Saturday, February 22, 2020

Apostle to the Gentiles

As Christians already know, the apostle Paul is known as the apostle to the Gentiles (e.g. Eph 3:1, 8). Of course, that doesn't mean Paul didn't attempt to minister to the Jews (he did), but he's most known for ministering to the Gentiles.

At the same time, Paul writes:

I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. (Acts 22:3)


If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Phil 3:4-6)


I am speaking the truth in Christ - I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit - that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. (Rom 9:1-5)

It's interesting that Paul was quite possibly the best person in his day to take the gospel to his fellow Jews. Moreover, he had the strong desire to do so. Nevertheless as things worked out God made him the apostle to the Gentiles instead. (Meanwhile God sent a fisherman like Peter to the Jews, among others such as James.)

Gagnon on cessationism (expanded)

I'm pulling my observations about Tom Schreiner's TGC article defending the cessationist view from their burial in a ton of comments in a previous post and making a separate post about it partly because Prof. Dr. Thomas Schreiner's article makes one of the best cases for a cessationist view, partly because I previously misunderstood his point about the meaning of "the perfect" in 1 Cor 13:10, and partly because I want to expand on points that I made in the comments.
I want to make clear at the outset that neither for me nor for Tom is this a fellowship-breaking issue. It doesn't belong, and shouldn't belong, to the essentials of the faith. I also want to make clear that I think Tom is a great scholar. I use his textbook on Pauline theology when I teach that course and greatly appreciate his commentary on Romans, to name just two of his many helpful works. Not only is Tom a great scholar; he is an even greater human being, one of the greatest examples of a Christ-like life that I have ever had the providential fortune to encounter. He is brilliant, extraordinarily productive, humble, and loving, as godly a human as a human can be. I would trust him with my life. This is a relatively minor disagreement among brothers who deeply value each other.
Tom's case more or less rests on the single verse in Ephesians 2:20 regarding the church "having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets." While I agree that the apostolic office has ended (per Paul's "last of all" in 1 Cor 15:8), it is an unwarranted stretch to argue the same for prophets given that Paul provides no such limitations on the prophetic office elsewhere. Indeed, as we shall see, Tom admits that Paul himself in 1 Cor 13:10 entertained their presence in the community of believers till Christ's return.
Paul clearly viewed the apostolic office as restricted to a tiny minority of believers. That was not his view of prophets or the related gift of speakers in tongues. Indeed, in 1 Cor 14:1 he urges the Corinthians to "be zealous for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy." He obviously didn't think that there were any apostles in the Corinthian church; just as obviously he did believe that there were prophets and tongues-speakers in the Corinthian church. He exhorted the Corinthians to pursue the spiritual gifts, including tongues but especially prophecy; but, for obvious reasons, did not, and would not, exhort his followers to be zealous to become an apostle. Paul simply doesn't treat prophecy as a gift that belongs only to the foundation.
The existence of a group in the foundation doesn't presuppose non-existence outside the foundation. Christ himself is the church's cornerstone but his presence does not lie exclusively in the past. Paul speaks of believers in his own day as having already been built on the foundation of apostles and prophets; yet prophets are still prophesying despite the fact that the foundation to which he speaks has already been laid. Apostles too were still functioning (including Paul) and many writings that would later be assessed by the church as part of a NT canon were yet to be written. So the end of the apostolic has to be derived from some other text than Eph 2:20 (as noted, 1 Cor 15:8).
In short, Eph 2:20 just can't bear the weight that Tom places upon it.
Now, unlike most cessationists, Tom does acknowledge that "the perfect" in 1 Cor 13:10 refers to the Second Coming. I hope my cessationist friends will hear this. Tom knows that the evidence for that conclusion is overwhelming. All other future references in 1 Corinthians point to Christ's return and the resurrection from the dead. There is no thought at the time Paul pens this letter for a completion of a NT canon. Paul operates on the premise (though not categorical assertion, I think) that the time of Christ's return is very soon (1 Cor 7:29-31). Furthermore, Paul's description of this future event as a time when knowledge will no longer be "in part," when we will "know fully just as [we] have been fully known" by God, and will see "face to face" rather than as we know see ("through a mirror, in a riddle") is hard to link to any other time than Christ's return.
Yet, while Tom acknowledges that "the perfect" here refers to the Second Coming, he thinks that Paul teaches here only that tongues and prophecy "could" last till Christ comes back, not that they "will" last till then. "1 Corinthians 13:8-12 permits but doesn’t require the gifts to continue until the second coming." [Note: Earlier I misunderstood Tom as saying that 1 Cor 13:10 could refer to the return of Christ but that it could just as well not. I apologize for that misunderstanding and am now correcting it.]
While I think this is an ingenious attempt at getting around the fact that "the perfect" must refer to Christ's return, I don't think the solution is convincing. Paul saw value in the continuance of other forms of direct revelation until Christ returns because even the witness of Scripture does not cover all circumstances in life that affect individuals and specific communities. Take the prophet Agabus, mentioned twice in Acts, as an example. To the church in Syrian Antioch, the Jerusalem prophet Agabus prophesied that there would be a great famine throughout the world (11:28). The church there took the prophecy seriously enough to plan to send relief to the churches in Judea. Later, Agabus warned Paul when he was at coastal city of Caesarea that if he came to Jerusalem he would be arrested and bound (Acts 21:10-11). These are not the kinds of revelations that Paul could have pulled from general Scripture references at his disposal.
Knowledge will always be "in part" and not "face to face" until we gain resurrection bodies. So Paul believed that prophecy and tongues were needed to fill in that gap a bit (obviously not completely) till the eschaton. I don't see how the completed New Testament canon or the end of the apostolic office renders that need obsolete. Paul's remarks in 1 Cor 13:8-13 clearly state that prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will be "put out of use" and "cease" when, but only when, Christ returns. Till then these gifts remain valuable for the church.
Those who have a high view of biblical authority should not see things differently than Paul, in my view, even if the misuses and abuses of these gifts may have turned them off to their enduring value to the church in the whole time preceding Christ's glorious return.
This post should be read in conjunction with my prior post that makes the case that Paul in 1 Corinthians understood the gift of tongues to be in the first instance a heavenly language directed to God and angels, in distinction to the specialized form of manifestation at Pentecost (human languages directed to other humans).
[Note well: Although I am not a cessationist, this is not to say that there aren't some abuses of the gifts of tongues, prophecy, and healing in the church today (there are). Nor am I indicating that it is biblically correct to say that the "baptism in the Holy Spirit" is a distinct "second blessing" as opposed to the experience that defines conversion (it isn't) or that tongues is some special indicator of spirituality that all believers should practice (it isn't). I don't speak in tongues or prophesy (at least not consciously) or have a special gift of healing so I have no dog in the hunt other than a desire to be grounded biblically; perhaps too a desire to see the church less divided over the question of charismatic gifts. If my arguments do not persuade you, perhaps you can at least acknowledge that they are reasonable positions taken by someone who views Scripture as authoritative for faith and practice.]

