Saturday, April 18, 2020

Should we warn children about hell?

Looming large in many deconversion accounts are apostates who complain that their parents terrorized them by threatening them with hell. Their childhood was haunted by fear of God. Should Christian parents warn children about the danger of hell? 

i) Christian pedagogy, like pedagogy in general, needs to be age-appropriate, suited to the cognitive development of children. What we teach a 5-year-old and what we teach an 15-year old may be two different things. We may save some teachings for a later age.

ii) There's certainly a point at which the doctrine of hell should certainly be part of their instruction in the Christian faith. And they can also pick that up on their own when they're old enough to read an adult version of the Bible. 

iii) Is "warning" children about the danger of hell a euphemism for threatening children with hell when they misbehave? The whole issue of whether any children are in peril of hell is an open question in theology. I don't think we have sufficient revelation to answer that question with any degree of certainty. I don't think we should issue a warning unless we have good reason to think they're at risk. Threats should be credible threats, not empty threats. 

iv) It can also be just lazy parental disciple to threaten young children with hell. Especially for childish misbehavior that's quite unlikely to rise to the level of damnable offenses. How much of that is just an expression of parental exasperation, because it's so easy to threaten them with hell? 

v) What about adolescents and teenagers? Do they need to be warned about hell? One question is whether there's a distinction between teaching them about hell and warning them about hell. If they already understand the nature of hell, and the believe it, do they also need a personal parenting warning? I mean, just reading about hell in the Bible will acquaint them with warnings about hell.

vi) Apropos (v), do you need to be warned not to stick your fingers in a blender, then push the start button? If you know what a blender is, you don't need a warning over and above your understanding of the blender not to stick your fingers inside when it's running. 

vii) I think what young children need is not to fear God but to be taught to love and trust God. Taught that God is someone to turn to in time of need. Or pray to for the needs of others. Young children need a sense of security. 

viii) It might be objected that just as it's proper and necessary for young children to both love and fear their parents, the same holds true for God. But I think the comparison breaks down. Although God can manifest himself to children directly, I think God is ordinarily an abstraction for children in a way that parents are not. If, say, Christian parents must spank a misbehaving child, that will be followed by an act of reconciliation–reaffirming their love for the child. That's very tangible in a way that a child's relationship with God generally is not. 

Of course, above a certain age, children should cultivate a more complete and adult understanding of God and hell, which includes a God-fearing attitude, as well as love, trust, devotion. 

BTW, my parents never threatened me with hell, so my own position isn't in reaction to my childhood. 

Did Jesus die for the damned?

From a Facebook exchange:

Davenant cites Zanchi saying:
"It is not false that Christ died for all men: for the passion of Christ is offered to all in the Gospel. But he died effectually for the elect alone, because indeed they only are made partakers of the efficacy of the passion of Christ."

How is the passion of Christ offered to all in the Gospel unless all hear the Gospel?

I don’t think that is the point of the quote (not the main one at least), but that when the gospel is offered at earshot, it is truly offered irrespective of election.

Perhaps, but that still wouldn't mean Christ died for all men.

If the offer is real and objective, then he did. Even in a sense.

Well, the offer of the Gospel is conditional. If you repent of your sin and believe in Christ, you will be saved. Which doesn't entail universal atonement.

What is being offered is there is nothing to give for some?

Again, it's conditional. Christ died for those who respond to the offer.

Sure, it is conditional and all that, but what is he offering to those who don’t respond positively?

It's not a promise to those who don't respond. The offer is contingent on a receptive response.

So, there is no offer until the hearer responds positively?

No, it has nothing to do with chronology. It's not like there's some leftover atonement for sin for those who refuse the offer. Christ never died to atone for the sins of those who refuse the offer.

That is an affirmation. But I keep asking, what is being offered to those who will reject?

It's not an offer to those who reject it but to those who accept it.

So, what is it for those who reject it?

It's a promise provided that the offer is accepted.

So, it is an offer. You previously said it wasn’t.

No, it's a qualified offer. Why is that distinction so difficult to grasp? In one sense you could say those who reject it are promised nothing. Or you could say they are counterfactually promised something (if they were to accept it).

So, if some reject it, do they reject nothing?

i) There's nothing in reserve for those who refuse to comply with the terms of the offer.

ii) You keep ignoring the qualified nature of the offer–as if it's either simply a promise or simply not a promise.

iii) The problem is looking for a shortcut formula to reconcile particularist passages of Scripture with universal sounding passages. It's a facile solution that doesn't work.
What's required is to exegete the more universal sounding passages to show that they are in fact consistent with the particularist passages.

The problem you have in seeing what is being said is your categories. You are falling into the error of thinking in terms of quantity rather than quality. Pecuniary rather than penal. Christ death was not a commercial transaction with the much suffering for so many sins plural.

i) To begin with, you're making ignorant assumptions about my position. I don't take the position that Christ died for x number of sins, but that he died for x number of sinners

ii) In addition, "died for" is shorthand for "died with the intention of saving." Jesus didn't die with the intention of saving those who will never be saved.

The Historical Reliability of the Geography in the Gospels

Friday, April 17, 2020

Farmers in crisis

What does it mean to be Catholic?

In this video:

Franciscan apologist Casey does a good job of summarizing the second principle: mediation. This exposes a fundamental flaw in Catholic theology. 

