000 years ... "unchecked" since the eastern churches broke off from Rome in about 1054 AD, leaving Rome not merely the "first among equals", but simply "the first" in its part of the world (western Europe).

... To a man (among prosecutors and investigators), they are all coming to the conclusion that this evil monster that has seized operational control of the church is far-flung, and motivated by sexual and financial corruption on a scale that staggers even these veterans ... There is a corrupt, organized, criminal syndicate running the church, putting itself in place for decades now. A criminal syndicate that would make the mafia blush with shame ...

These investigations will be going on for years, and they will be in the major news media for years to come. It is hard to imagine where it will all end.

You can tell a tree by its fruit.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Grieving as an atheist

I'll comment on this:

It is one thing for me to pretend to believe an abominable doctrine such as Christianity, but it’s another for my children to be put under it. As a parent, one of the strongest instincts I feel is the desire to protect my daughters, and boy did the idea of sending them to a Christian church set off that protective instinct.

One problem with an atheist appealing to or relying on instinct is that in naturalistic evolution, instincts are amoral. Some animals instinctively protect their offspring while other animals instinctively eat their offspring–or eat the offspring of their rivals. 

So there's the question of what lies behind the instinct. In Christianity, we have some God-given instincts. Transcendent wisdom lies behind the instinct. But naturalistic evolution is a fumbling, pitiless process. 

Was New Testament Material On Jesus' Childhood Based Only On Oral Tradition?

Critics often say or imply that the early Christians were more dependent on the oral transmission of information than they actually were. This past Easter season, I wrote a post about non-extant documents on Jesus' resurrection, including documents that predate the ones we have. Much of what I wrote there is applicable to Christmas issues as well.

We shouldn't think that information on Jesus' childhood was passed on only orally prior to the writing of the New Testament documents. In fact, the idea that nothing was written about his childhood prior to the time of the New Testament is antecedently improbable, so that those who hold that position bear the burden of proof.