Waiting in vain

Weston was Dora's only son. A teenager. She became increasingly dependent on him for companionship, protection, and help around the farm after she was widowed. But war was looming. She dreaded the prospect that he'd be conscripted to fight. Dreaded that she might be left alone to fend for herself. Dreaded for his own sake that he might die in battle. 

She prayed that they'd be spared, but no amount of dread or prayer kept the day from coming when she watched him ride away to war, leaving her behind and bereft. As she watched him turn his back and start up the road, watched his receding figure, watched him passing out of her life, she didn't know when, or if, she'd see him again. Didn't know when, or if, he'd ever come home.

Days wore into weeks, then into months, then into years. She prayed day and night for his return. She struggled to manage the farm by herself. Sometimes the parson could spare a bit of food. She watched neighbors move away and childhood friends succumb to illness and malnutrition. 

One day, as she was sitting on the porch, she saw a familiar figure limping towards the house. She leaped out of her chair and ran to him as best she could. They embraced. And then she woke up. It was only a dream.

Another day, as she was peering through the kitchen window, she saw a familiar figure riding towards the house. She rushed out of the house to greet him. She was overjoyed to see him and he was overjoyed to see her. It almost seemed too good to be true. And then she woke up. Alone in bed. Alone in the chilly darkness. Another fickle, tantalizing dream.

Finally the war ended. Her side lost. But she continued to hope, wait, and pray for his return. Yet as the weeks wore into months, he didn't return. She never received official confirmation that he died, but had he survived, he should have come back by now. It was too late to hold out hope.

So she painfully reconciled herself to the fact that all that time she was hoping in vain, praying in vain, waiting in vain–for a reunion that never was to be.

Yet if she had it to do all over again, she'd do the same thing. Even though she waited in vain, he was still worth waiting for. She had nothing better to look forward to. 

She refused to say good-bye. She couldn't go forward or backward. So she just wandered in circles. 

Then she herself sickened. Struggling for every breath. She was nearly bedridden. Then she saw him come through the door. She must be dreaming again. Indeed, she was dreaming. She was dying in her sleep.

But this time it seemed different. Weston was different. Radiant. Healthier than when he left for war, so long ago.

It was a dream, but more than a dream. The waking world was fading like a dream as the dreamworld became a bridge to heaven. He had died on the battlefield, years before. Now he came from heaven to bring her back. He took her by the hand. As she rose from her deathbed, she was young again. Then they walked into the light, as the world behind them went dark. 

Are there 30,000 war fronts?

A popular Catholic trope is how sola scriptura spawned 30,000 denominations. But that's a dumb way to count. Most Protestants affiliate with a handful of major denominations or corresponding faith-traditions, viz. Anglicans, Lutherans, Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Wesleyan Methodists. And there's overlap in these groupings. Arminian Baptists, charismatic Baptists, &c. By the same token, independent churches usually adopt one of the off-the-shelf faith-traditions represented by a standard evangelical denomination. 

Likewise, although these break down into subsets of denominations, they belong to theological families. Different Baptist or Presbyterian denominations belong to the same theological families, sharing the same essentials and distinctives. Their doctrinal positions are often identical. The main dividing line is between observant confessional denominations and progressive denominations. 

Likewise, debates between Catholic and Protestant usually revolve around a stereotypical menu of issues. On the Protestant side, sola Scriptura and sola fide. On the Catholic side, the papacy, number and nature of the sacraments, purgatory, canon, cult of the saints, contraception. 

Although the menu can be widened and deepened, Catholic and Protestant apologists don't debate thousands of competing positions, or hundreds of competing traditions, or even dozens of competing traditions. The disagreement almost invariably circles around a set of endlessly debated core issues. Catholic apologists aren't fighting on 30,000 different war fronts. 

Inerrancy and evidentialism

It's not uncommon for competing theological traditions to evolve and become increasingly divergent over time. For instance, there are now options in "evangelical" freewill theism that used to be considered liberal or out-of-bounds in the past, viz. purgatory, annihilationism, open theism, evolution, universalism, inclusivism, homosexuality. 

We may be seeing the same development in apologetics. There's an emerging pattern where, as evidentialism and prepositionalism continue to evolve and diverge, presuppositionalism is defined in part by commitment to inerrancy while evidentialism and classical apologetics are now defined in part by a noncommittal position on inerrancy. To some degree this seems to reflect a generational shift from old-guard evidentialism/classical theism. 

I wonder how characteristic this will become moving forward. Will presuppositionalists be the only defenders of inerrancy as a matter of principle, while the rival schools regard that as expendable or a drag factor we're better off without?

I am struck by the casual way in which traditional evangelical commitment to inerrancy is being sidelined, as though revelation and inspiration are unimportant to the nature of the Christian faith.

OT apocrypha

Catholics argue the deuterocanonical books should be included in the canon of Scripture. However that has significant flaws:

1. The Jews didn't consider these books on par with Scripture. The Hebrew canon doesn't include the deuterocanonical books.

Some argue the Jews only canonized the Hebrew Bible at the Council of Yavneh. However, from what I've read, that's hotly disputed by scholars. It's far from established fact.

However, even if it were true, the question parallels questions over the NT as canon. For instance, did the Jews/church decide what should be canonical or did the Jews/church recognize what was already recognized as canonical? For another, why would pious Jews/Christians need an authority (e.g. council) to decide what they could already know from studying the Scriptures and using their own God-given reason?

2. There are fragments and portions of some deuterocanonical books in the Dead Sea scrolls (DSS), but the DSS contain plenty of literature that even Catholics wouldn't consider inspired (e.g. the War scroll, Pesher Habakkuk). So the inclusion of some deuterocanonical books in the DSS doesn't imply anything one way or the other about the deuterocanonical books in general.

Similarly, Codex Sinaiticus contains the deuterocanonical books, but it also contains the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas. Catholics don't accept these latter works as canonical.

3. The deuterocanonical books themselves suggest prophecies had ceased in their day. For example, 1 Macc 4:41-46 records:

Then Judas detailed men to fight against those in the citadel until he had cleansed the sanctuary. He chose blameless priests devoted to the law, and they cleansed the sanctuary and removed the defiled stones to an unclean place. They deliberated what to do about the altar of burnt offering, which had been profaned. And they thought it best to tear it down, so that it would not be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them.

In addition, the Prologue to Sirach suggests its author doesn't even consider Sirach to be Scripture inasmuch as he draws a distinction between the two.

