Saturday, June 30, 2012

Down with delis

Der Spiegel

In a landmark ruling today, Judge Rudi Ratfink outlawed Jewish delicatessens. Judge Ratfink was responding to a class action suit by fishermen, farmers, restaurateurs, and supermarket chains alleging that kosher food had a negative impact on the local economy by unfairly depressing the sale pork products and shellfish.

Child welfare activists filed amicus briefs alleging that kosher food was child abuse, by unfairly depriving Jewish kids of tasty food items available to gentile kids.

Lutheran ministers filed amicus briefs contending that there was no theological warrant for kosher food under the terms of the new covenant. Hence, whatever the New Testament does not command the State is free to forbid.

In a separate decision, Judge Ratfink outlawed beards. This was in response to a class action suit filed by cosmetologists alleging that halakhic traditions negatively impacted barbershops.

In Tehran, the Grand Ayatollah hailed both rulings as a signal advance in human rights.

Why Presuppositional Theology Is Foundational For Open-Air Preaching

(See also

Bayes' Theorem And The "Jesus Family Tomb"

Thomas Bradwardine and the Gospel of Grace

This is from my old friend the Embryo Parson. (Seems like calling an old guy an "embryo" anything is a misnomer, but I think it's just a perspective on eternity).

Thomas Bradwardine, born c. 1290, was the briefly the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1349 before the plague took his life. He is known as one of the English Church's greatest philosophical clergymen. An Augustinian, he defended predestinarianism against the "New Pelagianism" that was becoming widespread in the church of that day (one of the contributing factors to the Protestant Reformation two centuries later)....

Moreover, as the Roman Catholic scholar (and Augustinian) George Tavard documented in his book Justification: An Ecumenical Study, this medieval incarnation of Augustinian theology would later give rise -- quite naturally -- to the doctrine of justification by faith alone, principally in the work of the Augustinian monk Martin Luther but eventually in the Church of England as well. Thus Bradwardine was an immediate predecessor to the English Reformation, though that Reformation came about mainly through continental influences.

Though Alister McGrath compellingly argues in his magisteral work Iustitia Dei that Luther's doctrine was a "theological novum", one may argue that it was always implicit in Augustine, the greatest doctor of the Church, as evidenced by these quotes ...

Read more ... "The Augustinian and Solafidian Legacy in the English Catholic Church: Thomas Bradwardine"

Friday, June 29, 2012

Et tu, Roberts?

Gay Couples and Jedi Knights

Why pray?

rogereolson says:
June 28, 2012 at 1:25 pm

We have run around this bush numerous times here and I tire of it (no offense intended). From an Arminian perspective, God knows because something happens; it doesn’t happen because God knows it. God’s foreknowledge corresponds to what happens; it does not cause it or even render it certain.

If God knows what will happen because the future creates his knowledge of the future, then what does prayer accomplish? Is God changing the future–in answer to prayer? Which future is he changing? The one he knows? But if he’s dependent on the future for his knowledge of the future, how can he change it? For that matter, how does he know what to change? Can he knowingly change the future if that’s the source of his knowing the future? And if he’s not changing that future, then does the changed future have reference to a hypothetical future? If so, does a hypothetical future cause his knowledge of the future? But there’s more than one hypothetical future.


Before I delve into the details, I’d like to make some general observations. Protestants are conditioned by the Lutheran debate with Rome. How Luther appealed to Paul’s teaching about circumcision and the Mosaic law in reference to the Judaizers. And that’s fine as far as it goes.

But a result of that theological conditioning is that we may fail to notice the other side of the coin. Paul regards circumcision, by itself, as a matter of indifference. He doesn’t think Jewish Christians should cease to be Jewish or Gentile Christians should cease to be Gentile (1 Cor 7:17-20). It’s analogous to his position on food (Rom 14-15; 1 Cor 10:23-30).

Paul takes a pragmatic and conciliatory approach. In relation to Jewish outreach, Jewish observance is permissible. In relation to Gentile outreach, nonobservance is permissible.

Timothy is a borderline case, the result of a mixed marriage. In principle, he could be classified as either Jewish or Gentile. But for purposes of Jewish outreach, it’s expedient that he be circumcised.

Paul himself continues to be an observant Jew. In Acts 18:18 he apparently takes a Nazirite vow. In Acts 20:16 he’s in a hurry to make the Feast of Pentecost. He doesn’t wish to miss this Jewish feast.

Most significant, in Acts 21:17-26, Paul goes out of his way to demonstrate that he’s a loyal Jew. So the new covenant doesn’t render Jewish praxis illicit. Likewise, Jewish Christians continue going to the Temple (e.g. Acts 2:46).

In addition, Paul compares ethnic Israel to the trunk, and Christian gentiles to grafted branches (Rom 11:16b-24). For a defense of this interpretation, cf. R. Jewett, Romans (Fortress 2007), 682-93. The trunk supports the branches, not vice versa.

So how should Christians treat the “trunk”? Shouldn’t the branch protect the trunk? Put a fence around the trunk? A Christian majority ought to protect a Jewish minority. Honor the trunk. 

More about the ancient church at Rome

Sean – (317), you said:

What you are saying is that church fathers are 'muddy' or 'wrong' where they disagree with your theology and 'better' or 'close' or 'good' when they agree with your theology. Its that simple.

No it's not. The studies I've followed and reported on are done by leading, respected theologians. They are very clear about what they say. T.F. Torrance did a significant study on the use of the word “grace” in the Apostolic Fathers, for example. He was not a schlock. And his study was a thorough one. He compared the various uses of the word charis, used (a) in Greek culture, (b) as a translation of the Old Testament concept of hesed (God’s “lovingkindness”, and (c) in the New Testament. Here is Torrance’s assessment of Clement:

Clement definitely thinks of charis as referring to a gift of God without which the Christian would not be able to attain to love or salvation. But there is little doubt that this is held along with the idea of merit before God; for grace is given to those who perform the commandments of God, and who are worthy. He may use the language of election and justification, but the essentially Greek idea of the unqualified freedom of choice is a natural axiom in his thoughts, and entails a doctrine of "works" as Paul would have said. In all His dealings with men, God is regarded as merciful; but the ground for the Salvation He gives is double: faith and ... [ellipses in original].

Clement "thinks of God's mercy as directed only toward the pious" (55)

That concept of being rewarded for being worthy before God is not a concept Paul used; later writers would call that “Pelagian”. But here is “Pope” Clement, a Pelagian before Pelagius. But it wasn’t just Clement whom Torrance analyzed. He analyzed all the writers who wrote during this period, and there was widespread evidence of this phenomenon.

Cullmann agreed with this assessment, and expanded upon it.

Both of these men, especially, are widely regarded by both Protestants and Catholics (Barth had joked that Cullmann, who was one of the few Protestant theologians selected to be an observer at Vatican II, was “an advisor to three popes”), and it is far, far more likely that they “tell it like it is” than that they were writing to support my supposed prejudices. It is unfortunate that their work didn’t get a wider hearing, but the events of Vatican II overshadowed the writings of theologians.

