Saturday, May 23, 2020

Is God like us?

Here's a highly intelligent discussion of a recondite topic:

1. I agree with classical theism that God is timeless and impassable. Mullins has a nice definition of timelessness, but I'll quote his definition of impassibility, which makes three related claims bundled into one:
(i) Impossible for God to suffer.
(ii) Impossible for God to be caused or influenced by anything external to God.
(iii) Impossible for God to have an emotion that is inconsistent with his perfect happiness, his perfect rationality, and his perfect moral goodness.

Among other things, they define Thomstic simplicity to mean all God's attributes are identical to each other. All divine acts are identical to each other and to God's essence. God has no potentialities. God can't react.

2. I'm a classical theist but not a Thomist. I have almost no use for the Thomistic metaphysical categories. I concede that Classical theism is a combination of revelation and reason, special and general revelation. 

3. A big problem with Thomism is that it superimposes onto scripture an interpretive grid or philosophical hermeneutic that's imported entirely from the outside. It has no footing in scripture, and often overrides what the text says. 

4. Another problem with Thomism is that it leads to a very skeptical view of what we can know about God.

5. A basic appeal of non-classical theism is that it looks more biblical, more Protestant, than classical theism. 

6. On the issue of God-talk, I think Nemesh makes a good point that when God is "angry" in scripture, that's not a depiction of his mental state but an expression of his punitive actions. God's anger takes place in the world, not in himself. 

7. Because Thomistic simplicity is a bundle of distinct claims, it's not an all-or-nothing package. I agree with Aquinas that God is not an exemplification of properties over and above himself, but the exemplar. God is simple in the sense that he has no spatiotemporal parts or subdivisions. 

8. A problem with non-classical theism is that if in fact God is timeless and impassable, then how else can God relate to us except in ways that operate within what we are able to experience?

9. Scripture isn't uniform in how it depicts God. So it's not as though the non-classical theist consistently has scripture on his side while the classical theism must go outside of scripture. For instance, the predestinarian passages are much more consistent with classical theism than non-classical theism. God has an antemudane plan for the world. 

And that in itself suggests which set of passages we should use to interpret the other set of passages. The predestinarian passages go behind-the-scenes, showing us that the descriptions of God's activity in history are the outworking of his antemundane plan. So those enjoy interpretive priority. And it's not coincidental that the predestinarian passages of Scripture occur in the didactic genres (e.g. NT letters). 

10. It's not coincidental that the prooftexts for non-classical theism cluster around the narrative and poetic genres of scripture. But we'd expect the language of poetry to be more performative than propositional. 

11. Then there's God's relation to time. The world comes into being but God does not. Indeed, God brings the world into being. That raises the question of whether God subsists outside of time. Although it doesn't quite answer the question, I'd say that it's not only consistent with God subsisting outside of time but a more natural implication of the claim than the view that God was always temporal. Some non-classical theists split the difference by saying God entered time when he made the world. But the texts about creation don't say that.

12. Likewise, the predestinarian passages raise questions about God's relation to time. If time is an artifact of creation, and if time is part of God's plan for the world, then that suggests that his plan is timeless, in which case he is timeless. 

13. Among other things, biblical theism is supposed to be a corrective to pagan conceptions of God. But if we just went with certain poetic and narrative descriptions, Yahweh sometimes acts like the very humanoid heathen deities that scripture is designed to oppose. It blurs a critical point of contrast. 

All told, I think classical theism has a varied footing in text of scripture, unlike Thomism. 

14. When scripture records a conversation between Moses or Abraham and God, I don't think that's just a representation of God, where the narrator writes a story that doesn't correspond to what really happened. This is God's accommodation to our human limitations, but it's not a literary accommodation. 

As a matter of fact, Abraham hears God say something, then Abraham says something, then he hears God say something, then he says something. So the record of the conversation is true to Abraham's experience. 

However, the purpose of the conversation is not to peel back the curtain to show the metaphysical machinery behind the conversation. The fact that Abraham hears God in a temporal sequence doesn't entail that God is speaking to him directly. That God himself must enter time to have this conversation. Rather, God can use natural means to effect a script. 

15. Mullins objects that classical theism must explain away too much scripture. I agree with him in the case of Thomism. There is, however, nothing inherently wrong with having a unified hermeneutic which interprets the same kinds of passages the same way. 

16. Regarding the question of whether divine love is reducible to self-love, I say God can love us the way a fiction writer loves one of his characters. 