4. If the deuterocanonical books should be part of the biblical canon, which deuterocanonical books? Whose version? The Eastern Orthodox differ from Catholics (e.g. Psalm 151, 1 Esdras, 3 Maccabees, the Prayer of Manasseh). Likewise, what about the deuterocanonical books of the Oriental Orthodox churches? What about the deuterocanonical of the Assyrian churches?

5. If we accept the OT apocrypha, then why not accept the NT apocrypha - at least some of the books? Couldn't one argue some of the apocryphal gospels deserve inclusion in the biblical canon?

6. To my knowledge, Catholics didn't officially include the deuterocanonical books in the biblical canon until the Council of Trent. However, wasn't this decided by a plurality vote with many Catholic bishops on the council either dissenting or abstaining from voting? If the deuterocanonical books are Scripture, then why would so many Catholic bishops fail to see that? And what about Catholic bishops who weren't in attendance?

Also, if it's possible for the deuterocanonical books not to have been officially recognized as part of the biblical canon until Trent, even though the deuterocanonical books had always been part of the canon, then why would Trent be needed in the first place? Just to rubber stamp it? Yet how many Christians throughout church history until Trent even thought all the deuterocanonical books were inspired and on par with Scripture?

7. Perhaps Catholics would respond there is a long history of church fathers who thought so. Church tradition has established it to be the case. Church fathers like Clement of Alexandra, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Augustine believed the deuterocanonical books were inspired. For one thing, there's nothing necessarily sacrosanct about church fathers and church tradition. Church fathers have made plenty of mistakes. For example, some church fathers quote the Sibylline oracles, but that hardly means the sibyls were inspired by God.

8. At best, the church fathers who held the position that the deuterocanonical books are Scripture held it because they were following the Septuagint (LXX). Of course, this should be offset by the evidence of and from the Hebrew canon.

Moreover, consider Peter Williams' lecture "Why I don't believe in the Septuagint". As Williams points out, there's not a single homogeneous LXX. A first century Jew or Christian wouldn't have necessarily considered the LXX a single unified body of work. Rather, they might've just regarded them as disparate Greek translations of this or that book of the Hebrew Bible.

Perhaps like how we might see there are various English translations of the Bible (e.g. ESV, NIV, CSB, KJV, RSV, Phillips' NT, Lattimore's NT, NASB, NRSV, NLT, CEV, NET, Geneva Bible, Tyndale, Wycliffe, Douay-Rheims, NAB, NJB, JPS), but we wouldn't necessarily categorize all these translations under a single monolithic category called "The English Translation" (TET).

Friday, February 21, 2020

Where is sola scriptura in scripture?

1. A Catholic apologetic trope is to ask where is the evidence for sola scriptura in Scripture. But that's like asking where's the evidence for the Inter-Testamental period in Scripture. Or where's the empirical evidence for the nonexistence of life on Jupiter.

Depending on the nature of the claim, positive evidence isn't the only type of evidence. Sometimes negative evidence is the kind of evidence you'd expect if the claim is true. There's no record of the Inter-Testamental period in Scripture since, by definition, no Scripture was written during the interval in question. If no Scripture was written between the OT and the NT, that lacuna is in itself evidence. 

Sola scriptura is a second-order claim. The first-order claim is about the primacy of divine revelation in Christian theology and ethics. In principle and practice, divine revelation can be oral as well as written. But that distinction is time-sensitive. The second-order claim (sola scriptura) denies that public revelation is found outside of Scripture after God ceased to disclose himself orally or textually to and for believers in general. There is no ongoing revelation in that sense (which doesn't necessarily rule out private topical revelation).

That doesn't require positive evidence, any more than the nonexistence of life on Jupiter can only be justified by pointing to positive evidence. Indeed that's a nonsensical demand. If something never existed, then there will be no record of it ever existing. That's probative. That's evidence. 

2. This also goes to the burden of proof. Should we expect the Bible to announce the termination of public revelation if in fact that's ended? Or should we expect the Bible to anounce the continuation of public revelation if in fact that hasn't ended? 

It's striking that in the postexilic writings there's no formal declaration of a hiatus in canonical prophecy. It simply lapses. There's nothing more that has to be revealed at that juncture. What was needed weren't more oracles, but some fulfillments. Revelation will resume when messiah comes. 

So that provides precedent for a sola scriptura principle. Yet the post-exilic writings don't alert Jews to the suspension of public revelation until messiah comes. It simply terminates as a matter of fact. 

To be sure, some sects and individuals try to fill the gap (e.g. 1 Enoch), just as apocrypha and pseudepigrapha sprang up after the NT. So that's another parallel. 

Christians are in a situation analogous to Inter-Testamental Jews. What is needed now are not more oracles but definitive fulfillments, when messiah returns. If Jews weren't alerted to the the abeyance of public revelation during the Inter-Testamental period, there's no expectation that Christians will be alerted to the abeyance of public revelation during the inter-Adventual period. Just as there was no public revelation outside of Scripture during the Inter-Testamental period, there's no public revelation outside of Scripture during the inter-Adventual period. 

3. Also, as a practical matter, it's not clear how advance notice would work. After all, a false prophet could always claim that revelation ends with him. It doesn't end before him. Rather, there's no more revelation after he passes from the scene. The mere statement in writing, in a document purporting to be scripture or prophecy, can't settle the issue. Instead, that would only push it back a step by raising questions about the authenticity of the writing or the divine commission of the reputed prophet. Sometimes we must take our cue from events rather than words. Some things stop happening. 

The Bible may be inerrant, but...

@RandalRauserThe Bible may be inerrant, but the manuscripts we have of the Bible are errant, the translations of the original languages are errant, and the contemporary readers are errant.

Although Elijah miraculously provided food for the starving mother and son (1 Kgs 17:14), they still had to use their natural digestive system to consume and process the food. 

Did Calvin teach secondary justification?

Noble pagans

This is a follow-up to my previous post:


I have always wondered about that part [about Emeth worshiping Tash as Aslan in C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle], but not yet taken the time to look it up. Does Aslan's quote about "Those who follow Tash but do good actually follow me / and vice versa" accurately reflect CS Lewis' view on the matter?

Thanks, Scott. That's a good question!

1. I'm no C. S. Lewis scholar, but to my knowledge I think Lewis may have been hopeful that some non-Christians could've been saved (e.g. Virgil). That is, my impression is Lewis had some inclinations toward inclusivism, but I don't know if he was an inclusivist. He certainly wasn't a universalist. Maybe others who know better than I do can weigh in.

2. Regarding inclusivism, the Catholic philosopher Eleonore Stump offers such an argument here. She even cites Lewis' illustration of Emeth worshiping Tash in The Last Battle. It seems to me Stump's basic argument is we're not saved by facts about a person, we're saved by a person, namely Jesus Christ, but it's possible to know a person without knowing who they are. It's possible for a person who doesn't profess to be a Christian to know and love God despite not knowing God's true identity in this life.