* * *

You said:

It’s worth repeating that for all the bluster of the scholarship you present you are still unable to answer the challenge:

Can you name one piece of historical evidence that meets these two conditions:

(1) it shows that there was no monarchical bishop in Rome until the second half of the second century, and;

(2) it is stronger evidence than is the list of St. Irenaeus (Against Heresies III.3.3)

(Please show why it is stronger evidence than is St. Irenaeus’ list.)

Your challenge, too, is a silly one. Consider the process by which history is written. It's not about a piece of evidence or two that meets some arbitrary conditions, and therefore it overshadows a whole body of research. It's about the weight of research supporting and building a broad understanding of what was happening in that day. And the account that is being written not by one man, but by a whole body of thought, which is now the prevailing understanding. It’s simply not the case that one piece of evidence gets to trump a whole body of work.

Just as an example of all of this, you must have read Eusebius. Eusebius writes at some length about a pair of letters -- one from Abgar (a historical Syriac ruler of the kingdom of Osroene, located at Edessa) to Jesus, the other from Jesus to Abgar.

Two things are evident:

1. Eusebius is so completely convinced of the reliable historicity of these letters that he cites them verbatim as history.

2. The letters are so obviously not authentic that Schaff calls them “a worthless fabrication” and even the 1912 Catholic encyclopedia dismisses them as having no historical value and the "authenticity" "disproved"; these are "legends" with dates established centuries after Christ.

Now, wasn't Eusebius, one of the earliest historians of Christianity, a confidante of that emperor-convert Constantine, worthy of being believed in this case? In many cases, he is our best source, And yet, this very reliable early testimony is completely discounted via critical means.

So critical methods must be employed, even in assessing such an early and generally (but not totally) reliable source as Eusebius.

We have gone round and round about the value of Irenaeus as a historian

First off, his value as a historian is diminished by his statement that the church at Rome was "founded and established by Peter and Paul". This statement looks impressive but it cuts two ways: (a) he is clearly wrong about Paul, who neither founded nor set up the church at Rome. The only chance that Peter would have had to visit Rome would have been the vague mention in Acts 12:17, when he “went to another place”. But in that case, if (as in another Eusebian “whopper”), the “other place” had been Rome, then he would have had to travel, in that world, from Jerusalem to Rome and back for the Jerusalem council in just the space of a few years. That is highly unlikely, given that he was documented to be in other places during those years. Barrett posits an “itinerant ministry”. Marshall, who wrote a commentary on Acts, suggests that accounts that put Peter in Rome during that time are “highly fanciful”.

Aside from that, the whole purpose of the 2nd half of Acts was to talk about how Paul got to Rome. Do you think that if Peter had gotten there first, that it would have been far more important to Luke to note that Peter was there? Yet Paul’s arrival there was the entire focus of the book.

Look at Romans 16:7. What is being said here?

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

In fact, it is very likely that someone like Andronicus and Junia (Rom 16:7) “in Christ before me”, had traveled from Jerusalem to Rome shortly after Pentecost and established one of many house churches there. That Paul mentions that they were “apostles”, but more, they were “outstanding among the apostles”, and also, they were “in Christ before me”. That latter phrase opens a space of about a year before the conversion of Paul, and as “apostles”, it is quite likely that Andronicus was the first (or, at the very least, an early)“bishop” of a Roman church. Thus, contra Irenaeus, it is far more likely that Andronicus and Junia “founded and established” a church at Rome.

Second, even if it Irenaeus’s list does have the names of presbyters from Roman history, its “neatness” betrays the tumult of that era in that city. The Shepherd of Hermas, for example, speaks of “the elders (presbuteroi) who preside (proistamenoi – plural leadership) over the church.” (all at the same time - Vis 2.4). This is a primary source document from within the city of Rome that provides support for all of the “scholarship” that you decry, the “snippets” which speak of a “gap” in the “unbroken succession within the first century of the church”. But this is not all there is. Later, Hermas reiterates the structure of this leadership, and the fact that they are not leading, but rather that they fight among themselves. He calls them “children”.

Now, therefore, I say to you [tois – plural] who lead the church and occupy the seats of honor: do not be like the sorcerers. For the sorcerers carry their drugs in bottles, but you carry your drug and poison in your heart. You are calloused and do not want to cleanse your hearts and to mix your wisdom together in a clean heart, in order that you may have mercy from the great King. Watch out, therefore, children, lest these divisions of yours [among you elders] deprive you of your life. How is it that you desire to instruct God’s elect, while you yourselves have no instruction? Instruct one another, therefore, and have peace among yourselves, in order that I too may stand joyfully before the Father and give an account on behalf of all of you to your Lord.” (Vis 3.9)

That makes it far more likely to believe Irenaeus’s list is an after-the-fact "construct" created from names known to the community, than that it was some sort of on-going list maintained as an on-going record.

And third, the list is offered as evidence that "teaching” at Rome had been “preserved and transmitted” to that time. There was no hint that Irenaeus believed that it would be some kind of “continuous line of succession until the end of time”. There is no warrant for that at all.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Should Christians Be Physicalists?

Non-Calvinists Can Never Know the Deep Love of Jesus in a Non-Personal Atonement

American Muslims Stone Dearborn, MI

Secular ethics and sociobiology

The Fourth Reich

smokering6/28/2012 12:30 AM

Isn't that why we have laws to protect them against abuses by said parents, including cutting bits off them?

You mean…like cutting their hair, trimming their toenails and fingernails?

A cleft palate is a birth defect; crooked teeth can interfere with function. Repairing something that is wrong with the body is very different to removing a healthy, functioning body part.

Irrelevant. I was responding to a blanket objection by “John.”  He didn’t qualify his objection. So I cited some obvious counterexamples.

You’re admitting that body modification is proper in some cases, but improper in others. But that’s a different argument than “John” offered. My counterexamples were responsive to his objection.

In the cases of purely cosmetic braces, I would argue that parents should *not* force them on their children - by the time a child is old enough to get braces, he's old enough to understand the implications of having vs not having them, and if he changes his mind later in life he can generally get his teeth straightened later anyway. Would it even be legal for parents to force an unwilling 12-year-old child to get cosmetic braces?

i) There are two different issues here: what parents should do and what they should be legally allowed to do.

ii) Adolescents are often shortsighted.

A cleft palate is a birth defect; crooked teeth can interfere with function. Repairing something that is wrong with the body is very different to removing a healthy, functioning body part.

In the case of neonatal male circumcision, the body part isn’t sexually functional at that age.

“Both involve the removal of a healthy, functioning body part from a non-consenting minor.

You’re bundling three issues into one, each of which requires separate analysis: (a) removal of a “healthy, functioning body part”; (b) the age of the affected individual (a minor), and (c) nonconsent.

“Both are practiced in a variety of conditions, from forced circumcisions at puberty to sterile, hospital circumcisions performed by loving parents.

And the variety of conditions requires separate analysis.

