Saturday, January 19, 2019

Between Rome and a Roué

Recently I ran across an interesting allegation: is it hypocritical to support Donald Trump, on the one hand, if you attack the Catholic church for the abuse scandal, on the other hand? 

i) I didn't vote for Trump and I opposed him during the primaries. Of course, you can only work with the information you have at the time. His record as a Manhattan socialite gave me no reason to think he'd govern as a conservative. 

However, it's rational to revise your assessments based on new evidence. Thus far I've been pleasantly surprised by how things are working out.

ii) Critics always recast the issue in terms of supporting Trump. But from my standpoint, it's always a policy question. Not about endorsing the individual, but the policies of his administration. 

iii) Finally, it's a question of options, both political and ecclesiastical. If Rome is the One True Church®, then that generates a moral dilemma. But if Rome isn't the One True Church®, then that's a false dilemma. You can walk away. There are other options. Better options (by far).  

Politics is also about choosing from the available options. The options keep changing. Sometimes you have better options, sometimes worse options.

If there are just two viable national parties, then that severely limits your options. You can vote for the lesser evil. You can sit out the election, but action and inaction both have consequences. 

It's like the Amish who are too pure to be sullied by violence, so they leave it to other people make the hard decisions while they look the other way. But that's a kind of moral cowardice. 

Explaining evil, part 4

1. There's not much to say about Davis's contribution. He recycles cliche objections to Reformed "determinism". His objections do nothing to advance the argument. They don't interact with the burgeoning philosophical literature. 

2. As a freewill theist, he thinks moral evil originates in the libertarian freedom of the creature. But even if we grant such freedom for the sake of argument, I don't think that gets the job done.

For one thing, that only creates the potential to do wrong. But if human agents are truly free to choose between good and evil, what accounts for the universality of evil? If agents are free to either do the right thing or the wrong thing, then they are free to do the right thing all the time. So why aren't some free agents uniformly good? 

3. Moreover, the capacity to do evil doesn't make evil appealing. Why would a free agent wish to commit evil? What makes evil attractive?

Of course, some vices, like sexual promiscuity, are naturally enticing. But to play devil's advocate, how is it fair for us to have these natural urges, then be blamed when we succumb to temptation? Isn't that like entrapment? It's hard to take his position seriously. 

4. At one point he says:

What I'm talking about is our being aware that we could have decided to act on those different reasons under the same causes on one and the same occasion (43).

i) Are we in fact aware that we could have decided to act on those different reasons under the same causes on one and the same occasion? Does he think our ability to imagine hypothetical courses of action means we could just as well have taken a different fork in the road? One problem with that inference is that it's untested and untestable. We never step into the time machine, go back, and make a different choice.

ii) In addition, the ability to imagine hypothetical courses of action doesn't mean those are realistic. Indeed, many people have goals that turn out to be unattainable. There were so many variables they couldn't foresee. Variables beyond their control. So contemplating alternate courses of action can be deceptive. There are many twists and turns that shortsighted, simple-minded creatures like ourselves can't begin to anticipate or navigate. Like a chess game, we can only think a few moves deep (at best). 

iii) Finally, Calvinism doesn't deny possible worlds. In cases where your hypothetical is coherent, there is a possible world corresponding to that fork in the road. But that doesn't mean the human agent has the ability to open different doors (i.e. instantiate alternate possibilities). Rather, from a Reformed perspective, that is God's prerogative. 

"The celestial dictatorship"

Why are we answerable to God? What's the basis for divine sovereignty? For instance, I've seen atheists say that even if God made us, that doesn't impose an absolute obligation. After all, the fact that parents create their children doesn't mean parents own their kids. It doesn't mean parents have authority over their grown children. Take Christopher Hitchens and his trope about the "celestial dictatorship"? 

i) The parental analogy definitely has limitations. But before we move away from that, it's worth exploring. There are traditional cultures in which parents do have lifelong authority over their kids. I believe you have that in traditional Asian culture. Filial piety. I also remember a scene from War and Peace (Bondarchuk) where Prince Andrei must seek his father's permission to marry a particular woman. 