3. On the face of it, it sounds like a reasonable argument, which it is to a degree, but I'm afraid I don't think it works at the end of the day.

a. For one thing, there's a significant difference between loving a person and loving an idea. If we can love God by loving that which God stands for (e.g. goodness, beauty), despite not knowing which (if any) God we're loving, then it seems to me what we're really loving is abstractions or ideas. If a pagan loves an impersonal goodness like a Platonic form of goodness, or if an atheist loves beauty in nature, how would that be loving a God who is personal? That could just as well be loving the creation rather than the creator. So I think there'd still need to be a step from loving true goodness to loving God.

b. With regard to the core claims of Christianity, I don't see how philosophical or theological truths can be so detached from historical facts or foundations. After all, Christianity is a historically revealed religion (e.g. 1 Cor 15). God plants his footsteps in the sea. God works wonders for his people. God speaks to his people via his prophets. God sends his Son. All this needs to be taken into consideration. It can't be ignored or glossed over.

Otherwise, if loving goodness or beauty in the abstract is sufficient for salvation, then all who seek goodness or beauty could be scaling up a different slope of the mountain, but all will reach the same destination in the end. A villager from Africa with no knowledge of Christianity could be seeking goodness. Likewise a Native American. Same with an Australian Aborigine. All in the context of their own culture's spiritual beliefs and practices. And so on. In fact, isn't this in effect what Hinduism teaches? If so, then perhaps Hinduism is the true religion, not Christianity. Perhaps Yahweh is another name for Brahman, not the other way around.

c. Moreover, how would the non-Christian know what is true goodness and true beauty? How far can natural revelation alone take the non-Christian in knowing what is truly good? For instance, isn't there a non-trivial distinction between the regenerate person's conscience and the unregenerate person's conscience? More to the point, our consciences may indeed give us moral insight, but what's needed isn't solely moral insight, but personal repentance.

d. I suspect Stump has in the back of her mind the noble pagan who has never heard the gospel but apparently lives an exemplary life and searches for truth, goodness, and beauty. Such as the ancient Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. As far as that goes, I don't know if men like these were so morally exemplary, certainly not by 21st century progressive values (e.g. their arguments regarding slavery, their arguments about how society should be constituted). Furthermore, many of the ancient Greeks and Romans cultivated the life of the mind, perhaps we could add some of the ancient Egyptians, Indians, and Chinese, but otherwise how common was "the search for goodness, truth, and beauty" throughout human history? At any rate, I think Stump's argument might make more headway given some versions of freewill theism, but Calvinists would have better answers to the question, in my view, which Triablogue members have responded to in the past.

e. In addition, there are plenty of non-Christians who aren't "noble pagans" but are in fact explicitly serving a god that's inconsistent with true goodness as Stump envisions true goodness. Take Muslims who love Allah. Take, for instance, that to be a good Muslim one evidently needs to treat Jews and Christians as second-class citizens in Muslim lands and one must execute non-Muslims who refuse to become Muslims. If the Muslim does that, then they might be a good Muslim, but they're not doing what's truly good and right because they're mistreating others, according to Stump's exemplar of true goodness. However, if a Muslim does treat non-Muslims much better than they deserve, then they're not being a good Muslim, and it's arguable they may not even be considered a true Muslim by Islamic tradition. In other words, it seems to me on Stump's argument these Muslims could only be saved if they're more like noble pagans than they are like Muslims. So this seems like a quandary.

Are prolifers inconsistent?

What really gets me is being ostensibly prolife while wanting to block refugees with legit asylum claims…

Since Rauser is Canadian, I assume he's bitching about Canadian immigration policy. 

Speaking for myself, I'm all for a generous referee policy with regard to persecuted Christians. There is, though, no obligation to import Muslim timebombs into the country, who game the system under the ruse of "refugees" with "asylum" claims. 

…defending the right of angry, paranoid men to have AR-15s…

That's a clueless objection. There's a general right to self-defense. Private gun-ownership is a necessary means to exercise that right. 

It's not a right that singles out "angry, paranoid men". Rather, a general right, whether freedom of speech, driving a car, private property, &c., is an indiscriminate  group right. It carries the potential for abuse by particular individuals, but the right isn't conditional on an unpredictable outcome. Some people abuse the right to drive a car (e.g. drunk drivers), but that's not known in advance. Defending the general right to drive a car isn't specifically and intentionally defending the right of drunk drivers. Constitutional rights and civil rights are coarse-grained. There are tradeoffs in a free and open society. 

…shrugging your shoulders at the unfolding disaster of human-induced climate change…

Even assuming it's induced by humans, is it disastrous if Canadians enjoy longer summers and shorter warmer winters? 

And since developing countries refuse to cut back on carbon emissions, even though they are the primary polluters, any green police is unenforceable, and will simply wreck western economies. 

…fighting public healthcare, etc…

The question is what's economically feasible–as well as whether medical decision-makers are accountable to patients. 

Also, Rauser's green policies would destroy the prosperity required to support public healthcare. 

Gagnon on cessationism

Robert A. J. Gagnon Gregg Allison, here is the TGC article by Tom Schreiner to which you referred. As I mentioned, I have very high regard for Tom and count him as a dear friend. Tom has made as good a case as can be made by a NT scholar for cessationism. Nevertheless, it is not in my view a convincing case. His case more or less rests on the single verse in Eph 2:20 regarding the church "having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets." While I agree that the apostolic office has ended (per Paul's "last of all" in 1 Cor 15) it is an unwanted stretch to argue the same for prophets given that Paul gives no such qualifications on the prophetic office elsewhere. Paul clearly viewed the apostolic office as restricted to a tiny minority of believers; that was not his view of prophets or the related gift of speakers in tongues. He obviously didn't think that there were any apostles in the Corinthian church; just as obviously he did believe that there were prophets and tongues-speakers in the Corinthian church. The existence of a group in the foundation doesn't presuppose non-existence outside the foundation. Christ himself is the church's cornerstone but his presence does not lie exclusively in the past. Paul speaks of believers in his own day as having already been built on the foundation of apostles and prophets; yet prophets are still prophesying despite the fact that the foundation to which he speaks has already been laid. 

In short, Eph 2:20 just can't bear the weight that Tom places upon it. Tom says that "the perfect" in 1 Cor 13:10 could refer to the return of Christ but says that it could just as well not. Yet every future reference in 1 Cor refers to the eschaton. It is unrealistic to expect that his readers would have understood a reference to anything else.

Paul makes the hyperbole argument for 1 Cor 13:1's reference to tongues as a reference to the language of angels. This isn't convincing, for reasons that I have already stated to Tim Bates in these comments.

So while Tom is a great scholar, I think this is a case of a great scholar holding a view that is not convincing.