Both are largely practiced, in their respective parts of the world, for cultural and sexual reasons. The same arguments are used - that intact genitals are unsightly, that no-one will want to marry an intact man/woman, that cut genitals are cleaner, that cutting makes sex better.

i) Religious and medical justifications are offered as well.

ii) You’re also disregarding a major disanalogy. In Muslim countries, female circumcision is performed to discourage female premarital and extramarital sex. Indeed, you yourself go on to say, “FGM has long been considered to decrease women's sexual desire and/or pleasure, acting as a type of social control.” By contrast, Muslim countries are extremely permissive regarding male promiscuity. So the cultural motivations could hardly be more disparate.

Type 1 FGM, the mildest form of FGM (and, with Type 2, by far the most common), removes the homologous organ to the male foreskin.

And Type 2 would be analogous to castration. So your analogy fails at the critical point of comparison.

How engaged are you with intactivist communities? I'm familiar with them, and the VAST majority of intactivists strongly oppose tattooing, body-piercing and performing cosmetic surgery on non-consenting minors. A few are OK with piercing babies' ears, on the grounds that it has minimal risks and does not interfere with the function of the ear, and/or because it is culturally important to some people (I disagree with both reasons, but there you go). Intactivists have no ethical problem with *adults* freely choosing to modify their own bodies, whether by circumcision or making their ears pointy like Mr Spock; the point is simply not to inflict such needless modifications on babies.

Your argument is equivocal inasmuch as you’ve bundled two or three issues into one: body modification and consent or nonconsent (related to the age of the individual).

And your argument tugs in opposing directions. On the one hand you appeal to an essentialist argument based on “healthy, functioning body-parts.” That would suggest that body modification (of a health, functioning body part) is intrinsically wrong.

But then you switch to an argument based on individual autonomy, viz. the right of consenting adults to undergo voluntary body modification. But on that view, genital integrity is socially constructed.

I might also point out that Christianity has a history with bodily autonomy - Gladys Aylward was hugely responsible for wiping out the practice of foot-binding in China, a practice with more than a few analogies to infant circumcision.

Do you think OT circumcision was morally analogous to Chinese foot-binding?

As far as the issue of Judaism goes, I can't understand why Christians should support circumcision on religious grounds.

No. The question at issue is whether we ought to outlaw Judaism. If that’s your position, how do you think it should be enforced? Should observant Jews be imprisoned? Should the State dissolve custody and place Jewish children in foster care or orphanages? Should Jewish couples be sterilized?

Why would we support a wrong theological belief that harms children?

Depends on what you mean by “support.” There’s a sense in which raising a child as a Jew indoctrinates the child in some faulty theological beliefs. It tends to bias the child against Christianity. Does that mean we should outlaw yeshivas? Forbid minors from attending synagogue?

Paul explicitly states that circumcision is of no spiritual value.

Which didn’t hinder Paul from circumcising Timothy to promote his mission to the Jews (Acts 16:3).

“Friendship evangelism" should not be taken to the extreme of allowing children to suffer genital mutilation.

Is that how you classify OT circumcision?

And if routine infant circumcision is outlawed (as it should be)…

So you do think Judaism should be criminalized.

…allowing religious circumcision means Jewish boys are not protected while Gentile boys are - which in itself could be construed as a type of anti-Semitism.

Gentile boys don’t need to be “protected” from circumcision.

But we are talking about cutting off bits of babies' genitals here, and ultimately my sympathy lies with the children lying in agony while their foreskins are crushed and snipped off.

Unlike male circumcision in modern countries, which is generally performed under sedation, OT circumcision was performed without sedation. So by your logic, OT circumcision was child abuse.

Spurgeon on election

Arminians like to quote Spurgeon allegedly saying “God, save all elect, then elect some more”–or words to that effect. You can find variants of that attributed saying floating around the Internet. Arminians quote this to demonstrate that Calvinists pray like Arminians.

Two issues:

i) The fact that the wording of the statement varies from one Arminian to another is a telltale sign that Arminians are quoting other Arminians rather than quoting Spurgeon directly. They haven’t gone back to the source. If they knew the source, they could give a verbatim quote. Instead, we have Arminians paraphrasing other Arminians paraphrasing what Spurgeon supposedly said.

ii) The Arminian inference is naïve. Spurgeon was a preacher. Preachers consciously indulge in hyperbole to make a point. That doesn’t mean they take their hyperbolic statements at face value.

Arminians at prayer

I’m going to comment on some statements by Roger Olson about an Arminian theology of prayer:

A case in point is prayer for friends and loved ones who are not saved. I know many non-Calvinists who pray, and see nothing wrong with praying, that God will simply “save” them. Of course, only a Calvinist (whether by that label or under another one) can reasonably ask God simply to “save” someone.

It’s true that a Calvinist, consistent with his theology, can pray for the lost without all the mental reservations that Arminianism logically requires. A Calvinist has far more freedom in prayer. And that’s one more reason to be a Calvinist.

My experience of non-Calvinist Christians (from membership and leadership in about 12 churches during my lifetime) is that they are not, by and large, theologically trained at all. They have picked up pieces of this and that (theologies) and pasted them together in ways that seem good to them without any real reflection on the outcome (the eclectic worldview, theology that results from that informal process). I’m not saying that doesn’t also happen among Calvinists; I’m just saying it’s not as common IN CALVINIST CHURCHES.

What I long for is a church that knows it is not Calvinist and teaches non-Calvinist theology/doctrine (about God’s sovereignty) and actively helps members and attenders develop spiritual lives that are consistent with non-Calvinist (e.g., Arminian) beliefs.

Recently I visited a church I know is not Calvinist (although there may be a few Calvinists sprinkled among the members) in overall ethos. A mature Christian person gave a “testimony” from the pulpit during the Sunday morning worship service. He concluded with (paraphrasing) “I don’t know why God chose for my mother to have cancer” (but I’m learning to live with that, etc.).

I heard that and subtly looked around to see if anyone whose face I could see registered any kind of surprise or dismay. None. I mentioned it to a few people who are members of the church and who I know are not Calvinists; they didn’t think anything of it. Their response was of the nature of “Well, that’s his belief about God and so who are we to question it?” What I think they really meant was “If that’s what makes him feel comfortable….”

However, I am convinced that if I took that man aside and queried him about God and, say, the holocaust, he would deny divine determinism.

I could give numerous similar examples of what I’m talking about. I’ll mention just one more.

I knew a husband and wife who were most definitely not Calvinists and do not believe in divine determinism as a true account of God’s sovereignty. However, after their son’s death in a car accident, they talked about it as if they were Calvinists! For example, they loved to tell friends how God planned and executed the accident so that their son did not suffer any pain; he was killed instantly.

It’s true that many laymen (and even many pastors) lack theological consistency. That said, Olson’s criticism is quite ironic. He’s accusing many Arminians of failure to be consistently Arminian. Yet Olson’s theology of providence is inconsistent with traditional Arminian theology. When Olson denies that God causes natural evil, or that God is responsible for natural evil, that’s contrary to his exposition of Arminius. And it’s also inconsistent with Charles Wesley. Olson has a revisionist theology of providence.