3 Reasons Why Muslims Should Seriously Consider Christianity

When Heaven invades Hell

Philosopher and philosophical theologian Josh Rasmussen and his wife Rachel just published a novelistic defense of universalism. Josh is a far better philosopher than theologian. I'm going to quote and comment on some representative passages from the novel. 

So, perhaps some forgiveness for some souls will come after an age of separation.”
Moses replies sharply, “But what about the unforgivable sin, Adam?”
Moses points down at the scroll. “Look! Here it is written, ‘whoever blasphemes against
the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.’ The words are plain. Never means never. Are you going to tell me that never doesn’t mean never?”
Adam smiles. He asks, “Where does meaning come from, Moses? Does not your own experience create the meanings you associate with words?”
Adam then touches the text on the scroll and pulls his finger upward. Golden words appear above the scroll. The words are translated in your mind as follows:
‘Whoever may speak evil in regard to the Holy Spirit hath not forgiveness for an age, but is in danger of age-enduring judgment.’
Different people, depending on their experiences, will read the scroll according to different interpretations.
“So, what if the meaning in someone’s mind concerning what the scroll says is inconsistent with the meaning in someone else’s mind? Where will you find the truth then?”
Different people, depending on their experiences, will read the scroll according to different interpretations.
“So, what if the meaning in someone’s mind concerning what the scroll says is inconsistent with the meaning in someone else’s mind? Where will you find the truth then?”
Adam shares his reasoning with Moses:
“Our experiences unlock our understanding of the Lord’s revelation. To have sight, we must have the Lord’s light. Where we do not have light, we do not have sight.
“Let me tell you, Moses, what I see most clearly. By the Lord’s light inside my heart, I see that love creates boundaries of protection. Joshua and Rachel Rasmussen, When Heaven Invades Hell (Great Legacy Books 2020), chap 5, 72-74.

i) This gets into complicated debates over the locus of meaning. Is meaning located in the text or the reader? In one sense, a text must have a recognizable meaning to the reader. So the reader brings something to the text. But there must be something in the text to recognize. So that's something the text brings to the reader. As a rule, authors write to be understood. They draw upon a cultural preunderstanding which the author and the target audience share in common. So even though there's a sense in which the reader must complete the process of communication, the reader is expected to interpret the text in a certain way. To recognize what the text means is not to determine what it means. Authors write with an ideal reader (the implied reader) in mind. 

ii) In folk theology, the Holy Spirit gives Christians the correct interoperation of Scripture. Josh seems to be making a similar claim. But the Bible doesn't promise that, and interpretive diversity among Christians belies that. Some unbelievers have a more accurate understanding of Scripture than many believers. For instance, a critical Bible commentator.

“We suffer by the sight of this beast’s suffering. But would our suffering end if this beast were no longer in our sight? It would not. We would still suffer, knowing that this beast is suffering somewhere separated from our presence. Even if the suffering of this beast were blocked from our sight—and removed from our memory—that would still not eliminate all suffering in heaven.
“Remember, the Lord also suffers as the beast suffers. Can the Lord, the Ruler of Heaven and Earth, choose not to see or even remember the suffering of this dark soul? It is written, ‘If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.’ Where could we possibly send a soul to escape the Lord’s sight? I tell you, the suffering of even one soul, even the darkest of souls, will be felt by the Lord.
“Children of the Most High, I present to you a mystery: how can heaven be fully heaven while there remains the pain of seeing someone in hell?”
The quiet whisper of the Lord replies, “My heart is large enough for all the cosmos to fit inside.” The Lion’s gaze then returns to the dark orb and the suffering beast.
The desire for the suffering in heaven to end builds. As it builds in size and power, something strange happens...Suddenly, a violent shock wave erupts from the singularity...Everyone watches in shock.
Lucifer is no longer in his cage of torment. The beast is now free, chap 8 (104).

“When I brought Lucifer, who was the Dark One, into heaven, I protected him inside an orb... chap. 10 (125).

The Lion walks close to the pitiful creature who is rolled up in a ball on the ground. Instead of towering over the creature, the Lion kneels on the ground beside him. Tears stream from the Lion’s glossy eyes, down his cheeks, and onto His mane. Emotions of love pour out of the Lion’s chest in the form of gentle waves. The waves flow from the Lion’s chest to the dark creature beside him...The multitude joins the Lion in expressing love toward the beast. Waves of love roll out of every being, chap 9 (105-6).