Same person, different location

Someone recently posted this image of their baby:


Pete Buttigieg said:

Now right now, they [pro-life Christians] hold everyone in line with this one kind of piece of doctrine about abortion, right? Which is obviously a tough issue for a lot of people to think through morally. Then again, you know, there are a lot of parts of the Bible that talk about how life begins with breath. And so even that is something we can interpret differently.

Mayor Pete assumes a baby doesn't "breathe" until the baby has been born and starts crying. I've pointed out how that's a false assumption.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Despairing hope

Suppose the only son of a widowed mother goes off to war. She no longer has his protection, assistance, or companionship. She doesn't know when or if she will see him again. She doesn't know when or if he will return. All she can do is wait and pray for his return. 

Maybe one day, years later, as she sits on the porch or looks through the kitchen window, she sees a familiar figure limping towards the house. All the prayer, suffering, loneliness, heartache, and waiting were worth it. Even if he's no long 100%, it's more than worth it to have him back, to be reunited. 

But suppose she waits and waits until the war is over, yet he never comes back. She presumes that he died. If he survived, he should have returned by now. Hope fades. It's too late to hold out hope. 

Yet even though she waited in vain, he was still worth waiting for. It's not as if she had anything better to wait for or pray for. If she never sees him again, holding out for him was the right thing to do–even in retrospect. It's not like she had a better life waiting for her if she gave up on him. It's not like she put a wonderful life on hold. If she says good-bye, what's facing her when she turns around? There's nothing to go back to. So even with the benefit of bitter hindsight, she'd do the same thing all over again. 

Suppose she knew that she'd never see him again. Was it still worth the wait? That seems irrational. But what's the alternative? It's not like she's passing on better offers. It's not like she's passing up better opportunities. It's him or nothing. There's a sense in which clinging to a vain hope is better than no hope at all. 

Even if, for the sake of argument, Christianity is false, it's better to hope in vain and wait and vain and pray in vain for the only thing that could be good, without which nothing else is good, than settle for what is worthless and amoral. If that's the dilemma, then even despairing hope is better than hopeless despair. 

And that's the worse case scenario. A limiting case. Sometimes it's useful to begin with the worst, then work back from that, since anything is better than that. If you can adjust to that, you have nothing left to lose and everything to gain. If it can't get any worse, it can only get better. Sometimes, when you have nothing more to lose, that's the turning-point. 

Is Jesus the true God in 1 John 5:20?

R. Schnackenburg,82 who has given us the best commentary on 1 John, argues strongly from the logic of the context and the flow of the argument that "This is the true God" refers to Jesus Christ. The first sentence in 5:20 ends on the note that we Christians dwell in God the Father ("Him who is true") inasmuch as we dwell in His Son Jesus Christ. Why? Because Jesus is the true God and eternal life. Schnackenburg argues that the second sentence of 5:20 has meaning only if it refers to Jesus; it would be tautological if it referred to God the Father. His reasoning is persuasive, and thus there is a certain probability that 1 Jn 5:20 calls Jesus God—a usage not unusual in Johannine literature. Raymond E. Brown, 'Does the New Testament call Jesus God?', Theological Studies 26 (1965), 558.

Why be Christian rather than Jewish?

A friend asked me how I'd argued against Rabbinic Judaism. What makes Christianity right and Rabbinic Judaism wrong. The question is significant in part because Rabbinic Judaism is the only serious religious rival to Christianity. And it's significant in witnessing to Jews. 

1. I'm distinguishing pre-Christian Judaism (OT Judaism/Second Temple Judaism) from post-Christian Judaism (Rabbinic Judaism). 

2. There's a sense in which it's easier to prove pre-Christian Judaism backwards. Begin with Christianity, then prove pre-Christian Judaism in reverse. There's less evidence for Judaism, considered in isolation, than Christianity. It's easier to make a case for Christianity than Judaism apart from Christianity.

3. The evidence for Christianity includes the argument from prophecy. In many cases, OT prophecies fulfilled in Jesus or NT times. But of course, Rabbinic Jews don't think those prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus and the new covenant. This means that according to Rabbinic Judaism, the OT still contains many outstanding prophecies. Yet when centuries or even millennia pass and nothing happens, that raises the nagging suspicion: are these genuine prophecies remaining to be fulfilled or failed prophecies which will never happen?

4. In fairness, Rabbinic Jews might level the same charge regarding the Second Coming of Christ. But there's a difference:

i) The first coming of Christ gives us a downpayment or precedent. That's reason to believe there's more to come, and it's not just wishful thinking.

ii) Christianity is a global missionary religion in a way that Judaism is not. Therefore, Christianity requires centuries to achieve its goal. In the nature of the case, Christianity takes a long-range view, to save as many of the elect as God has chosen, through many generations in time and space. 

5. If we had nothing but the OT to go by, some oracles seem to be failed prophecies. For instance, the new temple in Ezk 40-48 appears to envision what awaits the exiles when they return to the Promised Land. But of course, nothing like that happened. Christianity has room and resources to accommodate that vision in a way that an OT boundary does not. 

6. There's also the question of whether it's too late for some OT prophecies to be fulfilled if they haven't come true by now. For instance:
There is only one Messiah, but there are two parts to his mission, hence two comings, but the first had to precede the destruction of the Second Temple as we learn from Haggai 2 (where God promised to fill the Second Temple with greater glory than the First Temple, yet the Second Temple did not have the Shekhinah or the divine fire or even the ark of the covenant); Malachi 3 (where the Lord Himself promised to visit the Second Temple and purge the priests and Levites); and Daniel 9 (where the measure of transgression and sin had to be filled up, atonement made for iniquity, and everlasting righteousness ushered in). 
Yeshua fulfilled these prophecies, bringing the glory of God to the Temple with his own presence and sending the Spirit to his followers there, and as the Lord, visiting the Temple and purging and purifying the Jewish leadership. And the measure of transgression was filled up when the Messiah was crucified, at which time he made atonement for iniquity and ushered in eternal righteousness. And so Haggai, Malachi, and Daniel testify that the Messiah had to come before the Second Temple was destroyed. 
This is why we also have two pictures of the Messiah’s coming, one meek and lowly, riding on a donkey (Zech 9:9), the other high and exalted, riding on the clouds (Dan 7:13-14). But these are not either-or pictures, they are both-and pictures. First he comes riding on a donkey, to be rejected by our people, to die for our sins, only to become a light to the nations of the earth; then he will return riding on the clouds, bringing judgment on the wicked, regathering his scattered people, and establishing God’s kingdom on the earth.
These are keyed to Second Temple Judaism. If it didn't happen before the temple was razed, then we passed the last exit on the freeway 2000 years ago. There are no future opportunities for their fulfillment. Jesus is the best and only viable candidate. 