Olson’s criticism reminds me of atheism. Atheism logically commits the atheist to deny moral norms or mental states (e.g. moral relativism/nihilism, eliminative materialism). But because that’s so unnatural, atheists keep reverting to statements that are inconsistent with their atheism.

Likewise, because Arminian theology is so unnatural in the way it dichotomizes reality, that makes it hard to live by what they say they believe. Arminians keep slipping back into default Calvinism.

Here is how I teach my students. DO NOT wait until your parishioners experience a tragedy to talk with them about God’s sovereignty. If you are a Calvinist (many of them are), teach that to your congregation and clearly communicate its implications for practical life including how to understand evil and innocent suffering. If you are not a Calvinist, figure out your theology of divine sovereignty especially as it relates to salvation, evil and innocent suffering (I’ll be happy to help! :) , and teach your congregants about that. Do not wait until they face horrible tragedy and then try to answer their cries of “Where is God!?”

I agree with him that we shouldn’t wait until tragedy strikes to work out our theology of providence. However, Arminian theology is not a silver bullet to slay questions like “Where is God!?” in the wake of personal tragedy.

Because I like my prayers to be consistent with my beliefs (e.g., about God’s sovereignty and about reality) I never ask God to change the past. I don’t think God can do that. I think it’s even incoherent to talk about changing the past. In that I agree entirely with Calvinist philosopher-theologian Paul Helm.

However, I clearly recall an incident where my mother prayed that God would work it out that whoever found her purse (which was no longer where she lost it) would turn out to be a Christian or at least an honest person and return it to her. Of course, at the point of her prayer, she was asking God to change the past (or assure that something that already happened have happened in a certain way).

I didn’t criticize her; she was my mother and I was pretty young and didn’t want to show her disrespect or get into an argument with her. I let it go. What harm did it do? None.

However, if someone asks my theological opinion about praying for God to change the past, I will kindly tell them I don’t believe in it and explain why. (For example, there’s not a single example in Scripture of it and it’s illogical.)

i) Olson’s objection is confused. He fails to distinguish between changing the past and affecting the past. If God is timeless, then it’s feasible to pray for a past event (if we don’t know the outcome), and have God answer our prayer. God doesn’t have to hear the prayer in our timeframe to prepare the answer, or arrange events accordingly.

ii) On the other hand, many contemporary Arminians reject divine timelessness. In that case, affecting the past through prayer may not be coherent.

Normal language interpretation would seem to me to indicate that asking God to save someone, without any qualifications, is tantamount (whatever is intended) to asking God to do the impossible (from an Arminian perspective).

So, if a person asks me about such praying I will lead off the discussion with “What do you intend for God to do?” If the person says “I am asking God to intervene in their life to force them to repent and believe” I will say “That’s not possible” and explain why. If the person says “I am asking God to bring circumstances into their life to show them their need of him…” I will say “Well, that’s not what I think those words mean, but okay, if that’s what you mean, God knows what you mean and so go ahead and pray that way.”

It seems to me that “God, please save my friend” without qualifications normally means “God, break my friend’s will and force him to repent.” Perhaps not everyone who prays that prayer means that, but that’s what the words alone imply. That’s not consistent with Arminian belief. In my opinion, only a Calvinist (or maybe also a Lutheran) can pray that way consistently.

Olson is assuming that some Arminians pray this way because they haven’t thought through their position on Arminian soteriology and providence. But I think that’s somewhat naïve.

Fact is, Arminians may pray that way because they don’t care about the theological niceties of Arminianism. What they care about is the fate of their loved ones. Where the wellbeing of loved ones is concerned, people can be quite ruthless or unscrupulous. They will do whatever it takes. When push comes to shove, they want God to save their loved one by any means necessary. Abstractions about freewill take a back seat to the urgency and gravity of the situation.

It’s like hiking in the wilderness. Suppose, due to a terrible accident, your friend is pinned under a rock. You don’t want to amputate his arm. But if that’s the only way to save his life, you will take extreme measures.

And my opinion in this case is–it depends on what you mean because God always knows what you mean and you’re praying to God. And if you mean to ask God to violate someone’s free will and force them to be saved, then I don’t think that’s proper. If you mean to ask God to bring circumstances into a person’s life that will probably convince them of their need of salvation, then it’s proper. But why not pray with words that communicate what you mean?

i) I agree with Olson that our prayers should be theologically consistent.

ii) On the other hand, boldness in prayer can be a theological virtue. If Arminian theology causes a Christian to be very hesitant in prayer, to constantly second-guess himself, to suffer from the paralysis of analysis, then so much the worse for Arminianism. If Arminianism puts Christians in a straightjacket when they wish to pray, then that’s just one more strike against Arminian theology.

iii) In addition, it isn’t necessary to censure our prayers. Christian prayer has a built-in filter. This is not like paganism, where, if you inadvertently ask the gods for the wrong thing, they will give you what you ask for, to your detriment.

When we pray to God, we don’t have to phrase our prayer with lots of riders, caveats, and escape clauses, to avoid the danger of praying for the wrong thing. Christian prayer isn’t like an insurance contract, where everything you say has to be hedged about with cautious qualifications.

It’s not like, an hour after you prayed, the horrid realization dawns on you that you left something out, but it’s too late to go back and fix it, because the ink has dried on your signature, and now you’re doomed to get what you ask for. Prayer shouldn’t be a trial by ordeal. We shouldn’t approach God with extreme trepidation, for fear of tiny missteps with calamitous consequences. 

God makes allowance for our flawed prayers. He filters out the detritus. That’s understood going into the prayer. The efficacy of prayer is not dependent on the wisdom of the supplicant, but on the wisdom of the prayer-answering God.

Prayer is like a son asking his dad for something. The son may express himself poorly, but the father knows what his son means and, more importantly, what his son needs.

Before you define things, you have to understand them

Burton (313), I appreciate your question. You asked:

Specifically, on what basis does the Protestant paradigm (Sola Scriptura) objectively distinguish heresy from orthodoxy, and how does it define schism versus unity?

I’m not going to answer it again, but again, in the spirit of Michael Liccione’s search for paradigms, I’ll give you some insight into how I answer it myself. As Sherlock Holmes has famously said, and “Young Spock” famously quoted him, “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, HOWEVER IMPROBABLE, must be the truth?”

Quoting Steve Hays:

sola scriptura doesn't exist in a vacuum. It functions in conjunction with a doctrine of God's special providence. It is God's will that his people believe certain things. So, in practice, everything we believe isn't revisable. Providence introduces a principle of stability into doctrine.

Now, we don't know in advance what might be revisable. And each up-and-coming Christian generation must personally appropriate the Christian faith. Everything is subject to reexamination, but that doesn't mean everything is actually revisable–for reexamination can (and often does) confirm or refine preexisting doctrine.

With that in mind, I produced (above) Steve’s short answer on how we effect this re-examination:

Steve Hays has noted, “As a practical matter, no one has explored every nook and cranny [of theology and history]. Rather, everyone hires a guide to scout out the territory and show him the shortcuts…. In that event, you check out the guide rather than the trail to make sure he’s not going to lead you astray”.