The Lion turns to Lucifer and speaks: “This first insight is about you, my beloved angel.
Lucifer, you have a great power to affect my emotions. I traveled through the caverns of darkness to reach you. But when I stood in your presence, you felt something inside of me. Do you remember what you felt? You said you sensed fear in me. You were right, Lucifer. I was afraid.
“You, my dear angel, didn’t understand my fear or your power. You had the power to make me tremble. I trembled at the thought of losing you...“All beings are connected. Every being affects me...“My love for Lucifer was so great that I would do anything to restore him to wholeness. If I could suffer the torments of hell a million times over in his place, I would do it... chap 10 (123-4).

i) Freewill theism ranges along a continuum. The view of God expressed in these passages represents what happens when that's taken to a logical extreme. Creatures wield power over God. He's an emotional hostage to our uncontrollable actions. Because he's afraid of losing us, we can pull his strings. It's like parent and child trading places. 

ii) In the acknowledgments, the authors thank Jerry Walls (among others) for his "inspiration and valuable feedback on an earlier draft of this book". That's a window into his own position. He recently published Does God Love Everyone?: The Heart of What's Wrong with Calvinism. For Jerry, the worst possible thing you can believe is to deny that God loves everybody. But the universalism in the novel represents the consistent alternative. Everyone including Satan will be saved. 

iii) Then there's the feminist angle, where Josh and Rachel make Eve a heavenly counselor, font of spiritual insight and wisdom.

iv) I wonder if part of the problem is due to the pernicious influence of C. S. Lewis. My immediate point isn't to bash Lewis, but the use people make of  him. For instance, it's striking how many professing Christians get their eschatology from The Great Divorce. The popularity of Lewis fosters a mentality in which many professing Christians begin with fiction as their source of theology. An inspirational fictional story. 


Tyndale House magazine's ink aka THink will be available to read online for free. It features articles from several fine biblical scholars. See the Think staff.

Schreiner on 1-2 Peter and Jude


1-2 Peter and Jude: The Christian Standard Commentary

The fate of democracy in Asia

Coronavirus deaths

Much more could be said:

"Washington officials admit to counting gunshot victims as COVID-19 deaths"

"CA doctors say they have seen more deaths from suicide than coronavirus during lockdowns"

Nevermind bankruptcies:

Not black enough

What the AKA Jane Roe documentary gets wrong

"Deathbed Apology: Norma McCorvey’s Pro-Life Friends Tell Another Story"

Friday, May 22, 2020

Are undesigned coincidences fabricated?

One objection to the Gospels as historical sources is the claim that these aren't four independent biographies. rather Matthew and Luke simply copy Mark for some of their material, while John invents other stuff. Likewise, that Matthew and Luke embellish Mark's stories. 

It is, of course, true, that Luke uses Mark as one of his sources while Matthew is very familiar with Mark. But there's more going on.

When two or more observers witness the same event, their respective accounts will sometimes dovetail in subtle ways. Between 23-26 min mark:

Peter Williams has a clear exposition. I'm going to piggyback on his exposition. The basic idea is that undesigned coincides reflect independent knowledge of the same event. 

Critics like Richard Carrier have responded by claiming that Matthew, Luke, and John invented the "undesigned coincidences" to give these accounts the appearance of factuality. In historical fiction, the author sprinkles his story with factoids to make it seem more true to the time and place.

However, a basic flaw in that response is that undesigned coincidences are far too subtle for the vast majority in the audience to catch. To begin with, most members of the original target audience for the Gospels didn't own personal copies of the Gospel. That's why the the public reading of Scripture is an ancient custom of the church. We're talking about listeners rather than readers. They heard the Gospels read aloud. Imagine mentally comparing and contrasting the Gospels at the level of undesigned coincidences. How realistic is that? 

But even when we get to the era in which many Christians have private copies of the Bible, the coincides are too oblique for the vast majority of Christians to notice. You must be an extremely attentive reader to pick up on the coincidences. If the purpose of undesigned coincidences was to make the accounts look factual, this is a completely ineffective method inasmuch as precious few readers are sufficiently observant to register the coincidences. What historical fiction authors do that? 

Unearthing the Bible

Up-to-date documentation on how archeology corroborates the Bible:

The Gospels Can Be Trusted!