7. Another problem is that Jews have been unable to practice the Mosaic Covenant for 2000 years. That makes for a truncated religion. But how can Judaism still be the right option if it can't be practiced, as commanded, for such long stretches of time? What Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jews practice isn't Judaism as divinely prescribed in the OT, but a faith-tradition reinvented by rabbis to adjust to a world without the Mosaic cultus. Yet to that extent it's just a human construct.  

It might be said that the Babylonian Exile provides a partial precedent. But that had a portable tabernacle in the form of the chariot-theophany and the Shekinah (Ezk 1; 10; esp. 11:16). The Shekinah tabernacle followed them into exile. But what's the counterpart in the experience of Rabbinic Jews?

8. Another evidence for Christianity is the argument from miracles, answered prayer, special providences, and Christophanies. But do Rabbinic Jews have the same  experience?

On the one hand I'm not suggesting that God never answers the prayers of Rabbinic Jews. On the other hand, I'm not suggesting that God always answers Christian prayer. But consider the secularized Judaism of Mordecai Kaplan. Is that conditioned in large part by the despairing experience of a God who doesn't answer Jewish prayers. Of a God who doesn't intervene in Jewish lives? Do miracles, answered prayer, and special providences cluster around Christianity in a way that's not the case for Rabbinic Judaism? Consider evidence for an uptick in miracles when Christian missionaries break new ground on a virgin mission field, reaching the unreached. They're often opposed by indigenous paganism, witchcraft, and demonic attack. They must respond with exorcisms and healing miracles. 

And what about the role of Christophanies in church history, up to the present? Take Muslims who experience dreams and visions of Jesus, which are instrumental to their conversion. 

In the same vein it would be useful to have a representative survey comparing the experience of Rabbinic Jews with Messianic Jews. Is God more manifest in the lives of Messianic Jews than Rabbinic Jews? Michael Brown tells me there's big difference. 

9. What is the ultimate point of the sacrificial system in the Mosaic covenant? Christianity has an explanation.

John's Gospel and the Apocalypse

Due to stylistic differences, some otherwise conservative scholars think the Apocalypse has a different author than the John and 1-3 John. Some conservatives defend common authorship by saying they were written at different times of life. I don't find that terribly convincing. Another argument defending common authorship appeals to genre differences. I think there's something to that, although it's too generic. 

In defense of common authorship, Revelation, John, and 1-3 share some striking parallels. In addition, it's a more economical explanation for why early Christians acknowledged all of them as canonical and Scriptural if they share common apostolic authorship; if it's the same John in both cases rather than the apostle John and some other John, a prophet whose background was oddly forgotten by the early church. We have his book, but everything else about him has disappeared from history without a trace. Seems unlikely. Not that that can't happen to an author (who wrote Beowulf?) but early Christians would take an interest in the pedigree of the author. Why acknowledge him as a Christian prophet, speaking to and for the universal church?

I'd like to draw a distinction between inspiration and revelation. Although they can be used synonymously, it's helpful to distinguish them. When the terms are used in a more technical or specialized sense, inspiration doesn't infuse the writer with new factual information. Everything an inspired writer says may be based on naturally obtainable information. His own observation, investigation, and memory. The main thing inspiration does is to protect from error as well as providing verbal guidance. 

And the whole process may be subliminal. I don't mean the process of remembering and composing the text is unconscious, but the divine direction behind the process operates at a subliminal level. 

For the most part it takes place in a normal state of mind. The writer is aware of his body and physical surroundings. Nothing out of the ordinary in that regard. An exception might be recording long speeches. Perhaps that operates more like automatic writing, since we don't naturally have verbatim recall of long speeches.  

In direct visionary revelation, by contrast, the mind of the seer is infused with new information. A supernatural source of information. The process is conscious. The Spirit takes control of his mind and plays a movie in his head. It's like a structured lucid dream, only the content is controlled by the Spirit rather than the seer (or dreamer). So it takes place in an altered state of consciousness.  

The human mind isn't blanked out. Rather, is like an immersive spectator. His empirical surroundings are screened out. Simulated sensory perception replace physical sensory perception. 

John's Gospel originates in past observation and memory. By contrast, the Apocalypse originates in a psychological experience that lifts him out of himself.

Under the circumstances, it's not surprising that the Apocalypse is written in a rapturous, ecstatic style, in contrast to the sedate prose of the Gospel. It's hard to come back down to earth after that. Their stylistic difference mirrors their radically different points of origin. 

The demise of the BSA

Both the clerical abuse scandal and the BSA graphically illustrate one of the dangers of empowering homosexuals.

Marvin Olasky once drew a useful distinction between Classical conservatives and Christian conservatives. Classical conservative exemplify the old Roman virtues. Robert Gates is a honorable public servant, but he's a Classical conservative, which left him blindsided by the nature of the threat to the BSA. He's a Cold warrior at a time and place where a culture warrior was needed. He just wasn't up to the challenge because he fails to grasp the nature of the enemy and the kind of struggle we're in. Partly it's a generational thing. He came of age before the culture wars. And he lacks Christian discernment to adapt. It's a cautionary tale. 

Secular progressives win if they successfully infiltrate and co-opt male spaces like the BSA, and they also win if they successfully drive male spaces like the BSA out of business. Their objective is to obliterate normative masculinity and femininity. That applies to the destruction of female spaces as well (girls/women's sports).

Women at the cross

Some critics allege a discrepancy between John and the Synoptics regarding the position of the women at the cross (Mt 27:55-6; Mk 15:40; Lk 23:49; Jn 19:25). 

Since it went on for hours, there's no reason to assume they didn't budge but stayed in one spot the whole time. Since the ordeal continued for about 6 hours, is it realistic to suppose the bystanders would remain frozen in place–or move around. 

These verses are still photography, not motion pictures. Not film footage of everything everyone did for 6 hours. It's not like a cameraman follows them around with a single continuous shot (as in the recent 1917 movie). Rather, we're given snapshots of where they were and what they did at key moments. Some readers need to develop a much more flexible understanding of historical narration.

Blessed or happy in Psalm 1

Bruce Waltke on translating the first word of Psalm 1 as "happy" or "blessed":

So the word "blessed" - what does that mean? Many moderns translate it "happy". I think that's inadequate. I don't think we have a word for it.

But I point out in Hebrew that there are two different words for "bless"...So you have barak which means "to bless", and then you have this word ashrei.

The word barak means "to be filled with the potency for life". It's the ability to reproduce. So that when God blessed the creation, it was to be fruitful and multiply. Now when you carry that over to the NT, Jesus blessed the disciples. He himself never married. He's not saying to them be fruitful and multiply physically, but be fruitful and multiply spiritually. It's a different form of the kingdom. So that's the word "to bless", barak.