Of this quote, Bryan said (#303):

I do agree with the quotation you cite from Hays. No one has investigated every theological and historical nook and cranny. We all rely on guides, to various degrees, and in various areas. There are certain guides you trust more than others, and the same is true for me, that I trust certain guides more than others. But, I think it is safe to assume that we do not trust all the same guides, at least not to the same degree. And when that is the case, how do we resolve our disagreement? Here’s what won’t work. You appeal to your authorities, and I appeal to mine. At that point, we would be at a stalemate, precisely because you don’t accept my authorities, and I don’t accept yours. It would be question begging, at that point, if we each kept simply appealing to our respective authority. So, in such a situation, we must step back and either (a) examine the respective positions, and the evidence and argumentation for each, and/or (b) examine the respective evidence and argumentation for the reliability and authority of the guides to which we are appealing, if we are to make progress toward unity in the truth (i.e. agreement concerning the truth).

If you are looking for “ultimate authority”, let me ask you, how are you progressing on the “filioque / no-filioque” question? For centuries, that question has not been solved, all the while using the “here’s what won’t work” process that Bryan outlined in the bolded section above.

Based on the experiences of the two “one true churches” over the centuries, I decided some time ago at least not to take uncritically everything that they say at face value. In fact, over time, this is where I have come to see the Holmsian “impossibility” and ruled it out. The Roman Catholic Church posits that you must accept, or reject their authority in toto. You can’t just accept the doctrines you’ll accept, and reject the ones you don’t like. It’s all or nothing. So I have rejected it in toto.

Bryan said something a bit different here:

From a Catholic point of view, we never assume as part of our theological methodology that a prima facie contradiction within the Tradition is an actual contradiction. Out of humility toward the Tradition, we instead assume as a working hypothesis that the appearance of a contradiction is due to our own ignorance or misunderstanding. So from a Catholic point of view, if we have at hand an explanation that integrates the apparently conflicting pieces of evidence, we already have a good reason to accept it rather than conclude that there is an actual contradiction.

I will admit up front, I am a bit less sanguine about this process than Bryan is. I wrote yesterday about the start of my process – looking first at the Marian doctrines (themselves seemingly just “appeals to authority”, not in any way based on historical truth or facts. And I continued along that path).

My optimism lies rather within the locus of the following: (a) God exists, and he has a plan; (b) God, being God, has a tremendous ability to communicate with us, and (c) God, being God, also created our ability to receive what God communicates to us. After all, God is God. God speaks “and there was light”, “and there was light. He said, “Let there be an expanse … and it was so”. Things like that. It’s tremendously personal, maybe you’ve experienced it. (And then again, maybe not … not everyone hears from God in this way. You are right to be skeptical that I and others have, and also, it is fair to ask, why are there many others who haven’t?)

But I’m going to give you another reason not to be skeptical, but hopeful. And it is the fact that the Bible is, in spite of all the rampant skepticism, becoming more and more verified and verifiable in its accounting of history. Ancient Egyptian chariots are found under the Red Sea. There is more archaeological evidence than ever for King David and what the Biblical accounts say about him. And Darrell Bock, a New Testament scholar from Dallas Theological Seminary, notes in his 2007 Commentary on Acts notes, “(1) classical historians respect Luke as a historian as they use him (Nobbs 2006) and that (2) a careful look at the details of Acts shows that, where we can check him, Luke is a credible historian” (pg 6).

What does this mean? As Bock also says, one should not read Acts “and rule the role of its key player (God) out of bounds before Luke starts to string together the events and their circumstances in ways that point to God’s or Jesus’s presence and action … “ “This also shows the crucial importance of doing careful work in backgrounds, especially Jewish and Greco-Roman sources. More NT scholars” are benefitting than ever before – and we are benefitting from their labors –at being “equipped in Second Temple Jewish study and classical literature”.

There was a time when “critical scholarship” was (rightly) criticized for being too critical. But what we are seeing is something we would not expect to see: Critical scholarship is confirming, not debunking, the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and the missions of the Apostles to spread that message.

On the other hand, what Critical scholarship is debunking is the historical story that Roman Catholicism had been telling about itself for centuries. I grew up Roman Catholic, and I grew up believing that Peter was the first pope, that there was a second pope, and a third pope, all with the same jurisdictional authority down through time. Recently, I’ve done two studies on this historical topic, one with the moniker House Churches in Ancient Rome and The Nonexistent Early Papacy, and neither of them supports the historical account I learned growing up, not by a long stretch.

One line that I’ve seen Bryan write a lot is that this fact or that fact “is not inconsistent with Roman Catholic doctrine” (and all roads seem to lead to Rome, that is, to the seat of Roman Catholic authority). However, when you add up all the facts (and yes, they can be and have been checked against one another), the prevailing Roman Catholic history about its own authority has come up sorely lacking.

I’ll go you one further. Growing up, I never heard about “the college of apostles, with Peter as its head”. I never heard about (what you hear about all the time today, and that is, a “Petrine ministry”). I’m far more willing to believe that, given some of the things I’ve been writing about, Ut Unum Sint was more a concession to the historical pressures (the discrepancy between Vatican I on the papacy and the historical research of the next century) than it was an overture to ecumenism.

I’m more willing to concede that where there is “consistency” with Roman Catholic doctrine about “the Church” and the actual facts, it is because those who “after the fact” have crafted Roman Catholic doctrine, have been fortunate enough to have the benefits of time and hindsight in crafting their message. More than anything, they had the opportunity to tie up loose ends.

In the end, “truth” has more authority than anything. “What’s true” is normative. “The truth shall set you free”. This truth, however, more than ever, speaks of the genuine truthfulness of both the nation of Israel of the Old Testament, and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ within the context of the world as articulated and understood by the Old Testament scriptures. As Bock said, “we must read Acts open to such a balanced view of its historical approach – in terms of its poetry, history, and cultural setting – as well as to the option of divine activity”.

It’s that “divine activity” that’s the key to everything. Is God real? And is he really working in the pages of Scripture? If so, he will really work with you on that as well.

“What’s true”

Fr Bryan (314) [not Bryan Cross, but someone who is, I believe, an Anglican priest]. Quoting yours truly, he says:

why are you here?

If God doesn’t care if we are systematically correct, and if God doesn’t care that our differences matter, and if it is God’s job to maintain unity and not yours, than why have you been posting on these things here and elsewhere on the internet? Surely you must believe we are either in heresy or schism and that this matters.. How do you make this determination?

There are other categories beside “heresy or schism” and if you looked at my comment above to Burton, I believe that the most important category is “what’s true”. Not “what’s true” in the sense that “after further review”, the Roman Catholic Church can come up with a version of its own doctrine that is “not inconsistent” with history. My overriding interest is to understand the broad sweep of what God is actually doing in history – Old Testament and New Testament (and of course, in Church History as well).