All hell breaks loose

1. A putative evidence for reincarnation are cases of individuals who have corroborated memories of a past life. I haven't examined any case-studies to verify that claim, but suppose we grant the phenomenon for the sake of argument. Christians often default to demonic possession as the explanation. Suppose we consider that first. Here's one objection:
He accentuates the fact (if it is a fact) that cases of reincarnation involve personal continuity whereas cases possession involve personal discontinuity.
A problem with Almeder's objection is the basis on which he makes those classifications. It seems to be circular. Do the phenomena themselves provide evidence for that distinction, or is he applying his classifications a priori to the phenomena, where he simply assumes the continuity/discontinuity distinction? How does he know possession is inconsistent with less continuity?

There are, however, other objections to the demonic explanation. Offhand, there's no reason to assume a correlation between a particular demon and a particular decedent whose memories a living person shares. Why would a demon have such intimate knowledge of the decedent? The demon might have such knowledge if both the decedent and the living person who shares those memories are possessed by the same demon, but we'd need evidence that's the case.

2. A more direct explanation for why some people have memories of dead people (assuming, ex hypothesi, that's the case) is that the souls of damned (i.e. human souls) sometimes take possession of the living. 

Some Christians object because they don't think the damned are allowed to contact the living. But there's no theological reason to deny that possibility. The church age is a mixed up time. The saints and the damned aren't separated in this life. The realm of light makes incursions into the realm of darkness while the realm of darkness makes incursions into the realm of  light–like a lighthouse at night. 

The ability of damned souls to contact the living doesn't mean hell has a back door, if we're using "hell" in the technical sense of the final state of the damned. An absolute separation between the two groups only takes place at the day of judgment, not the moment of death.

Is the Exodus History? A Conversation with Dr. Titus Kennedy

The creation of Adam

1. I've discussed this before, but I'd like to explore a variation. If I stepped into a time machine and went back to Eden, just before God created Adam, what would I see? We can't say for sure since the narrative is sketchy, so there's more than one way to mentally pencil in the details, but here's one way.

2. I see a man standing in the garden. I'm not saying the figure is a man. I'm just referring to what he looks like. In reality, the "man" is God, who assumed angelic form to create Adam. In Scripture, some angels are seraphim/cherubim. But we wouldn't expect God to assume cherubic form. They are symbolic guardians of the divine throne room. 

Other angels are luminous beings. It's possible that God was luminous. 

At other times, angels appear to be indistinguishable from human males. Suppose that's the case. 

In that event, Adam was literally made in God's image. He was made in God's image when God assumed human form to create Adam. 

3. So let's say I see a man in the garden, although he's God in the form of a humanoid angel. Suppose he reaches down and scoops a lump of clay from the ground. He begins shaping the clay. At the same time, he multiplies the size of the lump. Like a sculptor, he creates a life-size clay figurine of a human male. He then brings it to life by breathing into its nostrils. The clay is transformed into a human body, and the human body is animated. 

4. I don't mean animated in the sense of ensoulment. I'm referring to biological life. The narrative is silent on the question of dualism. The primary biblical witness to dualism occurs in eschatological texts concerning the intermediate state.     

The afterlife

The Gospels are reliable

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Progressive theology

I'll venture a few comments on apostate Randal Rauser's video:

BTW, I often pick on Rauser because he's a good foil. A good representative of the opposing position (progressive theology).

All Christians range somewhere along a progressive>conservative continuum

That's not a Christian continuum. There's a variety of positions among theologically conservative Christian positions. Progressive theology is out of bounds. 

Sometimes liberals were on the right side of the issue while conservatives were on the wrong side (e.g. Antebellum slavery, segregation).

True, but:

i) People can be right for the wrong reasons.

ii) Deceptively equivocal. Supporters of Antebellum slavery and Jim Crow misinterpreted the Bible due to social conditioning and economic incentives. By contrast, we can see the issue with greater critical detachment because we don't have a personal stake in the issue.