However, his first principle is terribly confused, although it goes to the rationale for Catholic sacramentality:
In order for God to be present in these 7 ordinary objects and ritual, we must first accept that it is even possible for an infinite God to be contained by time and space. The foundation for this belief is of course the Incarnation. God is capable, and so chooses, to make God's spiritual presence known in the material world…This is a major divergence from the classical Protestant worldview which has tended to focus much more attention on the complete otherness and transcendence of God. Thus the created world, is not seen to have any direct connection to God, or bear any inherent goodness. 
i) That's a very dubious and even contradictory model of how God relates to time and space. If God is not a physical being, then it's just not possible for God to be "contained" by time and space. I can see how, from a Catholic standpoint, it's appealing to think a wafer contains God. Pop the cork and ingest God! But God can't be bottled like a genie. 

ii) The Incarnation doesn't imply that God is contained by time and space. Rather, it's a type of relation or union.

iii) Protestant theology doesn't deny that God is capable, and so chooses, to make his spiritual presence known in the material world. The question is the mode of presence. For instance, a painter isn't physically present in his painting. Yet the painting is a pervasive representation of the painter. He chose what to paint, the style, composition, and color scheme. Every brushstroke is his. A painting reflects the painter. For instance, many paintings by Dante Rossetti reveal his passion for beautiful women. 

iv) So there's such a thing as indirect or mediated presence. For instance, God makes himself "present" when he answers prayer. Not that he's physically present, but an example of God's involvement in our lives.

v) Calvinism, for one, has a doctrine of meticulous providence. That's the polar opposite of "the complete otherness and transcendence of God." Rather, God is directing every event behind-the-scenes to achieve his goals for creation. 

Is the church being obedient?

Some comments on these two posts:

i) Regarding the first, I'm not sure what Hodge is alluding to with respect to conspiracy theories. Does he mean the suspicion that COVID-19 is a hoax? Or does he mean the suspicion that the gov't response is cover to suppress Christianity? 

ii) To begin with, some Democrat officials have made it clear that they are using the crisis as a pretext to target and discriminate against Christians. So that, in itself, isn't paranoid.

iii) There is, though, the question of how far we can generalize from those examples. It's not so much that the intention of the containment policies is to single out Christians. Because the containment policies are general, they have the effect of shutting down public worship because they restrict social gatherings generally, of which church services are a subset. 

iv) When, however, public officials distinguish between essential and nonessential goods and services, and when they demote public worship to a nonessential good and service, that exposes their irreligious bias. They think Christianity is, at best, something to be tolerated. 

Then there's Hodge's statement that:
The truth is that if you do not have all of the information that the government does and have expertise in the right disciplines of medical research in order to assess that information correctly so that you would come to a correct conclusion of what is going on, then wisdom dictates that you zip your lip about it, not go off spouting whatever theory "might" be true.
i) To begin with, while medical expertise should be one source of information in formulating a public policy to deal with the pandemic, that's not the only relevant sphere of expertise. The risk assessment must not only take the projected harm of the pandemic into account, but the unintended consequences of a containment policy with regard to economic collapse. 

ii) And the idea that we should just trust public officials because we don't have all the information the government has is woefully gullible. During this crisis, many public officials have shown themselves to be reactionary, shortsighted fools who have no idea what the solution is, but just want to be seen as saviors. 

i) Regarding the second post, what I've seen is the opposite of  what Hodge has seen. Evangelical leaders stampeding to agree with public health officials, with very little pushback. 

ii) Regarding the risk of public worship, I don't have anything new to say. Hodge's objection is one-sided. It's a stock objection. I've responded in detail to that objection. Hodge hasn't engaged my arguments.

I'm not suggesting that he has any obligation to interact with my arguments, and his post was not specifically directed at anything I've written. My point is simply that I don't find his objection persuasive because I've dealt with that stock objection, and since he offers no counterargument, it's unconvincing. To be persuasive, he'd need to refute my counterargument.

Again, it's fine with me if his objective was never to engage my side of the argument. But it leaves my side of the argument untouched. 

iii) Hodge's principal argument is that physical fellowship was more necessary for 1C Christians (and even back then it wasn't absolute) than it is for 21C, hitech Christians who can achieve the same goals through technology. 

There's certainly a grain of truth to what Hodge says. To some degree the activities of the church as described in the NT reflect what was possible in the 1C. When we apply these principles to the 21C, we can adapt and update them to our own situation. We don't have the same limitations. And part of fidelity is to take advantage of resources which were not available to 1C Christians. 

iv) The question, though, is whether physical fellowship is just a timebound convention that can be replaced by the electronic church–or something essential to the communal dimension of Christianity. 

To take a comparison, artificial insemination can take the place of conjugal relations, and there are situations where artificial insemination is justifiable, but the mere fact that we have that alternative doesn't mean artificial insemination should replace conjugal relations in marital life. The normative practice is sex between husband and wife. Artificial insemination is an exception due to extenuating circumstances.

v) Hodge himself doesn't seem to think the electronic church ought to be a permanent substitute for public worship, but instead a necessary yet temporary compromise during the pandemic. And I myself am not adverse to reasonable compromises during the pandemic. 

But that pushes the question back to what is a reasonable compromise? How temporary is temporary? Hodge's analysis suffers from the myopic fixation on risk factors, as if that's the only salient consideration, as if nothing happens in public worship to offset and compensate for risk factors, as if there are no blessings distinctive to public worship which will be sacrificed by suspending public worship. Why have public worship at all unless God assigns some distinctive supernatural blessings to public worship? 

vi) As far as I can tell, Hodge has a very authoritarian view of church eldership. Ironically, he absolutizes 1C church eldership while relativizing 1C church fellowship. So he's quite selective about updating his theological principles. But surely it could be argued that 21C Christian laymen are in a very different situation in relation to church elders than 1C Christian laymen. In the 1C, illiteracy was widespread. Private copies of the Bible were rare. To some degree Christians could rely on living memory of the ministry of Christ. Many 1C elders were either eyewitnesses to the public ministry of Christ or disciples of the apostles. But that situation can't be replicated in the 21C.

By contrast, literacy is almost universal among 21C Christians in the West. Many are colleges graduates. Every layman can own a Bible. Every layman can read Bible commentaries and systematic theologies. They can read whatever the pastor can read. An elder doesn't have a unique source of theological information. Elders and laymen are in the same boat. So why is Hodge's view of the lay/elder dynamic frozen in the circumstances of the 1C when he's so flexible about public worship? 