Now, I'm not saying I agree with that. My cultural conditioning is different. But from a secular standpoint, what makes one culture morally superior to another? 

ii) Although I don't think grown children are answerable to their parents, nevertheless, if they had conscientious parents, they do have a lifelong obligation to their parents. It isn't isn't just because their parents created them, but because their parents raised them. In that regard, grown children may have greater duties to adoptive parents than biological parents. 

iii) Of course, there's a sense in which kids are supposed to outgrow their parents. Become independent. Able to provide for themselves. Indeed, able to provide for their elderly parents. 

Parents and children share a common nature, so children become the equal of their parents, or may even surpass them in some ways. Some parents are wise while others are foolish or evil. But even wise parents are fallible. 

iv) Hence, the comparison with God breaks down in several respects. We never outgrow God. He's infinitely our intellectual superior. We always depend on him for everything. For being and well-being. 

v) A somewhat better analogy is the relationship between an android and a cyberneticist. The cyberneticist didn't merely create the android. He designed the android. He knows everything about the android. He knows more about the android that it knows about itself. He knows better than the android what is best for the android. 

Of course, in scifi lore, the android has the capacity to overtake the cyberneticist. Become his superior, having superhuman knowledge, intelligence, speed, power, and longevity. 

So once again, the analogy breaks down, but in a way that reinforces divine prerogatives. It isn't sheer authority, but authority based on a being who is in every respect our superior. 

v) In Christian theology, not only is there a debt to creation and providence, but a greater debt to redemption. That, too, has human analogies. Take a man who endangers himself to save the life of another. Or a guy who gives another guy a second chance, even though the other guy doesn't deserve it. Actions like that create asymmetrical obligations. 

Explaining evil, part 3

Wielenberg is a secular ethicist who labors to be a moral realist. 

Part of the answer…is that for something to be evil is for there to be a reason to avoid or eliminate a thing (123).

But that's indiscriminate since what people take to be something to avoid or eliminate is so variable from one person to the next.  

Whether a person is happy depends on the attitude of someone–namely, the person himself–but it does not depend upon the attitudes of observers towards him (125).

As social creatures, our happiness is typically dependent on the attitudes of others.  

Like Chalmers, I endorse the existence of nonphysical properties (128). 

i) Isn't Chalmers a panpsychic? So that's an appeal to mental properties. But Wielenberg's position seems to be moral platonism rather than panpsychism. 

ii) Assuming he's a Platonist, he must believe basic ethical facts are abstract objects They exist even if there was no universe. 

iii) If so, what are they? They're not physical or mental properties. So they have no analogy in human experience. 

iv) How are they instantiated? What's the mechanism? His nonphysical properties aren't agents and his evolutionary physical processes aren't agents. 

v) Assuming these impersonal immaterial properties exist, how do they obligate human conduct? They didn't create us. They aren't intelligent entities. They are indifferent to human flourishing. Why are we duty-bound to conform our behavior to these impersonal properties? 

vi) If human beings are merely physical organisms, how do we gain access to nonempirical moral facts? How do unintelligent evolutionary processes tap into immaterial moral facts in order to instill them in human beings? It can't be a physical causal connection if one relatum of the cause/effect relation is immaterial. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Explaining evil, part 2

Now I'll comment on some aspects of Helm's presentation. 

An important feature of this contribution to the questions raised by evils is that such a theism is monistic….Some contrasting systems are dualistic, positing two equally ultimate sources of good and evil, Light and Darkness, engaged in an everlasting wrestling match, and so on. Judeo-Christianity is not like this. God is the creator and purposer of all that is. So the question, "Why evil?" when posed of this God, becomes at least two questions (50).

In that regard, freewill theism is dualistic. Although the forces of good and evil aren't equally ultimate, they are independent of each other. 

"What is God's purpose in permitting/ordaining evil?" The fulfilling of what end or ends required evil?…This  is a question that is teleological in character. I don't think an atheist has a place for this question, because any atheistic system has only one set of sources of evil, namely uncreated matter. A theist may reply to our question by recognizing that he does not have a clue as to why there is evil in God's world. But the question nevertheless makes sense: God must have a ground or grounds. The second question is, "Granted that God is the ordainer of evil, how does evil occur?" (50).

In this monism there are two categories of players: God the creator and human beings his creatures, with the use of their own minds and wills…In materialist atheism, there is only one set of players, configurations of matter more or less complicated. Some of these posses agency, others do not (50).