Rauser might say that conservative Christians are too invested to see certain issues with clarity. That may be the case, but it cuts both ways. Progressives are subject to social conditioning, too, with blind spots that are conspicuous to conserve Christian observers.

iii) Rauser's comparison is a bait-n-switch because he doesn't think Southern white supremacists misinterpreted the Bible. Rather, he thinks the Bible condones slavery and the Bible is wrong. For him, experience and his moral intuitions override the Bible.

otherizing…marginalization…just label people so that we don't have to listen them anymore.

i) Everybody has a plausibility structure. Some are good and some are bad. Some elements of our plausibility should be revisable. But we use our plausibly to evaluate claims. Indeed, Rauser is very dogmatic about his appeal to moral intuition. To what is morally intuitive to Rauser. He treats his imagined moral intuitions as nonnegotiable. 

ii) Apropos (i), not every position has two sides. Technically, conspiracy theories about the lunar landings represent one  side of the issue, but my point is that there's nothing wrong with refusing to take that seriously.

iii) Apropos  (ii), there's a difference between not listening in the first place and ceasing to listen. How much do you need to know about a position? It only has to have one or more disqualifying tenets. 

Ironically, Rauser's own appeal to experience and moral intuition to automatically eliminate certain positions from further consideration is an example of doing what he faults in others. 

Paul was open to considering evidence for the falsity of Christianity (1 Cpr 15:14).

i) A misreading of Paul. To begin with, how plausible is it to suppose Paul thought Christianity was false given his personal experience with Christian miracles? Both miracles he witnessed (e.g. the Damascus Road Christophany) as well as miracles he personally performed? It's too late for Paul to entrain the possibility that Christianity might be false. He has too much direct experience to the contrary.

ii) Rather, 1 Cor 1 15:14,17 are cases of per impossible counterfactual reasoning, which proceeds from a patently impossible premise:

In responding to the Corinthians, Paul working back from what cannot be the case. 

Jumping from a burning building

Freewill theists often contend that allowing evil is distinct from causing evil. Suppose someone must jump from the fifth story of an apartment building to the parking lot below. Suppose there's a bystander underneath who's watching. Suppose there's a trampoline which the jumper will just miss, and the bystander can see that. Suppose the bystander can push the trampoline over so that the jumper will fall into the trampoline, but the bystander does nothing. Is there no sense in which the bystander caused the death of the jumper? Sure, freewill theists can resort to a stipulative definition of causation to deny that implication, but that's an ad hoc definition.

The trolley problem and the pandemic

A trolley driver must choose between turning a trolley so that it runs over an innocent man attached to a track and allowing the trolley to run over and kill five innocent people. Foot, claimed that it was wrong to kill in the first case, but not wrong in the second.  

There's a sense in which this parallels debates over what policy we should pursue in the face of the pandemic. There are different possible combinations:

Policy A causes the death of more innocents

Policy B fails to prevent the death of more innocents

Policy C causes the death of fewer innocents

Policy D fails to prevent the death of fewer innocents

So when we morally assess competing policies in regard to the pandemic, we have to decide what our priorities are. How do we balance the these four factors? 

Causing and Not Causing Not to Occur

This is germane, both to the freewill defense as well as the oft-repeated claim that freewill theism avoids the moral liabilities of Calvinism:

One natural suggestion is that the agent who does harm causes it to occur; whereas the agent who allows harm doesn’t cause it, but simply fails to prevent it where she could have done so.[9]This suggestion has immediate moral implications. It seems true by definition (almost) that you can be causally responsible only for upshots that you cause. And it is arguably true that you can be morally responsible only for what you are causally responsible for. So, if you cause a bad state of affairs, you’ve probably done wrong; whereas if you don’t cause a bad state of affairs, you haven’t. In choosing between killing and letting die, you are choosing between doing wrong and not doing wrong. (Of course, this doesn’t apply to non-harmful cases of killing, such as, arguably, some cases of active euthanasia.) The question of what you ought to do is then tautologously easy.
This argument begins to get into trouble when we reflect on the fact that we are often responsible for upshots we allow: the death of the houseplants or the child’s illiteracy. When we notice that, in these cases, the plants die or the child remains uneducated because of some failure on the agent’s part, it becomes clear that the agent does, in some sense, cause the upshots. Moreover, most widely accepted contemporary accounts of causation imply that some event or fact involving these agents causes the deaths or illiteracy. For example, the counterfactual account of causation—according to which (very roughly) event E causes F if and only if had E not occurredF would not have occurred either—implies that it was the agent’s failure to water the plants that caused the deaths.[10] John Mackie’s INUS condition[11]—according to which E causes F if and only if E is a(n insufficient but) necessary part of a(n unnecessary but) sufficient condition for F—implies that the fact that the agent failed to water the plants causes the plants to die.[12]

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Sacrificing cancer patients

Ravi and the onus probandi

i) Some folks think Christians have a duty to denounce alleged ethical lapses by Rav Zacharias. Now  I do think lots of Christians are too quick to hand out the halos. But they could condition a eulogy. "Assuming he's not guilty…" And even if he's guilty of serious moral failings, while that rightly  tarnishes his reputation, it doesn't discredit the positive impact of his ministry. 

ii) But suppose I don't have an informed judgment regarding the allegations. Do I still have a burden of proof? It's not like I have a duty to have a considered option on the issue. Life is short. We make time-investment decisions. We prioritize. 