Now the other "to bless" is ashrei. The word used here [in Psalm 1:1]. And that word ashrei means that you have a blessed destiny. It usually refers to the future. And that future, that blessed future, is based upon your present relationship with God. The blessed person when you use ashrei may be in deep trouble at the time...This is a quote from Eliphaz in the book of Job. This would be the Greek equivalent of ashrei - makarios. He says "Blessed is the one whom God corrects". We don't think a person who is being disciplined is particularly blessed, but that's a blessed person. "Blessed is the one whom God corrects, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty, for he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal" [Job 5:17-18]. You have a blessed future. So be thankful that you're a blessed person because God is disciplining you to give you the celestial city. You see how that's different from the word "fill you with potency with life and victory"? It's a different word.

Or another illustration is from the Greek of the Beatitudes of Jesus. Who are the blessed? It's not the way we normally think of it. "Blessed - makarioi, plural - are those who mourn, for they will be comforted...Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you...Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven..." (Mt 5:4, 10-12). So the blessed person is a person who has this great reward in the future. That is not translated by "happy". It's totally inadequate for that. I agree the average person doesn't understand it always, but I think it carries more than just being happy.

Confusing biblical studies with theological studies

Bishop Barron's inclusivism

Ben Shapiro asks Bishop Robert Barron about salvation according to Catholicism. I don't recall Shapiro asking William Lane Craig or Ravi Zacharias this question, but it's possible I missed it. Shapiro may have asked John MacArthur, but I didn't watch that episode.

What’s the Catholic view on who gets into heaven and who doesn’t? I feel like I lead a pretty good life - a very religiously based life - in which I try to keep, not just the ten commandments, but a solid 603 other commandments as well. And I spend an awful lot of my time promulgating what I would consider to be Judeo-Christian virtues, particularly in Western societies. So, what’s the Catholic view of me? Am I basically screwed here?

No surprise Barron gives a terribly unbiblical response:

No. The Catholic view - go back to the Second Vatican Council - says it very clearly. I mean Christ is the privileged route to salvation. "God so loved the world he gave his only Son that we might find eternal life." So that’s the privileged route.

However, Vatican II clearly teaches that someone outside the explicit Christian faith can be saved. Now, they’re saved through the grace of Christ, indirectly received. So the grace is coming from Christ. But it might be received according to your conscience. So if you’re following your conscience sincerely - or in your case you’re following the commandments of the law sincerely - yeah, you can be saved.

Now, that doesn’t conduce to a complete relativism. We still would say the privileged route - the route that God has offered to humanity - is the route of his Son.

But, no, you can be saved. Even Vatican II says an atheist of good will can be saved, because in following his conscience, if he does - John Henry Newman said the conscience is "the aboriginal vicar of Christ in the soul" (it's a very interesting characterization) - it is, in fact, the voice of Christ if he is the Logos made flesh, right? He's the divine mind or reason made flesh. So when I'm following my conscience I'm following him, whether I know it explicitly or not. So even the atheist, Vatican II teaches, "of good will", can be saved.

Just a brief response for now:

1. Why bother becoming a Catholic if what Barron says is true. Heck, why bother becoming a theist if what Barron says is true.

2. Barron equivocates between "following one's conscience" and "following the commandments of the law". The two aren't necessarily the same. Especially if we're referring to the 613 commandments in rabbinic Judaism. It's not as if a non-Jew's conscience (however "intact" it may be) would necessarily tell him to follow kosher laws, observe Shabbat, and wear a tallit with tzitzit.

At best, I think, conscience might coincide with the Noahide laws, but even that's hardly a given. Does a pagan's conscience necessarily tell them not to worship an idol? Doesn't a good Buddhist (Mahayana) think he's doing right by his conscience in what he does for Buddha? Doesn't a good Muslim have a clear conscience when worshiping Allah? Yet post-Vatican II Catholicism even accepts that good people in other religions can be saved.

Or take the prohibition against murder. One could be a good communist who believes murder is wrong, but who doesn't consider killing the bourgeoisie "murder". One could be a modern American progressive Catholic who believes murder is wrong, but who doesn't think abortion is murder. That's not what their conscience tells them.

3. Perhaps Barron would reply these people have a seared conscience. A good conscience would have to align with biblical morality. But how far does that go? Wouldn't a Catholic in Barron's vein accept that worshiping a false god could somehow be done unto the true God? Similar to how Emeth in The Last Battle worshiped Tash. Yet biblical ethics would say that'd be a clear violation of the ten commandments.

4. I don't follow how Christ being the Word (Logos) made flesh means our conscience is "the voice of Christ". I don't doubt God could well speak to us through our conscience. I could even agree with Barron's conclusion that a good conscience is God's voice. However I don't see what this has to do with Christ being the Logos.

5. Of course, much turns on the phrase "of good will". What does that mean exactly? Who decides? I suspect much of this turns on Catholic natural law. All this would suggest severe faultlines in Catholic inclusivist soteriology, but I'd have to do a lengthier post about all this.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Sorry, but Catholicism is still wrong–dead wrong!

Catholic apologist Trent Horn has posted a running commentary on a video by Mike Winger:

There will be a part 2 and possibly part 3. I'll evaluate some of his statements:

The church doesn't say only the Catholic church can interpret the Bible and individual believers are not able to interpret…Catholic biblical scholars interpret the Bible, theologians, priests interpret the Bible all the time. The church has given us guardrails, however, to know specifically where our interpretations cannot go. 

1. But that boils down to the principle that the Catholic church determines what Scripture really means. It means whatever the Magisterium says it means. Priests, theologians, Bible scholars, and layman are allowed to interpret the Bible, but that's just their personal opinion. If you want to know what Scripture really teaches, it's up to the magisterium. 

So that subordinates biblical revelation to the Roman Magisterium. In practice, the Bible has no independent teaching authority. It cannot function as a check on what the Catholic church teaches. It's a dummy for the Magisterial ventriloquist. This reduces the Catholic church to an unfalsifiable cult, because the Magisterium is beyond correction. 

2. It generates a dilemma. Assuming the Magisterium is the authentic interpreter of Scripture, its teaching is unquestionable, but how do you establish that it's the authentic interpreter of Scripture in the first place? You can't appeal to Scripture to validate the Magisterum if ascertaining the true interpretation of Scripture hinges on the authority of the Magisterium. So how do you verify that the Magisterium is a divine teaching office rather than an impious fraud? 

Jesus and Mary Magdalene

A Facebook exchange:

The women were glad that Jesus had risen and went to tell the disciples. But in John, Mary Magdalene was at the tomb claiming they stole the body. How so?

If three gospel claim Mary Magdalene saw Jesus already and was told by the angels he has risen and they were glad.
But John tells a different story. She was in the tomb crying. And the angels asked,' why are you crying? she said they stole the body, I don't know where they laid him.' Two different stories.

Mark is less detailed, and makes indiscriminate statements about the women in general. By contrast, the Fourth Gospel singles out the Magdalene for a more detailed, discriminating account. That's not a contradiction but a difference between generality and specificity in overlapping accounts.