How such configurations get to ask anything is a major problem in such an outlook…Atheists, like theists, may resort to anthropomorphism. Perhaps these evils are bound up with the self-preservation of some species, or of species generally. Maybe evils and pains are spurs to good: to maternal care, or the development of clothing for a covering against heat and cold, or as a sign of the onset of serious sickness…They arise from our penchant for imputing functions or purposes to some of the natural order that does not having anything like human intentions a we experience these…And if we are thorough-going materialists, we also have the task of explaining how those arrangements of matter that are you and me come to have the capacity to impute good and evil to other chunks of matter. Good and evil are ultimately epiphenomena of physical changes (51).

Useful contrast. 

The fault, the incarnation, and the offering of the Incarnate One is needed, for the display of the glory of God in the redemption of men and women. The point here is not simply that the incarnation was necessary, but that an evil world in which God himself came and suffered for us is incommensurably better than one in which there was no evil, but also that there was no incarnation (53).

The problem is that Helm never gets around to explaining what makes a redeemed world incommensurably better than an unfallen world. He never gets much beyond the bare assertion. 

In fairness, he isn't presenting a full-blown theodicy since the topic of the book has a different emphasis than the problem of evil. Still, for a Christian, to ask why there's any evil at all is necessarily bound up with the problem of evil and theodical considerations.  

The theist must end his explanatory narrative by invoking the will of God; it was the good pleasure of God that this is so. Why is it the good pleasure of God that this is so? This is a question that cannot be answered, not because there is no answer, but that there is no answer apart from the will of God (55).

I don't know what that means. Sure, the answer can't be detached from God's will, but God has reasons for what he wills, so a Christian can explore the possible reasons. God's bare will is not the ultimate explanation. I don't think Helm is a theological voluntarist. God's will is characterized by his wisdom and benevolence. There's a rationale for whatever God wills. 

Given the immaculate and necessary perfection of God, moral evil can only arise from the creature. It is a logical consequence of the monistic character of the Creator-creature distinction that God is the only source of good and that moral evil has its source according to orthodox Christianity in the creature (55).

i) I don't think that's an option for a Calvinist. Predestination is the ultimate source of evil. 

Now there are different aspects to that. To take a comparison, in Perelandra, why doesn't the Queen succumb to the Un-man? At one level, that's because everything that happens was plotted by the novelist, who exists outside the narrative. At another level, the Un-man would eventually wear down her resistance but Ransom finally gives up on trying to outargue the Un-man and kills him. So there's an explanation within the narrative as well as an explanation outside the narrative.

By the same token, there was a plot in God's imagination. In the plot, Lucifer fell, then successfully tempted Adam and Eve to follow suit. God instantiates his mental narrative in real space and time, with conscious agents. Lucifer fell in the real world because that necessarily corresponds to the plot in God's mind. 

ii) However, that doesn't rule out factors or motivations within the plot. For instance, although Adam sinned, perhaps he didn't perceive his action as evil. Perhaps he misperceived his action as virtuous. 

There is about evil a deficiency or loss of negativity. Augustine, influenced somewhat by the neo-platonists at this point, called evil a privation. Hence it could not be the direct action of God who is only capable of creating not of destroying. Blindness (say) is not a positive property, but a negative property (56).

i) As I understand it, the motivation for the privative theory of evil is that if evil is nothing, then God didn't create evil–since nothing can't be a creative object. An agent, even an omnipotent agent, can't create nothing. Nothing isn't the effect or result of anything. So that let's God off the hook–or does it?

ii) Even if we grant that technical distinction, does it really hold up? For instance, suppose you say the empty spaces in a snowflake are nothing. Yet those specific empty spaces, those particular shapes, are caused by the lattice pattern of the snowflake. The configuration of the empty spaces wouldn't exist apart from the crystalline structure. So even though the empty spaces aren't directly created, they are caused. 

Likewise, even if we say blindness is a privative property, blindness is caused by certain factors. Even if you say blindness isn't directly created, it is indirectly created by whatever conditions give rise to blindness, viz. disease, accident, genetic defect. So I don't see how you get any theodical mileage out of that distinction.

In fairness, Helm isn't necessary trying to justify the ordination of evil at this juncture, but explain its origin. How rather than why. But it still reflects the limitations of that theodical strategy. 

Someone who is compatibilistically free may go through stages in which, until he makes up his mind, he is as ignorant of his future as is any open theist who hold that God is ignorant of some libertarian future (31).