COVID-19 and the Trolley Problem: You’re on the Tracks and the Government Is Controlling the Switch

What's the target of sola scriptura?

i) A Catholic trope is that sola scriptura is self-contradictory. Unless you can establish the canon of Scripture from Scripture alone, sola scriptura is false. The cliche formulation is to claim that unless the Bible contains its own table of contents, sola scriptura is false. Unless Scripture itself lists the books of Scripture, sola scriptura is false. 

It's striking to see the copycat mentality among Catholic apologists in that regard. They all repeat this trope as if it's self-evidently true. 

ii) I've never seen a Catholic apologist quote a classic Reformed or Lutheran creed which says sola scriptura excludes extrabiblical evidence for the canon. I've never seen a Catholic apologist quote a major 16-17 Reformed or Lutheran theologian who said sola scriptura excludes extrabiblical evidence for the canon. What historical documentation do Catholics have that sola scriptura was ever intended to exclude extrabiblical evidence for the canon? 

iii) Perhaps, though, the objection is that while sola scriptura doesn't rule out extrabiblical evidence for the canon by design, that's a necessary implication of the principle, and Protestants are simply inconsistent in that regard. They artificially exempt the canon of Scripture from sola scriptura. 

Problem is, I've never seen a Catholic apologist present an argument for why that's a necessary implication of sola scriptura. Rather, they just assert that to be the case. 

iv) What is the target of sola scriptura? Is the target extrabiblical evidence for the canon? No. The target of sola scriptura is a particular view of church authority. Sola scriptura stands in opposition to the view that the Roman Magisterium is God's oracle on earth. That God instituted a living oracle in the Roman Magisterium.

Put another way, the target of sola scripture is a rival revelation and superior revelation. In Catholicism, the Magisterium is the functional equivalent of divine revelation. Indeed, progressive revelation, which effectively abrogates the authority of Scripture. 

Understood that way, including extrabiblical evidence to establish the canon is entirely consonant with sola scriptura. That's not an ad hoc exception to the principle. 

v) Another problem with the Catholic trope is the idea that the only alternative to exclusively internal evidence for the canon is exclusively external evidence for the canon. They think the case for the canon is completely dependent on tradition. In my experience, they never even consider the internal evidence for Scripture. And their neglect makes sense, given their Catholic outlook. After all, if the canon of Scripture is ultimate determined by ecclesiastical fiat, then evidence for the canon is superfluous–be that internal or external. 

vi) Part of the problem is a failure to distinguish between tradition and evidence. When Protestants cite "traditions" as evidence for the canon, that's not an argument from authority but an appeal to historical or testimonial evidence. They aren't citing Jewish or patristic sources because, say, Josephus or some church father is an authority-figure, but because they're a good source of information. Protestants aren't implicitly falling back on ecclesiastical authority when they include patristic testimony for the authorship of certain NT books. Authority involves the notion of the power or prerogative to obligate or compel asset or behavior. That's a different principle than evidence. 

vii) A final problem is that because Catholic apologists default to the Magisterium, they neglect to appreciate the extent of internal evidence for the canon. But it's striking to consider how interwoven the books of Scripture are. To take a few examples, the Pentateuch and Historical books are interwoven. A continuous, cross-referential history. The Prophets are interwoven with the Pentateuch and Historical books, given all the cross-references. The Synoptic Gospels are interwoven. Luke/Acts are interwoven. The Pauline Epistles are interwoven. John's Gospel and 1-3 John are interwoven. The Gospels and Epistles are interwoven with Acts, due to the same participants. So there's a huge amount of internal evidence for the canon.

I'm not claiming that internal evidence is sufficient to establish the canon. I don't think that's necessary. But the canon of Scripture is a unit in a way that Catholic apologists fail to notice. 

"Historical Christianity"

Just a debate with a Catholic:

I think they [the Jews in John 6] could have thought of cannibalism, but that only indicates that they took his words seriously! And I think we should too. Where the Jews make a mistake is that partaking in the Eucharist, which as you have mentioned was not instituted at the time of the bread of life discourse but came later, is not partaking in cannibalism but in partaking in living flesh and blood, not of the dead. To reiterate, the reaction of the crowd supports the literal reading of Jesus’s Words.

1. Jesus explained: "the flesh counts for nothing" or "the flesh is no help at all" (Jn 6:63b). So if one takes these words literally, as in literal flesh and literal blood, then they've missed Jesus' point. Jesus' point is: "It is the Spirit who gives life...The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (Jn 6:63a,c). It's Jesus' "words" that give life (cf. Jn 5:24). And this has precedence in the OT as well. For example, Jer 15:16 and Ezk 2:8–3:3:

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.


"But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you." And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe. And he said to me, "Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel." So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, "Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it." Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.

2. Why is living vs. dead the relevant distinction in what does or does not constitute cannibalism? Cannibalism is simply eating literal human flesh, dead or alive. Not to mention drinking literal human blood (e.g. clinical vampirism or Renfield syndrome). Besides, there have been cannibals who have eaten the flesh of living people (e.g. Armin Meiwes and his victim). Suppose a cannibal could feast upon a victim who could remain alive forever and who could regenerate flesh indefinitely. Why wouldn't it still be cannibalism?

Here is How St. Irenaeus Understood the Eucharist

1. Irenaeus wasn't divinely inspired. He used his own reasoning to arrive at his interpretation. Likewise anyone can use their own reasoning to arrive at a particular interpretation. Of course, we'd have to evaluate each interpretation on its own merits or lack thereof to decide which (if any) interpretation is correct. This is done through our God-given cognitive faculties. Logic, reason, critical thinking, analysis, and the like. In this respect, Irenaeus' interpretation is not necessarily to be preferred over a modern biblical scholar's. It comes down to what's the more reasonable interpretation of the biblical text.