Your statement “If God doesn’t care if we are systematically correct” is actually a bit of a mischaracterization of what I said. While I don’t believe He requires that the individual comes to a systematic theology that’s “infallibly correct”, that’s not to say that there aren’t better or worse theologies, or that we ought not to strive for what’s better. We do need to approach Him in faith, and that does require a substantially correct understanding of who He is and what He has done for us. What I would say to Burton is that even though he has been exploring this for years, God is not pressuring him.

Why have I been posting? Because, while I do have an overriding interest to understand what God is doing in history, I’m convinced that the Roman Catholic “development of” and “accounting of” its own “authority” (specifically the papacy, but other components of it as well) is one of the greatest and most harmful hoaxes in history, and I’m interested in doing what I can do to propagate the truth about such things.

Not that I rely on my own accounting of things. No, I’m tying together threads from historical and theological research. My story very closely approximates Calvin’s account of things in his Institutes, and it incorporates (as others have noted) other “scholarly enthusiasms” that I’ve picked up over the years. The names of the scholars I appreciate include Oscar Cullmann, T.F. Torrance, Peter Lampe, Eamon Duffy, Raymond Brown, John Meier, Larry Hurtado, Thomas Schreiner, G.K. Beale, R.T. France, John Nolland, Douglas Moo, D.A. Carson, Michael Horton, Carl Trueman, R.Scott Clark, John Frame, James Anderson, Michael J. Kruger, and yes, there are many others. Not all of these individuals specifically address Roman Catholicism, but some of them do, and where they do, there is a remarkably consistent story. If you’ve been following this thread, you’ve seen hints of it.

Now, to call Roman Catholicism a “hoax” is not to say that all Roman Catholics are going to hell. We have a way of saying this in our circles, and it is: “they’ll get to heaven in spite of their Roman Catholicism, not because of it”.

Regarding the “hoax” factor again, and why I am specifically “here”, I knew Jason Stellman several years ago, and I knew what Bryan was writing about before this site came up. I think Bryan is tremendously gifted, and I know a bit about his background, and not only do I believe he is deceived by the hoax, but that he himself is propagating it. I know too that I myself have “come home to Rome” in the past, and that further down the line, people who at first embrace Rome, do cycle out of it, too.

In terms of “unity”, I think as more study on Scripture and church history becomes generally available, more people will come to a “unity in the truth” such as that embraced by, say James White the Reformed Baptist and Turretinfan, the staunch Presbyterian and even by the Embryo Parson, a Traditional Anglican (who started his journey as Reformed, spent 13 years in Eastern Orthodoxy and now has returned to Traditional Anglicanism), than there is, say, between even two staunch conservative Roman Catholics of the type that James Swan writes about in his series “Blueprint for Anarchy”.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Genital autonomy"

The ruling of a German court to criminalize circumcision raises a number of issues which modern secular regimes are ill-prepared to sort out:

i) The ruling implicitly criminalizes Judaism. Now perhaps the German court lacks national jurisdiction. I’m not a German lawyer.

ii) The question is not, in the first instance, whether we personally approve of circumcision, but the degree of freedom we allow others.

iii) From a Christian standpoint, circumcision is not a religious duty for Christians. At the same time, we can (and should) defend the right of Jews to practice Judaism.

iv) From what I’ve read, circumcision has medical fringe benefits. But there may be tradeoffs.

v) From what I’ve read, male circumcision isn’t comparable to female circumcision.

vi) People who oppose circumcision don’t seem to oppose tattooing, body-piercing, or cosmetic surgery–so it’s not as if they think the body in its natural condition is sacrosanct.

vii) I don’t think all religions are entitled to equal treatment. And I don’t think parents have carte blanche.

At the same time, parents enjoy default authority to raise their children. There’s a strong presumption of parental authority which should only be overridden in exceptional cases.

Judaism isn’t Islam. And raising boys in Judaism isn’t child abuse.

viii) We can have a reasonable debate over the medial pros and cons of male circumcision. However, like so many “issues,” this is becoming another liberal cause. And it’s being grafted onto a standard liberal paradigm involving “genital autonomy.”

How to become a cardinal

Should Christians pray for the sick?

Should Christians pray for the sick? On the face of it, that’s a ridiculous question to ask. Of course Christians should pray for the sick!

I agree that it’s absurd. Yet it’s absurd in the same way eliminative materialism is absurd.

Depending on the premise, it’s not so absurd. A ridiculous conclusion may follow logically from a ridiculous premise.  If you take physicalism for granted, then eliminative materialism is not absurd–given the premise.

So why do I ask the question? Well, we have Arminians like Roger Olson and Ben Witherington who deny that God directly or indirectly causes natural evils like life-threatening diseases. God is not responsible for cancer or natural disasters. So they say. That’s not his bailiwick.

But in that event, it’s less clear why we should pray to God to heal a sick loved one. If God has nothing to do with illness in the first place, why would we expect him to interfere? On their view, isn’t natural evil part of a closed system? 

Likewise, what if the patient is unconscious? What if the patient can’t consent to our prayer? Should God forcibly heal them? Doesn’t that violate their freedom of choice? He didn’t give them a chance to refuse divine healing. Should God let all comatose patients die?

What if a loved one is mentally ill? In that condition they can’t give informed consent. Should we pray for them? Aren't we imposing on them? 

Extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims

ECREE emphasizes the common sense notion that the more implausible we initially regard a claim prior to considering the evidence, the greater the evidence we will require to believe the claim.

So Jeff defines “extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims” as “greater evidence” for “implausible claims.”

It’s how to see how that’s supposed to advance the argument. How does that lend conceptual precision to the issue? How do you quantify “greater evidence” or “implausibility”? Aren’t those utterly vague descriptors?  

God in the dock

Today in the Hague, the International Criminal Court tried, convicted, and sentenced God in absentia for the crimes against humanity; to wit: ordering the circumcision of newborn males.

Its ruling was the outcome of a class-action suit filed by Casanova, Errol Flynn, Bill Clinton, Louis XIV, and King Solomon. Plaintiffs allege circumcision left them with deep feelings of sexual inadequacy. Asked why he had 700 wives and 300 concubines, Solomon said that was a painful, but necessary duty of high office. 

The International Criminal Court issued a bench warrant for God’s arrest, under various aliases (e.g. Yahweh, Elohim, Jesus, Jehovah). Executing the warrant was complicated by the fact that heaven has no extradition treaty. Dog Chapman was retained as a bounty hunter to apprehend Jesus at the Second Coming and conduct him to the Hague to begin serving his sentence.

Because Jesus has a security detail reportedly comprising twelve legions of angels, concerns were expressed that attempting to take him into custody at the Parousia might lead to serious collateral damage, viz. crashing asteroids, boiling oceans.

A delegation consisting of Henry Kissinger, Benedict XVI, Michael Lerner, Alan Dershowitz, Jesse Jackson, Ron Sider, Gregory Boyd, and Kofi Annan was dispatched to open negotiations with heaven, in hopes of talking God into voluntarily turning himself into the authorities. The proffer was written in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, Esperanto, and Ebonics.