Corrects the popular misconception that the experience of deliberation implies libertarian freedom. Also, useful comparison with open theism. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Explaining evil, part 1

I plan to do a series of posts on yet another book on the problem of evil: W. Paul Franks, ed., Explaining Evil: Four Views (Bloomsbury 2019). Here's a description:

I think the problem of evil is overemphasized in atheism and Christian apologetics. If we were starting from scratch, would the problem of evil receive so much attention? I think it's like a social contagion or reinforcing loop where, if you keep saying the problem of evil is the main objection to belief in God, that's the effect of constant repetition. It feeds back into itself in a circular, self-conditioned dynamic. 

Strictly speaking, the book isn't about the problem of evil but the preliminary question of how, why, and whether evil exists. For a Christian respondent, that's intertwined with the problem of evil. Christian theology takes the existence of evil for granted, but that's not a given in atheism. Are pain and suffering evil? What is evil from a secular standpoint? Is there such a thing?

I bought the book primary for the contributions of Paul Helm and Erik Wielenberg. Helm is the preeminent Reformed philosopher of his generation while Wielenberg is one of the best atheist philosophers. 

Here is Wielenberg's response to Helm's felix culpa theodicy:

(ii) The atonement of sin is so good that it is better that there be atoned-for sin than that there be no sin in the first place (73).

Although that may be how the felix culpa theodicy is usually formulated, I disagree that God's permission/ordination of evil is only justified if a redeemed world is better overall than an unfallen world. Suppose there's a better world than the world in which my loved ones exist. If so, it's a cause for gratitude that God created a lesser world in which my loved ones exist rather than an upscale world in which they don't. God isn't elitist. We should be grateful that our existence is not in competition with "the best". What if we wouldn't make the cut? What if God picks losers rather than winners because he loves the underdog? Existence isn't a meritocracy. Salvation isn't theological eugenics. 

Accordingly, it seems that atonement can at best cancel the evil of sin, turning the overall balance of good and evil to zero; I don't see a plausible basis for holding that atonement–as distinguished from divine incarnation–could make the overall combination of sin and atonement into good (74). 

To be a redeemed creature, to experience reconciliation and restoration, is a richer experience than never failing in the first place. Which Wielenberg considers:

Diller considers the thought that "there is a special excellence to the quality of relationship that can be known by those once lost who are redeemed"…However, it is hard to see how to justify (ii) on such grounds without thereby committing oneself to such implausible claims as "the strongest marriages are those that have involved a period of divorce, or that the deepest mother-daughter relationship is enabled once the daughter commits patricide" (74).

It's not implausible that the strongest marriages are marriages that weather crisis and conflict, but survive the ordeal. There is, moreover, the interesting phenomenon of divorced couples who reconsider and remarry the original spouse. At the time they were too immature to appreciate each other. But in retrospect they came to realize they were right the first time around. The time apart gave them perspective. 

Furthermore, such grounds for (ii) suggest that greater degrees of alienation make possible more valuable goods of reconciliation later on. In the case of isn, that line of thinking appears to lead to the following problem:"If sin is the occasioning cause of grace…then  shouldn't the upright man try to overcome his repugnance to sin, and commit still more sins?" Acceptance of (ii) and the felix culpa theodicy suggests that more sin enhances the overall value of the world, all things considered–a dubious implication (74).

1. That doesn't follow. For one thing, it's not as if humans are morally pristine agents who must devise creative ways to experiment with evil so that we know what it's like. Rather, we're already born with a propensity for evil, and the question is how to break free. I have plenty of regrets without having to devise and explore novel exercises in sinning. 

2. Moreover, it's not as if you need to be repeatedly lost and found to have insight into what it's like to be lost and found. Indeed, if you were constantly rescued, it would become blasé and expected. If a hiker is lost in the forest, part of what makes rescue such a relief is the fear that he may not be found. He's in a state of desperate suspense. Waiting in hope and fear. 

Michael Peterson writes, "God's original purpose…[thus the highest good for creation is available without creation's descent into sin and evil" (74).

Is that supposed to mean God was blindsided by events and had to scramble to salvage his nearsighted plans?