2. There were theological errors even in Jesus and his first disciples' own day (e.g. Gnostics, Judaizers). Just because an understanding or teaching is earlier than other teachings doesn't necessarily imply it's true or more true.

3. At best, Irenaeus knew people who knew the apostles (e.g. Polycarp). However, knowing someone who knew an apostle doesn't necessarily mean one's interpretation is correct or even should be preferred. It'd be like saying I knew someone who knew Einstein, but that doesn't necessarily mean people should put more weight on my understanding of special and general relativity than someone else's simply because I knew someone who knew Einstein.

So then, if the mixed cup and the manufactured bread receive the Word of God and become the Eucharist, that is to say, the Blood and Body of Christ, which fortify and build up the substance of our flesh, how can these people claim that the flesh is incapable of receiving God's gift of eternal life, when it is nourished by Christ's Blood and Body and is His member? As the blessed apostle says in his letter to the Ephesians, 'For we are members of His Body, of His flesh and of His bones' (Eph. 5:30). He is not talking about some kind of 'spiritual' and 'invisible' man, 'for a spirit does not have flesh an bones' (Lk. 24:39). No, he is talking of the organism possessed by a real human being, composed of flesh and nerves and bones. It is this which is nourished by the cup which is His Blood, and is fortified by the bread which is His Body. The stem of the vine takes root in the earth and eventually bears fruit, and 'the grain of wheat falls into the earth' (Jn. 12:24), dissolves, rises again, multiplied by the all-containing Spirit of God, and finally after skilled processing, is put to human use. These two then receive the Word of God and become the Eucharist, which is the Body and Blood of Christ.

1. At best, what Irenaeus says might be consistent with a spiritual presence, but that still falls short of Catholic transubstantiation.

2. Irenaeus himself may not have believed it's literal or actual flesh and blood. See Irenaeus' Fragments 13.

I am not manufacturing consensus. Consensus is a fact. I only exclude Protestants as they are not part of Early Church History. Remember, my original claim is if you study Church History you would cease to be Protestant. Imbedded in this claim is that if you study Church history, you would rightly exclude the Protestant position as being ahistorical, illogical, and against the text. But again, this is only AFTER having studied history.

1. Not that I would grant Protestantism is "ahistorical", but an ideological movement can be "ahistorical" without it being "illogical" or "against the text". These are separable arguments.

2. History is no accurate guide to truth. Minimally history is a catalogue of what happened in the past. However that could include all sorts of heresies as well (e.g. Gnostics, Arians, Unitarians, Nestorians).

3. How does one adjudicate what should or shouldn't count as "historical Christianity"? Scripture? Catholic bishops and councils? The Roman Catholic church which according to Catholics gave us the Bible?

4. Catholicism itself has morphed and evolved over the ages. For instance, see Steve's post "Rome's clouded crystal ball".

5. Ultimately I'd opt for biblical Christianity over "historical Christianity". Of course this would get us into a debate over sola scriptura. But my only point at the moment is that "historical Christianity" is hardly the only way to frame the debate. Your idea of "historical Christianity" is at least as debatable or contestable as sola scriptura.

You obviously did not come to the conclusion that Jesus was speaking symbolically on your own. You were taught this by someone and came to accept it. This is no different than how any of our beliefs are formed. The difference between a Protestant and a Historical Christian is that, I believe, we rightly include the gamut of Church history, especially those most instrumental in the formation of the Church when forming our opinions. I would say the Protestants are more weakly formed by relying on individuals from the 16th and 17th century and took it upon themselves to “reinterpret” the Bible. This “reinterpretation” is basically what this entire thread boils down to. I think if someone is honest and reviews the record, the Historical Christian view is correct, and the Protestant view is incorrect.

1. I came to my conclusions about John 6 primarily by studying the biblical text, studying scholarly works including commentaries on the text, comparing my understanding to theirs, drawing my own conclusions.

2. Sure, it's possible to be "taught" something by someone else, but at the same time it's possible to use one's own logic and reasoning, ask relevant questions, and so forth to see if what's been taught comports with sound reason. These aren't necessarily at odds with one another.

3. Contemporary Protestants don't "rely on individuals from the 16th and 17th century" as if these individuals are our sole or primary reasons we believe what we believe. The exegetical and theological bases for arguments about the eucharist (to take an example) have been refined and developed over the centuries.

4. For that matter, what if Protestants made the same allegation about Catholics. That is, suppose we said Catholics rely on Trent in the same manner. Yet, if so, why is Vatican II so different from Trent?

The kenosis theory

From John Frame's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (pp 392n11, 881-882):

"Kenosis" Christologies, of course, do maintain that when the Son of God became man, he set aside some or all of his divine attributes. But God cannot be God, as we have seen, without his attributes. If the incarnate Christ lacked any essential divine attribute, then he was not God in the flesh.

But some have argued that the “emptying” (kenosis) of verse 7 (NASB) means that when Jesus became man he divested himself of some, or all, divine attributes. This view has become known as the kenosis theory. But if Jesus, in his incarnation, divested himself of any essential divine attributes (morphe), as on this view, then during his incarnation (which continues without end!) he was and is not God at all. For God is not God without his essential attributes. But the idea that Jesus was not God when he was in the flesh contradicts a vast amount of biblical data, as we have seen. The nature of the kenosis of Philippians 2:7 can be understood perfectly well as the self-humbling of God’s servant, expressed for example in the servant songs of Isaiah, which lie behind the language of verse 8.13 That is, of course, Paul’s point in the larger context. Jesus’ self-humbling is an example for the believers in Philippi, to serve one another rather than themselves. This is an ethical point, not a metaphysical one. Paul is telling them to behave differently, not to divest their metaphysical status (finite humanity) to become something else.

From Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine:

Did Jesus Give Up Some of His Divine Attributes While on Earth? (The Kenosis Theory).