Non-Calvinists Have No Basis for Evangelizing the Lost

God's sovereign election is the only basis by which any believer has confidence to evangelize the lost. We do not know who the elect are in this lifetime, but what we do know with certainty is that there are elect out there.

Has God ever revealed to us why we should evangelize the lost? Indeed he has. In Acts 18, Paul was opposed vehemently in his gospel mission. He was about to leave Corinth out of fear and discouragement, but God in a vision at night revealed to Paul a confident truth:

“Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:9–11).
Notice that God did not say, "Paul, there is a possibility that some people might get saved if only they use their free will to cooperate with my grace." Nor does God say, "According to my crystal ball, I foresee that there will be people who will be in the right place at the right time and the right disposition who will get saved." Nor does God say, "there are a lot of people in this city, play the numbers game and you are bound to get some saved." Instead, this is about God's purposes and his people. And this is precisely what gave Paul the confidence to stay in that city for a year in a half.

Why is it that most people do not play the lottery? (forgive my carnal analogy for a moment). It's because they have no guarantee that they will win. Suppose people had the guarantee that if they played the lottery every day for a year, they would eventually win the lottery on a given day. Everyone would play the lottery!

It is roughly the same phenomenon with evangelism. Calvinists have the confidence that God's elect are out there, and they know that if they consistently proclaim the gospel, God's people, the elect, will hear his voice and become saved.

Arminians do not have this foundation or confidence since in their theology it is possible that at this point of time until the Lord comes back, there will not be another soul saved, since for them salvation is not decreed, but ultimately dependent on the enslaved human will. Hence, there lack of foundation for evangelizing the lost.

Believer: Where do you want to find your confidence in evangelism? God's sovereign grace, or the enslaved will of Man?

All of you and none of me! Praise God that you have ordained it to be!

Jeff's sneaky definition

According to the Bayesian interpretation of ECREE, the relevant probabilities are to be understood as epistemic probabilities (as opposed to the classical, logical, or other interpretations of probability). So the objector is correct that the Bayesian interpretation is inherently subjective in the sense that it depends entirely upon what a person knows and believes. So what? It doesn't follow that we can't figure out what are extraordinary claims.

As we shall we see below, we use the same formula for both ordinary and extraordinary claims to determine the evidence required to establish a high final probability for a claim…Notice that the inequalities are the same for both ordinary and extraordinary evidence. This might lead one to wonder, "Then why bother with the ECREE slogan at all?" The answer is this. ECREE emphasizes the common sense notion that the more implausible we initially regard a claim prior to considering the evidence, the greater the evidence we will require to believe the claim.

So Jeff ultimately defines an “extraordinary” claim as an “implausible” claim. He classifies supernatural claims (e.g. God’s existence, miracles) as “extraordinary” because he views them as implausible.

But, of course, that’s a rigged definition. It begs the question of whether miracles or God’s existence are, in fact, implausible. Yet that’s the very issue in dispute. That’s not something Jeff is entitled to stipulate at the outset.

Only if he already knew that atheism was true or probably true would he be entitled to begin with that presumption. He’s trying to take an illicit intellectual shortcut. Jeff should be fined for trespassing.

I’d also add that there’s nothing philosophically rigorous about calling something “implausible.” That’s hardly a precise definition.

Ecclesial Activism

HT: Patrick Chan

Judicial imperialism

One answer to that question is that America is increasingly a government of judges rather than one of laws. The laws passed by Congress or the States are becoming a kind of opening speech for the prosecution to which NGOs reply for the defense and the courts deliver the final verdict. And the result is “laws” bearing a suspicious resemblance to the majority political opinion of Ivy League law schools and the Bar Association.

Authority over all, even authority over history

I’ve been looking into the whole idea of “how tradition functioned in the early church” and I came across this from R.P.C. Hanson (“Tradition in the Early Church”, originally SCM Press, © 1962, reprinted with permission, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, pgs 257-259):

It may perhaps be permissible to state the conviction that the subject of the development of doctrine and of the reformation of doctrine are equally alien to the thought of the early Church, because no writer had occasion to face seriously the question of what is to happen when the obligation to teach sound doctrine and the obligation to preserve the unity of the Church conflict with each other. This is the new problem with which the sixteenth century faced the Christian religion. The history of the early Church does not give an answer to it, any more than the Bible gives and answer to it. We are only justified in drawing the negative conclusion that the experience of the early church gives no justification for assuming the existence of any source of sound doctrine outside the Bible. It may however be profitable to make one or two observations about the contents of tradition as we can observe them in the period which has been under review.

In the first place, it is valuable and interesting that it has been possible to make a rough estimate of the ingredients of the rule of faith. It is clear that the subjects which were destined during the next two centuries to form the material for dogmatic and creedal decisions were already well to the fore in the Church’s consciousness, i.e., Christological and Trinitarian doctrine. The theological interpretation of the eucharist and the seat of authority in the Church were not considered to be part of the rule of faith and clearly did not occupy much attention, but it would be incorrect to say that they were totally beyond the Church’s ken. More remote still was any thought about dogmatic statements concerning the status of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but even these cannot be said to be something irreconcilable with the interest of the churchmen of these early centuries. Whether these subjects should be made material for dogmas is a question whose answer will depend upon what theory of the development of doctrine we may hold. What does appear to be entirely ruled out by the doctrine of tradition held in the early Church is the possibility of the formation of any new doctrine or dogma dependent upon an historical event not recorded in Scripture. By no sort of theory could this be justified according to the lights of the early Church. If the dogma of the corporeal assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary involves the belief in an historical fact (as well, of course, as the interpretation of fact), in some manner analogous the dependence of the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ upon historical fact, then it can have no support whatever in the tradition of the Church of this period. In fact, it is a fact wholly unknown to the writers of the second and third centuries. Tertullian can write a long treatise of sixty-three chapters On the Resurrection of the Dead, mentioning and discussing the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the raising of Lazarus, the translation without death of Enoch and of Elijah, the returning from the dead of Moses for the Transfiguration, and even the preservation from what was humanly speaking certain death of the three young men in the fiery furnace (of Daniel) and of Jonah in the whale’s belly. He does not once even slightly mention, he does not once even remotely and uncertainly hint at, the resurrection or corporeal assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Tertullian quite clearly, like all his contemporaries and predecessors, had never heard of this story.

This has had some personal meaning for me, because in the early days of my questioning whether or not I could remain a Roman Catholic, this sort of thing was in the front of my mind. True, it is said, “There is then no problem with the Church officially defining a doctrine which is not explicitly in Scripture, so long as it is not in contradiction to Scripture”, and of course it is said, the Roman Catholic Church has the authority to define such a thing.

But it certainly seems legitimate to ask, “in a religious context that’s so obviously dependent on the history and testimony of the earliest church, how does introducing something like this help anyone?” It appears to me to be a chest-beating attempt to make a statement of one’s authority as much as anything else.