"agency that is hardened and biochemically twisted (serial killers, child sex murderers, schizophrenics)"…Adam's worry is that God would be insufficiently loving and merciful toward such wrecked and ruined human agents were he to create them in order to display his perfection through divine atonement.

i) I'll bracket the "display his perfection through divine atonement" for another installment.

ii) What exactly is Wielenberg's responding to? Is he saying that's inconsistent with a felix culpa theodicy? If so, how does a felix culpa theodicy require God to be loving and merciful towards serial killers and child sex murderers? 

ii) Is he saying that's inconsistent with Helm's Calvinism? If so, does Calvinism require God to be loving and merciful towards serial killers and child sex murderers? In Calvinism God loves the elect. It's not a presupposition of Calvinism that God is merciful to everyone. Indeed, there's a fundamental sense in which God is unmerciful to the reprobate. 

iii) Is he saying that's inconsistent with what it means for God to be a benevolent being, from Wielendberg's perspective? Is Wielenberg supposing that to be good, God must be loving and merciful towards serial killers and child sex murderers? If he's operating from his own standards, then the onus lies on him to make a case for why divine goodness demands that. 

Psychopaths lack "the shackles of a nagging conscience"…for psychopaths, "moral…rules are annoying restrictions to be manipulated or ignored. None of these rules have any normative force for them". Psychopaths lack the emotional capacity to grasp the weight of morality and because they are devoid of guilt, see no need for any of their actions to be atoned for. It is hard to see why the existence of a particular sort of damaged agency is necessary for the great good of divine atonement. God could have omitted psychopaths from his grand plan without sacrificing the need for atonement (75).

i) Once again, what exactly is Wielenberg responding to? Since Helm is a Calvinist, he doesn't think everyone is redeemed. 

ii) Perhaps Wielenberg would say there's a point of tension between a felix culpa theodicy and limited atonement. If so, it's up to Wielenberg to explain why psychopaths, serial killers, and child sex murders must be redeemed for a redeemed world to be better overall than an unfallen world–even assuming that all psychos, serial killers, and child sex murderers are reprobate.

iii) Finally, if, according to Calvinism, God regenerates, sanctifies, and glorifies a psychopath, then he will come to perceive how his actions were blameworthy and desperately in need of atonement. Perhaps that discernment will be incomplete in this life. It may only be in heaven that his "wrecked and ruined agency" is fully repaired, although grace can enable him to gain some insight even in this life. Christian apologist David Wood appears to be a real-life example. 

Token complementarianism

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever

In preparation for his debate with Michael Brown, Dale Tuggy did a post offering his interpretation of Heb 1:

This also came up several times in the course of the debate. Before getting to the specifics, let's begin with a general observation: Tuggy appealed to a sensus plenior ("new meaning, second fulfillment") hermeneutic. Of course, that's a huge issue in Christian apologetics and biblical hermeneutics. The accusation is often made that when NT writers say Jesus fulfills the OT, they quote the OT out of context. 

So one problem with Tuggy's unitarian countermove is that he's contaminating the reservoir to poison Trinitarians, but that's the source of his own drinking water. The messiahship of Jesus must be validated by the OT. But if you appeal to a sensus plenior hermeneutic, that plays into the accusation that Jesus didn't really fulfill the OT. Indeed, because Jesus failed to fulfill the OT, NT writers have to twist the OT to make it appear as if he fulfilled the OT. Tuggy is too short-sighted to see that his sensus plenior hermeneutic is equally discrediting to a unitarian messiah. 

Also, notice that it is because of his exaltation that Jesus has become superior to the angels; again, this is not consistent with his being fully divine – in that case, he’d be eternally superior to them.

Tuggy never misses a chance to repeat the same mistake. He can never bring himself to assume the opposing viewpoint even for the sake of argument. The exultation of Jesus is not inconsistent with the deity and eternal superiority of the Son on Trinitarian grounds because it has reference not to the Son qua Son but the Son Incarnate, and the Son Incarnate can undergo demotions or promotions in his status. Tuggy constantly operates with a unitarian viewpoint when accusing the Trinitarian position of inconsistency. That's fundamentally confused. It's only inconsistent on unitarian assumptions, not Trinitarian assumptions. 

I take it that the name Jesus inherits at his exaltation is “Lord.”

“Lord” as in Yahweh.

Note that the context here these latter days (1-2) and then post-exaltation (2-4). This, and the fact that the Bible consistently credits God alone with the Genesis creation…

That's a unitarian assumption, but Trinitarians point to other passages as well which credit the Son with the Genesis creation (Jn 1; Col 1). Of course, that forces Tuggy to offer unitarian reinterpretations of those passages as well, so his argument is viciously circular. 