Paul writes to the Philippians,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil. 2:5–7)

Beginning with this text, several theologians in Germany (from about 1860–1880) and in England (from about 1890–1910) advocated a view of the incarnation that had not been advocated before in the history of the church. This new view was called the "kenosis theory," and the overall position it represented was called "kenotic theology." The kenosis theory holds that Christ gave up some of his divine attributes while he was on earth as a man. (The word kenosis is taken from the Greek verb kenoō, which generally means "to empty," and is translated "emptied himself" in Phil. 2:7.) According to the theory Christ "emptied himself" of some of his divine attributes, such as omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, while he was on earth as a man. This was viewed as a voluntary self-limitation on Christ’s part, which he carried out in order to fulfill his work of redemption.27

But does Philippians 2:7 teach that Christ emptied himself of some of his divine attributes, and does the rest of the New Testament confirm this? The evidence of Scripture points to a negative answer to both questions. We must first realize that no recognized teacher in the first 1,800 years of church history, including those who were native speakers of Greek, thought that "emptied himself" in Philippians 2:7 meant that the Son of God gave up some of his divine attributes. Second, we must recognize that the text does not say that Christ "emptied himself of some powers" or "emptied himself of divine attributes" or anything like that. Third, the text does describe what Jesus did in this "emptying": he did not do it by giving up any of his attributes but rather by "taking the form of a servant," that is, by coming to live as a man, and "being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:8). Thus, the context itself interprets this "emptying" as equivalent to "humbling himself" and taking on a lowly status and position. Thus, the NIV, instead of translating the phrase, "He emptied himself," translates it, "but made himself nothing" (Phil. 2:7 NIV). The emptying includes change of role and status, not essential attributes or nature.

A fourth reason for this interpretation is seen in Paul’s purpose in this context. His purpose has been to persuade the Philippians that they should "do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves" (Phil. 2:3), and he continues by telling them, "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Phil. 2:4). To persuade them to be humble and to put the interests of others first, he then holds up the example of Christ: "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant . . ." (Phil. 2:5–7).

Now in holding up Christ as an example, he wants the Philippians to imitate Christ. But certainly he is not asking the Philippian Christians to "give up" or "lay aside" any of their essential attributes or abilities! He is not asking them to "give up" their intelligence or strength or skill and become a diminished version of what they were. Rather, he is asking them to put the interests of others first: "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Phil. 2:4). And because that is his goal, it fits the context to understand that he is using Christ as the supreme example of one who did just that: he put the interests of others first and was willing to give up some of the privilege and status that was his as God.

Therefore, the best understanding of this passage is that it talks about Jesus giving up the status and privilege that was his in heaven: he "did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped" (or "clung to for his own advantage"), but "emptied himself" or "humbled himself" for our sake, and came to live as a man. Jesus speaks elsewhere of the "glory" he had with the Father "before the world was made" (John 17:5), a glory that he had given up and was going to receive again when he returned to heaven. And Paul could speak of Christ who, "though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor" (2 Cor. 8:9), once again speaking of the privilege and honor that he deserved but temporarily gave up for us.

The fifth and final reason why the "kenosis" view of Philippians 2:7 must be rejected is the larger context of the teaching of the New Testament and the doctrinal teaching of the entire Bible. If it were true that such a momentous event as this happened, that the eternal Son of God ceased for a time to have all the attributes of God—ceased, for a time, to be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, for example—then we would expect that such an incredible event would be taught clearly and repeatedly in the New Testament, not found in the very doubtful interpretation of one word in one epistle. But we find the opposite of that: we do not find it stated anywhere else that the Son of God ceased to have some of the attributes of God that he had possessed from eternity. In fact, if the kenosis theory were true (and this is a foundational objection against it), then we could no longer affirm Jesus was fully God while he was here on earth.28 The kenosis theory ultimately denies the full deity of Jesus Christ and makes him something less than fully God. S. M. Smith admits, "All forms of classical orthodoxy either explicitly reject or reject in principle kenotic theology."29

It is important to realize that the major force persuading people to accept kenotic theory was not that they had discovered a better understanding of Philippians 2:7 or any other passage of the New Testament, but rather the increasing discomfort people were feeling with the formulations of the doctrine of Christ in historic, classical orthodoxy. It just seemed too incredible for modern rational and "scientific" people to believe that Jesus Christ could be truly human and fully, absolutely God at the same time.30 The kenosis theory began to sound more and more like an acceptable way to say that (in some sense) Jesus was God, but a kind of God who had for a time given up some of his Godlike qualities, those that were most difficult for people to accept in the modern world.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Is God sending us a message?

Thus far I haven't offered a theological interpretation of the pandemic. That's because I don't have the answer. It can bring discredit on the Christian faith when spiritual leaders presume to interpret providential disasters. Unbelievers, not without reason, don't think spiritual leaders are privy to God's rationale, even if there was a God, so they think spiritual leaders are just exploiting the situation. Despite the fact that they don't know what they're talking about, they take advantage of tragedy to score theological points. Not that I'm a spiritual leader. I'm not that high on the pecking order. But I'm just stating a general principle. The exercise can fuel the cynicism of unbelievers–or even believers.

That said, there's value in running through a list of potential explanations, and assessing their pros and cons. We just need to avoid dogmatism. 

A . Provoking questions

Just being forced to stop and ask if God sending us/me a message is a useful exercise–especially for the spiritually indifferent. Shakes them out of their complacency. 

B. A sign

1. A prima facie difficulty with saying the pandemic is a divine sign is that, in general, there needs to be agreement on what a sign means for it to be a sign. How can it send a message unless we understand the significance of the sign? Yet one problem with the pandemic is that it's open to more than one theological interpretation.  So the whole notion ambiguous signaling seems to contradict to the purpose of a sign. (Mind you, these needn't all be mutually exclusive explanations.)

2. Perhaps, though, that's prematurely dismissive. Suppose I drive to a park. When I return to my car, after jogging, there's a handwritten sign on my windshield which says "I saw what you did Friday!"