In the CCC, a smiley face is put on this “dogma”, but in the dogma itself, Rome bares its teeth:

“It is forbidden to any man to change this, our declaration, pronouncement, and definition or, by rash attempt, to oppose and counter it. If any man should presume to make such an attempt, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.”

That’s the true nature of the “authority” that makes such a definition. The bare teeth under the guise of a sheep’s fleece. None of us should forget it. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Warming up to Wesleyan theology

Nevertheless, for three reasons, it took me a while to warm up to Wesleyan theology. First, it's just not all that obvious that there is any such thing as Wesleyan theology. I say that as somebody who loves systematic theology, who really enjoys reading treatises on doctrine. The Wesleyan tradition just isn't famous for its systematic theologians. There are some exceptions worth naming (such as W. B. Pope and Thomas Watson), but the fact is that if you make a list of top five or ten theologians, Wesleyans don't make the list. They barely make the top twenty-five list. My list, at least, is dominated (after the patristic and medieval periods) by Reformed and Roman Catholic thinkers of various kinds, who not only do great work, but have also successfully "branded" their style of theology so you can recognize it.

And second, there's the problem of liberalism: the Wesleyan theological traditions have not done a good job of resisting the liberal impulse. Pretty early on in their history, Arminians made common cause with Socinians, lost their grip on all the hard doctrines, and became unusable for a conservative evangelical like me. My supreme theological commitments are to the Trinity and the gospel, so the old Arminian dalliance with anti-trinitarians and atonement revisionists (and later, I would add, to denials of verbal inspiration) is very distasteful to me.

And third, the United Methodist Church is one of those American mainline denominations that isn't very hospitable to conservative evangelicals. There are some good congregations, of course, but the national scene is ugly. I saw right away that it would be hard for me to join that denomination. The Free Methodists do better, and there are plenty of smaller Wesleyan denominations to choose from. But overall, the "where do I go to church" question is a real problem for conservative evangelicals who are Wesleyan.

Good thing Abraham wasn't German

Another reason we need more gov't

Will the Real Geneva Please Stand Up?

"Bold, Ambitious, Sloppy and Often Wrong"

"Answers for Jeffery Lowder"

I don't agree with every one of Marshall's answers. However, he's always intelligent, and his exceptionally varied background causes him to see things from angles others might miss:

A Taste of Government-Run Healthcare

"Unconditional eternal security"

Over at Arminian Invectives, Ben Henshaw has a running series on “unconditional eternal security.” Oddly enough, he has that filed under “perseverance.”

Problem is, Calvinism doesn’t subscribe to “unconditional eternal security.” There are some antinomian fundamentalists who take that position (e.g. Zane Hodges, Charles Ryrie, Randall Gleason), but that’s in studied contrast to the Reformed doctrine of perseverance.

I don’t know where Henshaw came up with the notion that perseverance of the saints is interchangeable with unconditional eternity security. I have noticed that some muddled Arminians detach adjectives from the TULIP acronym and misapply them to other Reformed doctrines. For instance, it’s not uncommon for Arminians to detached “irresistible” from “grace,” where it stands for monergistic regeneration, and then misuse “irresistible” as a general designation for Reformed soteriology.

Perhaps Henshaw is laboring under the misconception that if Reformed election is unconditional, then perseverance is unconditional. If so, his usage is idiosyncratic at best and illogical at worst.

In Calvinism, “eternal security” is conditional, not unconditional. It’s contingent on the “perseverance” of the saints. In fact, that’s why it’s traditionally dubbed the “perseverance of the saints.” Subtle, I know.

In Calvinism, “eternal security” is contingent on sanctification, contingent on faith. Good works are a condition of salvation.

Of course, there’s a condition behind the condition. If “eternal security” is conditional on perseverance, then perseverance is conditional on God’s preservation of the elect. And that’s a sure thing.

Perhaps Henshaw is laboring under the misconception that if something is conditional, it must be uncertain.

The ghostly atheist inside the machine


It takes a very good memory to be a consistent atheist. Poor little atheists keep forgetting their lines. That’s because the script of atheism is so unnatural that the atheist invariably slips back into reality despite his best efforts to the contrary. Atheism is studied insanity punctuated by moments of uncontrollable lucidity. 

Jeff Lowder is very disapproving of how atheists are (allegedly) mistreated by theists. But what is an atheist? What is a human being?

Jeff is a physicalist, an atheist, and a Darwinian. So, by his own lights, Jeff is just a mammal with a cerebral cortex.

He disapproves of how atheists are (allegedly) mistreated, but that’s just his brain chemistry acting up. What makes his chemical reactions right and mine wrong?

You see, Jeff has fallen into the trap of imagining that there’s a miniature person inside his skull, sitting in the audience, watching himself on stage. But that’s just an illusion caused by the brain. The brain can’t actually reflect on itself–since there is no self distinct from the brain. Jeff can’t see himself in a mental mirror, for there is no distinction between observer and mirror. That’s the brain playing tricks on itself.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What's in a name?

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Aside: I see that Steve Hays has now called our very own Keith Parsons a "militant atheist." Hays has the freedom of speech, of course, to say this. But why say it? I understand that Hays says he is not using the term in a pejorative sense, but it would be nice if theists would stop using the term as a sort of umbrella label for outspoken atheists.

i) At one level, I don’t know why Jeff has such a hang-up about this designation. As I’ve documented, this is a designation which atheists themselves employ as a self-designation. For instance:

Transcript for Richard Dawkins on militant atheism

Even more to the point, Jeff himself promoted this very usage:

LINK: Philip Kitcher on Militant Modern Atheism
Posted by Jeffery Jay Lowder . . at 10/19/2011 03:35:00 AM

    From the abstract:

        Militant modern atheism, whose most eloquent champion is Richard Dawkins, provides an effective and necessary critique of fundamentalist forms of religion and their role in political life, both within states and across national boundaries.

So it looks as if Jeff’s left-hand doesn’t know what his far left-hand is doing.

In addition, Jeff founded the following website:

The Secular Web is owned and operated by Internet Infidels, Inc.

But historically, “infidel” has negative or pejorative connotations, as a traditional term of abuse for atheists. So Jeff seems to be conflicted.

ii) At another level, despite of his erratic practice, I understand where Jeff is coming from. This is all about PR. As an atheist, he wants to promote a wholesome, clean-cut, boy-next-door image of atheists. Mainstream atheism in the public square. Make it socially acceptable and respectable.

Since, however, I don’t share his self-assessment of atheism, I don’t buy into his PR campaign.

Jeff goes on to say:

As an alternative, I propose any of the following:

* outspoken atheist
* promoter of atheism
* defender of atheism
* (when it applies) atheist philosopher

None of those have the negative connotation of "militant atheist."

In the interests of comity, I’d be happy to meet Jeff halfway. If “militant atheist” has negative connotations, perhaps he’d agree to a neutral-gray synonym like, say, “fist-shaking Godhater.”

But if that's too vanilla for his taste buds, there are other standard synonyms like “heathen,” “scoffer,” “profaner,” “misanthrope,” or “nihilist.”

I’m very flexible.