...makes it more plausible that the creation in v. 2 is the “new creation” Paul speaks of, which God accomplished through Jesus at this time (c. 33 AD). 

Since it's highly unlikely that Paul wrote Hebrews, it's methodologically dubious to filter Heb 1 through a Pauline lens. We need to interpret each writer on their own terms. 

Also, the one God is the ultimate source of the cosmos, but at very most, even if this is about the Genesis creation, note that it only says that God created through Jesus, which would make Jesus the instrument of creation, or the next to last source of the cosmos – not the creator in the sense God is the creator. So there is no help here for speculations that Jesus is “fully God” or “fully divine,” because that requires being the ultimate source of the cosmos.

What does that even mean? Does he mean in the Arian sense that the Son is the first creature who creates everything else? Does he mean God is the ultimate Creator whereas the Son is only the instrumental creator in the sense that the God creates the Son, who in turn, makes everything else? That would make the Son a Demiurge figure. Of course, Heb 1 doesn't say that or imply that.  

True, in the original Psalm, it is God/YHWH who is being spoken of, and his Genesis creation. This interesting biblical unitarian piece (HT: Rob Bjerk) argues that God is not the speaker in that Psalm, and so he can’t be speaking to the Son here. (The author is worried lest we read the passage as attributing the Genesis creation to Jesus, whereas the Bible consistently credits it to God alone.)

But the author of Hebrews is not going with the original context and meaning, but rather claiming to find a new meaning in it. And clearly, he’s still talking about the Son, not about God; he’s in his third contrast between the Son and angels. Buzzard’s Jesus was not a Trinitarian has a helpful appendix on this; basically, at least some Greek versions of Ps 102 make it sound like someone is speaking to someone else, which makes it easy for this author here to “see” that here God is addressing someone else as “Lord,” i.e. the exalted Son (compare with the “my lord” of Ps 110:1).

The reason the author of Hebrews makes God the speaker is not because he's dependent on a Septuagintal rendering. Rather, there's a pattern to how the author introduces OT passages. He operates with the theological presupposition that whatever Scripture says, God says. When quoting or introducing an OT passage, he bypasses the human author and attributes the statement directly to God or God's Spirit. So this isn't based on the LXX, but the author's view of Scripture, where God stands behind whatever Scripture says. Of course, he wouldn't deny the secondary human authorship of Scripture, but he prefers to go one step back to the primary divine authorship of Scripture. 

Note the “latter-day” context of the whole chapter after 1:1. Because of that, the “beginning” here and the creation (1:10) are best taken as the beginning of the new era, and Jesus’s “new creation.” These are part are parcel of his current exalted status, in virtue of which, the whole chapter argues, he is much superior to any angel.

That's a false dichotomy. In the OT, God is both creator and judge. The two are linked. 

It is unlikely that he introduces the time as these last days and then violently changes the subject to the beginning of the cosmos, and then back again to these last days.

1. It doesn't violently change the subject. To begin with, vv10-12 provide supporting evidence for v2. 

2. In addition, as one commentator explains:

Another theme of the quotation is that just as the Son was present and active from the beginning of time, so he will be at the end…the Son is eternal, a point which will become significant later in connection with Jesus' priesthood (see 7:3,24-25). J. Ramsey Michaels, Hebrews (Tyndale 2009), 338.

So the Son's past identity as Creator is necessary to his present identity as heavenly priest and agent of providence as well (as his future identity as eschatological judge_. Because he's divine, he's eternal at both ends. And that parallels Yahweh. Just as the OT God is the agent of creation, providence, and judgment, so is the Son, who created the world and sustains the universe (vv2-3). 

3. Finally, how are vv10-12 related to vv9-10? As two commentators explain:

In reinforcement of the ascription of the name "God" to the Son, the citation from Ps 101:26-28 ascribes to the Son what was first said of "the Lord," the God of Israel. L. T. Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (WJK 2006), 81.