Now that's ambiguous on different levels: 

i) Maybe it's just a prank by somebody who picked out my car at random. He never saw me do anything on Friday.

ii) Or the sign might be a veiled threat. Perhaps he did see me do something wrong or illegal. Maybe he's going to turn me in! Or more sinister yet, maybe he's coming after me!

iii) Perhaps I don't remember doing anything wrong on Friday. But the sign forces me to jog my memory. Maybe I unwittingly did something to tick him off. 

iv) Or maybe I don't remember, not because I did nothing wrong, but because I'm a dishonest person for whom wrongdoing is so routine that's all a blur. Yes, I did something wrong on Friday, and the day before, and the day after.

I'm used to getting away with it. But this time I ticked off the wrong person. Someone who will exact revenge. This time my dishonesty caught up with me. 

v) Or maybe I'm generally honest, but Friday was the exception. I did something wrong or illegal. Unbeknownst to me, there was a witness. 

Now the sign can be ambiguous by design. The ominous sign is intended to instill fear and anxiety. Make me uncertain about what the future holds for me. Throw me off balance. 

C. Judgment

1. In Scripture, some natural evils are divine judgments. Yet in Scripture, some natural evils have a different purpose. They're not punitive.

2. A problem with the judicial interpretation is that the pandemic is so indiscriminate. When it falls on the righteous and wicked alike, that makes it harder to recognize as divine judgment rather than some morally random event. 

Mind you, collective guilt isn't a necessary condition for collective punishment. As I often say, due to fact that human beings are social creatures, the innocent are often collateral damage in collective punishment. They aren't the targets. 

3. But another problem with the judicial interpretation is the message it sends. Divine judgment can have deterrent value when recognized as divine judgment. But unbelievers don't think God exists, and for them, the pandemic is just one more item in the problem of evil.

4. Another problem with the judicial interpretation is the timing. Why now? Is the human race wickeder than it was 5 or 10 or 15 years ago? 

Perhaps, though, God needs to bring judgment on the human race every so often because, if he never he punishes evil prior to the Final Judgment, then evil will spiral out of control. So even if the timing is somewhat arbitrary, periodic judgment is necessary to keep evil from getting completely out of hand. 

But if that's the reason, it raises the question of how natural disasters like the pandemic are a check on evil. Will that make the wicked mend their ways? 

D. Warning

A problem with this interpretation is that given all the kinds of natural disasters and causes of death, what makes the pandemic a distinctive divine warning? Of course, we could treat them all as warnings and in sense we should, but practical speaking, the impact is diluted by their range and frequency. Like the judicial interpretation, it seems to be too indiscriminate to function as a clear-cut warning rather than a morally random event. 

E. Reminder

The pandemic is undoubtedly a reminder of our vulnerability. Despite the fact that human technology becomes exponentially more powerful, nature is incomparably more powerful than human technology. Our technology can't protect us from many natural disasters. We're at the mercy of natural disasters beyond our ken or control. Nature will always be more powerful than technology because technology depends on natural forces and natural processes. 

That's a salutary reminder to people who avoid thinking about death or the meaning of life. It shakes them up. 

F. Disruption

The pandemic is very disruptive to the status quo. While that's bad in some ways, it's good in other ways. Over time, power naturally concentrates in the hands of evil. The disruptive impact of the pandemic forces the wicked to fall back, regroup, and rebuild. They may not be able to restore the status quo. So it slows them down. Impedes their dominance. Buys the righteous some breathing room. 

If so, that's not a case of God sending a message, but has a different purpose. 

Warrior (2011): A review

I'm a casual MMA fan. I sometimes like to watch UFC fights. Legends like GSP, Fedor, Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, etc. Even Conor McGregor can be entertaining to watch, despite his insufferable trash talking.

The movie Warrior (2011) is perhaps my favorite sports film. The plot involves MMA fighting, but the movie is really about redemptive love.

Spoilers ahead.

Midcourse corrections

A stock Catholic objection to Protestant theology is that you can't find Protestant distinctives in pre-Reformation church history. For instance, you can't find sola scriptura or sola fide in the church fathers. Suppose we grant that contention for the sake of argument. How does that disqualify Protestant theology?

i) Truth isn't determined by taking a headcount. The correct interpretation isn't determined by taking a headcount. Many or most folks believe much or most of what they do due to social conditioning, which is one reason appeal to consensus is a highly unreliable guide to truth. 

ii) Popular opinion carries no presumption that the opinion is true. For that matter, mere scholarly opinion carries no presumption that the opinion is true. An interpretation is only as good as the logic and evidence adduced in support of the interpretation. Reasons rather than opinions are what merits consideration.

iii) Whether or not people find an argument convincing is irrelevant to whether it's a good argument. Atheists find arguments for Christianity unconvincing. That, in itself, doesn't invalidate the arguments for Christianity. Most Jews are not persuaded by the messianic claims of Jesus. But that, in itself, doesn't make the messiahship of Jesus doubtful. 

iv) It's also the case, in the history of ideas, that an erroneous idea may not appear to be erroneous at the outset. Or it might seem to be a minor error. We may only come to recognize the error, or appreciate the magnitude of the error, as it works out in practice. As people begin to build a political or theological edifice on that seminal, seemingly innocuous idea. Marxism is appealing on paper because it's utopian. The irony is the chasm between how idealistic Marxism is on paper and how inhumane it is in reality. 

Likewise, certain theological ideas involving the status of Mary or the nature of justification (to mention two examples) may have unforeseen consequences until those undergo further development in theory and practice. At that juncture it's easier to recognize where things got off to a bad start. 

The Catholic doctrine of justification gets bundled with other things like Purgatory, indulgences, and the treasury of merit. Likewise, Catholic Mariology begins to usurp the prerogatives of Jesus. Consider, too, the role of Marian apparitions in popular Catholic piety.  