It isn't even possible to have an informed judgment about most propositions. Consider the countless number of things that happen around the globe in a single day. Or consider the infinite realm of mathematical truths. 

Or, to take a different kind of example, consider the sex lives of the Hollywood stars. Surely I have no duty to inform myself about that. Why waste my time on that? Why fill my mind with that? 

iii) A potential objection to what I said is that it parallels atheists who say that lacking belief in God carries no burden of proof. Or does it?

One problem with the comparison is the question of scope. The existence or nonexistence of God has implications for literally everything. Ravi's moral character isn't remotely analogous. Does every proposition, however trivial or ephemeral, bear a burden of proof? Or is there a threshold? God lies at one end of the continuum–the very end. 

How Sagan shot himself in the foot

Many atheists dismiss miracles on the grounds that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. There are different ways of responding to Hume, Sagan, and their imitators in that regard, but atheism is ironically self-referential in that regard. Suppose we grant the principle for the sake of argument. As I've often remarked, naturalism posits a universal negative about miracles. So it only takes a single miracle to falsify atheism. But in that event it's the atheist who is making an extraordinary claim. It's extraordinary to dismiss every reported miracle as a false report. Consider the sheer number of reported miracles. Not to mention the sheer number of unreported miracles. Few things could be as extraordinary as the claim that every single report is false, given the incredible volume, by witnesses of every stripe under different circumstances. 

On God and the moon

The fine-tuning argument is one of the more recent, scientific versions of the teleological argument. An illustration is the moon. If it was a little bigger, smaller, closer, or farther away, the earth would be uninhabitable. 

A popular objection to the fine-tuning argument is the contention that if the universe the earth was inhospitable, there'd be no observers to comment on the size and position of the moon, so the argument presupposes rather than proves the  claim. 

That, however, is a strange objection. If there's no one to observe a gothic cathedral, does that mean the cathedral was never designed? Does that mean Notre Dame cathedral goes from being designed to not being designed if Paris is deserted?

The dying apologist

The death of Ravi is getting a lot of buzz in the Christian blogosphere. Of course, Christianity is ultimately about death and the afterlife. That doesn't mean this life is unimportant, but the Christian doctrine of the afterlife is what makes this life important. When a Christian apologist dies in the faith, he experiences what he's been defending throughout the course of his career. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020


Over the course of a lifetime, people often acquire ever more stuff. When they're younger they may live in an apartment. Later buy a house. Later buy a bigger house. Then, as they get up in years the process reverses itself. They may downsize by moving into a retirement home. Then, if they move into a nursing home, all their stuff fits into one cabinet. Their life shrinks to the size of one room, shared with somebody else.  

From a Christian perspective, life is like a series of bridges. Each time you cross a bridge, it served its purpose. You don't look back. You put it behind you. I don't mean fond memories. I mean things along the way that get you through the obstacle paths of the Christian pilgrimage. A means to an end. Passageways at key junctures. 

Ravi Zacharias (1946-2020)

"Ravi Zacharias, Now with Jesus"

The death of democracy in Hong Kong?

The Communist Party of China has been busy with Hong Kong during the pandemic:

For one thing, China arrested leaders of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement last month.

Also, not many hours ago, Hong Kong's democratically-elected council has been forcibly removed and a new pro-communist chairman "voted" in.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Ehrman’s Objections to the Women’s Discovery of the Empty Tomb

Is Genesis history?

According to Tim Challies, the documentary Is Genesis History? is available to watch for free for a limited time. The documentary includes interviews with scholars Todd Wood, Paul Nelson, Andrew Snelling, Kurt Wise, and others. I haven't watched it, but I thought some people might be interested.

A dream, a vision

This is from Lee Strobel's The Case for Miracles.

A Dream, a Vision, a Bible, a Baptism

Our world is more knit together than ever before; in fact, the global oil industry has connected the city of Houston, Texas, where I live, to many locales in the Middle East. So perhaps it's not surprising that while I was working on this chapter, I encountered a Jesus dream in the church where I serve as a teaching pastor.