In this section Christ is twice addressed as "God" (1:8a,9b)…The Jewish tradition centered on faith in one God (Deut 6:4), who was not be portrayed in human form or identified with human beings (Exod 20:4; Deut 5:8; 2 Macc 9:12; cf. Jn 5:18; 10:33). Hebrews uses the title "God" not in defiance of Israel's tradition, but on the basis of Israel's tradition using the words of Ps 45:6-7, which ascribe deity to the king that God has anointed, who here is identified as the exalted Christ. The final portion of the address elaborates what it means to call him "God" by identifying him as the one through whom all things were brought into being and who stands above the cycles of decay (1:1-10). C. Koester, Hebrews (Doubleday 2001), 202-3. 

So another function of Ps 102 in the argument of Hebrews is to unpack what is meant by calling the royal groom "God" in Ps 45. It's not used in an honorific sense, but in the true sense of the word. The Creator God. 

Therefore, quoting Ps 102 in the original sense doesn't "violently change the subject". To the contrary, that ties into v2 and vv8-9 (not to mention the future role of Christ as the final judge). 

Let's tie up some loose ends about Ps 45.

1. Standard commentaries on Ps 45 agree that the king is addressed as "God" (cf. Peter Craigie, John Goldingay, Allen Ross, Gerald Wilson, Nancy deClaissé-Walford/Rolf Jacobson/Beth Tanner).

2.  In the debate, Tuggy indicated that Ps 45 calls the king "God" because it's a coronation psalm, but Tuggy got his wires crossed. He may be thinking of some other Psalm, but Ps 45 is a royal epithalamion. It celebrates a wedding, not a coronation–albeit a royal wedding. 

3. Tuggy said the original referent in Ps 45 was a human king, which goes to show that Scripture sometimes refers to human beings as "gods". But Tuggy needs to be guarded in his reliance on critical scholarship inasmuch as critical scholars don't think OT writers foresaw the future. They think the OT contains false prophecies. They don't think Jesus fulfills the OT. They don't think these passages have anything to do with Jesus. 

That doesn't mean you can't cite scholars who may disagree with your overall position. But you need to have a principled reason for appealing to them about some things while you differ with then about other things. It can't just be an opportunistically selective appeal. 

4. Even if we offer a typological interpretation, where the passage is a wedding ceremony or coronation ceremony for an OT king, it would still be with a view to the future messiah. So the exalted language wouldn't be hyperbolic. Rather, it would truly be about a divine messiah, where the OT king is just a temporary stand-in. 

Framing the Tuggy-Brown debate

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Danger ahead

According to John's Gospel, as I construe it, God doesn't promise Christians that he will protect us from the world, but that he will protect us in the world. We still have to go through the situation. We must endure the ordeal. The promise is not to protect us from suffering, but to protect us from hell. 

I find it useful to visualize that idea. We're on a journey. And there's a sense in which we're traveling on a road that's partly visible and partly invisible. The journey has visible hazards. And because they're visible, we can sometimes avoid them.

But the journey also has invisible hazards. We can't see the danger ahead. 

In one sense you might say there are two parallels roads: one heavenbound while the other is hellbound. But it's more like a maze with many wrong turns and dead-ends. There's a heavenbound route through the maze as well as many hellbound detours at every turn. Only one way to get to heaven but many alternate routes to hell. God can keep you on the heavenbound road by making the hellbound detours invisible. 

In a sense, the maze is hell. By that I mean, if you keep going in circles, if you never escape the maze, then you never get to heaven. To make it to heaven you must make it to the other side of the maze. You must find your way out of the maze. 

To vary the metaphor, compare it to night vision goggles. Because humans have poor nocturnal vision, when we don night vision goggles, it opens up a whole world that was there all along, but we don't normally perceive. That includes hidden dangers–lurking in the shadows.  

Dropping the metaphors, the Christian pilgrimage is full of hazards. Some are imperceptible. That includes malevolent spirits. 

In addition, the decisions we make depend on our circumstances. One way God keeps us on a heavenbound route is to steer us clear of situations where we'd make a decision with spiritually deleterious consequences. God prearranges the circumstances of our lives so that we don't take a fatal wrong turn. God providentially protects us, not from suffering, but from failing to cross the finish line. 

I'm not saying God never intervenes to spare us from suffering. But that's not something you can bank on. 

Catholics and unitarians together

Here's something many Catholics and unitarians share in common: the NT doesn't teach the Trinity. The NT doesn't teach the deity of Christ. 