Seminal theological errors have a snowball effect over time. At that point Protestants may bypass long stretches of historical theology and go back to biblical revelation because the development of dogma went offtrack, and that's easier to see in hindsight. That's a stimulus to reexamine traditional Catholic interpretations of Scripture. Something went wrong early on, requiring a midcourse correction. For Catholic apologists to complain that these are theological innovations misses the point. If Catholic traditions are a source of error, they need to be replaced. Like installing a new car part to replace a defective part. Redesigning the defective car part. If Catholic theology suffers from design flaws, and that becomes increasingly evident after the fact, then fixing them after the fact is necessary. And repairs will take place at a later stage in church history because the historical process exposes the design flaws. 

Healing shrines

Here's an interesting installment in their ongoing series:

However, I disagree with how the issue is framed:

So how can anyone, even if favorably disposed toward miracles and healing shrines, know for sure that a dramatic improvement or cure was thanks to a pilgrimage to a healing site and not due to natural healing, psychological factors, or some unexpected change that could still be explained in naturalistic terms?

1. That's a false dichotomy. As I've discussed before, I think the real question is the basis of comparison. Given the nearly negligible number of confirmed healings at Lourdes in relation to the total number of pilgrims, why assume they were healed because they went to Lourdes? I mean, don't you have to compare it to the percentage of miraculously healed people who never went to Lourdes. Are the odds higher of miraculous healing if you go to Lourdes? Is there any statistically measurable difference? Once again, given the exceedingly low correlation between confirmed healings at Lourdes in relation to the total number of pilgrims, would they experience miraculous healing whether or not they went to Lourdes? 

Suppose a hundred cars have flat tires within the same half-mile stretch of freeway. Is that suspicious? Does this mean that for some reason cars are more likely to have flat tires at that location? Is someone scattering tire spikes along that stretch of freeway? 

But doesn't that inference depend on the basis of comparison? How many cars have driven along that stretch of the freeway compared to other sections of the freeway? Over how many years have a hundred cars gotten flat tires along that stretch of the freeway. And how does that compare to flat tires along other stretches of the freeway, over the same timeframe? 

2. I'd add that if Roman Catholicism is true, and God made Lourdes a healing shrine to validate Roman Catholicism, it's passing strange that he left the evidence so ambiguous by making the cure rate so vanishingly small. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Repetitious prayer

From a Facebook exchange:

How many time do we need to pray for a prayer request... So that God will listen....! If God can listen our prayer once... Why do people pray again and again for same prayer matter...?

Some prayer requests have a deadline.

Hoooo…. What about others...?

It's partly a question of priorities. Not all prayer requests are equally important to the petitioner.

Doesn't God know which prayers are more important ? Why repetitively petition him?

I never said if we should or shouldn't repetitively petition him. Repetition doesn't mechanically raise the odds that God will answer a prayer. 

But it can be an indication of how much it means to us. How much we really care.

So the repetition is to inform yourself.

No, it can simply be an indication of what lies heavy on our heart.

An indication to whom? For what? To god? To make known to yourself what is heavy on your heart?

Christians can feel burdened about particular issues. They may pray about it more often because they think about it more often. It's more central to their concerns. It's something they have on their mind. And unless and until their prayer request is granted, it's just natural to continue to pray about it because it occupies more of their attention.

Prayer was never about reminding God of a need. And it's not generally about reminding ourselves, as if we forgot. That said, there are things we pray for because we have a duty to pray for them, and then there are things we pray for because it's more personal.

What's the goal of human existence?

1. What is the goal of human existence? According to traditional Catholic theology, the goal is the Beatific vision:
1023 Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they "see him as he is," face to face (1 Jn 3:2; cf. 1 Cor 13:12; Rev 22:4)…these souls have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature.
But there are problems with that claim:

i) The setting is heaven or the intermediate state rather than the final state. So can an interim experience be the goal of human existence? How can a temporary experience which will eventually lie in the past be the goal of human existence? 

ii) There's no relationship between the claim and the prooftexts. The prooftexts don't say or imply that the saints will see  the divine essence with an intuitive vision.

iii) It's contradictory to say the saints will see God face to face without the mediation of any creature. God in himself has no face. God has no appearance. He's not a physical being. He can manifest himself, but he does so through symbolic physical media or symbolic dreams and visions. The saints could see God face-to-face in the way Isaiah (Isa 6) and Daniel (Dan 7) had a vision of God like a human king on a throne. 

iv) Of course, there's a sense in which the saints can see God face-to-face in the person of Jesus, as God Incarnate. 

2. What about the evangelical perspective? If you ask evangelicals what's the first thing they want to see or do when they get to heaven, they will give different answers. 

i) Some will say they look forward to seeing their departed loves ones. For them, the joy of heaven is primarily a family reunion between loved ones separated by death. I think that's the more candid answer. (This assumes your late relatives died in Christ.)

ii) The pious answer is that the first thing Christians want to see is Jesus when they die. In some cases that's a sincere answer, but in some cases I suspect they say that because they think that's what they're supposed to say or feel. 

But is that the goal of human existence? Is Jesus a means to an end or an end in himself, redemptively speaking? He's the Savior, but once we complete the pilgrimage, have we crossed that bridge? 

Likewise, if you meet Jesus when you die, then what? is there something special about being in the presence of Jesus? The disciples were often in his company day and night for weeks or months. But for the most part it wasn't some conspicuously numinous experience. There was the Transfiguration. Walking on water. But in general, to be in the physical presence of Jesus wasn't a source of ecstasy. 

Even in Scripture, encounters with Jesus take two different forms. One form is outwardly human and down-to-earth. The other form is an overwhelming Christophany. 

What do you do for eternity after you meet Jesus? Do the saints hang out with Jesus every day? If so, doing what?

iii) Another answer might be to see the glories of heaven. But many Christians undergo psychological damage in this life. In their case, the first thing they need isn't something spectacular, but emotional healing. Perhaps encountering Jesus will be restorative. And a family reunion will be restorative to some degree. 