The story involves Rachel, a petite and soft-spoken mother with an olive complexion and a kind and gentle demeanor. She lives with her husband and child in an upscale suburb, where I'm sure her neighbors could scarcely imagine her upbringing as a devout Muslim in a Middle Eastern country where Christianity is forbidden.

When she was twenty-two years old, she was hounded by some personal difficulties. One night before bed she called out to God, "Please send me one of your prophets who will release me from this miserable feeling. I badly need comfort and guidance."

That night she had a dream of being in some sort of movie theatre, where the projector cast an intensely bright light. Suddenly, there was a man—Jesus. "At first, it seemed like a portrait, but the portrait was not still," she said. "He was looking at me with very kind, concerned eyes. It was as if he could feel my pain and my sadness."

She said Jesus spoke to her, but the words weren't as important as the emotion they evoked: a deep and profound sense of relief, comfort, affirmation, and joy. Then his face disappeared. "My eyes opened, but I was sure I was never asleep," she said. "I was in that room with him."

By age thirty, she was married and had moved with her husband to Texas. One day while talking with a neighbor, she blurted out, "I would like to study the Bible." To this day, she's not sure where that comment came from, but eventually, she ended up studying the gospel of John, verse by verse, with a friend who is part of our congregation.

Of course, John's gospel begins with the sweeping affirmation of Jesus not as a mere prophet of Islam but as God himself: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And John features a revolutionary statement by Jesus that would shake the foundation of Rachel's Islamic training: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

As she began studying the gospel—and before she knew anything about baptism—she had a vision. "I saw a man with a book," she said. "I was standing with him in water. I saw my friend holding my arm, and we were both looking at the man with the book open in his hands. The man was looking into the horizon with tears running down his face, and I knew that this man loves Jesus very much."

The duration of the vision, she said, "was fast and not fast. I could see details, but it only lasted a few minutes." She had never seen the man's face before.

When Easter came, her friend brought her to our church. As they sat in the auditorium waiting for the service to begin, Rachel suddenly saw a man walking down the aisle.

"Over there—that's the man!" she exclaimed. It was the man from her vision—a pastor named Alan, who presides over baptisms at our church. She had never met him before, but there he was, right in front of her.

By the time she closed the last page of John's gospel in her Bible study, Rachel put her trust in Jesus as her forgiver and leader—a joyous occasion in her life, but not one she dared to share with her husband.

So one day when he was out of town, a private baptism was arranged. "We all went into the baptismal pool," she said. There they were: the man who loves Jesus, reading from an open Bible, and her friend at her side—just as foretold.

"The vision was coming true in front of my very eyes," she said. "When the pastor spoke, tears streamed down my face. I asked him to keep me longer under the water so I could feel every moment of it."

A dream. A vision. Tom Doyle's words sprang to mind: "Personally, I don't think God has put the supernatural on the shelf."

I was blind, but now I see

"Does Science Support Miracles? New Study Documents a Blind Woman’s Healing"

Papias on the Johannine authorship of the Fourth Gospel

HT: Alan Kurschner 

A severe mercy

Pain relief is an obsession of western medicine because that's something patients demand. And the availability of painkillers is often a blessing. Not to mention anesthesia. 

However, there are worse things than pain. Sometimes a painless sensation can be worse than a painful sensation. But sharp pain of a certain intensity blocks the mind from processing other sensations that may be even more unpleasant. 

So there's a way in which pain can be almost merciful, a kind of unexpected blessing, in that respect. Ironically, sometimes the preferred alternative isn't less pain but more pain. Pain of the right kind and intensity. There are different kinds of pain. But pain of a certain kind, at a certain level, can be distracting in a good way. A "severe mercy". That sheds neglected light on the problem of pain. 

Another advantage is that pain can be controlled in a way that worse sensations can't. Pain can be induced–like taking a cold bath. The chilling effect will make the worse sensation tolerable by blocking it from consciousness. There's a natural fear of death that Christians try to overcome. But this is a reminder that some things are more naturally fearsome than the natural fear of death, which makes that easier to face if handled the right way. It can take the mind off death. And it can be inspiring to take charge of a situation rather than be helplessly passive at its mercy. 