Catholic apologists typically use a wedge tactic. Ever since the Counter-Reformation, Catholic apologists have deployed Pyrrhonian skepticism. Unless we have a living oracle (the Roman Magisterium), we have no reason to prefer one interpretation of Scripture over another. We have no reason to prefer the Gospel of John over the Gospel of Thomas. NT Christology is so embryonic and indefinite that it's consistent with Arianism. We need church councils to be a makeweight. We need the pope to be the referee.  

So the standard Catholic apologetic takes the form of a dilemma: either be Catholic or cease to be Christian. There is no middle ground. No fallback option.

If you find that convincing, then you can relieve the dilemma by embracing either horn of the dilemma. If it's a package deal, if it's all contingent on the authority of Mother Church, and you lose faith in Mother Church, then the next stop is unitarianism or deism or atheism. 

Many unitarians agree with Catholic apologists. "You're right. The only reason to be Trinitarian is if you believe your church has the authority to promulgate that dogma, but since I don't believe your church has that authority, I'm unitarian."

Likewise, if you agree with a Catholic apologist that the NT canon is an arbitrary selection of books created by Mother Church, you can reverse the logic. "Since I don't believe in your church, I don't believe in the Bible. I can't even begin to believe in the Bible unless I first know which Bible I'm supposed to believe in."

By the same token, if you think sola Scriptura spawns hopeless interpretive pluralism, with no principled basis to prefer one interpretation over another, one reaction is to give up on Christianity altogether.

So the standard Catholic apologetic is a high-risk gambit. A game of chicken. There are people who find the Catholic dilemma persuasive, and they dare to call the bluff. 

They find the dilemma persuasive, but they don't find Catholicism persuasive, so they embrace the other horn of the dilemma. They simply reverse the argument.

Under the Francis pontificate, we've seen many Catholic apologists impaled on the horns of their own dilemma. As their denomination moves increasingly to the left, they are trapped in the logic of their apologetic. If they have no alternative to Rome, then they must follow the lead of the pope even if the Catholic Church becomes indistinguishable from secularized, progressive denominations in a death spiral. Like having lead weights on their feet that drag them under water. 

I'm not saying all-or-nothing arguments are always wrong. I keep pressing the nihilistic consequences of atheism. That's something I live by, and something I will die by. But a dilemma cuts both ways. That's what makes it a dilemma. There are people who will accept the dilemma, but opt for the other horn of the dilemma. 

Conversely, I recently read a good book on the historical Jesus by Brand Pitre. And he has two good chapters defending the deity of Christ straight from the Bible. Not coincidentally, he makes extensive use of the best Protestant scholarship in the course of his book. He's also coauthored a conservative OT introduction.

But ironically, his methodology, his direct approach to the evidence, circumvents and thereby subverts the necessity of the Magisterium. 


Prayer promises

I'd like to expand on something Gary Habermas touched on in a recent speech ("The Worst Suffering We Will Ever Face"). Many professing Christians have lost their faith or become disaffected because they think God broke his prayer promises. Take this promise:

13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it (Jn 14:13-14).

i) On the face of it, that's an unqualified promise. Of course, it doesn't take long for a Christian to find out that you don't get whatever you ask for.

ii) One distinction is that we shouldn't automatically reassign every promise made to the disciples to Christians in general.

iii) In addition, God's prayer promises have to be consistent with his other commitments. Jesus said this on the eve of his crucifixion. But the promise didn't mean that if one of the disciples prayed to God to prevent the crucifixion, God would grant that request. 

Likewise, God won't answer a prayer to end the world right this minute and take me to heaven if God has other plans. Prayer isn't designed to put us in the driver's seat. We don't take God's place as rulers of the cosmos. 

By the same token, it doesn't mean that if we ask God to destroy himself, he will comply. There are common sense restrictions that are just assumed. 

iv) But here's another issue: in the very same monologue (the upper room discourse), Jesus also makes "promises" like this:

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours (Jn 15:18-20).

16 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you (Jn 16:1-4).

But if the prayer promise in Jn 14:13-14 is absolute, then Christians could always avoid persecution by praying that God spare them. Yet that's at odds with what Jesus said about the prospect of impending persecution. So Jn 14:13-14 wasn't meant to be unconditional. 

In addition, we have this statement:

11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled...15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one (Jn 17:11-12,15).

Here divine protection is defined, not in terms of sparing Christians from harm in general, but from damnation. As a rule, God won't rescue them by removing them from the situation, but by spiritually preserving them in the situation.