It might be a two-stage process. The first stage is emotional healing. After that you're ready for the glories of heaven. 

3. Another cliche is ask God all your questions. Theological questions. Or existential questions what why God allowed certain tragedies or disappointments to darken your life or the lives of your loved ones. 

4. Humans are fundamentally earthlings, and I think we find the fulfillment of our basic needs and desires in natural goods. That doesn't mean the natural realm is sufficient. By itself, the natural realm is thin and one-dimensional. It requires the 3D depth of the supernatural realm to fill it out and give it ultimate meaning. But I don't think supernatural experiences are the essence of what makes human life satisfying. Down-to-earth goods are more central to the kind of creatures God made us to be. 

This also goes to the distinction between heaven or the intermediate state and the new earth or the final state. In this life, many Christians experience deprivations. Things they lost that made life enjoyable and worthwhile, as well as basic physical and emotional needs that went unmet in this life. In the world to come, their neglected physical and emotional needs will be provided for.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Jesus sighted

Tim Sledge
Christians assert Jesus was crucified, rose from the dead 3 days later, appeared to some of his followers over a 40-day period, then disappeared in the clouds.

That was 2,000 years ago & Jesus hasn't been seen or heard from since.

But he's coming back any day now. #HeIsNotRisen

I don't normally comment on Sledge. I only became aware of him when Jeff Lowder began retweeting him. Sledge is an apostate Baptist minister who's laboring to parlay his apostasy into a career. He repeats all the canned objections to Christianity. 

Unfortunately for him, the market niche for apostates is very tight. Bart Ehrman is the star attraction. Other wannabes are fighting for crumbs.

What I'd point out is that there are many reported Christophanies throughout church history right up to the present. That includes a collection published by Oxford University Press:

In addition, the Muslim world is undergoing a quiet Christian revival due to reported dreams and visions of Jesus. This has been documented in books by Tom Doyle and David Garrison, among others. 

My point is not to vouch for every reported Christophany. But there's lots of prima facie evidence that Jesus has been seen and heard in the intervening 2000 years. And we'd expect Christophanies to be underreported since it's not like there's a team of researchers in every generation going door-to-door to interview people.  

DOJ sides with free exercise of religion

Livestreaming church services the next target

In response to the pandemic, many churches have fallen back on livestreaming services as a substitute for public worship. But that window is closing, too.

The world next door

Because much of what the Bible describes is indetectable to natural perception, that can lend Christianity an air of unreality. The Bible describes heaven. A realm of souls and spirits. The Bible describes the world to come. A future reality that lies out of sight.

But we're ordinarily immersed in the physical, sensible world of the present, with many traces of the past. The living are sealed away in this world, like a snowglobe.

There are, however, many exceptions. And they range along a continuum. Exceptions where the supernatural breaks into our mundane existence. At one end of the continuum, an unmistakable answer to prayer or a special providence.

Further along, God speaking to a Christian in an audible voice. Or an angelic apparition. Or a Christophany. We normally experience a clockwork universe, but some Christians, or Christians sometimes, experience something reaching in from outside the clockwork universe. And this can include the activity of evil spirits.

Canonical examples include revelatory dreams and visions, where seers perceive heaven or the world to come.

However, even if we set aside the supernatural examples where there's crossover traffic, dreams are a useful reminder that our perception of reality is very compartmentalized, and what appears to be real or unreal is dramatically variable.

You can have a very vivid, tangible, detailed dream that seems to be just a real as waking experience. It can be like stepping right into another world. The world next door. It was there all along, but you can't be simultaneously conscious of both. Indeed, for the dreamer, the dreamscape seems more real because that's what he's perceiving at the time. The world outside the dream is indetectable. So there's a reversal. He's immersed in the dreamscape. A different snowglobe, sealed off from the waking world.

Of course, ordinary dreams are imaginary, although they may tap into something larger than individual human minds. The point, though, is that dreams illustrate how easy it would be for our mundane world to coexist with a supernatural realm. How what may seem to have an air of unreality is right on the other side. How easy it would be to slide back and forth between them. In that respect, dreams have great emblematic value.

The plague-bearer

In 2023 a bioengineered pathogen escaped from a military laboratory. It was highly contagious and virulent. Humans had no resistance to the pathogen. If infected, the fatality rate was 100%. 

Civil authorities resorted to ruthless, desperate quarantine measures. Anyone suspected of contracting the disease was burned alive by soldiers and police armed with flamethrowers. Major population centers were nuked with neutron bombs. But it was a losing battle. The human race was facing imminent extinction. 

Yet years before the existential threat emerged, there was a young man by the name of Josh. As a teenager, he discovered that if he laid hands on sick family member, he could extract and absorb the illness. By transferring the illness to himself, he destroyed it.

This was, however, a closely-guarded family secret. If Josh's abilities as a healer became well-known, he'd never have a moment's rest. His reputation would curse him to be inundated by countless desperately sick men and women, or parents bringing their hopelessly sick children. It was far too much for one man to handle. 

But after the outbreak, he sacrificially volunteered to heal the sick. The task was overwhelming. When the military got wind of his gift, he was abducted and taken to a secure facility, where he was tested. After some experiments, they discovered that if his blood was infected with the pathogen, it developed antibodies that destroyed the pathogen. Transfusions of his blood cured the infected. And their blood developed the same antibodies. By replicating the antibodies, scientists devised an antidote. 

He saved the human race through his vicarious healing abilities. But his fame as a healer made his own life unendurable. He had no respite. He couldn't go into hiding because he was too recognizable. And too many eyes were tracking his every movement. Having a wife and kids was out of the question, and his freedom was constantly endangered by fanatics who sought to kidnap him for their own use. He felt like a hunted animal. He died at 23 when he was swept downriver attempting to elude pursuers.