Jesus' Fulfillment Of The Seventy Weeks Prophecy

One of the themes I've been emphasizing about prophecy fulfillment is that a fulfillment can be evidential for Christianity even if the fulfillment is thought to be of a secondary or typological nature. For example, though I've argued that the Servant Songs in Isaiah are about the Messiah in their original context, Jesus' alignment with the passages is evidentially significant in support of Christianity even if the passages are about the nation of Israel, a Jewish remnant, or some other entity instead. See the article just linked for a further discussion of that example.

The same is true of Daniel's Seventy Weeks prophecy. See the article on that prophecy here by Robert Newman. I consider his interpretation of the passage the best one I've seen. I take it as the original meaning of the passage. But even if I'm wrong, it still seems evidentially significant that Jesus' life lines up so well with the passage in the manner discussed by Newman. Even if you think the passage in its original context refers to some entity other than the Messiah, that Jesus fulfilled it in some significantly different way than how Newman proposes, or whatever, it's still significant that Jesus was crucified during the sixty-ninth sabbatical cycle after the 445 B.C. decree to rebuild Jerusalem. And there are other ways in which Jesus' life lines up well with the passage. See the second-to-last paragraph of the post here for further discussion.

The more Jesus' life lines up so well with passages like the Servant Songs and the Seventy Weeks prophecy, the more difficult it is to deny that something supernatural has occurred. It's noteworthy that you don't even have to grant a Christian understanding of the original meaning of these passages to reach the conclusion that there's been a supernatural fulfillment of the passages.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

St. John at Ephesus

This contains a generally helpful survey and analysis of witnesses in early church history to the Johannine authorship of the Fourth Gospel, §§III-V, although Bruce's discussion of Papias is fairly inconclusive. 

Also, in n3 on p346, Cross's interpretation/reconstruction of the anti-Marcionite Prologue to the Fourth Gospel is interesting. And even if we question whether that reflects an accurate memory of how John's Gospel was composed, it's a witness to the ancient practice of dictating an oral history. 

Bruce defends the accuracy of Polycrates by arguing that his statement about John's high-priestly vestments is figurative (343). A  figurative interpretation certainly makes the claim of Polycrates far more plausible. At the same time, that's consistent with a figurative allusion to John's priestly lineage–which would help to explain–assuming any special explanation is required–his access to the high priestly residence.

The Return of the God Hypothesis

If possible, let this cup pass from me

As I've remarked on more than one occasion, our ignorance of the future cuts both ways. On the one hand, if we knew the future, we'd make different decisions. In that sense, the future we knew was a counterfactual future. 

Suppose, though, we couldn't change the future we knew because we only knew what was going to happen, but not where, when and how. Then our foreknowledge of heartbreaking things that await us would shadow us from our youth, robbing us of the ability to enjoy the present. 

The reaction of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is a formidable example. As God Incarnate, Jesus doesn't have the luxury of ignorance regarding the future. He doesn't have that buffer. He knows what awaits him. From the time he was old enough to be capable of fully comprehending the prospect, he knew what lay in store for him down to the last literally excruciating detail. 

This also illustrates the way in which the two natures intertwine. His divine nature is the source of his foreknowledge. His divine nature informs his human nature. But he suffers in his human nature. 

Will we eat and sleep in heaven?

It might be asked why the resurrection of the body is necessary if heaven/the intermediate state can simulate embodied experience. After all, even ordinary dreams can vividly simulate embodied experience. 

One thing that can't be simulated is starting a new family. It takes a body to procreate. In the past I've done several posts that question the traditional interpretation of Mt 22:23-33 (par. Mk 12:18-27; Lk 20:27-40). I won't revisit that issue here. 

But take the question of whether we will eat in heaven. It's possible for God to simulate the sense of eating food. In principle, a disembodied soul could be given that experience. 

But as a rule, God does through natural means what can be done by natural means and reserves the miraculous for what can only be done miraculously. 

Not only is eating a pleasant physical activity in its own right, but a social activity. It makes sense if the saints resume eating in the final state, on the new earth. Although it doesn't absolutely require a body to simulate the experience, it seems less fitting in heaven.

Or take the question of whether we will sleep in heaven. Having a disembodied soul experience simulated sleep is even more artificial than simulating consumption. 

Not only is sleeping a physically pleasant experience, but so are pleasant dreams. Sometimes we have nightmares, but that's because we live in a fallen world. Since heaven is already like a collective dream, orchestrated by God, simulated dreams would be highly artificial. It makes sense if God reserves the resumption of sleeping and dreaming for the world to come–when our bodies are restored.