The narrators are getting their information from different women who visited the tomb. So there will be variations in what each woman saw, heard, remembered. When they went there. If they went there once or went back, as group or individually. For instance, they might travel as a group when it was still fairly dark, but have more freedom of individual movement during daylight. 

The Synoptics give a general account of what happened to the women. By contrast, the Fourth Gospel zeroes in on the unique experience of the Magdalene. That doesn't contradict the Synoptic accounts. Generalizations make room for exceptions. They are less precise because they deal with things shared in common by most participants. But the Johannine narrator spends more time on individuals. So the distinctive encounter between Jesus and the Magdalene is fleshed out. And one reason is because he probably had more information.

The Darkness Of Mark's Gospel, Paul's Weaknesses In Acts

Here's something I recently wrote on Facebook about how little light is mentioned in the gospel of Mark and how credible the other gospels are in saying much more about the theme. And here's a post I wrote about Paul's weaknesses in Acts, against the idea that Acts is suspiciously positive in how it portrays him.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Cultural genocide

Conservative Christians tend to be among the fiercest critics of cultural relativism ... except when it comes to the cultural relativism that says genocide is morally abhorrent today but it was a fine way to deal with the Canaanites.

i) Progressive Arminian theologian Randal Rauser never misses a chance to remind the world that he's 3/4 atheist and 1/4 nominal Christian. 

ii) God promised the descendants of Abraham a homeland. The Canaanites had forfeited the right to live their due to gross depravity. God held the Israelites to the same standard. If they desecrated the Promised Land, they'd be deported or exiled. God made the Promised Land an emblem of holiness. 

Under the new covenant, no piece of land is an emblem of holiness. If, however, the same conditions prevailed today that justified God's original policy, it would not be morally abhorrent to follow God's orders. 

I follow the definition recognized in international law:

any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

i) OT holy war wasn't committed with the intent to destroy the Canaanites due to their national, ethnic, or racial identity. They weren't executed because they were Canaanites. To the contrary, OT pagans were invited to convert to the one true faith. 

ii) Canaanites in the Promised Land were free to self-evacuate. The only Canaanite military targets were those who chose to stay behind and fight. 

iii) There's nothing sacrosanct about religion. Religion can be true or false, good or evil. Depends on the religion. 

There's a sense in which Christian missionaries commit cultural "genocide" when they convert Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, and witches to Christianity. Some ideologies ought to be destroyed (e.g. Nazism, Communism). That doesn't single out any particular means. In some cases it can be peaceful. Rational persuasion.   

Interplanetary politics

1. From what I've read, Perelandra is the most popular entry in the Space Triology, although a few connoisseurs (e.g. Rowan Williams) prefer That Hideous Strength. Perlandra's my personal favorite in the Space Trilogy. 

Perelandra was initially Lewis's favorite until he wrote Til We Have Faces. Some literary critics agree that that's his best novel, but that may be because they think they're supposed to admire it and rank it higher than the others. For a couple of reasons, I think it's possible that Lewis himself overrated Til We have Faces. The myth of Cupid and Psyche had captivated him since he read it for the first time in 1916, when he was still a teenager. But there were many false starts. He tried to do a poetic version. He struggled with how to retell the myth for almost 40 years. His own worldview as well as the interpretation evolved over time. Cf. Peter Schakel's chapter (20) in The Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis.

In addition, the breakthrough moment came when he talked it over with his future wife:

Jack has started a new fantasy–for grownups. His methods of work amaze me. One night he was lamenting that he couldn't get a good idea for a book. We kicked a few ideas around till one came to life. Then we had another whiskey each and bounced it back and forth between us. The next day, without further planning, he wrote the first chapter! I read it and made some criticisms…he did it over and went on with the next. D. King, ed. Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman (Eerdmans 2009), 242.

So he may have associated the book with his wife, which lends it a special poignancy for him.

2. Because for most readers, myself included, That Hideous Strength is a letdown after Perelandra, it raises the question of how or whether it could be better written. Another question is whether he should have ended with Perelandra. What do you do for an encore? If the final installment can't equal, must less surpass, the second entry, would it be wiser for Lewis to quit while he was ahead rather than end with an anticlimactic climax?

In fairness, it's not a bad book. It has some memorable scenes. Strokes of genius. It's prophetic. But it's not all of a piece. 

3. As every commentator explains, That Hideous Strength marks an abrupt stylistic shift from the first two installments, due in part to the newer influence of Charles Williams and spent impact of Tolkien. Tolkien was no longer a creative stimulus for Lewis, in part because Lewis had outgrown Tolkien, who was a smaller talent, and due to irreconcilable artistic visions.    

But over and above that, a change was inevitable. At a scenic level, That Hideous Strength can't compete with the extraterrestrial landscapes and seascapes of Venus and Mars, or their species. That's exacerbated by the fact that Lewis makes no pretense of astronomical accuracy. They exist in his cosmological mythos. That frees him to indulge in surreal flights of fancy unconstrained by what's physically possible. By contrast, That Hideous Strength must have a more realistic setting. After all, his readers are earthlings. 

4. One of the tensions in Out of the Silent Planet is Lewis attacking secular science and its counterpart in hard science fiction. In particular, the materialist notion that outer space is mostly deserted and dead. But as a matter of fact, that's the case. And even though Lewis didn't have the benefit contemporary astronomy, c. 2020, he must have known back in the 1930s that there was no presumption of other life in our solar system. 

Of course, this is soft SF, not meant to be accurate, but then, what does his critique amount to in that respect? It works at the level of his fictional cosmology, but it's not a refutation of the hard SF view of the universe as mostly deserted and dead. 

However, that's offset by the fact that soft SF is never obsolete, whereas the danger of futuristic hard SF is to become dated when overtaken by real events. It works if you have a dualistic view of reality, where there are spiritual agents behind the physical realm, who participate in the physical realm. Interaction between two different domains. Sacramental universe. 

5. Despite the comedown, there is some justification in the third and final installment. All three share the common theme of a primordial angelic rebellion. Against his will, Ransom is drawn into the internal affairs of Mars. Then he is summoned to Venus. The Martian guardian angel visits earth to facilitate the trip. 

In terms of dramatic logic and closure, it makes sense that events come to a head on earth. Having decisively intervened on Venus, it's only fair that heavenly angels lend Ransom a hand for a critical battle with the dark side on earth. Especially since earth is the epicenter of the cosmic rebellion. That rounds out the dramatic arc of a story that began with Mars and proceeded through Venus. 

6. In addition, it gives Lewis a pretext to reinterpret the King Arthur mythos–a theme many English poets and novelists find irresistible. Merlin fits into Lewis's philosophy of myth and magic. However, making Ransom a descendent of King Arthur is ad hoc. King Arthur has no useful role to play in a 20C setting. He's timebound in a way that Merlin is not.